Last Updated on 08/23/2019 by Brett Day
With the release of the Sony A7s Mk II around a year after the original, one has to wonder how can Sony make the A7s series any better?
That was the major question going through my head during this entire review process. It’s a specialized camera that serves its target audience really well. The Sony A7s Mk II doesn’t have the resolution of the Sony A7 Mk II or the Sony A7r Mk II, but what it has is the ability to deliver usable images at nuclear high ISO results that end up throwing the laws of exposure right out the window. This is due to the 12.2MP full frame 35mm sized sensor at the heart of the camera. Further, this camera can see better than the human eye in the dark.
With the Sony A7s Mk II, the company decided to add an uncompressed RAW shooting ability new ergonomics to match that of all the other Mk II cameras, new features for video shooters, and improvements to the autofocus that makes it able to autofocus in situations where other cameras simply scratch their heads.
Sure, the Mk II won’t be for everyone: but will it be for you? Do you really need to shoot at ISO levels not even thought of years ago?
Pros and Cons
- Incredibly film-like high ISO results once you kill all the unsightly noise; and they convert to black and white well.
- Only missed the focusing twice during the review, and that was during surely impossible situations.
- Below ISO 80,000, some of the best dynamic range anyone could ask for.
- Incredible highlight detail retention
- Overall excellent dynamic range that basically lets you screw up and fix it later; but up to a point as stated in an earlier bullet.
- Uncompressed RAW photo option
- With the exception of dynamic range, not a major step forward in the technology as could have been possible. Just imagine the A7r Mk II’s processor in this camera and what could have been capable.
We tested the Sony A7s Mk II with the Sony 35mm f1.4, Sony 70-200mm f4, Sony 28-70mm f3.5-5.6, and the Adorama Flashpoint Li On flash.
Specs taken from the B&H Photo listing; where more can be read if you wish.
- 12.2MP Full-Frame Exmor CMOS Sensor
- BIONZ X Image Processor
- Internal UHD 4K30 & 1080p120 Recording
- S-Log3 Gamma and Display Assist Function
- 5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization
- 0.5″ 2.36m-Dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF
- 3.0″ 1,228,800-Dot Tilting LCD Monitor
- Up to 5 fps Shooting and ISO 409600
- Fast Intelligent AF, 169 AF Points
- Built-In Wi-Fi with NFC
Taken from our first impressions post
The Sony A7s Mk II shares much of the same design tweaks that the Sony A7 Mk II and A7r Mk II have from their predecessors. And to start our ergonomics tour, we begin with the front of the camera. This area is very clean and almost no control buttons or dials of any sort are present aside from the lens release.
Move to the top of the camera and what you’ll see is a similar control layout from the other two cameras. An exposure dial is here along with custom function buttons, a mode dial (which has a much more authoritative click with each turn than the others do) and the hot shoe and the exposure compensation dial.
The back of the camera is where you’ll find more controls like the other two exposure dials, more buttons, the viewfinder and the tilting LCD screen.
Again, it’s very similar to every other Sony A7 Mk II model out there.
Considering that this camera body is essentially the same as the Sony A7 Mk II and the Sony A7r Mk II, we can expect the same level of splash and dust protection. This camera isn’t weather sealed, but it has some resistance to the elements. Just don’t dunk it in water, run it under a faucet or go shooting in a monsoon.
Overall, the feeling in the hand is a solid experience without being overly heavy; and that’s something that Sony has specialized in for a while. What we really wish were possible is the addition of either a joystick for quicker autofocus point movement/selection or enabling the LCD screen to move the point in the same manner that both Olympus and Panasonic allow the user.
Ease of Use
If you’re already a Sony camera user, you should know that very little about the menu structure has changed. There are a couple of added options like Uncompressed RAW and some extra video stuff, but those extra options will pretty much be exclusive to the A7s Mk II users with the exception of uncompressed RAW–which also came to the Sony A7r Mk II very recently.
The Sony A7s Mk II has six main menus and those are broken down into submenus/pages. To find what you want, you’ll need to use some deductive reasoning and then scroll through. After that, it’s essentially muscle memory. I’ve been a Sony A7 user for a while and even I still get confused at times.
During certain parts of this review, we found the five way stabilization to be not the best; but to be fair we were shooting down to 1/8th of a second with arms stretched out a bit and the LCD screen popped up. Still though, I’ve had a bit better results with Olympus here and I feel that even with the Sony A7r Mk II I’ve had better image stabilization.
Most cameras have a major problem focusing in the dark; but the Sony A7s Mk II doesn’t really have that issue. In fact, it’s designed for it.
During our tests, we found that the camera will focus accurately and quickly around 96% of the time–depending on what focusing setting you’re using. If you choose the center, you’ll have no issues at all. If you choose medium and large, still no issues. Even if you choose the small focusing spot, you won’t have a major issue. It slows down a bit with the wide focusing setting, but that’s expected. Even so, it’s faster than any other camera out there.
Where the focusing issues come in has to do with extremely fast moving object in low light. If an object is simply moving in low light, the Sony A7s Mk II can usually lock onto it with no real problems. But if the subject is moving quickly, you’ll have a bit more trouble. That’s where Olympus and Panasonic seem to have a very slight edge; but that gap is slight. On the other hand, the Sony A7s Mk II has better tracking focus during the daytime than anything Panasonic and Olympus have delivered to the market at the time of publishing this review.
In the extreme majority of other situations, the Sony A7s Mk II can beat most other cameras when it comes to autofocusing.
According to standard Sunny 16 tests, the Sony A7s Mk II pretty much nails the metering here. To be honest though, I doubt anyone will care. Why? The Sony A7s Mk II essentially takes the laws of exposure and throws them out the window. You can shoot at ISO levels that were never dreamed of before with this camera. That means you can stop the lens down and shoot at a fast shutter speed even in the dark.
EXIF DATA FOR ALL IMAGES HAVE BEEN LEFT IN TACT AND CAN BE SEEN BY CLICKING THE IMAGE AND READING THE EXPOSURE IN THE URL.
The best strength of the Sony A7s was its ability to shoot at ISO levels that you wouldn’t have thought possible and deliver significantly cleaner images than anything else out on the market. The Sony A7s Mk II takes that strength and improves on it with some absolutely ridiculous high dynamic range abilities up to ISO 80,000. Beyond that, the idea of pushing the files become a real thought process. However, the idea of pulling the files is still very possible.
High ISO Output
ISO 32000 is grainy, but very easily fixed in Adobe Lightroom. However, we really like the look of it, and if you convert it to black and white then mess with the contrast, you can output images that look incredibly film-like.
Going beyond that, ISO 12,800 even looks really good. Lots of detail is retained and even though you’re still going to need to do noise reduction, you won’t have a major reason to complain about it at all if you’re a skilled Lightroom user.
Now, while this camera is all about the high ISO results, you should know that the low ISO results are also very solid. This is where you’ll get the sharpest images right out of the camera. However, for anyone that has used something with more megapixels, don’t expect to get lots of detail comparatively.
That’s just stupid.
At ISO 409,600 you’ll start to really see the image quality degrade right out of the camera. You’ll see color noise, chroma noise, luminance noise, and all that other stuff we thought we were rid of that was present in cameras from previous generations.
Nerfing the noise at this point is also tough and the image above was edited quite a bit to get that way. You’re about to see how bad the higher ISOs can be though.
RAW File Versatility
This image was shot during our Tenba Cooper bag review. Depending on your monitor, there is probably very little visible or nothing at all.
This is that image pushed 5 levels in Adobe Lightroom and then edited for noise, adding sharpness, clarity and editing the colors. Not bad at all, right?
Let’s see that again.
This image was shot at ISO 409,600. But even for that ISO level, it isn’t that terrible. But will the image break apart?
As you can see here, we got a fairly usable file. It will require more edits to get it absolutely perfect, but it’s really cool what’s recoverable. The fact that I shot in uncompressed helped to eliminate any artifacts.
If anything, you can say you edited it to look like a Polaroid–and that’s better than no image at all.
Here’s one more at ISO 6400. Above is the original and below is the edit.
We were able to add sharpness, nerf the noise and get the most out of the image without losing the original feel of the scene. That’s pretty amazing for ISO 6400.
This is what happens when you try to push anything at ISO 80,000 and above. Remember though, that the files can be pulled, so it’s better to overexpose with this camera and pull the details.
Overall though, I think that we should be really amazed at what the Sony A7s Mk II can do in terms of dynamic range, highlight detail retention and even color depth–but Sony has always been great at the latter.
Extra Image Samples
- High ISO output is excellent.
- Dynamic range editing capabilities are stellar to a point
- Fast autofocus performance
- Uncompressed RAW output actually does make a difference if you’re pixel peeping. Otherwise, it just adds a bit more versatility. This versatility may not be needed if you meter correctly in the first place though.
- Video users will enjoy the features for that market
- I really, really feel that Sony could have gone even further here by giving this camera the Sony A7r Mk II’s processor.
As I was writing this blog post, I thought about not giving this camera the Editor’s Choice award. Afterall, the Sony A7r Mk II has it too; but that’s for its ability to capture incredibly high detail and to deliver very clean high ISO results while having so many megapixels on a full frame sensor. The Sony A7s Mk II is getting it for really great autofocusing, excellent high ISO results but most of all for what the dynamic range is capable or retaining. It’s really, really crazy and I’m not even sure that I would expect that with film.
With all that said, I really am wondering what Sony would have been able to do if this camera were given the new processor in the A7r MK II. The high ISO results would have been better and the dynamic range would have possibly been even crazier.
We really, really like the Sony A7s Mk II; and in the hands of the creative that needs these capabilities, it’s bound to produce incredible images.
The Sony A7s Mk II receives five out of five stars as well as the site’s coveted Editor’s Choice award. Want one? Get ready to fork over lots of money.
Recommended Lenses and Accessories
Sony 28mm f2: In our opinion, this is the company’s sharpest lens and makes a lot of sense on this camera.
Sony 35mm f1.4: As the company’s fastest aperture lens, this is just a no brainer.
Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8: Our favorite portrait lens for the Sony FE mount will let you shoot portraits in absolute darkness.