Review : Sony A7S II

by , Jeremy Gray, and Zig Weidelich
Overview originally posted: 09/11/2015

10/14/2015: Gallery Images added
10/20/2015: First Shots posted
11/23/2015: Performance test results posted

12/11/2015: Field Test posted
02/29/2016: Image Quality Comparison, Print Quality Analysis and Review Conclusion posted

Special update: The Sony A7S II was named Best Low Light Camera in our 2015 Camera of the Year awards!

Sony A7S II Review -- Product Image

After the “Mark II” refreshes of the venerable Sony A7 and A7R cameras earlier this year, the Sony A7S remained the last of the three still in its first generation stage. So, it’s no surprise that Sony has come along to bring this large-pixeled, ultra-high ISO shooting camera up to speed with a “Mark II” refresh of its own.

Sporting the familiar, updated A7-series body design, the new Sony A7S II looks practically identical to the A7R II, aside from the model-specific branding. In one minor detail, unlike the A7 II, the A7S II shares the locking mode dial that was introduced with the A7R II. The Sony A7S II also features the much-welcomed ergonomic refreshes that were debuted on the earlier A7 II, including the repositioned front control dial and shutter-release button as well as re-contoured handgrip and all-around beefier, stronger magnesium alloy body and lens mount.

The big changes, however, are all under the hood. Though the Sony A7S II maintains the same unique, large-pixel 12.2-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor as its predecessor, the sensor has been incorporated into Sony’s impressive 5-axis Image Stabilization system as in the other Mark II models, which works for both stills and video. With its SteadyShot INSIDE system providing up to 4.5 stops of correction combined with the camera’s impressive ISO range up to an expanded ISO 409,600 equivalent (like the predecessor), the Sony A7S II makes easy work of capturing images and video in extremely low-light situations. Furthermore, the BIONZ X image processor features tweaked processing algorithms, with a particular focus on the mid to high ISO sensitivity range, for improved image quality and detail for both still images and video.

Sony A7S II Review -- Product Image

Seeing as the Sony A7S model was heavily emphasized not only as a stills camera, but also as a professional video powerhouse, it’s also no surprise that the video features of the A7S II get improved as well. The original A7S was the first of the Sony A7 family to feature 4K Ultra HD video capture capabilities, however, it came with a large caveat: you needed an external HDMI capture/recorder device since the camera was incapable of recording 4K video internally to the memory card. The A7R II changed this, being the first full-frame Sony A7-series model to provide internal 4K recording, and the new Sony A7S II now supports this capability as well. This should certainly make A7S video shooters very pleased, as it undoubtedly simplifies the video workflow considerably and makes on-the-go shooting of 4K UHD video with this model much easier. It should be noted that despite its video-centric focus, the A7S II does not support Cinema 4K (4096 x 2160) video resolution.

Sony A7S II Review -- Product Image

Like the A7R II, the new A7S II’s 4K Ultra HD video recording uses full pixel readout of the large full-frame sensor without pixel binning for reduced moiré and aliasing artifacts. Also like the A7R II, the Sony A7S II allows for simultaneous clean HDMI output up to a 4K 4:2:2 signal, while still recording up to 4K XAVC S video internally (though Sony does specify that the rear LCD display will go blank while streaming a 4K signal). The camera also comes with a nifty HDMI cable lock protector to help prevent the cable from coming loose.

Sony A7S II Review -- Product Image

Other video improvements includes new, additional cinema-oriented Picture Profiles called S-Gammt3.Cine/S-Log3 and S-Gamut3/S-Log3. Using these S-Log3 and S-Log2 profiles, the A7S II is said to provide up to 14 stops of dynamic range with 1300% wider dynamic range than a non-Picture Profile video for improved color grading and smoother gradations between highlights and shadows. The S-Log3 gamma profile is said to improve tonal gradation between shadow areas up to the mid-tone, or around 18% gray. The special S-Gamut3.Cine conforms to the wider color gamut of the DCI-P3 color space for use with digital cinema work or other professional video applications where 100% accurate color is necessary.

Sony A7S II Review -- Product Image

The A7S II also provides a new Gamma Display Assist function, which provides a more natural, stronger contrast appearance on the camera’s LCD screen while still capturing video with S-Log2 or S-Log3 flatter image profiles. (Gamma Display Assist is not available via HDMI out to external displays, however.) The camera also features an improved, more adjustable zebra function when shooting in these flatter gamma picture profiles.

Sony A7S II Review -- Product Image

In addition to 4K video capture at 30p or 24p at up to 100Mbps bit rate, the A7S II also has Full HD recording up to 60p at 50Mbps in XAVC S mode, as well as a 1080/120p frame rate at both 100Mbps and 60Mbps for improved slow-motion effects. Full HD video capture also uses the full width of the full-frame image sensor without line skipping or pixel binning, like the A7R II, for highly-detailed high-def video. The camera can also record some in-camera High Frame Rate video, though not nearly as slow as the nifty HFR modes in the new RX100 IV and RX10 II. Nevertheless, capturing at 120fps , the A7S II can record a 4x or 5x Full HD slow motion video — a first for a full-frame sensor camera — with the final output frame rate of 30p or 24p, respectively.

Sony A7S II Review -- Product Image

Autofocus performance is also said to have been improved on A7S II, for both stills and video. The camera now has 169 total AF points — up from just 25 points — for better accuracy and precision as well as being twice as fast for video recording according to Sony. Unlike the A7 II and A7R II, the A7S II’s AF system remains contrast-detect only rather than a hybrid AF system. Sony states that given the low noise capabilities of the sensor, the A7S II maintains the same -4EV autofocusing functionality of its predecessor.

The A7S II also features additional autofocus modes, including Enhanced Eye AF, even in continuous AF mode that will track a moving subjects eye through the frame. The camera also gains Expand Flexible Spot AF point mode, which provides “helper” AF points should the subject move out from behind the primary AF point.

Like the A7R II, the electronic viewfinder sees a refresh to Sony’s 2,359K-dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder with 0.78x magnification (up from 0.71x in the original). The EVF has been completely revamped with a new four-lens construction, including double-sided aspherical elements and Zeiss T* coating to insure crisp image resolution and minimal surface reflection, respectively.

Sony A7S II Review -- Product Image

Build-wise, the Sony A7S II features the same magnesium alloy construction as its sibling “Mark II” A7-series cameras. As with other A7-series Mark II cameras, Sony states the A7S II is sealed for dust and moisture resistance, though it’s not waterproof or splashproof. There are seals around the buttons and dials, and the “double-layered structure interlocking panels” as part of the mag-alloy body construction help provide the environmental sealing capabilities.

The shutter mechanism, as with the A7R II, has been built to withstand over 500,000 actuations. The shutter’s braking system is said to reduce shutter vibrations from the mechanical front and rear curtains by about a 50% compared to the original A7S. For further vibration reduction, the A7S II features an electronic front curtain. However, for complete vibration-free shooting, a Silent Shooting mode offers completely silent operation with an all-electronic shutter. The Silent Shooting mode can also be used with the 5fps Speed Priority Continuous burst shooting mode, which can be particularly helpful when photographing sound-sensitive subjects like wildlife.

Speaking of burst shooting, the Sony A7S II is certainly not designed as speed-demon for sports and action photography. With Speed Priority Continuous mode — where AF is fixed at the first frame — the A7S II cranks out images at 5 frames per second, though with standard Continuous Shooting mode, the burst rate drops to just 2.5fps.

Sony A7S II Review -- Product Image

Finally, like the previous model and other A7-series cameras, the Sony A7S II includes built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity for remote control capabilities and easy sharing. The camera also supports Sony’s PlayMemories line of installable camera apps, which lets users add additional camera functionality via downloadable apps for things like time lapse and special effects.

The Sony A7S II started shipping in October 2015, and is sold body-only — just like the predecessor — for an estimated retail price of US$3,000.

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