Sony A7R-II

Real World Review

 

Sony are, without doubt, absolutely on-fire at the moment. I'm guessing that this is one review you won't need to read to the very end - in fact I'll save you the trouble. The A7R-II is absolutely fantastic. One of the best cameras I have ever used. Others have said it already and I will echo it. The A7R-II is amazing.

It has an astonishing sensor, epitomises the best that mirrorless technology can deliver and produces images that are absolutely gorgeous.

Even with all that praise I will never buy one. Read on more to find out why.

Out of the Box

Sony continue to underwhelm by not providing a battery charger for a £2500/$3500/S$4100 camera. Sick of complaining about how annoying this is. It's an absolute joke - what makes it worse is that out of the dozen or so random, compatible cables less than half worked. It sucks. This isn't why I won't buy one though (just for the record!)

Usage & Handling

To all intents and purposes the A7R-II handles the same as the A7II. Good but not great. The control layout is much the same and the Sony menus are style apocalyptically shit. Ergonomics are unchanged from the A7II and are a mix of very nice indeed with smaller lenses and very unbalanced with larger ones. None of this is new or surprising, the mirrorless form factor favours some shooting situations & loses out in others. 

I do love the dedicated exposure compensation dial, it suits my style of shooting and also synergises well with the very good EVF. Sony EVFs continue to improve but still don't match the Fuji ones yet - they still have a tiny amount of lag, aren't too hot in low light and tend to render scenes in a hyper-vivid Ken Rockwell vomit of colour.

We still have half of dozen customisable "C" buttons sprinkled around the camera which I still think is a mistake - by all means Sony should let us remap them to whatever we want but without knowing what they are mapped to by default I simply cannot be bothered to wade through the menus and find out what they are supposed to do. Give them a function and give us the flexibility to remap and it'd be perfect.

The 5 axis in-body image stabilisation is still impressive, even if it's not quite as effective as the lens stabilisation seen on DSLRs. Any time I can get a pin-sharp image shot at 1/13th second, ISO 400 and have it tack sharp makes me sit up and take notice (see the "Light Pipes" image in the Image Quality section). I'm sure one day we'll see fully intelligent independent body and lens stabilisation but for now each generation is a solid improvement on the last.

Battery life continues to be a problem, magnified by Sony's lack of a proper out-of-the-box charger. The A7R-II does let you disable the rear screen but it's quite a ham-fisted implementation; you either use both the EVF & the rear screen, or just one or the other. There's no intelligent ECO mode and I couldn't see a way to map screen on/off to one of the plethora of custom buttons either. A minimum of two but ideally four batteries would be a worthwhile investment. With the rear screen, EVF, power-hungry sensor and 4K video this camera chews through batteries at a disappointing rate.

The mirrorless vs. SLR debate has long stopped being anything more than a statement of personal preference for which body you like and the battle now is firmly based on what's inside the camera.

With nothing truly surprising or unusual about how the camera handles, let's move onto what we're really interested in...

Image Quality

This is, of course, where the A7R-II shines. It produces beautiful images with clean results up to unexpectedly high ISO settings. RAW files that were once handicapped by Sony's inexplicable firmware choices are now fixed.

Although there is a niggling issue with shooting with certain settings under certain artificial lighting conditions, on the whole the A7R-II delivers absolutely fantastic results.

Just take a look at the images below and see for yourself.

This is a 5-image stitched panorama of Marina Bay with only a slight boost to contrast & vibrancy (+10 to each in Lightroom). Shot at ISO6400 handheld it shows just how clean & detailed the A7RII images are.

This is a 5-image stitched panorama of Marina Bay with only a slight boost to contrast & vibrancy (+10 to each in Lightroom). Shot at ISO6400 handheld it shows just how clean & detailed the A7RII images are.

Colours & vibrant with solid blacks even from the RAW files - this has only very minor tweaks to the blacks, otherwise it's untouched.

I always like testing cameras to see how they render reds, it's one of the colours that varies extensively between brands. As you can see, Sony do it very well indeed.

The level of detail the sensor captures is astonishing. This image doesn't do it justice unles viewed large but it's frankly brilliant.

While I wouldn't say the core strength of the A7R-II is street photography it's no slouch.

While I wouldn't say the core strength of the A7R-II is street photography it's no slouch.

This was my moiré test with a very fine grid overlying each window. Even without a low-pass filter the A7R-II produces very clean images.

Photography cliche #131 - I couldn't resist :)

To be honest I included this shot because I don't think I had enough green images in the review.

This is the "Light Pipes" image I mentioned, shot handheld at 1/13th second. Impressive stabilisation.

I did find one problem with the A7R-II under certain conditions. Take a look at Santa Claus below and you'll see very obvious horizontal banding in his beard. This was shot under fluorescent lighting which is the root cause, however when I shot the same image with a Canon G3X under the same conditions, the resulting photo didn't have this artefact.

I tracked it down to the shutter speed, specifically that faster shutter speeds produced much more pronounced & ugly banding. Reducing the shutter speed to about 1/50th sec and the effect disappeared. A very curious phenomenon and although some have reported this only happens with silent shutter enabled, this was not the case in my field-test below.

Generally speaking, resolution correlates to image noise - the higher the resolution, the smaller the photosites on the sensor and the worse the noise rendering. The A7R-II is far from the best I've seen but for a 42MP sensor the results are unbelievable. The image below shows the difference in noise for a 1 second exposure at increase ISO levels. From 100-1600 I can only tell there is a difference when I *hugely* increase the gamma of my monitor - to all intents and purposes the noise is identical, and near zero. 1600 & 3200 are visibly different but still absolutely fine and best of all 6400 is very, very clean indeed. What's more, the image noise at 6400 can be tidied up in Lightroom with very little loss of detail.  Still going higher, 12800 and 25600 could be useable in a pinch with only 51200 and above looking ugly. But you know what? I bet converting to black and white would offset a lot of that.

I don't think I can stress enough just how impressed I am with this and it blows the competition, Canon's 5DS, out of the water.

All in all, I don't have enough superlatives to describe what's achievable with the A7R-II. Without exception it has the best sensor I've ever seen.

VIDEO QUALITY

Coming soon. My internet died as I was in the process of uploading some 4K video samples.

Specifications

  • 42.4MP full frame sensor
  • Interchangeable lens, E-mount mirrorless body
  • 4K video recording
  • ISO from 100 - 102,400
  • Single SD-card slot (SDHC/SDXC)
  • 2.3m dot EVF, 1.2m dot LCD screen (not touch-sensitive, -41 to 107 degree tilt)
  • 5fps burst mode

Full specifications can be found on Sony's site here.

Pros

  • Best in class image quality & resolution
  • Amazing high ISO performance for a high MP sensor
  • Very effective in-body image stabilisation

Cons

  • Crappy battery life & no charger
  • Weird image artefacts under artificial lighting conditions
  • Menus & controls still need refinement
  • Ergonomic issues with small body & grip

Conclusion

I began my review with a conclusion so I won't waste too much time repeating what I've already said. The A7R-II is probably the best all-round camera I've ever used. It has arguably the best image quality in its class and this almost completely makes up for the few handling quirks & problems it has. So if the camera is almost devoid of problems, why won't I buy one?

Sony themselves!

Before the fanboys grab their pitchforks, I have no silly anti-Sony mentality. It's simply that Sony are spending so much time & money developing and releasing cameras it's having two detrimental effects. The first is simply that as a consumer, it makes no sense to buy this now - I will wait 6 months and see if the next one is much better. If it is, I will consider it then. If it isn't, the A7R-II will be cheaper anyway. Sony are releasing cameras at such a pace that it's a better decision to wait and see than it is to jump onboard. While they ARE better than the competition they aren't yet so much better they offer something my existing kit doesn't, at least not for $4000. I'll wait and see and join the bandwagon when it makes sense to do so.

The second is that I'm still not sold on their lens lineup or wider platform support. Canon & Nikon have that and it gives a level of reassurance Sony have not yet earned - especially when you read about them ditching other camera lines. As an enthusiast, it's important to know that the platform I'm buying into will be there in 5 years time or, more importantly, already has a ton of options open to me.

When Sony has that they will be unstoppable. Until they do I'll continue to appreciate & be amazed about what they are doing but continue to watch & wait.

 

November 2015

Sony RX1R-II

REAL WORLD REVIEW

IntroDUCTION

Sony are back with the sequel to 2012's surprise hits, their RX1 and RX1R. The RX1R-II still packs a full frame sensor into a barely-larger-than-a-compact body but this time it's the same sensor from their spectacular A7RII. The original RX1R impressed people with its performance & stunning image quality but for many its stunningly expensive price tag limited its appeal.

With the RX1R-II Sony have looked to upgrade over their original in every way. Including the price. I've put it through its paces in a wide range of real-world scenarios to see how it stacks up & if it's worth the money. I own a Fuji X100S myself so I'm partial to F/2, 35mm focal length small cameras - I'm sure I'll compare the two from time to time in this review.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • 35mm full-frame 42.4MP sensor - with variable lowpass filter
  • ISO 100-25600, expandable to 50-512,000
  • ZEISS Vario Sonnar T* Lens, 35mm focal length
  • F/2 -F/22 aperture, 49mm filter diameter
  • Focal range 24cm - ∞ in normal mode, 14cm - 29cm in macro mode
  • 7.5cm, 1.2m dot tiltable LCD screen
  • Pop-up, 2.4m dot EVF (0.74x magnification, 100% FOV)
  • 14-bit RAW output, optional compressed or uncompressed
  • Hybrid phase/contrast 399 point AF detection - single, continuous or manual focus
  • PASM mode dial + dedicated movie mode + 3 custom modes
  • AVCHD or MP4 video, upto 1920x1080/60p recording
  • Dedicated exposure compensation dial, ±3 EV
  • Built in WiFi
  • sRGB or Adobe RGB

OUT OF THE BOX

For your money you get the camera, battery, neck strap, various manuals & warranties and - best of all for a camera costing upwards of £2750 - a battery charger! It's a neat little USB-powered plastic case but does the job well enough and a refreshing change from Sony. A sturdy, metal-reinforced plastic lens cap is also provided.

The lens cap is less blurry in real life ;)

The nooks and crannies did easily pick up dust & fluff from my camera bag as you can see too.

USAGE & HANDLING

My first impression when picking up the camera was a sense of deja-vu... it felt an awful lot like Sony's other super-compact, the RX100-IV. It's larger of course, and heavier, but still very much a compact frame. In fact, the gripes I had with the RX100-IV's small buttons and fiddly layout are absent in the RX1R-II; the extra few milimetres in each dimension have definitely made a difference. 

The controls are laid out in a very intuitive manner. Starting at the front and working backwards... the lens itself lets you manually set the aperture in 1/3 stop increments with smooth, distinct clicks between each stop. It's satisfying to use, definitely more tactile & preferable to electronic aperture dials we normally get. The other ring lets you switch between the macro and normal focus modes. Although I agree with certain other people that it's possible to accidentally switch between normal & macro modes it isn't really a problem for grown ups - it's pretty obvious actually, everything goes all blurry and a little "MACRO" icon flashes up in the viewfinder  :)

The top panel controls are mostly spot on. The clicky dials are good, especially the exposure compensation dial which is a lot more resitant to accidental changes than most other top-plate EV dials and DEFINITELY less flakey than the same dial on the X100S. The biggest niggle I have is with the combined power/shutter button and it's the same gripe with the X100S, it's just far too easy for it to get knocked in transit and drain the battery. An old-school screw in cable release port is built into the shutter button.

On the subject of the battery life it's poor. Very poor in fact. Although the included charger offsets this slightly by letting us use one & charge another, this is an everpresent problem with small form factor camera bodies and with a large, power-hungry sensor like this it's a chronic issue. For example, during a two hour model shoot I turned the camera on, full power, at the start, left it powered on in standby for most of the shoot and only took 15 images... and the camera was dead by the end. Not great and you'll need at least one, probably two spare batteries. I averaged fewer than 200 shots before needing to recharge.

Sony continue to smash it with their EVFs. The RX100-IV and now the RX1R-II are light years ahead with their pop-up EVF. It's clear, responsive and doesn't induce squint-migraines unlike the EVFs on some other cameras! I must have used the EVF for at least 95% of the photos I took with the camera. 

The rear screen still isn't touch sensitive. It is tiltable but it's a shame they haven't figured out a way of retaining the "tiltability" while adding in a touchscreen. For a camera that's ideal for street photography work, if they could combine the two it'd be killer. Don't get me wrong, it's not a deal breaker but definitely a missed opportunity. It also wouldn't be a Sony camera if it wasn't possible to literally fill the rear screen with bewildering symbols, statuses and histograms.

The autofocus on the RX1R-I was good but not great in all situations. Thankfully the RX1R-II has improved on this and it performed very well in every situation I could throw at it, even low-light and night shooting. Although it slowed down noticeably once it got darker it was still plenty fast & accurate enough. A definite improvement. Manual focusing still feels clunky and the selector button on the front of the camera was a pain in the backside to use. If I want to focus manually it's because the autofocus is having problems; I want to take over quickly and easily. The little focus dial on the front is not only hard to use instinctively, it's also ugly and looks like a tacked on afterthought. Thankfully the autofocus is good enough that I didn't need to go manual very often but when I did it wasn't a pleasant experience.

Personal preference will dictate whether you think the camera looks attractive or not. Although its small size does help you shoot discreetly and it doesn't scream "pro camera", to me it's not particularly attractive. It's function over form, a design ethos to get the job done first and looks come second. The RX1R-II reminds me of a supercar, covered in brash spoilers & day-glo orange body stickers!

One final gripe was with the neck strap supplied with the camera. Although I hate the standard straps I always try them out and in this case the strap is a total failure - quite literally. The camera simply fell off the strap, luckily onto something soft, but I found the design of the neck strap was very poor. I always recommend using a 3rd party, sturdy strap and that advice is something I definitely reiterate here! The camera itself is sturdier than the RX100-IV, if you remember I went through two of those because of dubious resilience/build quality issues, but the RX1R-II was more than capable of taking a knock or two inside a camera bag with no ill effects.

Sony still continue to produce needlessly complicated menus. I'm getting a little bored saying this but they are pointlessly detailed and the overwhelming majority of functions were left unused. I did try hunting around for a built-in timelapse mode to shoot the recent eclipse but sadly this feature was missing.

Shooting with the RX1R-II is very enjoyable. It has a couple of flaws but when you are out there shooting it's great. Very satisfying indeed. I would say the X100S still *feels* nicer to shoot with which is a fairly subjective opinion I know! The camera definitely passes unnoticed in a crowd and even when I bumped into other serious photographers out shooting no-one passed comment. This will be nice for some whereas others may prefer the styling & head-turning effect other similar cameras have. 

So far so good, but what about the real acid test... what are the photos like!

Image Quality

I've looked at a number of the different image quality settings on the camera and how them impact the final image. The first of these is the dynamic Low Pass Filter. Although the original RX1 had an LPF built in by default, a feature removed in the RX1R, this new model gives you the option to apply or remove the filter as you so choose. Unsurprising really since this is the exact same sensor as the A7RII.

This was a test baseline I used to evaluate the different Low Pass Filter settings - I tried to find a moire-susceptible subject but no luck! This looks at the effect on sharpness with the LPF in each setting - Off, Standard and High

This was a test baseline I used to evaluate the different Low Pass Filter settings - I tried to find a moire-susceptible subject but no luck! This looks at the effect on sharpness with the LPF in each setting - Off, Standard and High

Low pass filter off, 100% crop

Low pass filter standard, 100% crop

Low pass filter High, 100% crop

To my eye, there are subtle differences but it's still pretty sharp across all images. None of the test images I shot exhibited moire at all - I suspect you could find it if you pushed for it but in the real world it was never an issue.

As you can see below, the F/2 lens natively exhibits moderate pincushion distortion, easily corrected in the latest version of Lightroom. On the subject of Lightroom, you WILL need the latest version of ACR to read the RAW files so if like me you've been sitting on an older version of Lightroom avoiding the bugs & import issues well... it's time to upgrade :)

Animation showing the standard image straight out of camera then the distortion-corrected version. You can see vignetting is present but only subtly.

The effect of high ISO noise on images is nothing short of fantastic. The image below shows a dark frame of each ISO setting from 100 on the left to 51,200 on the right, increasing a stop with each vertical slice. It's possible to tell the difference on the right hand side but honestly the noise-handling capability of the camera is fantastic.

I shot images with the in-camera noise reduction on and off. To be honest, I can't really see much difference.

Each vertical slice is an ISO stop, from L-R starting at 100 and ending at 51,200.  Definitely needs viewing large. I've exaggerated the effect below.

I shot a dark frame scene at 1/100th second, f/8 with the lens cap on - changing only the ISO throughout. This is with the in camera noise reduction set to Normal.

This is the same image but with a massive curve tweak to significantly exaggerate the difference in ISO settings. As you can see everything is virtually indistinguishable upto 1600, barely different at 6400 and still extremely useful at 25,600 - even 51,200 has potential in my opinion!

This is an example of a 5 second, f/2 exposure at ISO 6400 - the kind of settings you might use for astrophotography for example.

With the "technical" images covered above, here are some example photos to show what the camera is capable of! As usual, unless otherwise stated, images have been tweaked in LR & PS to show how you might process them in the real world! I will included unedited RAW files as a download link at the end of the review as soon as I can get them uploded.

Word of warning, there's a portrait of a girl at the end of the sample images which some may consider NSFW. She's covered up, but you have been warned.

The first image was shot using the Dynamic Range Optimiser option turned on. This isn't HDR, although that feature is present provided you turn off RAW and only shoot JPG. DRO does a very good job of balancing bright skies and darker foregrounds at the cost of half-a-second or so extra processing time, depending on the scene. Though I shot images with it on and off, generally the effect was so useful I left it turned on permanently.

This was quite a bright scene but the Dynamic Range Optimiser function handled it really well.

Shot using the macro mode, straight out of camera

100% crop of the image above, straight out of camera

Contrast adjusted, sharpened.

I photoshopped the crap out of this :) Sharpening, detail extraction preset in colour efex pro to bring out more of the foliage (it's amazing what was recoverable from the shadows), I then applied some colour gradients to emphasise the sky-glow. Cropped out a load of boring sky to make it feel like a pano but in reality it's a single frame.

30 second exposure with only very slight contrast & vibrance tweaks, plus sharpening

Just in case you were wondering if a £3000 camera can take photos of your lunch - here is the proof. Yes... yes it can.

Lean in. Straight out of camera.

Straight out of camera JPG shot with Dynamic Range Optimisation turned on.

The only tweaks here are sharpening and a slight vibrance boost 

Monochrome conversion done in SEP2 & sharpened, otherwise unchanged.

Straight out of camera, mostly. Sharpening and the eyes have been tweaked but other than that it's untouched. **note** - LR exported this as Adobe RGB. It will have strange colours on mobile devices. I'll re-export and fix it soon

A quick word on the video features. Unfortunately I lost the bulk of video for this review in a card failure (the second in 2016!) but to be perfectly frank the video features are a let down. It's bewildering, the sensor is the same as the A7RII which is capable of 4K recording but it's left out of the RX1R-II. I've chased Sony for an explanation but they are yet to reply - my suspicion is that it might be heat-related, with the larger body of the A7RII able to dissipate the heat output from 4K recording safely. Maybe the RX1R-II is just too small to safely do it and Sony disabled the feature in the firmware? If I hear a conclusive answer I'll update this review. As is, the RX1R-II can only record Full HD @ 60p. At these settings the video quality was perfectly usable but unimpressive.

You Might Also LIKE...

As I mentioned earlier there is another range of F/2, 35mm focal length cameras out there, the Fuji X100 series. Although I don't have the latest X100T I did spend some time comparing the X100S with the RX1R-II. I shot a test image with each camera and then compared the results side by side, the outcome being visible in the photos below.

Fuji X100S

Sony RX1R-II

A few observations of the above images - 

  • The FOV for what is ostensbily the same focal length is definitely different with the RX1R-II having a slightly larger field of view
  • The barrel distortion on the Sony is much more pronounced.
  • The way both cameras have rendered diffuse detail is similar even at 100%. I couldn't really tell the two cameras apart when it comes to the clouds or noise (the Sony was shot at ISO 100 and the Fuji at it's native lowest ISO 200)
  • Both cameras render greens very well but the Sony unmistakeably has punchier, bluer skies. While both can be changed to suit your preference in Photoshop I personally prefer the more muted, realistic colours of the Fuji.

The next test I did was to take two 100% crops of the scene for some hardcore pixel peeping. I expected the Sony to be better but what I didn't expect was just how much sharper and distinct the image was, check it out below.

Fuji on the left, Sony on the right

As you can see the Sony blows the Fuji out of the water. Also, although both of the above crops are 800x800 pixels in size you can see how much greater the potential is for cropping with the Sony. 

If I had to summarise, the Sony is unambiguously better on a technical and fine-detail image quality level. The Fuji still produces great images but the RX1R-II has a bigger, better sensor and it shows. That said, I *much* prefer shooting with the Fuji and I could buy an X100S and still have money to spare to buy a small car.

The next few images show the two cameras side by side - the Fuji is bigger in all dimensions except the lens, and I've even stuck filters on mine. The Fuji is slightly larger and more comfortable/practical to use as a result. But it's almost splitting hairs.

 

Pros

  • Amazing image quality, even images straight out of camera look lovely
  • Small & light, the ideal size for a go-everywhere camera
  • High ISO capability is awesome
  • EVF performance is best in class
  • Very good optics

Cons

  • HUGELY overpriced for a fixed lens camera, even accounting for the image quality
  • No 4K video on a £3000 camera!
  • Built in strap is an insurance claim waiting to happen
  • Niggling design issues with some of the controls, and the menus are again just crazy complex
  • No weather sealing
  • No touchscreen

Conclusion

Sony have once again produced a technically excellent, very appealing camera. Although it's riding on the innovation of cameras such as the A7RII that's no bad thing and shows that Sony are happy catering to photographers with all sorts of tastes. It shoots lovely images and in almost all situations is a joy to use. I had a lot of fun during my time with the RX1RII!

That said, I would never personally buy it. If it was my cash on the line I'd rather buy the A7R2 and a lens to get me started. For the same money, that setup has more flexibility in terms of lenses, it's a nicer camera to use, produces equally as good images and more importantly includes 4K video. Even the strap on the A7RII didn't give me a heart attack...

I don't know if my feelings are accurate but I get them impression Sony are pitching this as a premium, Leica-challenging product. Considering what else you can get for your money it's unambiguously an extravagent purchase! Sadly, even though it's a clearly better camera than any Leica I've ever seen or used, Sony will lose the marketing war against the Red Dot guys I think. 

I completely understand the appeal of the RX1R-II. I didn't want to give it back! But although I enjoyed my springtime fling with this supermodel of the camera world, it's just too high maintenance to live with. I'll always have a soft spot for it but I'd prefer to settle down with its big sister :)

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* I know some of the product shots are blurry - truth be told, I shot them in a rush while waiting to send the camera back to Sony! I realised at the last minute I hadn't taken any :)

Sony A7II Review

Back in 2013 Sony released the A7 - more specifically the Alpha 7, but everyone tends to call it A - as the first of their full-frame mirrorless cameras.  Along with the A7R and A7S they were Sony's first major foray into full-frame mirrorless and they made quite an impact.  It may be worth reminding you how Sony pitched these cameras to us.  The vanilla A7 was advertised as "perfection" and the high dynamic range was emphasised as a strong USP.  The A7R was the resolution king with its 36MP eclipsing the 24MP of its siblings.  Finally the A7S was touted as having the best sensitivity with a native ISO range running to 102400 and expanding out to an astonishing 409600.  As a first statement entry into full frame mirrorless they generated a lot of interest, praise and attention - and rightfully so.

Now, less than a year later, Sony have begun releasing the sequels starting with the A7II. The A7RII has also been announced so it's probably only a matter of time before the A7SII arrives.  This review focuses on the eldest sibling, the A7II.

Remember this is the perfection model, nothing but perfection is acceptable! :)

Image courtesy of Sony

Image courtesy of Sony

 

Out of the Box

I didn't receive a standard, boxed retail camera to review, rather a promo unit, so I can't really judge the contents based on what I received. Checking with Sony, the standard A7II package contains the camera, strap, body cap, USB cable and battery plus AC adapter cable. The last item continues to INFURIATE me with Sony cameras! Sony - PLEASE ship a proper battery charger with your cameras!  Having the ability to have multiple batteries charging outside the camera is of huge benefit and for a top-end camera there is simply no excuse for not including a dedicated charger. It makes the package feel cheap. 

It also came shipped with the 28-70 f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.

The A7II I reviewed was shipped with the 28-70mm f/3.5-5/6 kit lens.  Given it was the only lens available to me at the time of this review, all images you see are shot with this lens so will give a good indication of the quality you can expect.

The A7II I reviewed was shipped with the 28-70mm f/3.5-5/6 kit lens.  Given it was the only lens available to me at the time of this review, all images you see are shot with this lens so will give a good indication of the quality you can expect.

Useage & Handling

For a mirrorless camera I was surprised by the size & weight of the A7II.  I have to admit, it was much bigger and heavier than I expected and certainly atypical for mirrorless.  To put it into context, this is heavier than a Canon 760D and only 100g shy of a 70D. Granted, neither of those are full frame but to me it highlights the days of mirrorless simply just being about smaller/ligher are coming to an end and shows that future cameras will be a convergence of DSLR and mirrorless. This is particularly true when you factor in the size and weight of pro-grade glass; to get image quality on a par with professional DSLR cameras and lenses requires getting the larger mirrorless glass, which in turn offsets much of the point of the current crop of mirrorless cameras.  Anyway, I digress...

The size & weight are to the camera's advantage and due in no small part to its construction.  It feels solid, reliable and professional. It's still a little too small for my own personal tastes and man-sized hands but considerably better in this regard than almost every other mirrorless camera I've used. While I'll cover details of the controls & layout later, Sony has made the right decision to go for a slightly larger body and update the layout from the A7.  These are both very good decisions.

I do still find it a little alarming that you remove your lens and BANG - there's your sensor exposed to the world.  I wonder how mirrorless designs cope in the field with heavy environmental damage/impact (dust, rain etc.) without risking the sensor.

Ergonomically, the A7II has a different shaped grip to the original A7 and it's a welcome change too.  Though it does increase the dimensions of the camera, many mirrorless designs make the mistake of going for a sleeker, smaller look at the expense of comfort, ease of use and - to be frank - the lower risk of dropping the camera because of a proper grip.

pSNYNA-ILCE7M2~B_alternate3_v786.png

Control-wise, the camera is very definitely a Sony.  It makes me smile - Sony are so intent on packing in features and controls there are buttons, dials and wheels everywhere.  I'm sure if I counted the number would be comparable to a DSLR but because of the smaller size, it feels like they are everywhere.  While not as bad as the RX100-3, given the size of the two that's not a surprise, it does feel that with a well implemented touchscreen Sony could lose a few of the controls and make the camera visually more attractive and functionally simpler to use. Many of the buttons I simply didn't bother with. The video record button is placed out-of-the-way to the right of the rear thumb grip.

Speaking of the rear LCD screen, Sony continue to impress and stand out from the crowd in terms of LCD screen quality. That said, for some unknown reason they opted to not make the A7II screen touch-sensitive. I think this is a mistake; though some of the Sony implementations of touchscreens have had their fair share of niggling issues, overall they are of great benefit. With the A7II it feels like a missed opportunity, something which would have raised the camera a couple of notches had it been present. The screen does at least have some articulation, albeit only in a single-axis unlike that seen on other cameras. 

Another change from the A7 is in the inclusion of two click-wheel dials to control the shutter & aperture. The first of these is built into the grip, fairly close to where the forefinger rests, and is easily reached & manipulated.  I tended to use this for controlling aperture as it favoured my style of shooting. The other dial, as seen on the images above, is on the rear of the camera conveniently placed near where your thumb rests. This I mapped to controlling the shutter speed. I really, really liked these. On SLRs the button to secondary control is usually way down under where your thumb rests and takes a lot of bending to get used to. This approach was a LOT better. Although the dials are quite small and on the model I reviewed reasonably stiff to turn, I preferred it that way and it stopped accidental setting changes - something that DOES happen accidentally when a control wheel on the back of a DSLR is nudged by mistake. I'd prefer them just slightly larger but in terms of location they are spot on. Combined with the immediate exposure simulation feedback in the EVF it was nice to shoot in manual and have a pretty reliable idea how the image would look and what small tweaks would do to the image. I'd very much like this in my DSLR, normally it's only live view which gives a similar experience which isn't as useful as the Sony implementation.

The front control dial built into the grip. I mapped this to aperture as it's the easier & quicker of the two dials to manipulate.

As well as the obligatory PASM modes, there's the usual array of auto, movie & scene modes on the main mode-dial. Next to this is something else I love - a dedicated exposure compensation dial. Yes, yes I know that shooting manual negates the need for one of these but for coping with rapidly changing light or to quickly boost/lower exposure to achieve a specific effect I think they are hugely convenient & easy to use. Well done Sony, keep doing this please!

You can also see a bewildering number of Cx buttons - these can be mapped from within the menu to pretty much any setting you want. Great for flexibility and for long-term shooters who know their kit inside out but it does rely on you remembering what C1 does, what C2 does, and so on!

I like that the on-off button is integrated into the shutter button for one-handed shooting.

I continue to dislike how Sony layout their menus. In their defence, they ram so much functionality into the camera they need to be able to customise & control it somehow but to be totally honest, the menus are confusing and badly laid out. Maybe this is a personal prefernce issue rather than a camera issue but the way the menus are laid out and how the settings are grouped are not quite as slick as the rest of the camera & controls so the experience was definitely jarring. Still, this is potentially something Sony can continue to fix and revise in firmware updates if they so wished and is likely to be something that long-term use would mitigate.

Sony gets a gold star for including that dedicated exposure compensation dial!

The other major new addition to the camera is the addition of 5-axis image stabilisation on the sensor itself. Without going into the details of how it works - see the image below for an easy-to-understand representation - I found that although the stabilisation is effective and extremely useful in day-to-day shooting, it didn't impress me more than the lens-based stabilisation you see from other manufacturers. In other words, I couldn't find any scene or scenario where I felt the 5-axis stabilisation on sensor was better - or tangibly worse - than what you get from a stabilised lens. Both are very good. I know that in-lens stabilisation is nominally better in some circumstances but in general shooting, the stabilisation simply worked.

I do quite like Digital Rev's explanation of how the two work & their pros/cons - here

Sony's obligatory graphic explaining what 5-axis stabilisation means.

With a burst mode of 5fps and a buffer of around 25 frames (dependent on the card speed) it's on a par with equivalent DSLRs. Whereas the Canon 7Dmk2 with its 10fps sounds like a machine gun, the quieter electronic shutter in the A7II sounds more like a sniper rifle, useful in situations where discretion is important!

The autofocus implementation in the A7II is pretty good but not perfect. Setting it to full AF using the full 117 AF points (a mix of phase- and contrast-detect), in general street & travel useage it performed to an acceptable level. There was still the odd occasion where it picked the wrong target or didn't quite hit the accuracy required, forcing manual intervention, but it did cope well. Face recognition and subject tracking are also well implemented albeit for the latter only when the subject was crossing the scene perpendicular to the camera. For cases where the subject was moving towards me, the AF frequently failed to keep up (as you will see in a later photo) which is a common problem with mirrorless cameras, especially when using smaller apertures. 

In terms of battery life it's better than every other mirrorless I've used in the past while not coming close to the performance of the larger DSLR batteries. That said, it's good enough to last a full day shooting (approx 400 frames on avearge) and this would be enough if you could have a backup battery charged... but without supplying a charger, this becomes an irritating headache to do. This is partly because the power management of the LCD and EVF seems to better than other cameras in this class.

Overall, the shooting experience is easy and fun with the A7II.

Image Quality

As with all my reviews I like to include a mix of shooting scenes, images I've processed and images straight out of camera where it helps prove a point. I try to include all pertinent details in the comments below each image.

Remember these are all taken with the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. As a general rule, image quality at and below ISO 800 is very good, certainly on a par with any DSLR I've used. Above 800 is a different question which I'll discuss later.  For now, enjoy the images!

SOOC = Straight Out Of Camera

The A7II was a pleasure to use for street photography. I also really like how it renders reds in these images.  Sharpened & tweaked in Lightroom.

Jam Session on the beach.  Converted in Silver Efex Pro 2, cropped & sharpened.

This is an in-camera monochrome conversion, untouched in Lightroom except for standard RAW sharpening.  Pretty good for in-camera rendering. It still needs some work before the image is "complete" but as a starting point it's not bad.

Dynamic range in the RAW files is excellent.  I hadn't expected to notice much difference over 6D and 5D3 files but it is definitely a visible improvement in some cases. Skies were the most noticeable area - I would meter for the landscape, shoot the scene then tease out way more detail in the sky than other RAW files tend to allow. That's not to say care shouldn't be taken to avoid blown highlights but there is enough added latitude in the RAW image to make for a more appealing exposure.

Also, Sony are (in)famous for using lossy compression in their RAW file processing. Rather than output the whole, uncompressed data dump from the sensor they use an algorithm which loses data. If you tend to not process your images at all, or only very lightly you may not notice; attempt to push the highlights or shadows to any extent and you can easily run into posterisation and visible banding. My understanding is this is a hardware issue and not one Sony will be fixing in a firmware update. In my experience, I found that 75% of images I used were OK despite this flaw but for the 25% I did see it, the images were essentially unusable.

This is another straight from camera image, with only RAW sharpening applied.  Through the EVF the brick wall was in much darker shadow so I was pleased to see the dynamic range - even the bright spot on the man's head isn't technically burnt out.  Sunburnt maybe...

I included this to show when the AF let me down - this guy was looking at the fans while I was shooting and abruptly turned and walked towards me - almost INTO me I might add - and the AF failed to keep track.  Close, but not close enough for perfection.  I still like the final image despite the missed AF.

I included this to show when the AF let me down - this guy was looking at the fans while I was shooting and abruptly turned and walked towards me - almost INTO me I might add - and the AF failed to keep track.  Close, but not close enough for perfection.  I still like the final image despite the missed AF.

I was very keen to test the effect of diffraction on a full frame mirrorless camera.  To understand diffraction check out this explanation 

See the images below for my findings.

I shot this scene at f8 to test how the A7II handled diffraction.  This is a 100% crop of a larger image (available at the bottom of this review after my conclusion). Generally speaking it's very good with lots of fine detail visible.

The same scene as above shot at f22 under identical lighting conditions.  It's utterly awful, view large to see more.  Fine detail is a miserable smudge and even the lettering on the yellow cylinder is hideous.  This is under bright, well-lit conditions too.

The f/22 image above with some attempt to rescue the diffraction blur using sharpening.  Viewed large you'll see it has made things WORSE. My advice is to keep your aperture below f/16 with best results around f/10 or thereabouts.

The A7II also comes with a number of preset picture profile settings to tweak the balance, colour & sharpening applied to JPGs produced by the camera.  This is the "standard" or untweaked JPG. SOOC

By contrast to the above this is one of the Vivid modes, on the least aggressive setting.  Not only does it lose the dynamic range of the normal JPG it's straying into "vomit of colour" territory.  Normally I don't bother looking at scene modes but the A7II's selection were so varied I thought they warranted testing.  I cannot think of any situation where I'd want to rely on these in-camera modes to improve a JPG. SOOC

Sun worshippers or zombies?  I'm not sure.  I was surprisingly close to these guys when I took this shot and the quiet shutter certainly helped not disturb them. Converted to monochrome in SEP2, sharpened, manual dodging/burning.

Sadly the A7II has a major problem when it comes to high ISO images, specifically anything shot above ISO 800.  I've included a gallery of images at the end of the review, after my conclusion, that show this in greater detail but I've included a small example here to demostrate the point.

In simple terms, everything up to ISO 800 is good, even in relatively low light.  Above ISO 800 image quality slides down a slippery slope and even at relatively modest settings like 3200 it can be a challenge to get decent images.  The problem is a combination of higher-than-expected luminance & colour noise but also the way the noise manifests in areas of detail.  For example, even though the image below is noisy, the area in the sky can be fixed.  The areas around the buildings however is already ruined and even fixing the noise you are left with an image devoid of detail.  It's a real shame and quite unexpected; one of the major benefits of full frame over smaller sensor sizes is the better sensitivity and handling-of image noise. I've read reports online of weird bright noises speckling in shadows too, though didn't encounter it personally.

That said, there is a workaround which I discuss later in the review.

This is a high-ISO shot of the city from a rooftop bar.  Rest assured I wasn't drunk and the camera was stabilised ;)

Shot at ISO 10,000 it looks superficially OK when seen at full resolution.

A 100% crop of the image above.  Absolutely awful.

When you lower the ISO to a working maximum of 800 you can get some fantastic results.  I like that you can see the light pollution already reflecting from the underside of the clouds even though it's just after sunset.  Contrast tweaked, sharpened and some noise reduction.

The colours & tones you can get out of the A7II are lovely.  Very, very nice indeed. This was tweaked in Colour Efex Pro to tweak contrast with a tiny (<10) amount of saturation added.

In the head-to-head portrait shoot against the Canon 6D & 7Dmk2 the A7II held its own. Impressive results.  Processed quite a lot!

Another from the same photoshoot, I really like how the A7II renders colours.  They're bright & punchy yet are still distinct.  I tweaked the contrast on this image which helps make the scene pop.

In contrast to the high ISO scene shot above, this view of the city was deliberately underexposed (using the wonderful exposure compensation dial) with colour and detail recovered in post-processing. I found that this was the best approach - keep your ISO low, under-expose then rescue in Photoshop.  The dynamic range capabilities of the camera allow some near-miraculous recoveries! 

I didn't know why the ISO problem occurred until I read an article on DPReview (link below).  In terms of procesing, pretty much everything has been tweaked. Contrast, sharpening, selective saturation & dodging/burning.  I shot this in RAW & JPG - the JPG is rubbish and unusable but the RAW file did allow this image to be rescued.

Key Specifications

For a full list, check out Sony's website.

  • 24mp full-frame sensor, maximum resolution 6000x4000
  • 5-axis, 4.5 stop sensor-based image stabilisation
  • ISO range of 100-25600
  • 5fps burst mode, 25 RAW frame buffer
  • 117 AF point system, phase/contrast detect
  • 2.3mp EVF, 1.2m tilting LCD screen

Pros

  • Well built, easy to use & intuitive control layout makes shooting enjoyable
  • Superb image quality at or below ISO 800, especially colour rendition
  • Excellent dynamic range

Cons

  • High ISO images are ugly, very difficult to recover in post-processing
  • Servo/continuous AF is unreliable
  • Shrinking-violet mirrorless fanboys will complain about the size & weight :)

Conclusion

So... Is the A7II the embodiment of photographic "perfection"?  It is, without doubt, the best mirrorless camera I've used to date. Sony are hugely exciting to watch and their rate of innovation is extremely impressive. The A7 was good and they've raised the standard with the A7II.  It is a very good piece of kit, so much so it's the first mirrorless where I've considered taking the plunge and getting one myself.  While I don't think it's surpassing the better full-frame DSLRs yet - the high ISO performance is still far behind the leaders - it's very promising and good enough for the vast majority of photographers. 

That said, I think Sony are a victim of their own success. They are producing new models are cameras so quickly and often with measurable improvements it makes it difficult to justify buying into their model. Sure, the argument of "buy a camera that lets you shoot now, worry about upgrades later" is correct... but I have that camera already. If you are looking to get into photography as a serious hobby and haven't committed to specific manufacturer yet AND have the money to spend, the A7II is well worth considering.

If you already have a reliable DSLR then I'm not sure I can recommend the A7II outright - for the simple reason Sony will soon release a new camera that's better. To some extent they are a victim of their own success. Case in point, the A7RII has already been announced and early previews suggest it has improved already on the A7II!  Although you absolutely can buy the A7II now and be very, very pleased with your purchase, if you hold on just a few months there will be something else... and a few months after that, something else again.  Personally I feel like we are in the early stages of the transition from "DSLR vs mirrorless" to something else.  It's very exciting and very good for photography.

In conclusion, it's not "perfection" but it is a very good camera. Whether it's the best camera for you I can't say, but hopefully this review helps you make that decision :)

 

Sample diffraction-limit test images

f8 scene from the diffraction limit test

f22 scene from the diffraction limit test

Sample high ISO images

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 4000

ISO 6400

ISO 8000

ISO 10000

ISO 12800

ISO 16000

ISO 25600

It's quite technical but the folks over at DPReview have written a great explanation about how the ISO implementation on the A7II works and how adjusting your shooting style can offset some of the limitations. It's reassuring to see that the techie guys arrived at the same conclusion I did - ISO 800 and below is great, above ISO 800 things get very bad very quickly.

Sony RX100-IV Review

The RX100-III is a fantastic little camera and when I had the chance to play with its successor earlier in the year I was very excited to see if the RX100-IV would build upon the already high standards Sony have helped set. While Sony have been making some impressive advances in the high-end camera market, in the pro-compact area things are a lot tighter with Canon just edging ahead of the RX100-3 with the G7X.

On the surface the RX100-IV looks very similar to its predecessor but taking a glance at the specification sheet shows some pretty incredible-sounding new features.  I've spent the best part of a month shooting near-constantly with the RX100-IV to bring you yet another detailed, real-world review.

The key new features focus around some improvements to the sensor. More specifically, the camera now has the ability to shoot photos down to 1/32,000th second for stills and for the videographer it can record 4k video as well as 250fps, 500fps and an astonishing 1000fps

Out of the Box

The camera, strap, battery & USB cable all come as standard, along with two inches of printed manual, warranty & adverts. Yet again Sony do not include any form of dedicated battery charger. Seriously there is no excuse for this Sony... With a $1000 camera I want the ability to charge my batteries outside of the camera. Especially when, as you'll see below, the battery life can be poor.

Usage & Handling

Not only does the RX100-IV look like the mark 3 but it's essentially the same camera to use. Except for the addition of the new HFR setting on the mode dial & the associated changes in the menus to account for it, to all intents and purposes the camera feels just like the older model. The same screen, the same controls & layout - it's all very familiar. While this does mean all of the positive aspects of the RX100-3 are retained, it does mean all of the drawbacks are still present such as the labyrinthine & poorly designed menus and a rear screen which still isn't touch sensitive. That said, the pop-up LCD viewfinder has definitely had an upgrade and is noticeably sharper & more detailed. It's still a fantastic addition to the camera and is especially useful in bright conditions. I still find that using it for a long time gives me the beginning of a headache from squinting but really, it's a great feature. For everything else except the new faster shutter speed and video modes you can read my RX100-3 review and it's exactly the same. Generally, handling remains very good.

Battery life is also very similar to the RX100-3 albeit with an important caveat I'll cover later. When shooting stills I found it to be about the same as the mark 3 and it just about handles a full day out shooting, provided you remember to switch it off when not using it. If you expect to get about 250 shots between charges you won't be disappointed.

The biggest changes are focused around the headline new specifications of the camera - the 1/32,000th second maximum shutter speed & the vastly improved video functions. Both of these will have the biggest impact on how you use the camera so it makes sense I talk most about these functions. And yes, that means I've broken my prior embargo on looking at the video functions of a camera... But really, with the RX100-IV, I just had to!

The 32,000th second shutter speed is a huge step up from any other consumer camera on the market. Even top end DSLRs top out at 1/8000th second which means the RX100-IV shutter is four times quicker! This opens up a number of photographic opportunities such as shooting wide-open at f/1.8 in bright sunlight. It would also seem to open up the world of high-speed photography too - freezing the action that would otherwise be too fast for the human eye to see. Typically, photographs like this are shot using off-camera flash to freeze the action; the camera settings are usually around 1/200th second (the common flash synch limit for many cameras) with a narrow aperture and low ISO values for maximum quality. The image below was shot at f/8, 1/200th sec and ISO 100 in a dark room - the reason you can see an image at all is because a flash was bounced off the white background and illuminated the scene. So in effect, even though the shutter is open for 1/200th second, there is only enough light in the room for 1/10,000th second - that's how long the flash burst lasts. The light needed to illuminate a scene is also the biggest drawback for the new fast-shutter mode. Simply put, in order to make best use of the 1/32,000th shutter speed, with a reasonable depth of field and a reasonable ISO you need light. Lots & lots of light. If you look at the balloon pop image later in this review it was shot outdoors in bright midday sunshine - yet to get the scene properly exposed at 1/32,000th second and freeze the action needed ISO 1000 and f/2.8! Ultimately this means that the real world scenarios where the fast shutter speed can be used are hugely dependent on the conditions - it might be great for capturing insects or butterflies flying around when it's nice and bright but once that light goes, your options become drastically limited. 

What you really need to make full use of the fast shutter speed is a powerful continuous lighting rig. This requirement is even more apparent when you factor in the new High Frame Rate video mode too.

This WASN'T shot on an RX100-IV; this was taken using a Canon 550D and off-camera flash - to demonstrate the more traditional method of freezing fast action without ludicrous shutter speeds!

The biggest surprise to me when reviewing the RX100-IV was how much I enjoyed using the video modes, both the 4K and HFR options. Normally I rarely bother shooting video on my cameras but it's something I'm beginning to get more interested in and the RX100-IV really helped pique my interest further. Beginning with the more conventional HD & 4K recording, I was a bit confused between shooting in video mode, or shooting in one of the PASM modes and just pressing the video button. After much experimentation, it seems like Sony has continued in the theme of giving ultimate flexibility even if sometimes it makes no sense. If you see the 4K video below, this was shot in aperture priority mode at f/8, but because it was in A mode and not movie-mode, the camera picked a frame rate the same as the shutter speed. As a result, the video is jerky, ugly & unusuable. Confused? I was - but when I figured out that the camera was letting me shoot videos with any settings, even if those settings were going to produce garbage it began to make more sense. For a little while, at least. Not being overly familiar with all the different video modes available I began my background reading to figure out what AVCHD, MP4 and XAVC S were, then what 25p, 50p, 100M and 60M were. Although the RX100-IV does provide an annoying description of what aperture priority mode is on a prosumer camera aimed at experienced photographers - thankfully you can disable that - it does expect us all to be expert videographers and know the difference between our video formats! Yet another quirk of the interface, albeit a minor one.

Switching the camera into dedicated movie mode was akin to selecting P-mode. Though I could have tweaked the ISO, by default the camera set it to Auto and it took complete control. Though this may be a problem for dedicated videographers, for me at least it was reassuring to know if I used movie mode the camera would ensure the results I got were halfway decent.

At this point it's worth pointing out that the camera does have minimum memory card performance requirements. For shooting 4k video at 60Mbps, I found most of my memory cards were OK but that's because the majority are UHS-1 standard, with at least 45mbps or higher data transfer rates. To shoot 4k video in the top end 100Mbps format the camera warns you that a minimum of UHS-3 is required. This is denoted by a little U with a 3 inside on your SD card. As it happened, I didn't own any cards of that standard so in the spirit of a thorough review I bought one. It turns out not all U3 class cards are created equal - apparently the U3 card I bought was only rated at 90mbps and not the 100mbps minimum needed. This was very frustrating - although I could have probably figured out the camera meant "to shoot 100mbps 4k video you need a UHS-3 card that is also rated at 100mbps or higher", the warning the camera gives you doesn't say that. It just says "get a UHS-3 card". And to compound the problem, the UHS-3 card I bought didn't even display the transfer rate and I needed to look it up online to learn my mistake. Quite an irritating experience, albeit not one I can lay entirely at the feet of the camera. What makes the whole situation even more comical is that to shoot in HFR mode you do NOT need a UHS-3 card but you DO need an SDXC card. I own many memory cards, some of them at 64gb capacity. Only one of my cards was actually SDXC. So even though I have a 64gb SDHC card rated at 90Mbps, the only memory card that worked for HFR video was a 64gb SDXC card rated at 40Mbps. Quite why the SDXC designation is more important than the data transfer rate I don't know - please leave a note in the comments if you do! My recommendation therefore is to get the best out of this camera buy a couple of... wait for it.... SDXC memory cards of 64gb capacity or greater that are UHS Class 3 with a minimum data transfer rate of at least 100mbps. That way you know your card will work in any mode and you won't need to swap things around all the time.

The 4K shooting experience is limited to 5 minutes maximum filming time before a new file starts. Not an issue if you're happy editing video but a constraint/consideration nonetheless. You can hook the camera up to a dedicated external recording unit (e.g. an Atomos unit) and I suspect that will be first thing many videographers looking to take advantage of the 4k video capability will do. I am far from that level :) Though I must admit, I thoroughly enjoyed the "movie mindset" while shooting 4k and the quality of the final videos was very impressive to me. Again, given my lack of expertise, I'm unable to make any kind of comparison or reliable judgement but I was impressed.

The High Frame Rate mode was the final new feature that I was really looking forward to using. During the Sony preview under controlled conditions it was hugely fun and since then I have been trying to think of as many other speedy scenarios I could shoot at 1000fps! HFR mode allows three different slow-motion speeds, 250fp - 500fps - 1000fps. Although they are advertised as producing 1080p HD output, this is only partially true; each mood shoots at lower than HD resolution then upscales to produce an HD output file. 250fps generates the nearest to HD at 1824x1026 resolution but this drops noticeably to 1676x566 for 500fps and even more dramatically to 1136x284 at 1000fps. For the latter, it significantly impacts scene framing and the crop-effect is very visible. As you can see from the recorded resolutions, the 250fps option is by far the closest to true 1080p and this bears out in the results. 250fps looks a LOT nicer even though the recorded action is slower. 500fps isn't too bad but I found I either wanted the high quality of 250fps or the fascinating effects visible at 1000fps despite the generally poor quality. 500fps was a middle ground I didn't find overly useful as it filled neither role I wanted.

The HFR mode does also have some bugs unfortunately. The first and potentially most irritating is that the sensor can overheat and shut the camera down. I first encountered this shooting outdoors here in Singapore and wondered if the ambient temperature (about 32 degrees) was to blame but I also encountered the same problem indoors. Extended use of the camera in HFR mode seems to really thrash the sensor which raises questions about the longevity of the unit (something that's also a concern for the large A7x-II cameras too). The other problem with HFR mode, and 4k shooting, is that it destroys battery life. Starting with a fully charged battery I shot for just under an hour producing 20-odd videos before the camera was totally exhausted. Perhaps by turning it off between takes this could be extended but it was really disappointing, especially when you can't be charging a backup battery at the same time because Sony insist on only charging the battery inside the camera itself.

While the overheating and battery life are annoyances, the other bug could be a deal breaker for some. While shooting in HFR mode especially at 1000fps I noticed that sometimes the AF of the camera would fail to lock onto a target - the normal AF mode doesn't work in HFR and without the "green box" flash, you have no way of knowing the camera has focused. You will see in some of the later images shot at 1000fps that they are clearly poorly focused. This happens because even if the camera fails to nail focus it gives no indication and you can't use the "focus zoom" feature - which IS available in stills mode - to zoom in and see how good the focus is.  The rear screen is so small EVERYTHING looks in focus and is of no use. You either trust the camera to focus and wait until you see the final result or focus manually. The problems don't end here either though. If you focus manually outside of HFR mode then change the camera to HFR then the focusing shifts slightly. The shift is smallest in 250fps mode and by far the worst in 1000fps. The water balloon videos later on show this effect - I prefocused on the pin manually > switched to HFR mode > the camera refocuses but because of the same bug above, you have no visual indication that the focal point has moved.

The only reliable solution is to therefore set HFR mode first, manually focus as best you can using the small rear screen (with no magnified view remember) and shoot. I can't help but feel like this is an error Sony quality assurance must have simply missed and until you figure out what's going on it makes HFR shooting an exercise in frustration.

That said, camera bugs aside, once you learn the limitations and quirks it can be very rewarding and addictive shooting high frame rates! It reminded me of the first time I bought a macro lens and I'd hunt around the house for things to "photograph bigger". With the R100-IV I was constantly on the lookout for things to slow down!

Image Quality

With the RX100-III I took hundreds of photos, including one I was hoping to put into exhibitions let alone feature in a review. That was followed by the first time I've ever had a full on memory card failure, losing the entire card. I've had physical failures loads of times & those little plastic parts at the top of the card are constantly snapping. But never have I had a full on card failure. 

Because of that I have completely overcompensated this time and featured more sample images taken with a review camera than ever before.  I hope you enjoy :)

Tweaked slightly in Lightroom to reduce contrast, I love the way the RX100-IV renders red colours.

I used exposure compensation to really bring out the sky and silhouette these ships in the Singapore Straits before converting using my custom "apocalyptic monochrome" preset in Silver Efex Pro 2

Very little changes to the original RAW file here, I barely touched vibrance and mostly tweaked clarity to make the leaf pop from the pavement.

The level of detail & texture in the waves is fantastic here and in a rare break from the haze plaguing Singapore I even managed to find an interesting sky. Dynamic range for such a small sensor is remarkably good and I shot almost constantly with the Dynamic Range Optimiser mode turned on. 

Lovely colours & sharpness, I added the vignette in Lightroom.

As you can see above, and will continue to see below, image quality from the RX100-IV continues what the RX100-III started. It's very nice indeed, especially from such a small sensor. Colours & tones are lovely and the dynamic range was particularly impressive. That said the camera does have some limitations.

The first is much more of an edge case. When shooting at 70mm in very contrasty situations I did notice banding in the highlights taking the form of a faint ring. I generally did NOT see this in the final image unless I seriously pushed sliders to make it appear - under normal processing, I never saw it in the final image.

The second is the image noise and it feels like this might be a step backwards from the RX100-III. The image below takes slices of the same scene shot from ISO 100 across to 12,800. By default the camera will limit itself to 6400 and with good reason, 12,800 is absolutely horrid. However, I also found that the camera generally has an issue with noise at ALL levels and even though it's far better in most cases at ISO 800 and below, even at levels as low as 100 you can see artefacts and issues.

8 slice of ISO test, from 100 on the left to 12,800 at right.  Each slice jumps a stop.

At web resolution on the surface this looks fine with good detail and sharpness. Shot at ISO 100.

This is a 100% crop of the same scene - remember this is ISO 100 on a bright day and you can see that the actual details can be quite indistinct and blurry. The hole in the tree shows the noise problems best, you can see lots of speckling and also some random bright spots. These aren't hot pixels as they shift and move, it;'s something inherent in how the new sensor is handling noise.

This is to show that even though the ISO handling can be very poor and detract from some images, in others it can be irrelevant. Shot at ISO 6400, this has still come out very nicely at normal resolution.

An example of the 1/32,000th shutter in action. To light this scene at 1/32,000th second an f/4 - to retain sufficient DOF - I needed to use a 3 million candlepower torch. The light was so hot it burned me. And even with all that light the ISO is still 1000. The image below shows a close up 100% crop

100% crop of the milk drop scene and this is AFTER noise reduction techniques have been applied. It's barely useable in my opinion. Applying more aggressive noise reduction turns the entire image into an oil painting :)

Another 1/32,000th second shot - here, with good light and a lot of luck, it's worked out really well.

You can see the spherical distortion effect the lens is having on the water drops at top left & top right but I don't find that to be an issue.

I didn't convert the camera to

A favourite local spot of mine, I really like how the camera rendered thisthough I've tweaked it since in Lightroom.

A favourite local spot of mine, I really like how the camera rendered thisthough I've tweaked it since in Lightroom.

Hot.

The macro mode was a bit underwhelming - I could only enable it by selecting the specific macro scene mode rather than having it as another focusing option in any mode. It is not true macro of course, rather just closer focusing, but this is the closest you can get at the maximum zoom of 70mm.

This started life as an in-camera monochrome image and though I've tweaked it since, I did quite like the original image with contrast boosted to +3

This looks fairly decent at web resolution but the closer you look the more you see the noise has distorted the fine detail.

An in-camera monochrome JPG.

A familiar face from Orchard Road, the tilting screen let me shoot this quite discreetly but the lack of a touch screen meant focusing was hit & miss.

Overall the RX100-IV has continued the trend of very good image quality from a small package. Although I think the noise & higher ISO capability is a small step backwards from the previous model, as you can see above it's very easy to get good results. If you stick to ISO 800 or later then you should be able to fix any unsightly noise in post-processing. 

Video Samples

In a first for me, I spent almost as long playing the with video functions of the camera as the regular still images! The first video is arguably my favourite of all video I shot during my time with the RX100-IV. Setting up a burning candle, I used the built-in ND filter & set -2 exposure compensation to tone down the flame highlight. It took a few attempts but this was the best one showing the flame change & the coiling smoke afterwards.

All three of the videos below have been tweaked using YouTube's tools to bring out a little more colour and detail.

The next video is the same scene but shot at 500fps. Although the slower-motion reveals more about how the flame is extinguished & the smoke movement, the loss of quality is quite pronounced.

The final of this series of three videos, this is shot at 1000fps. Already you can see the framing is different (neither the camera nor the candle moved) and the quality loss is very apparent. It's still very cool watching it in slow-motion but the quality is disappointing.

The next two videos are different angles of a sewing machine in operation. The first is at 250fps and the second is shot at 1000fps. You'll notice the light flickering in both; this is caused by the spotlight built into the sewing machine itself. Light flickering is a constant problem with most artificially lit scenes and although some lights are better than others, it's definitely something you'll need to plan & accomodate in your scenes. I deliberately left it in here to highlight the problem :)

This next video is a 250fps sample of waves, filmed at East Coast Park beach.  Unchanged, direct output from camera.

The next video is also from the beach, shot in 4K. Sadly it shows just how bad the junk & pollution situation is in East Coast Park :(

The next scene is also 4K, shot at night overlooking residential blocks in Singapore. This was shot with the camera set to movie mode and all controls except focus were governed by the camera.

This next video shows the bug with the focusing in HFR mode. For this scene I relied on the camera AF. In theory it should have easily focused on the central building but it has failed and the end result is blurry. Very frustrating, even if the double lightning strike is still cool to watch. My advice is to turn MF on, switch to HFR mode then focus manually as best you can on the tiny screen. Not perfect, but the best option.

No slow-motion video review would be complete without more water balloon explosions :)

The first is shot at 250fps and the second at 1000fps. The latter shows that in good conditions (bright sunshine) with patient manual focus, 1000fps can produce some good results. It's just a pain in the backside to setup & refocus between takes!

This one was frustratingly difficult to pull off. I used an entire box of matches to get one scene at 1000fps. I couldn't get it at 250fps. They are called safety matches because they are so flimsy the snap immediately preventing any form of actual fire creation.

For the final batch of videos, I shot my home cooker hob on a range of settings. Because I was shooting in the dark, I prefocused manually (not an easy task working under a huge extraction hood!). As you will see again the difference between 1000fps and lower frame rates is very noticeable and this feels like I was pushing the camera to the limit.

The first two images are the same scene shot at 1000fps. The first is straight out of camera, the second is tweaked using YouTube to bring out more colour and detail.

Shot at 250fps it's still beautiful to watch the fire leap to life, albeit slower, but the quality is MUCH better. Shot at 24mm.

Conclusion

Sony have once again produced a technical marvel. It's really exciting watching how they are innovating and it's great for photography. The image quality is good & the video capabilities are fantastic. It's a great camera.

The headline new features are very exciting on paper and if you can shoot in conditions to take advantage of them they will give you something not seen on any other camera. That said, they still feel immature, more like first-generation "tech demos" which will need further refinement before they can reach their full potential. Take the 1/32,000th second shutter speed for instance - I can currently get more consistent and better quality results freezing the action using off camera flash. Even shooting at large apertures in bright conditions can be achieved using ND filters. 

Similarly with the video. 4k recording in such a small body is impressive but if you take your videography seriously you'd opt for an external unit... and if you do that, might you be more serious and opt for a more capable camera? Likewise with the high frame rate features, they're fun to use but aren't serious production quality yet.

With the still photography side of the camera pretty much the same as the RX100-III the mark 4 seems to be aimed much more at the videographer. If you are primarily a photographer and are wondering if you should upgrade from III to IV I would probably advise not. If you are looking to get into video and want a good quality compact then it's a lot easier to recommend. However the biggest problem with this camera is one I have not mentioned yet.  The price. High-end compacts are most commonly used as backups for larger, more capable & more expensive cameras but with this camera retailing for $1000 USD (850GBP, S$1400) it's more expensive than a larger sensored, more versatile entry level DSLR. Videographers might still opt for the RX100-IV in that kind of  comparison but for stills the RX100-IV would not compete.

If money is no object and you will make use of the video features, the RX100-IV is the best high end compact around.

Pros

  • Class leading video capabilities; the new super-fast shutter is groundbreaking
  • Very good image quality in most situations
  • The pop-up viewfinder continues to be great

Cons

  • Extremely expensive for its class & capability
  • Noise rendering can be poor, especially at higher ISO values
  • Lens still only reaches 70mm focal length
  • No touchscreen
  • New HFR and fast shutter features highly dependent on very bright lighting conditions

 

Sony's RX100 I and II were exceptional cameras when originally released, shaking up the compact camera market and packing astonishing performance into a small package.  Since then, Sony's rivals have upped their game considerably and enthusiasts are spoiled for choice when looking for a capable compact.  The RX100-III is Sony's latest update to it's winning formula but has it got what it takes to continue as King of the Compacts?

Out of the Box

Sony have kept it minimal - you only get the camera, a battery & micro USB cable in the box.  No frills, and no charger or strap either.  This might have been because as a review unit it's been lost along the way.  Some Sony store sites report it comes with a charger, others make no mention of one.  Personally I prefer the ability to charge batteries outside the camera as well as via USB, making it easier to prepare a couple of batteries ahead of a shoot.  

Usage & Handling

That a compact is small & lightweight is hardly surprising.  The typical challenges a compact has are usually around comfort, ease of use, access to functions and above all else performance.  The performance I'll cover later.  The camera looks & feels like a sophisticated piece of kit, definitely a case of function leading form.  It's definitely not beautiful, it feels like a no-nonsense piece of kit to get the job done.

As an enthusiast camera we want to be able to find & access the key manual controls as quickly & easily as possible.  All the standard shooting modes are present with all four PASM modes and various auto, scene & movie options easily selectable on a click wheel.  The front lens wheel can be configured to change any of a range of settings such as shutter speed, ISO or apeture depending on the mode you choose.  Likewise, the small dial on the back can be used to change another setting.  Spending the majority of my time in A-mode I found that configuring the lens wheel for aperture management and using the small wheel on the back to change the ISO setting was pretty flexible. Manual mode did mean diving into the menus to change ISO settings which slowed down shooting - I still think that larger cameras have the edge when shooting full manual and making small, frequent adjustments to settings and compacts definitely struggle to be as responsive. It's even possible to configure the rear dial and front lens wheel to change the same setting if you so wish - I can't fathom why you would but Sony has gone down the route of making it customisable beyond the point of common sense! A personal peeve of mine is that the exposure compensation option is fiddly to find and set.  Though you're unlikely to accidentally change it (a problem all too common on the Fuji X100 series), considering how annoying it is to shoot in full manual mode I found myself wanting to shoot in A-mode and tweak using exposure compensation.  Neither was quite as satisfactory as I'd want.

The button layout is sensible and my well thought out.  Often, with feature packed cameras the desire & need to pack buttons onto the back can lead to accidental button presses and settings changing between shots (I'm looking at you, Olympus).  A small ridged patch is perfectly placed for your thumb with the movie mode being reachable but unlikely to be accidentally pressed.  Though not without its fair share of controls they are all placed out of the way and by-and-large feel fairly intuitive to use - you can control many, though not all, camera functions without diving into the extensive menus.

One drawback worth pointing out here is the menu system - in it's quest to make the camera as feature packed as possible the RX100 has a huge number of options, shooting modes & settings.  It can be overwhelming trying to find the menu item you want at first and although all cameras become easier to use with practice it's certainly one that requires & rewards patient learning of what it can offer.

 

The rear screen is pretty good.  Nice & responsive, even in bad lighting conditions, it's articulated from -45 degrees through to +180 degrees.  In other words, it tilts down so you can hold it over your head in a crowd and fully forwards if you want to snap a selfie.  It's not touch sensitive however and I think touchscreens on cameras are a trend that's going to continue - they can definitely add to flexibility. The built-in face detection focus is quite impressive and in many cases I didn't need feel the need to touch the screen to set the focal point at all but it's undeniable that Sony have missed out on a valuable feature.  The screen itself is 7.5cm corner to corner & 1.2 million pixels resolution. The "feature monster" rears it's head again though and with the detailed display mode enabled it's littered with icons, status indicators and shooting information.  At times this barrage of information was confusing and while you can turn it off I never quite found a happy medium of info vs clutter.

Like all rear screens using it in bright sunlight is often difficult.  It's a good quality screen which does help but a screen is no substitute for a viewfinder.  This is where the RX100-III has a trick up it's sleeve.

Somehow, Sony have managed to pack in a tiny EVF into a small, pop-up recess on the top of the camera.  I must admit I hadn't done any homework on the camera before receiving the review unit and hadn't realised there was an EVF so it was quite the surprise when I was familiarising myself with it and out pops a viewfinder!  Naturally the quality of the viewfinder image isn't as good as the rear display but it's still effective enough and, most importantly, is a huge benefit shooting in bright conditions.  Though I wouldn't want to use it for prolonged periods of time for fear of turning myopic, it's an awesome feature to include - other manufacturer's take note, more of this please!

Focusing is a mixed bag.  During the day it's superb and the AF is fast & accurate.  As it gets darker the camera noticeably struggles in terms of speed but still retains accuracy.  It may take longer but when it gets there, I found it had nailed it each time.  Manual focusing was a big let-down though.  Whether I was using the EVF or rear screen, getting accurate manual focus was very tricky indeed and even with focus peaking enabled it was still hit and miss, not helped with the fiddly control ring. Sometimes, in low-light, the entire scene was merrily flashing away suggesting the whole frame was in focus!  Eventually I came to the conclusion that I just didn't want to waste time with MF and from that point switched over to AF permanently.  Fuji still has the edge in the manual focusing department.

The camera comes equipped with wifi, NFC and even downloadable apps though I only found the first of these of any practical use.  Kudos again for Sony ramming in functionality though I found the wifi feature of limited use - in contrast to the options available on SLRs the remote shooting features were perfunctory and it was only the transfer to smartphone option I found useful.  The iOS app for doing this is again pretty limited but for getting your images off the camera and onto your phone it's perfectly capable. 

All in all, shooting with the RX100-III felt good.  With most compacts, I always feel like the capabilities of the camera will at some stage limit me but in my time with the RX100-III I never reached that point. The EVF and ergonomics are lovely but the sheer volume of features & bewildering array of controls & info thrown at the user felt like overkill at times and I found myself annoyed having to hunt through menus.  Perserverence & patience will pay dividends with this camera.  Battery life was surprisingly good too, easily lasting an entire day's shooting, no doubt due to the benefits of the smaller EVF using less power.  I estimated at least 250 shots per battery.

 Image Quality

One of the criticisms of the earlier RX100 models was that although the camera had a good reach out to 100mm (35mm equiv.), this came at the expense of a maximum aperture of f4.9 at the long end.  This time Sony have opted for a 24-70mm (equivalent) range, preserving the maximum aperture of f1.8 but with a minimum of f2.8 - a straight up tradeoff of reach vs aperture.  Whether this is what you'll want comes down to personal preference.  My own thoughts are that it's an acceptable trade-off; I'd probably prefer the extra reach in an ideal world to make the camera even more flexible but not at the expense of aperture.  

Optically the lens is superb, even more so considering the size, and this is due to a brand new development in the design of the glass.  Bokeh isn't usually a luxury you can expect on compacts but with the 1" sensor and f1.8 aperture it was definitely surpising what can be achieved.  As with it's predecessors, shooting JPG, RAW and RAW+JPG are all options.  The lens isn't threaded, as with most compacts, but does have a built in 3 stop ND filter.

A sample JPG straight out of camera, 1/160th sec @ f1.8 and ISO 2500.  The MRT isn't particuarly well lit but the camera nailed focus and for a relatively high ISO value the shadows are clean.

Lovely tones & good bokeh.

Shot using the flip-up selfie function.  Extremely bright sunlight but still no burnt out highlights and detail in the sky.  The only tweak is cropping out my ugly face - squinting badly trying to see the screen in direct sunshine, this shot is more luck than skill :)

Tweaked in Snapseed to add drama to the clouds!  The original image is below to show just how much detail you can tease out of even the JPG file on an iPhone.

Handheld on Orchard Road in the early evening.  Even with deliberate underexposure, he camera has clearly struggled to get a fast enough shutter and some camera shake has crept in.  A good effort though and again you can see that most shadows are rendered well.

This is because the built-in noise reduction algorithm evaluates each region of the photograph to determine how aggressive it should process noise.  For uniform areas lacking fine detail it's great but it can sometimes lose finer detail.  Shooting in RAW avoids this problem entirely.  I found that shooting upto ISO1600 produced clean files, 3200 was tolerable but 6400 was pushing it.  Still, considering the sensor size these are impressive standards.

While on the subject of shooting in RAW, some users have observed peculiar white balance issues and occasional banding in JPG files, usually in the sky.  In my time with the camera I never noticed any of these issues at all.  Occasionally the metering would lag (usually in spot mode) but colour rendering was accurate and for most uses the out-of-camera JPGs are great.  My advice would be to shoot RAW+JPG to give the most flexibility.

Unfortunately, many of my sample images I shot were lost when the SD card I was using failed.  Not the fault of the RX100 but definitely a black mark in SanDisk's book.  I've rounded off the image quality section with some of the sample images provided by Sony, they have done a cracking job.  Samples can often be an unrealistic representation of quality but in this case I definitely think the samples match up to my real world usage.

As I mentioned earlier in the review the RX100 I & II set the bar for compact camera performance. The RX100-III has done it again.  Image quality is superb and the few flaws I can find with out of camera JPGs are entirely mitigated by shooting RAW and fixing them in Photoshop.

Specifications

  • 1" CMOS sensor
  • 20.1 megapixels
  • ZEISS Vario-Sonnar T* Lens
  • Focal Length 8.8 - 25.7mm (24-70mm)
  • Maximum aperture f/1.8 (W) - 2.8 (T)
  • Min aperture f/11
  • 10.1 x 5.8 x 4.1 cm
  • 290g
  • 7.5cm TFT LCD screen, 1.2m dots
  • -45 to +180 degree articulation
  • OLED Electronic Viewfinder
  • 1.4m dots
  • 100% FOV coverage, 0.59x magnification
  • ISO 125 - 12800
  • Shutter 1/2000th sec - 30 sec + BULB
  • Built in noise reduction (JPG)
  • Dynamic Range Optimiser
  • Exposure bracketing (3 shots)
  • 10fps continuous shooting (speed priority)
  • 2.9fps (other modes)
  • On-board flash, 0.4m to 10.2m
  • Memory Stick Duo
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC
  • Still - JPEG & RAW
  • Video - XAVC S, AVCHD, MP4
  • sRGB, Adobe RGB
  • 5472x3648 resolution
  • 1080p @ 60fps
  • Built-in WIFI, NFC
  • Eye-Fi card support
  • Approx 700 shots per 16GB card, RAW+JPEG

For full specifications, check the Sony site here

Conclusion

Sony has produced a solid camera yet again.  The RX100M3 is fun to use, can produce absolutley cracking images once you've learned how to get the best out of it and is small & light to boot.  It has problems but as an enthusiast compact camera it's extremely capable.

The compact market isn't as ripe for the taking as it was back when the RX100 was released.  Sony has much more competition now!  However, if you're an enthusiast looking for a strong compact camera and have the patience & time to dedicate in getting the best out of it I was definitely impressed by the RX100-III.

Priced at approximately £600 in the UK, S$1200 in Singapore.

Pros

  • Superb image quality from both RAW & JPG
  • Packed with features & utility
  • Sensor & optics are absolute top-notch

Cons

  • Manual focusing isn't great, fiddly exposure compensation controls
  • No touch screen
  • High ISO, low-light JPGs can be hit-or-miss in terms of quality
  • No charger suppplied

 

How I Review

Although looking at MTF charts and DxO statistics is an important measure in judging quality, I like seeing real-world, hands-on reviews of a kit in an environment I could imagine myself using it. Technical & theoretical attributes are definitely important but I prefer to try to expose equipment to a range of different usage situations and see how it holds up.

* Reviewed Feb-March 2015 in Singapore, review unit kindly supplied by Sony Singapore

Zeiss T* FE 35mm f/2.8

Real World Review

Although this lens was released alongside the original A7/A7R bodies it's still a very popular & compelling option. I've reviewed it alongside the newer A7R-II to see if it's still optically up to the challenge of a more demanding sensor.

The 35mm focal length is very versatile and often touted as a classic for street photography. It's also a focal length I personally find quite difficult to get the most out of for some reason so the whole review process was a very refreshing challenge!

Out of the Box

Just the lens and its rather unusual lens cap!

It costs approximately £500/S$1200

Usage & Handling

The Carl Zeiss Sonnar FE 2,8/35 ZA T* - to give the lens its full name - is a small prime lens for Sony's E-mount lenses. Sony's new design has contributed to keeping the lens extremely compact (4cm) & lightweight (just over 100g). One of the trade-offs to achieve this is has been a mediocre maximum aperture, only f/2.8.

That said, the aperture is pretty much the only compromise Zeiss have made. In pretty much every other respect this less is a very solid performer.

Exterior construction is almost completely metal which definitely helps how it feels to use.

In terms of autofocus, it's fast, accurate & smooth (tested when paired with the A7R-II). It uses a stepping motor to drive it so it's suited to video use too.

The combined lens-cap/hood is an unusual design. The cap itself is small but the hood also lets you mount 40.5mm filters to it. Otherwise you can attach 49mm screw in-filters to the lens itself

Manual focusing is a bit of a let-down. The ring on the barrel isn't really a manual ring at all, rather an electronic mechanism. Although considerably better than a fully electronic button approach (like you get on other mirrorless and compact cameras) it's not as accurate or smooth to use as a proper manual design.

All things considered, it's a very functional little package but the real question we want to explore is the image quality.

Sample Images

All images below were shot using the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 using an A7R-II body. Unless noted explicitly, images have been processed in Lightroom & Photoshop to show what is realistically achievable from underlying RAW files.

The lens has few real flaws and I'll discuss the distortion/vignetting after the sample images below.

The GIF below gives an indication of the distortion and vignetting when you shoot wide open. Distortion isn't bad at all, with barrel-distortion only really evident in the corners (albeit quite pronounced). Sharp throughout, better in the centre slightly, but very good in the corners.  Vignetting is very obvious though with quite a strong falloff to roughly -1.5 stops in the corners. I expected some vignetting but not quite this much but I have to admit, I actually quite liked the effect and in more cases than not I didn't correct this in Lightroom.

I haven't included any examples of flare or coma, simply because I couldn't find any!

The lens is sharp, even wide open and out into the corners.

Pros

  • Great image quality, minor flaws are easily correctable
  • Small & lightweight
  • Excellent AF performance

Cons

  • Very expensive for an f/2.8 prime
  • Slow, especially for the money, with only f/2.8 maximum aperture
  • Manual focus is clunky

Conclusion

If you're looking for a small, light prime lens and aren't too fussed about the fairly bland f/2.8 aperture then this lens is great. It's definitely too expensive but at the same time it's definitely a quality option if you're looking for a prime in this focal length.