If you've been using a digital SLR for the last couple of years, you might not have realised just how advanced new cameras have become. And Sony's a7R Mark II is just about the most advanced of them all — apart from one small but surprisingly annoying issue, it's just about the best camera you can get for capturing super-detailed high-res photos.
The photos it can capture are incredible. 42 megapixels of beautiful 35mm full frame sensor, and an incredibly advanced backside-illuminated sensor at that, make for some absolutely stunning photos in the right lighting conditions. Like previous super-high-res Sony cameras, the $4499 a7R Mark II works best in the lower half of its ISO range, but that ISO extends up to 102,400 and outclasses the previous a7R by two whole stops. Add excellent in-body image stabilisation on top of that and a fast lens, and you have an incredibly capable camera for its megapixel count.
But its battery life is abysmal. In an age where our smartphones and laptops are lasting a whole day of work and play or more, the a7R II runs out of juice in fewer shots than its Canon, Nikon or Samsung competition. Sony actually delivered the a7R II to us with two batteries, and this proved to be a smart move. Having an external charger plus the camera's own USB charging actually makes for a very convenient setup with a couple of batteries, but you will be switching between them regularly, so factor that into your purchasing decision.
Sony's lens line-up is always getting better. A few years ago, I would have only suggested that accomplished and experienced photographers move to the Sony E-mount lens system, because it had a few significant holes — mostly in the entry level, with no high-zoom lenses and variable-aperture cheaper options. These days, though, you can buy some great lenses both cheap and expensive, and Sony continues its tradition of sticking to premium Zeiss glass — which means you can invest in some high quality zooms and primes and be happy with your purchase for years.
There's no touchscreen, but the controls are powerful. Sony has used roughly the same body for its full-frame Alpha cameras for some years now, and the a7R Mark II is the most refined that the control scheme has ever been. If you've ever used a Sony camera — even a non-full-frame E-mount mirrorless one — it'll be instantly recognisable, but otherwise it's still pretty straightforward for basic use. Four customisable buttons, three dials, a dedicated exposure dial, AF lock — there's a lot here for professionals to use if they need to.
Its 4K video output is best in its class. I'm not usually too bothered by the video quality on what are primarily stills cameras, but the a7R Mark II captures beautiful, pixel-perfect video. If you team it up with a good lens — I used Sony's excellent Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 — then you can easily capture detailed, shallow DoF video, even handheld thanks to that excellent in-body stabilisation. You don't have quite the dynamic range that stills offer, especially RAW, but the video looks excellent nonetheless, at both 4K and 1080p downscaled.
With a small prime lens, it's a great travel camera. I still can't get over how capable the Sony a7R Mark II is for its size. It's much smaller than a traditional DSLR, but it does so much more, and the 42-megapixel images it captures are some of the best you'll see from a non-medium format sensor, especially if you want to drop them into a RAW photo editor. Sure, it's restrictively expensive at $4499, especially once you factor in a lens or two — especially a high quality Sony G or Zeiss one — but it's worth it.