You can't buy a single camera that does it all, no matter how much you spend. The most expensive DSLR or mirrorless offerings will give you top-notch photos or great video -- not both in a single package. But Sony's A7r Mark II is tantalizingly close to being that do-it-all camera.
What Is It?
The A7r Mark II is a $4,000 mirrorless camera that takes interchangeable lenses like a DSLR. It's got a full-frame 42 megapixel sensor and shoots high-quality 4K video in a relatively small package.
The Best Part
Never has there been a more complete hybrid still/video camera. The A7r II seemingly compromises nothing. It's got the amazing 4K detail of the Panasonic GH4, the low-light performance of a full-frame sensor, and amazing image stabilisation that works with any lens.
Add first-class focusing (for a mirrorless camera), Canon lens compatibility (with an adaptor), and weather sealing all in a (relatively) lightweight, compact body -- well, that's a pretty compelling setup.
The Tragic Flaw
This camera's battery life sucks. Like garbage. How has Sony not updated this battery in over five years? The camera does come with two of them in the box, which is nice, but still doesn't excuse things. It's what keeps cameras like this from truly being suitable for pros. Try telling wedding photographers that they have to swap out a battery every couple of hours, and probably carry 10 spares with them. It's a no-go.
- Image quality is fantastic, and the detail you can capture with 42 megapixels is really cool. But honestly there's very little advantage over, say, 36 megapixels. Very few people need that much resolution. Just don't let that spec titillate you too much.
- Low-light quality for stills is excellent. It's on par, but not better, than the best DSLRs out there.
- Sensor-shift stabilisation is such a great feature, and works with any lens of any brand. It's especially great for video, where previously lenses without optical stabilisation were virtually useless when shooting handheld.
- The 4K video quality is great, and doesn't require an external recorder like Sony's previous A7s does. It also records to fairly cheap SDXC cards. There is a bit of moire and a fair amount of rolling shutter, but nothing detrimental. It's more than usable in low light up to 6400 in my opinion.
- Video quality is supposed to be better in the A7r II's cropped Super-35 mode, but the practical difference is marginal. Also, rolling shutter is much worse in crop mode.
- The focus system on the A7r II is among the best in mirrorless cameras thanks to nearly 400 on-sensor phase detect points. But it still can't compete with high end DSLRs when focusing in low light or tracking moving subjects.
- One of the coolest things about this camera is how well Canon lenses work when attached with a Metabones adaptor. We put it to the test:
- Overheating when shooting 4K video can be an issue. Reports around the internet have varied in terms of how often it happens. In our test, the camera overheated after about 45 minutes of straight recording in an air-conditioned room. This will definitely give people pause before using the camera for important shoots.
- Battery life is about an hour of shooting 4K video almost non-stop. For stills, it's harder to compute, but if you shoot throughout the day, you'll need to carry extra batteries around.
Should You Buy It?
This is an expensive camera. $4,000 is too much. Two of the most popular pro DSLRs, the Nikon D810, and the Canon 5D Mark III, are far less than that. If you're a photographer who doesn't care too much about video, they will give you superior focusing and battery life.
If, instead, you're a serious video shooter wanting a compact body, this would be hands-down the one to get -- if not for the crappy battery life and overheating issues. What a shame! For 4K in a super portable package, the only real competition is the Panasonic GH4. The A7r II is better in low light, but the GH4 will last hours on a charge and doesn't overheat.
Overall, the A7r II is insanely fun to use and so impressive from a technical standpoint that it could well have been poised to take over the photography world. Luckily, Sony releases new models every year, so there's ample opportunity for the A7r series to improve. Just bide your time until the battery life and overheating issues have been solved.