Sony A7RII Review from a Wedding Photographer
This is a review of the Sony A7RII from a wedding photographer. Updated as of 24 April 2016, originally published 18 August 2015.
I won’t really be doing an intensive comparison between this and other cameras, I won’t be pixel peeping (much) and it certainly won’t be scientific. Just my thoughts and opinions from a bit of a gear snob.
If you’d like to see more images from my A7RII do check out my Sony wedding photography portfolio.
Also, if you’re interested I have a Canon 5D mark IV review. Seeing as it has just been released you might be interested in seeing what it is like.
To set the scene I’m the kind of person who turns their nose up at a camera if it isn’t a professional DSLR. I’ve never owned a mirrorless camera (unless my iPhone counts!) and I’ve only ever used them for 2 minutes at a time. Always finding them a little slow to respond.
Recently though, I’ve noticed a growing trend amongst my friends who use mirrorless cameras in their day to day work at weddings. This got me intrigued.
Whilst I’ve been a little curious about Fuji/Olympus/Sony I’ve never really believed they were much more than a toy. No question the image quality is good, but I’ve always been a little cynical that they could stand up to the pace of a wedding. Almost any camera these days has good image quality, but I require accurate focusing, and a reasonable number of frames per second (for cfetti!)
After 6 years of being a wedding photographer I’m well tuned to my Canon cameras. They are all I have ever used professionally. I shoot between 50-70 weddings a year as well as 30 engagement shoots. I know exactly what to expect from my 5D MKIII’s. Their limitations and how they work in virtually all situations. What lenses are best used when, and what effects I can expect in different lighting conditions.
For all the things that get on my nerves with Canon (lack of updates, average dynamic range, poor low light autofocus and ISO performance (in comparison to Nikon)) they do have some wonderful attributes. I’m in the business of capturing moments. With a few exceptions in certain circumstances the focusing responds like lightning and it gets me the image (virtually) all the time.
In hindsight I’m a little surprised at myself for splurging on a Sony A7R2. It’s a fricking expensive camera for what it is. In my mind it’s probably better suited to landscape photography rather than wedding photography. That said the reviews I’ve read rank it pretty highly, certainly in line with the latest DSLRs.
On paper DXO give the sensor a thumbs up. Certainly compared to the new Canon 5DSr which is the only other serious contender if I wanted to buy a new camera. Whilst the 5DSr is a nice camera and all, I may as well wait for the 5D4.
So for the fun of trying something new I thought I’d click the ‘buy it now’ button and see how well the Sony A7RII copes with weddings.
Since turning ‘pro’ 5 or 6 years ago, the idea of buying new equipment doesn’t excite me much. Cameras are just a tool and it’s been nice not to obsess over the latest gear – and just get out there and shoot. I haven’t bought a new lens for 4 years, and have owned the 5D3 for about 3 years.
Before that I owned the 5D MKII, a 30D, a Nikon D70, and before that a Fuji Finepix and before that a Sony 3.1 megapixel CyberShot. So it’s kind of weird to come back to Sony after 12 years…
So what follows is a review of the A7R II from a wedding photographer. I treat my gear pretty hard. I don’t like it when it comes up short. I’m not a scientist. I don’t do a massive amount of pixel peeking but image quality, especially in low light is important to me.
Reasons I bought the camera
- To get inspired. Whilst cameras are just a tool I like new technology and the A7R2 has lots of it. Whilst I considered the 5DSr I don’t really need a 50MP sensor. And there’s not a great deal about it that interests me. I have thought about Nikon cameras, but it means buying in to a whole new system which is a bit of a pain. Which leads me to point number 2.
- I can use Canon lenses. I bought a metabones adapter, so in theory I shouldn’t need to buy in to a whole new system.
- Silent shutter – one of the reasons I didn’t want to try a Nikon was the noisier shutter. Being invisible at a wedding is a big part of how I work.
- Better dynamic range.
- Image stabilisation – in body! Game changer.
- Improved ISO (I would have preferred the A7S for this, but not with 12MP) I understand this isn’t as good as Nikon – but better than Canon.
- WIFI and using it remotely (in the church.)
- EVF – no more underexposure (in theory anyway!)
- A tilting LCD
- Crazy 40MP sensor – I would probably prefer something int he 20-30MP range, but hey.
- 4K video.
Whilst I do carry a heavy bag around with me at weddings I don’t really consider the weight of DSLR’s a problem. Sometimes they are an inconvenience but I only ever carry the bag when I’m actually moving equipment from one place to the next. Rarely whilst actively shooting. I won’t lie though – having a lighter setup is a plus… but it’s not at the top of my list.
All images taken with the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8.
This is cropped at around 80%
It’s sexy. Probably not as sexy as the Fuji line but I like it. Feels well built. Fairly discrete. Nice buttons and a large LCD. I can pop it in my camera bag and it doesn’t leave much of a footprint in terms of weight or space. A solid backup to my two canon cameras.
To preface my review of the Sony A7RII I’m going to say that I have never used a modern Sony camera before. Whilst I unboxed it and set it up at home I hadn’t spent any time learning exactly how it works. I haven’t even opened the manual. In hindsight I would recommend learning how to get the best out of the camera. There are so many options and new features compared to a DSLR that it’ a worthwhile thing to do before rocking up to a wedding. Especially focus options which to my knowledge, aren’t options on most DSLRs.
Using it at a wedding
Now I have been using this camera fairly regularly for 6 months. I’ve been really excited to put it through it’s paces. The first and best thing about the A7RII for me was the silent mode.
Now, this is a bit of a double edged sword. The silent mode is INSANE. Hands down the best thing about the camera. The problem comes from using it in some indoor lighting situations. I don’t have much of a technical knowledge, but basically, a problem with all mirrorless cameras is that you can get banding under fluorescent lighting conditions. This is because they have an electronic rolling shutter.
Situations when it’s extremely good to use silent mode? It is GREAT during bridal prep. I can overshoot and people really didn’t pay much attention to me. I’m not sure they even realise I’m even taking a photo! When I use a DSLR I am always conscious of the noise the camera generates. I really try to not take too many photos as it can often be quite an emotional part of the day. Tensions run high and I’m conscious that making clicking noises every 5 seconds isn’t a great experience for people.
The real revelation was having a silent shutter during the church ceremony. Again, this is another point in the day where I want to disappear in to the background. I want to be the last thing on everyone’s mind. I also want the priest to be on my side and allow me access to the best viewpoints. So with the example below I was able to take photos during the prayers where the bride and groom were throwing one another cute little glances. And the same through the signing of the register. I had been asked to wait until the ‘official posed photos’, but I hung back and took a few frames when no one was looking. Again, not something I really feel 100% confident doing with a DSLR. Although the 5DMKIII is pretty quiet, you can hear it if you’re not too far away and because it’s so big it’s a bit of a giveaway.
Downsides of using it as a wedding photographer
I have gotten used to this with time, but with my A7R2 is a bit slow to review images. I guess, because the EVF gives you a live preview of the image you’re going to take it’s not really necessary to check exposure. But compared to my 5DMK3 the Sony takes its time to write images. You have to wait for them all to be written before you can review what’s on the card. Not ideal after a burst of activity. Secondly it’s not possible to really see whether an image is sharp. Even when zooming in to 100% you can’t be completely confident whether you nailed focus. And finally, the real kicker, you have to wait 4 seconds for the camera to zoom in to each image. A really really frustrating experience.
Sony A7R2 auto focus
On the flip side I’d say that the focus was quick and pretty reliable. Whilst I need to use it more to get a better understanding I have a good amount of keepers and plenty of moments. It nails confetti and people walking down the aisle towards me (in good light.)
Here is one example. I took a few hurried shots right before the bride entered the church. In my haste I messed up the exposure. Badly. The silent shutter allowed me to be there, shooting over the officiant’s shoulder without them even realising. The exposure is terrible, but in my defence I literally had a few seconds before having to head to the top of the aisle and catch everyone coming in.
+ 3 stops in lightroom and 50% shadows. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have got such a clean image from my 5DMKIII – and certainly not with so much detail.
Sony A7R2 low light autofocus
For me the jury is out on this – it focuses well in low light – but I’m not 100% confident to use it at key moments in a dark church. This is something I need to try at my next wedding! Changing focus modes helps a lot – I found that it could hunt and be pretty in accurate in some situations, but if I changed the focus mode it tracks the subject and does extremely well. That said I haven’t yet had the calls to photograph the bride walking down the aisle in the church with it, or any key moments that happen in poor light.
Sony A7R2 ISO performance
It’s good, but not as good as Nikon. I’m pretty surprised how good it is considering the amount of megapixels it has. I certainly have no qualms at turning it up to 6400 in the most darkest of situations.
Sony A7R2 Dynamic range and underexposure test
One of the main reasons I bought the Sony A7RII was for better dynamic range. I was hopeful after seeing this post that the A7R II could easily pull out 5-6 stops. Something along the same lines as the D750. I’ve done a few tests now and whilst dynamic range is improved, it definitely isn’t up to the job of pulling back 5-6 stops worth of detail. You’ll see below I took a photo with -5EV and then pulled it back in lightroom. I’m not even going to bother posting a 100% view of the image because it’s unusable.
I have noticed dynamic range is improved compared to the 5D3. But seeing as it’s a 3 year old camera it isn’t much to be excited about. This was a little disappointing if I’m honest. Whilst I’m not in the habit of messing up my exposures it’s a nice party trick to have.
For instance, I recently took a silhouette shot at a wedding of the couple at sunset. My second photographer took virtually the same photo with a D750 (as I had told him what I was doing.) I was able to completely recover 4 stops of underexposure and the image quality hardly suffered at all.
The Metabones MKIV
This was pretty disappointing. I bought the most expensive adapter I could – the Metabones MK4. It works pretty well with my Canon 85L and 50L. Focusing is pretty snappy – there is perhaps a slight delay but it works generally well. It doesn’t work well with my 35L (one of my favourite lenses.) The problem is that autofocus stops functioning. I attach the lens with the Metabones adapter and it works for a few minutes before failing. I have to take the lens off the body and reattach it for it to work again. I have cleaned and checked the contacts so I’m not sure why it doesn’t work. My 135mm f/2 can’t be focus at all. There is a good list of canon lenses and how they work here. After experimenting I simply gave up and use my Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 and my cheap Sony 28mm f/2 – I am extremely happy with them both.
The weight saving wasn’t high on my list of priorities but it is one of my favourite features of the A7rII. I use it for all my family photography and personal photography. Sure, if you attach a big lens like the Sony 85/1.4 then it becomes more of a handful. But having such a small, light, full frame camera with me is something I have grown to love more and more. And there are certain times at a wedding where it is so nice to walk around with a lightweight camera that isn’t intimidating. Wedding guests definitely don’t pay me so much attention and as I get a little older each year carrying lighter equipment is a bit of a benefit.
Sony know the battery life sucks – that’s why they are good enough to give you two batteries as standard! Honestly, I think at my last wedding the first battery was almost dead by the end of bridal prep.
Now, I’m a little torn about processing files from the A7RII. They are huge with so much detail. More megapixels is better. However, having to process Canon and Sony files is a little problematic in terms of consistency. Creating and using camera specific presets in Lightroom has really helped. However, the dynamic range of the A7RII means that to me, the Sony files are pretty easy to spot. However I doubt my couples could notice the difference.
The conclusion to the Sony A7RII review from a Wedding Photographer
It’s a really pricey camera and it certainly has it’s limitations. But it performs every bit as well as I was hoping. I’ll be keeping it and perhaps looking to buy or swap to a second Sony body. They come out so frequently that there are plenty of options! I did consider the A7SII however my snobbery over the 12MP sensor put me off. I’d love better low light capability but I do like the possibility of printing large.
Things the A7R2 is:
A great camera. All the reasons I bought the camera make me a happy guy. Silent shutter. Image stabilisation. Being able to use Canon lenses. Great video – amazing focusing.
Having a ‘real’ silent shutter is a god send. I personally value this more than any other attribute the camera has to offer. Whilst the silent shutter on the 5D3 is good there is no getting away from the fact that it makes a click and the size of the camera makes you far more conspicuous. If you’re close to someone then it’s an obvious giveaway. When you’re close to a registrar, vicar or bride it is audible and probably a bit annoying/distracting. I don’t want people to think about me and the photos I’m taking, I want them to be in the moment.
If you wanted to drop your DSLR and use Sony as a full time replacement you could. You would need a lot of batteries though :) Everyone has their own way of shooting, and it wouldn’t suit everyone. But if I had to shoot a wedding on this I could – and I’d be confident of it standing up to the task.
Things the A7R2 isn’t:
Tough. Within the first month the screen got a small scratch. I bought a protector after that to help protect it. The body is small and some of the buttons are a little plastic or small. The dials are really nice to use though. As I mentioned, it eats batteries. But all in all it compliments my current setup very well. I don’t think the dynamic range or the ISO are particularly ground breaking. It does beat the 5D3 and is equal or close to what Nikon offers. Quite honestly though, I rarely go above ISO 3200 so it’s not a problem.
I hope this Sony A7RII review from a Wedding Photographer was useful! Do leave comments or questions in the comments.
This Post Has 10 Comments
Enjoyable read.. Sticking with my D4s and Nikon D750
Nice review Albert – I need to get of my bum and write my own now I suppose.
Re: Silent shutter – it’s to do with how the image is being read off the sensor, it’s very dependant on the type of lighting being used. The more flickering the light the more chance of it happening. Also faster shutter speeds make it more likely to happen. If you match the shutter speed to the frequency it’s also better too (like in video for example)
Nice review. First time I’ve read about the review process taking long. I have an a7ii and review is quite fast, assuming the resolution is what’s slowing it down for you. Are you using a fast sd card? That might help a ton.
Thanks for the review – the walking down the aisle shot for me is the key test so thank you for mentioning it – as yet nothing seems able to replace the DSLR for that.
All the very best to you, Henry
While it’s been interesting to read the glowing reviews of the A7RII, I’ve been waiting for someone to write something regarding how it functions in real-world shoots, especially weddings. Finally found that with your review. Thanks so much!
Excellent review Albert, very thorough. I’ve been watching the mirrorless race from a curious distance. I’m very active on a wedding day so focus is of concern along with low light performance. The banding issue you mentioned was new to me – I do a significant amount of OCF so this is a new concern. Thanks for the post, very enlightening!
Thanks for the review. It is pretty scarce to find anything of this category or reasonable detail regarding the cameras performance in a wedding setting. I can help but wonder though if you had used the 70-200 f4. or other lenses that Sony offers in their e-mount setting to test autofocus performance. I cant imagine the A7rii being so awful at focusing in lower light as you described. You used a focus by wire lens. I’m sure other lenses with a motor would have performed much better. But either way thanks for the two cents.
Nice Review, The Sony’s do interest me especially so planning on keeping a keen eye on how they perform although I’ve just about got used to the Olympus setup that I recently switched to away from Canon. The difference in size sure does help with being a bit more discrete – I need all the help with my size!
I just wanted to comment on the silent shutter/artificial light issue you ran into. I’m not sure if it’s common knowledge, but in the United States, electricity runs at 60hz. That means 60 pulses of electricity per second. The reason you see what you call banding, is because (mostly under florescent lights) the gasses in the light bulbs are electrified 60 times per second. So they are not a consistent brightness. And since your sensor scans progressively (from top to bottom or bottom to top), if your shutter speed is not a multiple of 60, a full cycle of the light doesn’t hit your sensor. So in theory, a shutter speed of 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, should get you consistent lighting across the frame.
Great read Albert. Ive been shooting the A7s at weddings for a while quite happily and was hoping I could use an a7R2 as well and leave the Canon at home. Alas it looks like that wont be the case just yet.
I would be pretty comfy using it for most of the day but it sounds like there are a few critical times where you just cant rely on it. Silent shutter is great Im hardly ever off it except for artificial light and I do switch a lot between silent and non silent. ( I wish they would allow a button for this without digging into the menu) Very impressed with what you recovered in the doorway shot above. Thanks for posting.