Sony A7S Mark II and Sony Zeiss FE 24-70 F4 – Hands-on review!
As you may have seen in my last blogpost, I had the chance to try the Sony A7S Mark II last weekend, a camera which is specialized on video and photo in low light conditions, and the Sony Zeiss FE 24-70 F4 standard zoom lens. My thanks go to Photostore Werkgarner in Wels for this chance!
For a first glimpse of the video and picture quality please see the blogpost “At the Christmas Market with the Sony A7S II”.
About the Sony A7S Mark II
Specifications of the Camera
- Camera Type and Mount: mirrorless system camera with Sony E-Mount
- Lenses: all Sony E-Mount lenses, A-Mount lenses via LA-EA adapter, countless other lenses via many different adapters
- Sensor: 12.2 MP full frame Exmor CMOS sensor (Aspect ratio: 3:2)
- ISO Sensitivity: ISO 100 – 102400 (expanable to ISO 50 – 409600), Auto ISO from 100 – 12800
- Picture: RAW, JPEG, RAW and JPEG
- Picturesize: Fullsize 3:2: L – 4240×2832, M – 2768×1848, S – 2128×1416, APS-C size: L – 2768×1560, M – 2128×1416, S: 1367×776), RAW: 14 bit uncompressed or compressed
- Video: XAVC S (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264), AVCHD (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264), MP4 (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264)
- Audio: AVCHD: Dolby® Digital (AC-3), 2ch, Dolby® Digital Stereo Creator, MP4: MPEG-4 AAC-LC, 2ch, XAVC S: LPCM, 2ch, built in stereo microphone, built in mono speaker
- Videosize NTSC: XAVC S 4K: 3840 x 2160 (30p/100 Mbps, 30p/60 Mbps, 24p/100 Mbps, 24p/60 Mbps); XAVC S HD: 1920 x 1080 (60p/50 Mbps, 30p/50 Mbps, 24p/50 Mbps, 120p/100 Mbps, 120p/60 Mbps); AVCHD: 1920 x 1080 (60p/28 Mbps/PS, 60i/24 Mbps/FX, 60i/17 Mbps/FH, 24p/24 Mbps/FX, 24p/17 Mbps/FH); MP4: 1920 x 1080 (60p/28 Mbps, 30p/16 Mbps), 1280 x 720 (30p/6 Mbps)
- Videosize PAL: XAVC S 4K: 3840 x 2160 (25p/100 Mbps, 25p/60 Mbps); XAVC S HD: 1920 x 1080 (50p/50 Mbps, 25p/50 Mbps, 100p/100 Mbps, 100p/60 Mbps); AVCHD: 1920 x 1080 (50p/28 Mbps/PS, 50i/24 Mbps/FX, 50i/17 Mbps/FH,25p/24 Mbps/FX, 25p/17 Mbps/FH); MP4: 1920 x 1080 (50p/28 Mbps, 25p/16 Mbps), 1280 x 720 (25p/6 Mbps)
- Picture Profiles including S-LOG-2 and S-LOG3
- Storage: Single memory card slot – SD memory card (SDHC, SDXC – UHS-I compatible), Memory Stick PRO Duo, Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo
- Focus: Contrast Detection Autofocus with 169 Points (EV -4 to 20), AF-S (Single), AF-C (Continous), DMF (Direct Manual Focus), Manual Focus
- Exposure: 1200-zone evaluative metering (Multi-segment, center-weighted, spot)
- Exposure Modes: Auto, P, A, S M, Scene Selection, Sweep Panorama, Movie/High Frame Rate (with P, A, S, M)
- Exposure Compensation: +/-5.0 EV (in 1/3 EV or 1/2 EV steps), with exposure compensation dial: +/-3.0 EV (in 1/3 EV steps)
- Viewfinder: XGA OLED, 0,5″ electronic viewfinder with 2,36 MP and 100% coverage, Magnification: 0,78x
- LCD Screen: tilting 3″ TFT with 1,2 MP
- Shutter: electronically controlled, vertical-traverse, focal-plane type; Speed: 1/8000 to 30 sec, Bulb; Flash Sync: 1/250 sec. electronic front curtain shutter, silent shooting
- Image Stabilization: 5-axis steadyshot, 4,5 stops
- Drive Modes: Single shooting, Continuous shooting, Speed Priority Continuous shooting, Self-timer, Self-timer (Cont.), Bracketing (Cont., Single, White Balance, DRO)
- WIFI and NFC
- Battery: Sony NP-FW50, 310 shots CIPA, 55 min. video recording (EVF), 60 min video recording (LCD)
- Size and Weight: 4,69×2,74×1,50 in, 20,6 oz, 22,12 oz with battery and memory card
- Operating Temperature: 12-104°F, 0-40°C
About the build quality and using the camera
The camera with its magnesium-alloy construction is solid and the build quality is very good. It is also weather sealed. The doors and covers are also of good quality – they do not feel like they will come off easily when you pull them accidently too hard. The rubber eyepiece from the viewfinder is very tight fitted. The only drawback with this piece is that it is very prone to collect dust. The tilted screen mechanism is easy to use and of good quality but a bit thin, it may bend when you bump it accidently against an object. The dials and buttons have very high quality. The mode dial has a lock mechanism – you have to push and hold it while you turn it – this prevents from accidently adjusting your shooting mode. The buttons all have a very good pressure point. The lens bayonet is made out of metal and seems very sturdy. The Sony Zeiss FE 24-70 F4 didn’t rattle when attached.
The ergonomics of the camera is very good. The big grip allows a safe handling; all buttons are easy to reach. You can easily adjust your settings when looking through the viewfinder. The viewfinder with its high resolution and fast refresh rate is a joy to use. You only have to deal with the noise when it gets darker. Composition and judging the exposure is really easy, which is one of the main advantages of the mirrorless cameras with an electronic viewfinder. For customization you have some custom buttons which you can set up however you want.
Navigating through the menu system can be a bit overwhelming due to the mass of features this camera offers. I was rushing through the menu points in search of a function very often, but after a while, I got used to it. All in all it could be organized more logically.
The autofocus system is based on contrast detection and does a good job even in low light. With the sensitivity down until -4 EV I had no troubles to get focus in the dark lighting conditions on the Christmas markets. It hunts a bit here and there, but you get a focus lock every time and its spot on. Due to magnification and focus peaking manual focusing is also easy.
In regard of exposure the pictures get a bit darker than I would like. I had to increase the exposure in post processing (I did not use the exposure compensation of the camera, this will also work to get a better exposure). The auto white balance was always good.
The camera was mainly designed for video shooting, but you can also take some photos with it. The resolution of 12 mp is not the highest, but the pictures are decent with a good dynamic range and perfectly usable for web and smaller prints (14,1×9,4 in @ 300 dpi). Also it is a very nice street photography cam for evening / night situations because of the very good noise performance. I photographed at two Christmas markets and I am very pleased with the results. These pictures were made between ISO 1000 and ISO 5000:
And here a picture made with ISO 160000:
Some words in advance: I am a photo guy and new to video making. I try to do my best to show how capable the cameras are in terms of video quality but I have very much to learn in this regard.
Two days are not enough to get used to the video features. This camera with its numerous video options is surely able to produce stunning videos, but I didn’t find into it in these two days. Here is a video sample I took at the Christmas market in Wels using the S-Log 3 profile, 4k – 30 fps (You may already have seen it since I linked to this video in my blogpost mentioned above):
I am pleased with the result although you see some light flickering due to the Christmas lighting.
On the second day I really had troubles to shoot a decent video due to the flickering evoked by the Christmas lighting on the market in Linz. I don’t know why the flickering was so much worse but the footage is not really useable. I hope I will get my hands on the A7S Mark II to take a deeper look into the video features and figure out the optimal settings.
Specifications of the Lens
Type: Zoom lens suitable for full frame and APS-C
Focal length: 24-70 mm (36-105 mm on APS-C)
Aperture: F4 to F22, Aperture Blades: 7
Minimum focus distance: 0,4m (Macro magnification ratio of 0.20x)
Extras: ED glass element, aspherical glass elements, Zeiss T* coating, Optical stabilization system (OSS)
Weight and length: 15,1 oz/426 g, 3-3/4 in/94,5 mm
Filter Size: 67 mm
Lens Hood: Petal shaped, plastic
The Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70 mm F4 ZA OSS is a lens that polarized. In numerous reviews it gets bad critique (it is not better than the 28-70 kit lens, it is not sharp, etc.). I was lucky and got a very good copy of the lens in terms of sharpness for this hands-on test.
The build quality is very nice and the blue Zeiss badge also looks good ;-). It is made out of metal with very grippy rubber zoom and focus rings and a chunky high quality lens hood. Nothing is rattling or loose. The mount is also made out of metal. The lens does not feature any switches, it is entirely controlled electronically from the camera. The zoom and focus rings are smooth to turn.
The lens is very sharp in the center from F4 upwards. The edges are slightly soft and get better when stopping down. In the situations where I have used it, vignetting, flares and ghosting were not an issue. In combination with the A7S Mark II it produces very well colored pictures with pleasant contrast. C/A are slightly visible but good under control. Pincushion distortion (wide angle) and barrel distortion (tele) are clearly visible but you can correct them with the profile in lightroom (when shooting RAW, in JPEG it is corrected in camera). The Bokeh is not the best. The lens needs 9 diaphragm blades instead of 7.
The OSS works in combination with the 5-axis IBIS of the A7S Mark II to achieve even better stabilization. It works very well; I did not get any blurred shots when I used the lens at night.
The focus motor does a good job in combination with the contrast autofocus of the A7S Mark II. It focuses quickly and reliably. Although due to the contrast AF it hunts sometimes. But I think with the hybrid AF of the A7 Mark II and A7R Mark II it does an even better job without hunting.
I had really fun using the combination of A7S Mark II and the Sony Zeiss Vario Tessar T* 24-70 F4 OSS. The camera is loaded with features but, in my opinion, it is a niche product. It is perfect for users who want to shoot in bad light conditions and at night and can live with the low resolution. It does a really good job and I am satisfied with the pictures I got. The video modus should be capable of stunning footage, but I would have needed more time to get into it. In the two days I was not able to figure out the best settings. S-Log 3 is also very tricky to color-grade because of its extreme flatness, but you can get very good results out of it.
The Sony Zeiss FE Vario Tessar T* 24-70 F4 OSS is a – in my opinion – good to very good standard zoom lens for the FE system. It is sharp already at F4 (comparable to my Tamron SP 24-70 F2.8 VC USD for Nikon – Review here) and has the very nice Zeiss typical colors and contrast. The build quality is very good, the two rings are easy to operate and the autofocus is very fast and precise. The major drawbacks are the lack of direct controls on the lens (AF/MF, OSS on/off) and that it has only 7 diaphragm blades, so the bokeh is not the best. All in all I am pleased with the pictures and would be happy to own it when I have an A7 series camera in the future. However, I hope until then it will be a little bit cheaper than 900€/$.
You find the full size sample pictures on my Flickr Album here.