Photography / Hands-on Review

Things We Love: The Sony a7R II


After a long time denying my eventual acceptance of mirrorless cameras, early in 2017 I finally made the switch. No, this isn’t an article about why I switched from so-and-so to so-and-so.Tthis, rather, is about why I have grown to accept—to love—the Sony a7R II for what it is and what it allows me to do. I never felt at a loss with other camera systems, nor do I feel an especially strong kinship to mirrorless over a DSLR (I do still miss my optical viewfinder), but once I eliminated the pettiness between comparing mirrors to mirrorless, I grew to appreciate a new kind of camera for some of the other assets it provides.

Adapted Rangefinder Lenses

It’s true, maybe an unfortunate truth, but one of the things I love most about my Sony a7R II is its ability to accept rangefinder lenses using a lens adapter. Grumble all you want, tell me how much better Sony’s native lenses are… I won’t disagree. And after you’ve had your say, I’ll be happy to continue shooting with my tiny, slow, not-very-close-focusing, manual focus only, outdated, and inferior lenses. And I’ll love it.


The second thing I love, which is a bit of a love-hate position, is the customization options on the Sony a7R II. I love this because I can customize essentially all the buttons on the a7R II to do exactly what I want… which is very little. I have multiple buttons assigned to control the same thing (Manual Focus Assist) and intentionally leave other buttons unassigned to do absolutely nothing. I know you can assign buttons on other cameras to do a variety of things, as well, but I have never really felt compelled to change up, say, a Nikon or a Canon. I struggled with the stock layout of the Sony quite a bit, and have subsequently assigned new functions to nearly every single button, so now the layout feels very intuitive for me.

Manual Focus Assist

Related to the above, the Manual Focus Assist feature on the a7R II is a complete lifesaver. This is one of those features that mirrorless adorers love to tout in the face of a DSLR advocate, and who could blame them? While DSLRs have focus magnification using live view, it’s rare to shoot handheld with a DSLR using the rear screen. With the Sony, I can have a two-stage focus magnification feature available instantly, with the touch of a button. And as someone who is working with manual-focus lenses, this is a huge necessity for me.

The Size

Mirrorless cameras’ original claim to fame was how much smaller they were than DSLRs. However, ever since mirrorless has evolved to full frame, and seen the incorporation of larger viewfinder and more and more features, the camera sizes have grown and, of course, lens sizes have grown. A fully loaded a7R II with a Sony 70-200mm f/2.8 isn’t going to be incredibly smaller or lighter than a Canon or Nikon with a similar 70-200mm f/2.8. But when I use smaller manual focus lenses with the a7R II, I have a really petite package that allows me to travel for weeks out of a single bag. And don’t even get me started comparing the size and weight savings against my most compact film setup…

The Sensor

Even if the above is quite subjective, it is an objective fact that the a7R II’s 42.4MP full-frame, back-illuminated CMOS sensor is quite special. I’m not one to work at high ISOs, so I can’t really comment on this sensor’s “extreme” performance, but where I do like to shoot, right around ISO 100-800, this sensor is providing me with a very special image quality and a lot of flexibility for editing in Photoshop. I’m hesitant to say such things as “medium-format-like” or even to compare it directly to other full-frame sensors out there, and that’s okay by me. In the world in which I work, filled with normal, sometimes nice, lighting, this sensor is giving me everything I could ever need.

Image Stabilization

My pride hurts a bit when I admit that I do make use of this impressive technology. I’m one of those people who scoffs at the idea of sticking image stabilization in every nook and cranny of the camera and lens system, and would prefer to “do it the right way” by shooting on a tripod. But I’ve learned to set my pretentiousness aside to shoot handheld at 1/8th of a second with an all-manual lens and at a moderate ISO… and now it’ll be hard to turn back.

UHD 4K Video Recording

Ha ha, just joking. I’ve never used the video feature on my camera. Sorry, video people.

OLED Electronic Viewfinder

After a year with this camera, the EVF is still the most surprising thing I enjoy. I would never say that I prefer it to the optical finder of a DSLR (let alone the waist-level finder of my RB67 or the 4 x 5" ground glass of my Linhof) but I have grown to appreciate the things it can do than no optical finder can. The Manual Focus Assist, from above, is my obvious favorite, but I also enjoy being able to preview my exposure in real time, or to review the image I just took without moving away from the finder. There are some downsides to an EVF, however, but most are also outweighed by the number of positives it provides.

Even after this camera is long outdated and I’ve hopefully sold it or passed it on to someone else, I still think I’ll remember the a7R II as a camera that unstuck me from many of my stubborn ways. It’s still not my perfect camera or my dream camera or anything like that, but it is a camera that shows me that a bit of new technology isn’t always a bad thing.

Have you had a certain revelatory piece of gear in your life? Did a camera or lens ever re-shape your perspective on what you thought you already knew so well? Join the conversation in the Comments section, below.