Sony made quite the splash last week in the enthusiast/semi-pro filmmaking world with the announcement of their Sony a7RII camera body. I really try my best not to get too caught up in every new camera released, but this one definitely caught my attention.
To be honest, I was expecting to see an update to the a6000 this month. I think that an updated a6000 with in-camera stabilization and X-AVC S codec would be a rather compelling camera for enthusiast film and video makers. I'm pretty fond of the APS-C sized sensor in general. It is reasonably easy to focus yet allows you to get a decently shallow depth of field when you need to. It also means you can use smaller lenses than the full-frame cameras where the lenses can get pretty beastly in terms of size and weight.
But what impresses me so much about the A7RII is not only does it capture 4K footage in camera, but it reads out every row on the 42 megapixel sensor in video mode. Wow!
Why is that a big deal? Full-frame DSLRs that shoot video up to this point have generally relied on line-skipping to produce full HD footage simply because their sensors had more than 1080 rows of pixels. Rather than have a sensor and/or image processor fast enough to read every row and then combine pixels to produce the HD footage, they just read every other row (or some similar scheme). Why is this an issue? Often this resulted in rather bad moire or aliasing. If you're not familiar with moire, you'll often see it rear its ugly head when shooting fine patterns such as pinstriped shirts or brick buildings. It is super distracting because the fine pattern nearly dances off the screen. Definitely takes the viewer out of the story.
Also, the A7RII has the new 5 axis stabilization on the sensor. So you can shoot handheld with lenses that are not optically stabilized. That's a very nice feature and means that I could potentially shoot handheld with my older, non-stabilzed lenses, saving me the investment of all new lenses.
And of course, we're talking about a full-frame 35mm, 42 megapixel sensor which could be very nice for still photography, something I still do plenty of professionally. The 12 megapixel sensor of the Sony A7S is a camera I passed on simply because it wouldn't have been very useful to me for my still photo work. Clients are often expecting more than 12 megapixels for still photos these days. 42 would definitely suffice. ;-)
Downsides? Well, the HDMI output is still only 8 bit color. Is that a huge show-stopper for me? Hmm, not really. I have that on my Panasonic GH4, but I'm still trying to find a case where that makes a huge difference for the types of things I shoot (talking head/interviews mainly). 10-bit color just isn't a wow feature for my work. If I did a lot of chromakey, perhaps.
The $3200 USD retail price will put this out of reach for many. But for what you're getting, it seems pretty fairly priced. Would have been nice if they could have managed to keep it under $3000 but there's a lot of tech in there.
I also have to say that once you put fast lenses on this tiny little camera body, things start to get a little wonky in terms of balance. These fast full frame lenses are huge and the camera body is tiny (at least relative to most DSLRs). So all that portability and light, nimbleness I was excited about is sort of out the window. Not a huge deal if the camera is up on a rig to video production. Possibly more of a big deal for a wedding photographer. But maybe not. I need to give it a try.
Regardless, I'm really impressed with the direction Sony is heading. They're changing the imaging world in some very positive ways! Will I buy a Sony A7RII? Hmm, I'm not so sure, at least I can say that I am not pre-ordering at this point. Maybe I'll change my mind later. And for now, that Nikon D750 is serving me exceptionally well as a still photos camera.