Sony have released their A7 II mirrorless camera. Why is this interesting? Because Sony are fast becoming the most innovative high-end camera manufacturer in the game. If Nikon, Canon, and Pentax don't pull something out of the bag soon (very soon) then, based on technical innovation and image quality, they are going to be bypassed by Sony. If I was upgrading my camera tomorrow I would most likely get the Sony A7 II even though it means changing lens systems.
So why is the Sony A7 II so interesting?
It's a mirror-less full-frame EVF-style camera. It is not a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera; there is no flip-up mirror in the mechanism. The primary sensor is open to the lens all the time the camera is on.
I am not too sure what to call this new breed of mirror-less high-end camera. Some reviewers call them a CSC (compact system camera), others call them ILC-mirrorless (interchangeable lens camera—mirrorless) or just ILC. On Wikipedia they call them a MILC (mirrorless interchangeable lens camera). I have also seen them referred to as an MSC (mirrorless system camera) and DSLM (digital single lens mirrorless) camera.
These high-end high-performance interchangeable lens cameras are exciting for a number of reasons:
- They are lighter and smaller than a comparable DSLR.
- What you see in the LCD-based viewfinder is exactly the picture the camera is going to take because that is what the primary sensor is seeing.
- The viewfinder can show picture information that no DSLR viewfinder ever can, such as: histogram information, continuous depth-of-field, highlight over-exposure, and loss of shadow detail.
- If you wear glasses you can use the main rear display, typically at least a 3" display.
- Because there is no reflex viewfinder or mirror system the design and manufacturing costs are reduced.
- As there is no reflex mirror there is no reflex mirror noise or resulting camera shake when the shutter button is fired.
- You can take a picture holding the camera over your head, something you cannot do with a DSLR. This gives you a completely different viewing angle that would normally require you to take a sturdy step-ladder with you.
- Similarly you can take a picture holding the camera near the ground; again something you cannot easily do with a DSLR without lying on you belly on the ground—not pleasant in the case of wet or damp grass or dirt.
But, as always, there are few downsides:
- Because of the LCD-based electronic viewfinder and the primary sensor needing to be fully on almost anytime the camera is being used the battery life is significantly reduced compared to a DSLR.
- Due to the focussing method used focussing is slower than a DSLR, and can tend to be less accurate (although later models of mirrorless cameras are addressing both these issues).
- The electronic viewfinders in many mirrorless cameras are not that good, but again these are improving all the time.
Back to the new Sony A7 II.
The A7 II is Sony's latest mirrorless offering. It is a full-frame camera, meaning the sensor is about 36 x 24 mm. The sensor takes a 24.3 megapixel 6000 x 4000 pixel 3:2 picture with a 14-bit RAW output. Like the Pentax range of cameras Sony has used in-camera image stabilisation so this means any lens used with the camera gets the benefits of the five-way image stabilisation provided by the mounted sensor. Sony claim their image stabilisation is so good it can be worth up to five stops.
It is going to be very interesting to see how Nikon, Canon, and Pentax address this gap in their product lines.