Breaking the Limits Once More

A very competent upgrade, but one that comes at a fairly heavy cost.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
A very competent upgrade, but one that comes at a fairly heavy cost.
My Reading Room
My Reading Room

When the Sony Alpha series was refreshed, we were very impressed with the improved low light capabilities of both the A7 II and the A7R II. Both showed greater usable high ISO performance. Given how the A7R II’s back-illuminated sensor managed to eke out commendable performance from the 42.4MP sensor at ISO 12,800, we were naturally interested to see what Sony would apply the same to the 12.2MP A7S II, pushing the limits of high ISO photography even further.

After all, if Sony can get 409,600 on a regular sensor, what could they do with a one more year of research and development? Well, it seems Sony has opted for a conservative approach this time. No new back-illuminated sensor, though the A7S II does get the upgraded body design and new 5-axis in-body image stabilization system.

We feel the new body design makes handling the camera much easier as the larger handgrip allows you to better wrap your fingers around the camera. It’s more ergonomic especially when you have larger lenses as the new handgrip allows you to really get a good hold on the camera. As we mentioned in our A7R II review, shifting the shutter button down is another small, but noticeable change as it just places the controls better within reach.

Another major change is in the AF system of the camera, as the A7S II gets 169 contrast-detect AF points this time, up by more than 6 times from 25 points on the original A7S. This translates to better, speedier AF performance, and the new camera certainly proved steadier in low light, as we found that it was able to get focus in conditions that would have caused AF hunting before. Images seem to exhibit just as much detail as before, but we do think the auto exposure and auto white balance system is fairly improved, as captures seem to be truer to life.

While its predecessor required an external recorder to record full 4K video, the A7S II can now perform this function internally, recording 3,840 x 2,160 pixel resolution movies at a maximum of 100Mbps. No pixel binning is used with the A7S II for the 4K capture, so you actually get footage with less moire and jaggies.

On the stills side, whatever Sony has done with the camera has certainly improved the low light performance too. Whereas images taken from the original would exhibit plenty of color noise from ISO 6,400 onwards, the new camera now largely eliminates it throughout the entire ISO range. In place of this though, you get noticeable smudging that kicks in at about ISO 25,600.

As you might expect, that’s about the limit at which we’d recommend you use the camera, but we have to say that you can probably use images taken at ISO 51,200 for prints with a bit of work in post. That’s again much higher than what you might be able to do with any other camera in the market at the moment and is a good sign of how this new model has raised the bar.

Unfortunately, this all comes at a pretty heavy cost. Where the A7S retailed for $2,999, the A7S II comes with quite a marked increase to $4,299! And that’s again the body only option, which means you can expect to be forking out close to six thousand dollars for a working system if you’re new to Sony.

If you’re looking for a professional camera with good low light capabilities just for stills, we’d give the A7R II real consideration instead, or perhaps even the original A7S, which is now being discounted to about $2,500. However, if you’re looking to using the camera mainly for video, then the two stop advantage you gain plus the advantage of the 5-axis stabilization is certainly invaluable when you don’t have the advantage of using a longer exposure interval to allow for lower ISOs.

Ultimately, if you must have the best in low light capture for video and photography, then the A7S II is your bet.

Even images taken at ISO51,200 look decent at lower resolutions.
Even images taken at ISO51,200 look decent at lower resolutions.


Mount Alpha E-mount

Sensor 35mm full frame

Exmor CMOS sensor

Megapixel sapprox. 12.2

Dimensions126.9 x 95.7 x 60.3mm

Price $4,299 (body only)

The new design allows for a much deeper handgrip.
The new design allows for a much deeper handgrip.