My photography background is in sport. Mostly cycling. But things in life evolve and change and currently I spend most of my time running this website. beside exploring the world 🙂
In the last 18 months I have been asking myself if the Sony A7R II is really the camera for travel addicted like me.
Because of my past photography assignments I have collected (nice word for “buying”) a few pieces of Nikon gear (the definition of “few” can be really subjective and it depends if you ask me or my wife).
The thing with the professional Nikon gear is that ….well it’s bulky and heavy. My light Nikon D610 is 850gr which works great when you are making cycling photography by motorbike or car however it’s certainly not my favourite choice when travelling. I down’t want to even mention the Nikon D810.
Table of Contents
A month ago I received a Sony A7R II to review. I had the possibility to keep it for over four weeks, which was great. I could really test it in any condition.
I also had a two weeks holiday with my wife and the little 3 years old boy. I took with me a compact and the Sony A7R Mark 2. I ended up using only the A7R. Why? Because it was just magnificent. It proved to be “child friendly” (easy to carry around, quick autofocus and nice burst)
But let’s go step by step
Is the Sony A7R II travel handy?
Whenever I receive a new camera to review I usually check, as first thing, how handy is the gear.
What does it mean?
I mean size, dimension and feeling with the camera in hand.
The Sony A7R II is only 126.9 x 95.7 x 60.3mm. This is amazingly small. When compared with my Nikon gear it just looks so tiny. To have an idea look at this comparison website.
And it’s not just the dimension, also the weight is 33% less.
If you like trekking, you are on a cycling trip or just city excursion, it means that you have around 300gr less to transport around. And I tell you, this is a lot especially if you do it for few days in a row.
It’s important to compare apples with apples of course. This camera has a full frame sensor (36 x 24mm) and should be compared similar models and not with cameras with APS-C (23 x 15mm) or MFT (17 x 13mm) sensors.
There is a big question you should ask yourself though: do you really need a full frame sensor camera for travel photography?
It all depends on what you are going to do with the photos.
Do you post them just on Instagram and that’s it?
A mobile or a compact is enough.
Would you like to print or post them and maybe try to sell on-line?
MFT or APS-C will do the job
Do you want a camera to use in any condition of light (without flash) and possibly use it for other professional work as wedding or commercial?
Full frame is the solution
When I travel I have a camera always with me, also in the night. You never know what opportunity may arise.
Having the possibility to shoot in low light is a must.
That is where the full frame sensor is a winner.
The local markets, for example, are always a great location for travel photography, especially in the countries still based on the local economy. They tend however to be dark, usually under some sort of tends providing shade
The full frame sensor, being double the size of the APS-C one (it’s actually a bit more), receives twice the light just by definition.
And it’s not only that. On average the full frame sensor capture an higher dynamic range of tonalities, with more details in the bright and dark areas.
Just think again the typical market at 11am when the bright rays of sun mix with the dark shady areas. It’s a nightmare for photographers. Less so with a full frame sensor as in post-production you can take out tons of details
But there is much more than that with the Sony A7R Mark 2.
What I noticed along my years travelling in many countries is that the smaller the camera the easier is the contact with the locals.
Well, the bigger the equipment the more professional you look and consequently more intimidating.
The smaller, the better. And the Sony A7R is definitely small, especially when together with a prime lens like the Sony FE 50mm F1.8 Lens
Now what about the feeling with the camera in hand?
I most definitely had a great experience.
The Sony A7R II has everything in the right place for my photography, all where I expect it to be. Now that I am back on the Nikon I feel like my cameras have been to McDonald’s for a month, they look supersize LOL.
There is one button, though, that looks positioned in an odd place, the video recording. It is on the side and not really handy to reach.
If you do lots of videos, and I don’t, I suggest you to re-assign it to one of the function buttons (C3 would be my favourite).
ISO and resolution
One of the hardest things for camera makers is to increase the megapixel resolution……without compromising on the ISO sensitivity.
Oh yes, you can still find phones with cameras over 20MP, even up to 40MP, which work great in perfect day light conditions however they suffer, a lot, in low light.
There is no much point to have a 50MP camera if the noise introduced by an ISO of 400, or higher, makes the image not usable.
BSI (Back-side illuminated) technology is often used in smaller sensors to allow more light to hit the photodiode, think it as a light amplifier technology, without going too much in the details (you can read more on BSI here).
Sony, for the first time in the photography industry, has introduced the BSI technology also in the Sony A7R II full frame sensor…..with amazing results.
In this way the photos resolution is up to 42MP without compromising on ISO sensitivity.
I personally feel it is just the start of a new revolution in sensor technology.
During my 4 weeks I was shooting with high value of ISO and I was able to have some of the cleanest photos I have ever experienced with different brand cameras.
I want to mention once again also the extra dynamic range of this sensor. I have just loved it. I start wondering if HDR photography will be over sooner rather than later.
5-axis image stabilisation system
When in Melbourne I usually run workshops for day and night photography.
We have our tripod and I lead the group around the city introducing new concepts, settings and composition tips and feedback.
One of the first thing I like to say is that sunset and night photography can be done even if we do not have a tripod with us. Sometime it happens, we are out and about without tripod, the time flies and the sun is already on the horizon line.
In the workshop we go on a very dark graffiti lane and we shoot hand held.
The Sony A7R Mark 2 offers an in-body 5-axis image stabilisation system which allowed me to shoot with much longer shutter speed than I usually do.
Kimio Maki, Senior General Manager of the Digital Imaging Business Group (Sony Corporation) in 2015 declared in an interview that the performance was a 4.5 stops of improvement.
If you use the typical rule of thumb of
shutter speed = 1 / focal length
Just multiple that by 3 or even 4 times and you are still in the same confident zone to have a sharp photo.
When travelling, light condition may change frequently and unexpectedly. This is when the 5-axis image stabilisation system will help you a lot.
If you are visiting a dark cathedral or there is a sudden storm, you do not need to pump up the ISO. You can confidently set a longer shutter speed, assuming this will still allow you to have a sharp subject.
One of the issues with mirror less, if compared with high end DSLR, is that autofocus tend to be slower.
This is not obviously a big problem in landscape photography.
It may be, however, when you shoot in the street, when you try to capture the everyday life of the city or country you are visiting.
I find quite frustrating when autofocus takes too long and I miss the photo opportunity.
The A7R II has done a great step in autofocus speed, now comparable to my Nikon gear.
This is one of the spec I usually check as soon as the camera is announced.
If you use your camera mostly for travelling and city exploration, make sure it is environmentally sealed as it is the A7R II.
There are two main reasons.
The first one is that in any trip it is almost impossible not to experience rainy or dusty days. And in that days the sealing is really a peace of mind.
The second reason is that rainy days are always a great opportunity for unique photos. I saw lots of photos from Bangkok, not that many when raining with maybe a tuk tuk in the middle of a storm with a soaking wet customer. These are the unique photos of a trip.
I really enjoyed using the Sony A7R II through the 4 weeks. I will miss it. Now I am back on my fat Nikon gear after a McDonald’s buffet LOL
The price is on level with other professional DSLR. It is not cheap however you are also buying one of the best, if not the best, in the market.
If you are thinking about a camera to use for your travel photography and possibly to open up more working opportunities then the Sony A7R II is probably the right camera, a long term investment.
When I travel with the kid I do not like to carry big gear with me however the Sony A7R II proved to pass the kid-test. Easy to take it everywhere with a quick autofocus that helped me to have sharp images of the ever moving 3 years old boy.
One of the feature I really loved was the silent shutter release that I used when exploring the everyday life of the villages and towns I have visited. Not intrusive.
Would I use it for cycling or sport photography instead of my Nikon gear?
The main reason is the continuous shooting performance at 5 frame per second with the impossibility to see your subject through the viewfinder (no images are passed to the EVF when shooting in continuous mode).
This is not a deal stopper for travel photography obviously although it would be nice to see the scene when continuous shooting.
The battery life is in line with most of the mirrorless cameras, not as great as a DSLR. It however depends how much you shoot with EVF or back monitor.
Sony provides a second battery with the camera which is awesome. With 2 batteries you can have a day of heavy shooting or easily a weekend away
I would have loved to have a second memory slot on the Sony A7R II and I really hope the new release will have that. Always great to have a live backup.
I really liked to have a tilting LCD screen. Very useful in some occasions and opens up new composition opportunities. I was surprised it was not touch screen though.
Again, it was great to have this camera. It opened up my eyes on so many things I could do in post-production, thanks to the wide dynamic range of tonality.
Enjoy your travel, enjoy your photography!!
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This is how I partially run this website together with a great amount of coffees . Thank you so much for your help!