Initial Impressions Of The A7ii Handheld With The Sony 70-200 f4
Today was my first full day testing the Sony A7ii. I decided to spend the day getting used to the settings and overcoming initial issues while testing the 70-200mm lens.
As mentioned in Part 1 of this series yesterday, this lens is the most questionable part of my switch to mirrorless. With high hopes but some reservations, I was keen to see what it could do!
Below are my test results!
The Test Environment
Gear: Sony A7ii handheld with the 70-200mm f4 lens. I’ll be doing another test using a tripod later.
Edits: I have allowed myself zero editing! Usually I’d edit my images before showing the world but I want you to see exactly what I saw when I imported them.
Settings: I alternated between aperture and shutter priority depending on what I was photographing. I also used some extreme cases to see what the camera did.
ISO: I’m coming from a camera where I avoided high ISO. For these tests I left ISO on Auto as I wanted to test a wide range of values that I wouldn’t normally pick.
Lighting: It was a dark, overcast and rainy day. This made it a good (harsh!) test for various situations. I only used the available minimal natural light for the tests. Normally in this situation I’d use a tripod but I wanted to push the image stabilisation and ISO.
Focussing: I varied the settings dependent on the subject. In a lot of cases I actually preferred manual focus since I had the benefit of focus peeking. I also discovered a new feature today called “Manual Focus Assist” which will automatically zoom in to 100% when using manual focus. This lets you really tweak the focus until you get that perfect spot. You can disable this in the menus if you wish, but I found it fantastic for helping me focus. That combined with focus peeking meant I actually preferred manual focus. I never used to say THAT when using my 70D (take from that what you will).
Some additional notes: For each test, I have exported the full resolution image as a jpeg. If you want to see the full res for yourself, just click the images below. Also, I am a complete pixel-peeper. I know a lot of people aren’t, but can’t help it – I need to get right in there with the details! For that reason, I’ll be showing a 100% section from each image so you can join me in staring at those lovely unedited pixels!
Test 1 – A Wide-Open Pet Portrait
For this test, I took my glamorous assistant (our beautiful labrador called Amber) into the garden to be my model.
At this point, I had barely any idea how to use the camera. I’ll admit I had some trouble at first with the autofocus not working and manual focus peeking being switched off by default. That stumped me for a bit so I had to go off and RTFM (read the f*ing manual) for a while before I resumed the tests!
Once I figured out some basics on how to actually use the thing, I started doing some quick test shots. Here are some examples, handheld, to show what the camera can do at various settings in poor light:
Here I focussed on the brighter of the two eyes. We’re only at f4, but I wanted to get an idea of how much detail I could get at this distance with the lens wide open. I was impressed! Even at ISO 640, this image came out sharp with much less noise than I was expecting.
I included more background than I usually would because I wanted to see what the bokeh was like on the 70-200. I’d read elsewhere that it isn’t as smooth as people want, but after a few hours testing, I’m pretty happy with it. The focus seems to blend nicely and the only areas I’m not keen on in this shot are the green plants just above Amber’s face. They’re still a little too distracting and detailed for my liking. That said. this was a super quick test I didn’t take the time to pose her or frame the shot well. Normally I’d be watching my backgrounds more closely so this wouldn’t be so much of an issue.
Bokeh aside, I really can’t fault the clarity and noise given this was a very rough shot at ISO-640. The below image shows a 100% zoom in lightroom on the area of focus:
Test 2 – Pet Portrait At F10
We’ve seen what the lens can do at a wide aperture, so let’s get closer and narrow that aperture down. The aim here was to get more detail across Amber’s face while the light was still super bad. Time to see what the ISO does when pushed:
Notice the background isn’t so distracting here? I think that’s going to be the key with this lens – really, really take the time to make sure your backgrounds are clean.
I narrowed the aperture to f/10 for this shot which slowed the exposure to 1/200 sec while bumping the ISO to 1250. Normally an ISO that high would have me cowering behind the sofa in fear. Surely these settings can’t result in a shot a pixel-peeper like me would be happy with? Let’s take a look at 100%:
I can’t remember what I actually said when I saw this in Lightroom, but I can assure you it was a combination of overly excited exclamations and declarations of love for my new gear. F/10, handheld, at 1250 ISO?! Look at the texture detail on Amber’s nose and the fur / whiskers. Also, since this is higher ISO, check out the noise (or lack of) in the green to the left.
I am super impressed with this result. This is a vastly better outcome than I was expecting.
Test 3 – A High ISO Indoor Shoot
At this point we were both getting a little chilly and Amber was clearly bored. We went inside and she promptly fell asleep on the sofa. She seemed to know what I wanted to test next as she kindly snoozed near the window but in a fairly dark room in the house:
For this test, I still wanted lots of detail across her face and paw so I left the aperture at f/10. This room is super dark so that pushed the exposure time to 1/15 sec. Remember this is handheld at 200mm! Those are the kind of settings I would declare as crazy and not workable in the past. Also note the ISO. SIX THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED. At this point I wouldn’t be just cowering behind the sofa, I’d be running for the hills in terror.
Once again, the Sony setup has disproved my initial reservations:
I genuinely can’t get over how detailed and useable this image is at those settings. I’m actually rather speechless so will just move on to the next test without further comment! :D
Test 4 – Detail At A Distance
With my assistant clearly too tired to continue, I had to resume testing with less adorable subjects.
I was keen to test hand-held distance shooting at 200mm so I wandered back outside and decided to focus on a far tree.
This one is a tricky test. The tree is naturally really dark and the overcast sky was a bright backdrop. The branches are really thin but with twigs and buds all over which should show up any blurring or movement in the shot.
Automatic focus did struggle to catch the correct branch. Luckily, with focus peeking and manual zoom assist it was really easy to manually focus. This allowed me to focus on the specific branch I wanted while letting the others fall out of focus.
A pretty boring image, but a good test of finer detail at a distance. I was impressed at just how much detail was in the branches and how sharp the image came out. Here’s the close-up:
Test 5 – Colour And More Bokeh
For these tests, I’ve only been adjusting aperture, shutter speed and switching between manual/auto focus. I’ve let the camera decide ISO and other details such as white balance.
When I saw this flower, I thought it would make a good test subject for colour. It also provides another test for the bokeh with lots of tree branches in the background:
Firstly, the detail and colour in the flower are lovely. For a last-minute handheld snap, I did not expect this to come out so well.
You’ll notice the bokeh is much smoother this time as the background is much further from our subject than the last test. Unfortunately there are still some branches of nearer plants causing distractions. At f4 there’s not much we can do about that other than photograph the subject from a different angle or fix it in post.
Here’s a closer look at some of the flower detail:
Given this was a last-minute snap which I wasn’t expecting to come out, I’m impressed with this result.
Test 6 – Moving Subjects
Ok, now for the REAL test! Off to the local duck pond we go!
When they’re not just floating around, these ducks are SPEEDY. I figured they’d make a good test for auto-focus speeds and to see how capable I am at tracking targets with this new setup.
It’s worth noting that I left the camera in fixed focus mode because I want to do a separate test of various auto-focus methods once I’m more used to the gear. In this test I’d pick a target and follow it around, patiently waiting for it to do something.
Here’s what you can get when you manually track a subject using a system you’re not used to on a dark rainy day:
It’s not a portfolio image by any means, but I wanted to show you this one because at this point the duck was moving pretty rapidly from the left to right of the frame. It’s also captured at high ISO (1250) which is a good test of the detail captured in this kind of shot.
Here’s a close up of the face:
I’d say that’s pretty sharp for 1250 ISO and manually tracking it. The colours and feather details are rather lovely, especially given this is SOOC. With these settings on my old camera, the image would have been useless. This one, you could do something with.
Overall Test Results
Things I Love:
- High ISO performance is a significant improvement over my 70D
- The camera + lens are super light. I was happy carrying it about in my hand for the whole test
- The 70-200 has internal focussing. This means it doesn’t extend out when you zoom. One of those nice features which makes it more comfortable to use than my 100-400 Canon.
- The lens hood on the 70-200 is actually much nicer than that of the Canon 100-400 which surprised me. It’s super easy to connect and feels pretty solid. The canon one felt like cheap plastic and would regularly cross-thread and get stuck on the lens at a weird angle.
- Customisable buttons on the A7ii means I can configure the camera to have the settings I use easily accessible (I’ve mapped them to focus modes and points for now).
- The Electronic View Finder and live view are awesome. I can see exactly how things will come out and adjust settings accordingly before I click that shutter button.
- Focus Peeking when using manual focus is brilliant.
- Manual Focus Assist was a nice feature to find. I didn’t know that existed but it’s a great help.
- A silly one: I have a big 64gb card. My 70D capped the number of photos remaining at 999, meaning I never knew how many were left. My A7ii gives me the whole 4 digit number :D
Things I’m Still Unsure About:
- As expected, I’m already missing the range of my 100-400mm lens on the crop sensor. However, the image quality from this new setup is so good, I’m happy to compromise and give up that range for now. Only time will tell if I end up buying a bigger lens!
- Battery life. It’s nowhere near as high as my old Canon. However the batteries are so light, I don’t think that will matter too much in the long run.
Things I Don’t Like:
- It’s actually hard to find negatives as I really love this new system. However in the interest of fairness, I’ll mention that the overall speed of the system feels slower. When I take a shot, while it’s saving to the card, I can’t go back to review the image. I have to wait until it’s done with a message blocking the screen. I could put the instant image review on, but I don’t always need or want to look at the review every time. I’d rather choose to do that when needed. For landscapes or static shots, this speed change won’t matter too much, but if I want to check if I got THE shot when photographing in continuous mode with moving targets, this might be a problem.
- It wasn’t that intuitive to get started with this setup. I’d be looking through the menus for ages looking for the right thing to turn on or off. Mostly this comes down to names I’m not used to compared to my Canon. Once I’ve used it more, this won’t be a problem. However, I’m going to keep the manual handy for now in case I can’t find the settings I need.
I think it’s pretty fair to say I LOVE this setup so far!
Overall, I’m incredibly impressed with the combination of A7ii and 70-200 f4. Initially I was concerned about the lens not being f2.8, but I think f4 is good enough to suit my needs for now.
The high ISO performance of the Sony A7ii is fantastic – much better than I thought it would be.
I’m also finding the camera easier to use after just a couple of hours testing. It will take time to build up muscle memory for all the new buttons, but you’d get that with most new cameras.
One thing I really like is the ability to change the three custom buttons. I’ve modified them to change focus types / points so I can quickly adjust those when using auto-focus.
It will be interesting for me to see how much I rely on AF now that I have focus peeking and focus assist. These features make manual focus almost effortless and that guarantees the lens will be focused on what I want instead of bouncing around in AF.
The next tests I’d like to do with this lens would be to try and properly track some targets and see what the autofocus can do with that. I’m also going to test it on a tripod for some longer landscape shots.
For now though, I need to go and plug the camera into the charger because the battery is already down to 53% after only ~150 shots. This is definitely something to bear in mind if you’re thinking of switching over. You’ll need at least a couple of spare batteries in your bag! Luckily, they’re pretty light so you won’t notice you’re carrying them.
If you have any questions or things you’d like me to test, do let me know in the comments. I’ll be back tomorrow with Part 3, testing the 70-200 with moving targets and landscapes.