Sony A7 Mark II Design and Ergonomic Review
|A7 vs A7 mark II|
Mirrorless cameras are not just free of the bulky mirror box, but overall smaller. With the smaller sizes, it contends with the balance of being too small vs the functions that makes SLR cameras great. Most modern cameras have all the features that are expected by consumers, and for the most part are on par with each other for quality and function. But one of the more important factors of making a tool work well is how easy it is to hold, handle and utilize the features.
|Sony A7||Sony A7 mark II|
|Weight||474 grams||599 Grams|
|Width||127 mm||127 mm|
|Height||94 mm||96 mm|
|Depth||48 mm||60 mm|
Most of the upgrades are pretty subtle at first, but the more you delve into it, the more you realize the importance of each update.
The headline ergonomic update was the grip design. The grip now reflects a more traditional SLR like design approach (Nikon-esq to be specific). The big move was relocating the shutter button to the more logical place on top of the bevel of the grip from the top plate location. Some people have had some concerns of the depth and comfort of the grip, but much of this is subjective and hard to make it well suited for each and every user out there.
|New Grip Design|
The middle finger notch on the A7 is better suited for larger hands (I wear large gloves, but have medium sized hands). The introduction of the front wheel to the grip for some forces the fingers to go lower and clustered together. In fact for some it means the pinky finger either sits under the grip, or against the edge. It can be uncomfortable, but easily remedied with a form fitting L bracket or the future battery grip.
|A7 II Grip|
|A7 II Grip and new Front Dial (A7 on the Left)|
The dial itself is made from a polycarbonate plastic and when turned has a soft indent feel to it. Compared to the metal dial of the A7 and A7r, it does feel cheap. I personally prefer the softer feeling dial which is both welcome for video shooters and for smoother interface. The knurling is more tactile, and offers a more positive feel against the finger as you turn it with your index finger. I do prefer the wheel behind the shutter button like it is on Canon cameras. It is something I need to adjust to, but for former Nikon users should find this layout very familiar
Some people have mentioned that this dial changes too easily. I suspect that this is caused by using a tripod sling strap system like the Rapid straps that hang the camera's upside down, and the dial against your clothing or leg. The slight bump out and recessed dial is probably not enough to protect it from changing. Nikon cameras also have this problem, but with the softer indent dial on the A7II, it is easier to turn it.
I recently stopped hanging my cameras that way because of a fundamental flaw in design in all cameras (more on that later).
Strap Lug Locations
With the relocation of the shutter button, the strap lugs are positioned between the index and thumb. This is a far better position for neck strap wearers and to some degree hand straps. Wrist straps or lanyards can have the strap sit either over the hand, or under the hand. This might be uncomfortable for some.
|A7 lug location|
|A7 II lug location|
The old shutter trigger button location was very rangefinder like in the A7 location. For those that came from that world, they may have found it comfortable, however those cameras didn't usually have an exposure compensation dial that was necessarily in the way as you rested your index finger against it. The shutter button makes far more sense and is located in the right place now on top of the redesigned grip.
|Shutter Button location on A7|
|New Shutter Button Location on A7 II (Note the knuckles and lens location)|
The deeper grip also puts the fingers and knuckles closer to the barrel bevel of larger lenses. Larger fingers might find this a bit close and crowded. This is a fundamental design flaw of the E-mount and larger lenses. The A6000 is actually slightly closer, but because the face of the grip is shorter, the fingers come back ever so slightly. This is more noticeable when you're wearing gloves. The only solution for users with bigger hands is to hold the grip with their fingertips rather than their knuckles (in this case pinky under the grip, and back corner in the middle of the palm).
New Dual C1 and C2 Buttons
With the relocation of the shutter button this gave room for two of the custom buttons, C1 and C2. Both of these buttons are substantially higher than the original C1 and located in a logical and comfortable position. The default actions on the buttons are magnifier and WB, but can be programmed for each user's requirements (also expanded in this update). There is also a ridge located between the two buttons which helps avoid mispressing the other button. The custom buttons have a more positive feeling over the previous version which means no soft buttons are needed. But this brings to mind the annoying movie button and also the rear AF/MF button are still too recessed for my taste of usability (these can be improved with a third party soft button).
|New C1 and C2 Buttons|
One of the more nagging design flaws from the A7 and A7r is the rear shoulder/shelf. Both the MENU and a C2 button were located on it, but were rather difficult to press because of that shelf (I don't have a big thumb but it was still difficult to hit the buttons with the shelf in the way). Thankfully, the A7 mark II has been redesigned with a bevelled shoulder where a more easily accessible MENU and C3 now sit.
SD Memory door
The redesigned slot also has some better designed channels that prevents moisture. I also find that it's much easier to access it with gloved hands.
Construction, Finish and paint.
Another nagging issue with the original A7 and A7r design is the poor paint and finish.
|A7 II Finish|
Steel Mount Update
One of the major improvements is the mount. I'm not going to take it apart for my curiosity, but what's different on the A7II is that it's an all metal construction rather than the two piece plastic and metal one on the A7 and A7r. This makes a huge difference on how the lenses feel on the camera.
There's no rotational wobble which is very irritating if you have a stiff focus ring and trying to shoot video with it. There is still the usual play that is expected for temperature shifts, but everything I've put onto this mount has been solid and tight.
The two piece mount design of the A7 and A7r also introduced a failure point found near the lens release button. Because there is no gasket between the two different materials, it was possible for light leaks to enter into that area (much of this was in specific long exposure and lighting situations). The one piece design corrects for that. I also believe I see a little rubber gasket sitting in what I can only suspect is now a metal sheath just between the orange beauty ring and the mount ring. I believe the A7s has this new design as well, but I don't have a sample to compare.
This certainly should provide a lot more environmental sealing, not just from dust and moisture, but any light contamination.
While I'm on the mount, inside the mount, there is a baffle mask found just behind the lens contacts. For some reason, the A7II has been redesigned with a slight cutout? I have no real theories at the moment for it but maybe the exception of some sort of flare/internal reflection issue? I don't know why it is that way, but if it does provide some design improvements, I welcome it.
|A7 baffle mask|
|A7 II baffle mask with slight cut-out|
The battery doors have also been redesigned. I'm not completely sure I like the redesign here. At first try I thought it was clever, then I tried to put it into practice which was an absolute pain. On the new design, it now has a lock switch that locks the hinge pins into a retracted position. That seems pretty logical. You can either release it by swinging the switch back, or a tiny little button above it is spring loaded. It all seems rather clever until you try to put it in operation. I found it clumsy and hard to align properly. Although the older design is similar to many other battery doors I've used in the past, I found it far less finicky than the new design. Sometimes if something isn't broken, they shouldn't redesign it. This in my opinion was a poor redesign choice.
|A7II battery door on the left A7 on the right|
I should point out that an additional foam seal has been put into the hinge area of the battery door.
This brings to mind a warning to everyone the flaws of slings straps. If you think you have a weather sealed camera and using a tripod socket sling system, be aware (from personal experience shooting hours in the rain) that water will likely get into the battery door especially if you hang it from that socket. Cameras were never designed for the bottoms to be exposed to rain coming down on it. However seeing a better seal on the battery door is another good improvement but I'd still caution hanging it upside down in the rain.
Rear LCD Screen
The rear LCD screen has had a few small improvements. First it's thinner and more embedded into the chassis. I did however find that it was actually harder to flip the screen out because of that. The screen also extends further out than the previous design. This improvement clears the eye finder better so that when you're looking from above, that you can see the entire screen. This redesign also clears any oversized tripod plates that you mount to the bottom. The A7 And A7r screen often fouled with a tripod plate, making it difficult to swing the LCD plate if it overlapped onto the screen.
Tripod Mount Position
|New tripod mount location fouling the LA-EA4 adapter when plate is installed.|
|A7 II Hotshoe|
So there's a little dirty secret that Sony hasn't publicly come clean about. No one knows for certain if the A7 II sensor is a new design or not, but most public information seem to say that it is the same. One thing is certain, there is a completely different coating on the protective glass.
|New Coatings on Sensor|
Sony has done a fantastic job of updating the ergonomics on this camera mostly due to the fact they had to make room for a moving sensor. There are still some issues that may never be resolved, or will require a slightly wider design or even a complete form factor change.
Overall the ergonomic changes are very welcome to me. The camera is heavier but it just feels right in my hands. It has a more solid feeling over the A7 and A7r. In some ways it feels like I'm handling my Leica in my hand and doesn't feel like a shell over empty bits of space in it. The new grip is a massive improvement and feels far more secure.
The fit and finish overall is better, and the new buttons are welcome improvements.
The IBIS is of course a welcome addition and redesign that I hadn't talked much about. It makes all my vintage lenses image stabilized which means lower speeds and better low light performance. That's an important thing to appreciate, but unfortunately it did make it rather difficult to make an ergonomically designed camera. Also apparently auto focus is improved by 30% according to Sony. This is significant, but not part of this review. I've actually not found it difficult to make the AF work on the A7, but I'm sure I'll learn to appreciate the improvement much like I did with the Canon 5Dmark3 over the Canon 5Dmk2 AF.
Some improvements will be awkward with really small hands or really large hands, but I believe for most average sized hands, it should be fine.
I do believe the improvements do one of the most important things to this update which is making it a working tool, like SLR designs before it, it works very well in the hand of a user. Is the update worth it for A7 users to upgrade? In my opinion, on just these ergonomic updates it can be worth it. But I caution users that have really large hands to handle one before you buy it. It will be those users that will likely find this camera too small for their hands.