For photography enthusiast, it’s always a dilemma deciding on what kind of camera to pack for a short trip. For us, our preference is always to pack light so that it doesn’t feel like you are lugging a suitcase everywhere you go.
For our most recent trip to Thailand, we decided to bring along Sony’s latest mirrorless camera, the Sony Alpha 7ii. As the name implies, this is the second model after the hugely popular Alpha 7 launched last year. Although we have tried, owned and used many other brands of cameras, we have never really used a Sony DSLR or mirrorless camera other than the occasional fiddling of its dials and buttons at Sony showrooms.
The lightweight and compact design of the Alpha 7ii has a lot of details we love and look for in a travel camera. It has a comfortable and secure grip and the body feels solid and well constructed. The comfortable weight also means that you can sling it over your neck or shoulder all day long without feeling the strain.
As far as ergonomic goes, the dials and buttons are well positioned for both amateurs and professionals alike. Flip the on/off button, set your favourite shoot mode and image compensation preference and you are good to go. As this is the first trip with the camera, we are discovering new features as we go. One of these is the tilt screen. The camera is so compact that we totally missed opening up the tilt screen on the first day. It’s probably our fault that we didn’t check the manual before the trip. Digital camera 101.
Sony Alpha 7ii is a full frame camera with a 24.3 megapixel sensor. It is also one of the very first to introduce a 5-axis image stabilisation system inside a full-frame camera. That means that you don’t need to buy an expensive lens that comes with the image stabiliser function, the body itself is able to provide that. This opens up many possibilities to use quality lenses from other brands while giving the user a 4-stop advantage when shooting in low light.
We must admit that having an electronic viewfinder rather than an optical one takes out a little bit of the fun when using a full frame camera like the Alpha 7ii, but the advantage is it allows you to preview your shot in realtime before you hit the shutter button.
For the trip, we packed the Sony 16mm f/2.8 Wide-Angle pancake lens and the 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 Zoom lens. As you can see from the unedited sample images below, these lenses are sufficient for most situations. The tones of the shots came out very natural, except for indoors, when it can be a tad cooler.
As for video, the Alpha 7ii can only shoot up to a resolution of 1080p and not 4K. Unfortunately on this trip, we didn’t fully test out the video capture capabilities other than using it for occasional b-rolls. To start a video, you need to activate the button with a red dot located on the right hand side on the back of the camera. The recess where the button is located makes it hard for you to accidentally activate the video recording but it creates another problem–depending on how you hold the camera, turning it off after you are done with your recording can be tricky. For us, the best way to do this is to use your right thumb to lightly activate and deactivate the recording mode. Our first few clips weren’t ideal due to the shake from pressing the button. We will need to test out the video recording feature a bit more before deciding whether it will be our go to video camera for our YouTube channel.
One of our main gripes, though a solvable one, is the battery life. According to Sony, the battery lasts for 60 minutes when shooting continuously using the viewfinder. During the trip, the camera can last about half a day with intermittent shooting of stills and videos with the supplied rechargeable battery. You definitely need to invest in a few more batteries and keep them handy in your bag if you are going to use it more intensively.
The camera body alone cost S$2,149 and adding the 28-70mm Zoom lens (kit lens) will bring the price up to S$2,549. Even though the body is compatible with a lot of lenses, like Leica and Sony full frame lenses, you will have to invest in another lens adapter to add to the system. Unless you have a lot of those lenses lying around (or cash), think about what you shoot most of the time and invest in a few key fast lenses for those purposes. As a travel camera, the Alpha 7ii is a very capable and versatile mirrorless camera that will allow you to produce high quality images and videos in most situations. Just make sure that your batteries are charged before you leave the hotel.
Sony Alpha 7ii at a glance:
Sensor: 35 mm full frame (35.8 x 23.9mm) Exmor™ CMOS sensor
Lens compatibility: Sony E-mount lenses
ISO range: 50–25600
Battery life: Up to 350 shots
Viewfinder: 0.5″-type electronic viewfinder