TLDR: The A7r-ii is an amazing camera, the lens that I had was defective.

The 42MP A7r-ii has got to be one of the most anticipated camera systems in the history of cameras – and for good reason.

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to play with all sorts of camera systems, from cheap Point & Shoots to 30,000$ 80 megapixel behemoths. I’ve observed as the dSLR video revolution spread across the world and watched as the lines between photography and videography started to blur as video cameras started to shoot stills and still cameras started to shoot video.

As I slowly began to dabble in videography myself and watched how much it helped build my name and brand, I came to the inevitable conclusion that the future of my career was going to depend on my ability to not just grow my photography, but also to branch out and learn as much as I could about motion pictures.

And that’s where the A7r-ii looked interesting. It promised both inside of a single affordable body. The perfect hybrid system capable of doing both high end stills and video.

Photo: Ryan Zimmerman

At least that’s what I hoped it would do when I clicked the Buy button.

I received the shipping confirmation of my brand new A7r-ii from B&H just one day before my trip to Guatemala. I was embarking on a little journey to do some non-profit work for an organization called the MedSurplus Alliance. Though my project was purely video, it was a relief to not need to bring a separate dSLR stills kit “just in case”.

42.4 megapixel sensor, 14 stops of dynamic range combined with internal 4k capable of shooting S-Log2 at ISO 800 – On paper, it sounded like I would be ready for just about anything.

Rows of graves from the National Guatemalan Cemetery surrounded by vultures

For the first five days of shooting – everything went as expected and the A7r-ii didn’t disappoint.

With amazing image quality and dynamic range in S-Log2 with 5-axis image stabilization, my shaky hand-held shots looked awesome. 4k lived up to its hype, looking ridiculously awesome, at the expense of more noise beginning around ISO 6400 (still usable) and overheating during longer interview clips. Similarly, AF tracking performed as advertised albeit in bright daylight, though dropped to near-useless when we went indoors. All-in-all, losing out to the A7s in low light performance but beating it at almost everything else.

On the 6th day, we found ourselves in the beautiful city of Antigua with an extra day to spare and nothing to shoot – a perfect opportunity to capture some stills and put my 42 megapixels to the test.

Rather than capture a sunset, go zip-lining or journey on a dirt-bike excursion, we opted to finding a guide that could take us safely through the streets of Guatemala and show us one of the growing crisis they faced – the thriving landfill economy where thousands of adults and children pay for the privilege to pick through garbage.

Endless rows of trucks delivering garbage for where men, women and children pay for the privilege of sorting through it.

We were warned to travel light – bringing only the minimum to minimize the danger of theft and violence. Our guide also warned us that we were not allowed anywhere close to the dump itself, as we would face the danger of being swallowed up by the unstable ground of the landfill itself – a fate that the locals would face on a regular basis.

With that in mind, I opted to bring the longest lens I had with me – Sony’s massive 28-135 f4. Though not as long as I would have hoped for, I figured that this would be the perfect opportunity to leverage the 42 megapixels that the camera had to offer and to visualize up close, the suffering the locals were going through just to survive.

100% of “fresh” trash being cleared from the trucks

To my great disappointment though, after pulling my shots into the computer, I discovered that despite the resolution of the files, they just looked smudgy (see full rez RAW files here); something, I have since discovered that only seems to happen with my 28-135 especially when zoomed in, focusing at hyperfocal. I’ll have to get the lens checked out.

As far as cameras go, the A7r-ii was miles ahead of that of the A7r. Focus speed, start-up time, shutter lag and buffer and low ISO performance were light-years ahead of its predecessor.

When compared with a dSLR, the A7r-ii still feels sluggish on the auto-focus side of things, especially in low light situations making it behave more like a 5d-Mark II than a D810. The shutter lag present in every single EVF system yet created – whilst greatly reduced compared to the A7r, is still present enough to not recommend it for shooting sports or high action situations even with it’s 4d tracking abilities.

While a slight handicap for those thinking of jumping to the EVF systems, it is obvious that this camera was designed for the high megapixel count portrait, studio, fashion & landscape shooters. Sony’s choice to focus on the lighter f4 zoom lenses as opposed to the f2.8 complimented by wider primes points to that. Add onto that the possibility of getting manual cheap cine Rokinon’s or the sharper and more expensive Zeiss – and suddenly you have what the world’s been crying forA perfect hybrid.

An Unconventional Review and A Cry for Help

Swarms of people, fighting for first dibs on the fresh trash.

Unfortunately for those in the dump, few cry for them as they fight desperately for survival. 3$ a day, is what the average worker earns and although 20+ non-profits surround the area and try to bring help and care to those afflicted, there is little hope of escape for those scavenging the dumps and living in worm and rat-infested settlements within smelling distance
of the dump.

In-camera panoramic of the landfill

I couldn’t help but ask my guide a dumb, but obvious question: “Is there a solution?”

As he replied, I stared off into the abyss from my perch at the National Guatemalan Cemetery. In growing horror, I slowly realized that what I was looking at wasn’t  “just a landfill” that could be closed, cleaned, removed, or healed… but a full on micro-economy that was providing thousands of jobs and feeding tens of thousands of families.

“There is no solution.” he told me. “But maybe you can offer them a meal that doesn’t come from the dump. When people are starving, they don’t care about education – they care about food.”

And so on our way back home, we did just that. Stopped by a local baker, bought a dozen donuts and a 2.5L bottle of Coca Cola, and gave it to one of the families, in one of the shelters.

“You’ll never know if they make it until tomorrow, but at least you gave them a moment of happiness. And in times like these, those little moments are all they have to hold on to.”

Those were his parting words to us as we bid him goodbye to resume our privileged life. Free to travel the world, and do expensive camera reviews for other privileged individuals that at least have the luxury to dream of one day buying one for themselves.

Epilogue

I never planned on making a review out of these images. The thought only occurred to me after I sat down in the safety of my home browsing the shots, staring at literally, 42 megapixels of garbage.

Coincidentally, my social feeds wouldn’t stop with amazing review, after amazing review of the A7r-ii.  I couldn’t help but note the irony.

I messaged our guide and asked him where he recommended we donate if we wanted to help. He recommended the organization, Buckets of Rain – an organization that helps the underprivileged grow their own garden. The hope being that if you can provide people with a way to survive by teaching them how to feed themselves, then maybe they would feel less compelled to go to the dump in the first place.

If you’ve reached this far, only to realize you don’t have enough to buy the brand new A7r-ii – please consider making a donation.

MORE AWESOMENESS:

  • Mario Fabbri

    When it is all said and done, would you recommend this camera to someone who already has a Nikon D810 but is in need of an additional camera? I’m shopping for something for my business partner and we will share both cameras. We do photo and video work.

    • If you do both photo and video, then 4K has got to be on your radar by now. If not, then yeah, just get another D810. You can get them for about $2K grey market, and spend just a couple hundred bucks on a third-party warranty that is even better than the Nikon warranty.

      However, for folks who are looking to really expand in the video direction sooner than later, the A7R II is one of the only shows in town. Especially with the Super-35 video ability that nearly matches the A7S in low-light high ISO situations.

      Honestly, overall it is still less of a “yup, it’s truly superior” kinda thing, and more of a personal decision along the lines of “well, how much do you enjoy being an early adopter?” Because yes, there are plenty of things about it that are much better than anything else on the market. However, it is still a system in its early stages, and I know there are some folks who just don’t take too kindly to “old dog, new tricks” type feelings. (Myself being one of those people, so don’t take it as an insult!)

    • I agree with Astro – when u put it side by side with stills, I think the D810 is superior 90% of the time. In video though, the A7r-ii is one of a kind. It truly kicks ass.

      • Mario Fabbri

        Thanks Von Wong, I’m going to get the A7r-ii and pair that with my NIkon D810… I can’t wait! Do you use an adapter to put your Nikon glass on the Sony? What lenses do you use with the Sony?

  • Great review, but quick before the pedants get here, the A7RII is only 42.4MP. But at least that means slightly less garbage in your photos!
    Looks like another great adventure 🙂

    • yikes thanks sir. Just in the nick of time

      • No worries, keep up the good work.
        I just picked up an A7II and love it, especailly those Zeiss lenses. Didn’t think I’d switch but this changes the way I work, better portrays the way I see things. Will be interesting to see yours 🙂

  • That is heartbreaking. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Donating now.

  • Ben, I feel the same way about the A7R II I think. While I did find it to be rather impressive in low-light on an Indian wedding dance floor, (missing / hitting just as decently as my Nikons) …I still feel like it’s a system that has a short distance left to travel before it is really qualified to “destroy” the competition. I know people are all very excited about it, but for example if you already own a D810 or 5D3/S, …should you dumb all your bodies (let alone lenses) and switch? Not unless you absolutely can’t live without the hot new features that the Sony offers. (Features which you did just fine without up until now)

    TL,DR; The A7R II is a huge leap in the right direction, as have been all the other A7-series bodies. However Nikon and Canon still have at least a generation or two left to “turn things around” before they become truly inferior.

    And yes, the garbage situation in Guatemala is very dire. I feel guilty that we are sitting here talking about some fancy new electronic device, while we as a civilization are battling some serious issues with waste, conservation, and self-reliance…

    • Totally agree. If we look “TRENDS”, Sony is the way to go. Hard to recommend a complete switch unless you’re heavy into the video side of things, but definitely something to start thinking about

      • The IBIS was very nice for shooting a wedding with 1.4 primes, I will say that. I did a lot less chimping for sharpness checks while shooting wide open at 1.4 and whatnot, for portraits and details. But then again, when I do need to chimp, the Sony interface is sluggish compared to how responsive a Nikon can zoom in 100% and scroll from image to image. Even with insanely fast memory cards, and raw compression that makes images a very modest ~40 MB filesize.

        All in all, it’s still a trade-off of familiarity and ergonomics, for what many folks will still consider to be bells and whistles.

        Having said that, Nikon and Canon should not be standing still. They cannot afford to keep telling themselves “nope, this one’s still not better all across the board…” because as soon as a Sony comes out that IS better all across the board, it will be too late and both of the big two will lose significant market share. I don’t think they’ll ever go the way of Kodak, but they’re at least headed in a direction (or, at a standstill) that will cost them a big chunk of the market.

  • Jaclyn

    So sad that people have to live like this… Reminds me of a good article I read recently that provides a hope and future solution for all of us but especially people who have to live in these sort of conditions… http://www.jw.org/en/publications/magazines/g201505/hope-homelessness-poverty-help-solution/

    Thanks for the awesome review! Always love your work.

  • Virginia Smith

    I never had a review bring tears to my eyes. My mom used to scour the dump as a kid for good stuff to bring home and stale candy they could never afford. But to live and die by garbage. sigh.

    Photography is so important to really communicate stories like this but my longing for a new camera seems unimportant for now. It’s still good to know I won’t have to save as long for a great camera!

    • Robert Stofa

      I’m feeling the same way.. wow.. I’m humbled.. here I am making a list of shit that I want to save up for, even though I already have some great stuff.. makes you have to really appreciate not only what you got but just life in general.

    • Thank you for the kind words Virginia. It is really nice to occasionally take a moment and realize how fortunate we all are.

  • Ishwinder Jauhar

    Quite an unusual but a highly practical review. So given a choice for video would u still go with a7s or the a7rii. And if u don’t mind my asking what’s the name of the rig u have the camera. It’s ni e compact and well balanced by what I can see in the picture. I have been using the 28-135 since it came out and sometimes it tends to focus out onits own and yeah the picture tends to be smudgy.

    • Given a choice, I think the A7r-II is the more versatile option thanks to the 5 axis stabilization, improved weather resistance and 4k.

      The A7s creams it in low light but I don’t think most people shoot in cripplingly low light situations on a regular basis.

      Glad to hear im not the only one suffering with the 28-135

      • Ishwinder Jauhar

        thanks for the reply. Any chance i could get the name of the camera stabilizer you are using. Like i mentioned it seems compact, and user friendly. I have a number of dslr of stabilizers but all of them have their own inherent issues. And i know you are getting a lot of different comments from a lot of people out there, hang in there 🙂

  • That’s a very moving review, Ben. Appreciate it – your honesty and reflections – more than you can imagine. It’s a world of contrasts, with no immediate fix and sometimes only little things we can do, even when wishing it could all be solved.

  • Asmund Mæland

    I have the 28-135 and found it to be tack sharp also on pictures, so that strange

    • With the A7r-II?

      • Asmund Mæland

        Yes, indeed. Let me post some pictures later so you can have a look.

        • Cool. Try to take some shots from subjects super far away too, can’t wait to see!

          • Asmund Mæland

            https://asmundma.smugmug.com/Photography/A7r2-test here is some pictures, most of them with A7r2. I see that smugmug destroys a little bit due to compression.

            here is also a link to a vimeo move and 4k on youtube
            https://vimeo.com/136930147

          • Wow!! Those are some great landscapes! beautiful beautiful shots.

            I’ve been trying to replicate the problem here at home and it seems to happen when you zoom in fully to 135 and focus on a subject that’s far away.

            Subjects that are just a couple feet away or when you shoot wide don’t seem to have the same problem?

          • Asmund Mæland

            Thanks, will look into it. I shoot mostly wide on the trip but quite sure I did video on 135, both FF and S35.
            I like your review very much, by the way !

          • Asmund Mæland

            I found some picture taken at 135mm, seems ok to me. there is also a shoot with canon 400mm, actually on only 1/40 sec. I have not put it head to head with a Canon 70-200 2.8 II yet, that will be the ultimate test I think.

          • Heinz Karl

            this looks like i film the screen from my p900 with a phone : _D

  • Sixpm

    We’re the value and money is nothing more than a system of control and if we all wake up from our deep sleep of unconsciousness then we can see pass the indoctrination of money and share our worldly resources freely instead of wasting our time and effort trying to maintain a unsustainable system as this profit based economy will deplete our valuable resources at a suicidal rate. Not to forget that the 1% was used as scapegoat to divide the masses by the 0.01% which controls all.

    Had we only to focus our energy for the greater good, do you think anyone needs to suffer? Technologically we have the knowhow and means to house and feed much more than 7 billions, what we lacking in is will and consciousness.

    • BiteMyShinyMetalAss

      Tell that to the bankers…but yes I fully agree with you. We let the elite dictate way too much and when they don’t get their way they just start another war while they and theirs are safely far removed from it. People are waking though, keep the faith. Cheers.

    • Ohne Wechselgeld

      A huge problem here is that these poor people have shockingly poor lives and yet breed uncontrollably. This is much like trying to stop a boat from sinking by slapping patches on the holes on its hull and the people on board this boat are constantly poking new holes all over. No matter how much effort and money we pour on this, the problem will always grow faster than we can muster resources. The first thing to do is to control population growth. Once this is achieved, all else will be easier.

      • Heinz Karl

        WE! nah actually U should give US an example ..state of the art…close one hole..

    • Heinz Karl

      sure the sun is shine with u..but cannibalismn will not work if u went vegetarian …

  • pbasswil

    Your empathy with the garbage pickers was heartfelt – awesome that you gave them food.
    But did it occur to you later that you’d just bought junk food with nothing but empty calories for chronically mal-nourished people?

    • You realize that those donuts don’t make much of a difference to a child’s health when they have worms crawling under their skin, eating expired food from the dumps.

      Vegetables and fruits don’t make children smile but donuts do.

      We had healthy foods, the guide told us to leave those in the car.

      • Brenda Tharp

        Interesting that the guide suggested the unhealthy foods. Yes, when kids are eating food with worms and such in them, they might smile at a fresh donut. But they might have also smiled at a true taco or deli sandwich, too.

        • Heinz Karl

          oh cmon..just send them milkpowder : _D..warning sarkastic : |…

      • Luis Diego Salas

        Brenda, I’ve seen things like these in Costa Rica, not as extreme, but similar. I understand your point, but, their situation is so bad, that all you want to do (immediately) is to provoque a happy moment. Because, giving them food for one single meal, regardless of the kind of food, is nothing but a ‘happy moment’ kind of thing. That’s moving, and it’s OK. But what’s really valuable is what one can do afterwards, like supporting this Buckets of Rain initiative.

      • pbasswil

        Believe me, a litre or two of unexpired milk would’ve made the entire family smile!

        For well-fed kids, sweets are a treat. But when you’re malnourished, your body _leaps_ at any nutrients that it’s missing. You and I don’t know chronic malnourishment so it’s hard to imagine what kind of cravings they have. But it’s safe to say they’re not the typical middle-class cravings for junk!

        I’m not trying to criticize your kind gesture to them, I’m just suggesting that a mal-nourished person has completely different needs _and_ cravings than fortunate people like us.

        Be well.

        • Heinz Karl

          who said the donuts had not multivitaminminralpills into them?…as good as milk sounds… its not about send them milkpowder they can solute in water… QUOTE: any nutrients that it’s missing…yeah something like war aproved white industrial sugarTM*….

  • Michael Stewart

    Your sharpness issue sounds like diffraction to me. Check the f stops in the metedata on the problem images. Some lenses will go very soft at smaller aperatures when the zoom and focus land in a certain range. I try yo never use a smaller aperture than I need to carry the depth of field on a wide zoom that has a lot of range. The lens probably had the same diffraction issues on previous cameras but you didn’t have enough sensor resoltion and sharpness to see it.

  • Luis Diego Salas

    Amazing!
    I was expecting a balanced a7RII review; which I got. Because, owning a a7II myself, I know damn well that shutter lag and autofocus are the two things that need to improve A LOT before (and if) I make the switch from Nikon. But what I really loved is the way in which you combined a review and a documentary with your own social awareness reflections and ACTIONS. Well done!

  • Datong Lese

    These images are amazing regardless of pixel-level quality. (I do appreciate the critical review though!) I teach in geography and environmental studies and will definitely point my students to your site. Thanks!

  • Ohne Wechselgeld

    Benjamin: I understand your shock and your concern over the awful plight of these souls. No human being should ever have to live like this. Yet the idea of offering them help is not the solution: it will only perpetuate the problem. Let me explain: these people are dirt-poor and live miserable lives yet they still have children by the cartload. Any parent would want his or her children to be happy and to have a good life, but they reproduce under these conditions with zero regard for the future well-being of their kids; many of these men only care to show they are virile through the children they sire. Tell me: if you know your life is shockingly bad and with no hope of betterment, why bring something so precious as a child to wallow in this awful life? They know there are better ways to live. Thus, the food donations and Buckets of Rain are only stopgap measures, one little patch in a boat full of holes on which more holes are being poked daily. Food donations have to be complemented with very strict population control strategies which must be taught to them, otherwise these measures are only throwing a small bucket of water at a huge fire

    • Heinz Karl

      quote…They know there are better ways to live…so since today only analsex is allowed unless u give them condoms?

  • Gum Bubblr

    You article made no sense. Is it a camera review or a humanitarian purpose article?
    Mixing both of them is utterly stupid; It’s like a war photographer would suddenly talk of his camera specs while children are being slaughtered on the background.
    Title is a click bait, as cheap and phony as your concern for those people.