Sony A7RII vs A7S Lowlight Review

We’ve been quite busy at cinema5D reviewing the new Sony A7RII (see our field review here and preliminary lab test here). The successor to the famous Sony A7S has left us impressed, but many are asking if it can provide the same legendary lowlight capabilities. Here’s our Sony A7RII vs A7S Lowlight Review, so we’re about to find out.

 How good is the Sony A7RII in Lowlight

As a small camera with a large sensor that shoots 4K (UHD) internally the Sony A7RII is already an amazing piece of gear. Dialling up the ISO we notice that it’s quite capable to shoot even in lowlight environments.

However the question is how good it really is, so we don’t get caught by surprise with unusable footage after we come back from a shoot.

Many people think that there’s a way to put a number on a camera’s performance, but multiple tests and reviews have showed us otherwise: Camera sensors are complex and inconsistent depending on the way they are used, so we need to learn and experience the camera’s performance in order to use it correctly. It certainly helps to compare a sensor to a reference to get a better perspective.

This is where the Sony A7s in an obvious choice. It is one of the most lowlight sensitive cameras we know and has a lot in common with the new A7RII. With its high ISO rating the Sony A7s was (and still is) a perfect tool for documentary style cameramen.

The Test: A7RII vs A7S

For this test we used two identical Zeiss Loxia 50mm F/2 (Sony E-mount) lenses on the Sony A7RII and Sony A7s and filmed our test chart at the same time. For the purpose of the test we zoomed into lowlight critical areas of the frame. 400% on the Sony A7s’s HD footage and 200% on the A7RII’s 4K (UHD).

On first sight it might appear as though the noise floor is similar, but in our video above you can upon close inspection see that the A7s retains better detail throughout. At around ISO 8,000 the Sony A7RII shadow areas get more and more washed out and some detail is lost. Noise performance is still good and in many situations the footage beyond ISO 10,000 and even up to 25,600 might still be usable for you, but look out for those washed out dark areas.

The Sony A7s in comparison holds a very clean image all the way up to ISO 25,600. Noise gets severe beyond that point, but detail is retained quite well in comparison to other cameras, which makes it such an impressive lowlight tool.

If you want to be on the safe side you should be careful not to expose beyond ISO 6,400 on the new Sony A7RII, but if your final output is HD and web content you might find that even ISO 25,600 is possible without too much noise on the Sony A7RII. The fact of the matter is that you should make your own tests, find out and get a feeling for how far you can and want to push your footage to get the images look the way you like.

Sony A7RII Full Frame Mode?

One thing we already noticed last friday was the tremendous difference in lowlight performance between Crop Mode and Full Frame Mode on the new Sony A7RII.

Below you can see the last 4 steps of dynamic range on both Crop Mode (super35) as well as Full Frame Mode at ISO 6400. You can also observe this in the video above.

1x1_crop_a7rii-3

 

[Update]: The fact that the Sony A7RII delivers good results at a super35 sensor size is great news and actually quite a big thing. Bror Svensson reminded us that this is the ideal scenario to use the new Metabones Speedbooster ULTRA that can increase the lowlight capabilities by another stop with a manual full-frame lens.

Conclusion

  • The Sony A7RII is good in terms of lowlight and certainly very good in comparison to many other 4K cameras out there.
  • The noise floor of the Sony A7RII vs A7s seems similar, but the footage is cleaner on the Sony A7s.
  • In terms of detail the Sony A7s can retain usable quality up into high ISO’s while the Sony A7RII lacks detail much sooner. We start to notice this in the shadow areas around 6,400-10,000 ISO. Shadow areas get washed out and become less usable even on an HD downconversion that we compare to the Sony A7s original as seen in the video above.

According to our observations it seems as though the Sony A7s is the better lowlight camera by a few stops. Picture quality in lowlight is more consistent up into the high ISO’s in comparison to the new Sony A7RII.

Download the source file at Vimeo to make your own observations: LINK

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Reply
Gum Bum August 3, 2015

Pretty damn impressive for a 42 MP camera.

Reply
Mei Lewis August 3, 2015

Is the video mis-labelled?

At 2:02 the scrolling text says “3. In terms of detail the Sony A7S can retain usable quality up into high ISO’s while the Sony ARII lacks detail much sooner”, but onscreen at that time the ruler guage labelled A7RII clearly has much more detail than the one labelled A7S.

Sebastian Wöber Reply
Sebastian Wöber August 3, 2015

Hi Mei, please look again. Also you can download the source file in 4K that has less compression artefacts. Cheers

Reply
Mei Lewis August 3, 2015

Hi. I looked again.

Here’s a screengrab:
https://www.dropbox.com/s/8i8or0fjdfryttp/Sony%20A7RII%20vs%20A7S%20Lowlight%20Review-HD.jpg?dl=0

The upper image which you label as A7rii clearly has more detail on the distance scale. Maybe this is due to you using different sharpening or other in camera settings? Or how you have upscaled both samples to 4k?

Sebastian Wöber Reply
Sebastian Wöber August 3, 2015

Hi Mei,
The video is about lowlight in the dark areas. Please observe those. The difference on the distance scale is due to the fact that the A7RII was initially a 4K video, downscaled to HD and pulled up on the same scale as the A7s. So obviously there’s gonna be slightly more resolution than the A7s’ native HD. But the test is not about up- or downscaling, this just provides a better reference.
Thanks

Reply
Mei Lewis August 3, 2015

Hi Sebastian.

It was your initial post that started talking about detail “A7s retains better detail throughout.”

Also, it’s not possible to test detail and noise independently of each other (is that what you are claiming?).
That’s because detail and noise are related to each other – it’s always possible to sacrifice detail to get a lower noise image using noise reduction.

Sebastian Wöber Reply
Sebastian Wöber August 3, 2015

Hi Mei,
Yes detail and noise are two different things indeed, very much so. The A7RII makes this very clear actually. Have you seen a de-noised image? It has no noise but often lacks detail. This is just an exmaple. When you go into the depths of sensor testing you’ll see there’s lots of stuff that all adds to the mix of how good a picture is.

Reply
Bror Svensson August 3, 2015

A7r II super 35mm mode with speedbooster should give amazing lowlight performance if one uses canon/nikon glass.

Sebastian Wöber Reply
Sebastian Wöber August 3, 2015

OH absolutely! You nailed it. Actually didn’t cross our mind so far. Thanks for that. Will update the article right now.

Reply
Bror Svensson August 3, 2015

Should help the camera with atleast one stop. Also one question, how is the lowlight in the 1080p mode compared to a7s. I will use the camera alot for 1080p 60fps so would like to know that.

Sebastian Wöber Reply
Sebastian Wöber August 3, 2015

Absolutely. I have been a great fan and been using the Speedbooster on a lot of jobs already.

Mel Bourne Reply
Mel Bourne August 3, 2015

Thanks C5D.
Have you tried the comparison between the two cameras with the same lens but with the 7R utilising a speedbooster?
I’d like to see how the speedbooster helps to bridge the gap as far as noise goes as it adds a full stop of exposure.

Sebastian Wöber Reply
Sebastian Wöber August 3, 2015

Hi Mel,

That’s a good idea, but not enough reason to do a separate test. You can assume that the Speedbooster gives you an extra stop and count that into your observation of the footage above. Sorry if that didn’t help. We’ll check out rolling shutter, 4K on the A7s and the internal shake reduction feature next.

Mel Bourne Reply
Mel Bourne August 3, 2015

Thanks C5D. Nice.

2 questions;
Have you tried the comparison between the two cameras with the same lens but with the 7R utilising a speedbooster?
I’d like to see how the speedbooster helps to bridge the gap as far as noise goes as it adds a full stop of exposure.

Also, why didn’t you shoot the 7S in 4K and down-sample for a more fair shootout in terms of resolution as the 7R appears to be significantly sharper.

Sebastian Wöber Reply
Sebastian Wöber August 3, 2015

1. See me answer above.
2. Because an external recorder makes the Sony A7s a totally different camera for many. We decided to go with what comes “in the package” which is the internal recording options.

Reply
Fahnon Bennett August 3, 2015

I understand your logic, But I also would like to see the A7s with external recorder vs the A7rII because I’m trying to decide if I should just add a recorder or move over to the newer camera as they’re in the same general price range (a7rII=$3200; a7s+pix e-5=$3700)

I think it’s worth doing if you have the time. Thanks for everything you have done so far!

Sebastian Wöber Reply
Sebastian Wöber August 3, 2015

Hi Fahnon,
That makes sense and yes a comparison with the external 4K from the A7s is coming, probably tomorrow.
With a recorder I would personally claim the two cameras are pretty much on par, but the a7rii is smaller and can do crop mode and full frame mode (with the speedbooster). It really depends on your shooting style. In terms of picture quality in 4K they look pretty close.

Reply
pico pico August 3, 2015

looking at the line scale, a7s footage seems blurred

Sebastian Wöber Reply
Sebastian Wöber August 3, 2015

Hi Pico,
I answered this earlier:
The video is about lowlight in the dark areas. Please observe those. The difference on the distance scale is due to the fact that the A7RII was initially a 4K video, downscaled to HD and pulled up on the same scale as the A7s. So obviously there’s gonna be slightly more resolution than the A7s’ native HD. But the test is not about up- or downscaling, this just provides a better reference.
Thanks

Reply
Michael Carmine August 3, 2015

When will you guys do your Rolling Shutter test of the Sony A7RII?

Sebastian Wöber Reply
Sebastian Wöber August 3, 2015

Very soon

Darren Streibig Reply
Darren Streibig August 3, 2015

Awesome Nino thanks for this! A7rii looks like a great option too for those that need both video and stills!

Dmitri Tsitelauri Reply
Dmitri Tsitelauri August 3, 2015

Hi Sebastian,
Has a7R ii ever overheated on you? If so, does it overheat in both modes full and crop?

Greggy Gigil Derick Reply
Greggy Gigil Derick August 6, 2015

And still a7s…

 Kamil Biegański Reply
Kamil Biegański November 5, 2015

Can You compare the same thins with a7s II and a7r II ?