Sony a7S II vs. a7R II Test – Which One Is Right for You?
The Sony a7S II is shipping and many filmmakers rejoice as it is one of the best low cost video cameras out there right now. Last week we took a really close look at the differences between the Sony a7S II and the old Sony a7S. But how does this new camera compare to the Sony a7R II that was introduced just a few months ago? Here is the ultimate Sony a7S II vs. a7R II Test.
Just like in our a7S II vs. a7S test we went to the test lab and compared all the camera’s capabilities in detail. In this review I’m going to give you all the unbiased results as quickly and to the point as possible and conclude with our recommendation.
On the Outside
Unlike the original a7S, the two cameras on the test bench share the same body design. The major difference here is the sensor itself. Both have a full-frame sensor, but the a7S II uses Sony’s 12.2MP Exmor CMOS Sensor while the a7R II houses the 42MP Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor.
Obviously this makes the Sony a7R II the better choice for photographers who need lots of megapixels. But let’s look at the video test results now, shall we?
Dynamic range is important for us filmmakers, it gives us the ability to capture high contrast scenes without over or underexposure, highlights and shadows are saved resulting in an organic, filmic look and in theory gives us more leeway in post production.
The dynamic range on a7S and a7S II was identical in Slog2. The a7R II could surprise us though as it has a different sensor.
At 4K resolution in Slog2 gamma mode the Sony a7R II (ISO 800) had half a stop more dynamic range than the Sony a7S II (ISO 1600). This is interesting. However the Sony a7S II now also features Slog3 gamma which wins back that half stop. We determined a maximum usable dynamic of slightly above 12 stops on both cameras.
Dynamic Range Conclusion:
Set your Sony a7S II to Slog3Cine (PP8 under Picture Profile Settings) in order to match the a7R II dynamic range. However Slog3 is not an ideal gamma mode as the camera is limited to 8-bit color, resulting in banding issues, so Slog2 (PP7) is the preferred gamma setting. The a7R II wins this first point, but not by much.
Users have reported severe rolling shutter on the a7R II, but then again the a7S II doesn’t hold up too well also. Let’s see how they compare.
In 4K the Sony a7S II had the same rolling shutter performance as the original a7S. Using the best image quality mode on the a7R II (4K super35mm crop mode) we can indeed see that the rolling shutter effect is about 12% more severe on the Sony a7R II.
However in 4K full-frame mode, which is slightly softer, the a7R II has about 50% better rolling shutter performance.
Rolling Shutter Conclusion:
Both cameras have a strong rolling shutter effect in their best quality modes, just like most other cameras that use a large CMOS sensor. The a7S II performs slightly better here. To improve rolling shutter you can use full-frame mode on the Sony a7R II.
Resolution / Quality
The resolution comparison between the Sony a7S II vs. a7R II is quite interesting. Both cameras can record a beautiful 4K image internally with a variety of different crop and HD modes. Let’s see how this one turns out.
The cameras share a lot of similar specs in video mode, like the 100Mbps XAVC-S codec, 4K (UHD) internal recording, but the recording and crop modes differ as follows:
The Sony a7S II records:
- 4K Full Frame: up to 30 fps
- HD 1.6 crop: up to 60fps
- HD 2.2 crop: up to 120fps
The Sony a7R II records:
- 4K Full Frame & 1.6 crop: up to 30 fps
- HD Full Frame & 1.6 crop: up to 60 fps
- 720p: up to 120fps
On the left you can see a comparison (100% crop images) between the Sony a7S II vs. a7R II in their best 4K modes. Overall the image looks really really similar. But I can see two things:
1. There is some slight sharpening happening in-camera on the Sony a7R II. If I add slight sharepning in post to the a7S II image it looks pretty identical.
2. The a7R II seems to resolve a tiny bit more detail, but it is not affecting most regions of the image as they get washed out by some internal processing. This is only apparent in the danes-picta sector star chart and the actual difference is minimal.
When we switch the Sony a7R II to full frame mode, the image gets a little bit worse, but is still beautiful. It resolves a bit less detail and there is some more aliasing / moiré introduced than on the crop mode. Still very usable.
We found out that the a7S II’s HD modes pretty much match the quality of the original a7S. What about the a7R II?
In crop mode the a7R II is softer with some aliasing and not really recommendable.
We took the following shot comparing the a7R II crop mode to the original a7S in crop mode:
As we’re currently in Japan for InterBEE (tradeshow next week) the large Japanese symbols reveal how strong the aliasing in HD mode really is.
Resolution / Quality Concsluion:
The images on both cameras look remarkably similar in terms of quality and resolution. Especially a7R II crop mode vs. a7S II full frame mode are hard to differentiate. The a7R II in full frame is slightly worse, but still very usable. In HD only the full-frame mode is usable on the a7R II.
Here’s an interesting part. Can the a7R II match the lowlight capabilities of the a7S II? The short answer is: No.
The a7R II has more pixels on its sensor than the a7S II, hence the a7S II pixels can be larger and capture more light resulting in better lowlight performance.
Let’s see the results:
I compared ISO speeds of both cameras up to ISO 25,600.
Surprisingly the a7R II doesn’t hold up so bad in lowlight at all. It can almost match the a7S II detail in low ISO modes. What I can always see is the a7S II having better noise performance. The image is cleaner. Anyway, with a little bit of noise the a7R II looks ok up until ISO 12,800 and does resolve details in the shadow areas.
When we switch to full frame mode on the Sony a7R II though, the results are quite unusable. Even at very low ISO’s it is not nice. ISO 6400 is already quite noisy.
In lowlight and noise the Sony a7S II is clearly the winner with an edge of about 2 stops. However the Sony a7R II in crop mode is a pretty good performer. It can retain good shadow detail up until ISO 25,600, but there is clearly more noise than on the a7S II. If you want the best and cleanest lowlight camera go for the a7S II.
Which One Is Right for You?
Each of the two cameras has some strengths and weaknesses. Let’s summarise this now:
The Sony a7R II has the following advantages:
- It can produce 42MP still images, a resolution almost 4x higher than the a7S II.
- The option of a great crop mode in 4K besides the full frame (FF usable if you have sufficient light).
- Good lowlight in crop mode.
Note: Many readers commented on the overheating issues they experienced with this camera. Apparently some units are shutting down during long takes in warm environments. Keep that in mind when you make your buying decision.
Price: $3,198 (LINK)
The Sony a7S II has the following advantages:
- Slog3 Gamma Mode (not always recommended) & gamma assist feature.
- Slightly better quality full frame mode in 4K.
- Slightly better rolling shutter performance.
- Better lowlight, cleaner image.
- 120fps slow motion mode in Full HD.
- According to user reports less prone to overheating on long recordings.
- $200 more affordable.
Price: $2,998 (LINK)
There’s really not a big difference between the two cameras, both on the outside as well as on the inside. The video colors are very balanced on both cameras and they produce a good internal 4K video. There’s no way you could tell the images apart without deep analysis and even in lowlight the cameras are not so far apart.
If you would like to use your camera for high resolution photography the Sony a7R II is clearly your preferred choice. It is also more versatile as it offers crop mode which can be used with APS-C lenses or a SpeedBooster to get an extra stop of light out of full frame EF lenses.
On the other hand the Sony a7S II could be your choice if you’re only doing video and lowlight and a clean image is important to you. You’re restricted to full frame lenses for best quality, but you get Slog3 (if you need that) and somewhat usable 120fps slow motion.
Which is your camera of choice? Let us know your arguments in the comment section.
I hope this comparison answered all your questions. If it helped why not get your gear through the links to our sponsor. Thank you and good light for your shoots.