Sony a7C II review: small camera, little compromise


This post is by Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com) from Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)
Product photos by Richard Butler

Sample photoSample photoSample photoSample photoSample photo

The Sony a7C II is the brand’s second-generation compact rangefinder-style full-frame camera. Similar in design to Its predecessor, the a7C II uses the same fantastic 33MP BSI sensor from the larger Sony a7 IV and boasts impressive still, video and autofocus capabilities that should appeal to a wide range of users.

Key Specifications

  • 33MP BSI CMOS full-frame sensor
  • Bionz XR processor and dedicated ‘AI Processing Engine’
  • AF tracking with subject recognition, 759 AF points with 94% coverage
  • Up to 10 fps shooting with AF
  • In-body stabilization rated up to 7EV
  • 2.36M dot OLED viewfinder with 0.7x magnification
  • Full-width oversampled UHD 4K/30p from 7K
  • 4K/60p (from 4.6K capture) in Super35 / APS-C mode
  • 10-bit video or HEIF stills capture
  • S-Cinetone color mode
  • No mechanical first curtain shutter

The Sony a7C II is priced at $2199 for the body only. A kit with the FE 28-60mm F4-5.6 lens will set you back $2499. The GP-X2 grip extension has an MSRP of $159.


Buy now:

$2198 at B&H Photo

$2198 at Adorama

$2198 at Amazon


Index:


What is it, what’s new?

The a7C II crams a lot of impressive specs into a reasonably compact full-frame body.

The Sony a7C II receives quite a few upgrades over its predecessor, including a new, higher-resolution sensor, updated processors, a higher magnification viewfinder, AI-enhanced autofocus, front and rear control dials, and oversampled 4K/60p video. This does come with a higher sticker price, though.

New sensor & processors

Sporting the same 33MP BSI CMOS sensor and Bionz XR processor as 2021’s Sony a7 IV, the a7C II also benefits from an additional ‘AI’ processing unit to assist with subject recognition and features such as Auto Framing. We first saw this style of secondary processor, dedicated to handling machine learning algorithms, in the a6700 and ZV-E1. (Note: the a7 IV does not have one.)

Recent Videos

The additional processing power should give the a7C II an autofocus advantage over both its predecessor and the a7 IV, especially when it comes to face and eye detection and subject-specific tracking modes. The newer processor setup also brings the other features Sony has recently added, such as focus bracketing, in-camera timelapse creation, and a host of video improvements.

The updated 33MP sensor, on the other hand, isn’t going to provide any sort of significant image quality advantage over the 24MP chip found in the original a7C. You may see a little more detail in low ISO shots, but it comes at the cost of some dynamic range and detail in high ISO ones. In return, it means slightly more rolling shutter in video. Still, our impressions of image quality performance are very positive.

Out of camera JPEG.

Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM II | ISO 100 | 1/1250 sec | f/2.8 | 35mm
Photo: Dan Bracaglia

Front control dial & EVF improvements

Our number one design gripe with the original a7C was the lack of a front control dial. Our feeling was that for $1800, you should be able to adjust exposure settings with your thumb and index finger at the same time. And we still feel this way, which is why we are pleased to see that Sony took our feedback (and yours) to heart. Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that make the biggest impact.

As a result of this new dial, the camera handles considerably better.

Another upgrade that improves usability is Sony’s move from a 0.59x magnification electronic viewfinder to one that is 0.7x. The a7C II still uses a 2.36M dot panel, though, which is a bit underwhelming. With such thin margins differentiating various models in today’s market, a 3.69M dot panel would’ve made this camera stand out more from the pack.

Oversampled 4K/60p & other video improvements

On the internal video front, the a7C II is a match with the a7 IV in terms of output and capability. You get oversampled 4K/30p video from a 7K crop, 4K/60p video in Super 35 mode (APS-C crop), and Full HD capture at up to 120 fps. Notably, 4K/30p video is now 10-bit with 4:2:2 color sampling, a major step forward from the previous a7C, allowing more flexible Log and proper HLG HDR video capture.

For those confident in post-production, you also get S-Log3 and Sony’s S-Cinetone, plus user-assignable LUTs. These LUTs can either be used to give a corrected preview, embedded alongside the footage for use when editing or burned into the footage directly as you shoot.

Other notable video features and upgrades include focus breathing compensation, improved video AF subject recognition/tracking, and Auto Framing mode. This feature uses AI-trained algorithms to mimic the way a camera operator might punch in on a subject while keeping them both framed and in focus, and is a handy way to get pro-looking shots of yourself without a camera operator behind the lens.

On the external video front, the a7C II can now stream 4K/30p via USB-C using the UVC/UAC protocols (meaning it just acts as a USB webcam: no need for drivers or specialist software).

Updated menus

The main menu in stills modeThe shooting tab in the menu. Note the two separate file format options at right.

The A7C II offers the new and improved version of Sony’s menu system. While it’s still a very long list of options, not all of them are well-named, the hierarchy is improved, and you can race through items quickly. There are different options for stills and video modes, and both the main and function (shortcut) menus are designed specifically for photo or movie shooting, and everything is customizable. That goes for the camera controls on the whole, as well.


How it compares

The a7C II has a lot going for it. But competition in the enthusiast full-frame mirrorless market is stiff.

In a lot of ways, the a7C II overshadows both its predecessor, which should come as no surprise and the Sony a7 IV. In fact, the only notable advantages the a7 IV offers over its smaller, lower-priced cousin are a better EVF and dual card slots.

The Panasonic S5 II is another similarly priced body that gives the a7C II a real run for the money in almost every regard, except size, weight, and battery life.

Sony a7C IISony a7CSony a7 IVCanon R8Panasonic S5 II
Launch MSRP$2200$1800$2500$1500$2000
Pixel count33MP24MP33MP24MP24MP
Sensor size & type

BSI CMOS
Full-frame

BSI CMOS
Full-frame
BSI CMOS
Full-frame
CMOS Full-frameBSI CMOS
Full-frame
Max burst w/ AF10 fps10 fps10 fps6 fps / 40 fps (e-shutter)7 fps / 30 fps (e-shutter)
IBIS rating7.0EV5.0EV5.5EVLens only5.0EV
EVF resolution & mag2.36M dots 0.70x2.36M dots 0.59x3.69M dots 0.78x2.36M dots 0.7x3.68M dot 0.78x
Video4K/60p (1.5x crop)
10-bit
4K/30p
8-bit
4K/60p (1.5x crop)
10-bit
4K/60p
(full width)
10-bit
6K/30p
4K/60p (1.5x crop)
10-bit
Rear screen1.03M fully-articulated touchscreen0.92M fully- articulated touchscreen1.04M fully-articulated touchscreen1.62M fully- articulated touchscreen1.84M fully- articulated touchscreen
Card slots1x UHS-II SD1x UHS-II SD

1x CFe Type A / UHS-II SD 1x UHS-II SD

1x UHS-II SD2x UHS-II SD

Battery life
(CIPA)
LCD & EVF

540 / 510740 / 680580 / 520290 / 150370 /370
Weight514 g509 g659 g461 g740 g
Dimensions124 x 71 x 63 mm124 x 71 x 59 mm131 x 96 x 80 mm133 x 86 x 70mm134 x 102 x 90mm

Another camera worth comparing the a7C II to – though pricier (and not in the table above) – is the Canon EOS R6 II, which has a faster burst rate (12 fps mechanical), higher-rated IBIS (8.0EV), full-width 4K/60p, a nicer viewfinder and dual card slots. That said, we expect the a7C II to outperform the Canon in the autofocus and subject tracking department by a decent margin, particularly in video mode.


Body & handling

The new front dial is located just below the shutter release for easy access.

The Sony a7C II looks a lot like an a7C with some minor modifications, the most notable being the inclusion of a front control dial. Size-wise, the a7C II is the same height and width as its predecessor, though it is 4mm (0.16″) thicker and 5g (0.2oz) heavier (in other words, almost zero). And while it’s certainly not the most inventive or exciting camera in terms of design, it does handle well. Then again, we’ve always felt that Sony is a little more focused on function than form.

The chassis is built of magnesium alloy, and Sony says the body is constructed in a manner that makes it resistant to both dust and moisture. In hand, the camera sits comfortably with a solid, reassuring feel to it. Also, the new front dial feels well-placed, just below the shutter release.

A fully articulated touchscreen allows for selfies and vlogging.

The rear of the a7C II is also mostly unchanged from its predecessor, though you do get one additional custom function button between the lower rear control dial and the menu button. The rear display, at 1.04M dots, sounds like it’s a slightly higher resolution than its predecessor (0.92M), but the difference is that it’s a slightly wider screen with 720 x 480 pixel resolution, rather than 640 x 480. In use, the touch interface is very responsive.

The top of the camera also looks pretty similar to the a7C, but there are some small changes. What was once a dedicated exposure compensation dial is now a blank custom dial. Sony also added a three-way selector, similar to the one found on the a7 IV, that allows users to easily jump from stills to video to ‘S&Q’ (Slow & Quick) mode. You’ll find it tucked just below the mode dial around the back.

The a7C II can be charged via USB-C. The port also allows for image and video transfer as well as live streaming.

The EVF sees its magnification increased to 0.70x, but the panel remains a 2.36M dot affair, which some folks may find disappointing, with the individual pixels being visible. There’s still no AF joystick, which may dissuade other users (though you can use the rear screen to gain touchpad AF, when the camera is held up to your eye). But those are our two most practical criticisms of the design, alongside what we see as a lack of charm.

Along the non-grip side of the a7C II, you’ll find the lone UHS-II SD slot (the closed door in the image above). The hatch above it (opened) hides the microphone and USB-C port, while a lower hatch keeps the micro-HDMI and headphone ports safe. Note that both the headphone and microphone sockets are standard 3.5mm.

The camera uses Sony’s highest-capacity Z-battery; battery life is satisfactory.

The a7C II uses the Sony’s “Z-battery,” the NP-FZ100. However, battery life is rated noticeably lower than the a7C – 25% lower when using the viewfinder. This can likely be chalked up to the new secondary AI processor and higher resolution sensor.

According to CIPA standards, you can expect 510 shots per charge when using the rear display and 540 when using the EVF. Of course, those numbers are conservative, and achieving double the rated number is not uncommon depending on how you shoot and how often you review images. A rating north of 500 shots per charge is unlikely to present an inconvenience for multiple days of fairly frequent shooting (though video and Wi-Fi use will chip into this more aggressively).


Autofocus

Anyone who has followed digital photography over the last decade knows that Sony has been at the forefront of autofocus tracking. The a7C II continues that tradition, and it feels like the company has made it a bit easier to get tracking up and running. Just throw the camera into AF-C mode (accessible via the Fn menu), point it at your subject, halfway-press the shutter release, and the camera will ensure that your subject stays in focus however it (or the camera) moves. If you want to choose your own target, switch to the aptly named ‘Tracking: Spot’ focus area, where you can select your target by point the AF point at your target, tapping on the screen or using the four-way controller.

The A7C II latched onto our subject’s eye almost immediately and stuck to it as he crawled around the tunnel.

FE 20-70mm F4 G @ 70mm | ISO 6400 | 1/320 sec | F4
Photo: Jeff Keller

One feature that really impressed us is the a7C II’s subject recognition. Choose from humans, animals, birds, animals and birds, insects, cars/trains, and aircraft. A detected person can look away, turn around, walk, or disappear for a moment; the camera rarely loses them (there’s a tracking sensitivity setting in the menu if you want the camera to re-focus on other, nearer faces, rather than sticking to your original subject). If the camera has detected multiple faces, it’ll focus on the one nearest your AF point, alternatively you can switch between them with the touchscreen or pressing a custom button and scrolling the control dial, if you have the time to spare.

The a7C II continuously tracked Nala as she ran around the room without missing a beat. Even while continuing to chase her tail, Nala’s face is still sharp.

FE 28-60mm F4-5.6 @ 60mm | ISO 800 | 1/60 sec | F5.6
Photo: Jeff Keller

We found that animal detection works just as well. One of our reviewer’s cats decided to start running around, chasing her tail, as cats do. The a7C II had already locked onto her eye and stayed glued to her as she ran around like an uncontrolled missile, laid on her back trying to catch her tail, did a few rolls and then took a break for a bath.

You can drill down to this level of customization for each type of subject (animals and birds, in this case). Pressing the trash can button on the back of the camera gives a (very) brief explanation of what each option does.

An entire section of this review could be written about the AF options for stills and video (many of which are kept separate from one another), but suffice to say that there are many. They include AF tracking sensitivity (persistence, basically), AF area registration, what eye the camera targets, and much more. You can even select what parts of a subject are recognized, as shown in the screenshot above.


Image quality

Studio scene

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors, and detail types you’ll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes, full even light and low directional light, to see the effect of different lighting conditions.

Note that the Sony a7 IV is serving as a proxy for the a7C II in this test. The two cameras share the same sensor and image processor, and we expect image quality to be nearly identical.

The A7C II captures plenty of detail, though it has a noticeable amount of moiré, so one could infer that it has an anti-aliasing filter, it isn’t terribly strong. When compared at the same image height, the a7C II’s noise is comparable to its peers (and the a7C) at mid-ISOs. At higher sensitivities the a7C II is just a bit noisier than other cameras in its class, but not significantly so.

JPEG color is appealing. The a7C II’s colors are saturated but not too saturated, as is the case with the Canon EOS R8. The camera’s sharpening algorithm does a nice job, and moiré is mostly – but not completely – eliminated. At middle sensitivities noise reduction is kept fairly low, leaving plenty of detail intact. The same is true when you cross into five-figure ISOs: there’s plenty of detail to work with, and noise is well-controlled.

Electronic shutter

One issue you’ll run into in silent mode, or if you manually select to use fully electronic shutter is rolling shutter, the result of the camera ending its exposure by (relatively) slowly reading out its sensor. This causes some nasty distortion when panning the camera or if a fast-moving subject goes by, because the different parts of the photo were taken at slightly different times. Here’s an example of panning in a high-speed burst:

A panning shot taken with electronic shutter shows rolling shutter in action.

Sony FE 28-60mm F4-5.6 | F5.6 | 1/125 sec | ISO 3200
Photo: Jeff Keller

You will also encounter this when capturing 4K video, so it’s something to consider if you’re moving the camera or capturing subjects that move rapidly across the frame. It’s (Read more…)