The first A7 iterations didn’t have the best auto focus one could imagine. Especially after using the 5D III I found that the auto focus system wasn’t the best performer. But I gotta say that in most cases, everything went just fine. Even when tracking my running son towards me, I often had some keepers. Yes the internet is right, the original A7’s focusing engine is not good. But in reality, in the real world, with people that ACTUALLY USE their cameras, and not just talk about their specs all day, it was just a normal performing camera that ALWAYS got me my shot.
Except for one circumstance:
In dim light, in an average studio environment, the focus almost never worked. Not just for me, but also for other users. I had to install a light that had to shine on the model’a face all the time. It was really bothersome. The focus hunted like crazy and I had to tell the model to stay still for two shots of each pose. Sometimes it shot the picture but simply didn’t nail focus at all. It can be a frustrating shooting experience and it took all the fun of studio photography.
We now know that the A7 II has an already way better auto focus. So the question remains:
How good is the focus of the mothership, the A7R II really?
AUTO FOCUS TEST
I have tested the various auto focus settings of the A7RM2 with my friend, a rugby player, running towards me at different speeds (from a slow jog to an all out sprint). Exposure settings were shutter priority at 1/1250. The 55mm 1.8 Sony/Zeiss has been used. In my articles, a nailed shot is a shot that is 100% well focused and sharp. Not a little behind, not a little in front of the subject.
TEST1: Slow jogging. Focus Mode: Wide, Continuous AF.
At this slow pace, and at this given focusing mode, the camera did not nail all the shots. 30% of the shots were off.
TEST2: Medium paced run. Focus Mode: Wide, Continuous AF.
At this medium pace, and at this given focusing mode, the camera did not nail all the shots. 60% of the shots were off.
TEST3: Full on sprint. Focus Mode: Wide, Continuous AF.
At this full on sprint, and at this given focusing mode, the camera did not nail all the shots. 60% of the shots were off.
TEST4: Medium paced run. Focus Mode: Lock-on AF: Wide, Continuous AF.
At this medium pace, and at this given focusing mode, the camera nailed almost all the shots. 10% of the shots were off.
TEST5: Full on sprint. Focus Mode:Lock-on AF: Wide, Continuous AF.
At this full on sprint, and at this given focusing mode, the camera nailed almost all the shots. 20% of the shots were off.
TEST6: Medium paced run. Focus Mode:Lock-on AF: Center, Continuous AF.
At this medium pace, and at this given focusing mode, the camera did not nail all the shots. 30% of the shots were off.
The auto focus has definitely been improved.
While sprinting at full speed towards the camera, using Lock-on AF, the camera nailed almost all the shots. 20% of the shots were off. While I still don’t feel that it could outpace the big auto focusing monsters out there, it is surely not far off anymore. It entirely fulfils my needs and it now works in a poorly lit studio environment, too. Eye-Af was a nice addition to the former A7’s but it lacked consistency and had problems tracking the eye properly in certain conditions. It also sadly didn’t nail the shots. That has finally changed. I can see good improvements with the new Eye AF engine. In all the tests I’ve done it just worked.
All in all the camera’s auto focus and tracking is just great and intelligent and there are many modes for many circumstances.
AF IN A LOW LIGHT STUDIO ENVIRONMENT
I have made this test using the 55 1.8 in these conditions:
– very low light environment (no lights were on at all)
– Auto ISO was at 102400 (that’s how dark it was)
– I used the smallest flexible spot and did not put it in the middle but in the upper right intersection of the rule of thirds
IT STILL FOCUSED REALLY WELL and we nailed all pictures (see the how well we nailed it below)
AF TRACKING IN LOW LIGHT
Tracking in a lower light environment is also an important trait for several usages.
The test results have been made with the 70-200 f4 at 135mm in these conditions:
– low light environment (worse than indoor sports halls, with a bad quality light)
– Auto ISO was between 16000 and 25600 (that’s how dark it was)
– Lock-on AF: Wide
– All tests have been done doing a brisk walk towards the camera
– Highest burst rate (5 fps)
– No AF Illuminator has been used
The camera tracked well until, in that specific corridor where we’ve tested out the AF, there was a spot where there was no light at all. We needed to release the shutter button and press it again or wait for the AF to catch on again. After that it worked well again. We had a 70% success rate given the fact that it refused to focus after losing light. (50% in crop mode).
After that we’ve tested the AF tracking again, but this time by re-pressing the shutter button at that critical moment (explained in test 1 above). We had a 80% success rate of the shots we’ve taken. Take into account that we’ve lost 1-2 shots by releasing the shutter. (70% in crop mode).
After that we’ve tested the AF tracking again, but this time, not by shooting at the highest burst rate, but we set it on low. We had a 90% success rate of the shots we’ve taken. (But of course we had less shots).
Same test, with the 55 1.8 at f1.8. Same results as test 3 above this one. (ISO was then at about 2000-2500).
Same test, with the 55 1.8 at f4. Same results as test 3. (ISO was then at about 16000).
Same test, on the Sony A7, with the 70-200 f4 at f4. The A7 tracks rather well (the burst rate is very low and the focus has plenty of time to catch on the subjet again), but does not nail many shots.
Same test, on the Sony A6000, with the 70-200 f4 at f4. We have used the wide AF on the A6000 and at the highest burst rate it did not track very well. At mid burst rate it performed rather well while tracking. 65% of the shots were okay. As a side note. The A6000’s images looked very noisy in these conditions, and it was hard to differentiate nailed shots with not-that-100%-nailed shots as there was no sharpness anymore and detail was lost.
Of the 3 cams, the A7R II is still the low light AF winner. The A6000 is a moderate tracker (in low light) and a mediocre nailer (again, in these conditions). The A7 was still ok but the focus and tracking is a little slow. Also it has a very slow tracking burst rate. (2.5 fps). The A7 does not focus in studio lighting conditions.
All in all the A7R II’s focus tracking is performing well in low light and our conditions in this low light test are worse than in any indoor sports hall. It was darker and the light was of lesser quality. Tracking is not to be confused with just focusing, which it does extremely well even in very dark places while tracking a subject’s eye. See the studio test above.
AF USING THIRD PARTY LENSES
Check out this full round up with many Canon lenses on the a7r2.