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Reader Comment: Sony A7R II in Extreme Cold

Get Sony A7R II mirrorless camera at B&H Photo and my Sony mirrorless lens wish list.

See also: Reader Question: Which Camera System?

Every camera system has some limitations.

David W writes:

I just wanted to share some personal thoughts on the usability of the Sony A7R II. I switched from a Nikon D810 to the Sony system to gain access to the excellent Zeiss lenses, IBIS, and to lose weight in the camera bag. For short trips and ad-hoc photography in the UK everything was absolutely fine. Nice camera, good image quality but poor ergonomics - all of which you have mentioned in your reviews and blog.

I took the kit to Iceland in January for a twelve day trip and this is where the shortcomings became more apparent. We were photographing in conditions which were generally between -5 and -20 with added wind chill. In these conditions I found that it was very difficult to use the camera with gloves on - even thin leather ones. The buttons are just too small and menu access too convoluted in some cases. Cold fingers rapidly lost the sense of touch and it was all too easy to change a setting without meaning to or fail to obtain the correct setting.

A further feature was that I was unable to use the camera for some seconds after taking a long exposure as the screen and viewfinder came up with the message “processing”. I have since learned that this may be due to the long exposure noise reduction software.

The final problem, again highlighted in your review, was the appallingly short life of batteries in these conditions. Using the grip I was able to extend the life but I was still getting through 4-8 batteries a day. The battery life could be extended by shutting down WiFi (as you have suggested) but this prevents use of the remote control app on an iPhone and turning off image review. Both of these things degrade, in my opinion, the usefulness of the camera.

There were two or three other people with similar systems and we all had some difficulty with white balance in snowy dawn or dusk conditions. The images are bluer and colder than I have become used to with Nikon. That may just be a personal preference.

However all of these things have combined to encourage me to (temporarily) move back to Nikon. I feel sure that cameras with EVF and first class full frame sensors are the future but in my personal experience the usability and ergonomics are not quite there. I will look forward to future product launches from Sony (and others) and may well try again.

DIGLLOYD: this experience mirrors mine in temperatures of 5°F to 20°F. The usability problems in the cold and/or with gloves are a serious drawback to all the Sony mirrorless cameras, as I discuss in my Sony A7R II field notes. At some point, small is just too small. I had various troubles on my snowstorm hike for example. For a future Sony A7R II or A9 or whatever, I’d rather have a slightly larger camera body with a larger battery and larger controls and more generous viewfinder (something like the Leica SL).

As for long exposure noise reduction, I always disable it with Sony, because it is not a clear win for image quality and it drops to 12-bit mode. In deep cold, there is little need for this type of noise reduction.

Battery life: it is possible to power the Sony A7R II using an external battery pack into the USB port and/or to charge the camera similarly.

As for white balance, I see this as a total non-issue: shooting raw it is irrelevant. I never use AWB as it can lead to wildly variable and misleading histograms; see Recommended Camera Settings for Camera Histogram.

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