To say that the Sony camera controls have been in a state of flux since the beginning of the NEX series would be an immense understatement. The user interface (UI) has changed wildly from model to model, usually for the better. When Sony introduced the alpha 7 line, they came out with three models with substantially identical UI’s. Some thought that they had finished evolving the interface.
The a7II is a case in point. While not as different from the rest of the alpha 7 line as that line was from its NEX predecessors, it improves some things, and changes a few others seemingly on a whim. This makes the a7II a little tricky to use if you’ve got one of the other alpha 7 cameras around your neck as well.
First, the a7II is thicker and a little heavier than its stablemates. I has to be to make room for the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) system. The hand grip is better designed and offers more room for large hands like mine. That’s allowed them to move the shutter release and on/off switch from the top plate to the top of the grip, allowing a more natural hand position. The silver-colored shutter release is now black. All of the formerly shiny black bits on the body are now dull, which makes the camera less obtrusive.
Instead of just having one user-programmable button on the top plate, there are now two, and they are bigger, stand up higher, and have a ridge in between them, making them easier to find and operate.
The IBIS goes in a part of the camera that’s pushed back from the top plate, and has a sloped “roof” on top. That’s where the menu button is now, instead of on the vertical back of the camera. It’s a more convenient location, but the fact that it’s a different location from the other alpha 7s is likely to cause confusion. The programmable button thumb button that used to be on the back of the camera is now on the IBIS roof, where it’s easier to get to, as long as you don’t forget which camera you’re holding.
By default, rotating the back dial on the camera does nothing, emulating a behavior that most of us programmed into the old camera after getting tired of changing ISO by accident. The right position on that dial is now ISO, not WB.
Here’s the one that confuses me most often: you used to put the SD card in from the back of the camera towards the front. Now you slide it in from the right to the left.
Showing admirable restraint, Sony didn’t change the battery type. Whew!
The front dial is moved down onto the grip, which is a better place for it. Both the front and back dials are still too easy to turn and the spacing between detents is too small.
All this adds up to a significantly better experience for people who have never used and alpha 7 camera, and smaller improvement for people like me who are used to the old alpha 7 interface.
I still wish there were a top reflective B&W LCD display and more directly accessible buttons that controlled the mode of the front and read dials, a la Nikon and Canon. Then you wouldn’t have to use the LCD screen on the back of the camera nearly as much, which can be tricky in bright light. There’s room for a small one on the left side of the top plate.
Don’t get me started about all the useless garbage buried in the menu system.