Sony took the wraps off its successor to its year-old A7 in Japan a few days ago, but today we get the US pricing and availability. It's slated to ship quite soon -- mid-December -- at a cost of $1,700 for the body and $2,000 for the 28-70mm kit. Australia and the UK won't get it till a month later, at AU$2,000 or £1,500 for the body only. The 28-70m kit will be £1,700 in the UK.
The first of the company's increasingly increasing line of full-frame interchangeable-lens models, the A7 II (aka the ILCE-A7M2 or A7M2) doesn't incorporate a ton of updates over its predecessor, but the few it does are noteworthy.
In the most notable improvement for the A7 II, Sony shifts from optical image stabilization to five-axis sensor-shift in this model. While there's sensor-shift stabilization in Sony's fixed-mirror dSLR-style Alphas, like the A99 , the company has been using optical stabilization in all its A7 series cameras until now. I suspect the problem was getting manufacturers to produce full-frame, stabilized lenses; OIS makes lenses larger, heavier and more expensive, and bigger is not better when you're touting a compact system. This way, you can even attach a lens like the big, heavy Zeiss Otus 85mm f1.4 (with an A-to-FE mount adapter, of course) and still get stabilization. Win.
Another very welcome enhancement is an upgrade to its newer video codec, XAVC S, which supports higher bit-rate encoding for HD video. Sorry, no 4K here -- that's still available only in the A7S . It also adds 1080/30p/25p and all the updated video features, like S-Log2 gamma and time code.
Sony also claims improved performance from the autofocus system. The A7 is the only one of the family that uses the hybrid autofocus -- a combination of phase-detection and contrast AF. And both the autofocus and metering systems have gained a stop of sensitivity at the low-light end. It also ostensibly has a faster startup. I hope so; the Sonys tend to be pretty pokey on power-on.
Physically, the A7 II has a deeper grip and tweaked placement of the controls on the grip, plus improved dust and moisture sealing, making it all a bit larger and heavier than before. There's also more magnesium alloy in the construction; the front element joins the top cover and frame which previously were the only mag-alloy parts.
There's one disappointing omission, though; the battery life is still miserable. Sony bumped it up from 340 to 350 shots with the LCD, and it's still only 270 shots with the viewfinder. It's physically a little deeper than before, but that's to be expected with the bulkier sensor mechanism.
The A7 remains in the product line, and both the A7 and A7R will see permanent price drops.
Editors' note, November 26, 2014: This story was originally published on November 20, and has been updated with more details about the camera, as well as US pricing and availability.