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Sony’s newest full-frame mirrorless has improved stabilization, faster autofocus

Update on December 5, 2014: Sony informed us that the 5-axis stabilization system was developed entirely in-house, and it isn’t borrowed technology from Olympus. The company says it gathered all of its stabilization engineering experts to develop the system specifically for the A7 II – an achievement considering the compact size of the camera.

Original report: Having first unveiled its A7 full-frame mirrorless camera a year ago, Sony has come out with the fourth version in its A7-series, the A7 II. Although Sony Japan announced the camera globally on November 20 (a well-kept secret), the company today officially unveiled U.S. pricing and availability. It goes on sale on December 9 for $1,700 (body only), or around $2,000 with a 28-70mm F3.5-F5.6 OSS zoom kit lens.

The A7 II uses the same 24.3-megapixel full-frame sensor as the A7, but it is a significantly different camera. Sony says it’s the first full-frame camera to employ a 5-axis image stabilization system, which keeps the camera steady in five directions. You can even preview the stabilized and non-stabilized image via the LCD or viewfinder.

The camera “detects and corrects camera shake along five axes during shooting, including angular shake (pitch and yaw) that tends to occur with a telephoto lens, shift shake (X and Y axes) which becomes noticeable as magnification increases, and rotational shake (roll) that often affects shots at night or when recording video,” Sony says. When used with Sony lenses with optical image stabilization, the stabilization is increased further.

Related: Sony A7 review

Sony also says the hybrid autofocus system is 30-percent faster, thanks to a new 117-point focal plane phase detection AF sensor with 25 contrast detection AF points; the A7 II is also 1.5 times more accurate subject tracking than the A7, due to new subject-distance-detection and motion-prediction algorithms. Another improvement is AF and automatic exposure (AE) are available during continuous shooting at up to 5 frames per second.

For video, the camera supports Sony’s new XAVC S codec (which is used by the 4K-capable A7S, while the A7 and A7R uses the AVCHD codec. XAVC S allows video to be recorded at 50 Mbps with better compression. For pro users, the A7 II lets you adjust tones and supports S-Log2 gamma function for preserving wide dynamic ranges; other pro features include Time code, Rec Control (synced recording when using an external recorder), and dual video recording.

The A7 II has the same form-factor and design as its A7-series siblings. It has a relocated and larger shutter button for betting finger positioning. Magnesium alloy is used on the top, front cover, and internal panels for strength. It also starts up faster than the A7. Like all A7 models, there’s Wi-Fi and NFC.

Although the A7 II offers improvements, the original A7 is still a terrific camera and it isn’t going away. The good news is that the A7 drops to $1,300 (body only) and $1,600 with a kit lens. The A7R also gets a price drop to $2,099 (body only). Full-frame cameras just got a bit less expensive. We haven’t had the chance to try out the A7 II yet, but judging from its predecessors (the A7, A7R, and A7S all received our Editors’ Choice award), we don’t expect any less.

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New lenses, A6000 camera in white

Besides the A7 II, Sony announced three new A-mount lenses. (A-mount lenses work with Sony’s DSLRs, but also with E-mount cameras, like the A7 II, via an adapater). The two lenses include the 70-300mm F4.5-F5.6 G SSMII telephoto zoom lens (“ideal for outdoor sports and wildlife photography as well as tightly cropped portraits,” Sony says) that has four-times faster AF tracking than the current 70-30mm. The other two lenses, the 24-70mm F2.8 Zeiss and 16-35mm F2.8 Zeiss, are successors to existing models, but with improved AF tracking, reduced flare and ghosting, and dust and moisture resistance. The 70-300mm lens retails for around $1,150 and will go on sale in February 2015, while the other two are scheduled for spring 2015, with price to be determined.

Lastly, Sony unveiled a white version of the A6000, an APS-C mirrorless camera that’s a DT Editors’ Choice. It isn’t different from the existing A6000 other than the color.