Sunday, 6 April 2014

Shooting with the Sony A7S

When I last posted about the Sony A7R, a camera I had never even held, Den Lennie of F-Stop Academy, had not yet invited me shoot with him on the launch film for the Sony A7S, in fact like everyone else I was blissfully unaware of its very existence.

You can see the film we shot in Arbroath here

In a sea of DSLRs which shoot video what makes this camera special?

Well, for starters it is not a DSLR, it is a mirrorless camera, and that means though it may visually look like a DSLR in terms of styling, it is much smaller and lighter than a DSLR, around half the weight of a Canon 5D MkIII, in fact it is barely any bigger than a Black Magic pocket cinema camera (Black Magic pocket cinema camera 128mm x 38mm x 66mm - Sony A7S 127mm x 48mm x 94mm)

It has the ability to shoot in Sony S-log 2 gamma, meaning that if you expose appropriately, you can record a remarkable range of tonality, giving the footage from this tiny camera a look and feel which one normally would associate with a much bigger, more expensive camera.

It shoots 4k at 4:2:2 over HMI at up to 30P .

There are quite a few products are out there which shoot 4k these days, but 4k on a full frame sensor IS something special.

Most 4k capable cameras use small sensors and it can be difficult to achieve the shallow depth of field you get from a full frame sensor on cameras like the A7S.

I was never previously sold on 4k but after a couple of days in the grading suite you really do get used to its super high detail and viewing 1080p HD, as good as it is, after you have been viewing 4k does seem like a bit of a come down. 4k is not just coming, it is here now. With the big broadcasters shooting their latest big shows in 4k to future proof them.



A full on grade is really quite something......


Pick a monitor.....


Editing 4k is not quite such a headache as it once was either. Den edited the Japanese project on his shiny new 6 core Mac Pro, which made short work of editing 4k in real time using FCP X.

It has fantastic low light capability too.

I must point out that we did not shoot any direct comparison tests with the Canon 5D MkIII, so judgement must be reserved until those are conducted, but make no mistake, the A7S is seriously impressive in low light with the ISO expandable to 409,600.

The A7S is very impressive in low light.....


After using the camera in challenging low light scenarios I suspect that it is quite a bit better than the 5D MkIII in this respect.


Sony have taken an interesting route with the sensor too which is 'only' 12 megapixels for stills, a little over half that of the 5d MkIII.

Why?

Canon have chosen to make a camera which covers all bases for all shooters, this does though lead to some compromises.

Sony has chosen to make three different and distinct models from the same body, the A7 with a  24 megapixel sensor for general purpose stills photography, the A7R with its 36 megapixel sensor focused on high resolution stills capture and the A7S with its 12 megapixel camera with its primary focus being video capture.

The full frame 12 megapixel sensor was chosen because less pixels mean the possibility of less noise and good control of moire.

Does it succeed? Bearing in mind that Den Lennie and I were shooting with preproduction models of the camera you will see some complex structures in the videos such as roof tiles which have a complete absence of moire.

Shooting with the A7S is a very different experience to shooting video with a Canon DSLR, that is not to say worse, just different. The ability to magnify the image in the electronic viewfinder with the camera at eye level is a real advantage, enabling a shooter to retain three points of contact without the use of a loupe like a Zacuto Z finder.

In common with the rest of the A7 range it has an articulated LCD, which excels as a video shooting tool, making just heading out the door of the B&B in Arbroath with the camera, a couple of lenses in my pockets, unencumbered by additional accessories like EVF or a loupe, a real joy. 

Comment has been made about power consumption of its stills focused brothers the A7 and the A7R, after all the A7 family does use an electronic viewfinder which by it's very nature does consume power whereas an optical viewfinder does not.

This is not an issue for A7S, as it is more focused on video capture, and the lack of an optical viewfinder is irrelevant.

In my shooting experience with the pre production samples of the A7S battery life is more or less in the same ball park as a Canon DSLR.

While we are talking lenses it is important to point out that you can use your Canon, Nikon, Zeiss CP.2 lenses or even PL mount lenses on the A7 series with adapters, such as Metabones, meaning that if you do decide to go for one of these cameras you CAN still use all your existing glass. We did however shoot both projects on exclusively Sony glass though.

 Den Lennie on dawn patrol with the Sony A7S and Sony 300mm F2.8


As you will have by now gathered I enjoyed shooting with the A7S which in the space of a few I short days, went from being an unfamiliar piece of equipment to a day to day tool which I felt at home with, it's a tiny camera with a full frame sensor, which is excellent in low light, shoots in Sonys S-log 2, and it's 4k quality is stunning.

Who will buy this camera? 

In my opinion everyone from the current DSLR shooters to production companies and film makers, who will see considerable possibilities in using such a tiny, but full frame camera in unusual and challenging situations, while being able to shoot with some great full frame glass.

With the A7S, Sony I believe has successfully continued the narrative of 'market segment disruption' which it started with the A7 and A7R.


When the A7S finally goes on sale go down to the shops and see what you think, see if the latest in the A7 range wins its way into your affections as it has mine, who until now, has been an avowed Canon shooter.

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