Since the Sony A7s isn’t out yet at the time of this writing most of this guide is conjecture – the result of relying on information provided by Sony, educated guesses and my personal experience and analysis. It is only a starting point, from which you will hopefully continue to research and find what best suits your workflow. The information provided here might not be accurate or relevant. You are solely responsible for your decisions and actions.
This guide covers everything from how to select the right lenses and accessories for the Sony A7s to workflows in production and post production to get the best out of your footage. It is divided into seven parts. The main menu which links to all sections can be found here.
I have one bit of important advice: Buy only what you need. If you can’t judge rationally, get somebody with experience to assist you. A complete camera system is a constantly evolving thing, and you’re better off starting with the bare minimum and adding stuff later, than spending all your money on a setup that will evolve anyway.
In this part we’ll cover:
- The ergonomics and controls of the Sony A7s.
- Camera specifications, and what you can expect.
Who is the Sony A7s for?
In Sony’s own words:
Sony’s new A7S model puts extraordinary sensitivity, low noise and spectacular 4K video quality into the hands of professional photographers and videographers
Common to Sony’s range of professional video cameras, S-Log2 expands the dynamic range by up to 1300% to minimize clipped highlights and loss of detail in shadows. Additionally, for the first time ever in a Sony camera, the A7S adopts the workflow-friendly XAVC S recording format in addition to AVCHD and MP4 codecs
In short, Sony has created a product that is aimed at professionals, without a doubt. The 8-bit 4:2:2 HDMI out and full sensor readout ensures this camera is broadcast-worthy. A top-tier broadcast-worthy camera for $2,498? Never has there been such a beast.
Here is the official launch video:
And here’s the first showreel:
The difference between Ultra HD and 4K
If you have to ask, then I know you’re a noob. Start by reading What is 4K Television? In short, there’s no practical difference. And yes, the Sony A7s is capable of generating movies good enough (actually way better, because Super 35mm scanned film never had a resolution of 4K!) for theatrical 4K projection.
Some might complain about using the nomenclature ‘4K’ when, in fact, the camera is UHD. It is irrelevant.
Ergonomics, Dimensions and Weight
Here is the Sony A7s in comparison to the Panasonic GH4 and Canon 1DC:
Here’s a comparison of the Sony A7s with the Blackmagic Pocket Camera and the iPhone 5:
The Sony A7s is bigger in most dimensions. Add the mandatory external recorder for 4K and it is no smaller than a Canon 1DC or fully-loaded Panasonic GH4.
Once the camera is kitted out for production, it becomes the smallest and most irrelevant part of the rig. It is so small that hand-holding and shooting it will result in painfully blurry 4K images (4K demands uncompromising skill). It does not have image stabilization. Adding a small lens makes this camera front-heavy, and is not very ergonomic even for still shooters. Having tested the A7r and A7, I can say the camera does not ‘sit pretty’ on even medium-sized hands, though this is not that important for video work.
What’s worse is that the camera has only a tripod screw at the base, and no other mounting points (except the hot shoe at the top). This means, you’ll be forced to use a cage with multiple rigging points if you want to add an external recorder, an EVF and an audio recorder.
In short, this camera is the worst ergonomic nightmare possible for a video camera to be.
For my philosophy on camera ergonomics and rig design, please read the Chapter on Ergonomics in the Comprehensive Guide to Rigging Any Camera.
Connectors and Buttons
Here are the connections available on the Sony A7s:
We’ll get into details in subsequent chapters.
At the back is the 3″ LCD TFT display with a resolution of 307,200 pixels (about 285 ppi). You could use it to zoom in and focus still subjects, but it is in no way adequate for 4K focus pulling.
The connectors are simple and self-explanatory, and we’ll look into them in more detail later. One thing to note is the multi-port, which is a proprietary port Sony uses for two purposes:
- Remote control using the RM-vPR1 control system
- USB Charging
Specifications and what you can expect from the Sony A7s
The important specifications of the camera are as follows:
|Sony A7s Specifications|
|Sensor Size||36x24mm, with APS-C crop mode option for HD and 4K|
|Horizontal Crop Factor based on FF 35mm||1|
|Lens Mount||Stainless steel FE mount specifically designed to hold heavier lenses|
|Maximum Resolution||3840 x 2160|
|Frame rates at max. resolution||24p, 25p, 30p|
|Claimed Dynamic Range||15.3 stops (!!)|
|Recording Format/Codec||XAVC-S (50 Mbps) and AVCHD (28 Mbps) internally in 1080p; Uncompressed 4K via HDMI|
|HDMI Connectors||Yes (Micro, Type D)|
|3.5mm TRS headphone jack||1|
|3.5mm TRS microphone input||1 (unbalanced)|
|LCD Monitor||3″ TFT|
|Audio Specs||2 channels 48 kHz and 24 bit|
|Included Accessories||Lens cap, two batteries, straps, AC adapter, charger, USB cable|
Audio is the camera’s greatest weakness.
My take on the Sony A7s
The only peers (so far) to this camera are the Panasonic GH4 and the Canon 1DC. To see how they compare, check out this comparison.
In my opinion, the Sony A7s is a camera that every filmmaker aspires to have. I’m in the same market most cash-starved filmmakers are – the sub $10,000 market. What I’ve always wanted were:
- Super 35mm sensor.
- 24 and 25 frames per second, progressive.
- A global shutter.
- A price that lets me come in at under $10,000 for the full kit (more later).
- Professional scopes and zebra.
- Great lenses.
- Reliable brand with worldwide support.
Where the Sony A7s falls is the lack of global shutter. Its rolling shutter artifacts are as bad as any DSLR, if not worse. It compensates for this weakness with a mind-blowing usable ISO range of 200-102400 (expandable to 409,600). It might (unconfirmed) also have the ability to Genlock, but it’s too early to know.
If you take out the 4K option, I cannot recommend the Sony A7s. For 1080p, nothing beats the Canon 5D Mark III with Magic Lantern RAW. For stills, the A7 should fare better with 24MP and fast auto focusing. If you leave out 4K, this camera is not worth the $2,498 it costs.
With all its limitations (which we’ll look at one by one in the following parts), this is the one camera that I’ve always aspired for. If I had to improve on it, I would add the following features:
- Two XLR inputs with full audio monitoring.
- Up to 60p in 4K (or 120 fps).
- A much better battery.
- Internal 4K recording, or just a cheap 4K external recorder.
- More FE lenses.
This guide will try to address each of these issues and find the best substitutes possible for them.
I believe the Sony A7s is good for almost any kind of professional project. It is far too expensive to record 4K and edit it if you’re just an amateur or enthusiast. This has nothing to do with the camera, it’s the nature of the beast.
For documentaries, I’ll reserve judgement. Even though its low light performance and weather-proofing makes it seem like a winner, I want to see how long we can record without overheating. This can only be known after considerable testing.
What it’s definitely not suited for are:
- ENG style videos – news gathering, reality, etc.
In Part Two we’ll look at the lens options for the Sony A7s.