Important Quirks and Features of the Sony A7s for both Stills and Video

The Sony A7s walks and talks like a simple camera, if all you want to do is shoot stills. If you’re going to use it for video though, you must be aware that the camera is more complex than it first seems – not complex to use, mind you, but complex in that it offers way too many features that you normally only find on professional-level video cameras.

It will take quite a bit of time to test different settings to arrive at a comfortable workflow.

This article will look at some of the important quirks and features of the Sony A7s. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve divided it into three broad sections: Stills, Video and Relevant for Both.

Note: I might (or might not) update this article as I find more info.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

Relevant for Both

The ‘Instruction Manual’, what you get with your camera, is simple and only good enough to let you know the basic functions. To know more about each feature set, you will need to read the ‘Help Guide’, which is only available online at the following address: http://rd1.sony.net/help/ilc/1420/h_zz/ (Sony couldn’t have made the URL any more harder to remember, unfortunately). Don’t assume you can get away without visiting that URL at least once.

The histogram is the worst I’ve ever seen. It really is hard to know when it clips on either side. Not only that, it is tiny and on the bottom of your screen. There is no RGB histogram either in shooting mode (but there is once you have clicked the picture), so you cannot tell if one of the channels will clip until after you have shot the image. This is a serious error on Sony’s part, unforgivable for both stills and video shooters. Please add a full histogram setting in the next firmware update.

It is faster to charge your batteries via USB or the A/C adapter than it is to use the charger. It is pretty clear the extra battery was a last minute decision (the battery is the size of a small toffee – keep away from children!) According to Sony, you can charge 50% faster using the adapter or USB port. Sony even mentions it in the manual (I – for ‘Instruction’, I’ll use H for ‘Help’ later).

Warning – while charging via laptop don’t let it (the laptop) go to sleep mode. It will not charge in sleep mode.

Total white balance range is 2500K to 9900K (Increments of 100) with an additional WB Filter matrix that allows for fine tuning your colors. This gives you a lot of power over your colors.

If you shoot both videos and stills, you can actually use the View Mode so that playback only displays stills or video. In the latter case, you can further decide whether you want to see only XAVC S, AVCHD or MP4 footage. This is really a good option. Here are the options (image quality is not that good because they are shot with a cell phone):

View Mode Sony A7s

The camera has a wireless option, which is brilliant. However, there are two applications to choose from, depending on which OS you are using:

  • Windows – PayMemories www.sony.net/pm/
  • Mac – Wireless Auto Import www.sony.co.jp/imsoft/Mac/

Did the left hand know what the right hand was doing? Obviously not.

The wireless network protocol is supported is ‘b/g/n’, so no ‘ac’ or whatever. It works on the 2.4 GHz band, so beware when using flash triggers and any other wireless devices using the same band.

Focus peaking works great, and most of the time the Mid level setting is enough. Note that focus peaking needs contrast. The more the light the better. Low contrast high frequency detail (like leaves, etc.) will barely trigger the peaking lines even in the High setting. Increasing the ISO temporarily works to some degree. Luckily, you can magnifiy to 2.7x and 5.4x, and choose which area you want to magnfiy. Therefore, manual focus is a real pleasure.

The major features of the menu system are buried under three broad ‘icons’ that Sony calls Camera Settings, Custom Settings and Setup. To be honest, I can’t find any logical basis for why ‘which feature is in which group’. Luckily, most of the features can be set to the custom buttons or back wheel or the Function button for easy recall. But not all of them.

Generally, the menu system is easy to learn and use. I just wish we had a custom menu setting like you get with Canon DSLRs.

Stills

Resolution drops in APS-C mode. In this mode, the maximum possible resolution is 5.1MP. All modes can choose between RAW, RAW+JPEG and various levels of compression in JPEG.

Unfortunately, the APS-C mode JPEGs are too noisy – with color noise. Lightroom does a good job of reducing it, but at the cost of resolution (how much more can a 5 MP image be reduced to?).

You will need Lightroom 5.5 and above to read ARW raw files from the Sony A7s. It works great, though I have yet to test it completely.

The maximum flash sync speed is 1/250s.

Video mode has guide markers for various aspect ratios (see under video section) though they don’t show up for stills shooting. Not even 4:3. All you have is 3:2 or 16:9 (lower resolution due to crop). How stupid. Please Sony, give us markers for various image formats. Even better, let us customize the shape of the box we want! Please!!

Stills have guide markers, like rule of thirds and so on. Meh.

The Movie record button is tucked away on the right of the camera, where Sony thought it might be safe from being accidentally pushed. It’s a bold move, but it doesn’t come in the way of your grip. To ensure the movie record button doesn’t accidentally trigger recording (which it will do, regardless of the mode), you can assign it via the menu to ‘Always’ or ‘In Movie Mode Only’.

Sony A7s Movie Mode

You can protect images from being deleted.

The funniest setting (maybe not) is the ‘Auto OBJ framing’. In Sony’s words – “…automatically trims and saves another copy of the image with a more impressive composition.” Really?? Maybe the poor writer meant something else, and his/her message was lost in translation. It happens in Japan.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

Video

Recording

The crop factor of the APS-C or Super35mm mode is 1.53, or roughly 1.5x. E.g., a 50mm full frame equivalent becomes a 75mm lens.

Not all cameras can record both PAL and NTSC frame rates. Only those cameras with 50i can record both. To know which camera you have, look underneath the camera for 50i or 60i:

Sony A7s 50i bottom

The camera I received (Indian edition, made in Thailand) has a PAL/NTSC Selector button. This has the following quirks:

  • You must restart the camera.
  • You must reformat the card or use a different card for each version (WTF?). This means if you want to shoot 25p and then 60p, you’ll need to carry two cards with you on the field, at least.
  • There is no 24p in PAL mode.
  • 120p/100p is always in APS-C mode.

Which brings me to cards. To record XAVC S, you will need a Class 10 64GB SDXC card. No 32 GB or 16 GB, even if it’s 94 MB/s. This is Sony being real mean or stupid. Take your pick.

You don’t need Sandisk Extreme Pro cards, I have used Sandisk Extreme and it works perfectly. It’s also cheap by 50%. Sony’s cards are even cheaper. AVCHD and MP4 require Class 4 cards. All cards are formatted to exFAT so it’ll work on both Macs and PCs. For some strange reason Macs take to Sandisk cards like butter, but are buggy with Sony cards.

You can record dual video on the same card. Though for some strange reason you can’t record XAVC and AVHCD (!!). It’s either XAVC and MP4 or AVCHD and MP4.

There is an official 29 minute recording limit for ALL video (even 4K). In practice, the actual limit is 29 minutes and 50 seconds. At that mark, the camera will simply stop recording. Sony says the reason this limit is in place is due to sensor overheating. At the cut off mark, I couldn’t find the camera that hot at all (maybe mildly warm). You will be warned before camera stops recording or before it turns off. In a whole day’s worth of shooting, I didn’t have the camera turn off, though the temperature was about 30 degrees Celsius. Sony recommends you keep the camera away from sunlight while shooting video.

Does the camera add noise when it heats? Sony says it will, and the following image shows it clearly (exposure reduced and WB changed because it was sunset (my bad); ISO 3200 1/50th shutter, APS-C mode):

Sony A7s 30 minute noise

I could only see this color noise in the shadows. The full frame image might contain less noise but I haven’t tested it. The rest of the image looked okay. Food for thought.

In addition to the shooting modes you can choose on the top dial, you also have separate shooting modes for video – aperture priority, auto, program and manual. By default this is set to automatic, so don’t be alarmed if you can’t change the aperture or shutter when you first use the camera in video mode.

Exposure

The Zebra levels only go down to 70 (and all the way up to 100 and 100+; no Zebra during HDMI output), while the S-Log2 90% white point is at 59 IRE. This means you cannot set your Zebra to 100 and expect skin tones to scale down proportionately without crushing something – usually with ugly results. However, at the moment the results with 100 Zebra are great, but you must know how to expose correctly. Which brings us to the next issue.

There is significant color noise in the shadows if you underexpose. The gamma cure in S-Log2 is designed to preserve highlight detail, so one must ETTR for minimal noise, or find the correct exposure range. Warning: This isn’t like shooting RAW or S-Log2 on higher end Sony cameras. Sony has limited this sensor to 8-bit 4:2:2, and it plays a huge part in the signal to noise ratio.

The noise in the non-shadow regions are organic and mostly free of color, though it does pop up when underexposing. It’s correctible in post, and you really can shoot up to 50,000 ISO if you want.

The gamut is S-gamut, though Sony states categorically in the manual (H):

S-Gamut setting of this camera does not support the whole color space of S-Gamut; it is a setting to realize a color reproduction equivalent to S-Gamut.

Bottom line, the image looks great, but you don’t have a huge window. But thankfully, there is a window, and that’s why the camera is worthwhile.

HDMI

The HDMI 4K option will only be activated upon two conditions:

  • You attach it to a 4K capable TV.
  • You attach it to a compatible external recorder like the Shogun.

The HDMI cable protector is an afterthought, though it does the job. The HDMI cable provided (it’s 5 feet long) in the package is just about the right size, though the first couple of times you’ll have to use some force. The trouble is, the ‘hooks’ for the protector don’t allow the LCD screen to close completely:

Sony A7s LCD not closing

One can’t complain right? At least somebody felt it was a good idea. Thank you, silent stranger in the middle of madness.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

Miscellaneous

Tripod hole specifications: 5.5mm (7/32 inches) long, 1/4″ thread. Works fine on quick release plates though if you’re using an adapter it might interfere.

Beware of cheap lens adapters. Sony changed the mount a bit (made it stronger) when compared to the A7 and A7r. I have two Nikon F to E mount adapters – Metabones G and a generic Chinese one. The latter works fine all all E mount cameras, even the A7 and A7r, but does not fit the A7s. This does not mean other adapters won’t work, just that you have two expensive pieces of equipment linking together, and you want to be careful what you put between it.

The Metabones adapter adds serious weight and makes the camera front heavy. But the positive is that you can use it to mount the camera on a tripod plate. It also protects the sensor by putting some space between it and the elements.

If you reach over the EVF the LCD screen goes blank. The problem is, the ‘Menu’ button is on the left (what a crappy place to put it) and you always have to reach for it while in the menu. The human method is to move straight from the buttons on the right to the left, but this blacks the screen. The Sony way includes taking your hand around the camera to press the menu button, or use your left hand. The sensor is active to about 3 inches from the EVF.

There are three custom buttons that can be assigned most functions, and many of the other buttons can be ‘reassigned’ as well. This is truly a customizable camera. By default zoom to focus in live view is on C1 which is at the top. I changed that to C2, which is at the back. In video shooting, you don’t need any of the dials on top anyway! Here’s how I have configured by Functions menu (you can do whatever you want, this is just one way):

Sony A7s Function Menu

I have put stills functions on the first row and video functions on the second row. A few more days of shooting and all this becomes second nature.

The Aspect markers have many options from 4:3 to 2.35:1, but no 2:1 or 3:1. Please Sony, give us customizable markers!!

You could use Image Stabilization on Canon DSLRs while it’s on a tripod. Sony, however, recommends you don’t use Steadyshot when the camera is on a tripod (page 58 of the manual (I)).

While recording audio via HDMI, you have two modes to select (Audio Out Timing). In Sony’s words:

  • Live (default setting): Outputs audio without delay when recording movies. Select this setting when audio deviation is a problem during audio monitoring.
  • Lip Sync: Outputs video and audio in sync when recording movies. Select this setting to prevent undesirable deviations between video and audio.

This latter function is very interesting. Can we achieve frame level sync with it? Let’s wait and see.

The camera draws about 3 Watts of power, in a voltage range of about 5 V.

That’s it for now. If you need to know anything specific about the Sony A7s, ask me below.

31 replies on “Important Quirks and Features of the Sony A7s for both Stills and Video”

  1. Thanks for this- loved the article. I have a question re the 29 min limit. When you get the warning, can you simply press the MOVIE mode again and it will start a new 29 mins again (providing it’s not too warm and you have enough memory)?

    I want to record interview style which will take longer than 29 mins at a go. Interview will probably be 2 hrs long and so wondering whether this will be possible? I can take breaks every 29 mins and switch off and on again but not sure otherwise what to do.

    Secondly, if it does get too warm, how long do you need to turn the camera off before you can start again?

    Thanks!

  2. I appreciate your articles and efforts and subscribed to your You Tube channel.

    I was curious what you think about rolling shutter with this camera. In full frame mode, I have found it almost unbearable.

    Besides shooting in APS-C mode, is there anything else you might recommend to deal with it? Why do you think it is so pronounced with this camera? Filmmaker Wonder wrote an article saying it was so bad it made him return the camera.

    Thank you.

    1. If you use it within its limits it’s fine. I’ve never had rolling shutter issues, but then again, I don’t wave it around like a maniac either.

  3. Great read, I shall be buying the guide. Have you found the camera turning off during timelapse? When it turns off it reverts to the last stills setting. During timelapse I tend to change a lot of settings. The app seems ok but I use sliders and rampers. 

    I use a Class 10 U3 Sandisk card so its not a write issue. Its up to date with the recent firmware.

  4. Sareesh Sudhakaran rxr717 No it seems you can’t. The error message pops up saying it’s not available as follows: Manual exposure. This is on 7S II

  5. Oh A7s Guru,
    Why does the Record Setting on my A7s NOT resemble any I’ve seen on any tutorials to change frame rates? I’m given the following options: 50i 24M(FX) 50i 17M(FH) 50p 28M(PS) 25p 24M(FX) 25p 17M(FH) I do have my camera set to NTSC (I have a switchable PAL/NTSC version of the A7s) Thank you!

  6. Because if it was, the camera would last substantially longer while recording 4k than it actually does. I am emailing Sony now for an actual watt rating while recording 4k.

  7. Just got this camera and already I have issues.. Maybe you can help. I would like to use both an external hdmi monitor AND the camera viewfinder. But when I plug in an HDMI cable the camera viefinder switches off.. I have been back and forth through the menu but cannot seem to chnage this. Am I missing something, or is this a very big drawback?
    Cheers..

  8. hi
    i have the a7s and have a ?  i’m shoot vid in manual (so I can access more levels of magnification), but it won’t allow me to change audio levels.  any workaround as far as you can see?

  9. ctangey Thank you for the kind words. Unfortunately I have zero experience with angle finders. Assuming the Canikons don’t work, the closest thing I can think of is an EVF Viewfinder, which you can mount over the hot shoe with a simple adapter. Connection via HDMI.

  10. Sareesh, it has been wonderful to discover all the work you have put into sorting out the A7S, I don’t know how many of your wolfcrow URLs I have found so far but my fingers are sore from bookmarking! One big one for me is an angle finder or as some would say, a right-angle viewfinder attachment for this, I have searched high and low but can’t find anything specific to the A7S, I thought I had found it in the FDA-A1AM but now I don’t think so

  11. I have a problem with audio. I use the Rode VideoMic, and the sound is not clean, man hears in the final sound every touch of the camera. Have an idea? Many thanks.

  12. great article, very helpul, thank you. i got my a7s after reading your comment. however, my unit somehow does not go to sleep mode. i turnex off remote ctrl, wifi, etc., still does not auto sleep, very strange, any suggestion?

  13. Thanks a lot for this article. What’s your recommendation for a LUT when grading SLOG-2 footage from the Sony A7S?

  14. Awesome guide thus far. All of the content on your site is great. Thank you for the countless hours you put into producing high quality information.

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