Review rating: ***
List of sponsored/free gear: None
Did I get paid for this review? No

This is the complete review of the Sony A7s camera pertaining to video production. Let’s get started.
Goals

Before reading and watching the review, it is important to first understand the goals of the review. The primary goal of this review is to say, definitely, whether this camera is an (or the) ideal choice for the following kinds of productions:

  • Features films
  • Short films
  • Corporate videos
  • Documentaries – feature length
  • Documentaries – short length
  • Wedding videos
  • Music videos
  • Commercials
  • Sports
  • Wildlife
  • ENG/EFP
  • Live events

The secondary goals of this review are:

  • To understand the place of this camera in the grand scheme of things
  • To know exactly what kinds of shots this camera cannot be used for
  • To understand the differences in various picture profiles
  • To understand the strengths of the camera
  • To understand the S-Log2 workflow while shooting and in post production

A final goal of the review is to provide a general overview on the photographic abilities of the camera, with respect to:

  • Photojournalism, event and street photography
  • Wildlife photography
  • Portrait, studio and fashion photography
  • Fine art landscape photography
  • Macro and product photography

One important thing I’m leaving out: No 4K tests until the Atomos Shogun or similar recorder ships.Why did I buy the Sony A7s?I bought the Sony A7s for the following specific use scenarios and conditions:

  • Family, travel and street photography with manual focus
  • 12 MP is more than enough for me
  • Fully tactile controls in a lightweight body
  • Low light photography and videography
  • Silent shooting
  • Frame guides and IRE for video
  • Personal documentary and video projects in 1080p and 4K, without resorting to RAW recording
  • To use my existing Nikon manual prime lenses, and not be platform bound
  • A backup camera (not B-camera, though that might change) for corporate videos
  • A ‘review’ camera for future wolfcrow reviews and videos!

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What gear do I use with the Sony A7s?

Here’s my complete audio-visual kit, minus a few items:

Here’s my immediate wishlist:

To know what lenses I recommend, click here.

Review of the features of the Sony A7s, and footage

Here’s my review of the Sony A7s:

In addition to the above, I’ve also written a preliminary article on some important quirks and features you should be aware of. Read that here. A guide to the camera can be found here.

The following is a summary of whatever I’ve covered above as it pertains to each feature:

APS-C mode

You get a crop factor of 1.5 and an “f-stop factor” (DOF and bokeh only, not true aperture, which remains the same) of 1.5 as well. E.g., a 50mm f/1.2 lens becomes a 75mm f/2 approximately. A 24mm f/1.4 becomes a 36mm f/2.4, and so on.

Audio quality

Really good and clean. Samples provided in above video.

The ‘blue’ channel clipping problem

Didn’t find it, though I tried blasting the blue channel into oblivion.

Rolling shutter

As bad as the first DSLRs that shot video. Better in APS-C mode. Not an issue for 90% of productions. Two problem areas:

  • If you’re shooting moving blades, rotors, fast trains and out of cars, etc.
  • If you’re whip-panning the camera like you have an epileptic seizure.

For most run-and-gun and shoulder-mounted work, it’s a non-issue. Shoot in APS-C mode during problem areas.

Resolution

Resolution varies across the board. Here’s a chart that compares resolution at different resolutions and frame rates (click to enlarge):

The camera has maximum resolution in full frame mode at 24, 25 and 30p. Even in APS-C mode, 1080p video is similarly sharp, so you can mix and match without any problems.

However, in 50p and 60p, the resolution is still 1080p, but as you can clearly see in the above image, it has lower resolution. In fact, it is worse than 720p! I cannot recommend using either 50p or 60p on the Sony A7s at this time. However, as a workaround, you could add a bit of sharpening in post.

In 100p and 120p, the resolution drops to 720p.

HDMI quality and options

Excellent options. Clean HDMI, full resolution. Can’t wait to try out 4K.

Weather protection

It is not weather-proof, but is weather resistant. I have shot in a light drizzle, and the camera has gotten wet, no issues. But Sony tells me it’s not weather-proof.

Manual Focusing

Excellent in both video and stills mode. Haven’t missed focus, even at f/1.2. What more can I say?

Aliasing and moire

Almost non-existent. A non-issue.

Banding at 8-bit or the 8-bit vs 10-bit debate

Stupid. Those who think there’s a difference have no clue about what they’re talking about. 8-bit is fine. Camera does not produce banding, If you see banding during grading, you’re not doing it right.However, you can get posterization with the heavy compression found on Youtube or Vimeo. This is due to the color noise that effects the underexposed regions of the scene, and is a problem with most cameras.

Skin tones

Excellent. Filmic and organic, but you must know how to shoot and expose correctly.

ND filters @ISO 3200

The one big pain. But at least it’ll force me to buy that 4×4 filter set that’s long overdue. Couldn’t find any major IR radiation problems.

No good Sony lenses

The roadmap looks good, but I’m not buying a ticket until the whole park is completed. For now, I’m pretty pleased with my Nikon primes. Next up would be Zeiss CP.2 primes or whatever else the future has in store for us.

Poor battery life

Buy more batteries. Batteries drain out like there was a leak or something. Thankfully cheaper batteries exist.

You need a 64GB SDXC Card, even though it’s not “technically required”

Somebody at Sony was too lazy to program for SDHC cards. On the other hand, it’s quite easy to fill a 64 GB card anyway with XAVC.

AF with video

Excellent. I don’t use it, and I wouldn’t recommend using it, but it’s there, and it works.

Dynamic Range

I get a good usable 12 stops and that’s all I want. It’s filmic.

Low-light and ISO performance

The whole world knows the answer to this one, but if you don’t, then here it is: This is the number one low light consumer camera available for videography worldwide.

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Camera settings for tests and footage

Here’s a quick summary of the camera settings used in the tests and footage in this review. All resolutions/frame rates are 1080p25 unless otherwise indicated. Camera shots were filmed using a Canon 550D and kit lens.

Intro sequence and various cutaways

Various settings. Graded in Adobe After Effects or left ungraded as indicated.

Me talking

  • Creative Style: Off
  • Picture profile: Cine4
  • White balance: 3200K
  • Color Mode: Cinema

Music Unltd concert

  • Creative Style: Neutral
  • Picture profile: Off
  • White balance: Custom, done once
  • Color Mode: Rec. 709 (Movie)

ISO range for this concert was between 12,800 and 25,600.

Picture profiles comparison

  • Creative Style: Off
  • Picture profile: As mentioned
  • White balance: Cloudy
  • Color Mode: As mentioned

Car Test (OneShot comparison)

  • Creative Style: Off
  • Picture profile: As mentioned
  • White balance: 7100K custom
  • Color Mode: As mentioned

Each shot was ‘corrected’ in DaVinci Resolve 11 Lite using the DSC Labs OneShot card. The gammas selected are displayed during the comparison. White point was 1.0 for some shots because they were underexposed. Except for the two overexposed shots of S-Log2 and 800% Rec. 709, all shots were exposed for the car in spot metering mode. The last two are with a ND8 filter and exposed for the car.Anna kotta (elephant farm sequence)

  • Creative Style: Off or Neutral
  • Picture profile: S-Log2 or Off
  • White balance: Cloudy
  • Color Mode: S-Gamut or Movie

Many shots had an ND8 or even higher applied, as the case may be. There are also a couple of 720p shots in there. Aperture from f/5.6 to f/11, and one shot was f/1.2.

Who should use the Sony A7s?

Here are my suggestions for video, based on my personal knowledge, history and usage of this camera:

Here are my suggestions for photography:

Type of production Recommended? Alternative* Better option?*
Feature films Yes Blackmagic Production Camera 4K Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K
Short films Yes Blackmagic Production Camera 4K Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K
Corporate Videos Yes None Sony FS7
Documentaries No Panasonic GH4 Sony FS7
Wedding videos No Canon 5D Mark IIIPanasonic GH4 Sony FS7
Music Videos Yes Blackmagic Production Camera 4K Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K
Commercials No Blackmagic Production Camera 4K Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K
Sports No No N/A
Wildlife No No Sony FS7
ENG/EFP/Run n’ gun No Panasonic GH4 Sony FS7
Live Events No No N/A
Type of photography Recommended? Alternative Better option?
Street/PJ Yes Leica M None
Wildlife No Sony A7r Nikon D810
Portrait/Fashion No Canon 5D Mark III Medium format system with leaf shutter lenses
Fine art landscapes No Sony A7r Nikon D810, Pentax 645z
Timelapses No Sony A7r Nikon D810
Astrophotography Yes Nikon D810 CCD cameras with cooling
Macro and product No Sony A7r Nikon D810

*Note: In a similar or ‘next’ higher price range.

Well, that’s the end of the Sony A7s review. I hope you have found it beneficial for the kind of productions you’re doing. You can see how it fit perfectly into my existing needs. But it’s not a camera for everyone.If you need any clarifications, let me know in the comments section below.

19 replies on “The Sony A7s Review”

  1. I would like a more detailed explanation on because the camera is ideal choice for some kinds of productions, and not for other.
    i.e. Why street photograpy Yes and wildlife not?
    i.e. Maybe because it renders stright  or oblique lines better then foliage?
    Thanks

  2. I have three carl zeiss( Nhttp://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_nkw=nikon mount)block lens with me.Decided to purchase sony alfa7s. its E mount.
    what is the possibility of using metabones adapter?
    How it works?
    will the meter shows the correct exposure while shooting movie and stills?
    is there any cropping factor?

  3. Sareesh Sudhakaran cloudstrewn After digging around on Google it looks like slashcam were the first to compare 50/60p with 24/25/30p in their “Sony A7s – sharpness and moire” test back on July 7th. But they only say that 50/60p has “slight moire” compared to 24/25/30p, not a general and noticeable reduction in resolution.

  4. Thanks for this review – I have just switched my a7s to NTSC mode because of it (didn’t know I could!).
    However your claim that resolution drops going from 25fps to 50fps baffles me. I have just carefully checked resolution using a test chart, with a7s at full frame, 1/60 shutter, ISO3200 and everything else default settings, and find 1080p60 resolution absolutely identical to 1080p30 (both superb), with 720p120 much worse than either.

  5. Sareesh Sudhakaran Thanks, Sareesh! Just discovered that I was shooting in M mode, not movie mode. That fixed the stuttering problem.

  6. @harryllama S-Log2 has more dynamic range, and I prefer it for aesthetic reasons as well. Nothing wrong with cine styles if that’s what you prefer.
    The two tests in the review threw up a lot of surprises. I’ll cover them in detail soon.
    Stuttering playback is usually caused by a slow drive. I have had no issues, both on spinning (2.5″, 3.5″) and SSD drives, in Premiere Pro, QT, VLC, etc.

  7. Thanks, Sareesh!  Excellent, thorough review.

    Curious why
    you favor slog over one of the cinegammas.  Yes, you get more steps of
    light, but some of the cines look quite good right out of the box or
    with just a bit of tweaking, similar to the F3, and can save a lot of
    time in post if you don’t have the time.

    Also, any insight
    into the differences between these gammas?  The explanations in the
    manual leave a whole lot to be desired.  Hoping there’s some more
    detailed reference somewhere that you can point me at.

    I’m also
    running into a problem I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere, a kind of
    stuttering on playback using the XAVC codec.  It’s really noticable when
    panning, no matter how slow.  Is it the high density of the codec, too
    much for camera playback? I’ve not noticed this with any other Sony camera.  It’s even there after burning a DVD.

    Thanks again!

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