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Andrew Reid

Evolving Sony A7S Review (Part 1)

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 At the end of the day, look at the footage it makes. Test one out if you've the opportunity and then pull the trigger or not. You have to take much of the gushing here with a grain of salt and go straight to the footage. My favorite footage on this site is still from the the 5d Mk3 Raw. Despite the praises I just couldn't muster any enthusiasm for any of the footage I saw from the GH4. It reminded me of my experience with the GH2 and the GH3 - Clipped and contrasty, dubious color accuracy. While some can afford to be camera fickle, most cannot. Do due diligence, weigh your options and pocket book and don't believe the hype.

Cheers Tim...nice evenly balanced advice.

I did a load of research, read loads of forums and downloaded a lot of footage before deciding to go with the GH4...as I could not get my hands on one before ordering...I am pretty much in the same boat now with the Sony.

I am kinda lucky, cause I can afford the Sony as well, but its a bit of a stretch and there will be extra costs with that cam, plus I have recently read a few pretty negative reviews about it (mainly about ergonomics) so I am taking a wait and see approach right now.

One thing is certain tho...although I like the 5D Mk3 with ML's RAW hack, its not a Camera I want right now...and I think that its better to wait and see if Canon even responds to the GH4 and A7s (price and feature wise), they may not...maybe they dont need to.

 

Its difficult with cameras, cause everyone has a different want, likes a different image etc...(a bit like art really...so its best to not ever get into the this looks better than that debate...cause there is no real universal agreement on any of that)

That said..... right now... with the Sony, for me it comes down to ergonomics, grading, RS, handling, flexibilty and a bunch of other things...and viewing a lot of the newer footage that is surfacing.

Time will tell I guess.

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EOSHD Pro Color for Sony cameras EOSHD Pro LOG for Sony CamerasEOSHD C-LOG and Film Profiles for All Canon DSLRs

Andrew, how about throwing the new Nikon D810 in the Evolving Review for comparison?

 

There is some sample footage coming out now that the camera has shipped.  The colors look fantastic (very natural), and the detail better than expected, but the dynamic range isn't anything to write home about in the videos I saw.  I don't know if it is because people are shooting with the wrong profile or what.  It would be nice to see someone do something with it who knows what they're doing, and see how it compares to the a7S, full frame to full frame.

 

Michael

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Cheers Tim...nice evenly balanced advice.

I did a load of research, read loads of forums and downloaded a lot of footage before deciding to go with the GH4...as I could not get my hands on one before ordering...I am pretty much in the same boat now with the Sony.......

 

]......That said..... right now... with the Sony, for me it comes down to ergonomics, grading, RS, handling, flexibilty and a bunch of other things...and viewing a lot of the newer footage that is surfacing.

Time will tell I guess.

You said it. Much of it comes down to taste, what you shoot and not numbers. I absolutely love the image with the BMC 4k yet other DP's I know think it's shiite. Some love the GH4's image. I don't. It reminds a bit of film stock debates of yore. We all had our favorite and secret ways of making it do tricks for us. But with the A7s or any DLSR, I usually throw it on this little rig: Gini Baseplate, 18" 15mm rods from ET, Wooden Camera HH Grips (no extensions) and mount a DP6 monitor off the grip's cross bar. It's tight. But something as small as a virtually failsafe way of locking down your HDMI (especially if recording) is the difference between taking your new toy out to make money or not.

 

I shoot a lot of doc these days, and you can't re-stage a shot that got blown because of a connection. That's the one thing that scares me about the Atomos route. Last job I did, we rented C300's with Zacuto EVF's. Swear to God if that EVF disconnected one more time I was going to smash the Z EVF hunk of junk (useless for many other reasons). Anyway, I'm sure Tilta or someone will come up with an A7s cage with a decent lock, like what they did with their BMPCC cage, but Atomos is another story. I contacted them about this only to fall on deaf ears. Perhaps we can start a mass write in campaign to Atomos to develop an HDMI lock. Small HD has a great one but only for their rigs.

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hmm.. is it even possible to use the ETTR +1 method without an external monitor with a histogram? the internal histogram is a joke, particularly in S-LOG2 where there isn't even a line to indicate clipping! seems like pretty poor implementation to me.. also seems tricky to me to get a spot on exposure in S-LOG without an external monitor. but if anyone has any tips or i'm overlooking anything, i would love to hear it!

Yes the A7s is hard to judge exposure with. I found using zebras is the best way to protect the highlights. If you set them at 100 IRE and you see them adjust your exposure a little until they are gone. 

 

The histogram works from left to right as opposed to a waveform.

You will know if you're clipping when a straight line on the right starts creeping up. same goes with crushing the blacks but on the left.I cant upload an image so A7s-histogram-with-zebras-at-100-IRE>here is a link 

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Yes the A7s is hard to judge exposure with. I found using zebras is the best way to protect the highlights. If you set them at 100 IRE and you see them adjust your exposure a little until they are gone. 

 

Thanks, I know little about video protocol but had settled on that through trial & error.  Have you come up with a decent custom profile that keeps us away from 3200 ISO, that just doesn't work for me as I'm shooting 75/25 stills and video?  

 

Cheers,

Chris

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Anyone have any comments on banding.  I'm seeing it a lot in a7S videos.

 

Michael

 

Not doing anything extreme in post- no banding issues yet. Using Slog2 with Cinema Color Mode, +8 Saturation, and Cine2 (now using Cine1 as it's full range) with Cinema Color Mode.

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Not doing anything extreme in post- no banding issues yet. Using Slog2 with Cinema Color Mode, +8 Saturation, and Cine2 (now using Cine1 as it's full range) with Cinema Color Mode.

 

Now, your Sea Bass video is hilarious, she's very cute too! :D  ~Chris 

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Now, your Sea Bass video is hilarious, she's very cute too! :D  ~Chris 

Thanks Chris! Elena replied: "Aaawww thanks Chris! I think the best part is the space battle action in the back :)

"

For those who haven't seen it, >Sea Bass was shot on the GH4 in 4K, our A-Cam for green screen studio shots.

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Yes the A7s is hard to judge exposure with. I found using zebras is the best way to protect the highlights. If you set them at 100 IRE and you see them adjust your exposure a little until they are gone. 

 

The histogram works from left to right as opposed to a waveform.

You will know if you're clipping when a straight line on the right starts creeping up. same goes with crushing the blacks but on the left.I cant upload an image so A7s-histogram-with-zebras-at-100-IRE>here is a link 

 

erik - damn, i somehow completely forgot it had zebras - have only had a few hours so far to shoot with mine! good call, thanks. and right, i know how to read a histogram i just find the A7S's lacking, especially in S-LOG. it's too tiny and imprecise to see if it's beginning to bunch up.

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Thanks, I know little about video protocol but had settled on that through trial & error.  Have you come up with a decent custom profile that keeps us away from 3200 ISO, that just doesn't work for me as I'm shooting 75/25 stills and video?  

 

Cheers,

Chris

You sir are very welcome. I have been testing the gamma and color mode this weekend trying to really understand what is going on. Ever read the Sony manual? Horrible! Check out this post and scroll down to Picture Profiles. 

I'm working next on Color Mode. This camera is tricky to setup and has settings similar to the Sony pro cameras that I'm not very familiar with, so it's a whole new learning curve but it sure is fun!

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You sir are very welcome. I have been testing the gamma and color mode this weekend trying to really understand what is going on. Ever read the Sony manual? Horrible! Check out this post and scroll down to Picture Profiles. 

I'm working next on Color Mode. This camera is tricky to setup and has settings similar to the Sony pro cameras that I'm not very familiar with, so it's a whole new learning curve but it sure is fun!

Erik, I was thought I read in your blog that the a7S was not for you, and you were sending it back.  Did you change your mind, or am I thinking of another blog?  Sending it back or not, I am enjoying the results of your testing.

 

Michael

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Erik, I was thought I read in your blog that the a7S was not for you, and you were sending it back.  Did you change your mind, or am I thinking of another blog?  Sending it back or not, I am enjoying the results of your testing.

 

Michael

As I'm testing and reviewing the A7s I wrote what drives me crazy about the camera. I didn't say I was sending it back but said it's tough to justify due to the price and cost for me to get the camera usable as a hybrid. Very limited native lens choices are available with good auto focus for the other part of the A7s. photography Still valid points for me. And that record button! Ugh. Haha. But the review goes on. Doing reviews is a big part of the blog and also sharing production tips.

 

Will I keep it? I have some more time to decide. I really want to see what 4K looks like. It's a big part of the camera. It's killing me the Shogun won't ship until September. That 4K recorder/monitor is such a great deal. I'll be using it with the C100, C300 and GH4 mostly as a excellent monitor but of course as a recorder too. I really wish Panasonic would implement record start and stop flags through HDMI. Not sure if it's it possible with a firmware update. They never did this with the AF-100 and it had SDI.  

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I just got my a7s through Amazon and was shocked to find it was a AP2 version (Asia Pacific - world camera PAL/NTSC switchable).  It also arrived without a warranty, CD or instruction manuals ; (

 

I called Sony up and they told me how to switch the language (I think the default was some form of Chinese, the world clock was set to that time zone by default).  Sony also informed me that it was probably a grey market product so it would not be supported  if repairs were needed.  They offered to register it via phone, but I was wary of keeping it.

 

I did some more research on the interwebs to find out exactly what I had in my hands.

 

News Shooter had a blog post about the A7s as a world camera.

http://www.newsshooter.com/2014/06/25/the-sony-a7s-a-world-camera/

 

You'll notice that the first screenshot has a menu item at the bottom allowing for switching between PAL and NTSC.  By default my camera was in PAL mode, I made the switch and was able to see the NTSC frame rates.  My hopes were up, maybe I was holding something special in my hands.

 

While using the camera I got the warning message that "You are shooting in NTSC".  This seems to happen every time I turned the camera on or changed between the playback mode and shooting mode.  This camera is definitely a PAL first device and takes great care to warn the user.

 

That seemed to be a minor annoyance but I could live with it.  Then I found out that the AP2 version may not be able to output 4K via HDMI in NTSC frame rates (see the dvxuser link below).

http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/showthread.php?324461-Is-the-sony-a7s-a-world-camera-shoots-ntsc-and-pal

 

I tried accessing the 4K output but it was greyed out, both in PAL mode and NTSC mode (maybe because I don't have a Shogun?).  By the way, you need to reformat the camera and card when you are switching between the two modes.

 

I am going to try and call Sony to verify the 4K output issue.  I downloaded the manual but it was not clear if 4K output is not possible in NTSC mode.  

 

TL;DR Does anyone know if the PAL/NTSC version can output 4K in NTSC frame rates?  If not this thing is definitely going back.  Also, anyone have any issues with grey market cameras and services/repairs/resale value?

 

- Akshay

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Yes the A7s is hard to judge exposure with. I found using zebras is the best way to protect the highlights. If you set them at 100 IRE and you see them adjust your exposure a little until they are gone. 

 

The histogram works from left to right as opposed to a waveform.

You will know if you're clipping when a straight line on the right starts creeping up. same goes with crushing the blacks but on the left.I cant upload an image so A7s-histogram-with-zebras-at-100-IRE>here is a link 

 

I agree with this tip Erik, histogram is essential I think in S-LOG. Not the way I usually work, prefer to go by eye but too risky in S-LOG mode to do that off the LCD, it is just too flat. Nice even spread in the histogram is what is needed. Prefer it to zebra because I find if I expose S-LOG for the highlights, when I grade it far too much of the image is pushed into the highs. Don't waste the left half of the histogram by exposing too far to the right.

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Then I found out that the AP2 version may not be able to output 4K via HDMI in NTSC frame rates (see the dvxuser link below).

http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/showthread.php?324461-Is-the-sony-a7s-a-world-camera-shoots-ntsc-and-pal

 

I tried accessing the 4K output but it was greyed out, both in PAL mode and NTSC mode (maybe because I don't have a Shogun?).  By the way, you need to reformat the camera and card when you are switching between the two modes.

 

I am going to try and call Sony to verify the 4K output issue.  I downloaded the manual but it was not clear if 4K output is not possible in NTSC mode.  

 

TL;DR Does anyone know if the PAL/NTSC version can output 4K in NTSC frame rates?  If not this thing is definitely going back.  Also, anyone have any issues with grey market cameras and services/repairs/resale value?

 

- Akshay

If no 4K recorder is hooked up the feature is greyed out. Mine does the same. 

 

The A7s will output 4K in either PAL or NTSC.

 

Strange that Amazon sold you a grey market camera. If it was from Amazon this will appear in the discription"Ships from and sold by Amazon.com" 

I think it could be from another vendor that sells through Amazon. As for repairs. I believe it has a one year warranty so after that it's no different. If the camera needs repair Sony will charge you. I don't believe they wont fix it.

Usually grey market sells for a lower price. B&H for example sells both. Maybe it's too late but you could get a warranty from Squaretrade. 

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If no 4K recorder is hooked up the feature is greyed out. Mine does the same. 

 

Thanks Erik, I figured the same.  Just worried that if/when I would get the Shogun it would still not output 4K in NTSC.  I'm gonna try calling Sony and report back.  

 

By the way, thanks for all the great info you are contributing on the A7s.  We all really appreciate it!

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Andrew, it seems that - again - you are pretty inconsistent when it comes to exposure and grading in these tests.

 

It also strikes me that there is so little talk about the major compression artefacts the internal recording has.

 

When you grade this stuff, it just turns to mush... so no, the a7S will NOT beat 5D Mark III Raw.

 

The a7S only really starts to become interesting with an external recorder

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Homerus, while I agree with the fact that I am not a fan of the video due to the high frame rate and compression...but that is due to the camera not Andrew.  And coming on a board to insult anyone, regardless of who they are, isn't going to be received well.

 

Using language such as "I am not a fan of how this was particularly graded, here is how I would have done it if you would like to try..." would go a lot further than the manner in which you communicate.

 

I agree that so far much of what I have seen on the a7s does not compare to 5d raw...however most of the profession and semi-pro users who are making a fuss about GH4 and a7s are those who need quick and easy storage solutions for on-the-go filming as well as quick turn around for clients...which it seem is not in line with much of the 5d ML raw experience.

 

We need to understand that audiences differ...5d3 raw will not make its way into most pro or semi-pro shoots, though aesthetically I think it is overall superior to the a7s and gh4.  Point in case...I was evaluating whether to sell my 5d3 and go a7s since I like it much better than gh4...then realized I have a killer stills camera that can shoot amazing, almost Arri-like cinematic images (given the glass) if I had patience and some storage at home.

 

I for one love the a7s and look forward to what prosumer DSLR's will be capable of doing in the next 1-2 years when I am ready and have learned enough to upgrade bodies.

 

Cheers

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Well, ok. The - again - was a bit spikey, but I did purposely use this tone because I think Andrew seems biased in his comparisons, and this is not the first one. My observation is that the exposure and grading are particularly worse in the footage of the other cameras. 

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