|Sony Alpha a7S mirrorless digital camera unboxed|
In the beginning I was a bit skeptical. Could this little camera really produce good quality video? Well, I found out quick enough, the answer is YES. For the last few years I've mostly been using the FS100 and was very happy with the results I got. I did need some time getting used to this little "brick camera", but more because of the form factor and different way of shooting. Before the FS100 I've been working with heavy ENG shoulder mounted cameras that were all about getting your shots and quickly moving on. With the FS100 and cameras of a similar kind, you'll need to put effort in each and every shot to get the most out of it and I've learned to appreciate this kind of filming. Going from the FS100 and now to the Sony a7S I further complete the transition to a whole new way of filming.
Sony a7S first impressions
While taking the Sony Alpha a7S mirrorless digital camera out of the box I noticed that it came with two Sony NP-FW50 batteries, which is a nice bonus. The camera is compact but still feels good in the hand. It's not too light and the LCD screen can be tilted. The viewfinder is surprisingly good and way better then I expected. I can actually use this! Thanks to a few customizable buttons on the body and a dedicated dial for shutter, exposure and aperture it's very easy to use this camera in manual mode and quickly adjust settings. There are a lot of options to go through in the menu so finding that one setting you're searching for can take a bit more time in the beginning. Nevertheless I'm glad the camera has so many options available.
I already bought the Sony PCK-LM16 LCD screen protector before receiving the camera so when I finally got my hands on it I decided to immediately apply this protector to the screen. It took longer to get it out of its packaging then the time needed to apply it to the screen. Super easy and you don't even notice it's there! I highly recommend getting this to protect the LCD screen of your Sony a7, Sony a7R and Sony a7S camera, just like you should always have an UV filter mounted on your lens.
Filming and image quality
The footage coming out of this camera is simply amazing. The dynamic range is great and the image is incredibly clean. Even at ISO 3200 there's little noise to be found and while playing back the footage that I've shot, it sometimes feels like I'm looking at photographs instead of video. It's easy to choose and change picture profiles and you can even see audio levels while recording. One thing I didn't like so much is when you use the movie mode of the Sony a7S, you can't change certain settings like shutter and aperture. You'll need to be in 'M' mode to be able to do that, but when you hit the record button the screen will jump from 3:2 to 16:9 and you might have to re-frame your shot. Not sure why I can't change certain settings while being in movie mode. Perhaps I'm missing something. Of course this camera is known for it's low-light capabilities and it can really see in the dark! It's very weird to be able to see more through the viewfinder and on the LCD screen then you can with your own two eyes.
The XAVC S codec enables high quality full HD recording at 50mbs, but you can also choose to record in the AVHCD format which also produces really nice results. When filming in the XAVC S format you'll need to use a SDXC memory card with 64 GB or more and UHS-I compatibility, class 10 or faster. The following memory cards are good options to consider:
Metabones adapter and lenses
I decided to also get the Sony FE 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 OSS lens with the camera and I don't regret it. It's a compact and very light lens which performs quite good. Especially the image stabilization works really well. It's a nice all-round lens for taking pictures and shoot video. I also have the Canon EF Lens to Sony NEX Smart Adapter (Mark IV) to be able to use Canon glass on the camera. Since Sony hasn't released a full frame e-mount ultra wide angle lens yet, I bought the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM to fulfill my wide angle needs for usage on the Blackbird stabilizer.
|Metabones adapter (Mark IV) on the a7S with Canon EF 17-40mm|
|Metabones adapter (Mark IV) on the a7S with Canon EF 17-40mm|
The Sony a7S is able to output uncompressed UHD 4K (3840 x 2160) at a 4:2:2 color depth over HDMI with full pixel read-out, to compatible third party recorders like the new Atomos Shogun that will probably become available in September. Unfortunately the camera is not able to record 4K internally like the Panasonic DMC-GH4 can. That's about the only thing missing with this camera. But there's so much that you'll get for it in return, that I won't start nagging about having to use an external recorder to be able to record in 4K. Something's gotta give!
I've seen enough footage the last couple of weeks to know that it's something to be aware of while working with this camera. Any quick sudden left to right moves of the camera will result in a rolling shutter effect where vertical lines will appear skewed. Just like any other CMOS sensor camera for that matter. There are some tips to be found online to reduce the effect quite a bit, by filming in APS-C (Super 35mm) mode and the Metabones speedbooster. It's good to know there's a workaround for when you need a quick whip pan, or when shooting handheld with a lot of movement. But to be honest it's not a camera move I'm performing often and that's probably why I haven't seen any rolling shutter on the footage I shot thus far.
Working with S-log 2
I'm new to working with S-log 2 but couldn't help to try it out as soon as I got the camera. As expected, the image you'll get from filming in S-log 2 is very flat. This is like working with negative film that you have to develop yourself. The Sony a7S can only record S-log 2 with an ISO of 3200 and above.
I've been filming at the beach while I didn't had a ND filter to compensate for the high ISO, so I had to improvise a bit and made adjustments to the shutter and aperture to compensate. No doubt I will soon pick up some ND faders for my lenses. In post I started to grade some of the footage in Adobe Premiere CC 2014 and got some mixed results. I noticed that footage shot with a higher exposure (around +0.7 EV) gave the best results. Apparently it's easier to compensate for bright skies then for dark shadow areas. It prevents noise from showing up in noticeable places produced by working with a high ISO. I don't know why Sony went for a minimum of 3200 ISO for filming with S-log 2, but it might have something to do with getting the most dynamic range. Even if that's true, I still would like to have the ability to work with a lower ISO even if that means loosing a bit of dynamic range. The Sony a7S already impressed me with its dynamic range even without S-log 2, so that would be a favourable change or update.
But enough talking about S-log 2, let's show some graded Vs. ungraded footage.
Sony a7S footage available for download
I thought more people might be interested in trying out some native files directly from the Sony a7S so here are three original video files captured in XAVC-S codec and S-log 2 (recorded in 50p for testing) from the video above:
Download: Sony a7S S-log 2 video file - 1
Download: Sony a7S S-log 2 video file - 2
Download: Sony a7S S-log 2 video file - 3
NOTE: You're free to download the footage and play around with it in you editing application for testing purposes. Uploading the files for others to download is strictly prohibited. When you like to publish your results, please mention where you got the footage from with a link to this site: http://DerranNL.blogspot.com
It's very clear that Sony tailored the Sony Alpha a7S specifically for filmmakers. That's why they went for a 12.2MP full-frame Exmor CMOS sensor instead of a 36MP sensor like the lower priced a7R has, which is created with photographers in mind. Cameras with extremely high pixel counts will require a much more expensive image processor to be able to scale down the image in real-time for video recording. It will also generate more heat then such a compact camera body can handle. Going for a 12.2MP sensor was a smart move, since you won't have pixel binning or line skipping when recording in 4K. I've talked about a lot of positive features already, but merely scratched the surface. There's so much this camera has to offer that I don't know where to begin. Things like built-in WI-FI connectivity with NFC, flexible timecode options, customizable color profiles, live video overlays, 120 fps high speed video recording in 720p, AAC/Linear PCM audio format via the internal stereo microphone, the 3.0" 921.6k-dot tilting LCD monitor and 2.36 million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder and not to forget the amazing low-light capabilities this camera has with an ability to use ISO's up to 409,600! I believe it can also take pictures, but I think that's just a rumor... This camera truly is a big step forward for filmmakers.