3 Reasons Why the Sony a7S Isn’t the Perfect Camera for Filmmakers
The Sony a7S has been getting loads of buzz over the past year, mainly because of its low-light and 4K capabilities. But even though it’s an undeniably powerful tool, there are a few big drawbacks that you should know about before investing in one.
I am a massive camera fanatic, having bought four new cameras this year alone. I point this out, because I (as much as anyone) understand that there is not, and probably never will be a perfect camera that does it all.
Some cameras are better with high frame rates, others have more dynamic range. Some are higher resolution, while others have a smaller footprint. You really can’t have it all when it comes to cameras, which is why even major feature films often need to shoot on more than one type of camera.
All that said, one camera that many people believe is the be-all/end-all is the Sony a7S. After all, it’s full frame, lightweight, can take loads of lenses, and shoot at extremely high ISOs. Unfortunately though, after working with the camera for the first time a couple of weeks back – I was a bit let down.
There’s no question the camera is capable of producing some gorgeous images, and if you need some proof just head over to Vimeo and do a quick search. But practically any DSLR or mirrorless camera today is capable of producing really great images, and in the areas where the a7S is hailed for going above and beyond, I found that it didn’t quite deliver as well as it could have. Here’s why:
1. The low light isn’t useable past a certain point
There are lots of tests online showing that the a7S can shoot at ridiculously high ISOs very cleanly, which is true. However, I believe a lot of what is floating around online in terms of numbers simply isn’t indicative of real world results.
If you’ve never shot with a camera that has great low light capabilities, then you will be absolutely blown away when shooting with the a7S. It is a low light beast, no questions asked. The let down for me was simply that the camera didn’t perform THAT much better than some of the other low light cameras I have used.
For instance, my C100 performs really well at extremely high ISOs and while the a7S definitely would beat it in a low light test, the difference wouldn’t be that drastic. After seeing some tests online (which were inevitably compressed multiple times and likely color graded already), I was expecting to be able to shoot cleanly at 32,000 ISO or higher.
In reality, I found that even at 25,600 the camera didn’t deliver great results. This may sound absurd, as both of those numbers are extremely high, but keep in mind this is a speciality camera intended for low light usage. If you’re buying it for that purpose, you need to be aware of its limitations. In my opinion you shouldn’t go past 12,800 and even that’s a stretch.
2. The cost of shooting 4K nearly doubles the cameras price
It’s great that the a7S can output 4K to an external recorder, but if you are going to buy an a7S/Shogun combo (to record 4K) you’re looking at upwards of $5000 all-in. This means that you are either going to avoid the added cost of the Shogun and record internally (making the 4K capability pointless), or will need to shell out an extra couple grand for the Shogun.
If you choose the latter option, not only will it cost you more, but your setup time and overall usability of the camera will change completely. It will no longer be a camera that you can just whip out of the bag, point, and shoot.
There’s nothing wrong with shooting 4K to an external recorder, and you can certainly get great results doing so. The point I’m making is that you want to know what you’re getting yourself into, since you have many 4K capable camera options if you are spending upwards of $5000.
Image from EOSHD
3. Using a Speedbooster comes with it’s own set of issues
Speedboosters have been all the rage over the past year as they are able to make your lenses faster and wider, while also adapting them to various lens mounts. Seeing as so many Sony a7S users are switching over from Canon, the choice to use a Canon to E mount Speedbooster is a fairly easy one.
The only issue of course is that by introducing another factor into the setup (the adapter), there are more quirks to work around and other potential issues may arise. For example, since the Speedbooster is intended for crop sensor cameras, your full frame lenses will vignette when using it on the full frame a7S, meaning that you need to shoot in APS-C mode in order to hide the edges of the frame.
This isn’t the end of the world, but it is another small annoyance that may not be preferable if you truly want to shoot in a real full frame mode. There can also be lens compatibility issues and other technical snags (such as slower autofocus for stills) that make using the Speedbooster less than desirable. The alternative is to use Sony glass, but unfortunately there are very few options available as of now.
Sony a7S: Final Thoughts
The biggest takeaway from this article should be that the camera is far from perfect, just like every other camera on the market. If you are buying one camera that will be your workhorse – I personally don’t think this should be it, for the reasons stated above. You might be better off with something like a Lumix GH4, depending on your needs. But if you are looking for a great speciality camera that has a small footprint and does great in low light, then this is for you. Just be aware of the camera’s quirks and you’ll be okay!
If you’re looking for more info about the Sony a7S, check out these links.
- The Sony a7S vs RED Epic Dragon: Technically Not a Landslide Victory
- NAB 2014: Sony Releases a7S, 4K Output with 400k+ ISO
- a7S vs. GH4: Which is Better for Filmmaking?
Got any experience shooting with the Sony a7S? Give us your take on the quirks and perks in the comment section.