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Sony A7S Review

Before you decide to buy a Sony a7S mirror-less camera, there are a number of things you need to take into consideration. Unless a couple of thousand dollars is pocket change to you, you need to know beforehand exactly what this camera can do for you (particularly if you’re a professional photographer earning an average of $40,280 annually, as documented by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Here is our evaluation of the distinguishing features and its practical uses:

1. Wide ISO Range

The A7S boasts of a wide light-sensitivity range, starting from a low of 50 up to a high of 409600. This is also complemented by ultra low noise capability, an aspect that enhances the ISO range.

Why It’s so Important

Apart from shutter speed and aperture, ISO is a critical aspect of any good photography (no wonder Sony is keen on highlighting this feature).

In basic terms, ISO refers to the sensitivity of a camera’s image sensor to light. Lower ISO indicates less sensitivity to light, which is useful in situations where there’s an abundance of light. On the other hand, higher ISO means greater light sensitivity, giving the sensor the ability to pick as much light as possible, particularly in poorly lit situations.

The ultra low noise capability comes in handy when using high ISO. It’s useful in cutting out noise (the grainy image typically produced when using high ISO), to produce richer tonal gradations.

Sony A7S ISO Low Light Hardwood Floor

All 3 floor images were captured in very low light using a Sony A7S with Sony Zeiss FE 24-70mm f/4 lens, courtesy of Home Floor Experts.

Practical Application

There are certain instances in which a wide-range ISO would be quite useful:

  • You might be required to take photos in indoor no-flash zones. These include art galleries, aquariums and museums. Since such indoor areas would be darker than outdoors, you can get clearer images with higher ISO.
  • Higher ISO also offers an opportunity to capture moving objects without blurring; for instance, when taking shots of flying birds. This is simply because the increased light sensitivity of higher ISO means that an image can be captured in less time.
  • You can also take interesting artistic shots that make use of the noise effect with high ISO.

2. Full Frame

Sony’s A7S features a 35 mm full-frame sensor. This is an aspect that further complements its wide ISO range.

Why It’s so Important

The 35 mm full-frame image sensor is based on the pre-digital-photography standard film size. During the initial digital-photography era, this image sensor wasn’t as big as the 35 mm analogue film size. Fortunately, later on, an equivalent 35 mm sensor was developed.

What makes the full frame better than smaller crop-frame sensors is the mere fact that a larger frame means increased ability to capture weak light. Moreover, the use of larger lenses with full frame cameras means that you get brighter viewfinder images. Most of all, you can get a wider view on your viewfinder, because of the larger sensor.

Practical Application

Just as with the wide-range ISO, the full frame feature gives you greater capacity to capture clear indoor photos. It’s also very useful when taking landscape or cityscape photographs, whereby you can have a more complete view of the image through your viewfinder, before actually taking the photograph.

3. Professional Video Functions: XAVC S

Apart from photograph functionality, this camera is particularly designed to offer superb video functionality. The XAVC S is one key feature that play a pivotal role in this.

Why It’s so Important

The XAVC S is a new video format that’s specially designed to provide the best user experience and quality with 4K videos. Modern productions are increasingly using 1080 50p/60p encoding, which couldn’t be properly handled by existing H.264-based codecs. With XAVC S, storage requirements as well as video bitrates (the amount of data processed over a period of time) can be kept at a minimum, even when dealing with such high capacity videos.

This has been achieved by making more efficient algorithms, apart from adding a pre-processor meant to condition videos before encoding.

Practical Application

This might seem like really advanced stuff, but what really matters is what it actually does. Simply put, the XAVC S will make your video post-production process much easier. With the ability to scale from as low as 15 mbits/s to a high of 960 mbit/s, you’ll comfortably handle HD, 4K and just about any frame rate (excluding ultra slow motion).

An array of movie functions add on to the camera’s versatility in video functionality. These include:

  • auto slow shutter and marker setting
  • audio rec level and audio level display
  • clean HDMI output for 4K and on/off selectable HDMI info. display
  • time code/user bit
  • picture effect, creative style and picture profile
  • dual video rec and rec control

4. Mirror-less

Being a mirror-less camera, the image you see displayed on the rear screen is actually a preview of the image captured by the camera’s sensor. This image has come directly through the lens on to the sensor, which is different from a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. With a DSLR, the image would appear on your viewfinder without having been captured on the image sensor. Only after the shutter button is pressed, will the image be captured by the camera sensor.

Why It’s so Important

This feature further complements the XAVC S in making Sony’s A7S camera particularly suited for videography.

While recording a video, have you ever noticed a momentary blur before the camera gets the right focus? That normally occurs because a DSLR camera uses a slow and less accurate focus method called contrast-detection.

Fortunately, that’s one of the key problems that the mirror-less feature deals with. With on-chip focus sensors, mirror-less cameras make use of the faster and more accurate phase detection focus method.

Practical Application

This feature would prove quite useful in several real-world video shooting scenarios. It would be incredibly valuable in situations where even a professional videographer cannot focus in advance. Such situations typically involve unscripted scenes which news photographers often have to contend with.

Fast moving scenes would be best captured by mirror-less cameras due to their higher shutter speeds and greater focusing capability.

Clearly, the Sony A7S offers superb videography capabilities; it certainly is capable of handling many of the modern video shooting and post-production demands. In fact, the features that enhance video capture also enhance the camera’s capacity for still photography. Most of all, it’s a highly practical camera, that’s useful in a wide range of real-life situations.

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