Throughout my camera owning history Sony has always been ever present. My first ever camcorder was a Sony TRV -110e a very modest camera by the today’s standards and the first professional HD camera ever owned was the fantastic Sony ex1, which I still own and occasionally use when the right project calls for it. Bringing us up to the present day.
Sony has been a little lacklustre in recent years, with the onslaught of video capable DSLRS from the likes of Canon and Nikon, Sony seemed to have been a little left behind. However, during the last 18 months it appears like they’re gaining a little bit of that ground back. They appear to be listening to what their users actually want in a camera and in my opinion don’t seem to be saturating the market as much like Canon are with their DSLR and even Cinema EOS range(c100,C300,C500) all of which spec and perform only marginally different to one another, yet have more than marginally different price tags. For a lot of people trying to choose a Canon camera which suites their needs and budget these days, it can be quite overwhelming – one might even say, Canon are confusing. Buying Sony however, does seem to be more of a simplified process. Which brings us to the A7s … and no, the ‘a’ does not stand for ‘simple’…
And sensitive it is. The ISO goes all the way up to 409600, is it usable at such an ISO? Of course not, but it is up 80,000 but don’t expect zero noise and you still have to have an f stop of around f5.6 -f1.4 for it to be like ‘day light’ as some claim.To put it in to some perspective imagine being able to use the 25600 on your Canon 5D mkiii and not have the image break apart and you’re talking about that level of sensitivity. I didn’t really have long with the camera before taking it into a real-world-working-environment but physical layout layout is intuitive enough for anyone used to DLSR to become accustomed to it fairly quickly, the software however is another matter entirely but more about that later. Despite the hype around how sensitive this camera is one of my favourite feature has to be Sony’s new xAVCs 50Mbps codec, it is well overdue step up from AVC in my opinion and really helps contribute to the lorded sensitivity by providing a much more stable image and more pleasing noise patterns. The only caveat is that you need a Class-10 or UHS-1 card which is 64gb or more otherwise the camera will not allow you to record anything with xAVCs, which did catch me out initially.
So after about a day of playing about with the camera I decided that I was going to test the camera out on the Friday at The Moseley Folk Festival, which is a great little festival that has had some pretty big acts on over the years and feel privileged to have been apart of. I stuck to my usual Nikon Primes and using Metabones adapter to obviously enable this.
The camera is incredibly lightweight, with all the weight coming mostly from the lens which helped my back a little when it came to glidecamming.
Due to the nature of how I shoot at these things this little camera proved itself to be quite well suited. The screen although not great, folds out from the camera enabling you to get high or low shots and monitor them easily, something that took me a while to get used to if I’m honest, after using Canon 7D and 5D’s for years. Choosing the right profile however was a little more strenuous.Looking around on the rather vast menu of features I found absolutely no information about the picture profiles, not a one and even when resorting to reading the manual(yes I know, the manual!) I still couldn’t find anything. It took a quick search on good old Google ( other search engines are available) for me to find out about them. I later discovered that pressing the “right” button on the scroll wheel provided me with this even though there is no indication on screen that I could do this aside for a little arrow…maybe I just need glasses. Anyway, I ended up experimenting with both sLog2 and Cine1. I stuck with sLOG2 for most of the time but found that I had to use the histogram to correctly expose most of the time, as the screen wasn’t really very reliable, which is something that I’ve always found with Sony cameras actually. Another thing I found myself using was the EVF. Yes finally and EVF on a really good DSLR (albeit mirrorless) which is far more reliable for gauging the image than the LCD and has a proximity detector which switches it on when your face or anything for that matter goes close to it. This can be rather annoying especially when adjusting settings on the camera from certain angles and have yet been unable to find the off switch for it. That said the a7s is packed full of so many features found in a proper prosumer video camera [and lacking in canon DSLRS sans Magic Lantern] that the issues with LCD that I might have don’t really matter much. Zebras,peaking,focus zoom, they’re all there as they should be for a camera focussed on the video market, along with the usual compositional grids. One really cool feature is the ability to customise the buttons on the camera to activate many of the cameras features, which I’d like to see extended to more operational functions such as record fps and APS-C which has to be one of my main peeves with this camera; the structure of the menu. When I shoot video, I need the usual access to peaking and zebras etc but also fps, resolution and in the case of a7s, APS-C mode. This is one of the most useful features on the entire camera. I love full frame I’m an absolute sucker for a wide shot, it’s the way in which I view the world but I try not to forget how cinematic the APS-C is mainly because it’s roughly the same frame size as 35mm cinema and there is something that subtly reminds our brains of that. Switching between APS-C and Full Frame really couldn’t be easier but it has been made a chore by the fact that access to it requires you to dial through loads of menu options and when trying to pick up a shot quickly can be quite annoying and why it, along with fps changes like you can quickly with the “Q” option on Canon DSLRS hasn’t been implemented I don’t know. It seems like a very simply thing to have overlooked, which is why I wonder whether I just haven’t discovered how to do it yet.When it comes down to it, that seems to be my only realy issue with this entire camera, the menu system needs to be either simplified or allow the ability to customised because despite the hype around sensitivity and even the well documented issues with rolling shutter it’s really the functionality issues that can cripple a good camera – there is a lot to be said for ergonomic and intuitive design as I’m sure any Apple fan would tell you. That said, clearly I wasn’t too hampered by such ‘issues’ because I ended up using it as my primary camera for the whole festival.
Here is a little teaser trailer for the festival I shot mainly in 100fps at 720p