Since the release of Sony A7r and A7 it has been almost a year and during that time a lot of customers have jumped in and bought one or both A7 cameras. While keeping the weight way lighter than a DSLR camera and the size small, they have provided an opportunity for photographers to experience a full frame sensor performance. Overall, the A7 series has been terrific even though from time to time they have had their problems and quirks.
I loved the cameras when I tested and shot the A7r and A7, because they were very capable devices that were extremely versatile and had features that allow you to use 3rd party lenses, such as Nikon lenses, Canon lenses, Leica lenses, etc. We can get that look of a creamy shallow depth of field with the full frame sensors and it was very cool to have these capabilities in a nicely made and small body. When compared to other current cameras from companies like Pentax and Olympus, the main problems with the A7r and A7 is that they were a bit slow to Auto Focus. In addition, when compared to other FF offerings such as the RX, while very good in high ISO and low light, they are not the best. They weren’t “WOW” in low light, while nice in low light. In comparison to the previous RX1, the high ISO voice was worse and the AF would be a bit slower.
At that time, I was so close to replacing my Leica M 240 for an A7r or A, but at the end I decided that it wouldn’t be such a good idea. The loud shutter and file size and AF speed of the A7r and A7 soon made me appreciate the beauty of the Leica M system, even though they Sony’s IQ in many ways was equally good and it was even better in some ways.
A file size issue is something which is the Sony A7r also has and you will need a very powerful and nice computer in order to manage those files. A lot of customers who use the cameras were irritated by the A7’s loud shutter and the A7r’s even louder shutter.
It seemed like Sony was listening to what A7’s users were wanting and now they have given us a new model.
For the past 2-3 weeks, I have been shooting with one so I get them a little early, because I am lucky enough to be a camera reviewer. For me personally, on paper all of the right boxes are ticked by the Sony A7s. It has a 12MP resolution that provides us with nice details, small file size and very large print size. Of any camera made today, the best low light performance was given to use by Sony, because of its small megapixel count. It is a definite bump up for low light even though it’s not a huge jump from the Nikon Df, especially if you decide to go to extremes. The Sony A7s’ ISO is usable for me in low light up to 102,400 and it can even go up to over 400,000. For me and for many others as well, this is a definite game changer. Instead of doing a huge overall review that retells the camera, in this review I will point out what’s improved or changed and new over the A7r and A7. It is an A7 at its heart. Same controls and menu, same EVF and LCD, same feel and same body. The sensor is all that is new and because of that we are not enjoying the huge improvements, such as insane video capabilities in any lighting scenario and faster Auto Focus over the A7s and A7, low light capabilities and high ISO and a new silent electronic shutter that can be turned off and on. In addition, the A7s can capture a 4K video.
The Sony A7s Features
- Headphone Jack and Audio Input
- With Sony lenses, faster AF speed over A7r and A7.
- The shutter is more damped and quieter.
- S-Log2 Gamma and Customizable Color Profiles for video.
- Full pixel read out. With external recorder, it shoots 4K Video.
- For slow motion, 120 FPS video.
- ISO usable at 102,000 and reaching up to 402,000 ISO.
- New Dynamic Range, Bionz X processor and 12Mp High Performance Sensor with superb color and low light Capability.
- You can shoot in total silence with the Silent Shooting mode with electronic shutter.
Apart from that, the A7s model is the same as the A7r and A7 in feel, build and body. EVF and LCD are the same and controls are the same. In general, you will receive a supercharged A7 with stellar video options and intense low light capabilities. On this body, in comparison to A7r and A7, Leica M mount lenses seem to work a lot better.
Without using the annoying red AF light and without even a flash, I am now able to shoot in near darkness with the Sony A7s. The A7s is simply the best and it is because of its low light scenarios’ elements. In almost pitch black conditions, I had this camera. Without using the AF assist light, the camera still managed to auto focus. I shot an image in a very low light room. I could describe the room as “dark” and I couldn’t make out anyone’s faces when looking at the scene, because the ambient light was too low. I adjusted the camera to ISO 80,000 in order to get 1/10s with the Voigtlander 15 VM at f/4.5 (wide open). No one knew that I snapped a picture, because I had the silent shutter activated. In fact, I didn’t tell anyone what I did, because no one would have believed me as the majority of people would say that it’s impossible to take a picture without a flash. The room was near dark and super dim, but it looks like the room was bright from the image. I had to engage night vision with an external IR light in that very same room, because I was also shooting a video with my camcorder.
Of course, you will loss of detail and some noises but it was shot in 80,000 ISO. Within this price range, no other camera could even get close to this. As a matter of fact, I am not certain that there is another camera which at ISO 80,000 could get this type of performance. If so, I haven’t seen it. People who claim that Canon 5D MkIII or the A7 or A7r can do this are wrong. They can’t do it in this kind of light from noise to Af, end of discussion.
The first thing I did when the camera arrived was to take it with me and find an appropriate and interesting place where I can shoot, preferably near darkness. Bill Goodman, a dear friend of mine and also a photographer, recommended a few music clubs in town where I can go and shoot. The experience, the ambience, the beer, the music and the people was rather exciting for me and after so many years of doing reviews it brought back the fun and excitement of photography for me. Even in situations that required me to shoot at ISO 102,000 with the AF assist light turned off, the A7s never gave me a problem. The Sony A7s’ art is amazingly accurate and good. It gets the job done even though it’s not a blazing speed demon in darkness. Along with the A7s, I also tested the Mitakon 50 0.95, serial #00001 made for the night and it turned out to be the perfect match. If you have an A7s or A7 camera for low light work, it’s a no brainer at $795. It is built like a tank and it’s a full frame 50 0.95 lens.
I started to appreciate A7s more for what it can do after I used it for quite some time in any light. From bright to almost total darkness, it showed me it can do any light scenario and with an amazing Dynamic Range it can excel in bright light.
For me personally, the best low light camera I have ever used is the Sony A7s. It’s better than any previous camera from Canon and Sony, any digital from Leica or other brands of camera. Well, I never needed more than ISO 3200 and I used to say it all of the time. While true, I now realize that I have no more limitations after using the Sony A7s. I never even thought of the new possibilities that opened up when I realized that while using the Sony A7s I could now shoot images in near darkness and in total silence.
After several weeks of using the Sony A7s, I realized that even though in life I don’t need more than ISO 3200, I enjoyed having that capability. Video in the dark or photos in the dark, for A7s it was and is quite easy. However, if you don’t shoot in low light, will it still be a good investment for you?
Well, in normal light, the Sony A7s also does extremely well. The Auto White Balance is great and it’s definitely the best I have ever seen and in this area it certainly better than my Leica M 240. In comparison to previous Sony cameras, the color is changed a bit but it is still quite nice.
As I said so much in my A7r and A7 reviews, this time around this review will focus more on photos instead of words. I will let the photos speak for themselves this time and bear in mind that it only gets better, because 98% of these are OOC JPEGS. For a couple of reasons, the A7s won’t be the end all of sports shooting as for action shooting. Firstly, for sports shooting there aren’t any long telephoto lenses out yet and the Continuous AF is not as blazing as something like a pro Nikon D4 or Canon 1d series camera. At a skate park, I did shoot some kids using C-AF and it seemed to do the job well despite all I had was the 55 1.8, even though as the kids were flying in the sky some shots were missed.
So in normal light, my thoughts on the A7s are just as positive as they are for low light. Great IQ and color, responsive overall feel and great AF speed.
With an external recorder, the Sony A7s is capable of shooting a 4K video even though at this time of my life I am not serious enough to use it. All I can say is that it’s fantastic to shoot a normal video. Low light or normal light, it makes no difference. I shot a couple of video clips at different ISO ranges but I haven’t used more complex video tools like gamma color options. Nevertheless, this camera is a full frame to boot and a serious video tool.
On this camera I have been getting the megapixel question at least 5 times a day. So for professionals, enthusiasts and todays hobbyists is 12 MP enough? Most definitely it is. By looking at the files at 100% in a way we get “addicted” and exclaiming “WOW every eyelash on her face can be seen in extreme detail.” However, none of that in realty makes a good photo. The only thing it can get you is the WOW moment when sharing crops and viewing at 100%. 10MP is a lot in actual photography and 12MP is even more than you really need. The 12MP of the Sony A7s is a very good 12MP, even though I prefer 16MP.
I had a ikon D2hs that was 4 MP back in the day and all the time from that camera I printed 20X30’s, so unless I am looking for that WOW moment and 100% screen viewing, the Sony A7s will never leave me wanting for Megapixels. The little Nikon V1 which is 10 MP was one of my favorites. I never had a problem with the prints I made and images I took. From the V1, I have a gorgeous 16X20.
Apart from super crazy blazing Canon 1D style fast C-Af action or sports, the Sony A7s camera does so much things. When they gave this camera a 12MP sensor, Sony knew what they were doing. You should remember that huge MP counts aren’t necessary for large prints and normal photography.
For me 12 MP is a good number. Some of you might disagree but personally I do not need more than 12MP and the Sony A7s has proven me right. I might not see hair in a full size image or every super small detail, but for 99.6% of anything I see and shoot is good enough.
The Voigtlander 15mm Vm Lens is quite popular lens due to its total lack of wide distortion and small price and size. Since my Leica M 7 days, I have used one and it’s one of my favorites. Due to color edges and shifts, the lens on previous Sony A7’s, M9 and M8 was virtually unusable. However, the color shifts are 98% gone on the Sony A7s. This means that this lens will work on full frame digital. For users with a crop sensor or those with Leica Monochrome it is the perfect choice. It’s a great lens to have for the A7s.
Overall, the Sony A7s doesn’t have any serious issues, but it’s good to know some things. First, there could be a rolling shutter effect that might ruin your shot, when using the Electronic Silent shutter in extreme situations, such as shooting moving subjects and very high ISO. You should just use the standard shutter when shooting fast moving subjects in low light. This is the one and only issue that I have found.
The Sony A7s has never let me down even though I have been using it for just three weeks in pitch black darkness. In any light situation, it delivered extremely good results. In focusing, it never failed me. I had M mount lenses on hand and it adapted without any problems. A lot of new possibilities have been opened up by the Sony A7s. Yes, you will lose cropping power because it is only 12MP. Yes, you won’t get the WOW moments because it’s only 12MP. Yes, it is yet another camera manufactured by Sony that promises big and many things.
However, this time on all promises made, the Sony A7s delivers.
The shutter looks more damped or quieter. The new and improved silent mode is drop dead silent and amazing. The focus speed is the fastest to date in comparison to other Sony full frame model E mount and the AWB is great. In darkness it will even AF without fail. It is exceptional for video and given the fact that I am no expert in this area, it is way beyond my capabilities. In comparison to the A7r and A7, the Sony A7s has the same controls, menus, feel and build and the only things new are video and electronic modes and the sensor. This camera can be used anywhere and anytime because of these changes and I cannot think of a situation, where I couldn’t manage to use my camera.
In my life, I have never witnessed this level of using low light. One that keeps DR event and color at 80,000 ISO.
New lenses are planned for release by Sony in 2014 and 2015, one of them being a Zeiss 50 1.2 and an ultra- wide zoom. I cannot wait to try the new possibilities. My heart was won by the new Sony A7s camera. With the A7s I can take amazing video without worrying about mis-focus, color or other issues, I can shoot in the dark and I can use Leica glass. At a skate park, I was able to shoot some kids with great accuracy even when using C-AF. However, bear in mind that this is not a blazing C-AF machine. Still, this is not a DSLR.
If the Sony A7s had Olympus Image Stabilisation, it would have been the perfect camera, but unfortunately it’s not. The A7s is a one-of-a-kind camera and that is without a shadow of a doubt. For low light use, I have never seen anything like it. It produced amazing quality in good light such as RAW files and even better JPEGS. You should just remember not to expect any eye popping effects that are common for cameras with 36 MP.
Personally, I think that for 2014 this is the camera to beat. For camera of the year, the Sony A7s is my pick so far. Personally, if I add in the Sony 55 1.8, Voigtlander 35 1.2 and the Voigtlander 15 I will have the perfect combination of lens and a camera that is capable of doing almost anything I want from it.
It’s not suitable for super fast action shooters and long tele users. In addition, it is not the right camera for people who love and need super resolution.
Just like Olympus, Sony keeps on pushing those limits and in order to create something revolutionary and special, they are pushing past the normal crowd of cameras, and indeed, the Sony A7s is revolutionary. For just one week you can try one. You will be sold right away and it will be very difficult to return to having limitations to your photography. Online users who are saying that the Sony A7s is only for video guys and has bad image quality, obviously have no idea when it comes to image quality and photography.
The A7s is my personal number one camera these days, has capabilities and fabulous IQ and I still love it after constant use for nearly a month.