Sony a7S first impressions by W. Ashley Maddox

Guest post by W. Ashley Maddox:

Arizona Falls | Sony a7S | Short Film from W. Ashley Maddox on Vimeo.

I received my Sony a7S from B&H photo this morning at 10am. As I was unboxing it I was surprised to find that it came with two batteries and a wall charger. Kudos to Sony. I own the FS100 and so I was expecting to use the a7S as a B-cam, but after testing it I may start using it as an A-Cam.

The a7S comes with two batteries and a charger in the box

The a7S comes with two batteries and a charger in the box

Form factor:
Size wise it’s small and light – even with the Canon 24-70mm f/4L and Metabones EF to E-mount adapter on it. Size was one of the main reasons I’ve been looking at this camera. It is perfect for incognito filming, when you don’t want to be noticed or a distraction to the scene. 

The a7S with Canon 24-70 f4 and Metabones is still relatively compact

The a7S with Canon 24-70 f4 and Metabones is still relatively compact

The buttons took about an hour to get used to – compared to days that it took for me to get used to the Panasonic GH4’s buttons. I like the wheels, the custom buttons, but I wish that the shutter button would trigger recording in movie mode. You need to use the dedicated record button instead. If you hit the shutter button it just gives you an annoying screen indicating that it can’t take stills in movie mode. That said compared to the previous Sony NEX6 the buttons are nice and big, very easy to work and memorize. One annoyance is that I can’t find a way to put the ISO on a custom button (although you can assign the real dial as a way of directly dialling in ISO). 

You need the latest version of the Metabones EF to E mount adapter to work with full-frame glass

You need the latest version of the Metabones EF to E-mount adapter to work with full-frame glass

The menu system is easy to follow. I like that it switches from page to page (left or right) instead of up and down. Easy to get to places I need to get to. I know that the more I use it the it will get easier. 

Testing shooting at Arizona Falls:
So to test out the camera I went out to a water power station nearby called Arizona Falls. This would be true test as it was hot at a dry 104°F (40°C) here in Phoenix. The first thing I noticed was the brightness of the screen – in direct light it was not too difficult to see, although I still needed a screen shade to see it well. The other feature I used was the tilt screen and I had it at 90 degrees for most of the shoot. That way I could keep the camera low and give the perspective I love. 

Grading the S-log 2 image

Grading the S-log 2 image

I set the camera up to shoot S-Log 2 (Picture profile 7). It seems the native ISO is 3200 so I used a B+W 1.8 ND filter which worked great. At times I would have to stop down to f/8, but mostly I could still get great shallow depth of field when I needed it. I also used peaking at its highest setting, to make sure I was in focus. 

Ungraded S-Log 2 image

Ungraded S-Log 2 image

Image after grading

Image after grading

The APS-C crop mode is amazing. I would turn this on if I needed that extra 1.5x crop that the APS-C lenses have. It would essentially turn my 105mm into a 160mm lens. Giving me that extra reach I needed for some of the shots. 

The APS-C crop mode is a big plus

The menus are intuitive and the APS-C crop mode a big plus

I left the ambient audio in the Arizona Falls video so I could hear it. I haven’t done any serious tests but I can already say that the on-board mic sounds pretty good for ambient recording. I am not sure if its stereo, but it sure sounds like it in post. I love the audio meters too. Seeing what I am recording is great and I am looking forward to do shooting a formal interview with this camera soon. 

The two batteries that came in the box look different than the normal Sony W batteries that I have for my NEX 6. Its really amazing, I don’t think I have every bought any camera that came with two batteries. Sony seems to be thinking ahead on this one. I had some older Sony W batteries and found they work fine in the A7S. As I charged the new ones that came with the camera I used my older ones. I found I only got about 90 minutes of use out of my older batteries. Maybe the heat got to them. Hopefully the newer ones will last longer. I still need to test those out.

Editing XAVC:
Wow. Editing this was way easy compared to the GH4 and FS700 in S-Log 2. I found that the noise was low. And when there was noise, it had a natural grain look to it vs. the muddy blacks that I am seeing in the GH4. Compared to the FS700’s AVCHD, the XAVC codec is way easier to grade. Lots of room to color correct and bring back highlights and shadows. Well done Sony. 

The a7S meets a Defy brushless gimbal

The a7S meets a Defy brushless gimbal

With my first test shoot at Arizona falls, I walk away knowing that I can use this camera confidently with my clients, and this is after having it for only 4 hours! While I was shooting and editing the footage I kept thinking, this is what it should be like. Easy acquisition, easy edit, easy grade, so I can focus more on the story. Its a great tool and I am excited to get it into my daily filming routine.

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Posted on June 25th, 2014 by W. Ashley Maddox | Category: Sony a7S |

18 responses to "Sony a7S first impressions by W. Ashley Maddox"

  1. Overseafilms Says:
    June 25th, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Hi, Nice shots and framing. Really liking the highlight rolloff on the camera.

    The shots look soft. Can you log into Vimeo and go to the videos settings page and change the resolution to 1080p. By default Vimeo down scales the video even if you uploaded 1080p.

    I think a couple of shots there must have been the cropped shots because they are much softer again.


    Simon Bailey

    • W. Ashley Maddox Says:
      June 26th, 2014 at 1:36 am

      I just made it downloadable and you can watch in 1080p. I am also uploading the 422 prores version. hopefully today or tomorrow (6-26-2014)

    • W. Ashley Maddox Says:
      June 26th, 2014 at 10:34 am

      Simon. Here is a link to some of the raw files if you want to play with it.
      XAVC-S 50mbps 24P:

      • JoelRichards Says:
        June 27th, 2014 at 2:23 am

        I’d love to test drive the XAVC files but the link doesn’t seem to work anymore! Any way you can repost it?

    • Tribal23 Says:
      December 17th, 2014 at 5:07 am

      Hi !
      Does the autofocus work with the 24-70 canon f4 ?


  2. Erik Naso Says:
    June 26th, 2014 at 6:01 am

    Nice review. Do you think the APS-C crop mode effects the image quality?

  3. Chris Gibbs Says:
    June 26th, 2014 at 7:02 am

    Ashley, thanks for the review, it was very helpful. Those look like some worthwhile projects on your site, very nice mate!

    If I may ask, is the 1080HD any better straight off the A7S than the GH4?

    • W. Ashley Maddox Says:
      June 26th, 2014 at 9:14 am

      Yes. So far it’s looking really nice compared to the gh4. I still need to run some more tests but the big deal for me is that it looks great, it matches with my fs100 and it’s easy to shoot. I was under exposed on some shots and over exposed on others ( hard to judge in bright sun in the monitor but viewable) and I could easily fix in post. I’m doing more tests this weekend, let’s see what else I can make it do. 😉

  4. Point8cam Says:
    June 26th, 2014 at 11:31 am

    Thanks for sharing this Ashley, especially the link to some of your XAVC-S files.

    I’m glad that the A7S is looking good so far. This camera is basically gonna replace my FS100 for my travel films, size and weight is just what i need.

    We would love to see some shots from the 120fps 720p mode. Also, one thing i’ve loved about the FS100 was how much cleaner is was to expose shots in post compared to DSLRs – i wonder if the A7S performs the same or better.

    • W. Ashley Maddox Says:
      June 28th, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      120fps is really noisy in slog 2 mode. I need to test it in the other modes with a baked in image. It might be a bit better.

  5. Chris Albert Says:
    June 28th, 2014 at 11:33 am

    Hey Ashley,

    Thanks for the review. How good is the EVF, is it a usable viewfinder? The peaking, zebra etc?

    Also…what’s the unusual lens hood you have on the 24-70?


    • W. Ashley Maddox Says:
      June 28th, 2014 at 12:25 pm

      The EVF is amazingly clear. I am really impressed with it. And love shooting in using the evf.

  6. Overseafilms Says:
    June 28th, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Hi Ashley, thanks for uploading the original footage from the camera. In the first file C0006.MP4 I’m seeing a lot of aliasing on the top of the big pipe and on the wire fencing behind it.

    Is it just slo2 mode that has aliasing?? I was under the impression this camera had no aliasing. Looking at this I can’t see any improvement over my D800 which is my current B cam.

    Love the style and size of this camera but if slog2 has this much aliasing… I was really looking forward to this camera too.



    • KainCirus Says:
      June 28th, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      Hi Simon I was also worried about aliasing but the I check the file info – this one file was shot not 24p but 60i, I hope this may cause this heavy alisasing, because i like the image and how well and easy is to grade it.

  7. Overseafilms Says:
    June 29th, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Yes hopefully thats it. Its a very nice looking image. A bit noisy but I look forward to seeing more from this camera.

    I’m in the same boat as you wanting a small lightweight B camera that can intercut with my F5.

  8. rungunshoot Says:
    June 30th, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Here’s my attempt at doing a saturated grade of the XAVC-S files from Arizona Falls:

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