By technical editor Matt Allard:
At NAB earlier this year we were told by Sony representatives that the a7S would be a “world camera”, but now that they are shipping it does not seem to be the case in some regions.
I have ascertained that the Japanese and USA versions of the a7S are NTSC only. For those who have pre-ordered or are thinking of ordering from sites like B&H you should be aware that the US models they are selling are NTSC only. On B+H the specification does list ‘NTSC’ next to video format, but confusingly the specs listed show a variety of both PAL and NTSC frame rates. Be careful.
What you will also see is that the video clip length is stated as being ‘not specified by manufacturer’. I can confirm however that all models regardless of where they are sold have a record limitation of 29 minutes and 50 seconds. This is comply with EU Tax laws. I can understand this if your buying the camera in Europe, but why does the record limit apply if you are elsewhere? The non-European Panasonic GH4 doesn’t have a record limit.
It seems that a7S cameras sold in some PAL countries are PAL/NTSC switchable. I have confirmed this with several people. As well as PAL frame rates these cameras will shoot in NTSC frame rates of 24p, 30p. 60p and 120p. The memory card must be reformatted when changing region in order for recording to work.
We have been told that there are actually three variants of the a7S available: codenamed AP2, E38 and KR2. Which model you get depends on where in the world you are. The AP2 version is the only one that is PAL/NTSC switchable. With the AP2 model it will record, 25p, 50p and 100p. In NTSC mode the camera will do 24p, 30p. 60p and 120p.
It really is unfortunate that Sony has not made this “World Camera” for all markets. The recording limit is also something that will upset a lot of potential buyers.
The other question that I have been unable to get fully answered from Sony is the a7S can’t shoot in ISO lower than 3200 in Slog2. I understand the reason is that this is where the sensor has optimum dynamic range. The Logic is that Sony want the absolute best image quality. However I would happily trade a couple of stops of dynamic range to be able to shoot at a lower ISO in Slog2. What you have to remember is cameras are designed by engineers and not users. These guys strive for technical excellence and want to make a camera that performs optimally. Many users on the other hand would be happier to lose a few stops of dynamic range and be able to set the ISO at a lower base than 3200. I guess the Sony approach is consistent though – other Sony Slog cameras like the FS700, F5 and F55 also set at an optimum high ISO based on dynamic range.
It really is unfortunate that in this day and age cameras aren’t all NTSC/PAL switchable. The reasons I think are about protecting markets and allowing for price differences. In Japan cameras where cameras are often launched first they are mainly NTSC only and routinely don’t feature English language menus. The logic being is that they don’t want cameras that are sold here being bought by people and taken overseas before they have been released internationally. Another factor is that Japan is very insular and the market here does not require anything to be anything other than NTSC.
Just be very careful when you are ordering your a7S. Get the right information and make sure it does the frame rates you wan’t or need to use before you press the buy button.