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

Buttons:
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

Menu:
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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