Monday, July 28, 2014

The Sony A7S Mark II Is Your Next Camera

The Sony A7S is a wonderful camera. Bodily, it has all of the same minor issues as the other A-series cameras, and the interface still has some... quirks... but the image quality is fantastic. Now that I've had a chance to man-handle one, I've come away incredibly impressed. It is obvious that after the disappointment of Sony ditching their APS-C cameras, they have gone whole-hog into their new strategic direction. This is a major development, a great camera, and bodes very well for Sony's future.

I'm excited because the A7S makes me believe that ISO performance matters again. I had recently declared that ISO no longer matters, and that is still true for almost everyone. For people with serious professional demands or artistic ambitions that go beyond pretty landscapes, the A7S opens new doors.

Now I See from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

The A7S also opens a door that should have never been closed in the first place. Neither the A7 nor the A7R had good autofocus. It was a real killer for such an expensive camera and may help to explain why the A7 can be had for less than $1300. Both sensors were very good in low light, but the sensor far outstripped the capabilities of the AF. The A7S goes much of the way toward fixing that. The AF is still nowhere near the Olympus E-M5 and E-M1, or the Panasonic GH4, but seems on par with what I remember from Fuji's newest cameras.

This is significant because the A7S is more worth its price than the A7R was. The R had that crazy-high-resolution sensor, but no lenses to take advantage of it. And when the ordinary A7, itself no slouch in the resolution department, can be easily found for a thousand dollars less, well, the A7R made no sense. The A7S makes sense... lots of sense.

And the video is awesome! I didn't have much of a chance to deal with it, but you don't need me for that. Just head over to EOSHD and read his rolling review of the camera. If that doesn't get you excited, I don't know what will.

So, after all of that, why did I title this with the A7S Mark II? Because you shouldn't buy the A7S. You should buy its sequel, which is probably only a year away. The biggest problem with the A7S's video is the abysmal rolling shutter. It's very noticeable whenever the camera moves. Believe me, I very much appreciate how hard it is for camera companies to fix that and I do not blame Sony for this. They wedged way more into a super-tiny body than I would have bet possible. Moreover, the rolling shutter is bad because Sony made the big advancement to do a full-pixel readout from the sensor during video mode.

What that means it that when the sensor data is being stored on the memory card, it doesn't skip lines as it moves down the rows of pixels on the sensor. Back in the day, bandwidth and processing power necessitated this, and the act of skipping lines causes issues like jaggy edges and weird patterns to appear. A full sensor readout is a big deal, Sony should be commended for managing it in such a small body, and it should be pointed out that no one else is doing this. Still, the camera is expensive and when rolling shutter is so bad, that's a serious concern.

In fairness, and if you really want the A7S, it comes with an APS-C mode that uses a crop from the sensor that is about the size of a Super-35 circle. This greatly helps reduce rolling shutter.

Goodbye Jello! Hello Sony A7S APS-C vs Full Frame. Also some 720p 120 FPS. from Ed David on Vimeo.

Still, you get a full-frame camera to use the full frame. Taking a crop is a very useful tool when you want it. When one is forced to use it to avoid a problem... it becomes a problem.

So for that reason, I think that the current A7S is something that you should hold off on buying. I have complete confidence that this one issue, the rolling shutter, will be at least alleviated enough to warrant a purchase in the future, though.

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