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.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Sigma Offers Try Before You Buy Program

Do you remember a number of years back, when Cinderella Man came out in theaters and wasn't doing very well? A large theater chain had such confidence in the movie that they offered viewers the ability to pay after viewing it, and would only have to pay if they liked it. The decision was made out of confidence, certainly, but also confusion. Why the hell wasn't the audience connecting with an excellent movie?

Poor Sigma finds itself in a similar situation. As esoteric camera equipment abounds, Sigma's perenial also-ran, the Foveon cameras, seem to be forgotten. And that's a bad thing! Are the Foveon cameras perfect, all-arounders? No. Not even close. They are slow, deliberate, and provide image quality that cannot be found anywhere else. They are utterly unique image-making tools. If you want to stand out, you should be using these cameras, and yet so few people are.

Sigma is obviously desperate to get photogs to take their Foveon cameras more seriously. They are offering a try-before-you-buy plan, where they will charge $999 to your credit card of choice and completely refund it if you send it back. Obviously, they're betting that you won't send it back because you love it so much, and for many photogs, that might happen.

I don't have the time to use my Sigma recently, since its ISO performance isn't terribly good. I can't take many shots indoors, and food photography requires studio lights. But in high-light and tripod scenarios, I love the Sigma. LOVE it.

My primary cameras are a Panasonic GX1, Canon EOS 50D, and Nokia 1020, but none of them offer what the Sigma has. I wouldn't trade them, but the mere fact that I would consider it should tell you something.

Go try it. You won't regret it.

How Did I Miss the A7S?

Was in a coma for the past month or so? It's the only way to explain that I was only recently made aware of the awesome Sony A7S. You know how I said that ISO performance no longer matters? Well, Sony didn't hear me and instead built a camera with the best low-light performance ever. This bad boy is nearing 4,000 on DxOMark's database. Four thousand!

Obviously, the tweaking that the sensor required to get that high required concessions. The dynamic range and color depth are both lower than the other two Sony A7 cameras, and lower than most other top-rated pieces of kit. But in this case, I don't think it matters. If you are buying this camera, you have very low-light situations in mind, and a bit of color and range is a fine trade for better night shots.

Sony is also progressing on the video front, making this the best video A7 camera yet. Rolling shutter is still dreadful, but if you won't be doing those kinds of shots, then it's not too much of a concern. That said, the rolling shutter is pretty bad. I would imagine that the heat coming from the sensor is the limiting factor. The A7 body is crazy-small, meaning that it can dissipate only so much heat.

In all ways, this is an exciting prospect that opens up new areas of image creation. If you are a journalist looking for night-time run-and-gun video shooting, we've found your camera. Because I love the GH4, but like Hammer, it can't touch this.

Very impressive.

Hey Sony A7S! Let's Rolling Shutter You Against Mr. Black Magic Pocket Camera BMPC from Ed David on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Sony Drops Price of RX10 by over $300

An interesting addition to my article about the RX100M III. We now can see, without doubt, what competition can do. Sony's excellent RX10 (one of my favorite Sony products ever) wasn't exactly aggressively priced at $1299. There was a good reason for this: other camera companies weren't competing for shit. Sony was seemingly all alone in trying to deliver high quality P&S cameras.

Well, another company finally came along, the Panasonic FZ1000. It is likewise a very impressive product. It's made doubly impressive in that the lens is twice as long as the Sony, probably has superior video capabilities, and also costs $400 less.

No longer! Competition, I choose you! Sony has responded to the new Panny with a $301 price drop on the RX10, bringing it down to a $99 premium over the FZ1000. We will have to wait to see how the lenses compare and the cameras perform side by side to determine with the premium is worth it. It very well may be, since the f/2.8 lens on the Sony is a gem. Then again, if it proves to not be worth it, all Sony has done is let their arrogance shine through.