The Sony A7s Experience: Ongoing thoughts on a Fascinating Camera By Ashwin Rao

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The Sony A7s Experience: Ongoing thoughts on a Fascinating Camera

By Ashwin Rao – Follow Ashwin on Facebook HERE

Hi everyone, here’s an update with my thoughts on the Sony A7s. This is a camera that seems to be gaining interest, particularly for those individuals who enjoy low light photography or who have a set of rangefinder lenses in place and are looking for another body. I posted these thoughts at one of my favorite forums, and wanted to share them with you, along with a few new photos, just in case you were considering buying the camera in light of the 2014 Photokina announcements.

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In summary, I LOVE my Sony A7s. It’s given me a burst of creativity and joy in shooting that I haven’t experienced since my early days with the Leica M Monochrom (and M9 before). Here are my rolling thoughts. In general, it’s the best non Leica full frame digital solution for M mounts to date, though there are compromises (for some).

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Here are some thoughts, in no particular order:

1. The camera does well with Leica M lenses. Only the 28 Summicron ASPH lens has performed “poorly” on the camera, and even it is usable for non-critical work where sharpness at the edges may not be as important. Everything else that I have thrown at it works well or is easily fixed in post processing using the lens vignetting correction tool in LR5.

2. RAW colors are solid. The camera exhibits different palette than Leica’s M9 and M240 (I prefer the look from the M9, personally, but it’s a matter of taste), and the palette seems tweaked compared to the A7R and A7 cameras, though that may just be my own eyes fooling me. Skin tones tend toward orange, but it’s quite easy to fix (unlike the M240, which I struggled to get right for peoples’ skin tones). I find that it’s quite easy to get the look that you want from A7s files with a bit of post processing

3. Dynamic range: To me, solid, better than my M bodies (no banding through most of the ISO range), but maybe not quite as good as the A7R or A7 in recovering shadows and highlights…this seems borne out by DXO testing

4. The silent shutter option is amazing: Absolutely awesome feature, that I believe re-defines this camera for those who employ it. I am surprised that Sony doesn’t allow a programmable custom button to quickly access this feature. A firmware upgrade here would be perfect. I use the silent shutter feature for nearly all of my shooting, as it eliminates any shutter shake effect (the size and design of the bodies does not allow the present A7 bodies to be very well dampened to vibraation), and the silence makes photographed subjects not know when you are shooting, which can be helpful on the street. The silent shutter does not work well in low light scenes where fluorescent lights are at play, due to interference/banding effects due to the frequency of light interacting with the frequency of the electronic shutter.

5. Class leading shutter speeds: The other nice feature not spoken about regarding the shutter, is that it’s possible to shoot up through 1/8000 shutter speed, so in bright light, one can use very fast lenses for creating DOF without the need for a neutral density filter.

6. ISO: yup, it’s great. I have had no issues shooting through ISO 12,800 (though some detail and DR is lost at that ISO), and I have gotten usable shots through ISO 40,000+. I don’t typically push past ISO 40,000. I consider the A7s to be an “ISO-less” camera, in that I don’t consider ISO to be a limiting factor any more for my style of shooting. Paired with fast glass such as f/0.95- f/1.4, one can literally turn night scenes into day. Color fidelity appears to be preserved as ISO’s are pushed up, meaning that colors don’t get too muddy as ISO’s jump up into the stratosphere. That being said, the camera is just as good in normal light. What doesn’t get stressed enough is how good the camera is across its ISO range

7. Using the Voigtlander VM-E mount adapter with close focus opens up now possibilities with close focus and macro work with the M…this is MARVELOUS, for those of you who like to do macro. I am re-discovering macro in this manner. The adapter is pricey, costing around $300, but it’s worth it and allows standard and close focus use in a cleverly designed way. I have found that you have to be a tad careful about infinite focus, as the adapter seems to allow telephoto lenses such as the 90 summicron to focus just a smidge past infinite.

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8. Autofocus: The camera focuses much better in low light, but the change is not really revelatory. I have the 55 FE lens, which I enjoy, but don’t use much ,as I can manually focus faster in low light (or really in all light). The 35 FE is supposedly a lot better, but I don’t own it at this time.

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All in all, I have found the A7s to be a revelatory camera. The combination of camera design (flip up LCD, EVF, M mount capacity, silent shutter, ISO performance, close focus with VM-E adapter) allows me to be creative and to shoot discretely in ways that were not possible before. Is it perfect? By no means…here are some things that could get better.

1. EVF: Solid, but there’s room for improvement (higher resolution, faster refresh rate), particularly when using focus magnification and focus peaking in concert. Now that Zeiss is producing Manual Focus E mount lenses, I am hoping that Sony incorporates more design elements into future E mount bodies to maximize the utility of manual focus lenses

2. Megapixels. For me, the 18 megapixel range (m9, M Monochrom) is a sweet spot, balancing quality of pixels and size of files. I would hope that future A8s or whatever they are called will increase MP counts without compromising ISO performance or M Mount lens compatibility.

3. M mount lenses. As mentioned, they work great on this body…really! But put the 28 Summicron on the body, and you’ll see there’s room for improvement. Hopefully Sony will recognize that these bodies could really stand to use smaller lenses, in which optical elements lie closer to the sensor, and design sensors that accomodate smaller lens design (i.e. rangefinder/retrofocus lenses)

4.Camera haptics. Sony cameras don’t quite have the joy of handling as do other manufacturers (i.e. Fuji, Leica), and simple tweaks to camera button layout, grip, viewfinder placement, and menu structure could go a long way to making the cameras joyful to use for more people. I have many friends who love the quality of Sony files, but don’t really like how the cameras operate.

Okay, hopefully that “mini” review of my present thoughts helps some who are considering taking the plunge. I have zero desire to upgrade or change cameras, because the A7s is an outstanding photographic tool as is and does so much.

All the best,
Ashwin

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39 Comments

  1. Hi,
    very impressive thoughts…
    I was wondering if there is a way to download a raw file from the combo A7S and leica M 35mm and 50 mm (summilux or summicron) because i already have an A7 and I am very dispapointed with the results on leica m lenses. I would like to have a raw file to see what it looks like in Lightroom.
    best Regards.
    Bristo

  2. A great writeup as I’m close to getting the A7s but reading conflicting verdict on using 28mm Elmarit-M below f8. With my old eyes having trouble with manual focusing, choices left are A7s or M240 to replace current M9. Prefer to wait a year or so for M240 used prices drop a bit so will the A7s do well with 28mm Elmarit? Thanks.

  3. Hi Ashwin, good article about the A7s, but don’t forget the A7r, the 36 MP monster with the big fat files, my M9 with all the Leica glass are not being used as much as my A7r with the 55mm because the IQ form the 36 MP sensor is stunning.

    • Hows the color on the A7r, I’ve been using the A7s and as mentioned above the post processing requires a lot of tweaking compared to my M9 which only needs a quick temp change usually.

      • With the A7r, the auto white balance is great, no post processing is necessary, the color rendition is perfect and the IQ is richer with almost a 3D pop. With the M9, I use Lightroom to adjust the white balance, and sometimes I just use the “Auto” feature in the Develop module. The CCD sensor produces more contrast, which gives that unique M9 IQ.

        I set both the A7r and the M9 to shoot in “RAW”.

  4. You guys are sensitive… who said I was being mean with my comment? I’ve just seen his comments about a lot of cameras out there (over the years on various forums) and he seems to love them all. I’m not bitter at all.

    • You may not be “bitter” but that comment was unwarranted. Ashwin’s style stems from his enthusiasm. If that does not fit with your reading, just skip it. 🙂

      The bottom line is this- has this piece (or the earlier one) on the A7s helpful/informative? There are very very few information on this unique camera since not many have bought it. I am not buying one in the near future but it is good to know what is being achieved in this compact camera.

      For my read only mode, Ashwin’s writings/pics and also Steve’s has been very useful and I thank both of them for that.

  5. Great rolling review and splendid photos. Though I hope that it’ll retain the current 12mp, and possibly improve the highlights and shadow recovery (as you stated) instead of increasing the MP count.

    2 reasons why it’s bad to increase:
    1. M mount lenses will begin to show issues
    2. 4K video doesn’t need more MP.

    Other then that, I’m waiting for the A7s Mark II as I’m already own an A7r.

  6. Hi Ash, did some more shooting this weekend (was fathers day, yay me haha) with a 50 lux. What kind of processing are you doing for skin tones, I’m getting the orange skin issue you mentioned. The AWB is a bit sporadic as well with inside lighting. Maybe I’ve been spoiled with the M9 files, then again I’ve not shot as much in these situations with the M9 due to its limited ISO.

    Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

  7. Greetings,

    Nice article as always, but the thing that stickes me most about this article are the images. How do you make them so film like? Do you use any plugin like VSCO or AlienSkin?

    Thanks in advance for the reply mate.

  8. Ashwin,

    Any experience with the Leica 24mm f/3.8 Elmar ASPH on the A7s or the standard A7 for that matter? I’ve been thinking of getting a mirror less body, and will use the Leica 24, a 35 Summarit, 50 Cron, @0 Summarit and of course my beloved 1937 Zeiss 5cm f/1.5 Sonnar. Right now those beautiful pieces of glass are strictly M Monochrom, would be nice to see them in color.

  9. Hi Ashwin,

    Your posts are always worth reading, and this one is no exception to that. Thanks for taking the time to do it!

    One thing that hit me immediately when I saw your images was that some of them remind me of shots I recently captured on Velvia film.

    The first and third ones in your post are good examples, but there are a few others as well.

    Can you say whether this is mainly due to the subjects, lighting, sensor/chip and lens combination, or are you making significant adjustments to get this in later processing steps?

    I may be one of the few holdouts left who hasn’t committed to FF digital, and I am still somewhat happily switching between micro 4/3rds for most stuff and a film camera when I really need larger sensor characteristics.

    However, I have to say that what I’m seeing from the A7s is making me want to give in – even though I know I’m not going to feel comfortable with its design the way I am with the OM-D or M7 that I’m using right now.

    In the spirit of Steve’s patented “Crazy Comparison” posts, I uploaded a couple Velvia 100 scans that made me think of the colors and textures you’re getting with the new camera and Leica glass.

    You can see them in the first gallery here:
    http://gerafotografija.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/using-velvia-to-break-out-of-a-slump/

    Cheers!

  10. This is the most convincing use of this camera I have seen to date. Gorgeous, just brilliant beautiful pictures through and through. I love it.

  11. I can’t wait for these to drop in price on the used market, these are perfect for shooting in clubs. But my lowly A7 will do for now =o] And i’m surprised i haven’t run into you around town yet Ashwin! Viva La Sony A7 cameras!!

  12. I want to see this sensor in a sports oriented body. Fast AF, nice grip, etc. Preferably with a Canon EF mount.

    • There are tons of cameras out there and to date Ashwin has talked about what? Three or four of them, mainly Leica? He loves the A7s because it is very lovable indeed. Same here. It does so much more right that wrong. No need to get bitter about it 🙂

    • This thing is the Bruce Jenner in the camera olympics of today. I have personally rolled through 5 different bodies for my M mounts in the last 2 years. I started with the GXR-M and even had an M9. I have landed firmly with the A7s. I have even started to play with timelapse photography, by use of the silent shutter. There is no longer the wear and tear on the camera as before for such a use.

  13. Hi A
    Thank you for your nice article/test.
    I was watching your pics and thought i did not like the colors this camera produces. All pics are abit reddish orange .
    I also think the photos are not as sharp as i would like them to be
    I love my M9 ( for colors only) with its old stylish colors) and my MM (for black and white) with its much sharper results and more beautiful tones

    • I agree. I prefer the M9’s color palette to the Sony color profiles, but yes, most modern sensors require tweaking to get skin tones right..having a properly calibrated monitor would also affect how the images present

  14. Hi Ashwin
    thanks for a great mini review. Can I ask what was the widest Leica lens you tried on the A7s? Did you try the 21m 3.4? Thank you

    • Hi Ross, I have tried the WATE (16-18-21) and it works great on all A bodies…the 21 mm f/3.4 is great as well, though has slight edge smearing and vignetting…not a huge deal, though

  15. I love mine, both as an AF camera with the FE 35 and FE 55, but also like you, with the Voigtlander close focus adapter and Leica glass. It’s particularly beautiful with old legacy glass, in a similar manner to the M Monochrom.
    My favorite adapted lens to date is the Summicron 35mm F2 – 8 Elements.

    • Thanks! I will definitely have to give that lens a try, as I haven’t done so yet. I have loved your posts on FB regarding the lens….and while I have extensively tried only glass on the M Monochrom, not so much on the A7s, so it’ll be time to experiment 🙂

  16. Awesome as usual Ashwin. The A7s has the makings of a “classic” already.

    I remember when I first came to Steve’s site and ogled at the M9 images and cried when I knew I couldn’t justify a body and lenses for my work. Fast forward a few years to today, when mere mortals can plop down $400 for the M-Rokkor 40/2 and just over a grand for an A7 body and have FF images just as stunning. Step up to the A7s and as you say, you have an almost limitless camera for general shooting.

    Enjoying watching your work.

  17. Imagine if Sony put there A7s stuff into a rangefinder type camera, because that’s the problem with me owning a M240 which is pure gold in its feel and looks then picking up a A7 I just put it straight down it just felt all wrong. It is a big part of shooting the joy of use a close second to IQ and that’s where Sony needs to improve. Just another point you mentioned skin tones on the M240 were difficult for you, I think that’s a little unfair go and have a look at Thorstens site or Kristian Dowling site you will see that skin tone is not a problem when done correctly.

  18. Thanks Ash for another great review. As I mentioned before your photos drove me to get an A7S. I only managed to shoot for 20 mins with it this week for the first time. Agree with everything you said and you even answered a few questions I had such as not being able to turn off the main LCD.

    I have the same adapter and totally forgot it can macro haha, I’ll test it out in the garden this weekend. Thanks again

  19. Nice post and lovely shots as usual, Ashwin.
    For me the whole A-System is great. I can buy a A7 (on ebay for less than 1000$) and a A7s for the price of one Nikon D810.
    I started photography with the legendary Canon AE1, later i switched to Minoltas great 9000 as AF started.
    Later I bought a Leica R8 with some brilliant lenses (Apotelyt 3,4 180, SummiluxR1,4 50, for example) and now i must see that the Leica R-System is the”lost System” .
    Now the A -System seems to solve my problems. I can use my exellent R-lenses with a body as small as my favourite Canon and Minolta Bodies from the 80ies. That’s great. So I will buy 2 A-Bodies, the A7r and A7s and im ready for every situation (except very fast spots shooting but I dont need this).

    So i have to say thank you sony.

    • Thanks so much Armin. I agree that Sony is innovating wonderfully and offers a nice new solution for M lenses, as well as other adapted lenses such as Leica R.

  20. Thank you Ashwin for your comments and photographs. I agree wholeheartedly and have been using the Sony A7s and A7 with my Leica lenses for my event, travel and street photography. I have found the A7s is a wonderful tool, although I wish Sony would allow us to really turn off the back monitor.

    I would add that the A7s is fine at shooting video, especially in challenging lighting environments. My Leica 28 Summicron is actually my favorite lens for this application, and with 16:9 ratio there are no more problems with the corners!

    Thank you again; I enjoyed your photography.

    Michael

    • Thanks you, Michael. I agree that turning off the back monitor as an option would be a great way to go, both for certain circumstances for shooting as well as for battery conservation.

      • You can turn off the back monitor. Also, what I chose to do was program a button to toggle it on/off – this lets you quickly peep if you need to. I found that, for me, the bottom of the jog wheel is a handy place for that toggle.

  21. nice pictures. If I would have not the A7 already, my choice would be the A7s too. In my eyes the 12 mlix are more than enough. Love your colors.
    If you have problems with teh skitones, do you have a color profile for your camera, for LR?

    • Thank you. The A7s and A7 are both great, and for me, the 12 mp are plenty. In LR, I just decrease the orange channel saturation slightly, and this gives me what I want in general

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