Sony A7s – A Game Changer for Film Making

Sony A7s – A Game Changer for Film Making

By Peter Georges

fronta7s

Hello Steve Huff Photo readers! I’m Peter Georges: a Sydney Wedding and Portrait Photographer. I entered the wonderful world of filming after picking up a Canon 7D and got serious about it with the 5D Mark III. Initially all was well, I thought the image quality coming from the thing was absolutely fantastic…

Absolution filmed on the 5d Mark III

But dammit we can do better than that!

I’ve gone through quite a few cameras including the Canon C100 and Blackmagic Cinema Camera but never quite found exactly what I needed. It was either image quality that didn’t quite gel with me or a severe lack of usability. I went all the way and kitted out a full rig for the Blackmagic. It worked but I was left with a set up whereby anything I filmed had to be a huge production. I got great image quality but it killed my ability to be creative.

All I wanted to do was go out and film!! *cough* …while maintaining great image quality.

Accessible Creativity.

Reading about this amazing new A7s camera from many reviewers including Steve, I jumped right in and purchased the camera alongside a battery grip and the Zeiss 55mm FE 1.8 lens. The next night I was out filming my friend Rob and I having some ribs. He was tackling the Rib Challenge: 1kg (!!) steak, a full rack of ribs and chips. Crazy guy!

The best movie ever made about ribs filmed on the Sony A7S

By now you all know: the A7s lights up the night. In my opinion having a bright camera doesn’t mean you shouldn’t light your scene. It does mean that come night-time you can use cost-effective, battery-powered and portable lights to do the job. I used an Ice Light in the car and it worked wonders. Coming home I just couldn’t believe how little noise there was in the images even when I hit 80,000 ISO – I didn’t push it any further because the night just was not dark enough. Low light capability means low light budget ;).

The EVF is a killer feature. I can handhold the 55mm non-OSS lens and get video that to me is quite stable. Three points of contact without needing to buy loupes or any other stabilisation device! I’d say 55mm is the absolute limit for handholding. Sony/Zeiss if you’re reading this: release a 24mm or 28mm f1.8 lens next!

Lastly and most importantly: no one was clued in on what I was doing. I simply asked the waitress if she wouldn’t mind being in our little film and she was fine with it. I probably just looked like a tourist creating a home video with an entry level DSLR. This was the selling point to me. All that amazing image quality with the ability to film ANYWHERE is a powerful combination.

This is why I consider the A7s a game changer. It allows me to be creative. It allows me to be much more ambitious with my films while still getting the visual results I want. Now if only this camera had come out three years ago it would’ve saved me a lot of trouble…

Peter Georges
http://petergeorges.com.au

27 Comments

  1. I bought an A7s for video to complement my F3, but have come across another problem besides rolling shutter that hasn’t gotten much discussion. That is, the image loses sharpness as soon as you move the camera, such as in a pan. And as soon as the pan stops, the sharpness snaps back. I suspect it has something to do with the Detail circuit in the picture profiles. Phillip Bloom suggests turning the Detail down to -7, which does seem to help, but not completely. Alister Chapman discusses this in general on his Sony XDCAM site here: http://www.xdcam-user.com/2010/12/why-do-my-pictures-go-soft-when-i-pan-camera-detail-correction-in-depth/

    Anyone else seeing this effect in video? Any other ideas?

  2. Hi…I totally agree with digipixelpop, I really hate rolling shutter, its like an psychotic/strobe/epileptic experience every time the camera is moved…add to that jello…and I dont care how good that A7s is in the night, night is night….I really hated all the Philip Bloom ISO things, I realize he was just doing it to show what the camera can do, but its not a nice look, all the dimension. rolloff and color goes to a flat 2d look.
    its like people are obsessed with “The Low Light” king, its kind of strange to me.
    That said I have seen some nice images from that camera in good light, but you have to either switch it out of full frame or weld it to a tripod to get half decent footage, then theres the ergonomics.
    Anyway maybe the A8s may be better…Sony are innovative…(as is Panansonic) and thats great, but too many issues with the A7s cancell out the low light performance..in my books anyway..

  3. There’s nothing “game changing” for filmmakers about the a7s. Everyone seems “wowed” by the low light capabilities, but bad light is still bad light for a reason, it doesn’t look good. Even with a sensor as sensitive as the a7s, the higher you bump the ISO, the less color depth and dynamic range you get. Skin tones go out the window, which is one of the most important things a DP is concerned with.

    Rolling shutter is a huge issue, as you can clearly see in the posted videos. If you want to get rid of that jittery look in the handheld footage you need to either put the camera on sticks, or a shoulder rig with a proper counterweight, which negates the small form factor anyways. But you’ll still have the rolling shutter effect whenever you either pan the camera or something moves quickly across the frame.

    To record in an 4:2:2 intra-frame codec you need an external recorder, otherwise you’re stuck with a crappy 4:2:0 long-GOP codec which is a pain in post and seriously limits your color grading. Either way, you’re stuck with 8-bit color, which doesn’t give you much latitude in color grading.

    It’ll probably be good enough and convenient for documentary people, but for narrative, it’s no better than the 5D, which is terrible.

    • That’s why I said: “In my opinion having a bright camera doesn’t mean you shouldn’t light your scene. It does mean that come night-time you can use cost-effective, battery-powered and portable lights to do the job. I used an Ice Light in the car and it worked wonders.”

      Also, since submitting this article I’ve moved to using stabilized lenses to get rid of the jitters. That 55mm FE lens is staying around however. It’s way too good to sell!

      • Yes, I understand your point with that, but the point I was trying to make (but failed at), is that weak light combined with high-ISO does not make for good colors, especially skin, even if it’s deliberately placed lighting.

    • So, if you don’t have boatloads of cash, don’t make films!

      You’ve never seen anything good come from a 5D? If not, that is pretty sad. You must be looking at the wrong details.

    • I just don’t get this “rolling shutter” business, and why it’s, supposedly, “..a deal breaker..”, etc. What about traditional, classic westerns with stroboscopic wagon wheels going “backwards” when they’re turning, or even car and lorry wheels appearing to go backwards as they change speed?

      No-one said “Oh, we can’t use these 24 frames-per-second film cameras because wheels appear to go backwards when they’re really running forwards!” ..it was accepted that that was just what happens with film cameras, it was a characteristic of film, and it was one of those things which distinguished film from “real life”.

      Nowadays people admire the jittery, stuttery, repeated-frozen-frame aspect of film, compared with the supposedly “cheaper-looking” -s-m-o-o-o-t-h- movement of interlaced video, and have searched for the “film look” ever since video cameras hit the marketplace.

      Now that video cameras, or SLRs, can shoot at 24fps, people moan that this, that and the other cameras have “rolling shutter” – i.e; the picture isn’t a frozen complete snapshot 24 times a second, but may show a horizontal slant during fast movement ..but look at Monsieur Lartigue’s classic shot of the slanted-wheel racing car: http://www.pasunautre.com/2011/04/18/jacques-henri-lartigues-floating-world/ ..and scroll down to the third picture. Look at the extra impression of speed which that gives!

      For those who find that the A7S’s “rolling shutter” rules it out as a serious movie camera ..then it’s obviously the wrong camera for what they want. But to dismiss it because of its occasionally noticeable tilted images seems – to me – silly. If you’re always shooting fast action, or whip pans, then the slant is noticeable at full frame. If you’re shooting talking heads or slow movement it’s utterly unnoticeable, and – even if it were noticeable – it’s simply a “characteristic” of video-cameras-shooting-like-film ..just as backwards-turning car and wagon wheels were a characteristic of shooting rotating wheels at 24 frames-per-second.

      And just as many CGI films include computer-generated lens flare (!) to make the movie nostalgically look as if it was shot through an actual lens, instead of being just drawn on a computer screen, and just as so many video shooters add “dust-and-scratches” during editing to make nice clean video look like old, used film, so I expect that when cameras no longer deliver “rolling shutter”, but only ever use read-the-whole-frame-all-at-once “global shutter”, then people will try to add back that lean and slant to make things look nostalgic again!

      It’s no deal breaker for me ..I love it!

      • I’m glad you love it, but you’re in the minority, most people hate it.

        For one, this is 2014, viewers have a higher quality expectation for moving pictures than they did back in the spaghetti westerns days.

        I have no idea why you’re comparing the artistic effect of a still image with a distracting effect with video, they’re two different worlds. Rolling shutter makes everything look as if you’re shooting through a bowl of jello, it’s not a desired effect, it’s a distraction. We have an expression in the industry about something “taking you out of the picture” and that can be something that’s not believable or it can be a technical issue that distracts you from the story. Rolling shutter is a distraction. I’m sure there will be some filmmaker out there might want to use it to effect in some sort of dream sequence, but generally, it’s not desirable by anyone. RED has spend a lot of time and money trying to reduce rolling shutter in their cameras, ARRI uses a mechanical shutter (like a film movie camera) to reduce it in theirs and Sony has also spent a lot of time and money trying to develop an electronic “global shutter” in their cinema cameras. Why would all these companies spend so much time and money trying to eliminate your “artistic effect”? Because it’s an undesirable problem that Directors and DPs hate.

        But hey, if you’re happy with a camera that has serious rolling shutter issues, that’s great for you, there’s lots of options. But for serious filmmakers, it’s an issue that they want resolved and can be a deciding factor in a purchase.

        BTW, if people were happy with the stuttery look of 24fps on their TVs, manufacturers wouldn’t add a frame interpolation option on their TVs that is on by default and the sets would be displaying at 24hz instead of 60hz or 120hz. Even in movie theatres that project film, you don’t see the screen at 24fps, there’s a shutter in the projector that “flickers” the image at 48hz or 72hz to reduce flicker and give the illusion of smoother motion. Don’t even get me started on interlacing and 2:3 pulldown…

  4. I’ve got the A7s as well. It’s a game changer for me because it lets me do professional photography and professional short films all in one compact system that fits in my shoulder bag. Features such as silent shooting, extreme low light capability, wonderful 12mpix files (I don’t want any larger), and amazing quality HD video all add up to make it my dream camera.

    • Evidently the next generation A7S will scan four lines at a time rather than a single line at a time which should cut down the rolling shutter significantly. For now we need to shoot around it!

    • Hey Minyan,

      Look up the A7s review by Philip Bloom on Youtube. He has a solution of sorts, might work for you or it might not, but it is as good as it gets I believe.

      And, yes; the A7s seems like an awesome camera, as this post also demonstrates. Great work, Peter.

      Jan

  5. What a HOOT…!!!

    What a camera. And I can use my Canon and Leica lenses…. OMG…!

    But, you’re driving on the wrong side of the road….good thing your friend got serious and ditched the knife and fork. Proper rib eating is with hands and sticky fingers

    Great write -up…! Thank you

    • “.. And I can use my Canon and Leica lenses…. OMG…!..” ..Yes, but I’ve found that tolerances are tighter on the (my) A7S lens mount than on other NEX (or A7) mounts, and some brands of adaptors which work perfectly on NEX – or even other A7 – cameras are EXTREMELY tight (or won’t fit at all) on the A7S.
      The “Speedbooster”, for instance (..not that you’d normally use it with full-frame..) is so very tight that it might damage or wrench off the A7S lens mount. Some other cheaper mounts won’t fit at all – but some cheap adaptors do fit perfectly!
      So buy with care, preferably with a ‘Return’ facility.

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