409,600 ISO is Real, but Is It Usable? Sony A7s Review by Luminous Landscape’s Michael Reichmann

by Hugh Brownstone4 Comments

Michael Reichmann is one of the most thoughtful and articulate voices writing about photography and photographic gear today. Every time I read a piece by him,

I cannot help but feel that I am learning from a master.

So it was with no small measure of anticipation that I read his latest review of a camera particularly interesting to videographers: the brand new Sony A7s, capable of shooting up to 409,600 ISO and recording at 8-bit 4:2:2 4K.

If you’ve seen any of the test footage, you’ve already been blown away: it’s simply stunning.

But with this written, what does it all mean? What can you actually do with this
camera, with what trade-offs, and compared to what alternatives?

Reichmann has a knack for cutting to what is truly important, and over the course of this review gets into specifics around what it actually takes to record 4K (more cumbersome than you might have thought); the limitations of the only 12mp sensor (less limited than you might think); lens selection; maximum useful ISO and what it means in concrete terms; and, ultimately, for whom the camera is best suited.

He summarizes this truly excellent review thusly:

“My parting thought is that the A7s is neither the holy grail of cameras, nor a
whimsical outlier.”

This is no easy-way-out conclusion, but rather a carefully considered opinion. Read the full article and get schooled!

The Sony A7s – What is it and Who it is For?

In a word or two – the A7s is a small full-frame 12 Megapixel mirrorless stills camera, using the same body and design as the 24 Megapixel A7 and the 36 Megapixel A7r. The camera is also capable of shooting 4K video while delivering it to an external recorder in 8 bit 4:2:2. It takes Sony's FE mount lenses (if you want full frame) and other A7 series accessories.

Since in many respects the camera is similar to the A7 and A7r there is little point in discussing the camera's common features, as the Net abounds with detailed reviews, including here on this site.

Sony A7s First Impressions Review

So – you may well ask the obvious question – in 2014 who would want a 12 Megapixel camera, and why? The answer is two-fold.

Firstly, by making the sensor just 12MP, along with its full frame size, each sensel (or pixel) is relatively huge. This means that its light gathering power is tremendous compared to sensors with higher pixel density. This is evidenced by the A7s' ability to shoot at up to ISO 409,200, though as we'll see, you wouldn't necessarily want to.

The camera is also aimed at videographers. In 4K video shooting mode, 3840 × 2160 (30p/24p) the pixel ratio is 1:1. In other words, no line skipping, binning, or compression is needed. The sensor itself is 4240 x 2832 pixels, at full frame's standard 3:2 aspect ratio, while 4K video has, like HD, an aspect ratio of 16:9.

Read full review on Luminous Landscape’s article “Sony A7s First Impressions Review”

(cover photo credit: snap from Luminous Landscape)

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh is the founder of Three Blind Men and An Elephant Productions. He and the team write, direct, shoot, score, and edit web-centric films; conduct photo shoots; and write copy, white papers and blog posts. Hugh also writes screenplays (he recently optioned a TV pilot) and just published his first eBook (Apple's iPhone: The Next Video Revolution). If it's about telling stories, it's in their wheelhouse.

And always with the ambition of authenticity, humanity and wit.
Hugh Brownstone


  1. Hicimos un pequeño test a la cámara Sony Alpha 7s , empujamos su trabajo en ISO hasta el máximo en 409000 ISO. vimeo.com/98137975En todo caso no tuve tiempo de hacer mucho, ya que la cámara la pude usar solo unos instantes en el hotel donde estaban los representantes de Sony Japón y que me permitieron usarla gracias a las gestiones de Samuel el representante de Sony Latam de Miami y Cristián Maturana de Videocorp en Chile. Por eso es que quisimos empujar la cámara al máximo en sus capacidades de trabajo en ISO alto, ya que por todos los test de imágenes que hay en la web de la A7s sabemos que entrega una imgen espectacular en condiciones óptimas de trabajo; y al llevarla a ISOs altos vimos la real respuesta de la cámara y su gran latitud.

  2. I’ve read two reviews on the Sony A7s, both of which evaluated it primarily as a photography camera.  If I read the literature from Sony correctly, I believe that the A7s is primarily offered as a video camera.  The reason for it’s low pixel count (a criticism of both reviewers) is to enhance its low light capabilities.  It seems that everyone states that because the Panasonic GH4 is less money and can write 4k to SD cards, it represents a greater value, and the need for using an external recorder for A7s is viewed as a huge disadvantage.  

    I am a fairly experienced photographer, but I am a newcomer to video.  However, I have invested a lot lately in video equipment, and I would like some feedback on how I am looking at the A7s.  While the Panasonic GH4 is less money, it is also has a crop factor of 2, which means that I am going to have to invest a fair amount of money in high quality lenses in order to match the quality of the L lenses I already own.  I also don’t really see the external recorder/monitor as a huge disadvantage because a 3 inch monitor isn’t big enough for my eyes so the Atomos recorder doesn’t seem like a bad choice.  Also, I think I would rather work with SSD’s rather than SD cards.  My primary video camera is a Sony fs-700 and I use a Mk III as a second camera.  While the Canon takes great video, it is also quite heavy and overheats when doing longer interviews.  

    I am thinking of getting the A7s for the following reasons.
    1.  It is a small, light camera
    2.  Great low light capabilities (Probably the main reason.  Check out the video comparing it to the Mk III)
    3.  4k capability
    4.  Less heat buildup than Mk III
    5.  Can use existing E-mount lenses and Canon/Zeiss EF-mount lenses

    The main reason I would choose this over the Panasonic is the full frame sensor so I don’t have to worry about the 2x crop factor.  Even the Panasonic people stated that adapters don’t work great with Canon lenses for the Panasonic and will only shoot with the aperture wide open when using those adapters (from a webcast on B&H).  Also it is a superior low light camera to the Panasonic, if I am reading the reviews correctly.

  3. aozaki a little corrections, GH4 in 4K is 2.3x crop factor; and the A7s is not only superior in low light than GH4… is ridiculous superior!!!! GH4 can go to ISO3200 with little noise, the A7s can go up to ISO40.000 with little noise… you read correct, yes ISO 40.000 with the same or less noise than the GH4 at ISO3200….

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