Sony a7s Mark II: First Images and Impressions

by Hugh Brownstone3 Comments

Like just about everyone else, I drooled at the very concept of the Sony a7s [B&H | Amazon] when it came out – but I held myself back for the usual reasons (ergonomics and economics, especially since it required an external recorder for 4K). Then Sony invited us to a press event in New York City earlier this week where we were able to get our hands on the a7s Mark II. Dang.

I’m peeved.

I’ve been downsizing and downscaling with glee for the last 18 months as I moved from the Canon 5D Mk II to a pair of Rebel SL1s [B&H | Amazon] and then switched brands altogether to my 2014 camera of the year, the even littler yet vastly superior Sony a6000 [B&H | Amazon].

I got into it, swapped out a couple of L lenses (the 70-200 2.8L [B&H | Amazon], 28-70 2.8L [Amazon]  and 17-35/2.8L [Amazon] , bought a Sony 50mm f/1.8 [B&H | Amazon] and a Sony 28mm f/2.0 [B&H | Amazon] (and pocketed the change while my eyeballs practically bled from how sharp they were) and – finally — used my iPhone a whole lot more and even wrote a book about the iPhone as the next video revolution (my interview with Canon guru Chuck Westfall was shot on an iPhone 6 with a pair of RØDElink wireless lavs [B&H | Amazon] on a TASCAM DR-70D [B&H | Amazon]).

Then Sony had to go and put an a7s Mark II in my hands for a little more than 12 hours and I let loose on the streets of Manhattan.

You know the highlights by now: the a7s Mark II has internal 4K recording at 4:2:2 (still 8-bit); 5-axis in-body image stabilization; improved ergos (they work for me, say what you will about the menus).

Heads-up: you really need to watch the video below on a big screen (well, at least a decent-sized laptop). What I fail to note in it is that:

  1. stills are all JPEG out of the box, no post other than cropping, shot at ISOs ranging from 400 (vodka bottles) to 12,800 (looking up at the night sky past the American flag);
  2. video is shot at UHD, 30 fps (I haven't yet figured out how to pull ISO data out from the file once it's out of camera)

[content_band style=”color: #333;” bg_color=”#ffddea” border=”all” inner_container=”true”] [custom_headline style=”margin-top: 0;” level=”h6″ looks_like=”h4″]Sony Alpha A7s II Roundup[/custom_headline]

See our roundup of the Sony A7s II here – it includes all the latest news and videos

[/content_band]

So what’s my problem?

My problem is: the a7s Mark II was a revelation for me, even at 8 bits. It felt like an extension of my hands and eyes, and allowed me to see things I couldn’t see on my own.

Like stars in a Manhattan sky when all I could see was inky black, while still holding detail in the mids and highs in the rest of the image (although I was still able to blow out the highlights while set to auto shooting a food cart).

Or – on the other hand – that I STILL have room to improve my manual focusing skills, and I just may be suffering from ADD (it took me too long to get to the audio menu, and I forgot I lowered the sound levels, ergo the much-too-low audio in my opening in the accompanying video).

But I’m not the only one with room for improvement. The a7s Mark II’s auto-focus is far from infallible in low light (the most hunting occurred with their 90mm f/2.8 G macro [B&H | Amazon]).  You’ve heard or read ad nauseum by now how the batteries are too small (to Sony’s credit, they ship the a7S Mark II with a pair of ‘em, and personally I don't mind the trade-off at all – I prefer it). And the record button still gives me indigestion. Until Sony fixes this, I'll just get another Cineasy Touch.

As for those menus? Feh – not a make or break deal, they're good enough.

 

But there's a bigger discussion to be had here — and I'll be writing more extensively about this — but let's just say camera bodies menus should become passe altogether.  You know why?

The iPhone.  Hold that thought.

There's also the issue of this vs. it's slightly older twin sister, the a7r II [B&H | Amazon]: do you need only one, and if so, which?

We'll have that answer in an upcoming test, too.

Although Sony provided us with their 28mm f/2.0 (zoiks, I love it) [B&H | Amazon] , their 90mm f/2.8 macro [B&H Amazon] (holy crap, it's sharp) and their 24-70mm f/4 zoom [B&H | Amazon], I never took the zoom out, not even once: at that focal length and at night, I want at LEAST f/2.8.

I know I’m not the only who thinks like this.

I never bothered with 120fps in the short time I had it — nor timelapse — but believe me I will when a longer-term evaluation unit arrives — we will have a much fuller review of the a7s Mark II then.

But for now, take a peek and enjoy.

I sure did.

Shout out to Kevin Raber of Luminous Landscape for hitting the pavement with me.

(cover photo credit: snap from B&H)


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Comments

  1. rsellars

    Thanks for posting Hugh!  I’ve been using the A7S for a while now.  Like any camera, the A7S takes time to learn – all the cool features as well as the idiosyncrasies.  Yes, the menus are not very intuitive.  However, if you program your most commonly used menu items into the Custom Function menu page or the custom buttons, the camera becomes a lot quicker and easier to use.  Evidently, the Mark II model allows you to customize even more menu items.  The 5 axis stabilization seemed to be working very nicely on your handheld footage.  It’s great that they added 4K recording to the internal cards.  However, users should realize that 100Mbps is not a very robust data rate for 4K video.  It’s been pointed out that it is equivalent to approximately 25Mbps in 1080 HD (similar to AVCHD).  You won’t be able to push the color very far without it breaking up.  If you want the best quality images from this camera, it still makes good sense to use an external recorder (like the Shogun) and record in ProRes 422 or HQ.  I would also recommend that users experiment with the different gamma settings that are available in the PP menu.  If one shoots in the Rec 709 gamma, you are not taking advantage of the high dynamic range this camera can achieve.  Cine 4 is a great flat gamma that is easier to grade than S-log.  It’s great for night work because it gives more shadow and highlight detail.  Of course, S-log captures the most information especially on contrasty sunny days.  The addition of S-log 3 with this model is a significant improvement over S-log 2.  120fps at 1080 is also a great upgrade.  I wish that the Sony/Zeiss zooms were faster (T2.8) as well.  However, this camera has such clean ultra high ISO, T4 is not the problem you would expect (as far as getting a good exposure) even at night.  A deeper stop is also more forgiving when manual focusing.  I also suggest that users program the focus magnification feature into the custom 1 or custom 2 button.  That way, you can easily get critical focus very quickly – even using the small LCD.  Unlike Canon cameras, you can use this feature even while recording.  I’m an old dude with glasses, so I get that this full size sensor camera is a little tricky to focus.  Many people don’t realize that the depth of field on a full size sensor at T2.8 is equivalent to the DOF of T1.8 on an APS-C cropped camera.  Super fast lenses are nice at times – but the DOF is razor thin with this camera when wide open.

  2. CoolerthanU

    Damn that was a blog post…..anyone ever tell you about long windedness?

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