ceony made some huge waves in the filmmaking world with their A7S, but the newly announced A7R II might just be the better choice for many filmmakers.
I’ve never owned a Sony A7S but I have shot with the camera numerous times and was always impressed by it. I love how small and compact the body is, the image quality is superb, and the low light performance is the best of best.
That said, the A7S was never the perfect camera for me. When it was released I already owned the GH4 which did internal 4K, and the fact that the A7S needed an external recorder for 4K recording somewhat defeated the purpose for me. I know that internal 4K isn’t a concern for all shooters, but for me it was an issue… When I’m shooting on a camera that’s as small as the A7S I typically am shooting guerrilla style and want to keep my kit and overall footprint as small as possible. Adding a Shogun to the camera to get 4K effectively makes the overall setup a lot larger, and makes it far less enticing to shoot with for my needs.
I also wasn’t a huge fan of the color science on the A7s – but the same could be said about practically any other Sony camera. Sony has done an amazing job of pushing technological boundaries with their cameras, but they still haven’t nailed down their color science. Manufacturers like Blackmagic and Canon have had it down on some of their cameras for a while now… But Sony’s colors always felt a bit harsh to me and even with grading they often still feel somewhat video-ish.
So with all of that in mind, I never ended up investing in an A7S. I had rented/borrowed it on several occasions as needed, but to me it had a very specific purpose… Low light. For ultra low-light situations it offered the best performance of any camera I had ever used, so it was the clear choice when shooting that type of material. If I was the type of shooter that was always working in no-light/run and run situations, I probably would have invested in an A7S. But in reality, I just didn’t need to shoot above ISO 1600 most of the time, and that’s where the A7S really starts to blow other cameras out of the water.
The A7R II on the other hand offers a lot of excellent new features that make it far more enticing to me than the A7S, despite the fact that it won’t have the same low light performance (due to the much higher megapixel sensor).
Here some A7R II specs to get you up to speed:
- 42MP Full-Frame Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor
- BIONZ X Image Processor
- Internal 4K XAVC S Video & S-Log2 Gamma
- 5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization
- 399 Phase-Detect AF Points & 5 fps Burst
- 0.5″ 2.36M-Dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF
- 3.0″ 1,228.8k-Dot Tilting LCD Monitor
- ISO 102,400 and Silent Shutter Mode
- Durable Reduced-Vibration Shutter Design
- Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC
I’ll need to shoot with the A7R II before making a firm decision on whether or not it’s worth investing in for myself. But I have to say that right off the bat it does seem to be a far better option for me than the A7S for these 5 reasons:
As I mentioned above, one of the big drawbacks for me with the A7S was the lack of internal 4K. That has been addressed on the A7R II as the camera will allow you to record 4:2:0 8 bit 4K footage straight onto your SD cards. Yes, it would have been nice to have 4:2:2 10 bit (at least through the HDMI output), but that’s just not the case. It will however give you 4:2:2 8 bit through HDMI which helps. Regardless, the fact that this camera allows you to capture the extra resolution without needing a Shogun not only makes it more practical, but also more cost effective.
One of the biggest issues I had with the A7S were the severe rolling shutter artifacts present when shooting in full frame mode. Shooting in Super 35 mode helped the rolling shutter problem substantially, but it by no means eliminated it completely. With the A7R II however, things have improved quite a bit in this department. Again, I haven’t shot with the camera myself – but based on the footage I have seen and the research that I’ve done, the A7R II in Super 35 mode practically has no rolling shutter artifacts at all… Even when whip panning.
Low Light Is Still Great
There’s no question that the A7S will outperform the A7R II in low light based on the megapixel count alone. As many of you know, larger pixels offer better low light performance, so naturally the 12 megapixel A7S is going to have much larger pixels than the 42 megapixel A7R II. That said though, the A7R II will still likely perform very well in low light. Pixel size isn’t the only factor contributing to a clean low-light image, and Sony has delivered great low-light to us on many of their other higher megapixel cameras… So I have high hopes for the A7R II in that department as well. For me personally, I rarely shoot above ISO 3200 (and even then it’s usually an emergency scenario) – so I am very confident that the A7R II will deliver great low light at reasonably high ISO’s, even if the numbers aren’t as crazy as what the A7S can deliver.
5 Axis Stabilization
Like some of Sony’s other cameras, the Sony A7R II features 5 axis stabilization built right in to the camera body. This means that no matter what lens you’re using (even fully manual vintage lenses), you can utilize image stabilization. For me, this is one of the most exciting features that the A7R II has to offer for a number of reasons. Firstly, as I mentioned I like to keep my footprint as small as possible when shooting on mirrorless cameras, and having stabilization built into the camera means I may not need a shoulder rig or rail system in many situations. But also, the fact that I can use my fully manual lenses on the A7R II is huge, considering I don’t really want to invest in Sony glass at the moment.
I primarily shoot video of course, but also do shoot stills both professionally and personally, and the A7R II is going to be a far better stills camera than the A7S. The biggest difference of course is the megapixel count, which on the A7R II clocks in at 42MP. That’s pretty crazy, considering the size of the body and how many other features have been packed into the camera itself. While stills may not be a huge consideration for some filmmakers, I would guess that a lot of you out there need to shoot high res photos from time to time, and having the ability to do so with a 42 MP camera in your back pocket is pretty incredible.
There’s never going to be a perfect camera, and naturally everyone’s needs are different when it comes to choosing the right tool for their work. That said though, the A7R II seems to be a much better choice than the A7S for the type of work that I do. If I needed ultra low-light ability, I would still go with the A7S… But with that aside, the A7R II beats the A7S in many ways. I’ll need to shoot with it to really make that call, and I do have some concerns (such as moire and aliasing), but I certainly have high hopes.
While I might not be a huge fan of Sony’s color science, I am confident that they will continue to improve it through firmware updates, and with all things considered the A7R II still offers a lot of performance in a very small package. The price is relatively steep (about $3200), but you won’t need a Shogun for 4K, and the features built into the camera will definitely give it some longevity. All in all, I think it will be a worthwhile investment for many.
I’m sure that when the Sony A7S II comes out we’ll see a lot of the same features that we’re seeing in the A7R II (such as internal image stabilization) integrated as well… And the Sony A7S may just trump the A7R II in every way. But really, that’s always going to be the case. There’s always a new and better camera around the corner, which is why it’s so hard to decide which camera to buy and when. Regardless, for many of us the A7R II is going to offer all of the things we wanted in the A7S and then some, and I personally can’t wait to shoot with it.
If you’re interested in purchasing the A7R II you can do so through B & H using the link below:
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!