Sony Alpha 7S – Pros
- High ISO performance
- 4K video capture
Sony Alpha 7S – Cons
- 4K video recorded to external device
- AF not the fastest
Sony Alpha 7S review – Introduction
When Sony launched the A7 and A7R towards the end of last year, it broke new ground with the combination of an impressive full frame sensor in a portable and compact CSC body, gaining many accolades in the process.
Although the pair are very similar on the outside, one glance at the specification shows they are actually very different propositions.
The A7R features a 36.3MP resolution and, thanks to the absence of an anti-aliasing filter, was best suited to studio and still-life photographers whom demand the highest detail.
The A7, meanwhile, features a 24MP resolution and adopts a much faster hybrid phase and contrast detection AF, and as such delivers a more complete ‘all-round’ level of performance.
So where does the Sonly Alpha 7S fit in? Well, with a much lower resolution of 12.2MP, paired with an ISO range of 50 to 409,600 it’s seen as a low-light specialist which, Sony claims, really does have the ability to see in the dark.
Let’s see if it completes the set of impressive full frame CSCs for Sony…
Sony Alpha 7S review – Features
A host of the features found on the Sony Alpha 7S will be familiar to those already acquainted with the A7 and A7R.
For example, the model features the same Wi-fi and NFC connectivity which so impressed on the other two models. This allows for the camera to be connected to a similarly-enabled NFC device by simply touching the two together, or alternatively through its Wi-fi functionality.
Once connected, it’s possible to control the camera wirelessly and review images on the fly thanks to Sony’s excellent ‘Play Memories’ app.
On the rear of the camera sits the same LCD screen as seen on the other models. The unit is of the tiltable variety, is 3in in size and features a resolution of 921k-dots, which is a little below the highest resolution on the market.
The good news is that this LCD screen is once again paired with an impressive EVF. The viewfinder itself measures in at 1/2in and sports an impressive 2.4m-dot resolution, covering a 100% field of view and delivering shooting info display and histogram referral should it be required, as well as manual brightness adjustment.
The real change with regards to features, however, concerns the A7S’s sensor. The model sports a newly-engineered 12.2MP chip featuring gapless technology, meaning there’s no space between the light-gathering photodiodes.
In real terms this means that the sensor will deliver less noise at higher ISO settings, as well as a better dynamic range, something highlighted by the 50-409,600 ISO range.
Sony Alpha 7S review – Design
In terms of the major design differences between the A7S and the other pair of A7 models, there really aren’t that many, if any at all.
The A7S sports the same magnesium alloy shell as seen on the A7R, meaning that its both dust and weather-sealed and as such is well suited against the weather you might encounter out in the field.
In terms of the camera’s controls, the A7S sports the same alignment of a pair of control dials on conjunction with a rear scroll wheel.
This arrangement works well enough, although it’s not quite as impressive as that found on some other CSCs, including the Fujifilm X-T1.
One of the only major design differences for the A7S is present underneath the camera’s bonnet. The model now features an all-new electronic shutter setting as an answer to criticism about how noisy the shutter was on the other two A7 models.
This new electronic shutter mode is completely silent, and as such is perfect for when one might be required to take discreet photographs.
One issue here is that there’s a slight delay between pressing the shutter and capturing the image, and as such it’s not always suitable for moving subjects, however for static subjects where you might need to keep the noise down it’s perfect and very much welcomed.
Sony Alpha 7S review – Performance
Images: even at ISO 25,600, the Sony Alpha 7S is extremely impressive when shooting both raw and JPEGs, making handheld night shots a possibility
In terms of the A7S’s focusing system, the model unfortunately misses out on the impressive hybrid on-sensor phase/contrast detect system found on the A7R, instead featuring the contrast detect set-up used on the A7.
That being said, Sony claims that thanks to the extremely sensitive sensor the A7S will still focus promptly in difficult lighting conditions.
Although it’s certainly not particularly slow or sluggish, it must be said that the A7S is lacking in the same kind of promptness that you’d find in a model that utilises a hybrid set-up; most notably those from Panasonic.
One of the highlights of the A7S’s sensor is that it’s capable of the new ultra HD 4K video format. There is a slight exception when it comes to the camera’s 4K video capture however, as you have to record the video captured to an external drive.
Although this won’t present that much of an issue for professional shooters, hobbyists might be put off by such a complicated capture method.
That being said, the A7S performs well with regards to ‘standard’ 1920 x 1080p video capture. It records at 60p and 28Mbps, as well as featuring an external microphone socket. The video capture also benefits from the impressive ISO performance, as the A7S is more than capable of capturing video up to ISO 12,800.
Other elements of the specification perform well, with the A7S delivering a reasonable continuous shooting speed of 5fps (although this drops to 2.5fps when utilising continuous AF).
Sony Alpha 7S review – Image quality
Colour and white balance
Image: The colours of the early monring were captured beautifully in the Alpha 7S’s default image setting
The A7S’s white balance performance is certainly reliable, while a host of presets are on hand along with full manual colour temperature selection should you wish to adjust the camera settings to suit.
In turn, colour reproduction is pleasing in all of the various JPEG modes.
The Sony A7S boasts a 1200-segment metering system and on the whole it performs well. It delivers pleasing exposures, displaying a slight tendency to prioritise mid-tones in evaluative metering mode.
One reason why it may prioritise mid tones is that it features such an impressive dynamic range. Lab testing reveals that at its base ISO setting the A7S features a wider dynamic range that even the professional level Nikon D4S. As a result, the camera manages to maintain detail in both shadow and highlights even in the most challenging of conditions.
Image: Obviously the 12.2-million-pixel sensor of the Alpha 7S doesn’t resolve as much detail as its stablemates, but at low sensitivities details are clear and crisp
While the 12.2MP sensor doesn’t resolve a huge amount of detail, managing around 24lpmm at ISO 100, the good news is that thanks to the excellent control of noise this amount of detail resolved remains fairly consistent throughout the ISO range.
As you might expect, when you reach the high ISO settings towards the very top of the impressive range there are clear signs of luminance and colour noise on show. However, at the ‘mid-range’ of ISO 6,400, 12,800 and 25,600 the A7S is hugely impressive. Noise is fantastically well controlled and images display the same characteristics normally seen on ISO 1,600, 3,200 and 6,400 respectively.
Sony Alpha 7S review – Our verdict
If you place your main priority on AF speed or shooting rate, the A7S won’t really meet your needs. Also, if you’re looking for a camera that delivers huge amounts of detail thanks to a high resolution, the A7S won’t really be the answer either.
However, Sony caters for such demands with the A7 and A7R respectively, and as such the A7S meets a different set of needs for those wanting a compact full frame camera, notably high-end performance in low light conditions.
Then there’s the 4K video capture which, although it requires off-camera data recording, is undoubtedly a welcome feature.
As such, the A7S joins the existing A7 models and forms a formidable line-up of full frame models which meet the demands of enthusiast and professional photographers and one – once there are more lenses available – looks like one of the most impressive on the market.
Sony Alpha 7S – Key features
As well as its ability to capture 4K video, the Sony Alpha 7S has a host of other features
Wi-Fi and NFC
Wi-Fi is built-in, and the camera can be controlled and images transferred via the Sony PlayMemories mobile app. NFC is also on hand to create a fast connection.
Powering the Alpha 7S is a NP-FW50 battery, which is used in all Sony E-mount cameras. It can be charged via the Micro USB connection.
In speed-priority shooting mode, the Alpha 7S can shoot at 5fps. This is reduced to 2.5fps if continuous AF and metering are also required.
Controlling the Alpha 7S is the latest Bionz X processing system.
The Alpha 7S features a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000sec.
The Alpha 7S has the same excellent 2.36-million-dot-resolution electronic viewfinder as the Alpha 7 and Alpha 7R.
The 3in screen has a 921,000-dot resolution.