The Sony A7S II Is A Low Light Leader & Video Powerhouse – Review

Allo Munich – Willkommen

trialingsony

Sony graciously invited me to spend the day with them recently at Shuhbecks Teatro in Munich to learn more about the Sony A7S II, to touch and try with quite a bit of theatre to the proceedings. Here’s what I discovered.

The Specification

sony-a7s-2

Let’s start with some important facts.

  • Megapixels: 12.2
  • Sensor: 35mm full frame (35.9 x 24.0mm), Exmor R CMOS
  • ISO range: 50-409,600
  • Recording formats: Jpeg, RAW (Sony ARW 2.3 format), XAVC S 4K, MP4
  • Viewfinder: Electronic viewfinder (XGA OLED Tru-Finder). 2,359,296 dots
  • LCD: Tiltable 7.5cm TFT
  • Lens mount: E Mount
  • Image Processor: Bionz X

Lyn Let Loose

Before the first of the presentations all guests were invited into the theatre’s arena to talk to suppliers with accessories to complement the Sony A7S II and to take an initial look at the camera itself. Without introduction or any instruction I boldly grabbed an A7S II and rapidly got a feel for the camera and the results it delivers. The buttons are intuitively placed and the menu is well organised. To be able to pick up a camera that I already knew was jam packed with features and be able to literally play and just “see what happens if…” was quite a relief and also great fun. A quick glance at the LCD screen showed me all the data if I wanted to verify anything.

The Sony A7S II is phenomenal in low light. Although it hosts the same Exmor sensor as the A7S, an update to the Bionz X algorithm has made a significant difference in noise reduction at high ISOs which on this camera ranges from 50-409,600. The demonstration above showed the power and quality of the camera as the ISO was stepped up and up to the top end beyond anything the human eye can see. Only at the very top end can any grain be seen, but in reality I certainly wouldn’t be photographing anything at an extended 409,600!

Sony A7S II. 55mm FE lens. AP 1/400s f/7.1, ISO 6,400.
Sony A7S II. 55mm FE lens. AP 1/400s f/7.1, ISO 6,400.
Sony A7S II. 55mm FE lens. AP 1/400s f/7.1, ISO 6,400.
Sony A7S II. 55mm FE lens. AP 1/400s f/7.1, ISO 6,400.

The darkened theatre was perfect for trying to make some photographic noise, but without blowing out the image entirely. Tip: The Zebra Assist is superb for helping you judge this well. The clarity and detail from stills is fantastic.

Sony have included Steady Shot in the A7S II, a 5 axis stabilisation system that almost makes it impossible to take a bad photograph. It’s very useful when using the camera handheld rather than on a tripod as in the shoot with the model below.

puppet2

More Than Just Seeing In The Dark

In a true test of the camera and possibly a test of my skill, each participant entered a pitch black cabin to photograph the circus’s ringmaster light a match. With trepidation I readied myself for the countdown to click and here’s my first shot…

Sony A7S II. 35mm FE lens. 1/125s, f/1.4 ISO 16,000.
Sony A7S II. 35mm FE lens. 1/125s, f/1.4 ISO 16,000.

Yep, that seals the deal for me. I need a Sony A7S II.

4K Video – The Internal Powerhouse

ninjazacutosony

Despite having taken part in my fellow blogger Jason Harry’s DSLR Video workshop 4 years ago, and much to his chagrin, I’m by no means a videographer. However, the A7S II has video capabilities that I’m still able to appreciate, in particular the 4K recording internal to the camera – no more external recording!  At the event I found myself stationed at a unit that was armed with an Atomos Ninja Assassin on a Zacuto arm and felt very grateful rather quickly for being able to monitor the action on the Assassin tilted slightly to accommodate my height (and eyesight) rather than the camera’s 7.5cm LCD screen. The set up was a fire juggler in very low light and I was keen to capture the scene in both 4K and in slow motion – which is not available in 4K mode.  The fact that a unit as tight as the A7S II has such a powerful integral feature is definitely one of the key features of the camera and having spent several minutes filming I was certainly keen to see the results. However, there’s something I learned before and after this short session – if you’re futureproofing your camera you also need to futureproof your peripheral gear too.

4KVideo

At my first play with the A7S II, I popped an SDHC class 4 card to shoot stills and all was well, but then I received a warning message that the card was incompatible when attempting to try out the video function. A class 10? Same message. As part of our presentations and training it became clear what standard of memory card was required and all attendees were issued with a Sony SDXC U3 Class 10 95mb/s to use for the afternoon’s trial sessions. The following day after transferring images and video to my humble laptop, it was unable to play the slow motion clip without buffering and the 4K clips couldn’t really be rendered in this high quality on my lowly screen. Fortunately Andy from Calumet is a go-to man for this eventuality and we realised that my initial statement is very true – I’m definitely by no means a videographer. To shoot in 4K everything has to be precise, the slightest thing out of focus is evident. A hair out of place is noticeable. As well as needing a powerful memory card you need powerful editing and viewing equipment. This really wasn’t my forte and until I’ve found my feet in video I’ll just watch and learn from the sideline (sorry Jason).

Little things that I really like

sonyfeatures

  • Zebra Assist (improved in this model)
  • Dial lock
  • Steady Shot – 5 Axis Compensation
  • Electronic viewfinder
  • Intuitive menu and button placement

Who should buy this camera?

The answer is absolutely anyone, but if you’re habitually shooting in low light it’s for you. If you are a filmmaker, potential videographer and want pristine clarity without a bulky piece of equipment, it’s for you. Determined to shoot in 4K without an external recorder – this is your camera. If you are simply thinking of what’s the next big thing in both stills and video – you definitely need to be considering the Sony A7S II.

Sony A7S II. 70mm FE lens. 1/500s, f/5, ISO 25,600.
Sony A7S II. 70mm FE lens. 1/500s, f/5, ISO 25,600.

Thank you for a great opportunity to shoot with an exceptional camera, and such a warm welcome and hospitality from Team Sony.

 

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