Sony Alpha 7S Review - The Sony Alpha 7S is the latest addition to Sony's growing range of full frame CSCs, featuring an impressive ISO range of 50-409,600. Does it manage to surpass image quality heights seen in its stablemate? Find out in our full Alpha 7S review...
Obviously the 36.3 million-pixel sensor of the A7R, with no anti-aliasing filter, is aimed at those landscape, studio, still-life and macro photographers who demand the ultimate image quality. The A7 has a lower 24-million-pixel resolution, but uses faster phase detection autofocus, so is more capable of photographing moving subjects – it is much more of an ‘all-rounder’.
And now the new Sony Alpha 7S has a 12.2-million-pixel sensor, but with a maximum sensitivity of ISO 409,600, which can only be matched by the 16.2-million-pixel sensor in the Nikon D4S.
With Sony promising excellent noise control, an impressive dynamic range, all combined with the extremely high sensitivity, the A7S would seem ideally suited those who need to get the shot, regardless of how challenging the lighting may be.
Sony A7S Review – Features
Obviously the defining feature of the A7S is without doubt the 12.2-million-pixel full-frame CMOS sensor. The new sensor is gapless, meaning that there is no space between the light-gathering photodiodes, which maximises their size and the light photons captured.
For photographers this equates to less noise and a better dynamic range, compared to a comparable sensor with a gap between the photo sites. It’s partly this design and the benefits that it offers, which enable the impressive ISO 100-409,600 sensitivity range.
We have seen many of the features of the A7S before in the A7 and
A7R, including the excellent Wi-Fi connectivity, which can be started
via touching and NFC device to the NFC target on the camera.
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.
Sony Alpha 7S Review – Design
The use of two control dials and a rear scroll wheel make the camera quite quick to operate, as the quick menu allows most of the major image and shooting settings to be just a click away. The system works well, though perhaps it doesn’t have quite the finesse of the Fujifilm X-T1.
One new addition that many will be pleased to hear about is the Silent Shooting mode. Previously the mechanical shutter of the A7 and A7R has been criticised for being noisy, especially when you consider that there is no mirror mechanism.
The new electronic shutter mode in the A7S is completely silent. Switch off the AF beep and no one would know you are taking an image. Obviously this type of electronic shutter isn’t ideal for all subjects. As the readout doesn’t happen at exactly the same time across the sensor, there can be a slight distortion when photographing moving subjects.
However, for wedding photographers, or those who photograph theatre productions or games of chess, this new mode should be a real benefit. Wildlife photographers also will like the fact that a nearby animal won’t be warned off by the sound of the shutter.
Sony Alpha 7S Review – Performance
A camera launch doesn’t seem to pass these days without someone asking ‘does the camera shoot 4K video?’. The Alpha 7S does, but with a caveat that it must be recorded from the camera to an external recorder via the disk drive.
For professional videographers this shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but for the hobbyist you can’t help but feel that Sony has missed a trick, especially since it produces an excellent range of 4K Handycams.
Still the 1920×1080 60p 28Mbps HD video capture should serve those dabbling with video very well, especially considering the extremely high sensitivity settings, external microphone socket and the shallow depth of field that the large sensor helps to facilitate.
I got up early one morning to shoot some video at sunrise and found that the ISO 12,800 was perfectly useable. Those who may not have, or want to, lug huge lights around for film-making will no doubt love the ability to shoot at high sensitivities, without the worry that the footage will be too noisy to use or that it will require a lot of post-processing.
Colours look good in the various JPEG modes, and while the resolution obviously can’t match the 36.3-million-pixel A7R for detail, its high sensitivity performance is quite incredible, even more so when you compare the price of the A7S with the Nikon D4S.
With an extremely sensitive sensor Sony claim that with an f/2 lens, the camera is sensitive down to -4EV, though I have to say I didn’t find it that fast. It was slow, or sluggish, but it did just lack the snap that we have started to get used to in other compact system cameras, notably Panasonic.
Sony Alpha 7S Review – Image Quality
With a 12.2-million-pixel sensor you wouldn’t expect to resolve a spectacular amount of detail, and indeed it doesn’t.
At ISO 100 the A7S reaches around 24 lines per mm in our resolution chart lab testing, which is exactly what you would expect for a camera of its resolution.
With such good control of noise the resolution doesn’t drop as the sensitivity increases.
At ISO 50, we found that the A7S has a dynamic range of 13.26EV, which makes it around 0.5EV better than the 12.75EV that Nikon D4S recorded a few months ago.
At ISO 200 and 400, the dynamic range of both cameras is virtually identical. What this means in practice is that the 12.2-million-pixel, full-frame sensor is able to recover a great amount of detail in highlights, particularly in shadow areas.
Combined with the high sensitivity range it really is able to see in the dark.
Obviously the extreme sensitivities are noisy, with plenty of luminance and colour noise on show. However it is the more ‘reasonable’ sensitivities of ISO 6,400, 12,800 and 25,600 where the A7S really shows what it can do. These sensitivities are as usable as ISO 1,600, 3,200 and 6,400 in other full-frame cameras.
Sony Alpha 7S Review – Verdict
Usually you would expect a camera with such a high sensitivity range to be the preserve of professional sports or wildlife photographers, or photojournalists, but since the AF speed or shooting rate is not quite fast enough for serious sports or wildlife photographers, the A7S won’t really appeal to this market.
Instead, what it offers is the chance for the enthusiast photographer to have the high sensitivity settings of a professional camera. We often hear that resolutions are too high and that dynamic range and better noise is preferable, and to those photographers, this just what the A7S provides.
Videographers can also get in on the act, and while the 4K option does require an off-camera recorder, to those that want the advantage of a full-frame camera with impressive noise control and high sensitivities, the Sony A7S is a great option.
It is great that Sony has quickly built a range of cameras to cater for the needs of different photographers. All that is now needed is a few more lenses to grow the system further.
Sample Image Gallery
These are just a few sample images captured with the Sony Alpha 7S. For more images head on over to the Sony A7S review sample image gallery.