Like many other people in the past year or two, I've made the switch from Canon to Sony for video purposes. I've been shooting video mostly with Canon DSLRs for the past 5 years and aside from ISO performance in sensor technology, they have all had the same exact features since the 5D II was released. I don't know whats going on at Canon but they are not keeping with the times. A year ago I was looking into an alternative to my 6D and found myself deciding between the Panasonic GH4 and the Sony A7S. I went with the Panasonic since it was better value but it had a different place for me since it was so different from a Canon DSLR. I was either using one or the other, very rarely would I use both on the same shoot. I was looking for an all in one package. Since Sony released the A7S II, I had no choice but to look into it. On paper it seemed like a real game changer.
Keep in mind that 90% of my work is from wedding cinematography, so I was looking for a smaller camera that would be easy to handle while running around on 10hr day. The main features I was looking for was internal 4k, high ISO performance and high frame rates. All of these are hard to find in one package and the A7S II goes well beyond these expectations which I will fully explain in a little bit. It was tough for me to get all the info on this camera online since all anyone talks about is its low light performance but there was so much more I wanted to know before buying. I mostly want to make this simple and go over the pros and cons for myself that I find in the Sony A7S II.
Internal 4k Recording
Come on Canon, its going to be 2016 and only 1 of your sub $16,000 cameras shoots internal 4k (XC10)? For the most part, I don't plan on delivering most of my videos in 4K to clients but the extra detail you get is really nice when downscaling to 1080p, plus you get the extra wiggle room to pan/crop. When I bought my Panasonic GH4 and saw the image quality compared to my Canon 6D, it was day and night. My canon footage started to look out of focus and soft even when my focus was dead on.
Insane High ISO Performance
This is the Sony A7S's main show, its low light performance. This was extremely beneficial for me shooting weddings since a lot of ceremonies in churches and receptions are poorly lit, so this was a major plus for me. I've looked at reception footage from the same wedding shot on my A7S II and a Canon 5D Mark III and there's no comparison. The detail, dynamic range and lack of noise is head and shoulders over the Canon (They have the new SLog3 profile on the A7S II but I find that to be a little too flat, I prefer PP5 for my use). I even use auto ISO a lot of the time now since I know I'm going to get a clean image no matter what the camera thinks is right. I was even able to get establishing shots at night outside the venues that a Canon DSLR would never be able to get.
High Frame Rates
This was another major issue I had with my Canon 6D, no 1080 slow motion. It's crazy that Canon still doesn't have any camera in any price range shooting more than 1080/60p. The Sony A7S II will shoot 1080/60p and 1080/120p which is well suitable for anything I needed (For some reason on B&H they say it only shoots 120FPS in 720p but it does in fact shoot at 1080p). No matter what price range you're talking, neither Canon, Nikon or Panasonic offer any camera that can shoot that fast.
My only problems with shooting slow motion with the Sony is that 120p crops into the sensor. I'm not sure of the exact specs, but its close to a 2x crop only when shooting at 120p. My second concern is that this camera will not play back in slow motion. I have no idea why they wouldn't add such a simple feature but if I'm shooting in slow motion, I'd like to be able to see on the spot how the shot looks and not have to imagine it. This was one benefit the Panasonic GH4 had over the A7S II.
Small Camera Size
I like to travel a lot and sometimes I won't know where I'll be, where I'm staying or how much I should pack so I like to pack my gear as light as possible. I would always limit myself to what I would bring on a trip with my Canon 6D since the size and weight of the body plus all my big and heavy EF lenses are a burden to carry on my back all day. I like that Sony's A7 line is nice and compact, it's almost half the size of my 6D so that is a huge plus for me.
The smaller size is also helpful for when I shoot weddings since they're typically long 10 or more hour days so when I'm bouncing around from location to location while carrying my gear around, it helps if I can take some weight off my shoulders. It also helps when using my glidecam. Anyone who uses them knows how tiring it gets even after a few minutes so to have a lighter camera definitely eases the pain and allows me to hold longer shots even smoother than before. This brings me to my next pro...
5 Axis Stabilization
This was a biggie for me as well. Since I use Canon EF lenses, not all of them have built in stabilizers so if a lens didn't have IS (Image Stabilizer) I normally wouldn't use it at all for video unless I was on a tripod the whole time. With the 5 axis stabilization, every one of my EF lenses had IS and I would be able to use them all handheld or on a monopod no problem. Without using Sony native E mount lenses you don't get all 5 Axises, but I would say it's still just as good as the IS on any other Canon EF lens. I found this especially helpful while using my 16-35mm f/2.8L lens with the A7S II on my glidecam. It's just that extra bit of stabilization that helps out that much more. You can also manually adjust the amount of stabilization to your focal length which I found more effective than using it in auto mode.
This was something I never knew how beneficial it was until I started using it on my Panasonic GH4. Mirrorless cameras give you these amazing EVF's (Electronic View Finders) that are so crisp and clear now that when you shoot video, you can hold the camera up to your face like you're taking a picture. I love this because in run and gun situations I can have that extra point of contact for stabile footage. It's also an amazing way to shoot in the harsh sunlight so you don't have to squint trying to see whats on the back LCD screen.
Tilting LCD Screen
A major issue I had with my Canon 6D was the LCD screen was fixed so you couldn't angle it in any way if needed. Even Canons entry level DSLRs had articulating screens but they wouldn't give it to us on their higher end cameras. Sony A7S II LCD screen isn't fully articulating unfortunately but at least it tilts up and down which was major for me since I like to do a lot of slider shots on the ground where I wouldn't be able to accurately see what I was shooting or if I had a level shot. I can easily angle the screen up now and get my shot composed as I want easy peasy.
Super 35mm Mode
I LOVE that you can just crop in from full frame to super 35 while shooting. I would preferably like to just change my lens if possible but for weddings I think this is a feature every wedding cinematographer should have on their camera. It helps so much during prep when something quick is happening and I don't have time to change a lens, I can just get that extra crop in the image at 1080p. Unfortunately it doesn't work in 4k mode like on the A7R II.
Focus Peeking/Crop Marks/ Zebra/Etc.
With the Canons I've been shooting with, I always installed Magic Lantern, which is a hack for the firmware which gives you a ton more options for photo and video. The main reason I had it installed on my Canon 6D was to utilize simple video functions such as focus peeking, which I feel is essential for using video with manual focus, and crop marks which I use for cropping certain video in post to an anamorphic 2:35 video. Aside from Canon not offering these features at all, the Sony gives you a lot of options with focus peeking such as 3 levels of intensity and you can change the color to your preference.
You can also have the histogram on while recording which I prefer over a regular meter on the bottom telling me if I'm over or under exposed. I find a histogram way more accurate a bit more detailed when setting exposure.
Custom Button Function
Certain button placements on this camera are a little weird for me. The record button is still in the most ridiculous spot ever, I'm pretty sure I never even touched the record button on mine yet. However, you can program almost every button to whatever you want which is pretty cool. I made this button by the shutter my video record button now. I changed everything to the way I was used to with past cameras and its super easy to use now.
Sony's Menu Navigation
I've heard from many people that Sony cant seem to figure out how to simplify their menus and now I can see first hand. At first it didn't seem bad but the more I use it the more I see how long it takes me to find what I need. That's one thing I always liked about Canon cameras, they were all always so user friendly and easy to use. Also, with Canon DSLRs you can make your own custom menu and put all the functions you use the most in one place to save you time scrolling around. Sony kind of has a similar option but I cant put any of the functions I want in these custom menus. Things I use the most like frame rate adjustments, 4k mode, super 35mm mode and steady shot settings are almost all in separate menus so I wish I could put them in one spot to save me some time.
Sony's Native Lenses
This is BY FAR Sony's biggest failing with their whole A7 line. If you're into standard zooms such as 16-35mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8, Sony doesn't offer any of these! For the time being, I use the Metabones adapter for my Canon EF Lenses. Don't get me wrong, I still love my Canon glass but certain functions don't work the same on the A7S II with this adapter. It also adds more bulk to your whole setup. The Autofocus is almost useless with any of my Canon EF lenses and the continuos auto focus for video doesn't work at all which sucks since that was a main function I was looking forward to using.
Sony and Zeiss make some good lenses and I'm highly considering switching everything over to their glass from Canon but it's a huge hassle to do so and it'll be quite expensive to do so. I really would like a smaller form factor though with mirrorless lenses and I've heard that although Sony and Zeiss primes are expensive, they're wayyy better than the Canon EF primes I have now. It just feels like a waste to spend money on a new camera body and not be able to take advantage of all the features (Fast AF, Continuous AF, AF Lock, 5-Axis Stabilization) that I paid for.
Photo Mode Functionality
Along with Sony's shity lens selection, this is my only other major flaw I can find with this camera. Between the lack of proper auto focus with my Canon lenses and the fact that this is only a 12MP camera, I cannot use the A7S II to shoot photos. I still gladly go to my Canon 6D for photos but I would ideally love to have both functions in one camera so I wouldn't have to travel around with 2 bodies. This contradicts the whole "going mirrorless to help downsize my gear" thing. I have considered purchasing an A7R II to replace my 6D for photos since that thing is a killer camera but thats another $3,200 and only something I'd consider if I were to commit to switching all my lenses to Sony/Zeiss.
This has been a major issue with all Sony A7 cameras and it's something I would've liked to see Sony take more seriously. The batteries are TINY for the A7S II and I don't see why they have to be. They want to make the camera compact but I don't think I'm the only one out there who would sacrifice a slightly larger camera body for a bigger battery. These things are the size of GoPro batteries, it's so stupid.
On the bright side, the batteries are relatively cheap and the camera has a micro USB port on the side so you can charge in camera while you have another battery on the charger wall unit. You can also use this port for longer shoots to attach an extended battery pack and run off of that instead which is a really cool feature.
Built In NDs
It's a ridiculous thing to ask for in a small camera but one thing I love about real video cameras like the C100 and FS700 are built in ND filters. A camera of this size obviously can't fit filters in the body but nonetheless, it's a feature I miss having in my camera.
Overall, This is an amazing little camera if you're serious about video. It does have its flaws like anything else but coming from Canon DSLRs, its a huge step up. It beats my Canon cameras in almost every way. If you're looking for a portable camera with a ton of up to date features, I don't see any other way to go. I was waiting around for Canon to upgrade their DSLRs for video use but nothing has changed and if they were going to add these features, they probably would've done it by now.
Canon, you're fired!
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