WHY WE RENTED THE SONY A7S
As producers of the YouTube channel, “Ministry of Funny”, we pride ourselves in staying inconspicuous when shooting our hidden camera videos. In the past, a camera with an Advanced Photo System type-C (APS-C) sensor works for us best, adding a X1.62 reach to our Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens. For our “Kiss Cam On The Street” video, however, our filming location was a dimly lit bus stop. With limited lighting, our usual Canon 600D with a maximum of ISO 6400 will not be able to give us a bright enough picture. To resolve this, we had to look for an alternative camera for this particular shoot. After doing some research on cameras with super high ISOs, we decided to rent the Sony A7s, a full-frame Mirrorless camera that goes up to ISO 409,600, a staggering 6 stops above our Canon DSLR’s typical maximum ISO.
THE LCD SCREEN
The first thing that stood out to me when handling the Sony A7s was the LCD screen. The Sony A7s has a very unusual sort of LCD screen the pops out of the camera body but cannot be flipped to the side of the camera like other DSLRs. Instead this LCD screen can only be tilted upwards. This is useful for monitoring your image when taking low-angle shots but the functionality ends there.
For hidden camera videos, a flip out LCD screen is extremely important when it comes to staying out of sight. With an articulating screen like the one on our Canon 600D, even if the camera lens is pointing at the subject, the camera operator can be angled away from the subject and still able to monitor the image on the LCD screen.
Due to the lack of articulation of the sony LCD screen, as long as the operator needs to monitor the video, he has to be facing the subject straight on. Due to this limitation, I find myself getting spotted by subjects more often despite being hidden in the darkness.
Weighing in at 507 grams, the sony A7s feels significantly lighter than our Canon DSLR. Besides the weight, the A7s’ 127 x 94 x 48 mm measurements, boasts an even tinier package than our already small Canon 600D. Even though this is a great feature for travellers, for hidden cam productions, the camera feels unbalanced when paired with a telephoto lens. Our hidden camera is usually handheld because a tripod draws attention. By using the Sony A7s, due to the uneven weight distribution when paired with telephoto lenses, using a tripod is a must. On a more positive note, the camera features 2 nifty dials with programmable features, one at the front of the camera and one at the back. These dials grants quicker access to the adjustment of aperture and other variables when compared to a typical DSLR layout.
The ISO performance for the Sony A7s is very impressive. I had the Sony 70-200mm F2.8G SSM mounted on the A7s using a Sony LA-EA4 A-Mount to E-Mount FF Lens Adapter. I did not want to keep the aperture wide open as our subjects will be moving around a lot while executing their actions. Using a smaller aperture will reduce the chances of subjects going out of focus, a frequent occurrence when using focal lengths more than 100mm. With this in mind I kept the aperture at F8.0 and cranked the ISO up to 80,000, the shots were sharp but slightly noisy. Despite the noise, the footage was of good enough quality to be approved by the TV station we were delivering it to.
One major flaw when it comes to the Sony A7s’ video capabilities, is the shutter roll that happens when you try to pan with this camera. Shutter rolls makes your footage look warped when you are panning horizontally. This flaw is a deal breaker for me. Rolling shutter was a thing of the past and for a modern camera to still have such a quirk other manufacturers fixed almost a decade ago is unacceptable. For hidden camera videos, we do a lot of hunting when tracking our subjects so a rolling shutter issue would really affect the quality of your footage.
The Sony A7s may be a great camera for photographers, tourists and perhaps scripted content with carefully planned shots, but it is not a product for the run and gun video productions we work on.
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