Review in Progress: The Sony a7S and the Promise of 4K

Review in Progress: The Sony a7S and the Promise of 4K

The Sony a7S has been the subject of a hotbed of conversation for the past four or five months as a camera with a lot of potential to really shake up the cinema world. This of course was extremely interesting to me as a videographer. I've finally gotten my hands on the camera and after a few days shooting with it on set, I'm not quite ready to write a review, but I do think it is important to address a feature about which I feel lied to: 4K.

Though it isn't the biggest selling point of the camera, the ability to do 4K certainly was something that put it nearer to the top of the list of enviable video cameras. Sure, the camera isn't capable of recording 4K natively like the GH4 is, instead requiring an external recorder, but having the option at all was extremely welcome. 

Sony's advertising and website are covered in happy 4K wording and colors, exclaiming that with a "compatible 4K recorder," you too can start shooting in the next generation of high resolution. 

Except you really can't. You can't until at least September of 2014 and even then you'll only have one option, the Atomos Shogun. 

For the sake of those Googling for answers to thie question, I'll reapeat: The Sony a7S cannot record 4K without a compatible recorder, of which there are none until Quarter 4 of 2014.

Sony is selling this camera based on features, like any camera manufacturer. Unfortunately, it's selling a major feature that is actually impossible right now. Though there is a lot more to consider with this camera (and I'll be honest, the quality of the footage is spectacular), if you want the ability to shoot 4K it's going to be hard to recommend the a7S for purchase until testing on the medium can be done. 

I'll end with a couple videos on the camera that Philip Bloom has posted, which show how spectacular the sensor is (a statement that right now I very much agree with). 

Photos by Trevor Dayley

Jaron Schneider's picture

Jaron Schneider is an Fstoppers Contributor and an internationally published writer and cinematographer from San Francisco, California. His clients include Maurice Lacroix, HD Supply, SmugMug, the USAF Thunderbirds and a host of industry professionals.

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You are kidding right? About being lied to.
When I first saw the camera at NAB in April it was stated the camera can record 4k but not until a 4K recorder is out which is when the Shogun comes out.
So this isn't something new.

Having not been at NAB myself, and considering a lot of folks are likely in the same boat, and reading a lot of conversation online about it, the fact of the matter is that it's not a well known fact.

Just because it's not a well known fact does not make it a lie.

The advertising and lack of information upfront on Sony's site (and in the actual manual) and my phrasing seems pretty apt to me. I never said they lied, I said I feel lied to.

lied to? From day one, every post or news story I've read on the A7s told me no 4K until september. Old news. They were right up front about it.

Sorry to say that but Sony does not have to follow up 3rd party hardware partners if they produce 4K recorders or not. The camera is capable of pushing 4K video through HDMI, period. Think this way... you go and buy a Bugatti Veyron for $2.7m. The spec sheet states that the car is capable of making 254mph. You take the car but then suddenly notice that the roads are not suitable for that kind of speed. You blame Bugatti. Does that make sense?

I totally get what you're saying, but I don't agree with that example at all. For that example to work, no roads would have to exist where speeds like that could be sustained. Fact of the matter is there are. But I see the point you are trying to make. I just don't agree.

Agree or don't agree, it is too harsh to say Sony was a liar. If they've written that the camera was capable of shooting 4K without mentioning the need for an external recorder, this is what I would have called a lie.

Well, since you have Philip Bloom examples above, Philip writes in his a7s review: "I managed to record some by sending the HDMI 2.0 signal into my Blackmagic Ultrastudio 4K box, which then goes via thunderbolt into my MacBook Pro Retina. Using media express software, I can capture live into different formats. I captured some ProRes LT 4k in my back garden just as a quick and dirty test." So I guess Sony isn't lying and it IS possible to record 4K with the a7s right now?

Dang that's complicated, but interesting! It's certainly not what any average folk (like myself) would manage to do.

Exactly. I'll just wait for the Shogun.

This means you published an article in which you lie. Do more research next time.

Record 4K 422 vie Thunderbolt 2 for $945

The Sony website also says "4K-optimized sensor"

What is up with Sony and doing this? When the FS700 came out, it was marketed as "4k-ready." I think it was nearly two years later before the hardware to actually do so was available. I'll just keep recording 4k directly to my little SD card, provided this GH4 wants to power on today...

Mike, are you having problems with the GH4? I'm looking at that camera for 4K shooting and interested to know how it's behaving in the field.

David, I've been working on a review of the GH4 and it's almost ready to post... I'll send you a message with a short version of my thoughts.

I feel like now is the worst time to buy a 4k camera. It's insane that these cameras cannot record 4k on their own. I want a single camera that can record 4k and super slowmo without doubling or tripling the cost and weight and destroying ergonomics. Is that too much to ask?

In fact, I don't really care about 4k I just want super sharp 1080p. I have to imagine 99% of people who shoot 4k are exporting to 1080p anyway.

You don't shoot 4K for the present. You shoot so your footage isn't outdated in 3 years.

The GH4 is arguably that camera.

sounds like you want the GH4!

Not at all, give it a few years!

Hi Jaron - what camera slider rail do you use? I am looking for a short one like this one in your photo.

It's an Edelkrone Slider Plus and it's outstanding. Here is the review: