I first met Colleen Gentemann at The Gathering, a Marketing Event held in Banff, Alberta; we were both contracted to provide video coverage for the event. Colleen was shooting with a couple of Canon SLRs while I was using my Sony a7S for roaming as well as a Nikon D800 with an Atomos Ninja2 attached for continuous recording. Presentations were held in 2 separate rooms so we were split apart for most of the 2 day event.
Colleen sent me an email inquiring about my a7S and all of the attachments I had with it. Below is my response to some of her questions.
Are you happy with the footage and the performance you get out of it?
Yes, I do love the footage from the a7S and it’s codec compared to my Nikon D800 and D600. If you get a 64GB or higher U3 card for the a7S you can take advantage of the XAVC codec, which is pretty solid. Of course another benefit is how much you can customize the Picture Profiles on the a7S vs something like a Canon 5D or Nikon D800. Also compared to other SLRs you get focus peaking with the a7S. I find that the Nikon and Canon SLRs are still very much meant more for photo than video, as opposed to something like the Sony a7S or Panasonic GH4. The a7S also takes pretty decent photos however I’m holding onto my Nikon photography kit for any photo jobs because I love the performance and quality of the kit I’ve put together over the years. Not saying that I wouldn’t use the a7S for photos, just that I’ll use my Nikon kit first when given the chance.
I couldn’t help but notice the number of attachments you needed for it. The monitor the external storage for 4K, external audio.
I didn’t “need” the external monitor however I love having it for critical focus and I feel looking at a larger screen is better on the eyes. The monitor I have is the SmallHD AC7, which is just a monitor not a recorder. However after NAB I will most likely invest in the Atomos Shogun 4K recorder. For the external Mic I have it has XLR inputs which are essential when wanting to attach Lav Mics, no need to use an external recorder like the Zoom H4N. Another benefit to an external recorder, such as the Atomos Shogun or Ninja Star, is that there is no real recording time limit like the ones imposed on most mirrorless or SLR cameras.
Do you feel it’s a bit awkward for a run and gun style of shooting, does it take a long time to set it up?
I’ve worked with much bigger camera rigs so no I didn’t feel it was too awkward. The monitor does make it a little more awkward but not for event coverage like that. Attaching the monitor is what takes the longest to setup right, everything else just snaps on.
Have you tested it’s performance in weather?
I have not used my a7S in any extreme weather yet, worth asking around about that.
How much do you figure it cost you with all the extras?
Not including lenses here’s what my a7S kit costs (roughly):
SmallHD AC7 – $600
Sony K1M-XLR Mic – $800
Motion9 Cage – $400
Switronix Powerbase 70 V-Lock Battery – $400
Metabones Adaptor for my Nikon Glass – $150
Here’s a little more info on the add-ons I have for my a7S and why:
SmallHD AC7 – As stated earlier I like have this 7” external monitor for critical focus. I also find it useful in composition and increasing the chance of finding things in my frame that I may miss on a smaller screen. I also firmly believe that having an external monitor is good for your health in that you won’t be squinting as much or bending your neck and back to get a closer look at a smaller on-camera screen. An external monitor also makes it easier for a client or director to review your shot while you focus on using the on-camera screen.
Sony K1M-XLR Mic – I admit that the price for this Mic is quite high, you can also get the K2M for $200 off and the only difference is that the K1M can be mounted off camera and connected to the camera with it’s built in cable. I chose the K1M because having the Mic off camera worked better with my rig, particularly the cage. There are far cheaper external Mics that are meant for SLR cameras, such as the Rode Video Mic, however you lose XLR options for these types of Mics. The K1M has audio controls built in for manual settings and has 2 XLR ports, which is a must for the corporate work and interviews that I typically shoot. You can always record to an external recorder like the Zoom H6 however I believe with that the time and effort of syncing audio to visual in post can be a hassle.
Motion9 Cage – The thing about going from a camera like the Canon 5D or Nikon D800 is that something like the a7S is that the a7S feels very small. Ergonomically I found the a7S very tough to hold due to it’s very small size and build. The cage I hear about most for the a7S is the Movcam, however at the time when I was looking it was actually quite hard for me to get my hands on one. When I came across the Motion9 case and saw that it was in stock so I figured I’d give it a shot. I have to say that the Motion9 cage is really well thought out and I love the ergonomics.
Switronix Powerbase 70 V-Lock Battery – If there’s one thing going against the a7S it is it’s very poor battery performance. I have 5 batteries for my a7S plus the charger that came with it and a Watson dual charger, the batteries for the a7S really do run out quick. I then came across the Switronix battery made with the a7S in mind. The expected charge of this battery is supposed to last an estimated 8 hours, and after shooting the events like we did I can confidently say that it did’t even run down to 50% life during shooting. This battery comes with an adaptor to connect to the a7S and you can attach the camera directly to the battery itself with the added quick release plate. Another bonus of this V-Lock battery is that the cable that attaches to the a7S leaves two D-Tap ports available so you can also power an external monitor and/or an LED light at the same time, effectively powering 3 products at the same time.
Zeiss Loxialenses – The lenses I have so far are the Sony 24-70 and the new Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2. The build and quality of the Loxia is the best I’ve had of any lens I’ve owned, very sharp and no vignetting. There is also a 50mm f/2 Loxia that I have my eyes on and I hope they come out with a telephoto soon, perhaps an 85mm or 135mm. Another set of prime lenses to consider are Rokinon. While not having used any Rokinon lenses personally I’ve heard great things about them and they really are the best bang of buck right now.
ND Filters – One last thing to consider is getting a set of ND filters or a variable ND filter. The reason for this is the a7S can shoot S-Log however it bumps up the base ISO to 3200, not ideal for shooting outdoors. My Personal experience with variable ND filters is they are not consistent in quality throughout their range of lighter to darker. The benefit of a veritable ND filter is that yo can very quickly change how much light is coming through your lens, which is good if you’re shooting a lot of run n’ gun. I personally recommend getting a 3 stop, 6 stop, and 10 stop filter kit because you can trust the quality better and you won’t accidentally change exposer while shooting, something I’ve done a few times with a variable ND filter.
Colleen, you mentioned that you’re also considering buying the Sony FS7. The a7S and FS7 are in 2 completely different categories however together I feel that they make a pretty sweet A-Cam and B-Cam package. If you can afford it and have enough gigs lined up to justify it then the FS7 won’t let you down. Another camera to consider would be the Canon C100 Mark ii (or C300) with Atomos Ninja Star. Since you already have a great Canon kit this camera would compliment your current equipment well. However since you do shoot a lot of spots related projects you can’t go wrong with the FS7 due to it’s high frame rate shooting capabilities, which are missing from the C100.
With NAB a little over a week away I would certainly wait until after NAB to make any purchasing plans. I don’t expect Sony to announce anything new however we may hear something from Canon or maybe even Panasonic.
Hope this helps, if you have any other questions please let me know.
So that is my take on the a7S and the kit I’ve built around it. If you own the a7S what external gear and accessories do you have? What accessories do you recommend for the a7S? What advise do you have when deciding between the a7S or the FS7?