Sony A7S II Hands-on Review

After the introduction of the Sony Alpha 7 II and Sony Alpha 7R II it was only a matter of time before Sony introduced the update to the Alpha 7S, its low light and video-centric model. The company chose to announce the Alpha 7S II at this year’s IBC show in Amsterdam (Jump To Sony A7S II price and specs).

Like the A7R II, the latest edition to the Sony Alpha range allows internal 4K recording in XAVC S format with no pixel binning. The Alpha 7S is also 4K-enabled, but it can only record it to an external device.

In addition, Full-HD footage can be recorded at up to 120fps (frames per second) at 100Mbps with no pixel binning – for super-slow motion playback.

The A7S-series is also designed for low-light shooting and as before, the maximum sensitivity setting is ISO 409,600. The native range is of ISO 100-102,400. There’s also the 5-axis image stabilisation that we’ve seen in the A7 II and A7R II, for smoother footage and sharper images.

Like the original A7S, at the heart of the A7S II is a full-frame 12.2Mp Exmor CMOS sensor. Keeping the pixel count low while having a larger sensor means that the photo receptors (aka pixels) can be made larger to create a stronger image signal.

Also, according to Sony’s Masaaki Oshima, Deputy General Manager of the Digital Imaging Business Group’s Imaging Products and Solutions Sector, although the new camera uses the same sensor and processing engine as the A7S, new circuitry and improved noise reduction algorithms mean that noise is controlled much better than before.

Unfortunately I am told that a firmware update will not elevate the A7S to the same standard of noise control.

Sony’s Picture Profiles are also available to allow videographers to tailor the appearance of video (and stills) in-camera. These make it possible to set specific values for Black Level, Gamma and Knee (highlight compression) as well as color adjustment (Color Mode, Color Level, Color Phase and Color Depth) and Detail.

The Gamma settings include Sony’s S-Log2 as well as the new S-log3 setting. These can increase dynamic range by up to 1300% by creating very flat looking footage that is ideal for post-capture grading.

A new Gamma Display Assist option lets you see the scene with natural contrast even though you’re shooting with a S-Log gamma setting.

While S-Log2 is especially useful for preserving brighter tones, S-Log3 is designed to capture the maximum tonal range in shadow to mid-tone areas.

Sony has also increased the number of autofocus (AF) points available to 169 and claims a 2x faster AF response in video mode.

Sony A7S II hands-on review: Build and handling

In response to criticisms of the design of the original A7, A7R and A7S, Sony has made changes to the Mark II versions. These including making the grip bigger, moving the shutter release forward on to the top of the grip and shifting the video record button onto the side of the thumb-grip on the back of the camera to avoid is being pressed accidentally.

Because it’s awkward to press the newly located video button when hand-holding the camera, I find it’s better to set one of the two customisation buttons on the top-plate to activate video.

Like the A7 II and A7R II, the new A7S II feels well made and is comfortable to hold, with most controls being within easy reach. The new camera is tougher than the original model, with more magnesium alloy and a reinforced lens mount.

The menu layout is largely the same as the A7R Mark II’s. There’s also the same high level of customisation available.

However, my criticisms of the A7R II’s menu and Function menu can also be made of the A7S II.

It would be nice to have separate sections within the main menu for stills and video controls, plus a second Function Menu for video options. I passed these comments on to Sony’s engineers at the launch and the response was positive, so fingers crossed.

Sony’s XGA OLED Tru-Finder has the World’s highest magnification (0.78x) and it provides an impressive view when composing images with the camera held to your eye.

Sony A7S II hands-on review: Performance

I haven’t been able to shoot anything with the A7S II yet, but the original camera impressed when I reviewed it and the sample stills and videos I have seen from the new model look very impressive.

Naturally, as it has a lower pixel count than the A7R II and A7 II, the Alpha 7S II can’t resolve as much detail as its stablemates in stills, but there should still be enough information to make high-quality A3 prints.

Meanwhile 4K and Full-HD footage should have higher quality because it’s generated using larger photo sites.

In my test of the original A7S I found that noise is controlled well, but the top ISO 409,600 setting is best avoided.

As this remains an expansion setting, I suspect that the same is true of the new camera, but I will investigate it when we get a full production sample in for testing.

Sony is claiming a big improvement in the A7S’s autofocus capability and judging by a demonstration I saw involving a stuffed toy in a dark box, it’s good.

In more average lighting conditions it’s fast and accurate. I’m looking forward to testing it properly.

Sony A7S II hands-on review: Early Verdict

Over half of the people who bought the A7S are professional photographers, with many using it to shoot video, building a rig around it to enable 4K recording.

With the 24Mp A7 II and 42Mp A7R II also in the A7-series, there is no pressure for Sony to increase the pixel count of the A7S II and it can concentrate on making it’s handing and performance better – especially for videographers.

The ability to record 4K in-camera allows these users a bit more freedom plus the ability to travel lighter and work more discretely. Meanwhile the improvement in the AF and noise control will be widely appreciated.

Those looking for an ‘all-rounder’ camera are best off looking at the A7 II, or even the A7R II if they can stomach the cost, but the A7S and A7S II are intended to produce the best image quality.

The A7S really impressed when we tested it and the improvements brought by the A7S II should make it even more attractive.