Sony Alpha a7s Mirrorless digital camera user review

Preface

This is the first part of a three part series review of my current camera setup (Sony Alpha A7s, Sony FE 28-70mm 3.5 – 5.6 OSS lense, and Sony A7/A7R/A7s Vertical Battery Grip – VG-C1EM).

Disclaimer: These user reviews are my thoughts & impressions of the equipment from my own perspective/experience using them as a end user. I am not a professional photographer (just a hobbyist) and have no association with Sony or any other company as such. Thus, I will not be doing any technical research/analysis or try to explain the features/technicalities of the camera, if you are after a technical rundown of the camera with in-depth research and analysis, I suggest you have a look at dpreview.com or similar. This review is more or less for the people who have already done their research and are on the fence thinking of making the jump.

Introduction

In this first review, I will talk about the camera body – Sony Alpha A7s (or simply A7s).

The very first question running through your mind as you read this blog post is probably; why is someone who is not a professional photographer buying an A7s camera? The answer to this question is actually quite simple – I’m a lazy person and like most of you, I love low light photos. Low light photos look much more interesting than broad daylight photos as the lighting creates a 3-dimensional look to the photos. But in order to capture those nice low light photos, you would need a tripod and some (expensive and heavy) fast lenses.

This is where I got creative and thought; if I got a good camera body with very good low light capabilities, I wouldn’t have a need for both a tripod nor fast lenses to capture those low light shots. (And that’s exactly what I did.)

What’s in the box

The A7s only comes in a body-only package as far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong). I know quite a few people prefer this option as it means they aren’t inclined to getting the kit lens bundle (which sometimes can be the same or just the odd $50 difference) and never use the kit lens.

During my research, there was a couple of things I noted in the various articles I read:

  • no battery charger was included, you have to buy it separately. I am happy to confirm, there’s a battery charger included and beats using your camera body as a battery charger any day.
  • battery life is not great and it was highly recommended to get a second battery (genuine Sony batteries for A7 retails for AUD119.95 here). Therefore, I am happy to inform you, the package comes with two batteries.

So what came in the box that’s worth noting?

  • A7s camera body
  • 2 batteries – yes two!
  • Battery charger with many mains adaptors
  • USB cable to connect to camera
  • Cable holder/organiser (I think that’s the name of it.)
Figure 1. First look inside the box.
Figure 2. Camera body still wrapped up in box.
Figure 3. All the contents inside the box.

Design & Handling

I brought my A7s after the A7II (A7 Mark II) was released in the US and thus was a bit skeptical of buying a camera with an outdated and less ergonomic design. At first, I was going to wait for the A7II to be released in Australia so I could try and compare between the two. However, when I went to try out the A7s at a local Sony kiosk, I did not find the design/grip to be an issue and in fact it fitted my hands nicely – this is probably because I’m Asian and have small hands. This also means, the A7II wouldn’t be a very good grip for my hand size. So I would recommend for you to go into your local Sony store and try hold the camera in your own hands, and if it’s a good fit; better grab the current gen before they’re all gone and replaced by the next gen.

The A7s is made of magnesium alloy, so the build quality is top notch. The overall design needs a little getting used to, especially the ‘flat’ design (this is my first mirrorless camera, my previous cameras has been traditional bulky DSLRs). The location of the dials, etc are pretty much where you expect them to be – not much to say really.

Figure 4. View of top of camera body.
Figure 5. Front side of camera body.
Figure 6. Back side of camera body.

Image Quality

As mentioned in the disclaimer above, I will not go into the technicalities. However, I will mention; I am very impressed by the A7s’ low light performance. Photos taken at ISO8000 produce less noise than photos taken at ISO400 on my old Canon 100D under the same lighting! (varies from photo to photo, but in general/average A7s is better. Note: 100D is an entry-level cropped-sensor DSLR and A7s is a Full-Frame enthusiasts’ camera that costs about 4 times more)

Like the classic saying – ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. Have a look at some of the photos I took with the A7s, especially the unaltered ones (i.e. no post-processing applied).

Noteworthy Features/Benefits

As I do not have any prior experience with other mirrorless or EVF-based cameras, I do not know if the features are specific to Sony cameras or not. But one thing is for sure, they make the A7s one hell of a camera!

Features that I love about the A7s:

  • tiltable screen
  • official battery grip (sold separately but having the option to buy one)
  • EVF (Electronic viewfinder what you see is what you get)
  • shooting using screen does not slow your camera down dramatically (also, what you see is what you get)
  • the various display modes (especially onscreen histogram)
  • 12MP (small file size as I do not print out my photos)
  • ability to use crop lenses (also setting to use crop mode for Full Frame lenses)
  • focus peak (zooms up on focus area to help with manual focus)
  • silent shooting (shoots photos without making a single sound, not even the shutter noise!)
  • built-in WiFi
  • charge batteries via plugging camera body to a USB device

Conclusion

Overall I am very happy with the camera. It’s not for everyone, and as indicated by its price; it’s not for the beginner photographer. For a beginner I would recommend getting the original A7 1st gen instead. It is very good value for money at the moment, around $1k and that’s for the kit lens bundle. However, in saying that, I am also happy to recommend the A7s for any experienced photographer who knows what they are looking for in a camera. Especially those who like to take handheld low light photos (who wants to carry around a tripod with them? and one of the main reasons/drivers for mirrorless systems is its compact size right?).