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Sony Alpha A7S (ILCE-7S) Review

Sony Alpha A7S, full frame mirrorless camera with a 12 megapixel sensor, and 4K video recording it promises low noise photography and video.

| Sony Alpha 7S in Mirrorless Cameras


Sony Alpha A7S (ILCE-7S) Review: Sony Alpha A7S ILCE 7S (4)
Announced in April, the Sony Alpha A7S is a 12.2 megapixel full-frame mirrorless camera, with 4K video recording (with an external recorder), and an impressive ISO range from ISO50 to ISO409600 for both stills and video. The Sony Alpha A7S is available for £2099 body only.

Sony Alpha A7S Features

Sony Alpha A7S (ILCE-7S) Review: Sony Alpha A7S ILCE 7S (3)
The Sony Alpha A7S (ILCE-7S) features a 12.2 megapixel full-frame sensor and 4K video recording, along with an expanded ISO range of ISO50 to ISO409,600 for both stills and video. The camera is the World’s first full-frame sensor capable of full pixel read-out without a pixel binning process for movie and 4K (QFHD: 3840 x 2160) HDMI video output, and includes XAVC S Full HD recording at 50Mbps, time code and optional XLR audio inputs, making it ideally suited for professional video recording.

Sony Alpha A7S (ILCE-7S) Review: Sony Alpha A7S ILCE 7S (1)
Part of the A7/A7R family of the world’s smallest full-frame interchangeable lens cameras – the α7S features a 12.2 megapixel full-frame 35mm Exmor CMOS image sensor, gives impressive light sensitivity (with ISO50 to ISO409600 available), low noise and 4K (QFHD: 3840×2160) video recording (with an external recorder). The Sony Alpha A7 features a 24 megapixel sensor, while the A7R features a 36 megapixel sensor, giving you a choice of a 12 / 24 and 36 megapixel sensors.

With a 12.2 effective megapixel count the size of each individual photoreceptive site is significantly larger to increase light-gathering power. Coupled with the camera’s BIONZ X processing engine, this reduces image noise while increasing effective sensitivity range of the α7S to ISO 50 – ISO 409600 in expanded mode (ISO 200 – 409600 for movies). Thanks to a new sensor, the camera is said to have immense dynamic range, ideal for high-contrast scenes, helping the camera handling extreme highlights and deep blacks in the same frame.

Using data read-out from every single pixel of the 35mm full-frame sensor (24p and 25p), 4K images created by the α7S are detailed, with rich colours and life-like textures. The BIONZ X processor and high-speed data stream allows the α7S to output video at 4K resolution from the HDMI connector with 4:2:2 colour sampling, for recording onto an external storage device or viewing on a compatible monitor.

Full HD quality video can be recorded as XAVC S format at the 50Mbps data rate that’s highly regarded by professional videographers.In APS-C crop mode, the α7S supports high frame rate shooting at 120fps or 100fps with HD resolution (1280 x 720 pixels). The 120fps footage can be played back at 24p for a 5x slow-motion effect – ideal for seeing every detail of sports action.Professional videographers will also benefit from features such as Picture Profile™ for wide ranging visual expression and S-Log2 gamma. Timecode / user bit functions allow pro-style editing workflow, while an optional XLR Adaptor Microphone Kit supports high-quality audio acquisition.

The camera can focus in low-light as low as EV-4. Other features include a high-contrast XGA OLED Tru-Finder, Wi-Fi/NFC connectivity and compatibility with the growing range of downloadable PlayMemories Camera Apps. NFC (Near Field Communication) and Wi-Fi is built in for remote operation, and image transfer when connected to a compatible smartphone, and the camera uses the Sony PlayMemories Mobile app which is compatible with Android and iOS devices.

According to Sony, there’s a growing range of α lenses to take full advantage of the camera’s near-limitless creative potential. Currently under development, a brand-new full frame E-mount power zoom 28-135mm, f/4 lens appeals to quality-conscious movie-makers. In addition, Sony is collaboratively working with third parties to support pro-quality 4K video workflow. A new XLR adaptor kit with a direct attachment mechanism is also under development.

Sony Alpha A7S (ILCE-7S) Review: Sony Alpha A7S ILCE 7S (7)
Key Features

  • 12.2 megapixel Full-Frame Exmor CMOS sensor
  • Sony E-Mount
  • 3inch tilting TFT screen, 921k dots
  • 2.359 million dot electronic viewfinder (EVF)
  • ISO50-ISO409,600
  • BIONZ X image engine
  • 4K (QFHD: 3840x2160) video recording
  • 320 / 380 shot battery life (viewfinder/LCD)
  • Wi-Fi, NFC connectivity
  • 25-point contrast detection AF focus works down to -4 EV

Sony Alpha A7S Handling

Sony Alpha A7S (ILCE-7S) Review: Sony Alpha A7S ILCE 7S (11)
The camera features a tough magnesium-alloy body that is weather sealed, and gives side access to the memory card slot, supporting the use of either Sony Memory Stick or SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards.

The A7S, along with the A7, and A7R, features the same orange ring around the lens mount, which was first introduced with the Sony Alpha 99, and Sony Cyber-shot RX1 and signifies that the camera has a full-frame sensor.

The rest of the camera is much more subtle in its design with a black metal body, and SLR styling, with the top viewfinder area and rear of the camera closely resembling the retro styled Olympus OM-D E-M5, and subsequent OM-D models. The design of the camera seemed to generate mixed reaction, with some welcoming the industrial retro styling, whereas others are much less keen on the angular design.

The rear features a high resolution 921k dot 3inch tilting screen that tilts up and down, and a high resolution 2.4 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF), with dioptre correction and eye-detection sensor so that it will automatically switch to the viewfinder when held up to the eye.

Viewfinder quality is excellent, with a very clear and crisp display, which includes a dual-axis electronic level, and the EVF has a good sized rubber surround to help viewing outdoors which will be of benefit to anyone who wears glasses. Thankfully, the camera features a menu system much more similar to Sony Alpha cameras, rather than Sony NEX cameras, making the menu system across all Sony cameras the same. A switch on the back will let you change the operation of the AF/MF button to an AEL button.

Sony Alpha A7S (ILCE-7S) Review: Sony Alpha A7S ILCE 7S (8)

The side video record button has been placed so that you don't accidentally start video recording. There is also a microphone and headphone socket on the side for those seriously interested in video recording, and the clean HDMI out will be of particular interest here.

The mode dial features Auto, P, A, S, M, Scene, Panoramic, Video modes as well as two customisable user modes, and there's also a C1 (custom1) button on top of the camera, with a second C2 (custom2) button on the back, along with a Fn (Wi-Fi) button, and C3 button that doubles as the delete button when in playback. The functions available on screen when you press the Fn button can be customised to give quick access to your favourite options.

A large front grip is covered in a textured rubber coating that extends round to the back of the camera, where it is shaped for your thumb. The camera feels good to hold with some of the smaller lenses, however, when the larger FE lenses are mounted on the camera, it can make the camera seem quite lens heavy and therefore holding the camera with two hands (with one supporting the lens) is highly recommended. If you plan on using one of the adapters, and Sony Alpha (A-Mount) lenses with the camera, or other large lenses, then the optional battery grip could help the camera feel more balanced, as well as giving extended battery life.

An exposure compensation dial on top gives quick access to exposure control although we found it easy to accidentally knock it when getting the camera out of a bag, so care needs to be taken to ensure this hasn't been accidentally changed. A front and rear dial can be used for aperture and shutter control when in manual / aperture or shutter modes respectively.

Sony Alpha A7S (ILCE-7S) Review: Sony Alpha A7S ILCE 7S (12)

Battery life - Battery life is rated at 380 shots according to Sony / CIPA test results (when using the LCD screen), which is quite good for a mirrorless class of camera, and is better than the 270 shot battery life rating of the A7 and A7R. Extended use of Wi-Fi and the electronic viewfinder will reduce battery life.

Speed - We took a number of shots to test the camera's responsiveness, from switch on to first photo, shot to shot, focusing speed etc. We take a number of shots and then use the average to ensure accurate and consistent tests, making it easy to compare with other cameras.

Shutter Response <0.05secs
Wide - Focus / Shutter Response 0.3secs
Switch on Time to Taking a Photo 2.4secs
Shot to Shot without Flash 0.5secs
Shot to Shot with Flash N/A
Continuous Shooting - JPEG
(shots before slow down)
5fps (60 shots), 26 seconds to write to card
Continuous Shooting - Flash N/A
Continuous Shooting - RAW 5fps (27 shots), 14 seconds to write to card

Focus is reasonably quick and uses contrast detection focus, however the A7S is not as quick as the Sony Alpha A7, which employs phase detection focus on the sensor for improved focus speeds. Tested with the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 lens. 

Sony Alpha A7S (ILCE-7S) Review: Sony Alpha A7S ILCE 7S (9)

Sony Alpha A7S Performance

The performance section is where we look at the image quality performance of the camera. Additional sample photos and product shots are available in the Equipment Database, where you can add your own review, photos and product ratings.

Sony Alpha 7S Sample Photos

Sample Photos - The camera produces sharp detailed JPEG images straight from the camera, although contrast is quite high and to recover detail in shadows converting the raw images can be helpful. Exposure is reliable although you do need to be aware that it's quite easy to accidentally turn the exposure compensation disk when getting the camera out of camera bags.

Sony Alpha 7S Lens test images

Lens Performance - The A7s produces images with excellent levels of detail, despite featuring "only" a 12 megapixel sensor. Dynamic range is good, with the camera featuring a number of effective ways to increase dynamic range, using either the DRO setting or HDR setting. Image quality is very good with the prime lenses available for the Sony Alpha A series mirrorless cameras, and the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 lens is provided with a small lens hood so shouldn't suffer when using the camera's in bright sunlight. .

Sony Alpha 7S ISO test images

ISO Noise Performance - For the lowest noise and best detail possible we would recommend using ISO50 to ISO3200, as images have low levels of noise and good levels of detail. For lower light situations ISO6400 to ISO25600 still provides good results, although noise increases and detail is reduced as the ISO setting is increased. At ISO51200 noise levels become stronger although results may still be useful if resized, used on the web or with further processing, and the camera gives better JPEG results straight from the camera than both the Nikon Df and Canon EOS 6D. Detail and colour suffers at ISO102400, with noise becoming quite dominant at ISO204800. ISO409600 is best avoided as noise is extremely high, and detail is very low.

Sony Alpha 7S White-balance test images

White Balance Performance - Auto White Balance (AWB) performs well with a slightly warm colour cast under tungsten lighting, with the tungsten preset giving a more accurate result. AWB performs well under fluorescent lights with a slightly warm result, with the fluorescent preset giving a more accurate result.


Sony Alpha A7S (ILCE-7S) Review: Panoramic | 1/500 sec | f/4.5 | 55.0 mm | ISO 100
Panoramic | 1/500 sec | f/4.5 | 55.0 mm | ISO 100

Panorama mode -The camera features an automatic panoramic mode, where you simply press the shutter release button and pan the camera from one side to the other. Results are good, and well stitched together, with a good resolution image produced.

Sony Alpha 7S Digital filters

Digital Filters - When using the picture effects, the camera records the altered JPEG but does not let you use this feature with raw enabled.

Video - In video mode, the α7S can output uncompressed 4K video at QFHD (3840x2160) in 4:2:2 to an optional external 3rd party 4K recorder via the HDMI connection, although this will most likely cost you around $2000 US Dollars, for something like the Atomos Shogun, which isn't available at time of publication. Focus peaking and zebra pattern aids manual focusing, and ISO100 to ISO409600 is selectable. Picture profiles let you adjust the black level, gamma, black gamma, knee, colour mode, and saturation, which will be of interest for professional video work. XAVC S, AVCHD and MP4 video formats are available, and the camera features S-Log 2 which is said to increase dynamic range by 1300%. The A7s can also record 720p video at 120/100fps (depending whether the camera is in NTSC or PAL mode). Additional videos can be found on the ePHOTOzine YouTube channel, including a video shot at 100fps, and a panning test.

Value For Money

The Sony Alpha A7s is available for £2099 body only, which makes the pricing roughly similar to other 4K video recording cameras such as the BlackMagic Design Production Cinema 4K priced at around £1915, however the A7s has a full-frame sensor. In comparison a 4K recording camera with a large sensor is likely to set you back considerably more, to the tune of around £20,000 for something like the (much larger) Sony F55, or alternatively you could look at the Panasonic Lumix GH4 priced at £1299 body only, which records 4K video to memory cards, and features a Micro Four Thirds sensor.

If you wanted a full-frame mirrorless camera, capable of FullHD video recording, then you could look at the Sony Alpha A7 with a 24 megapixel sensor priced at around £1300 body only, or for low light performance you could look at the Nikon Df, with a 16 megapixel sensor priced at £2299 with 50mm f/1.8 lens, or the Canon EOS 6D, with a 20 megapixel sensor priced at around £1300 body only.

You'll also need to buy a memory card and a case or bag to keep your camera safe and protected - have a look at our complete guide to camera bags.

Sony Alpha A7S Verdict

The Sony Alpha A7S bucks the trend for more megapixels, by offering a 12 megapixel full-frame sensor, this gives it impressive light capturing abilities, with low noise right up to ISO25600 and above. The smaller file size should also let you shoot more on a memory card, as well as speed up workflow and image processing times. The camera has a weather sealed magnesium alloy body, along with a very good electronic viewfinder, all packed in to a relatively compact design, making it the smallest full-frame sensor camera available.

Compared to the Panasonic Lumix GH4, which will record 4K video straight out of the box, at a lower price and with a much larger range of lenses available, the Sony Alpha A7S may seem limited and expensive as a 4K video device, particularly as you will need to buy an external recorder for 4K video. However, for stills photography and low-light the Sony Alpha A7S delivers very impressive performance, with low levels of noise even when using high ISO settings. It's also possible to use the Sony Alpha A7S with a lens adapter so you can use a wide variety of lenses from Nikon, Canon, Olympus and others.

If you simply want excellent low-light performance, then this is one of the best cameras currently available, however it is more expensive than an alternative such as the Canon EOS 6D. If you want a camera that is also able to deliver excellent low-light performance for videos, then this would make an excellent choice, although you do need to bare in mind that you are likely to need to spend an additional 2000 US Dollars before you can record 4K video. For those that can make the most of the video performance on offer then it would make sense to invest in the 7S, particularly as you can upgrade to 4K recording at a later date.

Sony Alpha A7S Pros

12 megapixel files are smaller
Impressive ISO range available for stills and video
Very impressive noise performance up to ISO25600 / ISO51200
Full-frame sensor mirrorless camera
Focus peaking / Zebra display
5fps continuous shooting (speed priority)
Weather sealed magnesium alloy body
Microphone / Headphone sockets

Sony Alpha A7S Cons

4K only available when recording to an external device
4K external recording device isn't available yet
High price if you want to record 4K video
Limited lens range in FE mount (plenty of adapters available)
Flash not included / provided - although possibly not needed


Sony Alpha A7S (ILCE-7S) Review:

The Sony Alpha A7s delivers impressive low light performance with excellent image quality and is therefore highly recommended.


Sony Alpha 7S Specifications

Image Sensor
Pixels12.2Mp (Megapixels)
Pixels (W)4240
Pixels (H)2832
Sensor TypeExmor CMOS
Sensor SizeFull-Frame
Sensor Size (width)35.8mm
Sensor Size (height)23.9mm
Aspect Ratio
  • 3:2
LCD Monitor
LCD Monitor3in
Screen resolution921k dots
Touch ScreenNo
Focusing modes
  • Autofocus
  • Manual
  • Spot
  • Face Detection
  • Multi
  • Centre
Exposure Control
Shutter speeds shortest1/8000sec
Shutter speeds longest30sec
Bulb modeYes
Exp modes
  • Program
  • Aperture-Priority
  • Shutter-Priority
  • Manual
  • Scene modes
  • Program Variable
  • Centre-weighted - Average
  • Multi Pattern
  • Spot
ISO sensitivity100 - 102400
White balance
  • Auto
  • Manual
  • Bracket
  • Outdoors/Daylight
  • Cloudy
  • Incandescent
  • Fluorescent
  • Shade
  • Underwater
Exposure Comp+/-3
Viewfinder Resolution2,359,296 dots
MagnificationNo Data
Shooting Options
Continuous shooting5fps
Movie modeYes
Video Resolution
  • 1920x1080 FullHD
  • 640x480 VGA
  • 1440x1080
  • 4K
Video FPS60p, 25p
Stereo SoundYes
Optical Zoom with VideoYes
Other Features
Image StabilisationNo
Card Type
  • SD
  • SDHC
  • Memory Stick (Sony)
  • SDXC
File Type
  • RAW
  • JPG
  • RAW + JPG
Power Source
Battery TypeInfo-Lithium Battery (NP-FW50)
Battery Life (CIPA rating)380shots
Box Contents
Box ContentsAC Adapter (USB), Rechargeable Battery Pack (NP-FW50), MicroUSB Cable, Shoulder strap

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Photographs taken using the Sony Alpha 7S

RyujinNight mountain viewStarry NightNight catYou meet amazing charachters on public transportPredawn light and stars at Saltwick Bay.Barbershop 20/15 03Barbershop 20/15 09Barbershop 20/15 01Gift Shop ClosedFirst light kisses the land.The old charmerRTP 3

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josa Avatar
josa 11 25 Czech Republic
30 Jul 2014 10:55AM
Just love what I see. Very sharp lens, great IQ! Also: "Portrait Studio Lighting" the best picture of the model so far, in my opinion.Wink

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