During my study of the Sony A7 and A7R, I wanted to put the video features to the test. The above short, which I call “Nerfed,” was shot in a few hours using only the Sony A7 and A7R (as well as a few shots with the GoPro Hero3 that were required for the plot) with the aid of my unusually cooperative children. Sony makes a compelling argument for its next generation of full-frame cameras after using these cameras to create this entertaining project and in other ways over the previous several weeks.
The Sony A7 and A7R feature a robust video function set that might make mainstream HDSLRs envious. Sony hasn’t been one to hold back video features on its cameras in recent years (in marked contrast to Canon’s segmentation of capabilities depending on the MSRP).
The Sony A7 and A7R feature several key video-centric features that make them ideal for video shooters (and potentially the best option available). These are just a few of the main highlights:
- Compact design
The A7 and A7R are considerably smaller than conventional full frame DSLRs. In a lightweight and compact package, they shoot high-definition video at up to 1080/60p that you can’t get from Canon or Nikon.
2. Face-detect autofocus
The camera has a great feature that helps it focus on people’s faces while you are filming. I used this feature a lot in my movie, Nerfed. The final shot of the scene would have been impossible without this feature. We used a 6-foot jib shot with the A7R and the Sonnar T* FE 35mm 2.8 ZA lens. The camera’s face-detect kept focus on every take. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without using a remote if we had used a manual focus pull masako katsura. To describe my satisfaction with the video AF of these cameras is a gross understatement. With suitable E-mount lenses, the A7 cameras produce remarkable video AF performance that I haven’t seen in HDSLR-type devices before.
- Excellent EVF
The Sony A7 and A7R’s EVF is fantastic. It’s great for both video and still shots. It’s big, bright, and there are no delays. You can utilize your eye on the EVF as a third point of contact for more stability if you’re shooting handheld video.
- Tilting LCD
Once upon a time, I was one of those who griped about tilt displays over swing-out variable-angle displays. I’m beginning to reconsider my stance on this. On the stills side, I have particular reasons for preferring the tilted LCD on the A7 and A7R. With the exception of vertical angles, on the video side, there isn’t much room to gripe about having to view it in a vertical position. It also outperforms the angle choices on the Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 (there aren’t any alternatives).
The tilting display enables you to see your photographs from various angles without having to be directly in front of the camera.
- Zebra overlay from 70-100%
On a serious camera, this should be an alternative. The ability to quickly adjust exposure on particular areas of the image is something zebras alone can do.
- Focus peaking
Another indication of a powerful video camera. Focus peaking allows you to manually focus when autofocus doesn’t work or if you’re using lenses that don’t feature AF on the A7 and A7R.
7. Mic input
Fortunately, this is now the case with video-capable cameras. The A7 and A7R cameras not only include a microphone input, but you can also monitor levels while recording. The input is powered by a 2.5v plug-in source, which allows you to use battery-less mics like the Rode VideoMic Go (pictured above).
- Headphone output
This is a feature that has been appearing more and more on cameras costing $1,000 or more. The feature, which has been available on some other cameras for years, has only recently been implemented in the 5D Mark III and Canon 1D C. The new video-centric Canon 70D lacks a headphone jack, as does the previous model. Sony understands the value of audio monitoring (for even beginner and enthusiast shooters) and provides for a straightforward solution.
- Clean HDMI output
AVCHD, as previously mentioned, is still used by Sony. The codec appears to be very entrenched in the company’s culture. You get 1080/60p, which translates to a pleasant 40% slow motion when edited in post. At 60p, you obtain 28Mbps data rates and at 24p, you get 24Mbps.
HDMI output from the cameras may be used to send compressed, clean 8-bit 4:2:2 footage to an external recorder in either 60i or 60p frame rates if you want higher data rates.
10. Lens versatility
The face-detect AF with E-mount lenses is excellent, and I used it for virtually all of the shots in Nerfed. The Rokinon 85mm T1.5 cine lens was the only exception; it’s a manual focus instrument with aperture and focus ring gearing as well as a very smooth focusing throw. I’ve used the same manufacturers’ A-mount lenses on a Sony E-Mount to A-Mount adapter, as well. Because A-mount lenses are so sluggish, focusing only works when shooting a still image.
Sony has been on the offensive, pushing for third-party lenses and adapters with its E-mount cameras in addition to the Sony A-mount adapter. Adapters for just about every lens mount are available, ranging from Leica M-mount glass to cinema-grade PL-mount lenses.
I’ve been extremely pleased with the Sony A7 and A7R as both still and video cameras. While there are certain still picture capabilities that aren’t quite on par with high-end DSLRs yet, the A7 cameras perform admirably as full frame video recorders.
What do you like about these new full frame mirrorless cameras? Or, are they still not good enough in the world of DSLRs?