Category Archives: Basics

Quick Guide to Focusing Manually on the Sony A7s

Here’s my quick guide to manually focusing the Sony A7s:

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If some of the terms are not familiar, please watch the following lessons:

Note: When I mention focus peaking doesn’t work well in low contrast scenes, the example I’m showing isn’t the right one.

Quick Reference

Here’s a quick summary of my manual focus settings:

Setting Value
Focus Mode Manual Focus
MF Assist Irrelevant, only for stills
Focus Magnif. Time No Limit
Peaking Level Mid
Peaking Color Yellow
C1 and C2 Focus Magnification – C1 for top position when I’m standing near the camera and C2 for when I’m standing back

 

Detailed Guide to Autofocus on the Sony A7s

This is my detailed guide to all the settings relating to autofocus on the Sony A7s:

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For a quick explanation of what the autofocus settings do, click here. The video does a more thorough job but the link is better for reference.

My exact settings and thoughts are in the previous lesson. Please watch the previous and next lesson for a full understanding of focusing on the A7s.

 

Quick Autofocus Settings Guide

In this lesson we’ll go over the specific settings I use and recommend for autofocusing with the Sony A7s. Note: This is just a quick setup guide for those who already know everything about autofocus but just want to know how I have set it up. For detailed instructions on all the settings and why I chose the settings I have, please watch the next lesson.

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Notes:

In the first customization option, I mention Focus Settings but use Focus Area instead. Both get me there in two clicks, so it’s not very different. Focus Settings is more intuitive, though for some strange reason you still need to click once to start moving the box – so there’s no speed advantage.

Quick Reference

Here’s a quick summary of how I recommend you use autofocus for best results:

Setting Value
Focus Mode Continuous AF
Focus Area Flexible Spot (M)
Focus Settings Used to move the spot
AF Illuminator Auto
Center Lock-on AF On
Smile/Face Detect. Off
MF Assist On
Focus Magnif. Time No Limit
Peaking Level Mid
Peaking Color Yellow
Pre-AF On
AF w/shutter On
AF Micro Adj. (Adjustment Set.) Off
Rear Dial Bottom Button Focus Area or Focus Settings
Rear Dial Center Button Center Lock-on AF
Half Shutter Press To autofocus
Focushold button To hold focus, and activate manual focus

In the next lesson I’ll provide a chart of the types of autofocus options and settings, when when to use which.

Very Important: Update Firmware Version ASAP

Update 18th June 2015: Sony has released v2. If you have not updated to v1.2 then please update to v2.0. If you have already updated to v1.2 (as shown below), then forget it.

Original Article: To know why you should update to v1.2, scroll below.

How to update firmware

As of March 29th 2015: Sony has released firmware version 1.20 for the A7s. You can get it here.

From Sony:

Improvements over version 1.10:

  • Improves camera function and provides picture improvement for the new lenses (SEL35F14Z, SEL24240, SEL28F20, SEL90M28G)

Benefits provided by previous updates and included in version 1.20:

  • Improves the power-on time after downloading the Smart Remote Control application of the PlayMemories Camera Apps.

Here are the steps to update your firmware (MAC OS X only!!*): https://esupport.sony.com/US/p/swu-download.pl?mdl=ILCE7S&upd_id=10323&os_group_id=3

*You can also update on Windows, just select the right operating system in the above link

Important: I cannot and will not provide support for this, and it is extremely important that you follow the steps correctly in the order given or you will brick your camera.

I have successfully updated to v1.20. Total time taken: 25 minutes.

Why is it important to update your firmware version?

Skin Smoothing Problem

In version v1.0 of the camera, via HDMI, and only via HDMI, the Sony A7s applied skin smoothing (even if it was turned off in the camera) to the HDMI feed – but not to the internally recorded footage.

E.g., if you connected the Shogun to the camera and studied how skin tones behave, you’ll see this (watch my forehead):

In the above video, the Shogun isn’t recording, but the live feed itself has this problem.

Of course, it gets recorded, too. Here’s the Prores version as recorded on the Shogun:

This problem only happens if you trigger the record from the Shogun directly. It does not happen when you trigger the Shogun from the A7s.

Just to confirm, this problem is not recorded in XAVC S internally:

The only way to correct this problem is to trigger record via the camera.

Firmware version v1.20 corrects this problem, so if you’re shooting on the Shogun or 7Q+ (or any other recorder for that matter), then you need to update your firmware immediately. It’s worth the trouble.

With v1.20, you can trigger record from the camera or the Shogun, and still record the same image.

Another reason to update: Startup speed

The Sony A7s took a few seconds to startup with v1.0. v1.10 corrected this, and with v1.20 the camera starts up in one second. The menu also feels snappier.

Configuring the Sony A7s for Videos and Photography

Before we can shoot with the Sony A7s, we need to understand what it is capable of. What are the features useful to me, and which ones should I avoid? In this lesson we’ll go through the general configuration and customization settings in the Sony A7s. More specific settings will be dealt with in later modules.

The idea is, rather than waste time going over each setting in the menu individually, we’ll go over the important ones and set them for life. My motto is: Do it once, do it quick and do it to forget!

Of course, it goes without saying that nobody likes looking at the menu all the time – so if you want to skip to sections that are important for you right now, use the contents below. Or just read my cheat sheet below on what to turn on, turn off, etc!

  • Changing the display information to suit your style of shooting 1:00
  • Customizing buttons and dials
    • Function Buttons (Fn) 3:33
    • Custom Buttons (C1, C2 and C3) 5:42
    • Memory Banks (1, 2, M1, M2, M3 and M4) 6:31
  • How to White Balance the Sony A7s 8:25
  • An overview of the white balance presets in the camera 10:14
  • A look at Creative Styles 10:35
  • A look at Picture Effects 11:54
  • A look at Picture Profiles 12:11
  • Noise reduction settings 12:45
  • APS-C mode and the crop factor in APS-C mode 13:10
  • Frame guides/Markers and how to use them 13:35
  • My field test /calibration chart – the DSC Labs OneShot Pocket 14:04

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Stuff to turn on

Where you’ll find it* Setting Quick Reason
Menu A34 AF Illuminator Off only for manual lenses
Menu A75 Audio Recording Helpful for sync sound or as a backup
Menu A81 Audio Out Timing Set to Live for normal monitoring, Set to Lip Sync if you’re exporting audio also via HDMI and need it to sync. Requires further testing.
Menu A82 Wind Noise Reduction Software or hardware does it better; use wind jammers or low cut filters on microphones
Menu B12 MF Assist Very handy, zooms in video for accurate focus
Menu B31 Live View Display Shows the effects you have selected. Log looks like look, cine looks like cine and so on.
Menu B42 AF w/shutter Off only for manual lenses
 

Stuff to turn off

Where you’ll find it* Setting Quick Reason
Top/Mode Dial Program Auto Automatic mode
Top/Mode Dial SCN Scene selection Toy Picture Effects mode
Top/Mode Dial Auto Automatic mode
Menu A22 Dual Video REC Second recording is in MP4, almost useless
Menu A26 Red Eye Reduction Do it in post
Menu A34 AF Illuminator Off only for manual lenses
Menu A44 DRO/Auto HDR Do it in post
Menu A54 Long Exposure NR Software does it better
Menu A55 High ISO NR Software does it better
Menu A62 Smile/Face Detect. Nope.
Menu A63 Soft Skin Effect Use software or diffusion
Menu A64 Auto Obj. Framing That’s your job!
Menu A74 Auto Slow Shut. Doesn’t work in Manual, blurs motion
Menu B54 Face Registration That’s your job!
Menu C15 Airplane Mode Off. Switch off networks in an airplane!
Menu F22 Mode Dial Guide Irritating. It’s not that hard!

Explanations and suggestions of other menu settings

Where you’ll find it* Setting Quick Reason
Menu A33 Focus Settings Allows dials to select focus box and zoom in using the ‘Enter’ button
Menu A53 Focus Magnifier Just magnifies the image. You can use the Custom buttons instead for easier access.
Menu B24 Peaking Level Mid (Good enough for 99% of situations)
Menu B25 Peaking Color Yellow (What the eye responds to most)
Menu B26 Exposure Set. Guide When this is on you get the ISO/Shutter/Aperture wheel on the display so you know what you’re changing to. I recommend you keep it on until you become perfect at judging exposure.
Menu B56 AF Micro Adj. Works only with Sony lenses and A-mount lenses
Menu B61 Lens Comp Works only with Sony lenses
Menu B72 MOVIE Button Always, unless you’re never shooting video. I have yet to accidently press the record button.
Menu E14 Display Rotation Manual. In Auto, it will rotate if your camera rotates.
Menu F15 Audio signals Camera sounds. Switch off unless you need some sort of feedback.
Menu F23 Delete confirm. “Cancel” first. Better the extra button push than accidently deleting a shot or clip!
Menu F24 Display Quality High – it makes negligible impact on battery life.
Menu F36 HDMI 4K Output Only works when you have a 4K-capable recorder connected via HDMI
Menu F52 File Number Series for each project. Reset after each project.

Key

First alphabet is the main setting header:

  • A – Camera Settings
  • B – Custom Settings
  • C – Wireless
  • D – Application
  • E – Playback
  • F – Setup

The first number is the sub group number (or page) on top. The last number is the line item per page. E.g., F15 means – in the Menu, under the Setup group, first page, fifth item, which is Audio Signals.

FAQs

These are important topics raised by subscribers that shed more light on this lesson.

Q. Is there anything we can do about the recessed RECORD button?

A. A user posted this workaround (Warning: May ruin your camera and void your warranty. Do so at your own risk!!):

I applied a very tiny droplet of silicone clear adhesive to the record button. Yes, all the usual caveats would apply, such as voiding the warranty perhaps. And as a practical matter, the thing really is tiny so care must be used to not smear it also on the body and thus have a stuck button.

But the good news is that it is only silicone adhesive and can be removed.

The rubber-y stuff is clear so even the red dot shows! And as it is a flexible rubber-y substance, the tactile feel seems right under one’s finger.

Q. How do you set limits for the ISO in Auto ISO mode?

A. In the menu, go to CAMERA > 4 > ISO:

AutoISO1Scroll to AUTO:AutoISO2 Click the right arrow (on the back dial). Then choose the AUTO Minimum:AutoISO3Scroll right and choose the AUTO Maximum:AutoISO4

Press Enter (middle button on the back dial). That’s it!

Q. Does changing the shutter speed reduce the effect of rolling shutter?

A. No.

Q. What can we do about rolling shutter?

A. Using APS-C mode works to a certain extent. Wider angle lenses distort less, or the perception is less. Anytime you have straight vertical lines or shapes, and they move laterally, you’re going to see rolling shutter. Avoid such shots if you can.

Q. What shutter speeds to use for video?

A. Here are the conventions (which you are free to break):

  • 1/50s for 24p and 25p
  • 1/60s for 30p
  • 1/100s for 50p
  • 1/125s for 60p
  • 1/200s for 100p and
  • 1/250s for 120p

Slower shutter introduces smearing, like those ‘stoned’ shots you see. Faster shutter speeds introduce a staccato-effect.

Q. Can you explain what AEL is?

A. AEL is Auto Exposure Lock.

When you’re shooting in auto mode, the camera judges exposure for you. However, with some scenes, the exposure can be calculated differently depending on where you focus or how you frame the shot. So, in this mode, you use the spot meter to meter the subject only, then turn the dials to get the right exposure. Once you’re happy, press AEL to “lock” exposure so the camera won’t re-meter or change anything.

Once locked, you’ll see an asterix * on the LCD/Viewfinder telling you it’s locked.

Now here’s the tricky bit: Keep pressing the AEL button and press the shutter half way to autofocus. When focused, click the picture.

Here’s the cool bit about AEL. You can maintain the same exposure by never letting go of the AEL button. As long as your thumb is on it you can keep clicking away without changing exposure.

If this sounds tedious, I can assure you it will become second nature if you practice for a few weeks. DSLRs have had this feature for ages.

Click on the link below to the next lesson or head over to the main menu (above). If you need help with something, feel free to send me an email. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.

The Sony A7s Review – What Kinds of Videos and Photography is it Good For?

You might have seen this already, so it’s safe to skip. If not, please watch it to know what I think is good or bad with the camera, and what kinds of photography and videography it is suitable for.

Goals

Before reading and watching the review, it is important to first understand the goals of the review. The primary goal of this review is to say, definitely, whether this camera is an (or the) ideal choice for the following kinds of productions:

  • Features films
  • Short films
  • Corporate videos
  • Documentaries – feature length
  • Documentaries – short length
  • Wedding videos
  • Music videos
  • Commercials
  • Sports
  • Wildlife
  • ENG/EFP
  • Live events

The secondary goals of this review are:

  • To understand the place of this camera in the grand scheme of things
  • To know exactly what kinds of shots this camera cannot be used for
  • To understand the differences in various picture profiles
  • To understand the strengths of the camera
  • To understand the S-Log2 workflow while shooting and in post production

A final goal of the review is to provide a general overview on the photographic abilities of the camera, with respect to:

  • Photojournalism, event and street photography
  • Wildlife photography
  • Portrait, studio and fashion photography
  • Fine art landscape photography
  • Macro and product photography

I’ve left out 4K and external recorders. This will be dealt with in a later lesson.

Why did I buy the Sony A7s?

I bought the Sony A7s for the following specific use scenarios and conditions:

  • Family, travel and street photography with manual focus
  • 12 MP is more than enough for me
  • Fully tactile controls in a lightweight body
  • Low light photography and videography
  • Silent shooting
  • Frame guides and IRE for video
  • Personal documentary and video projects in 1080p and 4K, without resorting to RAW recording
  • To use my existing Nikon manual prime lenses, and not be platform bound
  • A backup camera (not B-camera, though that might change) for corporate videos
  • A ‘review’ camera for future wolfcrow reviews and videos!

Review of the features of the Sony A7s

Here’s my review of the Sony A7s:

The following is a summary of whatever I’ve covered above as it pertains to each feature:

APS-C mode

You get a crop factor of 1.5 and an “f-stop factor” (DOF and bokeh only, not true aperture, which remains the same) of 1.5 as well. E.g., a 50mm f/1.2 lens becomes a 75mm f/2 approximately. A 24mm f/1.4 becomes a 36mm f/2.4, and so on.

Audio quality

Really good and clean. Samples provided in above video.

LCD quality

Nice indoors, okay outdoors. Cannot use to judge colors, but which one can? Focus peaking works great.

The ‘blue’ channel clipping problem

Didn’t find it, though I tried blasting the blue channel into oblivion.

Rolling shutter

As bad as the first DSLRs that shot video. Better in APS-C mode. Not an issue for 90% of productions. Two problem areas:

  • If you’re shooting moving blades, rotors, fast trains and out of cars, etc.
  • If you’re whip-panning the camera like you have an epileptic seizure.

For most run-and-gun and shoulder-mounted work, it’s a non-issue. Shoot in APS-C mode during problem areas.

Resolution

Resolution varies across the board. Here’s a chart that compares resolution at different resolutions and frame rates (click to enlarge):

Sony A7s resolution comparison

The camera has maximum resolution in full frame mode at 24, 25 and 30p. Even in APS-C mode, 1080p video is similarly sharp, so you can mix and match without any problems.

However, in 50p and 60p, the resolution is still 1080p, but as you can clearly see in the above image, it has lower resolution. In fact, it is worse than 720p! I cannot recommend using either 50p or 60p on the Sony A7s at this time. However, as a workaround, you could add a bit of sharpening in post.

In 100p and 120p, the resolution drops to 720p.

HDMI quality and options

Excellent options. Clean HDMI, full resolution. Can’t wait to try out 4K.

Weather protection

It is not weather-proof, but is weather resistant. I have shot in a light drizzle, and the camera has gotten wet, no issues. But Sony tells me it’s not weather-proof.

Manual Focusing

Excellent in both video and stills mode. Haven’t missed focus, even at f/1.2. What more can I say?

Aliasing and moire

Almost non-existent. A non-issue.

Banding at 8-bit or the 8-bit vs 10-bit debate

Stupid. Those who think there’s a difference have no clue about what they’re talking about. 8-bit is fine. Camera does not produce banding, If you see banding during grading, you’re not doing it right.

However, you can get posterization with the heavy compression found on Youtube or Vimeo. This is due to the color noise that effects the underexposed regions of the scene, and is a problem with most cameras.

Skin tones

Excellent. Filmic and organic, but you must know how to shoot and expose correctly.

ND filters @ISO 3200

The one big pain. But at least it’ll force me to buy that 4×4 filter set that’s long overdue. Couldn’t find any major IR radiation problems.

No good Sony lenses

The roadmap looks good, but I’m not buying a ticket until the whole park is completed. For now, I’m pretty pleased with my Nikon primes. Next up would be Zeiss CP.2 primes or whatever else the future has in store for us.

Poor battery life

Buy more batteries. Batteries drain out like there was a leak or something. Thankfully cheaper batteries exist.

You need a 64GB SDXC Card, even though it’s not “technically required”

Somebody at Sony was too lazy to program for SDHC cards. On the other hand, it’s quite easy to fill a 64 GB card anyway with XAVC.

AF with video

Excellent. I don’t use it, and I wouldn’t recommend using it, but it’s there, and it works.

Dynamic Range

I get a good usable 12 stops and that’s all I want. It’s filmic.

Low-light and ISO performance

The whole world knows the answer to this one, but if you don’t, then here it is: This is the number one low light consumer camera available for videography worldwide.

Camera settings for tests and footage

Here’s a quick summary of the camera settings used in the tests and footage in this review. All resolutions/frame rates are 1080p25 unless otherwise indicated. Camera shots were filmed using a Canon 550D and kit lens.

Intro sequence and various cutaways

Various settings. Graded in Adobe After Effects or left ungraded as indicated.

Me talking

  • Creative Style: Off
  • Picture profile: Cine4
  • White balance: 3200K
  • Color Mode: Cinema

Music Unltd concert

  • Creative Style: Neutral
  • Picture profile: Off
  • White balance: Custom, done once
  • Color Mode: Rec. 709 (Movie)

ISO range for this concert was between 12,800 and 25,600.

Picture profiles comparison

  • Creative Style: Off
  • Picture profile: As mentioned
  • White balance: Cloudy
  • Color Mode: As mentioned

Car Test (OneShot comparison)

  • Creative Style: Off
  • Picture profile: As mentioned
  • White balance: 7100K custom
  • Color Mode: As mentioned

Each shot was ‘corrected’ in DaVinci Resolve 11 Lite using the DSC Labs OneShot card. The gammas selected are displayed during the comparison. White point was 1.0 for some shots because they were underexposed. Except for the two overexposed shots of S-Log2 and 800% Rec. 709, all shots were exposed for the car in spot metering mode. The last two are with a ND8 filter and exposed for the car.

Anna kotta (elephant farm sequence)

  • Creative Style: Off or Neutral
  • Picture profile: S-Log2 or Off
  • White balance: Cloudy
  • Color Mode: S-Gamut or Movie

Many shots had an ND8 or even higher applied, as the case may be. There are also a couple of 720p shots in there. Aperture from f/5.6 to f/11, and one shot was f/1.2.

Who should use the Sony A7s?

Here are my suggestions for video, based on my personal knowledge, history and usage of this camera:

Type of production Recommended? Alternative* Better option?*
Feature films Yes Blackmagic Production Camera 4K Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K
Short films Yes Blackmagic Production Camera 4K Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K
Corporate Videos Yes None Sony FS7
Documentaries No Panasonic GH4 Sony FS7
Wedding videos No Canon 5D Mark IIIPanasonic GH4 Sony FS7
Music Videos Yes Blackmagic Production Camera 4K Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K
Commercials No Blackmagic Production Camera 4K Blackmagic Cinema Camera 2.5K
Sports No No N/A
Wildlife No No Sony FS7
ENG/EFP/Run n’ gun No Panasonic GH4 Sony FS7
Live Events No No N/A

Here are my suggestions for photography:

Type of photography Recommended? Alternative Better option?
Street/PJ Yes Leica M None
Wildlife No Sony A7r Nikon D810
Portrait/Fashion No Canon 5D Mark III Medium format system with leaf shutter lenses
Fine art landscapes No Sony A7r Nikon D810,Pentax 645z
Timelapses No Sony A7r Nikon D810
Astrophotography Yes Nikon D810 CCD cameras with cooling
Macro and product No Sony A7r Nikon D810

*Note: In a similar or ‘next’ higher price range.

Well, that’s the end of the Sony A7s review. I hope you have found it beneficial for the kind of productions you’re doing. You can see how it fit perfectly into my existing needs. But it’s not a camera for everyone.

FAQs

These are important topics raised by subscribers that shed more light on this lesson.

Q. Why don’t you recommend the A7s for weddings?

A. First, some background. I was invited to and attended the launch event for the A7s in Mumbai. The majority of those who showed up were from the wedding industry, which is only possible if Sony invited them. It was obvious who the focus was on.

I spoke to quite a few of them, and mind you, these guys are real pros shooting weddings with Epics and C300s, even DSLRs. Very few of them seemed excited about the A7s. For me, it was too early to understand why.

Here’s what I have learnt since then:

  • Rigging is complicated – which means handheld shooting is tough. Compound this with the rolling shutter.
  • To really get cinematic images, you would have to use S-Log2 or the 800% profile, both of which require color grading. As far as I know, when it comes to wedding business, there is hardly any time or money for grading – unless you’re doing real high-end work.
  • Assuming one is happy with S-Log2 or 800%, then it demands the use of an external monitor. You don’t need it, but the majority of shooters will be nervous of exposing at +2 or +3 without a safety net.
  • The autofocus only works with Sony lenses, but these lenses are not suited for video work. The new cinema zoom is a welcome option, though.
  • There are no ‘light’ battery options, so you’re looking at a lot of charging, etc.
    Lack of decent image stabilization is another issue, which Sony has solved with the A7II.
  • Low light work introduces noise, and it’s not something that edits well together with the other parts – this is purely a matter of taste.

It’s not like the camera is a deal breaker. Far from it. Those who are knowledgable enough to persist with the camera can and will make it work. My point was – it’s only if you make it work that it becomes better than the 5D Mark III (with Magic Lantern) or the GH4.

Last week I attended a high-end wedding where one of the B-cams was an A7s. The A-cam was a C300. The C300 is no slouch when it comes to low light shooting. I shot my own sister’s wedding reception with the A7s and one 50mm f/1.2 lens (stills only, no video). It’s an excellent camera all around.

The reality is, very few shooters go into this much depth. I didn’t want to add to the hype of the camera. Most reviews will have you believe it’s damn easy to get great images with the A7s, but it’s not – not without in-depth study and understanding. If you shoot in Movie mode or one of the Cine profiles, you’ll pretty much get something that a 5D3 or a GH4 can produce. The A7s only pulls ahead if you shoot S-Log2 and know how to grade it.

Click on the link below to the next lesson or head over to the main menu (above). If you need help with something, feel free to send me an email. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.

Quick Start Guide

Welcome to the Sony A7s Guide! This is the very first lesson. It is for those who need:

  • a crash course in getting their camera running, and
  • a super-quick overview of its features. Specific settings and features for photography and videography will be dealt later.

For most of you this lesson might be too simple, so you might want to skip to the next module. I recommend you watch it just in case. It’s not that long.

If you want to jump to a specific section, here are the contents (non-clickable links):

  • What’s in the box? 1:30
  • Charging and powering up 1:49
  • Adjusting the viewfinder 2:08
  • Dials and buttons on the top and back 2:35
  • Memory cards and recording standards (NTSC or PAL?) 3:51
  • How to record video and playback clips 5:12
  • In-camera level 5:37
  • Connection ports 6:00
  • Sensor cleaning 6:19
  • Is the Sony A7s weather-sealed? 6:52

Download video

Click on the link below to the next lesson or head over to the main menu (above). If you need help with something, feel free to send me an email. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.

FAQs

These are important topics raised by subscribers that shed more light on this lesson.

Q. Are all cameras PAL/NTSC switchable?

A. No. As a user pointed out, cameras sold in the US probably are not PAL/NTSC switchable. Here’s a photograph sent to me:

PALNTSCno2Q. What is the normal formatting time of an SDXC card?

A. At the very least it is about 10 seconds. Even on a full card (64GB), I have never gone above 30 seconds. Usually it’s around the 20-second mark.