Sony A7S Surprise at NAB

(news & commentary)

Sony didn’t come to the National Association of Broadcasters convention empty-handed. One of the surprise announcements at the biggest trade show for video and broadcast users was the Sony A7s. This new camera is the third in the A7 mirrorless series, this time with a full frame 12mp sensor that’s optimized for low light and video. 

a7s.jpg

Sony didn’t announce a price for the camera, though the rumors are that it will be much more expensive than the A7r, as it’s expected to be a low volume product requiring a unique sensor. Curiously, the sensor is a tiny bit smaller than the other A7 full frame sensors, and it certainly has a different data transfer mechanism, as it is capable of pulling the entire sensor data off at 30 fps. Video capabilities are 60, 50, 30, 25, and 24 fps for 1080P work, with a high of 50 Mbps bitrate in the AVCHD compression. At 720P, 120 fps is also supported. 

While touted as a 4K camera, the A7s is actually a UHD camera (3840x2160 pixel), as the output is cropped on the HDMI port where it is output (the camera can’t record 4K internally). Early demonstrations of the camera also show that the sensor uses a rolling shutter, which is a bit of a disappointment.

Almost as interesting is the ISO range of the camera, which tops out at 409,600, same as the Nikon D4. 

The good news here is that Sony seems to be getting a better handle on its lineup, at least at the top end. The three A7 cameras all have the same basic design and feature set, and are differentiated primarily by the sensor and what that implies. This makes it easy to carry different camera bodies for different needs. Sony needs to still do some additional work here, though. The A7r really needs true 14-bit raw files, not the compressed ones it currently creates. Otherwise, we don’t really get everything the 36mp sensor can deliver. If you’re going to differentiate by sensor, you really need to make sure that the sensor is delivering everything it is capable of.

The “missing A7” is an action camera: one with a high fps shooting stills with a fast focus system. So clearly there is room for more iteration of the A7 lineup. 

Why are three A7 models good news? Because it implies that the FE lens lineup is for real: the FE lenses will have multiple models they are optimized to work on. The more bodies Sony iterates here, the more lenses they’ll need to get to market to satisfy the customer base.

Meanwhile, the A7 series coupled with the “NEX updates” also seems to suggest that Sony is using the DSLR-like style for the full frame cameras, while the crop sensor cameras are styling towards rangefinder or compact shapes (the A3000/A3500 being a strange exception). 

The A7 series has been a modest success for Sony in a sea of mostly disappointment. This is putting them in an interesting conundrum. The Minolta/Sony A mount DSLR customers still want updates, but the new-to-Sony customer is likely to tend towards the E/FE cameras. The former NEX user is splitting, with some opting for FE over E. This is spreading Sony's resources over a lot of lineups, and makes for a lot of SKUs in a time of market contraction.


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