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Is the Original Sony a7s Still Relevant in 2023?


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Every once in a while, while scrolling through Reddit, I come across some filmmaking-related post that reads something like "what's a good cinema camera I can get for less than $300?" 

The people posting these could not be more distant from reality, but I feel like there are beginners, maybe in their first year of film school, who need a good, inexpensive first camera. And that's where I wonder if the original a7s could still be relevant in today’s world.

A quick search on eBay returned no shortage of a7s' for sale, with the average asking price being around $800. It's a far cry from a couple hundred bucks, but it's less than the $1,000+ asking price of the ancient Sony XDCAM PDW-F350 I wrote about two weeks ago, and it produces much superior images.

I took some shots with a color chart to compare the a7s vs the newer a7sIII, and I must say, there's little difference between them, even as you get up in the higher ISO range. Image quality is great, considering it’s a 10 year old camera.

266iF227F805FAC3D365.thumb.jpg.ec7c733962c5795bee8628a122b94217.jpgNoise comparison test

Really, the three biggest things holding the a7s back are (1) its resolution, (2) its ISO range limitations, and (3) its battery.

The a7s can only record HD footage internally. In a world where people talk of 12K, HD is obsolete. But let’s be honest, your first few films aren’t going to win you any Oscars. HD will be fine while you learn. And if you’re really itching for more pixels, you can record 4K video with an external recorder.

At a glance, it seems the a7s offers you a wide range of ISO values to choose from, but when you switch the color profile to SLog2, you’re suddenly unable to go below ISO 3200. And while the a7s isn’t that noisy at ISO 3200, you will need to compensate for the boost in exposure: on a sunny day, you will either need a lot of ND, or if you’re a broke film student and can’t afford an ND filter, you will have to significantly up your shutter speed or close down your aperture, both of which will make your footage look less cinematic.

Lastly, the a7s has a tiny battery compared to the NP-FZ100 batteries in Sony’s current mirrorless lineup. With the a7s powered up (not doing playback, not recording, just turned on), the battery lasts for only about an hour. For comparison, the a7sIII battery lasts about 3.5 hours with the camera sitting idle. And when you’re actually shooting video, the batteries will burn up much more quickly. Fortunately however, because the a7s NP-FW50 batteries are now old, you can pick them up used for almost nothing. So just get a bunch.

All in all, I think the a7s is a great piece of kit to make your first few films on. I'll say it before @DougJensen does: if you can afford a real cinema camera, then by all means buy one. But when you can't afford one and you need the best quality at the lowest price, it’s certainly not a bad choice.

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