First Look at a Sony A7Siii

Discussion in 'Sony/Minolta' started by Ed_Ingold, Dec 22, 2020.

  1. I unboxed a new A7Siii last Friday, and have already shot three jobs with it, video of course. A 12 MP camera does not inspire awe in a world surpassing 50 MP for still photography, but the A7Siii produces stunning UHD and HD footage. It took a while to make up my mind, but these days I'm shooting events (mostly related to classical music) for live-streaming and social media, with three or more cameras. I needed a camera which would produce cinematic results, yet fit with other essential gear in a case I that would fit in my car (and I could lift). I have a Sony FS5, which is a joy to use, but the case takes as much space as all of my other gear put together. An FS5 is best used with a cage, base and rails for batteries and accessories.

    The full frame sensor (the FS5 is S-35) means I can get the full effect of 20 mm and shorter lenses which I already own. Social Distancing and often small venues make wide angle shots more important than in better times.

    The new grip (like the A7Riv) is deeper and contoured, which I find comfortable and suitable for heavy lenses. I ordered a Really Right Stuff L-plate at the same time. I don't expect to use this camera much without a tripod. With a prime lens, it will work well on a DJI S gimbal. The rear LCD swings to the side and can be rotated to face forward. I'm not a Vblogger, but may use that feature for shooting ID photos and family groups. The LCD is now fully touch-sensitive, including with the redesigned menu system, which resembles that of Nikon DSLRs, vertically by topic. You can also navigate the menu with the joystick, dials, and 4-way. That's nice if you have fat fingers or while wearing gloves.

    While the menu structure is different, most of the terms are familiar. Going through line by line, it only took about 20 minutes to configure the camera to my needs. There are at least two significant differences. SLog picture profiles are no longer limited to 3200K, 4300K and 5500K. They work with the same white balance set in the camera. Secondly, the HDMI output resolution automatically adjusts to the destination device, regardless of the setting for internal recording. For an Atomos Shogun 7, that's 4Kp60. However you can set the output to 2160p, 1080p or 1080i. There is no DCI setting (4096, 17:9) at present, but likely in a future firmware update. The HDMI connector is full-sized, which is stronger, more secure, and easier to use than the micro connectors used in other A7's.

    The camera does not overheat, at least if you use external power and recording. I shot 4K59.94 for 5 continuous hours, and the camera got barely warm to the tough. I set the temperature alarm to high, out of an abundance of caution.

    While the FS5 has face recognition, it's not very sticky if more than one person is in view. The A7Siii has face and eye recognition, and locks in on one subject if you touch the screen. I prefer to use manual focus (or push-to-focus) for reliability, but the new AF seems to be bullet proof.

    The color is superb, right out of the box. I shot in the Cine-1 profile this weekend, which required only small adjustments.

    I'll add photos and (maybe) video clips when I have more time.
     
    howardstanbury likes this.
  2. Sounds neat.
    I still haven't 'bonded' with my a7Riv after several months of use.

    The results are amazing, but it's just not a loveable piece of kit IMO. Nothing I particularly dislike about the interface or layout, but nothing I can take much joy in either.

    The extra sideways articulation and swivel of the a7S LCD screen sounds useful though. And an up-down scrolling menu sounds better than one that jumps (sometimes unpredictably) from page to page.

    Maybe a firmware update could implement it on the a7Riv?
     
  3. I'm inured to the old Sony menu system, to which the newer models added sub-headings. In the A7Siii menu, you can see two levels clearly and a third level in summary. The touch screen takes some acclimatization. My fingers are a bit fat for precision, even after years of smart phone keyboards, and I seem to double tap too often. That said, the imagined A7Rm5 may prove too hard to resist.

    The Siii no longer has a time limit on video clips. It never had anything to do with heating (that's a separate issue), but the 15% import tariff the US imposes on "video" cameras, 30 minutes being the threshold. Video also places a continuous drain on the battery, which must be changed every 30-40 minutes. That's shorter than most Mahler symphonies, and at least a couple by Beethoven. The old USB port would only supply about 80% of the power needed, so I had to rely on dummy batteries, to which the camera would object and shut down unless you responded promptly. The new USB-C port will supply 100% of the operating power, which means I can keep the internal battery for backup, and run the camera from a professional battery. Extra power is handy for school and event portraits too.
     
  4. The Pandemic has driven the demand for professional video to new heights. Many are students, auditioning for college and various competitions. For the moment, live auditions are rare, so they want to make the best impression possible. I use a 9' boom to place the microphones for the best sound, yet out of view of the camera.

    On Monday, for a string of sessions, the A7Siii was running continuously from 9 am to 6 pm, without overheating. In fact, it was barely warm to the touch. At the end of the day, the external battery (93 KWH) had 2 of 4 bars left. That alone is extraordinary. My A7iii would have required a change after about 7 hours. The A7Siii just sips at the battery.

    The camera has a full catalog of picture profiles, including S-Log2 and S-Log3. Unlike earlier cameras, which were limited to 3200K, 4300K and 5500K, the A7Siii log profiles work with any white balance. It's best to use a fixed WB. In this case, I used the incandescent preset (3200K), which only required +9 (out of 100) on the R/B and G/M sliders against a Gretag-MacBeth Video Color Checker.
     
  5. Jeez! What size is that battery?
    93KWH is about a week's average household consumption.
     
  6. First of all, I wrote "90 KWH" which should have been 90 WH. They are 14.4 V, Li-Ion batteries, clipped to a battery plate on the back of an ENG or studio camera, or attached to rails on a baseplate. I have two older Anton Bauer Dionic 90 Gold Mount batteries (90 WH), but mostly use IDX 93 WH batteries with a V-mount, which are much easier to find and a little cheaper.

    The base plates can provide power several devices via D-Tap ports (14.4 V), and 7.2 V and 12.0 V via barrel connectors. You need a regulated adapter for most D-Tap connections. I have a growing collection of these cables, including mini-USB (5.0 V) and dummy Sony NPV-F100 batteries for A7xxx m3 and up (7.2 V).

    Sony batteries have 2-way communication with the camera, but most dummy batteries do not. You get an error message after a few minutes, which you have to accept else the camera shuts down (PITA). The A7Siii can be run from a USB-C connection, which means the internal battery can take over if you change the external battery (!!!).
     
  7. While you can fully power the A7Siii through its USB-C port, not every power source will work. In particular, USB regulated to 5.0 v is not enough, and may appear as a faulty mass storage device. This means an USB A connector with an USB-C end won't work either. I suspect the source needs to provide at least 7.2 v in, that of the conventional battery. A Sony A7Riv and A9ii have an USB-C port which operates in the same manner.

    What does work is an Apple laptop power supply, which uses a USB-C/TB3 connector at both ends, which supplies a maximum of 9 vdc. The internal battery must be charged and in place for the camera to recognize an USB-C power source.

    I have a spare MacBook Pro power supply which does the job, but my idea is to be free of wall outlets or extension cables. I will continue to seek a D-Tap solution, and report my findings. In the mean time a D-Tap to dummy battery is the best solution. Some dummy batteries are fully compatible, but others create an alarm, which must be overridden (okay'd) to proceed.
     
  8. Auto focus is very well implemented in the A7Siii. It has face and eye recognition, but greatly improved over earlier models. Once you select a particular face, it will track that face even if the subject turns away, and recapture the same face if the subject leaves then returns to the field of view. Sony must be using AI to recognize a particular face. For some time now, Sony had a means to recognize selected individuals, if you established them with a head-and-shoulders portrait. Now the process is largely automatic, although the formal recognition sequence is still offered.

    AF is vital of you use a moving camera for varying angles, 10-15 seconds at a time. It is always risky for longer clips, because AF can wander at times if it sees a more interesting object. In a recital, you can lose focus on the soloist if someone behind presents a full face to the camera. The A7Siii doesn't seem to do that. Just in case, though, manual focus is often used. A valuable compromise is to use push-to-focus, a feature on professional camcorders. You can do that on a Sony A7Siii by setting the switch on the lens (if present) to AF, the camera mode to MF, and use the AF-ON or shutter release half-pressed to focus once and return to MF. You can also use the touch screen to designate which object to track.

    AF will also track objects or prominent features. Point a center square (S/M/L) on the object, and it can be used for focus-and-recompose still shots too. That's very useful for landscapes, as well as medium and closeups shots.

    All of the buttons and controls have a longer travel and over-the-center feel.
     
  9. It is tempting to list features of a new camera verbatim from the manual or brochure, and there are more features on the A7Siii than I will probably use. Instruction manuals tend to describe what these features are and how to use them. I hope to take a different approach and describe when and where one would use selected features for real world situations.

    For starters, there are a lot of cameras with great video to choose from. I chose the A7Siii because I have used Sony cameras almost exclusively since 2014. I'm familiar with their operation (and quirks), and have accumulated over a dozen first-rate lenses over the years. I didn't want to start from scratch, because lenses are by far the most expensive components of a camera system, and also the longest useful (i.e., competitive) life.

    I plan to update this thread from time to time as I develop new applications and solve old problems. I welcome comments and questions.
     
  10. I've been using the A7Siii almost daily, using the rig in the photo below. The lens is a Sony PZ (Power Zoom) 28-135/4, which I can operate using a USB controller. Power comes from a V-mount battery, inverted on a plate attached to two short 15 mm rails. The rails are attached to a SmallRig base plate. The short rails can be replaced by longer ones if I need pull (remote) focusing or geared motors. I'm using a dummy battery with a D-Tap plug. It's concealed on the backside of this photo. Other cords dangle from the plate, used for other devices as needed. I'm using an optical HDMI cable to connect the camera with an Atomos Shogun 7 recorder. I just learned of these devices, and they prove to be a handy tool for this sort of operation.

    On the desk I have the Shogun 7 monitor/recorder, a Zoom F8N 8-channel digital recorder, and an iPad with a BlueTooth application for the F8N. In the far background, I have a 9' boom to hold microphones above the musicians, out of sight of the camera. I also miked the piano for presence. Believe me, you don't need microphones to hear the piano, but I need a way to balance the sound qualit with the soloist.

    The large plastic enclosures are used to isolate musicians for COVID protection, so they can play together in safety.

    IMG_0283.jpeg

    IMG_0279.jpeg
     
    howardstanbury likes this.
  11. There are several settings for HDMI output, the most important of which is to turn data display OFF. This creates a "clean" output, free of the many operational items displayed on the LCD or in the EVF. The still appear on the camera, however.

    Interface with the Atomos Shogun 7 is interesting. When the camera's HDMI output is set to AUTO, it senses the Shogun's interface, and sends the maximum input resolution, which defaults to 4k p59.94, which proves to have very low compression, recorded at about 480 Mb/s. The output can also be fixed at 2160p, 1080p or 1080i. RAW output is a separate setting, which I haven't tried yet. The native RAW output is 16 bit, but ProResRAW tames that down 12 bit. The camera resolution also has options for Int-I compression, which disposes of interframe compression, containing more data and less guessing. The output itself is AVC MP4 in a MOV wrapper.

    I recently "discovered" HDMI cable based on fiber optics. The cable is much thinner and more flexible than standard HDMI cable, and can run 4Kp60 at least 100'. Premium versions can handle 8K video. The Shogun 7 has one HDMI input, which makes it easy to use the A7Siii output without extenders or SDI converters. The Shogun will handle up to 4 cameras with recording and switching, but only via SDI.

    In the setup above, I used 5 microphones with an 8-channel Zoom F8n recorded, mixed them down to two channels directly to the Shogun and embedded in the video. In order to get perfect lip-sync, the audio must be delayed about 60 msec, which can be done in the recorder or Shogun.

    The iPad is connected to the F8n via BlueTooth, and gives me a large display and access to most of the settings. It also displays the audio time code, which I use to take session notes on the yellow pad. I could use the Zoom alone, but the display is really tiny, and wearing a COVID mask fogs my glasses.
     
  12. There are at least a couple of ways to conduct a recording session. The traditional method is to start and stop the recorder for each take. That made sense when you used tape (which costs about $200 for 60 minutes of 8 or 12 tracks), or for loading dozens of takes with unique time codes and EXIF data into a video editor. Now I can put 50 hours if 48/24 audio on a 128 GB SD card, and 14 track-hours of 180p60 video on a 2 TB SSD.

    The method I use is to let the recorders roll continuously while taking session notes. It is less disruptive to the session to take notes rather than shouting "rolling" or "take 1", even though some would-be directors can't resist. Synchronizing audio (after editing and effects) and video is easier if you only have to do it once at the beginning. Using my notes, I can locate the takes with frame-accuracy, split them apart, non-destructively, in Premiere Pro, and deliver them to the client via Dropbox.
     
  13. The A7Siii has the same pricture profiles, including Cine and S-Log, as other A7 models (not the A9, sadly), FS5, FS7, FX6 and FX9. The A7Siii implementation is actually better than the others because you can use any white balance, not just 3200, 4300 and 5500 K. I can't emphasize how important profiles can be in the creation of high-quality video. Cine gives subtler colors and less contrast with a 2-3 increase in dynamic range. By it's name, you expect (and get) a film-like quality. Furthermore, you can use it with little or no grading, so it's suitable for live-streaming and display. The extra dynamic range opens up shadows without needing fill lighting.

    S-Log video is much the same as Cine, only on steroids. You have total control over highlights and shadows, especially with 10 or 12 bit footage. It works wih 8-bit video, but you can get noise if too much adjustment is required. Get it "right" the first time, and you have a powerful tool to avoid blown highlights and blocked shadows. The downside is that S-Log is useless without post production adjustments.
     

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