Since the large sensor video introduced for regular humans, I am using Canon DSLR and Cinema line to shoot video. Sony mirrorless cameras in recent years offered amazing specs. That specs are very tempting on paper, which makes you want to buy Sony. But everyday use can be different. I had failed two times to switch to Sony.
Sony a7S II
Back at the end of 2015. I was using Canon 5D Mark III for photography and video. I decided to buy recently announced Sony a7S II. The plan was to keep Canon lenses. Maybe shuffle them a little bit, because Sony can take old MF lenses too, and offers in body stabilization. To make a budget for a7S II, I replaced Canon 5D Mark III for Canon 6D. I didn’t plan to buy any Sony lenses. Because a7S II has below average autofocus performance in both photo and video. I couldn’t benefit using native Sony lenses. That is why I needed Canon full frame body for photography. As it happens, Canon 6D makes a good run for next two years. Covering all my photography needs above expectation. I didn’t miss 5D Mark III so much.
Good: lenses, E-mount, in body stabilization
Sony at that time was great potential and even today is an amazing video camera. You have all information about this camera all over the internet. I will just write about my relationship with it. Many jobs I am working handheld and I have to separate background from subjects heavily. That’s why Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS II was a very important lens on 5D Mark III. It was often used and you can control bokeh and background very nice. With viewfinder on display leaned on my eye (as a point of stabilization), it isn’t hard to make footage stable even at 200mm handheld. But is the large lens.
So I bought very nice old Canon 135mm f2.5 FD lens. With cheap FD adapter from eBay, it was easy to mount this lens on a7S II. In menus, you have to choose 135mm as setting for stabilization. And stabilization will work. Which is amazing, considering it was old, light, cheap, a space-saving lens without electronic. This lens was able to allow me to left 70-200mm at home many times.
I bought Canon nFD 50mm f1.4, too. This is amazing lens even by today’s standards. Be sure it is the latest version with “nFD” in the name. 50mm lenses were so important to me and I was always struggling with this focal length. I loved these lenses wide open but every 50mm lens (f1.2, f1.4 USM, number of f1.8s) was “mushy” wide open. Canon nFD 50mm f1.4 is very clean wide open.
As you can see, Sony a7S II is the amazing camera if you want to have freedom with lenses. This camera has a heavy crop for slow motion. More than 2x. But even that is possible to make better with E-mount. Because you can put speed-booster to make slow-motion much closer to APS-C. I didn’t even use Metabones. I ordered cheap Viltrox with electronics. So I can use aperture and lens stabilization.
Bad: ergonomics, battery life, seeing focus, colors, highlights
But next to lens freedom in combination with in-body stabilization, I didn’t love rest of the camera so much. As you know by now, I am using all cameras handheld quite often. Sony wanted to impress us with a large sensor and small body. But that was and still is a stupid idea. I don’t want anything smaller than 5D Mark III. Smaller body almost has no benefit. Especially with full frame sensors. Because you have to use large lenses. You cannot shrink glass as you can shrink electronics. a7S II has small, uncomfortable grip and if you put 70-200mm f2.8, it is unusable without a tripod.
Next problem was well known. Battery life. I had two genuine and ten replacement batteries. It was unacceptable. I didn’t want to invest in genuine batteries and even that wouldn’t solve the problem. Replacement batteries didn’t show percentage right, so you will have a dead camera without notice. And the capacity of replacement batteries went very bad very soon. It is almost the rule.
Maybe biggest flaw of a7S II is seeing the focus. I found no more than two people talking about this in two years now. Forget focus peaking, in video mode, it is very hard to see your focus. If you use photo mode picture is much clearer, but you will lose some other video elements during preview. And immediately after you press the record button, details on the screen are back to video mode and it is hard to correct focus during playback. a7R II, doesn’t have this problem, thanks to sampling larger resolution for preview. This is similar for both back display and viewfinder. For absurd example, Canon C100 has horrible small viewfinder from the 90s camcorder that will hurt your eyesight and it is still easier to nail focus compared to a7S II.
And now famous Sony issue: colors. I will put colors and dynamic range together. White balance can go here, too. I will not talk about photos and RAW editing, only video. And if you think you can save video using S-Log and than grade it later, well, that will probably make more problems than solutions. When you have a lot of color pollution, which is normal for documentary work (this includes weddings, corporate events…), auto white balance is often best setting. It is not ideal, but it is last resort to try to get a good picture inside the camera. Saved me many times with random Canon cameras. You can forget this setting on Sony.
You will read and watch how a7S II have great dynamic range, but the problem is where that range is. Sony put a lot of dynamic range in shadows and not much in highlights and that is bad for real situations. This makes footage look too digital. You probably watched many YouTube videos with pulling shadows and you think that is what you need. But in real life, you actually need dynamic range in highlights and nice highlights falloff. You are not going to get that with a7S II or, in fact, any Sony. Lights, bulbs, windows just became “radioactive” very fast and are looking very nasty.
The problem with colors is that you cannot predict anything. If you test your camera in daylight situations, everything is looking good. Under old fashion tungsten bulbs, very good. Good quality video lighting, also not bad. But you will go to work some gig and you will back home with a lot of bad footage. The problem for any Sony is mixing of lighting. Imagine person near a window with daylight from windows, tungsten from the center of the room and “radioactive” window. This is not uncommon situation during weddings and your footage is going to be very bad. No S-Log will help you.
Actually, S-Log is going to be too hard to grade for the majority of people. Just go to YouTube, it is a large database of failed S-Log grading. Problem with color pollution is even worse these days thanks to a lot of bad LED lighting. Sony is just bad handling mixed light, colors and low-quality light sources. And as I said, it is not the single RAW photo. It is 8bit compressed video and fixing bad colors and exposure on video often makes video looks even worse.
I tried a second time with a6300 in early 2017. This time as sidekick camera. Not even as the second camera. I bought a6300 for very rare 4K needs. Clients actually don’t care about 4K, even today. Also, I want to use 120p Full HD and to use a6300 as a small family camera with kit lens. The good thing about this camera was the price. The bad, everything above written, and some things were even worse.
The body was smaller and even harder to handle. This tiny body makes camera impossible for handheld video without lens stabilization. Rolling shutter was so prominent in the handheld video. Even with wide lenses. I don’t care about angled lamposts during car drive, as someone tests the rolling shutter. Rolling shutter affected video by tiny movements during the handheld operation was so visible. a6500 will probably do much better in this situations, thanks to IBIS.
As a family camera, a6300 also wasn’t inviting peace of gear. To be honest, I made few nice photos and slow-motion videos. But I never liked skin tones of my baby son playing with his toys in the room with windows often behind his back or side. This was an everyday picture for me and I didn’t obviously want to turn on flash of invite my son to any kind of pose. If you had a baby you know that in this situation you need the camera to perform at best in some automatic mode. And you will try not to shot or edit RAW because you already have gazillion pictures of your baby. a6300 auto profile and white balance are just not good for baby or any person skin. Although face autofocus works great with Sony lens.
a6300 camera also is not pocketable. Which is important to me if I want to bring a camera with me to casual walk with wife and son like Canon G7 X is for example. Size of a6300 would not be a problem for holiday trips because then you bring bags anyway. But close to home I am bringing only what I can put in pockets and a6300 is not that camera.
I have to add that I had mixed autofocus success for photography with a6300, Viltrox speed booster, and some Canon lenses. Thanks to phase detection points on the a6300 sensor (a7S II has none of them). So I had almost full frame camera. It is usable, but it is not comfortable and only can be the secondary camera.
This post ends up longer than I planned. Maybe is better that way, because it is the only way to explain how I feel with this cameras day to day. I am shooting different types of videos, but always with people in them. Often in uncontrollable light situations. That is why Sony is the bad choice for me. Canon is going to be safe in this area for a long time. Clients don’t care about 4K much even in 2018. And I don’t care about the camera price if that is my primary tool.
Canon is a workhorse, reliable, perfectly handling real-life situations outside controlled tests. Sony is more like a gadget for me. Experiment. Making you excited. To unbox and try new generation. But when it comes to real documentary work in the uncontrollable surrounding, Sony makes me anxious. And I feel safe with Canon. Because I am for the past seven years.
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