With video, things seem to be back into the numbers game. 2k, 4K, 6K, and now 8K. When the Alpha 7S II launched five years ago, it was a market where professional 4K products were rare. The Alpha 7S III does not have the same, immediate benefit of a pristine market as its predecessor. 4K and UHD have now become common parlance with many cameras, and cellphones as well, and the ecosystem is maturing in India.
However, what many new buyers fail to consider are the enormous file sizes, massive storage, processing environment, and specialised displays and equipment needed to work with high quality, high resolution 8, 6 or even 4K footage. And when you are talking of a RAW workflow with cinema, that’s a whole different ball park.
As far as buying behavior and usage is concerned, the fact is that those who purchase 4K television sets in India today, do so because of smart marketing, and usually end up watching Full HD or HD content on them. Adoption of UHD or 4K is slowly taking off though, primarily with several over-the-top (OTT) media services offering 4K, and compatible streaming devices, more available over the last six months or so. Beyond all this, of course, is internet bandwidth, which is a whole different story. The fact remains that few in India have experienced the brilliance of well produced high quality 4K on a good 4K display. And I expect that it will be five years or more, before it becomes truly common in India.
So there is no doubt that 4K, more than 6 or 8K, is more relevant now than ever before. Sony’s strategy of making the Alpha 7S III (or A7S III) a low light 4K video specialist is right on the money. It takes what’s necessary and delivers it with a new level of finesse. Let’s take a look under the hood.
There are a whole range of improvements in the A7S III that points to a camera built for handling a very wide variety of video situations, albeit with video at 4K. The A7S series was always characterised by its 12MP sensor that prioritised low light advantages over everything else. Rather than increase resolution, Sony decided to optimise the sensor as far as possible. The A7S III has an upgraded 12MP full-frame Exmor R image sensor with a back-illuminated structure. It basically moves the circuitry to the back to both double read-out speeds, and maximise the available area for exposure to light. This makes a big difference, especially with the dreaded rolling shutter issue that plague digital cameras at high sutterspeeds, both with videos and stills. The sensor boasts a very significant dynamic range of 15+ stops. A native ISO range from 80-102,400 is now available, expanded to 40-409,600. Unlike the previous edition, phase detection elements are now built into the sensor for phase detect AF at the focal plane. A BIONZ XR image processor (a dual processor setup) that is eight times faster than its predecessor, delivers excellent stills and video processing speeds, AF, and overall camera response.
In terms of video, a large level of functionality and selectable options are built in. Unlike most other camera, the A7S III can shoot UHD 4K at up to 60p from its full width (4.2K, to be exact) without binning, or at 120p (at a 1.1x crop but still a native 4K area of the sensor with no binning). These directly showcase the advantages of the significantly faster sensor readout speed. DCI 4k, at a slightly lower resolution than the full sensor width is not offered as an option. There is now a vast range of useful compression options and bitrates. The A7S III gain a 10-bit 4:2:2 version of the (H.264based) XAVC S encoding, and an H.265 variant called XAVC HS as well. There’s also an H.264 All-I option (for busy or critical scenes or shots, where all information is encoded into each frame) called XAVC S-I. Full HD is available as 2:1 oversampled video and should show exceptional quality and is available up to 240fps. Pertinently, there’s no H.265 option for 1080 video.
There is no RAW video recording enabled in-camera, but the A7S III is the very first camera to output 16-bit RAW at 4k60p via its HDMI 2.1 port. While Sony’s S-Log2 and S-Log3 allows the capture of an expanded dynamic range, the benefits of 16-bit remains to be seen though. And 16-bit RAW is not an option for stills capture.
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