Sony Alpha A7S: First Impressions – by Richard Patterson

Richard Patterson Richard Patterson is a cinematographer and steadicam operator based in Brooklyn, NY. His start in film began in 2007 as a film loader on the set of the independent feature “The Tested.” Prior to working in film and video, Richard was a commercial and editorial photographer for seven years.

Born and raised in New York City he began his career as a staff photographer at the Miami Herald from 2000 – 2004 where he focused on documentary and portrait photography. He covered the 2004 coup d’état in Haiti as a freelancer for the New York Times and Associated Press.

His first credit as Director of Photography for the PBS documentary, “Hecho A Mano,” received an Emmy Award for Historical and Cultural programming by the National Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2011. 

Today Richard Patterson works primarily in the New York and Miami markets and has produced and shot projects in over 25 countries. He graduated from Florida International University with dual Bachelor degrees in English Literature and Fine Arts in 2000 and is an avid cyclist, runner, and moviegoer.

Sony Alpha A7S

Sony A7S, Metabones Leica M-E Mount, and a Leica 35mm F/1.4 Summilux Lens

My career is focused on cinematography, yet I’ve longed to own a new camera that can efficiently shoot a good digital picture, but still remind of my roots as a street photographer and photojournalist without making me feel like I’m “on the job.” I feel it keeps my timing and composition sharp. Plus, it’s just a great feeling to make images with something other than my iPhone. The following pics were shot casually last weekend.

In essence, I’ve been wanting to reconnect with my roots… which is why I’ve been waiting for the A7S.

In 1999, I was handed a loaner Leica M4 with a 50mm Summilux f/1.4 by my then Dir. of Photography at the Miami Herald and mentor, Maggie Steber, with instructions to go find a story and tell it through a unique point of view. At the time I lived in Miami Beach, which was filled with nightclubs and back alley altercations. I began to document the play of light and shadow with Kodak’s TMAX 3200 film that was pushed to 6400 during the processing. The film grain was palpable. I was given a pass to be a voyeur and a tool that enabled me to freeze the fleeting moments of the night.

Several years later I purchased the Leica M6 with a 35mm Summilux f/1.4 from my friend and fellow photographer Patrick Farrell. Hundreds of roles of film later it is my favorite camera. The weight, ease of use, and design are at the same time exquisitely refined and absolutely simplistic. As time passed and film processing fees became more expensive, I sadly found it collecting dust as a memento rather than the workhorse it used to be.

Present day…

This brings me to the Sony Alpha A7S combined with a Metabones Leica M-E Mount. It feels great to once again discover a photographic frame within that familiar intersection of light and timing, all the while carrying a tool with a solid build and a tangible physical weight and feel.

The following set of photographs are made with the A7S, the full frame, mirrorless camera that utilizes my Leica glass and will serve as a second camera for future video shoots.  The fact that this small package also boasts incredible lowlight capabilities, an SLog video shooting profile, XAVC HD & AVCHD codecs, and 4k? Needless to say, I’m very happy with this purchase. Yes, Leica’s current digital model, the M, is very impressive, but the price tag is too steep to throw at camera that didn’t come with all these additional options for me.

This image of my nephew playing in a garden was made prior to removing the auto review feature within the camera. Once I turned that feature off I found shutter to be incredibly fast and I didn’t miss the moment I wanted to frame.

Sony Alpha A7S

A7S + Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 : This Image F/2.0, ISO 100, Shutter 1/800 – Extra Fine JPEG
I love the lens flare and artifacts of this lens and prefer the inherent imperfections over a razor sharp newer piece of glass.

In my next post, I’ll share the results of the Sony A7S‘s video capabilities. I’m expecting to be very impressed with the latitude and low light capability.  Getting the camera to seamlessly work within my current 4k FS700 workflow will have it’s challenges I’m sure.

All of the images below were captured using manual settings for my shutter, ISO, aperture, and focus.

I have found using the auto exposure or shutter priority to be very accurate and I favor setting the exposure compensation at minus (-) 1/3 to (-) 2/3 of a stop to protect my highlights.

Sony Alpha A7S

Larz at the MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center during the Summer Warm-up party on Saturday, July 19th, 2014.
A7S + Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 : This Image F/2.0, ISO 100, Shutter 1/640 – Extra Fine JPEG

The flexibility of the A7S‘s high ISO range is fantastic and offers a new range of creative freedom in low light. Selecting between ISO at 3600 – 100,000 provides the opportunity to create a picture with a lot of depth of field instead of being wide open if you so choose (Yes, the camera does go to 400,000 ISO but I found 100,000 to be the point of diminishing return). Plus with a f/1.4 lens a 400,000 ISO was a bit bright, but I can see it coming into play for specific applications… for example, shooting night for day in video.

I personally love the look of my Summilux at F/2 – F/2.8 and I feel the lens has a beautiful innate vignetting quality and shoot it an ISO setting where I’m still using this f/stop. My lens is nearly 20 years old and has a softer quality then other Leica ZE primes that I’ve shot with on the A7S. I haven’t tested the 35mm prime auto focus Zeiss lens that is made for this camera but it seemed to be very fast and an excellent option when at Abel Cine NYC.

Sony Alpha A7S

Sarina at the MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center during the Summer Warm-up party on Saturday, July 19th, 2014.
A7S + Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4: This Image F/2.0, ISO 320, Shutter 1/160 – Extra Fine JPEG

The ability to use my camera like a true range finder at a certain F-stop allows me to shoot the A7S without having to traditionally focus the camera to get sharp images. I set my f/stop and keep in mind the range from the camera where my picture will be sharp. At f/8,  I have the flexibility of 4 feet to 9 feet to play with while not focusing. The image below was created quickly before the couple moved on into the crowd.

Focus peeking works great in very low light situations within the bright OLED viewfinder.

Sony Alpha A7S

A couple at the MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center during the Summer Warm-up party on Saturday, July 19th, 2014.
A7S + Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4: This Image F/8.0, ISO 640, Shutter 1/640 – Extra Fine JPEG

The image below utilized the tilting back screen of the camera to line up the shot instead of traditionally composing the image by lifting it to my face. I enjoy using the back screen like a waist viewfinder similar to that of a Rolleiflex or Hasselblad.

Sony Alpha A7S

A reaction at the MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center during the Summer Warm-up party on Saturday, July 19th, 2014.
A7S + Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 : This Image F/4.0, ISO 2000 Shutter 1/640 – Extra Fine JPEG

1/250 of a second within a moving car at night is a great option to have at my disposal. Once again, I’m very impressed with the quality of the still photographs of this camera.

Sony Alpha A7S

UBERing it home.
A7S + Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4: This Image F/2.0, ISO 8000, Shutter 1/250 – Extra Fine JPEG

Sony Alpha A7S

Blue skies, dirt bikes, and back light.
A7S + Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4: This Image F/5.6, ISO 250, Shutter 1/2000 – Extra Fine JPEG

Sony Alpha A7S

Blue skies, dirt bikes, and back light.
A7S + Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4: This Image – F/5.6, ISO 250, Shutter 1/2000 – Extra Fine JPEG

Sony Alpha A7S

A roadside diner in the Catskills of New York.
A7S + Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 : This Image – F/2.0, ISO 100, Shutter 1/250 – Extra Fine JPEG

At 16,000 ISO the image below is pretty awesome especially since the room is flooded with neon lighting of all sorts. Plus it’s a nice way to say, “DAMMMMMNN Sony!”

Sony Alpha A7S

Ryan reacts to an enthusiastic dance-off contest at SPIN in New York City.
A7S + Leica Summilux 35mm f/1.4 – F/4.5, ISO 16,000, Shutter 1/1250 – Extra Fine JPEG

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