July 28, 2020

Why the Sony a7s III Staying at 4K is Smart Move

In a summer of higher resolutions, Sony sticks with 4K and focuses on better pixels instead of more.

This summer has been one of resolution bumps from the major players in camera platforms. It kicked off last year with Panasonic rolling out the 6K S1H. Then  Canon went 8K with the EOS R5 and then Blackmagic Design went 12K weeks later with the Ursa Mini Pro 12K. For years now, we've all be eagerly awaiting the release of the new Sony a7S III and it's finally here.

It shoots in 4K.

4K, which the RED ONE shot way back in 2006 for $17,500. Which your phone shoots. Which Sony full-frame mirrorless has been shooting for 5 years now. 4K. Not even 4K DCI but 4K UHD. 

There may be a bunch of chatter and meme's created off of this one spec, but before that explosion I just wanted to go on record and say I believe that this is a brilliant move by Sony. Because even though it still only shoots 4K UHD, it has a brand spanking new sensor. Sony put their focus on redesigning the sensor with the same resolution, but hopefully, it creates better images. They are doing so with larger photosites on the sensor.

Larger photosites, of course, mean better low light. The Sony Alpha platform of cameras already does incredibly low light. This camera was designed to do it even better. This becomes especially key when you start to really think about slow motion shooting. One cinematographer I know has a stock answer when a producer asks, "Can this camera shoot slo-mo/120fps/etc?"  He responds with, "We can get a camera that does it, but can you afford to light it." Filmmakers often forges that to shoot slow motion you need more light, since the sensor is exposed to light for less time. While you might be open 1/48th of a second shooting 24fps, when you go up to 200fps, you are only open 1/200th of a second. That means 4 times the light volume is needed for exposure.

Slow motion is increasingly becoming one of the main area's of competition between manufacturers. And if this camera gives me a useable image at ISO 5000 – which it should since the a7S II wasn't terrible at 5000 itself – then I have a lot more room to use the slow motion speeds and still shoot at a functional f-stop. Otherwise we run into the classic situation that happens on many indie shoots where you go for a slo-motion shot and you don't have the light to get a good exposure, or you need to go to a wide open stop and the 1st AC doesn't stand a chance of holding focus. If the a7S III is better at low light with higher ISOs that produce less noise, that's going to be more advantageous for most indie filmmakers. 

Of course, the 12K from Blackmagic is brilliant as well, but to make that work, an entire new sensor design with a new pixel layout had to be created. No more Bayer array. To work with it, you need the whole workflow dialed in. Your own RAW format, your own post workflow, and some tremendous processing horsepower. It's a $10K camera after all and it only shoots RAW. The price point of the a7S III is less than 1/3 of that. But then again, it's hard to compare a dedicated video camera to a hybrid camera. It's apples and oranges. 

Sony has made the decision to focus on better low light and less noise, which is going to arguably be more useful to their typical user than more pixels might be for creators. While color science is subjective, to me, Sony's color science is also a little bit different than everyone else's. But with VENICE and the FX9, things are starting to feel really good coming from Sony. If some of that color DNA trickles down into the a7S III this camera could be a massive hit.

Yes, on paper its raw specs aren't as flashy, but if Sony did the work to improve the overall image quality that can be easily seen, the a7S III might have won the summer...at least at their price point.      

Your Comment

19 Comments

Pretty weak, 5 years later and they add a few things every other camera has. I am glad they kept the 12MP sensor for better low light, but thats a 6k sensor, are they not taking a 6k image like their other cameras?

So after waiting 5 years for an update, they made a few minor changes and basically brought it up to the standard of the A7 III, which is 1500$ cheaper...

No, thanks, I already bought a REAL cine camera, Z-CAM E2 M4. Thanks for the memories sony.

July 28, 2020 at 9:04AM

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My sentiments exactly! Biggest letdown in a long time for a camera. This is a move I would expect from Canon not Sony. This camera needed 6K to stay relevant imo.

July 28, 2020 at 1:17PM

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Kaster Troy
Director, DP, Editor
1023

Well, given that no other camera has the ISO range or can output 16bit RAW I have my doubts.

It would've been nice to see a subsampled 6k image, but we need to see some real-life test images first.

Also, the new A7S doesn't overheat.

July 28, 2020 at 1:23PM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
241

Z Cam doesn’t look that great their color science is worst then old Sony’s and good luck getting on a real set with it. Maybe if you want to do your Videos for YouTube or your own small projects.

Also 4K is barely a standard for anything. The A7s3 delivers where it counts, I do a bunch of TV shows and it’s actually a tool I can put to work, not just something to play with. It can be easily incorporated into the set workflow of many shows with out them yelling at you saying WTF is this crap. It also seems like it could be a real work horse for a small form specialty camera

July 28, 2020 at 5:39PM

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"good luck getting on a real set with it.Maybe if you want to do your Videos for YouTube or your own small projects."
Funny how you say that about the Z Cam and then insinuate a A7SIII is something you would regularly see on a "set".
It's save to argue the Sony's main use will be for Youtube and small projects.

July 29, 2020 at 2:18AM, Edited July 29, 2:18AM

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If Canon had done this with the EOS-R5 it would have been dubbed "a second failure from Canons mirrorless lineup". Canon does not have three varieties you can pick from like Sony but this camera seems like another in their lineup of cameras that each do the same thing as the last one did.

July 28, 2020 at 11:20AM

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Nick Straub
Wedding Photographer/Videographer
117

> If Canon had done this with the EOS-R5 it would have been dubbed "a second failure from Canons mirrorless lineup".

And the people saying that would be idiots. If only R5 did what this did...

July 28, 2020 at 3:13PM

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I agree. I think if Canon had done this, everybody would complain that they’re not listening to users and that the specs are too conservative. I think that’s what the reaction would’ve been if this camera had been announced before the R5. Sony got lucky that the R5 has turned into a fiasco. I think a lot of the positivity we are seeing from reviewers is being influenced by the disappointment caused by the usability (or lack there of) of the R5. But, in a world where 4K delivery is already here, having 6K to be able to reframe is the sweet spot in my opinion and Sony could have and should have offered that option. At the very least, they should have done what Panasonic did with the S1H to tackle their problem with color science in their dslr/mirrorless cameras and have their cinema camera department work on their color science. Right now if I had to buy a hybrid camera, the Panasonic S1H is the best option, I think.

July 28, 2020 at 9:03PM

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Joshua
91

To be fair it's not like the other cameras have all of the advantages.

Panasonic has terrible AF
Canon's bodies are hard to adapt lenses to (and overheat)

Sony's color science has been improving, but what some forget (or may not be old enough to remember) is that Sony's color has been consistent for over 40 years.

Which became evident when people started to pick up the FS7, FS5, and Venice and found they couldn't match the footage.

I don't think the R5 is a fiasco, it's just built for resolution.

July 29, 2020 at 7:12AM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
241

The color science jabs are a bit moot. But I agree that keeping it 4k was a smart move. Although, it'd be nice to see a 8k output, but I'm stoked to see 16bit 4k ... that's a TON of information.

Also finally glad to see internal memory cards that can handle 4k60 at 4:2:2. As far as an upgrade to the A7Sii, there's not much more I could've hoped for, but time will tell. Sony, like all of the camera companies, have found interesting ways to disappoint end-users.

July 28, 2020 at 1:27PM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
241

Letdown? This is the only camera that matters in 2020.

The Canon R5/6 are a joke in actual production use in the field, the Blackmagic goes to $10K for 12K nobody asked for and nobody needs (nobody really needs 8K either, and those that do wont get it from Blackmagic but from Red, ARRI and co, with real crews and budgets), and the Panasonic is good but this is better for run and gun, documentary, music videos, ads, etc - with better low light than the SH1, less rolling shutter, more codecs, better dynamic range, plus autofocus (killer for one- or few-man crews which a $3K camera is aimed at).

July 28, 2020 at 3:12PM

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I agree. Also IMO the Blackmagic 6K is better then the R5 in many ways. Sony creating a real camera that you can put to work here not just some toy that has a few cool tricks. And no one is even asking for 6k. Also keep in mind as much as 90% of videos now days are distributed on the internet and most people even watch them on their phones so even 4K doesn’t really mean crap.

July 28, 2020 at 5:44PM, Edited July 28, 5:44PM

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Well, I say try to look at it from a marketing / future proofing standpoint. These cameras are going to be used for 3-5+ years and in that time a filmmaker could have an 8K camera 5 years down the line.

I personally doubt 8K will be a standard of any kind then, but the future proofing is certainly there.

I agree though, that 4k has barely reached the "standard" that HD has reached. Things are getting cheaper, but practical use cases still hover around super compressed 4k @ 4:2:0.

The A7SIII reminds me of the Nikon D2h when it came out with just 4.1MP while Canon had 8.2MP. The camera was built for speed and to be the BEST thing for photojournalists (way back in 2002)

July 29, 2020 at 6:21AM

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Justin Gladden
Producer
241

The camera can't record any 4K DCI mode? but the target are broadcast professional?
mmmm. Weird choices

July 28, 2020 at 6:34PM, Edited July 28, 6:34PM

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visionrouge.com
DoP freelance cameraman 4K HK & Shanghai.
426

touch me

July 28, 2020 at 9:37PM, Edited July 28, 9:36PM

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Lào Cai 365
Lào Cai 365 | Thông tin sản phẩm & dịch vụ tại Lào Cai
154

dont touch me

July 28, 2020 at 9:38PM

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Lào Cai 365
Lào Cai 365 | Thông tin sản phẩm & dịch vụ tại Lào Cai
154

Are the people that say we didn't ask for 6K/8K only producing 1080p works? Why wouldn't you like the ability to re-frame in post without losing quality?

Also, some people prefer to have multiple streams of passive income with their stock footage by offering multiple resolutions of the same clip. I'm not shooting 8K, but it sounds better to me to be able to have at least 4 pricing options per clip as opposed to 2 options.

July 29, 2020 at 1:26AM

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Zarf
161

Just designed a car better spec than any other car but you can only drive it for 10 minutes then stop for a certain period
Seriously though a camera is a tool and needs to achieve for its user what they require, for a video user I believe it does.
However I do have one concern
A 3:2 12mpx sensor doesn't have enough pixels for 4k 4 2 2
Let's approximate
In 16:9 mode it has just over 8mpx

4k video requires
Y = 8Mpx
B = 4Mpx
R = 4Mpx

The Sony Bayer sensor has
G 4K
R 2K
B 2K

to achieve 4 2 2 they must be Interpolating

They would require 16mpx in 16:9 to achieve true 4 2 2
This could be achieved by using a 3:2 24mpx sensor
So the trade off in going for low light is interpolated 4 2 2

July 31, 2020 at 2:47AM

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The Mark 3 is an incremental improvement over the Mark 2. I'm not sure the price is worth upgrading for the things I do. If Sony added 4K DCI it would be an easier decision to make.

August 1, 2020 at 5:18PM

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Dave Palmer
Retired Electrical Engineer
74