Lately, it seems easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of exciting new camera tech.
A great example of that would be everything that has recently been released at IBC from the likes of Blackmagic, Sony, Panasonic, and even Samsung. We shouldn’t forget to take a critical look at the amazing camera tech that is already available, namely the Sony a7s and the GH4. Dave Dugdale of Learning DSLR Video recently released this thorough camera comparison video comparing everything from low light and color performance. Have a look at the full video below -- or, if you just want the high-level summary, skip to 44:29:
Caleb Ward over at The Beat connotates the current camera conundrum concisely (C):
Two of the more exciting cameras to hit the filmmaking world this year have been the Sony a7S and the Panasonic GH4. The a7S is well known for it’s low-light capabilities and the GH4 is one of the cheapest 4K cameras on the market. Both have beautiful image quality, but which one is the ‘all around’ leader?
I owned (and hacked) a GH2, so I have some built-in comfort operating the GH line of Panasonic cameras. And as a new owner of a BMPCC, I also have to admit I'm most comfortable in the micro 4/3 realm. However, I also know it's best to be as versatile and camera system agnostic as possible, and the Sony a7s is producing gorgeous pictures with amazing low light capabilities. A review like this that gives a potential consumer like me so many points of view is invaluable.
It's important to note that this review video covers the a7s as it compares to the GH4 -- Dave has done another entire review on the GH4 on its own. Dave conveniently outlines his table of contents for us, so we can skip ahead to the sections we are most interested in:
I find myself instantly gravitating toward the Low Light section at 11:37, the Color section at 18:50, and Dynamic Range section at 21:27.
I can't say I'm surprised about the a7s winning the low light contest; after all, that is the most well-known and attractive strength of the camera. However, seeing the side-by-side at ISO 3200 really seals the deal for me -- look at all that information that's retained. Dave's video is far more helpful than the still shot here, as he slides the image back and forth. (For more info on low light, I'd recommend Dave's low light showdown video as well.)
Dave focuses on the a7s here. Heis still experimenting with color, but of note he goes into detail concerning the a7s' S-Log2 S-Gamut. Dave notes the color seems off, especially in the sky, and I have to agree. It almost looks Rec-709 with the blobish clouds. However, in the clip of his daughter's hair, the color seems accurate.
He also makes note of a series of tests done by David Carstens with the different picture profiles and exposures on the a7s. Exposure definitely has a pronounced effect on color with the a7s. Check out Carstens' noise and color comparison below.
Dave notes the sensitivity in discussing dynamic range, potentially "opening a can of worms" because there are so many different factors (that you can affect in a test), and I want to acknowledge it, too. That said, there does seem to be a difference here. The a7s seems to be doing better in the highlights, and the GH4 seems to do better in his tests in the shadows of skin tones. Technically by the numbers, the a7s has 14.1 stops (the same as ARRI AMIRA), and the GH4 has 10.9 (see this helpful post by cinema 5D). But again, this test is all about observable details, and I can see where Dave is coming from with the footage he shot.
Where I differ from Dave in this review is at 45:49 regarding how "unintimidating" the GH4 is. I'm not sure how I feel about that suggestion. While I realize that camera tech is getting smaller and smaller, I don’t find myself worrying about having a camera and lens combo larger than a GH4. I actually find this humorous in a way, because after adding follow focuses, mics/receiver, and a matte box, cage, or rails, a smaller camera would end up looking bigger anyway. It also strikes me as funny because it reminds me of the age we’re living in -- where it's almost the expectation that your A-cam will be smaller and still produce cinematic results. I feel like an old man -- "Back in MY day we interviewed with cameras the size of the Sony f900 to get 1080p24 -- AND WE LIKED IT!!!"
Spoiler alert -- Dave ultimately ended up buying both cameras. He gets the GH4 so he would have the ability to crop in/pan-scan with 4k, and the a7s for the low light capabilities and the full frame DOF. He sold off some other Canon gear in order to make it happen. Gun to head, which would I choose? Based on what I note is important to me above, probably the a7s -- I'd simply plan on pairing it with an external recorder like the Atomos Shogun if I wanted 4k.
All in all, this video is certainly worth your time if you've considered renting or buying either camera. If for some reason you'd prefer to read Dave's review rather than watch, head over to the review page itself on Learning DSLR Video. Thanks for another comprehensive, wonderfully produced comparison video, Dave! Keep up the great work!
What did you think of this video? Will it affect your decisions regarding the GH4 or the a7s?