New ISO King A7S — And Sony Gives the World a 12MP Full-Frame Camera With Baffling Sensitivity

Bottom line: hear hear, competition, Sony does it again, betting the market does need a 12MP full-frame camera with fewer, but larger pixels that see in the dark. Sony is once again pushing the envelope with the A7S, a high sensitivity monster delivering ISO 50 to 409,600 with probably “unprecedented dynamic range,” as Sony promises, “effortlessly handling extreme highlights and rich, deep blacks in the same frame.” First and foremost the A7S is a videographer’s wet dream. It is the first full-frame camera able to read out the full width of its sensor, fast enough to output 4K 30p footage from nearly the entire frame. But what pleases videographers also delights photographers: the newly developed CMOS imager provides with high dynamic range in all conditions from extremely low light to bright sunlight. Made possible, primarily, by abdicating the pixels race.

The industry's likely new ISO king -- Sony A7S.
The industry’s likely new ISO king — Sony A7S.
When I joined the digital rat race 5MP were, well, not enough, but looking at the photographs from back then they still please nonetheless. One might even say the more pixels we enjoy = the sloppier composition and framing get. Right, cropping is everyone’s darling. But talking reasonable print sizes (for Web and social media publishing it’s a no-brainer anyway) 12.2MP are completely adequate to what most photographers need.

Now Sony puts ISO 409,600 in our pockets. That’s just insane. Back then when pushing a roll of film from 400 to, at most, 1,600, no one would have ever thought that digital photography gives us a half a million ISO sensitivity… Right, some time down the road we’ll cross the ISO 1m threshold… We’ll see in the dark with perfect shadows and blacks.

Not there yet, but approaching, and whatever the fine print and specifications promise about this latest A7 sibling, Sony has to be applauded to once again think outside the box. Guess it wasn’t the technical challenge to put 4k into a small body that determined the pixel count. It was a conscious decision my world’s most innovative camera maker to present a daredevil full-framer that hits the nerve of many photographers and videographers.

Sony is going for the kill — now just imagine what the A9 will look like, expected to be launched around Photokina. Wild possibilities in unparalleled mobility. OK, there is no internal 4k, so the videographer loses some portability, but serious filmmaking never was a piece of cake in the first place regarding equipment, just to mention sound recording, and so forth. But hey you get super clean 1080/60p, no moiré, impressive high ISO, from a full-frame sensor…

Why the “low resolution” sensor? Readout speed. Fast enough that pixel binning is unnecessary, and even if it’s only in crop mode: 120 fps is possible. That’s still far better than previous full-frame video cameras. With far fewer pixel columns to read, this Sony sensor needs far fewer ADCs and therefore can get a much higher frequency readout.

Half-baked product, as some lament? Well in-body stabilization is still missing and the form factor might be not the best for videographers. The strategy, however, is genius. Big, perfect photosites rule. This camera sees in the dark. Maybe the Nikon Df has just been dethroned as the king of low light… Sony presses hard. Canon and Nikon can only dream of such innovation.

For more on the A7S and all the specs visit Sony.

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  • Bengt Nyman

    Good move Sony.
    Next move Sony: Give us a FF, 36MP, mirrorless camera with an autofocus Nikon lens mount and a full grip.

  • Robert Mark

    My Canon 7D could shoot 12800, but you couldn’t really use it above 3200 on a regular basis. My 5D3 upped the game, with an unusable 104k, but I routinely sold images shot at 12800.

    Every time the ISO frontier is stretched, we get cleaner images at the mid range of the ISO dial. So while I doubt I’d be shooting at 409k anytime soon, I am seriously looking forward to noise free RAW files shot at 25600 and 51200.

  • Pablo Ricasso

    You’re basically after a mirror-less D800…what’s new?

  • Bengt Nyman

    YES! I need a quiet machine. I would love a D800E with the image sensor doing light metering. Once focused I could then shoot fast and quiet in lock-up.
    Come on mirror-less, we are waiting !!

  • One More Thought

    It’s an intriguing camera, and I am sure the sensor will be superlative. However, let’s not forget that Nikon recently released their D4s with similar ISO sensitivity.

    So I’m a bit confused why some photography sites are all of sudden gushing over this Sony ISO rating, but nary a word about the D4s.

    Now granted, this is a far smaller and lighter and less expensive option than the D4s. But the D4s has far superior AF and build, not to mention far greater battery life.

    We will see once production cameras hit the market and people can actually test this new model out. I am sure it will produce great photos….but it’s not the only low light king.

  • Bengt Nyman

    Next up, a Sony A7m, B&W only, without a Bayer filter and approaching 1,000,000 ISO.