Ask a professional photographer which is the best camera and you'll get as many answers as there are cameras on the market. More seasoned professionals will explain that the best camera is the one you always have on you. In that case, your cellphone camera would always win, but there are limits to what a cellphone camera can do.
Not all cameras are created equal and different cameras are better in certain situations. I have on hand a Canon 5D Mk III which is the default go to camera for many and a cheaper Canon 70D which makes recording video a breeze. So far I have listed traditional DSLR ( Digital Single-Lens Reflex) cameras that have mirrors inside. This is the basic technology concept that has powered cameras for nearly one hundred years. DSLR's tend to be bulky, but the trade off is amazing and the images produced from them are stunning.
That all being said, new technologies arise and cameras are no longer immune to the advent of progress. Enter mirrorless cameras. These new kids on the block boast smaller bodies, lighter weights, and usually smaller sensors. Mirrorless cameras used to be finicky and the disadvantages in comparison to traditional DSLR's made justifying buying one difficult.
"The A7s produces better and sharper footage than my 5D MK III"
That all changed for me when Panasonic annoucned their GH4 which can record in 4k and when Sony announced their A7 line of cameras. Specifically, the Sony A7s. I'll list the specs below, but all they basically mean is that this thing can handle being in the darkest environments imaginable and still give you usable photos and amazing video. Did I mention that this thing is amazing with video? The A7s produces better and sharper footage than my 5D MK III and even shoots in S-Log2. What is S-Log 2? Basically, a video mode that captures footage in a flat and muted color profile so you can later go into your editing software and choose the perfect look.
- 12MP full-frame EXMOR CMOS sensor
- Focuses at light levels to -4EV
- 1080 footage at up to 50Mbps (XAVC S)
- Extensive movie-focused capture options: S-Log2, Black Level, time code
- Video ISO Range 100 - 409,600
- Uncompressed 4:2:2 Full HD and 4K video output over HDMI
- 2.36M dot OLED viewfinder
- Mic and headphone sockets
- 720/120p option for slow-mo capture
- Wi-Fi with NFC
You read that right. 409,600! I constantly find myself recording video and taking photos in terrible lighting. This camera gives me an insane amount of breathing room for dealing with low light. Don't believe me? Take a look at this video which shows off what the A7s is capable of in low light
That and a higher bitrate makes the A7s a beast when it comes to video. It's even capable of recording in 4k with an external recorder, but that's $1,800 and and requires a few extra Solid State Drives to use. It gives you focus peaking which outlines in a bright color whatever is in focus and zebras to let give you an on screen representation of what is over exposed.
The real reason for my love of the A7s is its lightweight body. Lugging around a messenger bag, portable battery charger, lenses, batteries, and notepads, swag and merchandise around conventions can take its toll after 10 hours. The lighter the weight, the better in my case. It produces amazing video with its full frame sensor. It even has a cropped sensor mode for adding a bit of extra zoom to the image. The current line up of lenses isn't exactly phenomenal, but you can buy adapters and latch on any array of lenses you might already have. In my case, I can use my Canon lenses.
Below are some examples of images taken using the A7S
"No camera is perfect and the same applies to the A7s"
Now, it isn't all sunshine and rainbows. No camera is perfect and the same applies to the A7s. First , it's a battery hog. The thing goes through them like candy. Second, there is no in body stabilization making a tripod, glidecam, or lens with stabilization a must for recording video. Third, you need a fast memory card with at least 64 GB in order to record in the highest bitrate and it fills up pretty quickly. One 64GB card will give you a little over 2 hours of video. Fourth, the wonderful S-Log2 mode that gives you flat colors and a high dynamic range? The minimum ISO setting is 3200. What does that mean? Basically, your image will be extremely bright while recording in daylight. You can either increase your shutter speed to insane levels or buy an ND (Neutral Density) filter which acts like sunglasses and lets you darken the image. Fifth, the 12 megapixel sensor will give some pause, but unless you're making large prints, then there is not need to worry. The thing takes amazing photos. There are a few more gripes when it comes to custom button mapping and auto focus is a pain. An extra pain when using an adapter.
Sony recently announced the A7R II which seems to be the mythical God of cameras, but that's almost $3,200. It will have
- 42MP Full-Frame Exmor R BSI CMOS Sensor
- BIONZ X Image Processor
- 5-Axis SteadyShot Inside Stabilization
- 399 Phase-Detect AF Points & 5 fps Burst
- Internal 4K XAVC S Video & S-Log2 Gamma
- Weather-Resistant Magnesium Alloy Body
- Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC
- ISO 102,400
- no shutter blade motion
- 3,5x faster than the A7r
- A7rII focus is almost 40% faster than the one of the A7r
I'm literally drooling, but it's hard to say what the images will look like until I get my hands on one of them. For now, my Sony A7s is serving me very well and I will most likely hold onto it for several more years. Sony seems to be really pushing the idea of what cameras can do and Canon is starting to feel old in comparison. The Sony A7s currently retails for $2,498 on amazon for the body without a lens. Not cheap , but I have not had any regrets.