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The A7s or the GH4?

Michael Lippi

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I'm thinking about buying a camera at the end of the year. I've been assessing what I can afford and what's available. So far, I've narrowed it down to either the Panasonic GH4 or the Sony A7s. I like the GH4's native ability to shoot 4k but I'm concerned about the 4/3" sensor size. I'm impressed with the Sony A7s' shooting capability especially in low light but disappointed that shooting 4k requires an expensive peripheral.


I'd appreciate any advice, opinions and first hand intel anyone can give me. If there's another camera system that anyone would recommend, by all means. Mind you I cannot afford anything that's over $5000.



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I haven't tried A7s but you could consider buying both cameras if your budget is max 5000 for the camera body.

The GH4 is ok camera for most uses but it is not good in low light and the fullhd image it produces is not as nice looking as the previous gh3 model made. It has nice recording format and framerate options and can use a lot of different lenses via adapters. The 2.3x crop factor in UHD mode is actually very good feature if you shoot a lot with tele lenses.


But with GH4 it would be nice to have a camera which could actually shoot usable material in very low light and I think the a7s would be very good for that job, and also for shallow dof shots when those are needed. Using speed booster with the GH4 could help, but it seriously limits lens options.


You could use the same set of full frame lenses with adapters in both cameras (for example Nikon lenses with Nikon--->MFT and Nikon--->E-mount adapters) so you don't need to buy separate lens sets for 2 different camera systems (this is crazy expensive, lenses and accessories usually cost A LOT more than the camera body itself)

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I have a policy of saying this to all potential DSLR owners, and I apologise, but it's straightforward: If you want a video camera, probably you should buy a video camera, as opposed to a DSLR, unless you're very sure what you're getting into.


The 4/3" sensor on the GH4 is a non-issue, in my view. People are concerned about not being able to get shallow depth of field. Try it - stick some reasonably fast glass on it and you'll find it's perfectly feasible (my experience is with the predecessor cameras, but the sensors are the same size). What's a really big serious problem is the incredibly shallow depth of field on the A7s. Don't be lured by the idea that the big sensor is what you need. It limits your lens choices to those which will cover it, and the depth of field is shallow to the point of being really quite difficult to use if you do need wider stops. On the first Tron, a 65mm production, they had cast leaning against C-stands to maintain their position for critical focus, and you may find yourself in alarmingly similar circumstances if you choose to shoot - in effect - Vistavision.


As ever it depends what you want to do. For cinematic work, I'd lean toward the 7s, and look to shoot older, cheaper, slower glass on it, leveraging its sensitivity and maintaining the focus puller's sanity. What's more, you can window down to an APS-sized area and use more conventional lenses if you need to. For documentary stuff, where the Sony's slightly questionable rolling shutter performance may be more of a bind, get a GH4, and you can put a 2/3" ENG lens on it in ETC mode.


I'm not sure what the situation is with recording it. Best chance looks like the Atomos Shogun. You need to consider, too, what the quality of recording is likely to be on that, as opposed to what you can get of a GH4.



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Does the GH4 have anything close to a log gamma option for recording? Something very low in contrast? The fact that you can recording internally to 1080P 10-bit 4:2:2 with the GH4 is very encouraging (well, with the adaptor).


There are some comparison videos online:

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you can lower the contrast and it also has user adjustable gamma curves. the 100Mbps codec limits it a little bit but yes, you can lower the contrast so that the full dynamic range (something like a bit over 9 stops) can fit well to the recordings.

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the curves of the GH4 ("highlight/shadow" in the menu) have couple of presets and also user adjustable curves, where you can adjust the highlights up/down and shadows up/down separately. No slope setting or anything more sophisticated, but good enough for most shooting. I usually use preset setting highlight -2 shadow +2 with PP contrast settings from -5 to +2.


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I *DID* get both and by far I use the A7S more. I will explain my progression of thought on it as my experience evolved and hopefully it will provide some insight.

Originally I bought the GH4 because I wanted the in-camera 4K. The 4K is nice and so are the rest of the features in it but I still had the same old problems in low light, the constant bane of my existence. That said, the feature set is extensive and it's a very nice camera. Form factor is pleasant (smaller) coming from a 70D.

The only reason I didn't get the A7S outright from the start was because, like you, I was 4K hungry for a decent camera and didn't want to shell out for the external recorder. I had already purchased the Blackmagic Production Camera 4K and was sorely disappointed by the Maximum 800 ISO and the ergonomics of a brick along with an embarrasing number of other disappointments.

I lamented the challenges of using the Canon glass from my 70D on the GH4 and even though the MFT sensors these days are amazing, I wasn't crazy about getting a smaller sensor than my existing 70D which I enjoyed quite a bit. I couldn't really justify a new camera, especially with a smaller sensor unless it had 4K.

The GH4 I'm told has a very easy to understand interface, which I mostly agree with, except for the fact that the menus are overwhelming. Some tabs have 9 pages of options and finding the feature you want is a bit of needle-in-haystack. And then when you find it, it might be disabled because of some weird dependency on another feature setting, triggering off the hunt once again.

I didn't like the proposition of having to buy glass all over again for MFT, and although I had already bought some decent glass for it, would have liked to use my fast 70-200, and other lenses without having to buy new all over again. I got the Panasonic 12-25 (24-70 equivalent) and the Panasonic 25 (50mm equivalent) f1.4.

I read some reviews on the f1.4 versus the olympus f1.8 and the image was much better and the bokeh negligible, so I took back the Panasonic lens and got the Olympus, which is far superior, even if it doesn't have stabilization. There's a problem picking good glass for MFT. A lot of the good MFT lenses don't have stabilization (Oly lenses take advantage of the body stabilization in Olympus cameras), and the GH4 doesn't have it in-body. Another catch 22.

I saw some reviews on the A7S from Philip Bloom and Dave Dugdale and had a restless night's sleep, waking in a cold sweat to jump in front of my browser and research some more. It turns out that Metabones has a smart adapter for the A7S with full electronics, including (slow and and unreliable) AF. I was used to AF being a manual proposition, but knew that I actually COULD use my Canon glass, which I already use on my Blackmagic.

I dreaded the constant challenge of always balancing catch-22 situations and finally brainstormed a solution that didn't have to involve major compromises on every single decision:

I could get the A7S and the metabones smart adapter to use my Canon Glass, and then bite the bullet with the purchase of an Atomos Shogun for the 4K after all, and enjoy the benefits on a beautiful display, RAW recording, XLR phantom power breakout cables, etc.

Because I already had a Blackmagic 4K, I realized I could also use SDI to output and record externally on the Atomos with that, and not have to fight its awkwardly dim and poorly placed sensor. The Shogun even has scopes and focus peaking, which takes the need for using that feature away from the brick and puts it on a much nicer display that I can move around. Heck, it might even keep the Blackmagic from burning my hand running hot if I externalized the recording.

And THEN I read that the GH4 outputs 10bit 4:2:2 from it's HDMI port. That meant that instead of having to suck it up and play with H.264 from the GH4's internal recorder, I could actually do better with the Shogun and record RAW (or 10 bit prores HQ) using the Shogun and save time in post with files that are already much better suited for editing.

I had previously been looking for a good screen to augment the one on my Blackmagic and maybe use on the 70D from time to time, but the value on the GH4 and the Sony added to it made it a no-brainer. No longer was the Shogun an unwanted luxury, but an affordable option I had forgotten I'd actually been seeking already. Not only would it solve the 4K on the A7S problem but actually made the GH4 output better with 10 bit 4:2:2 and made my Blackmagic no longer the unwanted step-child.

I went to the store and grabbed the A7S and native 35mm lens for starters. I then grabbed the Metabones smart adapter and started to play with my Canon lenses on it. After that it was time to put a deposit on the Shogun. I began shooting at a venue in town that I had otherwise somewhat shunned. It was a really cool place with great atmosphere and honestly, the stage lighting was pleasing to the eye. Unfortunately, it was just shy of what you would need for a camera.

I pulled out the A7S and it made what used to be a nightmare into a dream of luxury proportions and lurid colour. No longer was I fighting my gear, but instead I was freed from the fight, and just enjoying composition once again. I had been broken of the stockholm syndrome of blaming the venue for "bad lighting" and got to embrace the nice setup they had, which had always been more than adequate for naked human eyes.

I went for a walk outside at night and shot the street like it was daytime. Light was no longer an obstacle. Instead it was a choice. I could pick a fast shutter, tight DOF, deep focus, whatever I wanted. It's true, you can shoot in low light with any camera, provided your exposure is adequate, but not video, and not hand-held. I went to another venue with "bad" lighting and enjoyed the high of random shooting at 20,000 ISO just for fun, and ran circles around the other photographers trying to get their AF to catch and edge on something, anything.

I felt guilty that I was using the A7S so much and not the otherwise brand new GH4, so I took them both out to that low light venue. GH4 is supposed to be pretty decent for it's kind, and I thought I would properly field test it in the circumstances I wanted to be able to shoot in.

The results were interesting to say the least. The A7S made shooting the venue effortless, getting tons of light from the stage and pristine footage. The GH4 on the other hand had significant blocky artifacts through all the footage. I manually set the GH4 to 1/60 shutter at 3200ISO with aperture wide open at f2.8, the best I could get away with. If I hadn't cleaned it in post with NEAT video, it would have been unusable.

What I learned was profound. A more sensitive sensor will change the way you think about shooting. I also learned not to clutch so tightly to my old lenses and habits of compromise, the "stockholm syndrome" I described. Instead I finally found a camera that I didn't have to fight with on location OR in post. It's like a breath of fresh air while having shackles cut away from your wrists.

I'm attaching stiil frames from the GH4/A7S two camera shoot I described so you can see for yourself the difference. This was shot at 1080p, so it doesn't demonstrate the 4K capability, just low light, as my Shogun has not yet arrived, but you will see how drastic a difference it makes to have some freedom in exposure.



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I Purchased the GH4 and I have friends who have the A7S whom I was able to play with the camera a bit and looked over the shoulder to see how their ideas about production changed.


For me the choice came down to the GH4 because I wanted to use my Super16mm glass, as Mr. Berneker said, I wasn't to thrilled about buying all new glass for a full frame camera (My 35mm glass is OK, but nothing I'd consider "cinema" quality.) The one feature I knew I would miss out on is the low light capabilities, the reason why I overlooked them is because I believed most of the time I would be using the camera is when I have total control of the light anyway. I have to do it for film, I had to do it to keep the ISO down for the past digital cameras, I figure I could live with doing it some more.


But I'm well aware I'm going to wish I had the A7S the next time I may have to use the GH4 at another wedding reception or location where no one thought about bringing lights. In fact I was on a shoot last month where a DP with an A7S shot a camping scene at night and it was amazing what the A7S could do, we didn't even bring any lights (E.g. battery operated LED panels) but shot it all naturally (Lighting from just the camp fire and lanterns around the camp!)


But for shooting live events you should probably get a dedicated video camera as Mr. Rhodes has said, which is why I dismissed it as a reason to get an A7S. I just don't shoot that many events anymore and I can usually get away with faster glass.


There is one important thing I want to mention about the GH4: It's going to need "tweeking" before you shoot with it. Out of the box, the camera is naturally noisy and does have quite a bit of artifacts. The camera has many options to alter the latitude and exposure and many of these features actually makes the artifacts worse. If you do your tests and go online and compare them with what other people have discovered through their own, you can actually shoot clean images that hold a candle to a majority of the other cameras on the market. I can even alter the image quite a bit in post now, regardless of the fact that there's no "true" RAW feature that some people complain about. Noise is almost non existent now.


I'm not making a case against the A7S, just explaining why I bought a GH4 and my experience with it since. The truth is, I believe both of these cameras would be a good choice depending on your workflow and what you can do with it. Cameras are just the tools, it's up to the DP to know how to use them to their advantage.

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A proper Log for the GH4 is coming in a firmware update. That will be a whole other conversation. I remember when technicolor put of the cinestyle photo style for the canon dslrs. It turned them into cameras that you could really take to a colorist.


The big thing for me that makes the gh4 amazing the 1 to 1 pixel sampling that only happens in the cinema 4k setting. If you set the camera up correctly and you can shoot really well it will reward you with scarlet killing results. It's a tool like anything else.


This is a project greenlight submission I shot with it the same day I got the camera from B&H.

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  • 10 months later...

I don't know anyone can possibly answer my question or if there's even an answer but here it goes...


What I want for sure -in order of importance-:


- Best image quality for the money

- 4K

- Cover 18, 28, 35, 50mm

- Very Shallow DOF

- Low Light Performance

- Slow Motion


2000-2500$ (would prefer 2000$) budget for camera, lens, and a few other stuff.



GH4 (cons: low light, shallow dof, lenses)

G7 (cons: image quality?, shallow dof)

A7S (cons: 4K, rolling shutter, price)

A7S II (cons: price)


I was gonna buy GH4 with Sigma 18-35mm F/1.8 but even for a 800$ lens, I'm still not gonna get what I want. Which is something a bit more than a lens that -even with a speedbooster- "acts like" 30-60mm F/3.0 on MFT. Even if aperture was enough, which isn't, I still would miss the 18mm range. And buying another lens after a 800$ one is really a bad idea at this budget and at this point. Not to mention you can't really buy a cheap fast wide lens, not even a F/1.8 one (Best option I found was a Rokinon 12mm f/2 for 320$). Or any other fast non-tele lens, really.


I think if the Sigma was like 500$ I might have bought the GH4 already, but it really feels like an empty investment for a lens that can't be used on bigger sensors.


Right now GH4 is 1300$ and A7S is 2200$. I think A7S isn't too expensive considering what you get but the fact that you need an expensive gadget to record in 4K and the rolling shutter issue is a deal breaker. And A7S II is really all I want, but it's just out of my budget.


So what, am I destined to not own a camera ever?

Edited by Berker Taşkıran
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So what, am I destined to not own a camera ever?

Yep... you're not going to get shallow depth of field and 4k imagery for that kind of price tag, it's just not going to happen.


Plus, all those cameras you listed are UHD not 4k internal recording.

Plus, they all record horrible 8 bit 4:2:0 long gop MPEG files, which are by far the worst to work with in post.


All of those cameras are just toys, even though in some certain situations the A7S can do some incredible things like shoot in moonlight, for normal shooting the camera is meh. You can't make a sensor that's good for a few thousand ASA look acceptable at lower ASA's like when you shoot outdoors in daylight. If you're only shooting in the studio or interiors with low-light, with virtually no camera movement, then I guess why not?


I could buy pretty much any camera I wanted, but gave away much of those features in order to have a decent file format for recording and a camera that's been designed from the ground up to be a cinema camera and not a still camera that just happens to record highly compressed MPEG files. But that's your decision obviously, from a filmmakers standpoint, I stay away from MPEG files.

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