philip bloom standing on the beach with an alpha 7SM3 mounted on a tripod

Retracing my Steps: Alpha 7S III First Impressions

Philip Bloom

My name is Philip Bloom and I have been shooting video professionally for 31 years; the first 17 in TV news then as a freelance director of photography and director shooting documentaries, corporates and the occasional narrative fiction film. I shoot with all sorts of cameras, but I have become very well known for my work with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, being an early advocate of their use in professional video production. I also do a lot of educating via my website, workshops and online masterclasses.

Six years ago, I made a video that showed off the amazing low light capabilities of the Alpha 7S. It was jaw dropping. When I was asked to test the new Alpha 7S III, my immediate thought was to revisit the same location and put the camera through its paces over a 24-hour period on the beach, to paint a picture of a visually fascinating place and how it changes throughout the day and night.

Although filming in very low light features a lot in the video, the Alpha 7S III is so much more than just a low light beast, especially with the amazing 4K 50p, 60p, 100p and 120p full frame 10-bit internal recording and the full frame 200 / 240fps HD 10-bit internal recording.

There are many new features on this camera that have really impressed me, but if I were to pick my favourites, without a doubt having 10-bit internal recording is a huge thing and something I have been wanting for a long time; the difference between 8-bit and 10-bit is huge! To also have this in 4K up to 120p is amazing. The video autofocus system of cameras like the Alpha 7R IV have been incredibly useful, especially the Real-time Eye AF and the touch screen Real-time tracking autofocus. It is so good to have this incredibly powerful and useful features in the Alpha 7S III.

sony alpha 7SM3 with FE 200 600 lens mounted on a tripod with external monitor

My third stand out feature is a close one. The fully articulating screen is a great addition, but it is actually the full- size HDMI Type A port that is a huge plus for me. Micro HDMI is far from an ideal connection and I use on-camera monitors a lot with my cameras, so I now have a much more robust and solid way of connecting them to my camera.

I used quite a few lenses on the shoot. One of the main ones for the daytime filming was the 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens. I love shooting with a long lens and this gave me some unique perspectives. I did also use the 100- 400mm f/4.5-5.6 GM OSS a fair amount as the shorter focal length at the wide end was very much needed at times, and lastly the 24-70mm f/2.8 GM which was my widest focal length.

At night I was mostly using the fast Sony primes: the 135mm f/1.8 GM, 85mm f/1.4 GM, 50mm f/1.4 ZA, 35mm f/1.8 and the 24mm f/1.4 GM. Having these large aperture options over the 70-200mm f/2.8 meant the difference between being able to get exposure at 25,6000 ISO compared to over 100,000 ISO.

philip bloom adjusts focus on his sony alpha 7SM3

The biggest piece of advice I can offer for people new to film making – learn how to use autofocus and how to use the autofocus sensitivity and speed settings for the different types of filming. Understanding how they work and when to use certain settings will give you the results the camera is capable of. There isn’t a one setting for everything as sometimes we don’t want the AF to be too fast - a subtle AF focus rack is much more pleasing. We might want the sensitivity to be high when filming someone talking so they never go out of focus, but if you were using this setting and something crossed in front of your chosen focal point, the AF will move onto them as they are closer. Put these two controls in your quick function menu, it will make things a lot easier. Also make sure you have one of your shortcut buttons set to focus hold, this is a really useful feature when tracking a subject and you want the focus to hold at a certain point especially if they are about to exit frame.

philip bloom filming on the beach with a run down pier in the distance

The Alpha 7S III was a joy to use and the redesigned menu system has made things much more intuitive. The 10- bit internal recording has given me the ability to finally be able to use fully the capabilities of SLOG 3. The image quality is just wonderful, and the ability to shoot high frame rates in 4K with the same image quality as normal speed with no time restrictions or overheating issues is an amazing experience. The autofocus, especially the touch tracking ability makes filming moving subjects easy. All of these features alongside the legendary low light performance of the Alpha 7S series has made the long wait for this model to come out worthwhile.

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