Movie Mode

If you've used the movie modes on Sony's recent NEX cameras, then you'll feel right at home using the Alpha 7. The camera retains the same 1080/24p and 60p resolutions, but with the added benefits of a significantly larger sensor. The a7 also has the ability to output uncompressed video over HDMI, something not available on NEX models.

Something that has been changing from model-to-model in Sony's mirrorless lineup is the position of the dedicated 'red' recording button. On earlier models, the button was too close to the thumb rest, which caused some users to accidentally press it (Sony later added the ability to disable it). On later models, the button ventured further away from the thumb rest to the point where, on the a7, it's essentially now on the side of the camera. Paradoxically, the placement of this button on the a7 makes it harder to record a movie.

Sony has moved the 'red button' so far from the back of the camera that it's now a bit challenging to record a movie. You can have this button active in all shooting modes, or just when the mode dial is set to the video position.

The a7 offers plenty of manual controls to please video enthusiasts. When the movie button is activated in all modes, one can simply enter the shooting mode of their choice and adjust the desired exposure setting). Aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, and ISO are all up for grabs. If you've locked out the movie button, you can do all the same stuff by setting the mode dial to the video position. This will also give a 16:9 preview that matches what you'll record.

When manually focusing, you can use focus peaking to pull focus from one subject to another - even while recording. We found that focus peaking worked as advertised in those situations.

Another feature is 'zebra', which shows a pattern in overexposed areas of the scene (similar to how some cameras have clipped areas 'blink' in playback mode). You can choose the exposure level at which the pattern shows, with a range of 70 - 100 and above. When dialing down the exposure on the a7, the zebra pattern kept up with the changes.

The camera offers both mic and headphone ports, and has an on-screen audio level. The mic level can be adjusted, and users can select whether audio output is synced or unsynched. There's also a wind filter for improved audio quality when recording outdoors.

In addition to manual controls, you can also throw the camera into either of the Auto modes and take advantage of the same Creative Styles or Picture Effects that are available for still shooting. Speaking of stills, you cannot take a photo while simultaneously recording a video, as you can with some of the a7's competitors.

Below are the various video size and quality settings available on the a7. Do note that the default setting is 1080/60i, rather than 60p or 24p.

Sizes • AVCHD
1920 x 1080 60i/50i Avg. 24 Mbps (high quality)
1920 x 1080 60i/50i Avg. 17 Mbps (standard quality)
1920 x 1080 60p Avg. 28 Mbps (highest quality)
1920 x 1080 24p/25p Avg. 24Mbps (high quality)
1920 x 1080 24p/25p Avg. 17Mbps (standard quality)

• MP4:
1440 x 1080, 1080p (30/25fps), Avg. 12Mbps
640 x 480 (30/25fps), Av. 3Mbps
Audio • Dolby Digital (AC-3) / MPEG-4 AAC-LC
• Stereo audio capture via built-in or optional external mic.
Format AVCHD / MPEG4
Recordable time Approx 29 minutes for AVCHD, 20 minutes for MPEG4 (1440 x 1080)

Overall, video quality is very good, as is the quality of the audio recorded. The only issues we ran into in our testing was some moiré (see sample 2 below) and focus hunting in low light (see sample 3). As you'd expect with a CMOS-based camera, rolling shutter is something you will run into if you're quickly panning the camera.

Below are a few sample videos to give you a taste of what the a7 can do. Feel free to download the original MTS files to avoid whatever compression YouTube is applying.

Sample 1

Below are two samples of the same subject (Snoqualmie Falls, east of Seattle), taken at both 60p and 24p. There aren't any surprises here, with the 60p setting being the smoother of the two.

1920x1080 60p 28Mbps, MTS, 12 sec, 35.8 MB Click here to download original file

1920x1080 24p 24Mbps, MTS, 12 sec, 28.5 MB Click here to download original file

Sample 2

If you ignore the large piece of dust, this video shows you how the camera performs when on a tripod (well, a wall in this case). The quality is good, and the wind filter performs fairly well given the location. You will see the focus hunt on one occasion, for no apparent reason.

1920x1080 60p 28Mbps, MTS, 17 sec, 51.6 MB Click here to download original file

Sample 3

This video, taken on something close to a tripod, illustrates both low light AF and video quality. While the quality is very good, you'll notice the AF system 'hunting' at times, especially when there isn't a car in the scene.

1920x1080 60p 28Mbps, MTS, 22 sec, 67.2 MB Click here to download original file