Sony A7S Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing the Sony A7S with the Sony A7, Canon 5D Mark III, Fujifilm X-T1, Nikon D750 and Panasonic GH4. All of these models sit at relatively similar price points and/or categories in their respective product lineups as advanced enthusiast or professional-level cameras.

These comparisons were somewhat tricky to write, as the cameras vary a great deal in resolution, so bear that in mind as you're reading and drawing your own conclusions. (We generally try to match cameras in these comparisons based on price, given that most of us work to a budget, rather than setting out to buy a given number of megapixels.)

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved: click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page: Sony A7S, Sony A7, Canon 5D Mark III, Fujifilm X-T1, Nikon D750 and Panasonic GH4 -- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them. And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare the Sony A7S to any camera we've ever tested.

Sony A7S versus Sony A7 at base ISO

Sony A7S at ISO 100
Sony A7 at ISO 100

While there's quite a bit of resolution disparity here, the A7S nevertheless displays impressive image quality performance at base ISO. Naturally, fine detail is more apparent from the 24.3MP A7, though. The A7S does very well with the fabric swatches, and doesn't display any of the minor moiré "striping" that's seen on the A7 image.

Sony A7S versus Canon 5D Mark III at base ISO

Sony A7S at ISO 100
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100
The Sony A7S, despite the resolution difference, displays excellent image quality against the Canon 5D Mark III, especially in the fabric swatches -- where the A7S displays a crisper, sharper leaf pattern on the red fabric and shows more detail in the pink fabric as well.

Sony A7S versus Fuji X-T1 at base ISO

Sony A7S at ISO 100
Fuji X-T1 at ISO 200

Ah, here we compare two cameras that are more closely related in terms of sensor resolution, and yet again, the comparison is a tough one. Both cameras display a lot of fine detail, though the A7S shows a slightly crisper mosaic tile pattern and more contrast in the red fabric. The biggest difference, however, is the pink fabric, with which the Fuji X-T1 struggles quite a bit in comparison.

Sony A7S versus Nikon D750 at base ISO

Sony A7S at ISO 100
Nikon D750 at ISO 100

Here we see another 20+ megapixel camera up against the 12MP Sony A7S. Both cameras are neck-and-neck in terms of detail for their respective image resolutions. On the tricky fabric swatches, the A7S simply doesn't have the resolution to produce the fine moiré stripe pattern that shows up on the D750 image.

Sony A7S versus Panasonic GH4 at base ISO

Sony A7S at ISO 100
Panasonic GH4 at ISO 200

The A7S and GH4 are another pairing more close related in resolution. While the GH4 is a stellar performer for a Four Thirds sensor camera, at base ISO, the full-frame A7S nonetheless displays more fine detail than the GH4 in all three crop comparisons.

Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1,600, 3,200, and 6,400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Sony A7S versus Sony A7 at ISO 1,600

Sony A7S at ISO 1,600
Sony A7 at ISO 1,600

The Sony A7S was designed for high ISO shooting, so it's no surprise that it takes the edge in this comparison at ISO 1600. Although you can see some slight NR processing at its default strength on the A7S image (bottle crop), it's much more apparent on the A7 image, in all three crops. The bottle detail looks crisper from the A7S and the mosaic tile looks more natural. On the fabric crops, we can see the biggest difference in image quality, with the NR processing really taking its toll on the A7 image, while the A7S displays a lot of clean, fine detail.

Sony A7S versus Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1,600

Sony A7S at ISO 1,600
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1,600

Like the previous comparison, the A7S is the winner here as well with cleaner, sharper fine detail and less image quality degradation from default noise reduction. The 5D Mark III still looks great, but the edge goes the to A7S -- as the mosaic looks more natural and the fabric swatches display more fine detail from the Sony.

Sony A7S versus Fuji X-T1 at ISO 1,600

Sony A7S at ISO 1,600
Fuji X-T1 at ISO 1,600

At ISO 1600, the X-T1 shows a bit more noise in the shadows and fine detail is reduced in the mosaic crop compared to the A7S. While the Fuji handles the red fabric rather well, it's no match for the A7S at this ISO, which also handles the pink swatch better.

Sony A7S versus Nikon D750 at ISO 1,600

Sony A7S at ISO 1,600
Nikon D750 at ISO 1,600

The D750 does very well at controlling noise at ISO 1600, but the A7S has the edge with crisp, fine detail, especially with the mosaic tile pattern and the red fabric swatch. The Nikon does, however, handle the pink fabric a bit better.

Sony A7S versus Panasonic GH4 at ISO 1,600

Sony A7S at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GH4 at ISO 1,600

Again, the smaller Four Thirds sensor of the GH4 is showing its disadvantage against the full-frame sensor in the A7S. At ISO 1600, noise reduction is already taking its toll and reducing sharp, fine detail in the GH4 image, while the A7S shot remains relatively clean and crisp, particularly on the red fabric and black mosaic tile.

Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600, so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.

Sony A7S versus Sony A7 at ISO 3,200

Sony A7S at ISO 3,200
Sony A7 at ISO 3,200

Upon close inspection, you can see the A7S's noise reduction processing at work at ISO 3200. However, it works rather well in reducing noise while leaving a lot of fine detail intact. The A7 image on the other hand displays much stronger NR processing with visible smearing and "mottling," thus reducing fine detail.

Sony A7S versus Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3,200

Sony A7S at ISO 3,200
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3,200

The Canon 5D Mark III does very well at ISO 3200 with level-headed noise reduction processing when applied at its default level -- fine detail is softened up a bit in places like the black mosaic tile pattern and the fabrics, whereas the A7S crops remain relatively crisp. However, the shear resolution difference here makes it difficult to call one camera or the other the clear winner.

Sony A7S versus Fuji X-T1 at ISO 3,200

Sony A7S at ISO 3,200
Fuji X-T1 at ISO 3,200

Both cameras in this comparison display very well controlled noise and lots of detail for an ISO 3200 shot. The Fuji displays a bit more noise, but it looks rather finely grained and not too detrimental to the overall image quality. The A7S handles the mosaic and fabrics better than the X-T1 with sharper fine detail.

Sony A7S versus Nikon D750 at ISO 3,200

Sony A7S at ISO 3,200
Nikon D750 at ISO 3,200

Again, another huge disparity in resolution makes it difficult to call this comparison one way or the other. Noise is very low from both cameras, and fine detail is all-around very good. The A7S displays a more recognizable leaf pattern in the red fabric, whereas the detail in D750 image is almost entirely smoothed away.

Sony A7S versus Panasonic GH4 at ISO 3,200

Sony A7S at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GH4 at ISO 3,200

Try as it might, the Panasonic GH4 is no match for the high ISO performance of the A7S here at ISO 3200. Noise and NR processing reduces a lot of the fine detail from the GH4 images, especially on the mosaic and fabric swatches, while the A7S crops looks much cleaner and crisper.

Detail: Sony A7S versus Sony A7, Canon 5D Mark III, Fuji X-T1, Nikon D750 and Panasonic GH4.


ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
5D Mark III

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. High-contrast detail is also important, pushing the camera in different ways, so we like to look at it, too. Surprisingly, very fine, high-contrast detail is something the Sony A7S doesn't handle very well, even at base ISO. Looking at the thin lines within the lettering, we see visible moiré and false color artifacts, at base ISO as well as at the higher levels. The other cameras with their higher resolutions do not display this characteristic. The thicker, darker edges of the lettering, however, remain crisp and sharp on the A7S as the ISO rises.


Sony A7S Print Quality

Excellent prints as large as 24 x 36 inches from base until ISO 400; an impressive 20 x 30 at ISO 800; and an acceptable 4 x 6 all the way up to ISO 51,200.

ISO 100/200/400 images look practically the same with excellent detail, colors and, as expected, extremely little to zero noise, and therefore all print up to a maximum size of 24 x 36 inches. At this resolution, we are pushing the limits of the 12MP full-frame sensor, and at close inspection, you can see some pixelation. However at normal viewing distances of an arm-length or further, images look nice and crisp.

ISO 800 prints are very similar to the lower ISO prints, however there is a very slight increase in shadow noise, and as such, the safe bet is a maximum 20 x 30 print size. That being said, you could probably get away with the next size larger in certain situations.

ISO 1600 images look practically identical to ISO 800 shots — with the same level of fine detail and color rendition — and therefore also print to 20 x 30 inches.

ISO 3200 prints go as large as 16 x 20 inches as they start to show a bit more noise than the last two ISO levels, though the increase in noise is primary restricted to the shadow areas. Fine detail is still very good, even in notoriously difficult areas such as the red fabric.

ISO 6400 images are again slightly noisier than the previous ISO, but overall very well controlled for this ISO level and therefore can make prints up to 13 x 19 inches quite easily.

ISO 12,800 prints can go as large as 8 x 10 inches with no sweat. While the noise is a stronger now, it’s still confined primarily in the shadows and overall looks pretty fine-grained at this print size. Colors are still pleasant at this ISO as well.

ISO 25,600 images are getting into tricky territory now with stronger noise, making a 5 x 7 inch print the largest to which we feel comfortable giving our stamp of approval.

ISO 51,200 prints max out at 4 x 6 inches. The noise is rather strong at this level and colors are looking less appealing with a slight greenish tint.

ISO 102,400 - 409,600 images, while impressive to exist in the first place, are nonetheless too noisy and lacking in fine detail to call any print size acceptable.

Despite having a rather meager 12-megapixel resolution, the full-frame Sony A7S manages some impressive print sizes at his lower ISOs. Pushing the resolution of the sensor, ISO 100-400 files can all print up to a maximum size of 24 x 36 inches. While you see some pixelation at very close inspection, from a normal viewing distance for such a size, the prints are crisp, detailed and display nice, pleasing colors. At the typically higher ISOs of 3200 and 6400, the A7S manages solid 16 x 20 and 13 x 19 inch prints, respectively. Noise is well controlled at these ISOs, mainly confined to the shadow areas, and colors still look great. While the A7S is touted for it insanely high ISO of 409,600, usable prints nevertheless top out around ISO 51,200 with a 4 x 6 inch print.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)


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