|The Switch to Sony|
A long time Canon user, I got tired of waiting for the next 5D iteration. I’m also a bit skeptical that Canon will be innovating much in the way of mirrorless technology, which I think is the future. I’ve been shooting video with a Blackmagic Pocket camera lately and, though I love the RAW format and Log capabilities of that camera, I was really craving the magic of a full-sized sensor.
The benefits of this camera a well-documented, but having read many reviews about the camera in advance, I found some gigantic gaps in useful, needed information. Of note is that the Log settings are hard to find in the camera menu. You have to use a camera profile to get access to them and they are not named in the program modes, only in the documentation (please revise that, Sony). Program 7 is S-Log2 and Programs 8 & 9 are two versions of S-Log3. Also, the S-Logs require shooting at 3200 ISO, which will require some craftiness with ND filters to maintain that high of a setting in daylight. There is a lower octane “Cine” color space (Program 5) that is more flexible in ISO settings so you can shoot at lower ISO values. However, I’m not an expert in this setting so I recommend you do some research on this. Here’s the Sony link for the Picture Profile settings: “Sony Help Guide for Creators: What is Picture Profile?”. See other blog postings for S-log shooting advice, it requires over-exposing what you’re seeing in the monitor a stop in to get the most out of the S-Log and avoid banding in the blacks. An external recorder like the PIX-5 will help a lot with that as it will add a LUT to the display, enabling proper exposure to a Rec709-looking image, eliminating the over-exposing guesswork.
Speaking of an external recorder, the internal camera recording is 8 bit 4:2:0 but the HDMI exports 4:2:2 and looks noticeably better, with less banding. I picked up the PIX-5H and am very impressed with its features and functionality.
Also not well-documented is that the 120fps mode only utilizes only a portion of the sensor, resulting in a significant crop factor, analogous to shooting on an APS-C sensor. In addition, if you’re shooting in Manual mode (and not “Movie” mode), the viewfinder will not show you the crop until you hit record. However, the 60fps setting is full sensor-enabled, not cropped.
Overall, I’m very impressed with the features: sensitivity of the sensor to light, its sexy, shallow depth of field, the Log color space settings, and the ability to over-crank, etc. but…
- Poor Battery Life: the battery life is abysmal. You’ll want a ton of extra batteries or an external power source (requiring a battery dummy).
- Record Button Placement: the video record button is as ridiculously placed as everyone says it is. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it’s awkward to find and press when shooting.
- Poor autofocus: the autofocus does not come close to comparing to Canon. If Sony can catch up there, this camera would be a grand slam. Until then, I’m hesitant to attempt wildlife or other fast-moving, dynamic environments.
- Overcranking export: 120fps footage cannot be exported via HDMI to an external recorder, only 60fps and lower at 1080p.
Here’s a good primer to help navigate the menu and custom settings:
Sony Alpha A7 / A7R Custom Settings Tutorial
It took me a while to find a good S-Log3 LUT that worked well in Davinci Resolve. Click here to try it.
The play button above shows the result of the first video test, when I was still fumbling through the menu options (b-roll for Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee). Full disclosure, I indirectly work for Sony. It was shot using S-Log3. Anyway, the combination of gear in this test is a fairly unique combination of camera body, adapter & lens, but many of you may be in the same Canon transition position. My specs:
- Sony A7s II Body
- Metabones Canon EF adapter (Metabones MB_EF-E-BT4)
- Rokinon 35mm cine lens, EF mount (B&H Listing)