Adventure Nomad

Adventure Nomad

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Testing The Sony A7S MkII For Adventure Filmmaking

In a previous blog post, I wrote about how the Sony A7S II might be the ultimate adventure filmmaker's camera and about how it might be a replacement for my Panasonic GH4.  I went ahead and bought an A7sii from Sony, and a used Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 lens, and that's what I used for the video below.

I took it to the climbing wall, and used it the way I would be using it outdoors, to see if I liked the way it handled. I climbed with it, anchored myself to a bolt and shot the climber below me.  I liked how I could turn the camera on with one hand (very Nikonesque), and the grip, although short, was sufficient.  The setup, with the Zeiss 24-70, although not light, was well balanced, and the 5-Axis Stabilization worked very well.  All in all, it worked out well for me. Check out the test video below:

Adventure Testing Sony A7SII: A Day At The Climbing Gym from Kenneth Koh on Vimeo.
Password to view: 'nomad'

I shot this video as a quick test to see if the Sony A7s Mkii would work for me as an adventure filmmaking camera.  Meaning if I could get used to the handling of the camera, and if if I could get it to work with the way I shoot, and get the results I wanted.  I wanted some creative control, but not be overburdened, and so I chose to control only the aperture, and left White Balance, Shutter Speed, ISO and (mostly) Autofocus in Auto.   Everything was recorded at 4k resolution, 24fps, and the aperture was left wide open at f/4.  I used the Autumn Leaves Creative Style in camera with the saturation and sharpening turned all the way down, the Dynamic Range Optimizer set to 4, and white balance set to Auto.  The light in the gym was a mix of sunlight filtered through the skylight, and florescent light. All shots were hand-held (except for the title clip where I used a slider), with a little stabilisation (Coremelt Lock and Load) applied in post on about half the clips.  Editing was done on FCPX, with some color balancing, contrast, grain and a vignette added in some shots.  Voice over was recorded on location, using a Audio Technica ATR3350 lavalier mic plugged directly into the camera.  The whole thing was shot in about 2 hours, and the edit took about a day.

Here's what I liked about the A7sii:
  • What I found most useful was the 5-axis stabilisation on the camera.  I had that on the Olympus OMD EM5, and missed that feature sorely when I sold the camera to buy the GH4.  
  • Video Autofocus - It can be a bit slow for faster moving subjects, but it's surprisingly useable. 
  • ISO freedom.  It was a bit dark in the subway station, but ISO wasn't even a concern. 
  • Internal 4k, but I already had that with my GH4.
Here's what I didn't like:
  • Ergonomics and the Menu System could be better... but then you already knew that ;)
  • Mine's a PAL model, and I need to set it to NTSC to shoot 24p and 120p.  Every time I turn on the camera, I get a warning that the camera is in NTSC mode.  There is no way to disable or turn off this warning.  Seriously?  Every time?  Don't you think once would be enough?
  • No way to set up a custom button to shoot in APSC Crop Mode.  I've set up one of the Memory Recall settings on the Mode Dial to shoot 120fps, which also puts me in APSC Crop mode, but that activates Program Mode and I have no control over aperture or shutter speed.
I've only had the camera for a week, so I've got a lot more learning to do.  I want to play around with some of the other color profiles, and I need to buy and test out the Time Lapse App.  One other big unknown for me is how the small Sony batteries perform in extreme cold.  

Will I be replacing the GH4 with the A7sii?  I think so, although it was closer than I thought.  I really liked the 5-Axis Stabilization, which comes in very useful for a one-man, run and gun type shooting.  Video Autofocus has difficulty with subjects moving too quickly to and away from the camera, but is otherwise very useful.  The image quality is very nice, both at 4k and in the APSC Crop at 120fps, with an organic feel and nice subject separation.  My main issue is with the weight.  In order to keep the weight reasonable, I've chosen to replace my M4/3 standard 3 lens setup with focal lengths that range from a full-frame equivalent 14-280mm for a single 24-70mm f/4 zoom.  In doing so, I'll lose a lot of focal length range, but that's the tradeoff for the features on the Sony I think are worth having. 


ZN said...

Hi Ken,

(I tried posting this before, but not sure if it went through).

Anyway, I've been reading your blog since I was about 15: your writing and photography provided the kindling the stoke the fires of my own wanderlust. I now live and work in Myanmar and am in the process of planning a big expedition up here. I'll be in Singapore for a few days before Christmas (Dec. 20, 21, 22) and for a day before New Years (Dec. 30). I was hoping you would be keen to have a few beers so I can pick your mind about expedition planning, photography, etc.



Unknown said...

Absolutely! Drop me an email