A few nights with the Sony A7s. / by Christopher Durbin

I will be the Director of Photography for a friend's upcoming short film, Get to the Gray. We are gearing up for pre-production and that means LOTS of camera and equipment tests. We originally planned to shoot the film with the 2.5K Blackmagic Cinema Camera, but I found the RAW workflow necessary for 2K resolution to be tedious. Don't get me wrong, it produces a gorgeous image, but storage and time constraints do become a concern. Extreme low light performance is also not one of the BMCC's strong points. Handling weight is also another concern. With short internal battery life almost requiring an external battery solution and the need for an SDI monitor or converter box for HDMI, the pounds were stacking up. As much as I loved the BMCC I had to let it go.

Enter the Sony A7s.

At least for me, the A7s seemed to check all those boxes that the BMCC didn't. Being a photographer with a growing collection of vintage lenses it was an added benefit to add a mirrorless stills camera to my stable. Having taken the camera out for a spin in regards to stills, it was time to test its video capabilities, specifically its dynamic range. I needed to shoot some B-Roll for a live performance video that a friend was putting together and figured this would be the perfect opportunity to experiment with A7s footage and the Color Finale plugin for FCPX. The video above is really just a mishmash of clips from a couple of nights in Dallas. I found it to be extremely easy to get proper exposure using the on-screen histogram. The wonderful low light performance granted me the ability to shoot with a much deeper depth of field than usual and therefore manual focusing was a breeze. I attempted to cap myself at 40,000 ISO since my previous stills tests had shown an acceptable amount of noise at this sensitivity. I can't remember specifically which ISOs were used for each shot (I suppose I should take better notes in the future). The footage help up quite well to grading. I found I used the curves adjustment panel in Color Finale for most of my grading and correction. Although Color Finale includes the ability to add LUTs and I have amassed a fair amount of "looks", I decided to fly solo when grading the footage. I enjoyed the greater amount of control I had over the color and noise as some LUTs did introduce some ugly artifacts in the shadows. I shot handheld so the footage is rather shaky, sorry. I really didn't do much in terms of editing. I wasn't trying to tell a story. I was really just trying to get a feel for my new tools. I'm excited by the possibilities the A7s presents.

Up next: 4K tests with the Atomos Ninja Assassin.