I recently did a post about my experiences with the Sony FS5 from a shoot I did for Sony. That shoot was back in October and I hadn’t really used the camera since then as it was on a very brief loan from Sony for the job. As an owner of an FS7 (amongst many other cameras) I wasn’t sure if I would actually buy it. I have been going back and forth about it. I mean did I really need it? The FS7 is a brilliantly camera and actually not that much more than the FS5. What has always appealed to me about it though has been the size. It is tiny and I love small cameras. Easier to carry around, great for gimbals etc.
Whist the camera has a few things which disappoint me, mostly the lack of 10 bit 4K recording or any slow motion in 4K, it does pack a hell of a lot into a tiny package…including 1o-bit HD recording, very nice 240fps cached high frame rate recording and the killer feature:- an electronic built-in variable ND!
In the end I succumbed, and bought it as it made so much sense for my work as a B camera and occasional A camera. So, there you go! I may well use it on a BBC1 documentary start shooting next month alongside my FS7.
I am currently in New York where I just finished a few pick up shots for season 2 of “The Wonder List” one of CNN’s Original Series. The edits are looking great. The camera I used for the picks up was the marvellous Sony A7SII because I only bought the FS5 yesterday from B&H! Naturally I was itching to use it and thankfully (but potentially annoyingly) a splendid filming opportunity came along, namely “Snowpocalypse”, a nasty wintry front bringing chaos, transport hell and misery for many people. The only upside is of course that it is a splendid filming opportunity. Not the misery or chaos part, I have no interest in filming that after 17 years working in news! The bit that I wanted to film was of course the beauty that snow can bring and this was one rather large blizzard that blanketed New York.
It had already hit other parts of the East Coast yesterday so as I knew it was coming I did a little timelapse from my hotel room at the Empire Hotel near Columbus Circle using my A7RII (yep I have 3 cameras with me on this trip now I have the FS5 too!) which you can see below.
The next morning after a hearty breakfast I headed out into the absolutely snow-covered Manhattan. So much had fallen since the end of that timelapse at about 5am and me leaving the hotel at 11am.
Initially I did some filming around the hotel but I knew I wanted to go to Times Square, a place I have filmed and photographed countless times, just never in such astonishing snow! When I got there it was clear I was not the only one with a camera! Still that is never something to put me off, in fact I said on social media that I would be there so if anyone wanted to pop down and meet up they were welcome to and a number of nice people did! Thanks to Jame Munro for the photos of me.
The kit I used was relatively simple, I had more stuff in my backpack but I didn’t get a chance to use them (mainly the A7SII and also a Ninja Assassin which it was far too wet to pull out!) There was the FS5 of course without any additional bells and whistles (no Zacuto bits yet which I am hoping to get soon), a mediocre quality E-Image tripod as I brought minimal gear with me and didn’t want one of my “proper” tripods as all the filming I did for the show was handheld or with the Helix Jr, the Sony 16-35mm F4 FE, the Sony 70-200 F4 FE, my two Loxias (35mm and 50mm which I didn’t use) and my LOVELY new lens the Sigma 20mm F1.4 ART with Metabones V4 adaptor.
Now this Sigma is special. A lens this wide and fast. You just don’t see outside of super speed Cine Prime types lenses. It’s gorgeous. The only downside I can see is it is quite bulbous with a fixed petal hood meaning no filters. Still it is a lovely, lovely lens. Here are some photos I took with the A7RII and A7SII using it. Check the out properly on my Flickr album here.
There you go, I think you get that I love the lens so far! Back to the FS5 filming and Times Square….
I decided I wanted to shoot high frame rate as snow falling looks so damn gorgeous in slow motion. The issue was all that nasty artificial light would interfere in a HUGE way with my shutter speed of roughly 1/500th of second. I shot everything at 240fps in 24p which meant the shutter speed needed to be at least 1/480th of second to get the right amount of motion blur. It is impossible to go below 1/240th of second anyway and the shutter speed to shoot at (for the most part as some screens are weird there) is 1/60th as it syncs with then. Therefore I knew almost every shot would look awful, nasty flickering and most likely some sever rolling bands.
Thankfully there is a solution, although it will cost you $150, the “Flicker Free” plug-in from Digital Anarchy for Premiere, After Effects, FCP 7/ X, AVID, Resolve. It works for many types of flicker. I use it for timelapse flicker and high frame rate flicker. It is incredibly simple and renders pretty fast. All I did was throw it on the effects panel and set it to rolling bands:
At the bottom of this post you can see an ungraded and “flicker free” erm, free version.
For some of the really nasty electronic signs flicker I actually used my quick trick fix which is simply duplicating layers, shifting top layer over by a frame and adding 50% opacity to it. It isn’t great for fast motion as it does add more blur and it has here on the snow, but still is is better than those awful flickering signs. My tutorial is below:
I shot in SLOG3 wth S-GAMUT at 5600K. ISO was almost always 3200 which is the native ISO for the camera with that gamma curve. I used the variable ND and iris to adjust exposure. That variable ND is a true marvel!
The biggest challenge was keeping the camera dry and being able to see what I was filming. Thankfully I had a generic waterproof cover for the camera, well it is more a cover to go over a bag but it worked fine over the camera. I simply grabbed the shot in the “start trigger” mode of the HFR mode which records about 9 seconds of 240fps shots which is about a minute and a half of footage played back at real speed. After 9 seconds the cover went over the lens and camera and I waited for it to write to the SD card whilst I looked for the next shot.
The joy of the 70-200 F4 Sony is the big lens hood meant I never got any snow on the front of the lens. Not the case for the 16-35 Sony or the Sigma. I just had to be really careful and also use a lot of lens cloths!
I was very happy with the results especially once it was graded with my usual FilmConvert using the FS7 presets (as the FS5 ones aren’t ready yet)
The only thing that annoyed me with the camera was in high frame rate mode you don’t get clear zoom and more importantly the histogram won’t display. I hope that is fixed soon!
One last tip, thanks to Mike Sandiford for showing me…the remix feature in the latest Audition CC. Shorten a track to any desired length automatically. So damn clever! I used it for shorter this track by about 70 seconds. Seamless!
Enjoy the little edit of the beautiful snow which is the quickest turnaround for a shoot/ edit I have done in a longer time! Please send me some positive thinking please as I really want to be able to go home tomorrow…I need that beautiful snow to go so my plane with take off! 🙂