5 Tips for the Sony a7S II

Welcome back, FilmIn5D fans! It’s been a while since I posted on the blog and I’m excited to jump right back into the film world. So thanks for your continued interest! Be sure to check in every Monday for new content.

Last week on the channel I gave you my five personal tips when you first pick up your Sony a7S II, including everything from silent operation to S-Log 3.

If you’re looking for the reader’s digest version, here it is (given this is a 10-minute video, we’ll start with a bang!):

Tip #1: Set up your camera for silent operation.

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I personally set my custom key 1 to silent shooting by going into custom key settings under the gear column 6. Here you can customize what your different buttons do and you can see that I have silent shooting set to custom key 1.

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This is a fantastic feature on mirrorless cameras. The ability to shoot silently using the electronic shutter is awesome; however on my original a7S, there was no way to set silent shooting to a custom key like there is now, which makes this so much more awesome. You don’t have to go into the menu anymore; you can just do it right from the custom key.

Bonus: turn off audio signals under the first column of the briefcase menu. This will ensure that your auto-focus doesn’t make any noise, which is especially useful when you’re trying to go completely silent for street photography. It is worth noting that the electronic shutter is not nearly as efficient as the mechanical one, so be careful when it comes to motion blur. You’ll most likely have to be shooting at a higher shutter speed to compensate.

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Tip #2: Shoot with the Cine4 PP when possible.

The picture profile you should be shooting with to get the best dynamic range to usability ratio is something I got from Philip Bloom years ago when the a7S first came out; that is, shooting in Cine4 to avoid having to clock your ISO past 1600.Personally I have my picture profile setting hot keyed to C4, my S-Log 2 to PP7, my S-Log 3 to PP8 and Cine4 with the color mode set to ‘cinema’ on PP9. All of these are set to a detail of -7 which is important because as we all know by now, you never want to rely on the camera’s processor for sharpening. Just add that sharpening in post; it at least gives you the most options and it’s your choice.

Here I have all three profiles in the high-dynamic range situation.
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screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-10-46-58-pmYou can see that the Cine4 profile holds up pretty well to the other two, and I’m only shooting at 200 ISO which is manageable in most shooting scenarios. I’m also cranking up the shutter speed to 1/200th of a second to compensate for the difference in ISO for the two S-Log profiles, which is not ideal for most video filming scenarios.

The truth is I’d oftentimes rather have slightly less dynamic range than having to stick an ND filter in front of my lens, which is only going to add a greenish tint and some vignetting, not to mention how adding additional glass in front of your sensor will make your sharpness suffer. There are some NDs out there that will add little to no tinting but I’d rather avoid them all the same, unless I’m doing photography and trying to shoot long exposure shots.

As you can tell from these images, the S-Log 3 has much more room to work with compared to the other two, but this level of control may or may not be necessary for your shot or situation.

I’d recommend shooting in Cine4 unless you have the ability to shoot at higher ISOs without having to crank your shutter speed and/or having to add ND filters.

Tip #3: Follow these five things to do when grading S-Log footage.

When using the Lumetri Color tool in Premiere Pro, I always work from the top down, so in this case, I start with white balance (by clicking something white in your shot or setting manually by adjusting the temperature or tint using these sliders. Naturally, using S-Log, you’re going to have to remove the natural green tint that can come with it.
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The second thing I do is re-add my sharpness by moving down to the creative tab. Somewhere between 20-50 for this value should do.

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Staying in this tab, the third thing I do is add some saturation. Now I prefer to do this under the creative tab because then I also have access to vibrance, which for me actually works better, especially if a subject is in frame. And you avoid making your subject look like an oompa loompa.

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Depending on the situation, you can really go crazy bumping up your saturation and/or vibrance. Sometimes I’ll bump up the saturation up to anywhere from 100-150, or the vibrance upwards of 50 for that value. Be careful to watch for unnatural coloration being added to your shot, especially directly on your subject. For example, if they’re sitting next to a plant, make sure they’re not getting any green cast once you start bumping up the vibrance and saturation.

The fourth thing I do on my first pass is to add a basic curve, darkening the lows and raising the highs until I get a baseline. In my opinion, it’s much better to do this here than in the first tab because the curve is going to smooth out your contrast much more than those sliders.

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Then finally I add some vignetting to better draw the focus to my subject.

Tip #4: Don’t shoot “fake 4K” on the a7S II.

This is probably the most biased tip on the list. There are several “hacks” out there for 4K recording in APSC mode, which is that crop some people call a super 35 mode. My fourth tip is to ignore those hacks. The sensor on the a7S II is only 12 megapixels and when you factor in the crop that takes place to get from the 4×3 sensor to the 16×9 video frame, it cuts down to about 8.4 megapixels give or take, otherwise known as 4K. So if you digitally crop using methods that some have posted online, you’ll be changing not only your framing, but at the same time, you’ll be using less pixels and it won’t actually be 4K.

Tip #5: Determine if recording with the Atomos Shogun is worth it for you.

The a7S with and without a shogun in 4K looks almost identical. Even though the internal shooting is only 100 megabytes per second, which is less than the Shogun’s pro-res 422 recording at any of the qualities. And to be honest the bitrate won’t make too much of difference when uploading videos to YouTube.

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Here are the pros and cons of using a shogun from my point of view.

PROS

  1. Longer recording time.
    Last week, I recorded a webinar for work; I would not have been able to do that with the 30 minute recording limit of the a7S II (though there are hacks out their to record longer).
  2. Pro-res codec is better than X AVC S codec, especially when it comes to color grading.
  3. Using an external recorder puts less stress on the hyperdrive… err I mean the camera’s processor…
  4. …and results in less overheating.
  5. All the bells and whistles that come with using an external recorder/monitor.
    This includes features like exposure assistance and high-quality focus peaking (which the a7S is definitely lacking).

CONS

  1. Size
    It’s definitely harder to run and gun with a recorder attached to your rig, for sure.
  2. Cost
    Assuming you don’t already own a shogun, these recorders cost about $1,500.
  3. File size
    For me, my average footage is 500 gigabytes per shoot using the shogun.
  4. The micro HDMI port is easily breakable
    You may need to get a HDMI converter/mount, like one from LockPort. The A7S II includes its very own version of a LockPort even though it doesn’t convert to full HDMI, it’s still very useful.

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If you’re going to be using a film monitor anyway, I would definitely recommend continuing to record 4K on an external recorder, especially the shogun. But if you’re only going to be doing b-roll and you’re going to need to be able to run and gun easier, then maybe you can afford to ditch the external recorder and save some money.

For those of you who made it through this post with me, thanks for hanging in there. Later this week, we’ll be talking about the brand new 5D Mark IV.

If you have any questions about this episode or others on my channel, send them to me on Twitter. Or, if you’d prefer to have visuals for your eyeballs, check us out on YouTube.

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