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Sony a7R II part III: 5-axis stabilisation and heat issues – going handheld to tell the story of a London busker

By site editor Dan Chung:

One of the biggest features of the new Sony a7R II is the built-in IBIS 5-axis image stabilisation system. This combined with the internal 4K recording and Sony add-on XLR audio pack offers a very discreet way to shoot documentaries handheld.

Traditionally with a DSLR or mirrorless camera you are faced with the choice between handheld footage that has small jitters, or having to use some kind of shoulder rig to increase stability. Even the addition of an image stabilised lens doesn’t solve all instances of unsightly shakes. Some image stabilised lenses can also wobble the image in a nasty way when you pan the camera.

The a7R II with XLR-K2M pack and 18-105mm lens

The a7R II with XLR-K2M pack and 18-105mm lens

So what’s different about the a7R II then? It has a built-in 5-axis image stabilisation system that moves the entire sensor in an attempt to stop these jitters. This is similar to the system first seen on the Olympus OMD line but this time it is combined with much better video image quality.

I decided to go out and test it on the streets of London. This is the story of Nikki from Bulgaria, who has come to London to busk on the streets. At first she appears to be like the other buskers trying to make a living performing. But all is not what is appears to be…

Filming Nikki with the a7R II

Filming Nikki with the a7R II

The shoot:
I wanted to shoot the story forcing myself to observe one rule: No tripod. Every shot had to be handheld.

For the shoot I used three lenses. The 18-105mm f4 G power zoom lens from Sony, a Zeiss 12mm f2.8 Touit, and a Zeiss 35mm Loxia f2 for the main interview. Keeping things small mean’t I had no problems at all shooting in the London streets. A bigger camera would certainly have attracted unwanted attention. With the a7R II setup I looked like a tourist.

The S35 4K recording mode of the a7R II means that you can use the APS-C 18-105mm for run-and-gun shooting. It isn’t the greatest lens in the world but it does have a useful wide angle to telephoto range for an affordable price. It is also much smaller than other lens options with a similar range. The 72mm front filter thread means that you can fit regular neutral density filters or Vari NDs. It also has its own built-in OSS image stabiliser which can be used to augment the camera’s built-in one.

In the past the 18-105 had a reputation for having excessive distortion when used in 4K on other Sony E-mount cameras like the FS700. It seems that Sony now have software to correct this in the a7R mkII, which does a reasonable job. Of course the image isn’t up to cine lens standards but then neither is the cost. You can make your own mind up about the image it produces after seeing the video. Every shot was wide open at f4 (no ND filter was used most of the time).

The a7R II in action

The a7R II in action

In use I found the lens to quite tricky to use thanks to its fly-by-wire focus ring. This wasn’t helped by the focus magnification function on the a7R II electronic viewfinder – I found it didn’t ‘ping’ into focus when sharp and therefore wasn’t easy to use. Other users might prefer to use peaking if shooting at a modest aperture like f4. I didn’t find the autofocus at all helpful for any moving subject and was set to manual focus for the whole shoot.

Maybe Sony can be persuaded to make a ‘cine’ version of this lens with ‘proper’ mechanical manual focussing in the future – it would be better suited to the S35 sensor size than the 28-135mm f4 G that they currently sell for cine cameras.

Despite these handling issues I managed to get things in reasonable focus most of the time. In short the 5-axis stabilisation worked a treat. As long as I was relatively steady the system kicked in and provided the extra bit of stability I needed. I found I could move very quickly between shots and get results that looked they had been shot using a shoulder rig. The whole video was done in two or three hours.

I felt that the stabilisation was close to that which I had encountered with the Canon C300 mkII and 35mm f2 IS lens I tested a couple of weeks ago (see video below) – which is no mean feat as the a7R II is much smaller and lighter, and therefore more likely to move around. The Canon needs the very latest image stabilised lenses to do this. The Sony can do 5-axis stabilisation with most Sony lenses, even those with no in-built stabiliser. Adapted lenses will benefit from 3-axis stabilising but not the full 5. (Nore: There is still confusion over whether Canon lenses on a Metabones EF to NEX Smart adapter or Speedbooster will also offer 5-axis stabilisation or just 3-axis).

For the shoot the camera was set to record 4K internally at 100 Mb/s. As both lenses were only APS-C the camera had to be set in the S35 crop mode. The profile was S-Log2 with S-gamut.

One thing I discovered about half way into the shoot was that the camera has a tendency to overheat when recording in 4K for extended periods. At first a yellow warning sign pops up on the screen, then a few minutes later the camera shuts itself down with a black warning saying it needs to cool down. This is not something I have experienced in normal shooting with either the Panasonic GH4 or Sony a7S. The last time this happened to me was when using a Canon 5D mkII in hot conditions. During the shoot it was warm weather but not scorching hot, so I expect it is the 4K recording that is creating the excess heat. I lost several shots while waiting for the camera to cool down.

The yellow overheat warning on the a7R II rear screen

The yellow overheat warning on the a7R II rear screen

I can’t see a way around this other than to perhaps try shooting instead in 1080P HD, or 4K to an external recorder like the Atomos Shogun. I haven’t tested either of these options yet but unless this can be resolved I would be very reluctant to use the a7R II as my only camera on a long documentary shoot.

The image was graded very quickly using Premiere’s new Lumetri color and a delut look up table (LUT) from James Miller called Hyde Park. I’m sure the result could be better but hopefully you will get the idea. I’ve included an ungraded version for you to see below, or on Vimeo if you want to download it:

I believe the benefit of 4K delivery to be limited for this kind of handheld documentary work. The a7R II was pretty much in continual motion and therefore the images are inherently slightly blurred. To see fine 4K detail I think the camera really needs to be locked down on a solid tripod. That said, when viewed in HD the image holds up well and I was impressed.

Conclusions:
On the whole I loved the way the small a7R II package worked on the run. It offers the benefits of a Super 35mm sensor with reasonable low light capability, and a smaller footprint than most professional camcorders like the Sony EX-1 or new Panasonic DVX-200. In fact its closest competition for documentary shooting might come from it’s cousin the RX10 II, or the Canon XC10. Ultimately I prefer the image from the a7R II to either of these, but having to use ND filters is always going to be a pain with compact system cameras. Still, this is a small price to pay for the result, the only lingering concern being the overheat issues which I hope I can resolve somehow.

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Posted on August 2nd, 2015 by Dan Chung | Category: 4K, Journalism, Sony a7rII | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sony a7R II quick tests part II: Slow motion and slow shutter

By site editor Dan Chung:

Here are a couple more quick tests of the a7R II that I did yesterday. The a7R II has built-in slow motion shooting, but it is limited to 120fps at 720P (100fps in PAL mode). I had high hopes that this would be better than the a7S, but sadly the image is still pretty soft and laced with aliasing. This is a real shame given how good the 4K modes are. It would have been great to to see 1080P instead, even if this was in a Super16 crop mode rather than S35. We might have to wait another generation or two to see slow motion that matches the larger cinema cameras coming from a compact system camera.

Shooting slow motion with the Sony a7R II outside St Pancras Station

Shooting slow motion with the Sony a7R II outside St Pancras Station

The test below is shot at 100fps in S35 mode using S-Log2 and S-Gamut. It was then graded very roughly using FilmConvert. Lenses are the Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8 and Touit 12mm f2.8. Shutter speed was set at 1/200th and ISO at 800.

You can shoot as low as 1/4 of a second on the a7R II

You can shoot as low as 1/4 of a second on the a7R II

One feature of the Sony a7R II is the ability of the camera to record video with a slow shutter speed, right down to 1/4 of a second. This can be used for creative effect and, although not commonly used these days, is still a tool worth having. Everything in the video below was shot at ISO 800 at 1/4 of a second.

a7R II slow shutter filmconvert graded from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

More tests to follow – stay tuned.

Posted on August 1st, 2015 by Dan Chung | Category: 4K, Sony a7rII | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sony a7R II first test footage shot with Zeiss Batis and Touit lenses

By site editor Dan Chung:

Sony surprised many people, myself included, when they announced the video specifications of the a7R II. I had expected it to be just another high resolution stills camera with little to offer the video shooter. I was completely wrong. This diminutive shooter offers internal 4K recording at 100 Mb/s and both S35 and full-frame crop options. Video image quality was claimed by Sony to be excellent, and the same range of image controls that are found on the a7S are also found on the a7R II. Importantly the base ISO for S-Log2 shooting is 800, much more usable than the 3200 ISO on the a7S. It also has in-built 5-axis lens stabilisation with the right Sony lenses – a feature that is going to be incredibly popular with news and documentary shooters.

The a7R II with Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8 lens

The a7R II with Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8 lens

Today I received my brand new Sony a7R II from the good folk at Warehouse Express in the UK. As usual I was desperate to go out and shoot to see how the camera performs. Unfortunately the courier Parcel Force didn’t deliver it until early evening and so my plans to go and film something interesting went out of the window. I usually prefer to test cameras while telling a story but this time I’ve had to settle for some rather standard shots around London’s St Pancras and King’s Cross stations.

I'll spare you the unboxing video

I’ll spare you the unboxing video

The good news is that the image doesn’t fail to disappoint. I shot with the new Zeiss Batis 24 and 85mm lenses and a Touit 12mm f2.8. I shot to the internal SD card at 100 Mb/s in 4K. The picture profile was S-log 2 with S-Gamut and all noise reduction was turned off. I’ve thrown together a strong of the shots on a timeline for you to see.

The Zeiss Batis 85mm lens in action

The Zeiss Batis 85mm lens in action

The version you see above was given a five minute grade in FilmConvert to give an impression of what corrected footage can look like. The version below is ungraded and has notes to explain the settings of each shot. Apologies for the compression needed to display it on Youtube in 4K, I hope you can still get a reasonable idea of what the camera is capable of.

Edit: I’ve just uploaded the same videos to Vimeo, from where you should be able to download them if you are a member https://vimeo.com/135103669 and https://vimeo.com/135103668

I tried shooting a couple of test shots at ISO 5000 which I expected to be pretty unusable. It turns out that they were much better than I thought and you can see them at the end of the video. The high ISO performance might not match the a7S, but it is much better than several other ‘professional’ large sensor camcorders and for many people I think it will be good enough.

Shooting at 5000 ISO

Shooting at 5000 ISO

I’ll do more thorough testing over the next few days and hopefully get to pit it against some other cameras. I still wish the camera had 4:2:2 recording internally, but the 4:2:0 footage is surprisingly nice all things considered. Hopefully I can shoot something with an external 4K recorder over the weekend to see if it improves even more.

The 12mm Touit lens works well with the S35 mode

The 12mm Touit lens works well with the S35 mode

I haven't yet managed to read the rather thick instruction book

I haven’t yet managed to read the rather thick instruction book

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Posted on August 1st, 2015 by Dan Chung | Category: 4K, Sony a7rII | Permalink | Comments (2)

Mesmerising short film shows the dedication of Sigma lens factory workers

By site editor Dan Chung:

Japanese lens maker Sigma have been steadily improving their line of photo lenses in the past few years. Their latest ART line in particular has won many fans, not just in the photo world, but also among video users. The 18-35mm f1.8 for APS-C sensors has found its way into many video kits. The latest 24-35mm f2 full frame lens also looks to be a great option.

But have you ever wondered about the craftsmen and women who make these fine pieces of glass? The artfully shot short film ‘SIGMA AIZU Chapter III’ gives us a rare glimpse into the life of Sigma’s repair department and shows the lengths they go to to ensure quality when fixing customers’ damaged gear.

The documentary style short is the third part of a series about the company. In it we see inside the Aizu plant and follow one of the workers as he inspects and fixes the lenses. It is a surprisingly manual process that involves lots of charts and lens projectors, as well as real world testing. I especially love the shot of three workers all pointing cameras in different direction as they test – it is kinda how I imagined a lens factory should look.

We also get a peek inside a 35mm f1.4 ART lens while it is being repaired, giving us a nice chance to see how it is constructed (well, it beats taking a screwdriver to a working lens). If you are a lensaholic like me then you will find it fascinating.

You can see the previous two chapters (which were published in 2012 and 2014) below:


You can also see the films and find out more about Sigma lenses on the company’s Global Vision website.

Posted on July 31st, 2015 by Dan Chung | Category: Lenses | Permalink | Comments (1)

Stirred but not shaky: SteadXP shows new footage of its revolutionary stabilisation system at work

By site editor Dan Chung:

Adrien Farrugia of SteadXP has been in touch with a new demo of their stabilisation system, which we have covered in the past. It combines a small box with sensors that attaches to the camera, and some pretty fancy post-processing software that stabilises after the event.

He has taken the system for a ride in a James Bond style gyrocopter, with some amazing results. The craft swings around and the camera must be subject to several Gs acceleration at points. These conditions are pretty much as tough as they could be for a stabilisation system. Any other in-camera system like the 5-axis ones from Sony and Olympus simply wouldn’t work as well, and brushless gimbals might struggle with the wind and vibration of the open cockpit. Only a full gyro-stabilised system like those from Kenyon or an enclosed gimbal like the Cineflex might do better – at a vastly higher cost.

The two SteadXP versions used for the shoot. One for GoPro and other for DSLR

The two SteadXP versions used for the shoot. One for GoPro and other for DSLR

In the demo, two cameras are used: a good old Canon 5D mkII fitted with Voigtlander 20mm lens that is simply handheld, and a GoPro Hero4 on a fixed mount on the control panel. The 5DmkII was running the Magic Lantern hack at 1080/25P and the GoPro was shooting 2.7K . A SteadXP box was attached to each and everything was covered in layers of gaffer tape to keep it secure.

It is really interesting to see how well the system not only stabilises the shots, but also reduces rolling shutter. The overall resolution isn’t that good, but I’m told that if a 4K or even 6K camera is used then the results will improve dramatically.

The footage was processed using SteadXP’s software on a standard PC.

The system still isn’t available to buy, but SteadXP is aiming to keep it affordable. The company expects to launch a crowd funding campaign very soon that will offer the units as rewards.

The GoPro version of SteadXP is built into a custom back for the camera

The GoPro version of SteadXP is built into a custom back for the camera

The DSLR/camcorder version on a 5D

The DSLR/camcorder version on a 5D

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Posted on July 30th, 2015 by Dan Chung | Category: Camera stabilsation systems | Permalink | Comments (0)

Capture full colour images the dark at 4 million ISO with the Canon ME20F-SH HD camera

By site editor Dan Chung:

ME20F 2

If you spend your nights filming animals in the dark then this camera is for you. The new Canon ME20F-SH is a special purpose super low light camera that is capable of capturing full colour HD images at in excess of 4 million ISO. It does this by using a specially developed high sensitivity 2.26 MP full-frame CMOS sensor that has giant sized pixels and some very special circuitry. We previously reported on the development of this sensor and it is interesting to see Canon actually putting a special use camera onto the market.

The design is essentially that of an oversized block camera. It is a compact cube with no internal recording, just SDI and HDMI outputs. It uses a locking EF mount like the one found on the C500. Married with lenses like the old Canon 200mm f1.8L it really should be able to see in the dark.

Canon are targeting the camera at wildlife, security and astronomy applications – which is a good thing, considering the price tag is expected to be over $30,000. But I imagine that some of the low light technologies found in the ME20F-SH will be winging their way into cinema EOS cameras at some point in the future.

ME20F 1

This from Canon:

United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, 30 July 2015 – Canon today announces the launch of the ME20F-SH, a professional multi-purpose video camera capable of capturing full colour images in extremely low-light environments. Boasting an industry leading unrivalled maximum ISO in excess of 4 million (+75dB), the ME20F-SH is designed to be as small as possible whilst delivering high quality professional grade Full HD footage.


Supporting image capture in situations where it previously would not have been possible, the ME20F-SH is ideal for use within specialist applications such as TV productions of nighttime wildlife, deep sea/cave exploration, astronomy and surveillance. The ability to install the camera in a semi-permanent location, with remote control operability also means that for documentary and natural history filmmakers, long term projects and events can be captured with minimum staffing. Due to the specialist nature and demand for this product, the ME20F-SH will only be available to selected partners.

First class infrared capability
Capturing video in low-light conditions often requires the use of infrared illumination, a technique that traditionally only yields footage in black and white. The ME20F-SH however, achieves impressive high-sensitivity performance enabling the capture of colour Full HD video with reduced noise, even in low-light conditions and without the need for infrared illumination.

Exceptionally high sensitivity
Designed to be used in situations where ambient light levels are extremely low, the ME20F-SH features a newly developed Full Frame 35mm with 2.26 MP CMOS sensor and a DIGIC DV4 processor. The sensor’s pixels and readout circuitry use Canon’s proprietary technologies to achieve both reduced noise and exceptionally high sensitivity, allowing you to capture subjects illuminated with less than 0.0005 lux. Similar to Canon’s Cinema EOS cameras, the ME20F-SH includes Canon Log and Wide DR settings, which enable a wide dynamic range (800%), delivering high-quality results across a variety of ambient lighting conditions, without the need for supplemental lighting.


Connectivity
The ME20F-SH offers several options with regard to connectivity to external third party devices for recording or remote viewing purposes, and is also compatible with Canon’s RC-V100 for full remote control over the camera.

Enabling a wide range of imaging possibilities
The new ME20F-SH employs Canon’s EF mount with Cinema Lock, as found on the Cinema EOS C500, allowing users to take advantage of the company’s extensive lineup of interchangeable lenses. By enabling operators to select the ideal lens based on their shooting or application requirements, taking into consideration such factors as angle of view and level of brightness, the multi-purpose camera facilitates a wide range of shooting possibilities.

ME20F-SH Key features:
Ultra low-light performance at ISO 4million
High quality Full HD 1080p/1080i/720p output
Flexible control with auto and custom settings
Compatible with a wide range of EF lenses
Remote control of camera settings and built-in ND and IR cut filters possible
Small and lightweight for ease of integration

You can see more details on the Canon Europe website:

Posted on July 30th, 2015 by Dan Chung | Category: Canon | Permalink | Comments (0)

Zacuto first look at the Canon C300 Mark II

By technical editor Matt Allard:

Zacuto’s Steve Weiss and Jens Bogehegn talk to Canon’s Jon Sagud about all the new features of the Canon C300 MkII. The original C300 is still one of the most popular rental cameras out there, and both Steve and Jens think its sucessor will be just as successful.

The EOS C300 Mark II Digital Cinema Camera boasts a wide range of new and improved features, including 4K/2K/Full HD internal and external recording (including 4K RAW output) and a new 10-bit Canon Log 2 Gamma. The camera also features an expanded dynamic range of 15 stops, improved Dual Pixel CMOS Autofocus, innovative focus assist engineering and CFast recording technology.

Zacuto also show their own rig and accessory line up for the C300 mkII, including the next gen Recoil and Gratical HD and X EVFs. Zacuto will release the new Next Generation Recoil Rig for the Canon C300 mkII in August 2015.

The camera is expected to start shipping in September for $15999 US.

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Posted on July 30th, 2015 by Matthew Allard | Category: 4K, Canon, Canon C300, Canon C300 mkII | Permalink | Comments (0)

Video Devices Pix-E5 now shipping for $1395 USD

By associate editor Elliot Smith:

News just in from Video Devices is that their Pix-E5 monitor/recorder is now shipping and should be available at resellers shortly.

Our technical editor Matt Allard had a look at this new range of monitor/recorders at this year’s NAB show and was impressed by what he saw. Sound Devices, Video Devices’ parent company, have long had a reputation for making solid equipment that really delivers, and the Pix-E5 looks like it will continue in that vein.

It’s an increasingly competitive market for small monitor/recorders, and Video Devices hope to stand out by offering ultra high quality ProRes 4444 XQ recording out of the box onto recording media they’re calling a SpeedDrive. These are mSATA solid-state drives that use a SATA connection to write data when connected to a Pix-E unit, and a USB interface to plug into your computer for file transfer. The drives are available as a 240GB complete unit or as bare caddies for you to add your own mSATA drive.

With drives available just over £100 inc VAT for 256GB this system has the potential to offer a more-budget friendly recording media than the competition. The only gotcha appears to be that the size of the case looks like it will foul on anything plugged into adjacent ports. Time to break out that extension cable…

There’s no anamorphic desqueeze at launch and 4K support is only over HDMI (so no 4K Raw recording from the Sony FS700); but the 5″ size and high resolution screen could make this a useful companion to, say, a gimbal-mounted a7S or GH4.

The Pix-E5 is showing a ship date of August 1 at B&H for $1,395.00; EU and UK buyers can expect to pay around that figure in Euro and GBP respectively.

Posted on July 29th, 2015 by Elliot Smith | Category: Monitors | Permalink | Comments (2)

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