Sony A99 Production Camera. A working tool.

Photo of Sony a77 and Rode microphone, not particularly relevant to the article below. Just kinda there to let you know I'm also thinking of my camera as a video production tool. 
Don't be literal.

I just wanted to praise my camera today. Sometimes we forget that, in addition to being fun neck bling and a rich source of web discussion, they are also working tools for professional photographers. In that regard the usability and ultimate flexibility of the camera is most of the times much more important than the ability to squeeze out the last little percentage of objective image quality.

I'm in the middle of a two day project. The project has three components and they are not artfully schedule for my convenience but rather for the convenience and efficiency of my client, a cardiology practice here in Austin.

The three parts of the project go like this:  Set up a small room as a makeshift studio. Have each doctor come to the room to photographed in a suit and tie for credentialing and public relations photos. Then the doctor changes into scrubs and we do a second series of more casual portraits.

After the scrub portraits we take a moment to reconfigure the camera to become a video camera. I add an Audio Technica lavalier microphone, change the shutter speed setting and fine tune both ISO and f-stop to match the 1/50th speed. Then I "mic" the doctor and we do a quick audio level check. I wear headphones to check for hum, hiss, clicks and background noise. When everything is set the ad agency producer asks a series of interview questions while I monitor audio and the visual frame. Once we've got what we need we move on...

Because of their schedules the doctors can't be scheduled sequentially. In the gaps between the interface with the doctors we take the camera off the tripod and use it for a reportage style of available light photography to get images of the hustle and bustle of the clinic and the support teams. We also stage exams and treatment images with models, staff and doctors.

The a99 goes from studio portrait camera to video production machine to handheld reportage camera with ease. I have mine set up to record still images to one SD card and video to the second SD card.  I'm using fast, sharp lenses so I can go from medium apertures when on the tripod and under controlled lighting to fast f-stops when I am going handheld. The Steady Shot IS works well and combined with the a99's clean high ISO gives me a lot of latitude when working in a mostly florescent lit environment. The raw files allow me to largely ignore WB in most casual shooting although I do try to include a white target when I shoot the first few frames in each location. That gives me a starting point to work form as I move through the process.

In our makeshift studio I am lighting with my big 1,000 bulb LED lights through diffusion panels. It works for both the stills and the video. Since the light in that room doesn't change I've been working with the same custom WB since yesterday morning.

The camera is a chameleon that feels right for each situation. I'll update when I finish the project.
Have a great Friday!


  1. I was at a wedding reception recently. The videographers were using Canon DSLRs, and as they came to a table people would lean their heads together for a "party pose". The videographer would protest and explain he is doing video, "say something to the couple."

    I like the Rode mike on top - makes it look like a video rig - some LED continuous lighting would add to the mystique. Even in "candid" wedding situations - the subjects are still co-operators in the production and need to have some visual clues of what is expected of them.

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    1. Wow, Graham. I covered the white balance issue in the article. Not so concerning for Raw stills, Custom White Balance with no changes in the light for both days. There's very little latitude for big color fixes in video from 4:2:0 cameras.

      The photo above is just an illustration of the idea of using DSLR's for video production. Again, in the actual article I discuss using a lavalier microphone to record audio. A "lav" mic is almost always clipped to a subject's shirt plat or lapel. We would not do video interviews with an on camera mic any more than we would do portraits with an on camera flash.

      The a99 has a standard hot shoe and works well with the Rode mics for occasions where one is going "reporter" mode. I hate adding brackets and other stuff to the camera if I don't have to.

  3. Getting great sound is very important for a video production. I understand that Rode stereo mike in the photo is a good one. That mike was a little beyond my budget. But I found that a little $100 Sony stereo mike did the trick when I needed to upgrade my camera's sound capability.

    I know you upgrade/switch your camera gear on a regular basis but what about your sound gear? And, besides using the Lav mike to record voice, do you ever use a regular mike on a boom pole to do the same thing?

    1. Hi Craig, Good Question. For a lot of my current video work I'm doing one and two person interviews and it makes the most sense to clip a nice wireless lavalier mic to them. Ben and I do more dramatic (fun) stuff where we're recording dialog. We started with a Rode Video Mic on a carbon fiber pole and we recently upgraded that to a Rode NTG-2 shotgun mic. It sounds better. The problem for me in interview situations is that I'll need to add another set of hands to handle the boom while I'm shooting and directing. I know video is supposed to be all about collaboration but that doesn't necessarily mean I"ve come to love the process of collaboration.... Sometimes I like to be able to handle small jobs by myself...

  4. Nice read Kirk,

    I second your thoughts with the Sony a99! I am very pleased with my purchase of it. I spend two weeks on a shoot (photo and video) with the Canon 5D Mark 3. The Canon is definitely a fantastic camera as well, but it made me appreciate some of the features of the a99 that make photos and videos more efficient for me.


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