4.16.2016

Recently evaluated cameras for an upcoming video project. My first choice? A Sony A7R2. But why?

Sony A7R2. Want one? Buy it here

Video production is a weird thing. You have a lot of people who came up through traditional video production pathways. For them the over the shoulder camcorder, with all the right connections, is the preferred equipment combination for just about any project. And it makes perfect sense. You have a package that combines good video codecs with all the things traditionalists want: Zebras for exposure control, focus peaking for accurate focusing, XLR connectors for balanced microphones, as well as power zooms, and a camera body that can be balanced over one shoulder. Sounds cool, right?

But not to me. I like the idea of shooting to a form factor that's familiar to me. I came up through a different set of gear traditions. To me, something like a DSLR or mirrorless camera seems more practical and familiar. And a camera on a tripod is even more familiar.

I've been watching the maturation of the Sony A7 series for a couple of years now and that's a form factor that I'm more comfortable with. But it was only with the upgrade to the recent firmware 3.x  for the A7r2 (reduces overheat incidents) that made me feel more confident about using the camera for my clients' projects. The cameras have finally come together in relatively robust packages that make sense, and in a build quality tha
t inspires confidence.

I'm about to embark on a video project that has multiple parts. I'll be shooting in a few rain storms this week but then doing controlled interviews and fair weather b-roll in the weeks after that. I'll hew to the still photographer motif of using multiple cameras for the project. Here's what I have in mind:

The Sony RX10ii is a great camera for run and gun exploits; like shooting in the driving rain at twilight. (The RX10ii is supposed to be weather resistant).  The camera is equipped with UHD 4K and the files look really good. If we're shooting foul weather, with rain and hail and grey, ominous skies I'm happy shooting video with this camera up to ISO 1600. I'm pretty sure I won't need to nurse my dynamic range along by using S-Log, but it is available. The real benefits are that the RX10ii is compact and all inclusive, focuses well and has built in image stabilization. It's the perfect camera for what I have in mind: riding around on a big, utility bucket truck, videotaping emergency electrical restoration teams working in bad weather. I'll try to keep it under a rain cover but if the camera goes south at the end of the project I won't cry too hard. I can get another one. They aren't so expensive.

That covers one part of the project for me but I'd like something with less noise and more IQ for the interviews. We'll be doing these right. That means controlling the environment, controlling available light, and providing the right lighting design to make the content shine; visually. I need a camera with interchangeable lenses so I can choose the right lens for the looks my client wants. And I wanted a Sony that was big enough to stick a multi-function microphone pre-amp system on without looking just plain silly.

I tested a number of their cameras and settled on the Sony A7R2. I liked this camera for its really good 4K video when used in the Super35 crop mode. It crops to APS-C but it looks very detailed and has low noise. To supplement the camera I looked for a two good lenses that were constant aperture and covered a wide and useful range. I ended up with the Zeiss 24-70mm and the Sony 70-200mm f4.0 G lens. I've been shooting tests all day today and I'm more than happy with them.

I didn't consider cameras from Nikon, Canon or Olympus because all are limited to 1080p video and my client has woken up to the practicalities of shooting in 4K but editing in 2K...

We may start production tomorrow, if the weather gets bad enough... But the bulk of the production will probably start in early May. We still have budgets and a final script to hammer out. I'm making this production a test run for three different Sony products which can also cross over from stills to video, and back again. The RX10ii will be the "go-to" nasty weather camera. I'll also do things with it that I don't want to do with a pricier camera, like attaching it to the exterior of a truck as we barrel down a highway on our journey to the next outage... If it dies a premature death we've got a classic RX10 waiting to take its place, along with a couple of Panasonic fz 1000's which would be willing to sacrifice their existence to ensure the success of the project.

The Sony A7R2 will be our fair weather, studio and controlled location camera and we'll try to squeeze the maximum quality out of it, using the XLR shoe, great lenses and careful lighting.

Pinch-hitting for the two bookend cameras of the production we'll use the Sony a6300 and the 18-105mm constant aperture, G lens. It's also 4K enabled and I think will come in quite handy for a second angle camera during our interviews. It's also going to be sitting in the bag as "completion insurance" just in case...

The addition of the Sony A7R2 camera to our tool box puts all the other brands we use in possible jeopardy. If it's reliable, lives up to DXO's praise as their top rated camera/sensor system and does convenient stills then it's not hard to imagine that everything else will go to back into the market. Based to some extent on the EVF alone.  I'm taking some time to test the new cameras under pressure. But one thing is for sure, a camera from another (here un-named) brand is not inspiring great confidence with its third RECALL in less than 18 months.....

Could be the change of an era.

17 comments:

Dave Jenkins said...

It wasn't hard to see this one coming. :o)

AlexG said...

Now to mach this camera you really want to try the rather wonderful 55mm 1.8 Zeiss Sony lens, it is the nicest normal I have tried, the whole system is worth getting just for this lens.

dasar photography said...

Don't tell me that you had some problems with your D7xxx and D8xx lines ... :-)

Kepano said...

Assimilation is futile...

MO said...

Glad to hear u get good assignments. Sounds like fun n steady work for a long time! And room for u to get new n fun gear. sounds great!

Daniel Walker said...

Usually I am behind your camera choices.. This time I beat you to the gate. I have been shooting a a7II for several months. The images are great and love the 28 & 55 lens. However the size of the zooms are hard to get use to after you have been shooting 43 format. I would love to see more discussion on stills and how the compare with your other formats.

Alan Fairley said...

Interested to hear your impressions of the Sony as a stills camera compared to the D8xx. As a D800-m4/3 user, I hope it hits the sweet spots of both those systems....

Kenneth Voigt said...

RE: "a camera from another (here un-named) brand"
It would be more helpful to your readers if you named the offending brand.....just sayin

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Kenneth, I think everyone who reads the blog already know that Nikon is on their third recall with the D750 for imaging problems caused by either the mirror box of the baffles. Nikon. The folks who brought you the camera that likes to travel back and forth to service centers....

Dave Jenkins said...

Probably not a deal-killer for me, but I will be interested to see how battery life works out for you. I haven't been happy with my EM-5s for some time, but I'm still very interested in small and light. In that vein, I've been accumulating Olympus OM lenses with a view to moving to the Sony A7 series, though probably just the A7II. I don't need or want the file size of the "R".

Meanwhile, I'm using the OM lenses on my Canon 6D with a Fotodiox focus-confirmation adapter, and like the way it forces me to slow down a bit. Maybe I'll even get back to the old days, when nearly every exposure was incident-metered and bracketed. Well, maybe not that far back! Just write it off to nostalgia and senior flatulence.

Dave said...

Come on Kirk.... you know you want to get that thing in the studio and put a victim in front of it :)

If my budget were such I'd certainly consider this beast. To be honest this move makes more sense to me than the D750 and D810's, especially since Sony has come up with better raw options. So at this point I'd guess you have all the stills capability of the Nikons and video Nikon will likely never be able to answer.

Mark Bellringer said...

Have you bought the XLR-K2M Adapter Kit to go with it?... have been thinking about getting one for my A7R Mk11

Kirk Tuck said...

Mark, I have one on order.

Dave, already broken in.

Dave Jenkins, I'm used to the batteries from using the RX10ii. I took Bob Krist's advice and bought an inexpensive, USB charger battery. 10,000 maH for $13. It can be plugged into the USB port on any of the three new cameras and used to either power or charge the camera. I'll never run out of power...

Daniel Walker: Best stills yet.

Mark Davidson said...

I have to say that I share your interest in the Sony A7RII.
I am thankful you could assemble the justification to get one so that we can hear about the real life usage.

As a Canon shooter I am satisfied with the output for my work and any upgrade would be invisible to my clients. What would be meaningful is the quality of life I might enjoy if I switched.
Shooting with an EVF is simply the best argument I know of for switching to mirrorless gear even if you shoot strobe.
The other enhancements are just gravy.

As far as the Sony though I use a CamRanger to wirelessly transfer my images to an iPad and control the camera in a variety of ways. So far it seems that I would lose that by moving to Sony. Shooting tethered just does not work in the field for me so I wait.

Craig Yuill said...

Kirk - I am not at all surprised you picked up a Sony A7-line camera. But, given your interest in the camera for video use, I would have thought the supposedly video-oriented A7S II might be more to your liking. I suppose the extra megapixels will allow you to do double duty with the A7R II.

As for sacrificing cameras, wouldn't it make more sense to sacrifice the cheapest ones (I am assuming the FZ1000s) first?

This rainy-weather job seems to be well outside of the norm for you. I will be very interested in reading about how this all works out.

texascbx said...

I figured you would eventually get this cam. I have had at least three different photographers in the Dallas area that shoot the D810 or D800 message me if I thought it was worth the jump. Two made the switch to the A7RII.

Paul said...

Precision camera must love you :).
It's a shame I didn't manage a visit a few years ago when I was in Austin