Time Stood Still – An Extreme Low Light Video – Sony a7SII & SLR Magic 50mm f/1.1

This was supposed to be a normal comprehensive lens test/review of the new SLR Magic Cine 50mm f/1.1 made with a production unit we received from the manufacturer about 2 weeks ago. After working with the new lens, we’ve raised our concerns to the manufacturer especially about the softness of the image at the corners of the picture when shooting with a wide open aperture and setting the focus point to infinity. 

SLR Magic 50mm f:1.1

All was ready to be publish today when an e-mail from SLR Magic landed in my inbox. Here is an excerpt from their message:

From the two weeks of real life testing by several testers, we received 3 main concerns.
– Corner softness at infinity
– Sharpness at f/1.1
– Lens flare

We are currently making some changes within our capability to address the issues. The new changes would improve corner sharpness at infinity by approximately 20% but do not expect perfection after the changes. Sharpness at f/1.1 is not affected. Lens flare would be addressed with an optional lens hood.

It is encouraging to see a manufacturer who is taking action in order to make his product better after feedback from beta testers like us! 

As such, we decided to suspend the publication of the written review itself and wait for the new version to come, BUT, we also decided to publish the above video as it is a good example of what the combination of a fast lens together with the Sony a7SII can deliver in extreme low light situations. We will review and test the new lens soon. 

In the video above, I wanted to mimic a realistic documentary working situation. To my help came Tina Walzer who is the responsible historian for a very old close to the public Jewish cemetery located in Vienna. I was presuming it will be dark out there, at least at the heart of the cemetery with some light bouncing near its fence from the streetlights facing towards the street itself. Boy I was right! Even at a wide open aperture I had to tune the camera to a range of ISO 128,000 to 409,600. Below you can see a picture of “what my eye could see” vs. “what the camera saw in high ISO”. One of the reasons for those insigne high ISO values is my wish to expose correctly. If you would like to successfully work in Slog-2 during shooting in high ISO conditions, I advise you to do the same, otherwise you will be recording a lot of noise.

What my eyes can see vs what the camera can see

               What the camera can see on the left vs. what my eyes could see on the right

 

About this video:

Shot in 4K/25p, 100 Mbit, Slog-2, ISO 28,000 to 409,600, Edited on Adobe Premiere CC 2015, graded with James Miller’s DELUTs. NO de-noising of any sort was used. The “trick” is to use a LUT that can mask well most of it.

Music used in this review: Ghosts Seldom Stay In Their Graves and The Grave by Triads by Triads courtesy of themusicbed

A special thanks to Tina Walzer for helping me out in producing and executing this video.

SLR Magic

Johnnie Behiri is a freelance documentary cameraman/editor/producer working mostly for the BBC and other respected broadcasters. He is also co-owner of cinema5d.com

Watch it on Vimeo

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Mel Bourne Reply
Mel Bourne December 1, 2015

It’s pretty soft and there’s a bit of CA, bokeh is a bit meh.

Kinda expected for the money.

I’d like to see the focus breathing characteristics.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 1, 2015

Hi Mel

As stated in the article, the manufacturer is determine to improve the soft edges of the lens by about 20%.

We will conduct a full review when the final lens version is out.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Reply
Lior Koren December 1, 2015

What do you expect at ISO 128,00-409,600? Sure it cannot be as sharp as shooting at much lower ISO.
At least, the A7sII can do it while most others cannot.
Beautiful work!

Lior

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 1, 2015

Thank you Lior for taking the time watching the video and commenting.

Johnnie

Reply
Lior Koren December 1, 2015

Thank you Johnnie, great work, never heard about this special place in Vienna.

Steve Staffan Reply
Steve Staffan December 1, 2015

Sharpness is kept through high ISO.

Reply
Lior Koren December 1, 2015

Camera noise reduction and sensor noise hurts sharpness. These are a very high ISO shots.

Reply
Martin Friedrich December 1, 2015

Pretty amazing, thanks for that Johnnie! Why did you choose to shoot S-Log 2 over S-Log 3 if I may ask?

Steve Staffan Reply
Steve Staffan December 1, 2015

S-Log 3 is not made for low light situations. It’s designed for harsh contrasted scenes, like a hard backlit window or something like that. Shooting low light with S-Log 3 introduces a HUGE amount of noise into the shadows.

 Alexandre Lopes Reply
Alexandre Lopes February 13, 2016

Thanks for sharing this..just noticed that yesterday at night scenes..started to use the A7SII coming from canon ;)

Reply
Johnnie Behiri February 14, 2016

Happy it can be of any help!

Johnnie

Christian Whitey Pokrywka Reply
Christian Whitey Pokrywka December 1, 2015

Oooh perfect timing! I’m considering this lens for an upcoming purchase.

Steve Staffan Reply
Steve Staffan December 1, 2015

Looks like poop lol. For that money theres way more options out there.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 2, 2015

Hi Steve.

I’ll take your criticism as a compliment.

The important thing is, that the manufacturer is showing commitment to serve the community with modestly priced creative tools and on top, listen to feedback and improve the final product before reaching to the hands of the public.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Steve Staffan Reply
Steve Staffan December 2, 2015

It’s nothing against the lens, it will have its time and place, but for the majority of film makers, having that blurry edge throughout just isn’t an option. Hopefully something can help that out a little bit.

 Peter Borrud Reply
Peter Borrud December 5, 2015

I think it looks really great man, it shows what we can really do with this camera. Thanks for making this!

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 7, 2015

Thank you Peter!

Adrian Mahovics Reply
Adrian Mahovics December 1, 2015

Hi Johnnie, I red your article first and then looked at your video. I was expecting some soft footage, but instead I got something much better then expected, actually rather lovely stuff! Further more, I actually felt it very pleasing to my eye AND the “look” kept me in the story you where “telling” even more! What I am trying to say here is, yes, the lens might suffer from all the mentioned in your article, BUT it can work to your advantage depending on the story you are trying to tell! Thank you Johnnie for chosing to share this lens test with us instead of waiting for the second copy of the lens.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 2, 2015

Hi Adrian.

Thanks for your thumbs up. Appreciated!.

I’m sure that the new improved lens, can serve many in a very useful way and I’m truly looking forward testing it again before it’s out.

Thanks again!

Johnnie

Reply
Greg Latham December 1, 2015

Have to say, I think this is great work, and pretty to boot. I’m really not a fan of flawless lenses, these types of issues (like the corner softeness) lend a lot of character to the film which I really, really like.

Soundtrack and sound work was also great. I saw no lav mic, what was your sound setup? I’m kitting up for a one man band documentary shooting early next year and I’m struggling a little.

Reply
Greg Latham December 1, 2015

Just found your sound setup at the bottom of the article, feel free to ignore!

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 2, 2015

Hi Greg.

Feel free to drop me a line privately. I’m happy to help (if I can), when it comes to a “one man band documentary shooting style”.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Anton Seim Reply
Anton Seim December 1, 2015

Really crazy to see her stumbling around not able to see what’s in front of her. This is a great test. I kept looking for grain and noise and it just wasn’t noticeable.

Christian Whitey Pokrywka Reply
Christian Whitey Pokrywka December 1, 2015

I’m positive the footage was denoised with a plugin.

Christian Whitey Pokrywka Reply
Christian Whitey Pokrywka December 1, 2015

I stand corrected – Johnnie commented on the Vimeo video that no denoting was done. The LUT used help conceal a lot of the noise. Pretty impressive indeed!

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 2, 2015

Just to be clear. NO de-noising of any sort was used.

The “trick” is to use a LUT that can cover much of the noise especially in those crazy hi ISO levels.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 2, 2015

Hi Anton.

Here is part of the response I got from Tina (who is participating in this video), related to what you just wrote:

“I myself did not know where to look because I did not see you or anything else besides darkness”

Thanks!

Johnnie

 Jon Neely Reply
Jon Neely December 1, 2015

Is there any word on what T stop this lens is? Kina pointless to have an F stop on a “cine” lens.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 2, 2015

Hi Jon.

If I’m not mistaken, it is T2 (but will try and find out with the manufacturer.

Regarding your comment “pointless to have an F stop on a “cine” lens”, I can only guess (and without pointing at SLR Magic) that for the consumer, and F stop lower number will alway sound better then a higher T stop so it is some kind of marketing strategy.
Just my guess….

Thanks

Johnnie

Reply
Tim Naylor Naylor December 4, 2015

If the difference between F and T is big (more than half a stop or so) than it makes sense to have F and T. T for exposure and F for calculating depth of field.

Reply
Bart van der Horst December 1, 2015

It is beautiful, I so like your style And makes always enthusiastic to film more.

I was wondering with this low light that the
only that is missing.
Is the darkness. Or the feeling of darkness.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 2, 2015

Hi Bart.

Thanks for your kind words!
It took about 1 hour 15 minutes to shoot the all thing before we woke up the dead and had to leave so the result is just OK.

The purpose of this test was to see how well the lens together with the camera acts in extreme lowlight condition, but all in all, you are right. The “darkness” is absolutely missing from this video.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Michael Vincent Sarricchio Reply
Michael Vincent Sarricchio December 2, 2015

the track reminded me of a moment from the godfather

Reply
Kepano Kekuewa December 2, 2015

As with your other reviews, I enjoyed watching an actual documentary with a story as opposed to inanimate objects or a series of beauty shots. This was helpful. Thank you!

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 2, 2015

KK,

Thank you. Your comment is much appreciated!.

Johnnie

 Otega Ododoru Reply
Otega Ododoru December 3, 2015

I know this is a lens review here so kindly pardon me but Oh!, this camera is devilish! wicked wicked wicked low light! wow! I can just imagine sony running out of stock under 2 weeks if someone comes up with a stable raw video hack like magic lantern for the canon, that would be mental.

 Magnus Davidsen Reply
Magnus Davidsen December 3, 2015

Why did you shoot it inn s-log? Wouldn’t you get more info in the shadows using a different gamma curve?

Ref Alister Chapman’s lession og gamma curves.

https://www.cinema5d.com/sony-fs5-features-in-depth-run-through-video/

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 3, 2015

Hi Magnus Davidsen.

Alister is a very knowledgeable person yet, there is no other way for me but exploring filming in those extremely lowlight conditions in S-log and see for myself “how bad or not” it is. I will take some shots with a non S-log picture profile on my next lowlight test so I can easily compare.

Thanks.

Johnnie

Reply
Caine Mitchell December 4, 2015

Thanks for posting Johnnie.

By no means a crack at Johnnie’s work, but just a general point here…So the technology’s at the point where we can shoot useable content in the dark but do we really, really need it? Sure this ability can help out in a multitude of lower budget prods, the occasional wedding reception or event shots when u really need to cover them but IMHO it’s all a bit “uncanny valley” for me.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 4, 2015

Hi Caine.

Thanks for your response!

It is one of those things it is good to experiment with especially when shooting documentaries.

Will I use it on a daily basis, hell no, yet I never know when my next BBC assignment will require me to film refugees crossing borders at night.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Reply
Caine Mitchell December 8, 2015

I didn’t even think of ENG work, but yes you make a great point there Johnnie :-)

Reply
Tim Naylor Naylor December 4, 2015

Johnnie,

Thanks for the footage. I’ve a few questions. How does it compare to the Rokinon 50mm? I love the Rokinon in all respects except is has a bit too much distortion on the edges.

Also, it’d be great to see how this footage would look graded for “night” – deep blacks, higher contrast, etc. If I were shooting it under these conditions, that’s probably the direction of the grade many of would go or we’d just shoot day or dusk. I’d like to see how handles noise, etc.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 4, 2015

Hi Tim.

I was planing to dedicate a proper comparison between the lenses but will wait until the final version of the SLR Magic will arrive. Only then I will be able to have a solid opinion.

Regarding grading, I’m happy upload an ungraded version for people to download and grade by themselves if it makes any sense. What do you think?

Thanks.

Johnnie

Reply
Tim Naylor Naylor December 21, 2015

That would be great. I’ve a feeling the image is so bright that crushing it for “night” would yield something super clean.

BTW, I just returned my FS5 and ordered an A7S2. Need my night camera!

 Dominik Achatz Reply
Dominik Achatz December 8, 2015

Wow! Thank you for not only doing a review, but telling a story as well!
I really like that approach and look forward to put that lens through its paces myself.
For that price its pretty impressive, although the sharpness is not that good it works with this story.
Thanks for all the work.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 14, 2015

Thank you Dominik. Appreciated!

Reply
Alexander Tardif December 21, 2015

Johnnie – the lens is now shipping in the US. Any updates on your stated issues with the lens? I’m curios if things have been fixed at least with the corners. Thanks!

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 27, 2015

Hi Alexander.

We now have the new version in house and hope to conduct a quick side by side test to see how the new one is doing in comparison to the old soon.

Stay tune.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 27, 2015

Hi Alexander.

I can confirm that the new lens is indeed sharper on the corners. (especially on the left hand side where it had most noticeable).

A separate news post with our findings will be publish soon.

Thank you!

Johnnie

 Tolu Awosika Reply
Tolu Awosika December 23, 2015

Incredible work and review Johnnie. Love the look of this project– even the blurry edges, while noted as an issue, actually helped give the short project and nice look. Very curious about this noise masking LUT that you mentioned :) Because I am seeing some crazy noise when pushing past 25,000 ISO on my unit.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri December 27, 2015

Hi Tolu.

Thank you for taking the time watching the review and commenting.

The LUT I used in the piece is from James Miller, DELUTS, a7S Hyde Park.(https://sellfy.com/p/fAV4/). If editing in Premiere, Don’t forget choosing in “Basic Correction”, SLOG2-SL-PROFILE.

Please let me know if it worked for you.

Thank you!

Johnnie

 Tolu Awosika Reply
Tolu Awosika September 19, 2016

Johnnie!!! I don’t know why, but I just saw your reply to my inquiry this past weekend and Wow! All I have to say is THANK YOU! It totally worked just like you shared and I’m enjoying the James Miller Luts even more now. The Basic Correction Slog2-SL-Profile was the secret sauce I’ve been missing! Much appreciated.