Working with the Sony A7s for Broadcast – Part I

1-Johnnie A7sI would actually like to start my A7s article with writing about the Canon 1DC…Since it came out during March 2013, the Canon 1DC was my primary working tool be it for broadcast (when ever I could choose the equipment to work with), documentary, corporate, or any other narrative project. The combination of a clean full HD full frame video or 1.3 crop 4K internal recording plus what I consider to be “irresistible colour and general warmth” gave me the maximum flexibility to be creative and cater my customers with what needed best for the project. On the downside, the hefty price tag prevented it from becoming a popular camera and further more, it always felt to me like Canon was treating this camera like the “stepchild”  of the “C” family, meaning, no real meaningful updates that could enhance and simplify shooting experience like “punch-in zoom” while recording, peaking, or good internal audio quality to name a few. Those shortcoming forced me to always work with an external monitor or EVF, external audio recorder, plus a rig when needed.

Then came the Sony A7s. After purchasing that camera the first feeling I had was “liberation”…Now I could choose if I want to work with a rig or perhaps an external monitor/EVF, or “stay compact” and not defeat the purpose of its small size by using the build in excellent OLED EVF as my run&gun monitor. The key word was/is flexibility. Depending on the shooting scenario, I can now quickly adopt the camera to be “small” or “big”. Further more, Sony (unlike Canon) cleverly designed the camera  to be part of a total solution for the documentary shooter. With the attached hot-shoe audio module XLR-K2M (or XLR-K1M if desired) or alternatively using Sony’s URXP03 (wireless solution) together with the SAMD-p3 adapter, one can now have high quality and up to 2 channel XLR audio solution connected directly to the camera. Additionally, Sony’s 28-135mm f4 stabilised ENG type motorised lens due to be release soon and will create a total working solution opposed to Canon ‘s “camera only” situation.

Now regarding the above video. Together with Bethany Bell my BBC corespondent, we wanted to capture one of Vienna’s traditional art, the “Dudeln” (Vienna’s own indoor yodelling). Since I was visiting similar local places like this before, I knew that lighting will be challenging especially when I was required to minimise my disturbance to the restaurant guests and staff. For the task I opted for 3 800W redheads. Those allowed me to increase the restaurant’s light levels by pointing them indirectly to the white walls. Additionally,  I could lit the dudler singer Agnes Palmisano from few meters away, again without disturbing her singing and her fellow guitar and accordion players. Next was sound. As I was alone without a soundman with Bethany in this assignment, it was rather challenging. Balancing alone and at times 2 audio channels (one of them with music) is not that easy….

For the opening sequence I’ve asked Agnes the singer to be aware of my queue signalling when Bethany is starting to talk and help me by lowering her voice to the point that Bethany’s voice is clear, then on my second queue, raise her voice again and continue singing.

After 2-3 tries we were perfectly synced and able to execute a nice engaging opening scene. In order NOT to waste too much time and also keep simplicity, I’ve decided that the musicians won’t have their own microphone but rather be heard from Agnes’s one. A bit risky but here it worked perfectly!.

My lens selection for that evening was all from Samyang. (14, 24, 35, 85mm). Those are modestly priced and perfect for lowlight situations work.

When editing, I dropped the S-log 2 footage into Premiere CC 2014 (allows native XAVC-S editing) and after I was done, I’ve added 1 adjustment layer with “filmConvert” on it and chose the look I wanted.  (Profile: Cine 1-Cinema, KD 5207 Vis3). On a second adjustment layer I’ve added 20% sharpness for enhancing the general look.

Below you will find few “before” and “after” S-log shots:

Before 2 After 2

Before 3 After 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in all, I had a very positive experience working with the A7s for broadcast. My next full length documentary feature is schedule for spring. I won’t hesitate using the camera again.

The original BBC link to Bethany’s report can be found here.

Many thanks to Bethany Bell and Agnes Palmisano

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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Vlad Box Rojas Reply
Vlad Box Rojas January 12, 2015

Love the use of lenses and of course the story is as usual compelling. Out of curiosity, How long does it take you to shoot a piece like this?

Reply
Johnnie Behiri January 13, 2015

Hi there.

Thanks for watching the video and commenting!.
I guess it took us about 3 hours from arrival till we left.

Chipiliro Khonje Reply
Chipiliro Khonje January 23, 2015

I absolutely love the shoot Jonnie, keep doing what u do. U inspire me in a very big way. This year I’m shooting a couple of short films and trying to organize the first film festival here in Malawi. It’s through guys like you that I’m insipired to push and go on against all odds.

Chipie Khonje

Reply
Phil January 12, 2015

Johnnie, Great opening shot, with focus following the singer supplied “audio ducking”. As always, your reports using produced stories carries great weight with me. The combination of pressures tend to reveal more about a camera.

That said, I just can’t warm (unavoidable pun) to the skin tones. Especially after pumping in 3 x 800 watts of quartz into the room, this is not what I’d expect. It seems, even with the FilmConvert profiles, the Sony struggles with skin tones. (Or maybe, with the northern european cloud cover, this is what you get mid-winter :-)

Have no idea, how Bethany Bell is received in the UK, but enjoyed the very human component as she tried to sing a phrase at the end.

On a slightly related note, I recently tripped over the NYTimes 36 Hours in Vienna video. (http://www.nytimes.com/video/travel/100000003309934/36-hours-in-vienna.html). I have to say your Vienna coffee house piece with Bethany Bell, gives me a more interesting insight into daily Viennese life. Solid work.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri January 13, 2015

Hi Phil

Thanks for watching and commenting!

Bethany is a pro (and a good friend)! Any cameraman/editor can only wish to work with someone like her.

Thanks for the link to the 36H in Vienna. Interesting worldwide traveling guide concept.

Vienna’s coffee house is one of my “all time favourites”. Happy you liked it too!.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Reply
Miklos Nemeth January 14, 2015

Very interesting comment “I just can’t warm to the skin tones. Especially after pumping in 3 x 800 watts of quartz into the room, this is not what I’d expect. It seems, even with the FilmConvert profiles, the Sony struggles with skin tones.” I assumed that the maker of this video intentinally made it look like this. The maker is professional, and I simply cannot imagine that he had no clue how to warm skin tones, if he wanted to. Hmm, very interesting.

Caleb Rasak Reply
Caleb Rasak January 13, 2015

I really am debating purchasing this camera. I own a 5D Mark III and BMPC 4K. I tend to use the 5D more than the BMPC since a lot of my shoots require low light shooting and Run N Gun. The BMPC image quality for studio, outdoor jib work and bigger budget shoots is incredible but find it too large for my style of work. I really would like to rent this camera and see what its like to shoot with. I would much rather this type of image out of a 1DC style body that also offers high resolution stills as a lot of my work is stills as well.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri January 14, 2015

Hi Caleb.

Don’t debate…It’s an extraordinary piece of equipment. Small, capable, versatile. The rest is up to you…

Thanks!

Johnnie

Andrei Goldobenko Reply
Andrei Goldobenko January 14, 2015

Many thanks for great round up. Im now considering getting a 1Dc or to wait a bit to see what happens with the a7sII. Quick question – did you find the C-log better than the Sony Log profile. I used the 1Dc a few times and i absolutely love the color out of it. Recent reports seem to indicate that even with the Shogun the 1Dc’s 500mbit Log 4K is better than what you get with the Sony/Shogun combo. Long question short – wait for ver.II from Sony and get all new cineprime lenses, or go with 1Dc and stick with current EF lens line?

Reply
Ivan January 14, 2015

Really John Truly you are the reference .Yours advices are gold ward.Everybody find a little in your articles because you are always in advance.This film is SUPER beautiful SCHONE AUSTEREICHER Kultuur.I have two questions;
1.Should you not be to limited by the shallow depth of field of full size when a documentary is shoot.
2. 1DC has internal 4K RIG mounted and you can shoot without trpod.With the 7S the RIG to carry with Shogun Atamos will be heavy?
Again thank you for your integrity and you’re a great director because you really exploited the qualities of the devices that you test.From Belgium

Reply
Johnnie Behiri January 15, 2015

Dear Ivan.

Thank you very much for your kind warm words. Appreciated!!!.

1-This is controllable up to some extant depending on your used focal length, ISO sensitivity and aperture. If you are aware of the “problem”, you can make your best avoiding it….

2-There is NO substitute for internal 4K recording (ease of use and camera portability). In a way, the Shogun size is defeating the camera purpose. If all goes as planned, I will shoot a short “documentary style review” with both devices together next week and know better “how it feels”. I guess it won’t be possible working with the A7s handheld but I’ll try fitting the Shogun at the back of my rig as a “recorder only” (ignoring its monitoring capability) and see how “seamlessly” it can work.

Thanks again!

Johnnie

Allister Gourlay Reply
Allister Gourlay January 14, 2015

Lovely work Johnnie. When you say broadcast does that mean that the Sony A7s is approved by the EBU for TV broadcast work like the Canon 1DC?

Reply
Johnnie Behiri January 14, 2015

Hi Allister.

To my Knowledge, the A7s is not approved by the EBU for TV broadcast like the Canon 1DC ((the approved method is 4K content on a full HD timeline), https://www.cinema5d.com/ibc-2013-canon-1dc-approved-for-broadcast-by-the-ebu-explained/.

Allister Gourlay Reply
Allister Gourlay January 15, 2015

Cheers Johnnie

Pierre P. White Reply
Pierre P. White January 15, 2015

Great work Johnnie! I really love the camera . I’m still figuring out which PP I should use. So far I use cine2 and cine4 the most. Do you always use s-log in any situation? In s-log I always get noise in my footage.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri January 15, 2015

Hi Pierre.

Thanks for commenting!

Endless possibilities with all those picture profiles… (like with most modern cameras).

Still exploring but “PP off” is one of my favorites and I can share with you that Sony’s engineers are very proud in developing it!.

My (old PP off sample footage: https://www.cinema5d.com/sleep-eat-taste-wine-and-relax-a-sony-a7s-camera-video-review/)

Thank you!

Johnnie

Pierre P. White Reply
Pierre P. White January 16, 2015

Awesome footage! Thanks a lot for the tip Johnnie

Reply
Johnnie Behiri January 19, 2015

Thank you Pierre, appreciated!

Johnnie

Bertrand Paré Reply
Bertrand Paré January 15, 2015

Is it just me or lips always look a weird, purple burgundy color with the A7s? I’m not crazy about the Slog-2 profile for people and skin. It’s great for low light night scenes, but beauty is really hard with it, I find.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri January 16, 2015

Hi Bertrand,

Happy to share with you the S-log file. Maybe you can get a better lips colour if those are too weird.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Reply
Phil Hainline January 19, 2015

There are two blogs that I find most useful on the web:

Cinema 5d – for Johnnie’s storytelling test’s under production pressure.

Shane Hurlbut – test skin tones at the sensor limits and dynamic range outdoors

Yes, Shane is a Canon fan, and tends to test either more expensive and/or RAW cameras. However, the sensor and companies color science really are the equivalent ‘film emulsion’ that excite us and set the limits of what is possible.

In my world, rate skin tones many times more valuable than resolution. I’m sure other’s priorities are different.

I only bring this up as food for thought for Cinema 5d. I know you are trying to expand your coverage with “lab/bench tests”. I’d humbly suggest that adding Shane Hurlbut’s skin tone style tests might be more useful to your readers. An online survey perhaps?

Reply
Johnnie Behiri January 21, 2015

Hi Phil.

Thank you for your kind warm words. Very much appreciated!.

I promise to take your request seriously. We constantly try to improve our content and as such, I’ll talk to my colleagues and see what can be done.

Thank you again!

Johnnie

Reply
Myles Thompson January 22, 2015

Is this actually for broadcast? Looks like it’s for an online magazine.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri January 22, 2015

Hi Myles, welcome back!

Despite the low quality footage and its “magazine look”, it was broadcasted on the BBC.

Thanks!

Johnnie

Reply
Myles Thompson January 22, 2015

Where/when? I’d like to see it in the archives, to get a picture of how it looks on the ‘big screen’.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri January 22, 2015

You missed the “big screen” as it was broadcasted already. On top in the article you have the link to the “online reference”. The BBC is releasing that type of content about a day after broadcasting if Im not mistaken.

Reply
Myles Thompson January 22, 2015

I was wondering which channel in general broadcasts that kind of stuff – the BBC has several channels as I’m sure you know.

Love the opening shot by the way.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri January 22, 2015

Indeed, the BBC has lots of channels. It was broadcasted in BBC world and BBC news.

Thanks.

Johnnie

Reply
Myles Thompson January 22, 2015

OK, thanks. Slowly getting to the bottom of it (first question was ‘where/when?)…I guess forums aren’t the best place to discuss facts ;)

Rob Dunford Reply
Rob Dunford April 12, 2015

lots of queues…..or is it cues?
just joshing!

John Harding Reply
John Harding June 24, 2015

I see lots of praise for the A7S that I can;t understand – I bought one around 6 months ago and whilst its good, I’m actually lightly disappointed in it.

The menu and buttons are quite fiddly, working with it handheld is tricky, and the rolling shutter is really, really bad – to the point where I’ve done shots of people closing cupboards or moving something at a moderate speed, and seeing it warp on playback. Also, at least on mine, the exposure and the white balance on the monitor is way off.

I found the C100 to have more resolution at 1080p, and was much easier to use. However, the A7S does have that amazing low light ability, and the APS-C crop option is something I use all the time. But I still don’t ever really want to use the camera.

Reply
Johnnie Behiri June 24, 2015

Hi John.

As always, it’s good to hear a different opinion from a fellow pro.

My experience is different. I’ll chose this camera any day over the C100.

That’s the beauty of our profession. One can choose what works for him/her best, in a price that was un-heard of just a few years ago.

BTW, hope you will take a moment to see the footage and read my part II article: https://www.cinema5d.com/working-with-the-sony-a7s-for-broadcast-part-ii/

Thank you again for sharing your experience!.

Johnnie

Sławek Wodzyński Reply
Sławek Wodzyński September 15, 2015

Hello, “one can now have high quality and up to 2 channel XLR audio solution connected directly to the camera. ” is it true for Sony’s URXP03 ?????

Reply
Johnnie Behiri September 17, 2015

Hi Sławek

You can connect any XLR audio equipment to the XLR K2M (or K1M). The attachment itself has 2 audio channels so you can certainly connect 2 URXP03 to it.

You can also avoid wiring of the URXP03 all together by using the Sony’s SMAD-P3 adapter and connect it directly to the camera hot shoe although it will allow you only a single channel audio recording.

Thanks!

Johnnie