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3 Ways to Get the Most out of Your Sony A7S

There’s no doubt that the Sony A7S is a beast of a machine. Its low light capabilities and high dynamic range captured the attention of many shooters, myself included. However, even with its incredible performance, there are still quite a few quirks that Sony just didn’t seem to get right on the first try. After working with the Sony A7S extensively for more than a year on independent films, weddings, commercials, and music videos, I think I’ve finally gotten a good grasp on what to do, and more importantly what not to do, with the A7S. Today, I’d like to give you 3 tips that will help take your images to the next level.

Note: At the time of this posting, Sony has already release its second iteration of the A7S which packs even more incredible features into this mirrorless camera. Fear not, all the tips described in this blog can and should also be used on the A7S II to get the most out of your camera.

The 3 most crucial things for shooting with your Sony A7S: Exposure, Color Balance and Stabilization.

Let’s get down to business.

 

Tip 1: EXPOSURE

Exposure is one of the most important things to get right in any camera. Exposure affects every aspect of your image: Detail, contrast, noise levels, etc… If you are new to Sony’s A7S or their log profile, SLog2, you’ll soon find out exposure can make or break your image.

A7S Blog_0002

If you want to get the most out of your A7S/A7S II, there’s no question that you should shoot with SLog2. It contains more dynamic range in your picture and better highlight roll-off. What I love about shooting with the A7S is that it forces you to be more focused on your craft, similar to when people were shooting on film. Here’s what I mean…

By default, the ISO for SLog2 starts at 3200, extremely high starting point, especially if you’re shooting outdoors. To compensate for this, you should get some Neutral Density filters. Filters that don’t have much of a shift in color. This gives you the ability to open up your iris (aperture ring) and get a shallower depth of field.

In addition to using ND filters, here are a few other tools that you’ll need to get the most out of your A7S: Light Meter, a monitor/EVF with the ability to program LUTs (like the Zacuto Gratical EVFs) and a color chart.

The A7S comes programmed with a histogram to give you basic readings of your scene. The problem with a histogram alone is that it’s not specific enough. A light meter will give you the exact exposure you need for a specific area of your scene. With a light reading, you can adjust other parameters such as your camera’s exposure or the lighting to perfect the scene. I’m convinced that there’s no greater way to exposure for your A7S than to use a decent light meter such as the Sekonic L-478DR.

In combination with a light meter, using a monitor or an EVF that allows you to program a preset LUT will let you see what the scene will actually look like after you’ve corrected the image in post. One of the hardest things in my opinion is to get the exposure right on the A7S. Sony recommends over exposing the camera by 1-2 stops so that you can crush the noise level in post. Over exposing doesn’t just mean shooting to the right of the histogram. While that certainly is over exposing your image, you are over exposing EVERYTHING. The craft in cinematography is controlling your exposure. Being able to see what you are doing on set is one of the best ways to achieve the balance of over exposing while maintaining your highlights.

Zacuto’s Gratical EVFs allowsyou to program in a custom LUT for previewing purposes. In our case, we use a light meter to properly over expose an Xrite ColorChecker Passport and create a custom LUT in Davinci Resolve to use on the Gratical. Check out our post here on how to create your own custom LUT in under 5 minutes.

Below are two identical shots of a basic three point setup, ungraded. The image on the left has a 4:1 ratio and the image to the right has a 2:1 ratio. In the ungraded clip, you can hardly see the difference.

Mike - Slog2 Ungraded 4_1 RatioMike - Slog2 Ungraded 2_1 Ratio

Here’s the same image with a basic color correction applied. We can see that the 4:1 ratio on the left has much more contrast than the image with a 2:1 ratio. How can one go back to not knowing once you know how to control your image??

Mike - Slog2 Graded 4_1 RatioMike - Slog2 Graded 2_1 Ratio

 

Tip 2: COLOR BALANCE

The great thing about the ColorChecker Passport is that it not only gives you the ability to create simple but very accurate LUTs for preview, it also helps with color balance in post and matching multiple cameras to the same look.

We do a lot of multicam shoots for our music covers on YouTube. We shoot with the A7S, A7RII, Blackmagic Pocket camera and GoPros. It would be very time consuming to match all the different cameras together, especially because the Sony cameras tend to push toward the green spectrum and the Blackmagic leans toward the pink/magenta spectrum.

A7S Blog_0007A7S Blog_0006

Taking a few moments on set to grab a shot of the ColorChecker Passport saves a lot of time in post, even if it’s just for a basic reference later on. It’s a discipline that we’ve instilled in all of our shooters at Matchstix Studios.

 

Tip 3: STABILIZATION

The A7S is incredibly small and compact which makes it ideal to mount in tight spaces. However, it’s small size is also a hindrance when trying to shoot with it handheld. When holding it by hand, the small size makes it easy to introduce the jello-ing effect (rolling shutter) that’s common in DSLR footage.

Personally, I like a heavier camera because it is more stable. But, there are ways to replicate that stability with smaller cameras – stabilizing rigs. We’ve been using Zacuto’s rigs since the Canon 5D Mark II. The Next Generation Recoil Rig solution is the perfect set up for the A7S. With the camera directly over your shoulders and the focus wheel on your grip, you can get very stable shots while staying mobile.

Add a Zacuto Gratical X or Gratical HD EVF to the recoil and you not only get a great way to monitor your footage, you also get added stability to your shots as well. Plus, working with LUTs is a breeze with these viewfinders.

The Sony A7S is a very powerful tool for any cinematographer or videographer. The camera produces some of the nicest images out there. You have to really master the camera to do it but it does do a fantastic job when done right. Remember that exposure is the name of the game with this camera. Get the proper tools to help you in the field, you won’t regret it.

sony a7s with michael liu
#withmycamera

Join the conversation

2 Responses to “3 Ways to Get the Most out of Your Sony A7S”

  1. Andy on March 24th, 2016 12:39 pm

    Hi there – thanks for the interesting article.
    I think the interview screenshots illustrating the difference lighting ratios make may be published the wrong way round, though?
    What looks like the 4:1 ratio (interviewee more frontal) is on the RHS, wheras the text says…’We can see that the 4:1 ratio on the left has much more contrast than the image with a 2:1 ratio’

  2. Rachel Kenton on March 28th, 2016 12:24 pm
    Rachel Mahrle

    Hi Andy, Thank you for catching that. We’ve fixed it. – Rachel, Z-Team

About the Author


Michael Liu is the creative Director at Matchstix Studios and a video producer at Biola University. Matchstix Studios is a premier wedding cinematography studio based in Orange County, CA.   Find him at matchstixstudios.com   info@matchstixstudios.com   (909)-896-7629

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