Shooting video with the Sony A7R II
16 February 2017 | Category: Motion
I needed a small camera for a fly-on-the-wall documentary shoot that could also record 4k internally, slow-motion (in HD), monitor the sound but most importantly being able to place it on a gimbal - and therefore also have good autofocus. On top of this, it needed to take good quality stills too.
Even though the A7S II is pitched as a video camera and the A7R II as a stills camera, I chose the R over the S because of its autofocus. With Sony’s native lenses, it’s the best autofocus I’ve experienced, so I was willing to make the compromise of losing some low light performance for superior focus tracking abilities. It has 399 detection points which make it very accurate - though you’ll need to understand the autofocus settings to be able to fully utilise it and in typical Sony fashion they are not all next to each other in the menu, or even under the same category, so it’s it takes a bit of trial and error to perfect. When using Canon lenses with the Metabones EF adapter and the Sigma MC-11 mount converter the AF is not quite as reliable but is still better than what I’ve experienced with any other camera.
Whereas the quality and clarity of the LCD screen could be better, the electronic viewfinder is brilliant. Used with the magnifier function, I feel very confident with focusing, more so than on other cameras I’ve used. I also found the low-level peaking to be pretty accurate.
The biggest surprise to me when first shooting with the A7R II was how well the built-in IBIS 5-axis image stabilisation system performed. Having read that it can’t even compare with the Olympus EM-1 II I didn’t expect it to be very useful, but the image stabilisation is possibly the best I’ve ever experienced (not having had my hands on the Olympus EM-1 II yet). I could even shoot handheld with a Canon 50 mm F1.2 (and Sigma MC-11 mount converter), something I’ve always considered impossible (see video below for sample footage).
The Sony NP FW50 batteries last about an hour when recording 4k internally, and take about 1-2.5 hours to charge, which was fine for my needs. Some people can be critical of the battery life in the A7 series cameras - but if you want a small and lightweight camera then it’s a sacrifice you have to make. I always keep a bunch of extra batteries in my pockets and you could always attach a battery extension pack to the camera if you really needed to. There was no issue with overheating, even on long shoots, although the camera did feel a bit hot after about 5 hours recording.
There are seven different Picture Profiles where you can tweak the black levels, gammas, saturation and detail as you like. I find PP7, the S-Log 2 profile, the most useful as I want to be able to colour correct the footage in post. S-Log is a gamma curve optimised for post-production. If a fast turnaround without any grading is required, the PP4 with its standard 709 is probably your best choice or one of the Cinegammas such as PP6. But if you often record in mixed lighting and high contrast conditions, the advantages of S-Log are enormous. It’s important to understand how S-Log works in post for setting the right exposure, though. The S-Log gamma curve does not like underexposed footage, therefore make sure that your Histogram levels are rather to the right than the left, exposing one or two stops higher than you normally would.
All in all, the A7R II is likely to be my go-to camera for most shoots, documentary, event and corporate. It’s small, balances quickly on my gimbal, has excellent 4k quality and the option of recording slow motion in HD, amazing auto-focusing and, using an adapter, I can use all of my existing Canon lenses.