It’s the middle of 2015. Europe is being flooded with migrants coming from Africa and the middle east. Together with my BBC corespondent Bethany Bell, we traveled to Bolzano-Italy trying to witness first hand how those immigrants are trying to cross the Italian-Austrian border and then continue to Germany and northern Europe in hopes for a better future.
It’s the end of June 2015. The Canon 5D mark III is already sold, my Canon 1DC is collecting dust and the Sony A7s is being deployed over and over again for news and documentary assignments. After all, it is an excellent, flexible working tool.
I treat the Sony A7s as “the brain”. If I need it compact, I can travel almost incognito and still achieve excellent results. Do I need it large and on the shoulders? No problem, a few reliable accessories and I have a larger, well balanced tool to work with.
I’ve tried to put together some tips and info regarding my setup for the above shoot. I hope these will help you when you might have to shoot in similar conditions or use the Sony A7s for broadcast.
For this specific mission, the requirement was to be as compact and flexible as possible. In order to achieve that I “sacrificed” Sony’s XLR-K2M attachment and decided to have only 1 recordable audio channel. Since I didn’t know what to expect when shooting, I decided to rely on the camera’s internal microphone for ambient sound and when conducting interviews, I would quickly plug in my Sennheiser EW100 G2 wireless receiver. As a rule of thumb I always have a mini to mini audio L-shape plug extension on the camera headphone socket, so discerning the mic plug under pressure is easy. This also comes in handy when I use headphones.
Cage and REC button:
I also replaced my trusted motion9 Sony A7s cage with the new IndiPRO Tools Thor Video Sony a7s Cage. This cage has a “built in” tripod plate and its right hand side is open (unlike the motion9 cage). With an open cage is possible to use a new and ingenious accessory made by Cineasy Touch. This A7/S/R/ button enhancement accessory can be attached to the camera’s neck strap eyelet near the video button with a screw. The result is a much easier and reliable operation of the camera’s REC button.
Lenses and ND filters:
My “day to day” lens kit consists of the following 3 lenses: (used with a Metabones EF to NEX adapter mark IV).
- Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8. Although it’s an APS-C lens, it is the widest and fastest lens I can get. Great for general run&gun shooting, plus, the focus hard stops are as a god-send.
- Canon 24-105mm F/4. This has been my workhorse lens for a very long time. With a good built-in stabiliser and adequate focal length, this lens truly shines. Mind you that this lens has no hard stops so accurate focusing can be hard at times.
- Canon 70-200mm F/4.0 IS. For a long time I was debating with myself if I should purchase the F/4 or F/2.8 version of this lens and then decided to go with the F/4 one. With modern cameras being so light sensitive (especially the A7 family), the F/4 aperture is an acceptable trade-off, as the lens itself is much lighter and smaller then its F/2.8 brother (or is it the sister)?…. This suits my shooting style and constant traveling.
- Heliopan 77mm Vari ND. This variable ND filter always give me satisfying results especially when using long lenses.
- XUME Lens Adapter & Filter Holder. On of those simple accessories that makes life so much easier when changing lenses during running&gunning situations. Simply attach the supplied magnetic holder to any of your lenses, then attach the other part on your preferred “screw on” filter. From that point on, changing 1 filter between several lenses couldn’t become easier.
Bottom line regarding lenses, 5 years into the large sensor camera revolution and there is still no manufacturer who offers a proper, modestly priced run&gun zoom lens. The only one that comes close is the Sony 28-135mm but this one will mostly suit a full frame camera and is quite large and heavy for some assignments.
Many of you requested to know the type of eyepiece I used and how to attach it to the Sony A7s EVF, so here we go:
-How to fit to the A7s EVF: https://vimeo.com/103261808
Camera settings and menu:
On the left you can see my Fn quick access settings. I’ve also programmed the C3 button to allow me quick audio level adjustments and under “Custom key settings” Center Button is assigned to “Focus Magnifier” while the Down button is assigned to ISO settings.
I also keep my camera menu ready for “APS-C Size Capture” so if I quickly need to change focal length (as demonstrated in the above video), all I have to do is press “menu” and voilà. (A quick access to this function can not be assigned as a short cut to any of the buttons).
TIP: If you want to prolong your shooting time from a single battery, put the camera on “flight mode”.
My decision was to shoot this report on PP7 (flat mode) and add the look I wanted later on. The LUT I used in this report is from Rocket Rooster. Together with James Miller’s DELUTS, currently those are my favourites LUTs.
If you have any question about this article, don’t hesitate to drop me a line!
Also check out Working with the Sony A7s for Broadcast – Part I
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