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Sony a7S III ... for a cinematic look/feel? Or look elsewhere?


bonesandskin
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I was all set to get the Sony a7S III...

But then I was recently involved in a project shot on the Sony Venice and another with a RED Dragon. And I'm all confused. Now of course I know it is impossible to compare these two cameras to the a7S III and that isn't the point of the post. But what I gained from having access directly to these cameras for the first time was a full appreciation of the difference between the look and feel of the image coming from a cine camera versus the mirrorless cameras I've owned and worked with before.

I find myself considering cameras I've never seriously looked at before but all seem to have major short comings for a perhaps slightly more cinematic feel of the image or slightly better colors. (The RED Komodo is perhaps the most intriguing, even though its a bit out of budget by the time its kitted out)

I feel like in the end I land back at the Sony a7S III, given its value + how many things it does well + its small package...
and feeling like I should then improve my color correction abilities, hunt for tips to make it feel less like video, and get a new lens or two.
(Tips on all those things very much welcome!)

I'm curious if anyone went through something similar and ended up with a different destination than the a7S III?
Obviously still 10bit 4:2:2, though I might consider less than 60fps. Canon R5 is out of the running for its overheating issue.

My main shoots all start up in May of next year so I could wait a little while.
Is there anything else on the horizon?

Thanks for thoughts!

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I'd bet it would help folks give you feedback if you went into a bit more about the "look and feel" of the image from these cameras that seems different to you than that coming from hybrids that you've used. Is it the depth of field, the color gamma or gamut, the flexibility of working with their files in post, a mystical "cinematic" green tint to the images? 

The other obvious choice to look at right now is the C70. It doesn't need a lot of rigging right out of the box, other than perhaps an adapter to use EF glass (which gives you the choice to spend a bit and get a speedbooster for closer to a full frame look). The C70 won't be as light, but has important cine camera features that may make handling better for you (internal VND, mini XLR ports). You'll get slightly better dynamic range, though a slightly noisier image at the highest ISOs. You'll get that Canon color that so many people love, though a good color grader on here has already demonstrated that you can cut the C70 and a7S III together pretty seamlessly.

What kind of shoots do you do? What kind of lenses do you already have? These questions will most likely figure in to which camera is best for you. 

Sounds like playing with vintage glass and filters that bloom highlights might be things to consider to get the look you are after. 

 

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What camera do you have now? It's not the camera alone. The cine cameras can help, but if you are not lighting properly, framing properly, exposing appropriately, and then coloring properly, and working within your cameras limits, then no camera you use is going to look good. Conversely, if you get all of that right, many popular cameras will do, you don't need a cine camera to look "cinematic". 

If you gave an arri to everyone on the planet, I can just about guarantee you would start seeing an influx of absolutely trash videos flooding youtube "shot on arri". 

Find a system you like working with and then learn how to work it. I can't stand GH5 footage but I know that some people can make that camera sing.  Sony is more my speed and I think I can make it look pretty great, but I've seen so much trash on YT shot on the A7 line it makes me cringe.

The camera is just one link in the chain, and in this day and age if you can't make any of the low/mid tier offerings shine, a new camera is not going to help you.

Currently it's hard to argue against the A7SIII.  Still a few knocks against the camera, but the current "best compromise". The resolution is a bit lacking, the noise and noise reduction is very aggressive, and the color profiles still lack a good "neutral" base (referring to custom picture profiles with rec709 curves).  But you get unlimited recording, full frame, amazing AF, and IMO very workable files if you know how to finesse them. If you don't need AF, I would look at the Black Magic Ursa Mini G2 or the 12K. Color on those is dope, plus braw... the only thing that holds them back from mass market appeal is the AF and consumer polish, so if you don't care about that then why wouldn't you go black magic (besides the weak IR filters). Next up would probably be the C70, features to cost is good, but AF coverage with the SB is poor.

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In my opinion, look at the other subject matter in this forum and other forums -> see where the industry is headed.

If I were you... I would go for the Panasonic S1H. 

I know the arguments about AF and lack of 4K/120fps.

But, if your impressed by Sony Venice and Red Cams <- remember they don't have proper AF either.

You can't argue with the higher Resolutions, Anamorphic Modes and its Netflix approved (this is actually the number 1 reason why I would recommend the S1H over the other cameras). Just so you know Netflix is planning on expanding on ABQ studios.... just saying... 

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If you get a a7siii, shoot on vintage or not too sharp lenses, and get the luts from https://www.joelfamularo.com/colour-a7s3  (or use the official SLOG type A lut from sony as a free alternative), it will be as cinematic as it can be. 

Modern lenses have way too much contrast, and cinema cameras tend to have stronger low pass filters than still cameras (the ones on RED cameras are extremely strong for exemple), the cinematic feel is all about softness and contrast in the shadow.

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You buy the camera you can afford. You buy the camera that is the right tool for the job. If it is really a serious question for you, then you rent all the cameras that you think you like and test them for your use cases. Maybe one camera has amazing image but a terrible workflow. Maybe another has a sweet workflow but falls on its ass in certain modes you like or need. Maybe one camera needs a crew to operate effectively.

If you are doing wedding, documentary, lower budget commercials, or events, and you are solo or small crew than any of the higher tier cameras from Sony or Canon you really can't go wrong with (FX6, A7SIII, C70). Rent those and see which one works best for you. They all have gotchas and trade-offs.

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2 hours ago, billdoubleu said:

You can watch "The Possession Of Hannah Grace" to get a good idea of what the Sony cameras are capable of in a film setting. The movie was shot with a handful of A7s II cameras kitted out with some pretty sweet lenses.

Same can be said about "Proud Mary", link below. Of course these are extreme examples, with multi-million dollar budgets that allow for big productions with very expensive lenses, rigs, lighting, crews, etc. Then you have access to the best coloring and grading in post. So while it's true that it can show what the Sony sensor can do, for people here, they won't be able to get there so easily. And that's when a larger camera like the FX6/FX9 will help, with more flexibility, more I/O, etc.

I think the key is to focus on flexibility when you are a one man band or a small crew. Which camera will offer you the most flexibility and make it easier to get the end results you seek. Yes they can all get there, but choose a realistic path (e.g. not the "Possession of Hannah Grace" or "Proud Mary" paths), and that will lead to the best camera choice for you personally.

https://britishcinematographer.co.uk/dan-laustsen-dff-asc-proud-mary/

 

 

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The A7s3 is probably one of the worst cameras out right now in terms of a cinematic feel. Due to the processing that can't be disabled it just feels less organic. This can easily be shown by seeing it side by side with the FX6 which has the same sensor but without the digital noise reduction and sharpening. 

In the cameras defense the rolling shutter performance in fantastic.

Rolling shutter, color and codec also play a part. 

I think the Pana S1H will give you a much more organic image though it suffers from much worse rolling shutter as well as no ALL-I high bitrate codecs. 

Something like a Z-cam will give you a very organic image though the rolling shutter isn't great, at least compared to a cinema camera. 

The RED Komodo is the best bang for your buck for a cinema camera look. I'd say the Canon C70 falls next to it. I might but the Pocket 6k next. The S1H isn't far behind if you can get past the rolling shutter and subpar high speed options. I think an of the URSA mini 4.6K cameras are also very organic looking with good rolling shutter performance compared to the Pocket cameras. 

I personally am happy with my Z-cam S6 and Panasonic S1. With Emotive Color's Arri LUT they look phenomenal. Any differences between them and say an Arri Classic are negated by how cheap and easier to use they are. 

I'd love a RED Komodo but I hate RED as a brand and I could have two S6's for the less than the price of one RED Komodo. The Pana S1 and Z-cam S6 are also much better at high ISO, which is more useful than rolling shutter. 

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2 hours ago, Mark Romero 2 said:

 

 

I saw this video yesterday and was thinking of it in terms of OP's issue of searching for a more "cinematic" feel for his footage. It definitely seems like Sony's super heavy noise reduction in Log and other baked-in picture profiles will take away fine detail and leave a less "cinematic" look than shooting raw and denoising in post. Sounds like the FX6 would be even better in this regard. Personally, if I was locked into the Sony ecosystem I'd go with the FX6. The digital VND is worth the extra cash, for me anyway, plus you have the XLRs and the all of the buttons of a pro camcorder. Too bad the FX6's touch screen functionality seems way behind what we get from hybrid cameras.

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12 hours ago, TomTheDP said:

The A7s3 is probably one of the worst cameras out right now in terms of a cinematic feel. Due to the processing that can't be disabled it just feels less organic. This can easily be shown by seeing it side by side with the FX6 which has the same sensor but without the digital noise reduction and sharpening. 

Agreed.

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5 hours ago, kye said:

I'm going to disagree with all the sentiments in this thread and recommend something different.

While I agree with the sentiment of your post, it's important to point out that higher end cameras don't mess with the signal as much as consumer cameras do. Stuff like NR, sharpening, etc. Some that cannot be turned off, even when shooting "RAW". And this can be very important, as that determines your starting point.

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Thanks for the responses so far everyone!

Excuse the brevity for now... A more proper reply after a very busy pre-holiday week

Indeed as some have pointed out, "cinematic" is an overdetermined word -- asked to mean many different things. However, I do not believe that also renders it meaningless. And I understand very well that the camera is one tool in the kit that produces the image that ultimately lands on a screen. And that there is much that I still have to learn about each and every tool in that kit.

It's exciting to see these tips for addressing the Sony a7S III's video-y character -- thanks and keep 'em coming!

To clarify a few things: I personally do a wide variety of things, but all on the art side, i.e. nothing commercial. The last few years I've owned (simultaneously) and used GH5, Sony a7S II, and Fuji XT-3. I have only native lenses for each of those cameras, about 3 for each. It should be apparent then that I never find a single camera that really meets every occasion. ...despite the fact that working w/ multiple systems is a pain and obviously more expensive that sticking with one.

I am usually a one-human band often traveling for projects, but I anticipate working more with others in the next year (as I did on my most recently directed project where there was a dedicated DP, and we were shooting with a Venice, for ex). Since no camera can really check all the boxes... It makes me think, this is still the place where I land -- unable to live a single camera life.

So I ponder, for example the fact that for the cost of just the Canon C70 it is possible to get a Sony a7S III and a BMPCC 6k, which seems more interesting and versatile than just the Canon C70 or just the FX6 or just the RED Komodo.

I'm going to also ponder the Panasonic S1H further, but since I don't have any lenses it would probably have to be a one camera solution. So I have to think if I can accept the compromises.

Yes, I do like the smaller cameras... Ursa mini is not really mini enough for me.

Will return to the consumer calculous in the weekend... and thanks again for the thoughts!

 

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It really depends on what you will be shooting. You haven't said. Personal stuff? Commercial work? If so, what kind? Narrative, corporate, documentary, etc? That will determine what you should get. While I like the BMPCC 6K's image, I would never use it on a corporate shoot for example. For narrative projects, perhaps (again depends on the project). Same with the RED Komodo. For doc and corporate shoots, I would use Sony or Canon as they are more robust and reliable. I would always prefer to have two cameras instead of one, but I wouldn't mix brands, as matching them in post will be a nightmare. 

Budget is another thing to consider. What is your budget? For $10K, I would get a Sony FX6 and a Sony A7S3 for example. I think that's a great combo for many types of shooting scenarios. Both are full frame, easy to match, etc. 

My 2 cents with the little info you provided.

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8 hours ago, kye said:

I'm going to disagree with all the sentiments in this thread and recommend something different.

Go rent an Alexa.

For practical purposes, maybe an Alexa Mini.  Talk to your local rental houses and see if there's a timeframe you can rent one and get a big discount, often rental houses are happy to give you a discount if you're renting it when the camera wouldn't be rented by anyone else so have a chat with them.

Shoot with it a lot.  Shoot as much as you can and in as many situations as you can.  Just get one lens with it then take it out and shoot.   Shoot in the various modes it has, shoot into the sun and away from it.  Shoot indoors.  Shoot high-key and shoot low key. 

Then take the camera back and grade the footage.

I suspect you won't do this.  It's expensive and a cinema camera like an Alexa is a PITA unless you have used one before.  So I'll skip to the end with what I think you'll find.  The footage won't look great.  The footage will remind you of footage from lesser cameras.  You will wonder what happened and if you're processing the footage correctly.  

I have never shot with an Alexa, but I am told by many pros that if you don't know what you're doing, Alexa footage will look just as much like a home video as from almost any other camera.

Cinematic is a word that doesn't even really have any meaning in this context.  It really just means 'of the cinema' and there's probably been enough films shot and shown in cinemas on iPhones that now an iPhone technically qualifies as being 'cinematic'.  Yes, i'm being slightly tongue-in-cheek here, but the point remains that the word doesn't have any useful meaning here.  Yes, images that are shown in the cinema typically look spectacular.  Most of this is location choice, set design, hair, costume, makeup, lighting, haze, blocking, and the many other things that go into creating the light that goes through the lens and into the camera.

That doesn't mean that the camera doesn't matter.  We all have tastes, looks we like and looks we don't, it's just that the word 'cinematic' is about as useful as the word 'lovely' - we all know it when we see it but we don't all agree on when that is.

By far the more useful is to work out what aspects of image quality you are looking for:

  • Do you like the look of film?  If so, which film stocks?
  • What resolution?  Some people suggest that 1080p is the most cinematic, whereas some argue that film was much higher resolution than 4K or even 8K. 
  • What about colour?  The Alexa has spectacular colour, so does RED.  But neither one will give you good colour easily, and neither will give you great colour - great colour requires great production design, great lighting, great camera colour science, and great colour grading.  By the way - Canon also has great colour, so does Nikon, and other brands too.  You don't hear photographers wishing their 5D or D800 had colour science like in the movies.
  • What lenses do you like?  Sharp?  Softer?  High-contrast?  Low contrast?  What about chromatic aberation?  and what about the corners - do you like a bit of vignetting or softness or field curvature?  Bokeh shape?  dare I mention anamorphics?

But there is an alternative - it doesn't require learning what you like and how to get it, it doesn't require the careful weighting of priorities, and it's a safer option.  Buy an ARRI Alexa LF and full set of Zeiss Master Primes.  That way you will know that you have the most cinematic camera money can buy, and no-one would argue based on their preferences.

You still wouldn't get the images you're after because the cinematic look requires an enormous team and hundreds of thousands of dollars (think about it - why would people pay for these things if they could get those images without all these people?) but there will be no doubt that you have the most cinematic camera that money can buy.

I'd suggest Panavision, but they're the best cameras that money can't buy.

+1

 

for me it was Kodak #7203..Wow!

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On 12/15/2020 at 12:53 PM, EphraimP said:

I'd bet it would help folks give you feedback if you went into a bit more about the "look and feel" of the image from these cameras that seems different to you than that coming from hybrids that you've used. Is it the depth of field, the color gamma or gamut, the flexibility of working with their files in post, a mystical "cinematic" green tint to the images? 

Or it might be none of those, and it might be because he was looking at images created by highly skilled and experienced DoPs, supported by an entire crew who are also highly skilled and experienced. And it is that which is creating the "cinematic look & feel" that @bonesandskin speaks of. 

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16 hours ago, bonesandskin said:

Yes, I do like the smaller cameras... Ursa mini is not really mini enough for me.

You're not the only one who wishes there was an URSA Micro Pro released by BMD!

  

23 hours ago, kye said:

I'm going to disagree with all the sentiments in this thread and recommend something different.

Go rent an Alexa.

I'd agree. Even an ARRI Alexas Classic, that's not a bad idea. As then you've got a baseline to compare yourself (and your cameras) against. 

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