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The headlining video for this page runs 1¾ hours. It is the most comprehensive guide to the Sony a7R III menus available anywhere. For your convenience, the below interactive guide breaks this video down into organized sections, taking you directly to a discrete explanation of whatever menu page you’re interested in. Just click it, and a video will play back with a detailed explanation. Use the top index to skip around between menu tabs and pages.
I got inspired to throw this together after creating a menu guide for the Sony RX0 recently. Now, after lessons learned from an ongoing trans-media creative project of mine (www.95thesesfilm.com/concordance), combined with a full test run using the Sony a7R III to create www.scroogeopera.com last month, I’ve combined sample footage from that project with observations about this camera (triggered by explaining its menus), resulting in a hybrid resource of: product tutorial, review, and footage samples.
SONY a7R III MENU INDEX
TAB 1/PAGE 1 — manual and automatic selection between full-frame mode, versus APS-C/Super 35mm “crop” mode:
TAB 1/PAGE 2 — on leaving things alone at the acquisition stage:
TAB 1/PAGE 3 — dual memory card slots:
TAB 1/PAGE 4 — (not relevant):
TAB 1/PAGE 5 — auto-focus modes:
TAB 1/PAGE 6 — auto-focus face priority:
TAB 1/PAGE 7 — (not relevant):
TAB 1/PAGE 8 — (not relevant):
TAB 1/PAGE 9 — ISO/gain, arbitrary minimum ISO in S-Log:
TAB 1/PAGE 10 — (not relevant):
TAB 1/PAGE 11 — (not relevant):
TAB 1/PAGE 12 — white balance, picture profiles/S-Log:
TAB 1/PAGE 13 — peaking:
TAB 1/PAGE 14 — (not relevant):
TAB 2/PAGE 1 — movie file formats, fast-slow motion, proxy recording:
TAB 2/PAGE 2 — auto-focus responsiveness, audio recording:
TAB 2/PAGE 3 — wind noise reduction, display markers:
TAB 2/PAGE 4 — accommodating non-native manual lenses, image stabilization:
TAB 2/PAGE 5 — zoom and ClearImage Zoom:
TAB 2/PAGE 6 — on-screen display, zebras, rule-of-thirds grid line:
TAB 2/PAGE 7 — (not relevant):
TAB 2/PAGE 8 — custom keys and menus (and avoiding the temptation to over-customize):
TAB 2/PAGE 9 — turning off the beeps:
TAB 3 — viewing/controlling from smartphone or tablet, absence of applets:
TAB 4 — playback:
TAB 5/PAGE 1 — gamma display assist:
TAB 5/PAGE 2 — overheating, world camera, cleaning the sensor:
TAB 5/PAGE 3 — touchscreen, say-no-to-timecode, wired remote control:
TAB 5/PAGE 4 — HDMI, USB options, tethering:
TAB 5/PAGE 5 — file naming:
TAB 5/PAGE 6 — redundant versus overflow usage of two memory card slots:
TAB 5/PAGE 7 — firmware version, both camera and lens:
TAB 6 — on being your own star:
The Sony a7R III is available via B&H for under $3.2k by clicking here. I hope this resource helped! Please share it with other Sony a7R III users.
There’s a durable adage that won’t ever go away, no matter what the future brings: “Your best camera is the one you’ve got with you.”
Buried in this week’s hysterical attention to Sony’s new a7R III cash cow — offering a tiny bump up from their already overpriced and mediocre a7R II — this sad little RX0 is having a hard time. So I thought I’d send the little thing some love with this thorough review, combined with test footage and comparisons, plus a guide to its menus. That video is embedded into this post from YouTube. (Sorry for the crap audio in the menu guide — never again!)
Complementing what’s said in the video, this post adds a few still pictures for further study, and written reflections. But let’s start out quickly summarizing the pros and cons of the Sony RX0:
- Freaking small – as in, ice cube (and just as waterproof)
- 1-inch sensor at ~3x crop, with mediocre light sensitivity (but much smaller than even APS-C/Super 35mm)
- Better glass and narrower angle than any action cam by GoPro, etc. (say goodbye to fisheye)
- Microphone jack with manual audio level control
- S-Log2 S-Gamut picture profile
- Clean UHD-4k output without pixel-binning/downscaling artifacts
- $698 is cheap: reasonable folks can disagree, but Sony packed a lot of value into this tiny thing
- 1080p-only internal downsampled recording, with severe aliasing
- Log profile requires minimum 1600 ISO gain, resulting in noisy image always at this sensor size
- Laughable $150 ND filter adapter option (for solving the fixed f/4.0 aperture problem)
- No optical (or even digital) image stabilization
Something I note in the video is that one key appeal of this product — like the affordable/modest/covert older siblings A6300 and A6500 — is its incorporation of a log picture profile. While Sony curiously leaves out its beleaguered S-Log3 here (lots of shooters actually prefer S-Log2 out of fear when seeing noise before REC.709 conversion), still, having S-Log2 in this tiny little box makes it a candidate for blending with footage from really any other professional cinema camera. That’s one of the great leveling virtues of log color: you stand a much better chance at being able to grade footage together from different cameras, especially when they’re from the same manufacturer. In the case of Sony, we’re talking about some of the worst color science in the industry, but what’s new? I make do with these compromises, and my a7S II has lately been my A-camera, until stubborn Sony finally puts that full-frame sensor into a proper cinema camera body without charging Venetian fortunes that are totally irrelevant to the vast majority of creators.
Problem is, like all other Sony cameras, S-Log2 starts at a minimum ISO gain of 1600. Bear in mind, 1600 on an a7S II looks a helluva lot different than on an RX0, because of the light-gathering capability of a full-frame sensor versus this tiny 1-inch sensor. Even though the RX0’s sensor size is a big selling point (and still bigger than legacy 2/3″ camcorder sensors), it’s laughably tiny compared to full-frame, or Super 35mm/APS-C, or even Micro Four Thirds…and that has the word “micro” in it! The result is, you get lots and lots of ugly digital noise at 1600 ISO. And since it only gets worse from there, S-Log on the RX0 is something of a catch-22.
I’ll still use only S-Log 2 in video mode, for matching the footage with other log shooters, but I anticipate lots of care exposing as best as possible, applying Denoiser plug-ins in post, and using ND filters.
Or maybe not that last part. Because Sony (typically and hilariously) charges a greedy, offensive $150 for this simple doodad that provides one single function that should cost ten or twenty bucks. Yet you need ND, badly. My video tests were toward the end of the day, under partly cloudy skies, in order to use S-Log2 without blowing out highlights at ISO 1600. To repeat from the Cons, you can’t control “aperture” on this thing because there isn’t one: just a fixed equivalent to f/4.0. And for anyone serious about making movies, ultra-high shutter speeds, to compensate for that, are not an option (though that won’t stop the majority of RX0 shooters from posting horrible-looking clips with strobe-y motion, just like GoPros).
But let’s say that you land right into that comfy spot of ideal lighting conditions, and want to shoot video. Ultimately, this thing delivers surprisingly well. Internal 1080p is exceptionally good, with one caveat common to such radically downsampling sensors: lots of aliasing/moiré. You’ll see that in particular at 7:06 in my video (the link goes straight to that timecode), when you focus yourself on the lines of the wall in the subway station. In the old days — e.g., Canon 5D Mark II — the solution was to avoid any wide shots with little patterns and lines, so you could consider this a vintage shooting limitation of the RX0.
Yet there’s one glorious way around the downsampling problem, and that is to … not downsample! The RX0’s HDMI port offers clean UHD-4k output without pixel binning, and in my video, you’ll see it looks spectacular. Add to that, you gain 4:2:2 color into any compatible recorder, such as the Atomos Shogun I used. I note that the usual self-proclaimed “pros” have comically whined about how nobody would possibly ever want to use the RX0 in tandem with a 4k recorder. Nonsense. I’m keeping this thing in my bag alongside bigger, more “professional” gear when I need another angle, either handing it over to a friend, or mounting it inconspicuously at a location otherwise inaccessible. I can run a long HDMI cable to the (extra) Shogun that I’m not using for anything else, or leave the Shogun hidden nearby. I can remotely control it all from my PlayMemories app on a tablet or smartphone, from my A-camera location. Besides all that, I can pocket the RX0 with me wherever I go, equipped to capture something unexpected with reasonably alright 1080p. So yeah, the Sony RX0 doesn’t somehow turn you into an amateur. It’s what you do with it that matters.
Speaking of which, still photography: while the gap is narrowing between dedicated cameras and smartphone cameras, this thing will still take a better picture than the best smartphone camera today. Here is a gallery of samples, unaltered, straight from the camera (click to enlarge):
But Sony notoriously skimps on optical image stabilization, especially when they slap that Zeiss label onto products (which is really just buying a license to use the Zeiss tradename). So while plenty of light buys you a high shutter speed, when things get darker, it’s nearly impossible to get a clear shot as the shutter speed dives down to compensate (or you pump up the noise with ISO gain). Thus in the last of these five samples, the blur was basically unavoidable. But the word “spycam” comes to mind, and the rather audacious notion — perhaps true — that this is the best camera in the world at such a miniature cube size. Nothing else comes close. That’s something.
What’s really going to save your video footage is proper stabilization, ultimately, while respecting the compromises of what you can shoot, and what you can’t. You’ll be avoiding aliasing when you compose your shots, you’ll be adjusting your shutter speed if you absolutely must (avoiding fast motion), and you’ll be locking this thing down on sticks. I spent ten bucks on this Manfrotto “Pocket Support” making sure I never have the excuse that I left my tripod at home: now it’s bolted 24/7 onto the RX0.
Is this Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera-level revolutionary? Sorta! Certainly, this reminds me how long it’s been since Blackmagic changed the world that way, and credit to Sony for taking the risk. Highly recommended.
Independent filmmakers often neglect to remember that our vast majority of time isn’t spent on set, behind cameras, and working with people. Instead, we’re sitting in front of computers for the longest stretches of time: video editing, marketing/promotion, correspondence, and tons more. If there’s anything to make that experience less painful and more productive, it may actually amount to an investment in creative filmmaking.
For video editing, the most important hardware control you can add to Premiere, Avid, Final Cut, Vegas, DaVinci, etc. is a shuttle dial with customizable buttons. The best and most affordable on the market are from Contour Design, and I reviewed their ShuttlePRO v2 here a few months ago, now pictured above paired with their innovative mouse alternative called RollerMouse.
The creators of this product, Contour Design, are offering readers here an exclusive 20% discount off any purchase from their webstore using coupon code FP20 at: www.contourdesign.com/store
It’s not just about medical ergonomics, but speed and productivity too: we ought to move our hands around as little as possible. When you think of any workstation, the default posture/hand position is this: keyboard at the middle; mouse to the right; our left and right hands on the keyboard; and if you’ve got a shuttle dial, it’s over to the left. RollerMouse begins with the idea that maybe you can keep your hands at the keyboard, without needing to move over to the mouse.
Does it work? Depends! Like anything in life, you can’t go wrong having more options, tailored to the task. After giving RollerMouse an earnest try over the past few months, for me, it’s a work-in-progress.
Let’s start with the nuts and bolts: you’ll see in the picture at left how there’s a horizontal bar positioned just above the pleather wrist rest of the RollerMouse. When you move that grippy rubber sleeve on the bar left and right, it moves your pointer left and right; and when you rotate it up or down (sort of like a gigantic, clickless scroll wheel on a mouse), it moves your pointer up and down. When you tap down on the whole bar, you get a left-click. It all feels really weird at first.
Before exploring the rest, let’s get real: this is a wrist rest on steroids. But that feature can’t be overlooked. As an aside, one pet peeve of mine (and bewilderment at the accessories market) is how there are almost no good keyboard wrist rests. About a decade ago, Microsoft was really nailing it with their Comfort line of keyboards that had integrated wrist pads, with just the right balance between cushiony pleather texture, and rigid support. Today, we either get firm plastic pads (e.g., the one that came with my pictured Corsair K70), or smushy memory gel accessories to slip under our keyboards. But when this RollerMouse arrived, my years-long quest ended. This is the mother of all keyboard wrist rests, striking just the right balance.
Below the RollerMouse bar is an array of buttons that go beyond the usual left-click/right-click paradigm of a mouse. Although the big left button does perform a left-click, and the big right button a right-click, the middle one sends a double-click with one tap. And the two slim ones above these big ones: they copy and paste in one click. I think the idea here is, since your fingers won’t be perfectly positioned to hit them up, as they would be at a dedicated mouse, this is a necessary compromise to add buttons that require less strain. It’s all factored into the benefit that you’ll be able to keep your hands at the keyboard, away from the mouse…but not always.
The truth is, I’m still stuck in my old ways and struggling to find middle ground. We start from a good place, though: besides the financial investment, you’d have nothing to lose by having it there: to my surprise, I’ve never once gotten any accidental cursor movement or pointer click during normal keyboard usage because of the RollerMouse — and it operates simultaneously with your mouse. You won’t be getting rid of your mouse. There are some things you can do better and more precisely that old(ish) fashioned way. There is definitely something more tactile about pushing down on a mouse button, with force, and dragging something into a precise spot applying pressure (and relative movement). This capability isn’t lacking on the RollerMouse, it’s just less of a thing. So, taking one Adobe Premiere task as an example, I’ll prefer a mouse if I’m dragging the handles on an image resizing operation, to get the precise alignment inside a video frame where one bleeding pixel can ruin a shot. But, to quickly move my cursor to another panel where I know I’ll be using my keyboard next, I’m better off keeping my hands at the keyboard and using the RollerMouse.
Ever heard of the Kuleshov Effect? I was teaching it to my film school students a couple of weeks ago, as an editing principle from early film theory: that the meaning of something changes based on what you see before it, and after it. And I really think of the RollerMouse that way: if you’ve got a pointer operation consecutive with using the keys on your keyboard, you’re probably better off using the RollerMouse. But if you’ve got lots of pointer-focused clicking to do in sequence, and with precision, that trip over to your mouse is worth it.
Even so, the RollerMouse gives you a few extra features to get you closer to mouse simulation. In the close-up picture at right, you’ll see how the cursor speed (“sensitivity”) can be adjusted in five steps. So, if you want to keep at your RollerMouse but perform that precise movement I was writing about earlier, this helps. In fact, it’s actually found on some mice, too: my Corsair Raptor M45 has it, too, with three levels of sensitivity that can be moved up or down using a toggle just under the scroll wheel.
Speaking of scroll wheels, the RollerMouse has that also, pictured at right. Notably, it doesn’t have a notched travel to it, like most mice, but it doesn’t freely fly either. I might have preferred that mouse norm of clunking up and down in clear bumps, but then again, now I have a choice between the two types of scroll action, between the RollerMouse and mouse.
The truth is, video editors aren’t the primary market for Contour Design when it comes to this RollerMouse, even though they own the market for jog shuttles. Naturally, word processing benefits the most from keeping hands nearest the keys. And those rainbow-colored keyboards for Avid editors of yore simply aren’t a ubiquitous reality anymore: we’ve moved on from that, and video editing today is fundamentally a mouse-based practice. Sorry, Walter Murch.
In a perfect world, there would be a background task (like the Contour Shuttle Device Configuration tool tray item) letting us customize the RollerMouse within Premiere, for example: since I’m constantly scrolling left and right on my timeline, it would be killer to have a mode on the RollerMouse where the bar’s horizontally-focused action only controls the timeline/time marker location, and the matrix of five buttons also could map to Premiere shortcuts.
But just as it is, the RollerMouse doesn’t require configuration or drivers: you hook it up via USB, and you’re ready to roll. It’s solidly constructed, with a metal base as seen at left, grippy feet, and great customer support. The killer question for you is its value for the dollar: at pricing that ranges from $200 to almost $300, it’s a big investment if you’re not sure. Contour Design does have a generous try-out policy, while another thing to consider will take us back to the start of this review: if we spend the majority of our time, even as artists, sitting in front of a computer, even this small impact on ergonomics and productivity can add a priceless benefit over the long term. I’m sold.
Keep an eye out next for their brand new product that brings everything full-circle, the Unimouse. I’ll try it and test here soon.
It’s a well-traveled theme that the worlds of still photography, and filmmaking/videography, are converging. Another way to say this is: the same cameras that snap still pictures are also shooting cinematic videos, and professionals who used to do just one thing, are expected to do both. And something else: cameras keep getting smaller — just one effect of becoming a “mirrorless camera.” That means there’s no optical prism at the top of the body, to bend light through-the-lens, for delivery to an optical viewfinder. We’ve gone all-digital, and smaller, and there’s no turning back. Even for my highest-quality video work, I still find myself stuck in the miniature mirrorless world (something I complained about recently), since the relatively tiny Sony a7S II remains the only attainable and credible full-frame video image capture device.
This article is the result of thinking hard about how our traditional way to keep shots steady — using a tripod (“sticks”) and an attached video head — has been slow to keep up with these new realities, especially with so much of the load being carried by ubiquitous ultra-portable 3-axis gimbal stabilizers. So I’ve spent a lot of time evaluating gear, and shooting numerous pictures here, to draw some conclusions. Hope they’re helpful.
IDENTIFYING THE PROBLEM
Good video tripod systems have always been oriented “long-wise” because camcorders are longer than they are wide. Of course, the so-called “digital SLR” is just the opposite: wider than long (and much smaller). Everything starts from what you screw into your camera, and since we all go back-and-forth between staying locked down on sticks, and moving around (or packing up), the “quick-release” plate is everything. For video, there’s a leader in the field: Manfrotto’s 501 and 701 standard. As seen here, clearly it’s designed for that old paradigm of longer-than-wide camcorders, and when you screw it into a typical digital camera, it’s doing everything wrong. It’s hanging out the back and it’s bumping up against the lens out front. That front overhang often interferes badly with the ability to make manual lens adjustments (iris, focus) and sometimes even totally prevents the attachment of any lens with a large diameter. There’s got to be a better way.
Arca Swiss has managed to become a better-suited runner-up, but it’s still just a little too big, less firm — and there are too many off-spec variants to make it ideal and reliable. That’s why I found the below surprise from the photography world to be so promising: here’s a picture of a plate that really does fit within the dimensions of a mirrorless camera’s underbelly.
KPS makes ball heads that mostly service the needs of high-end still photographers, who want durability and precision, while adding a “GimBall” feature that’s easily confused with “Steadicam” gimbal stabilizers. This use of the term gimbal refers to the multi-axis ability to freely orient a camera on a heavy-duty ball with adjustable, smooth tension, while also being able to lock down an axis so that the motion only happens along one axis.
To accomplish this, there are pins removable from in-housing storage as seen in the pictures below which insert through the ball, along an axis, and into the other side of the housing, thumb-screwed in. Although it’s not physically a true fluid head, for video movement it’s surprisingly smooth — and despite being a ball head, it becomes a way to simulate a typical video tripod head that lets you tilt up-and-down without losing your level horizon, while also giving you a reasonably fluid left-and-right panning capability (note the measurements at the base of the head, and the smaller knob that controls tension). This is something that a typical photography ball head can’t do.
And while it qualifies as a competent smooth video head (and even has available an optional video panning extension arm), the big appeal to me is that tiny mounting plate, which keeps a small profile suited for my mirrorless cameras like the a7S II and GH4. Size isn’t everything when it comes to strength: as seen in the further pictures below, its grip from both sides is extremely solid, as its clever design pinches using the very solid large lever you see, with a half-twist pin that locks the “vice grip” into position. You can also see that the grip tension is fully adjustable, while I found that it thankfully didn’t drift over time and the strength stayed calibrated.
In this last set of pictures, you can see how there are handy bubble levels for X- and Y-axis precision. Having them next to each other, located central to the mounting point itself, is an essential tool that surprisingly doesn’t show up on most tripod heads, even though it becomes critically important as soon as you start panning around, trying to keep your horizon level. This also becomes important for video moves beyond a typical static set of tripod sticks, where tripod heads are lately also used for other kinds of stabilizers like sliders and jibs. It’s far from ideal to put a typical (and large) video tripod head onto a slider — or onto a Glidearm as pictured here, which is the next evolution in slider technology (my review coming soon) — and although the KPS isn’t the lightest and smallest you can mount, it strikes a right balance, and importantly doesn’t have a big affixed extension arm sticking out, getting in the way of moves and throwing-off balance.
As a specialty item, the KPS GimBall heads aren’t cheap — this version, the G5, costs $300 — but like home audio speakers, a solid bicycle, and stuff like that, this is not a technology that changes every week, so investing in a good solution that lasts many years is part of the long game. KPS products are sold exclusively in the United States through LegioPhoto.com, a veteran-owned family business with great customer service.
BUT THERE’S ALWAYS MANFROTTO
The goal is to keep everything as portable as possible, staying true to the nature of mirrorless cameras (and hoping to be able to throw everything into a single backpack). The evolution of ball heads for video use, like the KPS GimBalls, has become a new favorite, but there are still applications where I need a video-purposed tripod system, with interchangeability of those misshaped universal Manfrotto plates, and traditional panning/tilting capability with a long extension arms to make the smoothest moves. In that case, it’s come down to two options for me.
What I’ve been using for years still holds the crown: Manfrotto’s reigning best video head is by far is their MVH500AH, pictured up top attached to a four-segment carbon fiber tripod (that Vanguard sadly stopped making and never replaced). The whole thing just barely fits inside a photography backpack, without having to be strapped onto the outside like anything else on the market, yet it behaves like a truly high-end professional tripod system. I also really love its innovative quick-release solution of flipping a latch, as pictured below, to tilt in and lock down the plate. Strangely, Manfrotto stopped including that feature on newer models, but it’s a huge time-saver (and avoids the curse of protrusions getting in the way of slide-in-plate heads). Three further pictures below show how my a7S II is a good match for the Manfrotto, and can slide forward and backward to adjust the center of gravity — with a long lens, that’s admittedly something a ball head can’t do.
But what about that other tripod seen above, just a little smaller than the Vanguard/Manfrotto combo? That’s Manfrotto’s newest “travel” tripod, in their BeFree product line (that never used to contend with serious work). This new BeFree Live Fluid Video Kit comes closest to balancing all these compromises. It’s got aluminum legs that are less rigid, and heavier, than carbon fiber sticks, but it incorporates the very rare feature of a different kind of “ball head,” seen at left, which is really just a way to slightly adjust the plane of the platform for the principal screw-in head. This is a common feature on gigantically heavy and high-priced tripods (e.g., Sachtler’s bowls), and avoids the awful practice of having to repeatedly adjust the length of each tripod leg until you think you’ve got it level on the horizon.
Speaking of legs, my one big complaint about the BeFree Live is the way that its protracted legs — normally folded up against the head — get locked into position after folding out below. Those gray twist-knobs you see at right are cheap-plastic, light-feeling and very loose: they are meant to solidly put the legs into three states — protracted up into storage, normally spread out below, or widely spread out below for low shots. In each position, the knobs struggle to find their respective notches, and the way that they’re molded for human hands is even worse than primitive screw wingnuts from a hardware store — hard to grip and keep a hold on. What were they thinking?
As for the head, as seen below it uses the standard 501/701 Manfrotto plate, which looks comically outsized on such a petite product, but it holds tight. The fluid action is mediocre, but an adequate trade-off for its size. Ultimately it performs poorer than my above preferred kit that’s only a little bigger, but the BeFree Live is also economical at just over $200, so there’s that.
MINI LIGHT STAND: SERIOUSLY?
But what if you need to go even smaller, and pack even lighter? For those emergency situations (or vacationing at peace without any argument about lugging around too much gear!), consider the further size difference between the petite BeFree Live kit, and this tiny Manfrotto stand that’s actually designed for small lights.
There’s less hope mounting a traditional video pan head onto that little thing; but as seen at right, this circles back to the KPS which locates all of its weight close to the center of gravity, making it reasonable paired with the tiny light stand to suffice for an ultra-portable quick setup (taking care not to let it knock over with such a small footprint). I also use this configuration to lock down a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera or GH4 that won’t be attended anyway during multi-camera shoots, and just needs to sit still pointing at something.
MANIC PIXI EVO DREAM GIRL
Finally, for something literally pocketable, there’s this little thing with the quirky name Pixi Evo. It hits all the right notes, with a quick-thumbscrew mounting platform attached to a ball head, and legs that not only telescope out into a further segment, but also have two spread settings for versatility (and heavier cameras). Naturally, you can’t pull off any motion with this thing, but something’s better than nothing. An extra bonus use for the Manic Pixi Evo Dream Girl is to be a single-grip handle when you don’t have a Steadicam-type device handy, and are — heaven forbid — walking around vlogging yourself. But please don’t.
Sony proclaims that they are all-in for full-frame cinematography (e.g., the video heading up this post). But what Sony needs to do first (and should have done last year), couldn’t be simpler. They almost nailed it with their NEX-VG900, putting a full-frame sensor in the proven/award-winning/ergonomically fantastic VG-series camcorder body. But the VG900 was barely too early for the market, and it aliased like a 5D Mark II. The sensor wasn’t purpose-built for video. Yet, how easily folks have forgotten that the NEX-VG10 was absolutely revolutionary when it arrived! Just speaking for myself, it was my entry point into filmmaking, and around it, I built my first camera user group that eventually became this community.
Sony’s auto-pilot, pernicious behavior is to fiercely defend its professional camcorders that are at the highest profit margins, amounting to impossible options for independent filmmakers, and what they’re cooking up next will be no exception to that corporate universe. Yet their debacle of overheating in the a7 series, and obvious dissatisfaction from creatives who want bare-minimum-quality audio inputs, manual controls, etc., is easily and quickly addressed by simply putting the a7S II sensor into the VG form factor. They can (and need to) do this without charging much more than a grand as a premium, on top of what the a7S II costs. Even that is a largely artificial expense. Sony doesn’t know how to read supply-and-demand curves. An a7S II sensor in an affordable VG camcorder body would sell extremely well.
It will take some thinking outside the box, ruffling old-world hierarchical feathers overseas, but it needs to be done. Think of how Blackmagic upended the camcorder world, with the aim to democratize technology instead of penny-pinching that’s practiced by protectionist mid-level accountants from Ivy League schools of theory. The best technology evolutions are always bottom-up, not top-down. Time for Sony to wake up.
This is my first test of the new Garmin VIRB 360 Camera. So far, it ain’t goin’ well! The product is fresh from the factory, and I checked its lenses that are spotless/never touched, but these chromatic aberrations and overall foggy smudginess around the highlights are a big problem.
Aiming to push the camera to its maximum specs, I used the so-called “RAW” mode that doesn’t stitch in-camera. I also selected the Neutral color profile, to protect the highlights and accommodate later color grading. The reported ISO of the clip was quite low in this environment (a little over 100), but the digital noise and compression artifacts make the high resolution of this product (its best feature) almost meaningless.
Because the device is incapable of stitching its peak 5.7k resolution in-camera, and because Garmin provides no solution for dealing with that footage (Garmin’s VIRB Edit software fails to mention anything about this), I needed to use Autopano Video for manual stitching. Weirdly, although that program’s Fisheye Lens stitching parameter worked surprisingly well, this camera’s metadata reporting a 6mm focal length actually performed poorly: Autopano Video only stitched accurately after manual entry of 8mm; and then, all that was left was to level the horizon (easy).
Because Adobe Premiere is still in the stone ages when it comes to VR, there is no possible way to export 360-degree equirectangular videos at any higher resolution than 4k in H.264. Thus I could not do any editing to the clips and needed to export them straight from Autopano Video into ProRes format at the full 5760 x 2880 resolution that you are able to see here at this clip via YouTube. (The official H.264 spec is ultra-conservative, and Adobe obeys it, by preventing any exports beyond 4k, even though outside conversion — with further generational loss — is possible using other less conservative encoders like FFMPEG, which is itself a non-GUI command line dinosaur.)
I also ran a test using the in-camera stitching at the slightly lower 4k resolution (standard ultra-HD at 3840 x 2160 resolution). Embedded below (uploaded straight from the camera file, without any further encoding), it doesn’t look much better, further proving that the resolution gain of 5.7k is dramatically offset by poor optical quality, from the lenses down to the sensor.
I’m losing interest fast in this once-promising new product, but a full review will get published eventually here via sister site www.VRcine.org. Now, all eyes are on the Yi Technology 360 camera, which I hope to receive soon…
Vimeo seems to be on a tear these days. They finally got their Android app up to snuff last year, and now they’ve added virtual reality (VR) capability to their platforms. Another way of looking at it is, they’ve finally caught up to YouTube. But here, I’ll make some distinctions and try to map out what we can expect from this exciting new feature.
Generally speaking, Vimeo wins filmmakers’ hearts in comparison to YouTube for a few reasons. First and most important, their video compression codecs are simply better. Naturally, in order to manage the upload traffic and storage at YouTube that’s orders of magnitude more than at Vimeo, YouTube videos simply look bad because they skimp on storage space. (Sidebar: it’s a well-known secret that if you render your footage into a 4k-UHD file, even if your target resolution or source camera resolution was 1080p, then when you upload it to YouTube, 1080p playback looks much, much better than if you just uploaded a 1080p file straight up.) Another gigantically better feature at Vimeo is the ability to upload a newer version of a video file at any time, without losing the original URL (i.e., without breaking the link that’s already disseminated onto the Interwebs), and also without losing the existing play counts/likes/analytics/SEO. At YouTube, even a tiny revision to your video makes you start from scratch. Lastly, the simple fact is, there are less trolls and negativity in comments at Vimeo. I don’t like politics, but can’t avoid noticing an irony: that the official color of YouTube is red, and the official color of Vimeo is blue…
I’m excited about Vimeo adding VR capability because it’s something I’m tiptoeing into. Problem is, the capture technology still stinks miserably. It’s something I wrote about extensively in an article here, Five Reality Checks on Virtual Reality (and introducing: VRcine). Please give it a look! You’ll see that I wrote it on the occasion of creating a new community here called VRcine: I felt like there was an unmet niche for reporting news, sharing samples and discussing VR from the perspective of cinematographers who are treating the new technology more as an art form than a marketing gizmo. You can sign up for the newsletter here, like the Facebook page here, follow on twitter @VRcine here — and starting today: join the Vimeo Group here.
Anyway, here’s how it works. I’ve uploaded a sample, which is so far my favorite VR video that I’ve created (a live performance by the Washington Bach Consort, conducted by my good friend J. Reilly Lewis who untimely passed away last June). Once you upload the file (up to 8k resolution), if it has metadata flagging the video as VR, Vimeo reads it and you’re mostly good to go. However, you could still output a video file without that metadata flag, and manually verify the right settings. It’s under the “Video file” sub-menu at any uploaded clip’s Settings. In the screen grab above, I’ve emphasized the spot where you can toggle-on 360, and also clarify whether it’s “Monoscopic” (i.e., 2D) or “Stereoscopic” (i.e., 3D). One thing I haven’t been able to test or verify — possibly troubling — is that the only stereoscopic option is “top/bottom layout.” The simple problem is that the majority of 3D VR clips are actually in a left/right layout. It remains to be seen whether this is a shortcoming that Vimeo plans to imminently address. I’ve asked them.
Did you notice the “Advanced 360 settings” link? It takes you to the above screen, where you can play back your uploaded clip and make adjustments to field of view and the pitch/yaw orientation. This is superior to YouTube’s platform. You can also see that, besides the Google Cardboard capability of using a headset and just turning your head (Oculus Rift and HTC Vive compatibility is coming soon), or clicking-and-dragging a mouse on the video frame to twirl around, you can also use your keyboard’s arrow keys.
One of my biggest complaints about Vimeo was that they resisted updating their Android app for over a year, and it was practically useless with bugs and feature deficiencies. (Their culture is clearly Apple-centric, built on the false and yet sorta true presumption that the creative world is all-Apple, even though smartphone penetration statistics show that iOS is a tiny minority of the world marketplace.) That said, Vimeo has virtuously added VR capability to their Android app in tandem with their iOS app. They don’t exactly deserve plaudits for being diligent that way, but it’s nice to see.
Isn’t this great? Congrats to the Vimeo team for getting it together. Now let’s all twirl and get motion sickness at better bitrates.
Blackmagic Design just introduced their new URSA Mini Pro, expected to become available on March 9 via this link in the United States, and/or this link in Europe. It combines their prior URSA Mini 4.6k with more broadcast camera features, and more manual controls. Here’s a summary of its key additions:
1. Three built-in ND filters
2. PL, B4, Canon EF and (coming soon) Nikon lens mounts
3. Physical on/off toggle switch
4. Auto white balance mode
5. Black-and-white LCD on side panel
6. Still frame capture and audio channels 3 and 4 functions coming after beta testing
7. Redundancy for many of the most important buttons
8. Both CFast and SD dual card slots (total of 4)
9. Costs $5,995 and is available now
10. URSA users can upgrade to this camera for $3,495
My initial thoughts: these days the trend is towards continuously adjustable electronic ND filters, but having at least three neutral density choices in this camera is a nice feature (and seems more reliable as a physical element). Apparently the Nikon mount will come mid-way into this year, but it’s an interesting new addition to the Blackmagic camera line-up to those who swear by that lens format which has direct aperture controls, and a flange distance that’s maximally compatible with other cameras.
I love the clever idea of adding an old-skool physical toggle switch for power! It’s true, especially as these cameras get more sophisticated, you don’t want to hold down buttons and wait to confirm that the power-up sequence is really happening: you just flip the URSA Mini Pro’s switch, go do other stuff, and rest assured it’s gonna get there!
That full-blown color LCD panel on the side of prior models always seemed like overkill (and sucking more battery life away, for minimal gains). A monochrome LCD panel, which also can be seen in more lighting conditions including bright sunlight, is a great design evolution. Back to the basics!
Adding two additional audio channels (3 and 4) will be a welcomed feature; not sure why they claim it needs “more beta testers,” but when it arrives, that will keep pace with the URSA Mini Pro’s competitors, including the Sony PXW-FS7 — while there’s a strong argument to be made that Blackmagic’s color science, and actual dynamic range in practice, are the best in the industry, especially better than Sony’s. Also, a still frame grab button feature they mentioned in association with the forthcoming 3rd and 4th audio channels will be nice too, but nothing you can’t simply do in post where you’re more likely to do it with one click.
Blackmagic seems to want to carve a niche for itself as making the most durable cameras, including an all-metal design, and I like the thought of making multiple buttons control a single feature, for purposes of redundancy just-in-case. This is the first time I’ve seen a manufacturer tout it as a feature, and literally deliver on it.
Because I’m a cheapskate and stubborn about adopting new standards when they’re unnecessary, perhaps the most exciting news (in comparison to the URSA Mini and URSA) is the addition of dual SD card slots, as an alternative to the still-bloated cost of using CFast cards (though they offer dual slots for that too). Blackmagic Design warns that you’ll need UHS-II speed ratings for SD cards, and 4K RAW won’t be possible onto SD cards, but (let’s be honest) most Blackmagic users in practice actually shoot in ProRes, so the cost (and storage) savings of now being able to use SD cards for 4K-UHD is killer.
I wasn’t an original URSA buyer, but it seems really generous to me that Blackmagic offers this new $5,995 camera to verifiable URSA owners for only $3,495. Blackmagic says that this camera is “available now” — a huge paradigm shift from prior behavior, when we waited for months! — and this B&H link says expected availability is March 9, so you can pre-order now to get it earliest; or maybe Adorama will deliver first; will see. (European customers can order from CVP.com at this link.)
Keep watching our Blackmagic Cinema Camera User Group on Facebook and on Twitter @bmccusers for more information as it arrives! Here’s the official page for the product at the manufacturer’s website. And here’s my gallery of pictures from their live presentation:
Welcome to your community. The most recent clips shared from this Vimeo User Group are below. But, got a minute? Please watch the first clip to see how this works. As it explains, you click the banner above, join the User Group with your Vimeo account, then check that box under Collections, on your own clips, to add them into a brief approval queue. Unlike other groups that let everything in from other cameras, I try to keep it real: so the only way into this stream (also on Facebook and Twitter) is to tag your videos with gh5.
FocusPulling is built on your contributions, so thanks for being a part of it. Meanwhile, this is a great way to get more exposure, increase your play counts, and see the work of your peers who are using the same gear.
Note: For technical reasons, I cannot find a way to show each contributor’s name here, but please click the Vimeo logo at the bottom-right of each
clip’s window, to leave comments and share the love at Vimeo.
Do you believe in karma? Not sure I do, but if you buy cameras from these links (or anything from the sidebar), it costs you nothing more — but keeps FocusPulling in-focus, and free. Aum.