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Sony Alpha A1 and the 24mm f1.4 GM lens.

Every January I run tours to northern Norway in the hope of seeing the Northern Lights. Over the years I have been incredibly lucky and to date, every single tour I have run has seen the Northern lights. I’ve taken all sorts of cameras on these tours, everything from optical disc camcorders (PDW-700), solid state camcorders including the original Sony EX1 and most of Sony’s large sensor video cameras from FS100 to the FX9.

All of these cameras are fairly bulky and require larger tripods and battery systems. In addition, I have always taken a stills camera to shoot timelapse of the Aurora. This year I decided to downsize the equipment I was taking, so instead of taking a full-size video camera I decided to take 2 small cameras.

I already have an FX3, which is a great camera and extremely good in low light. Being part of the Sony Cinema line, it has Sony’s very nice looking Venice based colour science as well, can shoot using S-Log3 as well as the handy what you see is what you get S-Cinetone gamma curve. I know this camera well and I knew it would be a good choice for the challenges I would encounter in Norway. To compliment the FX3 I also decided to take a Sony A1. The A1 (or Alpha 1) is Sony’s flagship compact mirrorless stills camera. As well as amazing photo performance the A1 also promises much as a video camera. It’s 50.1 megapixel sensor allows it to shoot high quality video at 8K. Like the FX3 the A1 can record using S-Log3 and offers similar dynamic range to the FX3.

Screenshot-2022-05-04-at-14.48.46-496x500 Sony Alpha A1 and the 24mm f1.4 GM lens.
Sony Alpha A1

Need for Speed – fast lenses.

For many years my main lens for shooting the Northern Lights has been the Sigma 20mm f1.4. This is a great lens, but it is quite heavy and I’ve never found the autofocus on this lens to be all that good. I already have Sony’s 20mm f1.8 and this is a great lens for the money. But for the Northern Lights you really want your lenses to be as fast as possible.So for this trip I decided to take Sony’s 24mm f1.4 GM lens to see how that performed.

24f1.4-600x411 Sony Alpha A1 and the 24mm f1.4 GM lens.
Sony 24mm f1.4 G Master lens – I really like this lens.

The other lens that I use extensively on trips like this is the much-underrated Sony 24-240mm zoom lens. This is a 10x zoom giving a huge range of focal lengths from pretty wide to nice and long. The aperture does ramp, going from f3.5 to f6.3 as you zoom in. But for the kinds of shoots I use this lens on this is rarely an issue. Todays cameras are so sensitive that f6.3 is plenty fast enough for all daytime applications. In northern Norway in the winter the temperature is typically -20c, often getting down as low an -35c. Changing lenses is not something you want to do unless you really must when it’s this cold, so a zoom lens is what I like to use when I’m out and about on the show scooters.

Shooting 8K with the A1.

Wherever I could I shot with the A1 in 8K. I recorded internally to CFExpress type A cards using the XAVC-HS codec. When shooting 8K at 24fps the file size is 7860×4320. It is 10 bit 4:2:0 and the bit rate is 400Mb/s. When you shoot 24p at 4K using the XAVC-SI codec the bit rate is 240MB/s, so you might wonder how it’s possible to record frames that in 8K are 4 times larger than 4K with a codec only half the size. The XAVC-HS codec is based on the latest H265 codec. H265 is an ultra efficient long GoP codec. Long GoP codecs can be very efficient as they record a master frame called an “I” frame and then for the next group of frames they only record the differences between the first “I” frame and the next “I” frame. The GoP (group of pictures) can be anywhere up to 180 frames long (but is typically 24 to 60 frames long). This method of compressing moving images is very effective and very efficient. But it can sometimes struggle with very complex images where there is a lot of random motion. Random motion cause issues for the motion prediction algorithms in the codec. In my own footage from Norway, I did notice some minor artefacts in the rippling water within shots across the Fjords.

mountain_1.3.1-600x338 Sony Alpha A1 and the 24mm f1.4 GM lens.
Filming water can be a real challenge for long GoP codecs, but the A1 did very well.

Moving water is always going to be tough for a Long GoP codec, But I suspect that unless you were actually looking for the artefacts most people wouldn’t notice them. When I graded the A1 footage I also found other very minor artefacts if I pushed the footage hard during the grade. But having said all of that, overall, I think the footage from the A1 looks pretty amazing.

One thing you really do need to consider if you are thinking of using the A1 to shoot 8K is that the XAVC-HS HEVC codec requires a lot of extra processing power to decode. So, your computer needs to be a fast one. Preferably one made in the last couple of years as the most recent processors and graphics cards now include special optimisations for the HEVC codec that will really help.

The sensor in the A1 uses Sony’s latest multi-layer stacked technologies. It is surprisingly sensitive and very low noise. It has excellent dynamic range, around 14 stops which is typical of most current large sensor cameras and very pleasing colour response.

dog-sled_1.11.1-600x338 Sony Alpha A1 and the 24mm f1.4 GM lens.
Frame grab from the Alpha A1.

 

The camera performed better than I expected in low light and while for me at least the A7SIII/FX3 and FX6 remain the kings of low light, the A1 isn’t actually all that far behind. This is particularly impressive when you consider that the pixels in the A1 are much smaller than the pixels in the A7SIII. Having said that, it does appear that the A7S3/FX3/FX6 sensor combines 4 photosites under a single colour filter to create a single “pixel”  – could they both be based on a very similar sensor? The A1 sensor is 8640 x 5760 while the A7S3 sensor is 4240 x 2832, the numbers are close enough to believe the underlying sensor could be the same.

For a camera with so many pixels the A1 has a very low level of rolling shutter, you are highly unlikely to encounter any significant rolling shutter issues thanks to the 16ms readout time at 8K. Again, it is interesting to note that the 8.7ms readout of A7S3/FX3/FX6 at 4K is almost exactly half that of the A1 – further pointing to sensor similarities.

Golden Hour = Golden Day.

One of the great things about Norway in the winter is that when the skies are clear the very low sun means that you get golden hour light almost all day. The A1 did an excellent job of capturing the rich colours and deep shadows, especially that deep orange light that seems to make objects glow. Rather than going for a film style grade I chose to use a high contrast and vibrant grade for the sample video. I edited the footage in DaVinci Resolve using ACES colour management. The initial grading was done in HDR and I have uploaded an 8K HDR version for those of you that have an HDR TV or monitor.

sunset_1.15.1-600x338 Sony Alpha A1 and the 24mm f1.4 GM lens.
Beautiful golden hour colours captured by the Sony A1



The days in northern Norway in January are very short and brutally cold. You only have to look at the shots of the dog sled driver to see how well wrapped up he is. It got down to -34c the day we went dog sledding. Even without a cover the A1 performed very well in the cold. There was some loss of battery life but this is to be expected. If you do find yourself shooting somewhere very cold, try to keep your batteries in an inside pocket until you need them to keep them warm.

At night I decided to use the A1 to shoot time-lapse of the Aurora while using the FX3 to video the Aurora. The A1 has a built in intervalometer so it’s very easy to shoot timelapse with it.

The 24mm f1.4 GM lens.

A1_06304-600x400 Sony Alpha A1 and the 24mm f1.4 GM lens.
A frame of the Aurora taken with the A1

 

Shooting stars at night with a wide angle lens is very challenging. You have to be very careful to ensure that your stars and in good focus. I use the cameras built in image magnification to check and double check my focus.  One thing that many wide lenses suffer from is an optical defect called “coma”. Often stars that should be a tiny round point of light will take on a slightly elongated appearance, looking like a comma sign or comet rather than a dot, especially towards the edges and corners of the frame. My Sigma 20mm has very little coma and it’s one of the reasons why I like it so much. But the Sony 24mm f1.4 has even less, in fact it is almost completely non-existent. The 24mm is also very, very sharp even wide open, there is no need to stop down to sharpen the image as with some other lenses. It is also a very compact lens and yet despite its small size and low weight it manages to fit in a proper iris ring as well as the large focus ring. Like most of Sony’s most recent lenses the 24mm GM has a linear focus ring. Linear focus means that the amount you turn the focus ring for any given focus change remains completely constant. As a result, you can manually pull focus from one object to another very easily as each time you shift the focus back to your starting point the focus ring will return to exactly the same position each time.

While not quite as wide as my 20mm the clarity and lack of distortions in the images from the 24mm GM means that this lens is now easily my favourite lens for shooting the Aurora or star fields. Of course, it is also very competent for shooting during the day as well. The autofocus is very fast and completely silent due to the use of linear focus motors. The extra assignable button on the lens body is also very handy.

trees_1.5.1-600x338 Sony Alpha A1 and the 24mm f1.4 GM lens.

Together the A1 and the 24mm GM were a delight to use. I have to admit that I am wondering whether an A1 could replace my FX3 or FX6. The richness of the 8K images from the A1 are impressive to say the least. I have done a few 8K projects for clients already, But I am not yet regularly delivering in 8K and I don’t think it will be something that I will be asked for regularly for a couple years yet. Besides, most of my clients that do want 8K are really going to want me to shoot on a Venice 2 rather than the A1. I also don’t think I can push the A1 8K images in post quite as much as I can the XAVC-S-I or XAVC-I from the FX3/FX6. Plus, when you do start to do any heavy image manipulation at 8K even my MacBook M1 Max starts to bog down (I actually find it easier to work with the 8K XOCN from Venice 2 than the 8K XAVC-HS from the A1). The FX3 will remain my main camera for my Aurora shoots for the next couple of year but perhaps I will need to start saving some pennies to add an A1 to my camera collection, it certainly impressed me and it would be nice to start shooting some of my stock footage in 8K.

NOTE: To watch the video in 8K you will need a monitor, TV or device capable of 8K playback. To view in HDR you will need to be using an HDR TV or HDR monitor. If you do not have an 8K or HDR TV/Monitor then YouTube will detect this and instead send you a standard dynamic range verison of the video at the highest resolution that your device can support. For the best viewing experience please watch using a HDR device that supports HDR10 ST2084/Rec2020.

Camgear Elite 8 Mini Tripod

 

Tripods are very important but often a secondary consideration when putting together a camera kit due to their relatively high cost. But a good quality stable tripod with a decent fluid head can make a world of difference. All too often I see people struggling with tripods with low quality fluid heads or wobbly legs.

Buy a good tripod and it will likely outlast any camera that you buy, so really it makes a lot of sense to get the best you can afford. Most of you are probably already familiar with premium brands such as Miller, Sachtler or Vinten etc and you will never go far wrong with a tripod from them, but they are not cheap. So what about something similar but a bit more affordable, without sacrificing performance,  features or quality? 

Let me introduce you to the Camgear Elite 8 Mini, which was launched at NAB 2022

This is a lower cost alternative to a Sachtler tripod. The design is in fact based on a Sachtler design and a lot of the parts such as the camera base plates are interchangable. It is made in China, but is well constructed.  In order to reduce costs Sachtler tripods are no longer made in Germany (I believe they are now made in Costa Rica). 

The kit features a nice counterbalanced fluid head that can take a camera up to 10Kg. The carbon fiber tripod legs have a 75mm bowl and feature a single high level locking lever for each leg, so there is no need to bend down to reach a low lever at the bottom of the legs. The kit comes with everything you need including rubber feet, mid level spreader and pan bar.  Weighing in at 5.7kg this tripod provides a very reasonable balance between stability and portability. Heavier tripods will always tend to be more stable, but no one really wants to carry more weight than necessary.  The fluid head is very nice, it has 4 stages of damping for pan and tilt (off plus 3 different damping levels) with a very smooth action and none sticking that is common with cheaper tripod. The head will counterbalance up to 10kg and the counterbalance adjustment is in 1kg steps.

There are some nice little touches beyond the original Sachtler design such as a revised and easier to use release lever for the quick release plate, a built in tool for undoing the base plate screws and it even comes with spare screws attached to the tripod head.

I feel this tripod is a great match for cameras such as the Sony FX6 or perhaps a lighter weight FX9 kit.  Take a look at the video for more details or check them out at your local dealer. 

www.camgear.tv/el8mini

Disclosure: I was assisting Aspectra, the European distributor for Camgear at the NAB2022 show.  But, I really do think this is a nice tripod for the money and the views above and in the video are my own honest opinion based on the time I spend testing the tripod in Las Vegas.

Tokina 16-28mm t3.0 Cine Zoom Review.

DSC_0334-copy-600x450 Tokina 16-28mm t3.0 Cine Zoom Review.

After being lucky enough to have shot with the really rather beautiful looking Tokina Vista prime lenses with Sony’s Venice II (see here), I decided to take a look at the generation 2 Tokina 16-28mm wide angle cine zoom. This lens is available in a variety of mounts including PL, E-Mount and many others and is really very good value for the money.

The lens is parfocal, has minimal breathing and minimal chromatic aberration.  To try it out, I took a PL mount sample  to Windsor to test it out with my FX9 using a Vocas PL E-Mount to PL adapter. 

I often find it difficult to write about lenses because when a lens performs well, there is little to write about without being gushy. The 16-28mm from Tokina does what it should, and it does it well. I didn’t find any particular flaws in the images from the lens and overall, they look really good. At 16mm on a full frame camera the lens gives a very wide field of view with very minimal distortion. It remains sharp into the corners and there is no significant vignetting.

It is well constructed and the 300 (ish) degree of travel focus ring has a very nice weight and feel to it. The zoom ring is a bit heavier but this prevents the zoom moving when you don’t want it to.

A few people have commented about why use a larger bulkier lens like the Tokina over a more compact and lighter photo lens. I think a lot depends on the type of project you are working on. Being realistic, if you are running around on your own, trying to quickly grab footage on a lower budget production then a photo lens with auto focus might be the better option. But when you need maximum control over focus a proper mechanical long travel focus ring is what you want. If you want to zoom during the shot, the lens needs to be parfocal. So for a more controlled shoot, perhaps for drama or other scripted productions a true cine lens like this is often preferable.  so, it’s a case of picking the right lens for the type of production you are shooting. The Tokina 16-28mm t3.0 cine zoom is absolutely worth looking at for any movie style wide angle applications. 

See the video below for some example footage and a closer look at the lens.

 

A Review of the Tokina Vista Prime Lenses

I was recently given the opportunity shoot some test footage with a Sony Venice II.  A camera like Venice needs good glass, so I put out some feelers to see what lenses I could get for the shoot. I was offered the use of a set of the Tokina Vista primes, lenses I have been wanting to try for some time, so this was the perfect opportunity to try these interesting lenses on Sony’s newest cinema camera.

DSC_0298-600x450 A Review of the Tokina Vista Prime Lenses
Shooting at Tower Bridge London with the Tokina Vista 135mm and Venice 2



Lets cut straight to the point: I love these lenses and I loved using them with the Venice 2.

I guess I had some concerns at first over choosing the Tokina Vista’s. Lets face it, Tokina are not the first brand that springs into most peoples minds when you are thinking about high quality PL cinema lenses. But I had been hearing nothing other than good things about them and when I had played with them at a couple of different trade shows, they did always look nice.

There are currently 8 lenses in the Vista range starting at the very wide 18mm and going up to 135mm. All are t1.5, are beautifully constructed with all metal bodies. The focus and aperture rings (with approx 300 degrees of travel) are in the same position on every lens in the set, so lens swaps are easy. The 9 bladed iris works well to give pleasing smooth bokeh.

DSC_0299-600x450 A Review of the Tokina Vista Prime Lenses
The Tokina Vista 135mm t1.5 on a Venice 2

 

Many manufacturers claim that their lenses have minimal breathing and this is definitely true of the Tokina Vista. Focussing from near to far resulted in only a very small change of the image size on all the lenses I tried. The breathing is truly minimal.

As I was shooting using the Venice 2’s 8.2K 17:9 mode this was a good test of the lenses resolution and sharpness. In the video at the bottom of the page you will see a couple of shots where I added a slow post production zoom in to the image, reaching 2x magnification. If you watch the video in 4K you won’t see any appreciable drop in image quality during the zoom in where I am in effect expanding the original 8.2K pixel image by 200%. This to me is a clear indication that these lenses are plenty good enough for 8K capture.

wide-shot-2_1.2.4 A Review of the Tokina Vista Prime Lenses
Wide shot, taken at 8.2K with the 18mm Tokina Vista.
mid-shot-2a_1.2.2 A Review of the Tokina Vista Prime Lenses
A crop from the frame above. Even in 4K this image looks great.

 

But, at the same time I also felt that the lenses were not excessively sharp. There is a “roundness” to the images from these lenses that I really like. The Vista’s are also very slightly warm looking and this combined with the roundness of the image and very slight propensity to flare a little gives them a very appealing look. I guess I could describe it as a vintage look, but that might make them sound old fashioned. These are not old fashioned lenses, these are clearly modern, high performance lenses. But the images they deliver has a beautiful, almost old school look that I found to be very appealing.

wide-shot-1_1.6.2 A Review of the Tokina Vista Prime Lenses
The Tokina Vistas and Venice 2 deliver great colours and skin tones.
Mid-shot1_1.6.3 A Review of the Tokina Vista Prime Lenses
This is a crop from the above image. When you have 8.2K of pixels and a high resolution lens its very easy to reframe in post production, even when delivering in 4K.



Faces and skin tones looked really nice, of course this is a combination of both a great camera and great lenses, but the colour reproduction from the combination of Venice 2 and the Tokina Vistas was very pleasing.

night-singer_1.30.2 A Review of the Tokina Vista Prime Lenses
At t1.5 the Tokina Vista’s are great for low light and Venice at 3200 ISO looks great.


I did have a play with most of the lenses in the set and they all appeared to perform similarly. But for the video shoot in London I focussed on the 18mm, 40mm and 135mm lenses. 

The 18mm is very wide. It is not truly rectilinear, there is some barrel distortion, but nothing too severe. You do have to remember that this is a t1.5 lens and it’s not easy to produce very fast, very wide lenses for full frame. The 46.7mm image circle of all the Vista lenses means that they comfortably cover the full frame Venice sensor and even at 18mm there is barely any light fall off or vignetting at the edges of the frame.

One of the other things that really impressed me with all the Vista’s was the lack of chromatic aberration. Even when shooting very high contrast, backlit edges or specular reflections it was hard to spot any chromatic aberration. There is not a single shot amongst all of the material that I shot where I noticed anything nasty.

Trafalgar-day_1.27.1 A Review of the Tokina Vista Prime Lenses
Trafalgar Square, shot with the 18mm Vista. You can see that there is some barrel distortion, but it’s pretty good for an 18mm t1.5 lens.

 

The only negative I can really find about the 18mm is the size and bulk. This is a big and heavy lens. All the Vista have the same external diameter of 114mm. The 18mm is no different in that regard. But the 18mm is one of the longest lenses in the set, it’s 180mm from front to back. And it weighs almost 2.7Kg. A big part of the weight probably comes from the bulbous front element of the lens – which you will be glad to know does not protrude beyond the end of the lens housing, giving it some protection from accidental damage.

When you have an 8K camera, wide angle lenses can be used to capture a very wide frame that can then be cropped into to re-frame in post, so having that maximum t1.5 aperture which helps maintain a shallow DoF is important. 

lanterns1_1.8.2 A Review of the Tokina Vista Prime Lenses
London’s China Town, shot with the 40mm Tokina Vista



The 40mm lens is also really nice. 40mm is an interesting focal length, a shade longer than 35mm and wider than 50mm. I found it to be a very nice focal length for a lot of different types of shots with the Venice Full Frame sensor.  At 2.24kg it is a much lighter lens than the 18mm and a fair bit shorter at 160mm. Once again extremely small amount of breathing and near total lack of chromatic aberrations makes this a lovely lens to shoot with. When shooting high contrast point light sources such as street lights at night there is a bit of circular flare around the light source, but I find this to be quite pleasing. Strong light sources just out of frame can lead to some minor veiling flare on all the lenses in the set, but this is no worse than seen with most other similar quality lenses and the lens coatings give the flare a slight warmth that again, I find very appealing.

tower-bridge_1.3.2 A Review of the Tokina Vista Prime Lenses

The 135mm lens doesn’t disappoint either, shooting at 135mm and t1.5 delivers a very narrow depth of field.  As expected this is one of the larger lenses in the set. It’s 187mm long so a bit shorter than the 18mm but it is heavier with the PL mount version coming in very close to 3kg. There isn’t much more I can say about this lens that I haven’t covered with the other lenses, extremely minimal breathing, near zero chromatic aberration etc all make for a great image. The consistent look across all the lenses means this too shares that well rounded not too clinical and very slight warmth that makes these all of these lenses very appealing.

night-busses_1.31.1 A Review of the Tokina Vista Prime Lenses
Tokina Vista 40mm on Venice 2 at 3200 ISO. I really like the way the Vistas flare.



The Tokina Vista’s are not re-housed photo lenses, they were designed specifically for digital cinematography. They are available in a range of mounts including PL, Canon EF, MFT, LPL and Sony E. I had heard good things about them from other users before I tried them and now I have had a chance to shoot with them I have to say that they are lenses that I will want to use again. Perhaps in particular when the project would benefit from a slight vintage or romantic look without being soft and without giving up any resolution. For the money they are great looking lenses and would recommend anyone that hasn’t tried them to give them a go.

PAG MPL Mini Pag Link Batteries

I’ve been using PAG batteries forever, well at least for as long as I have worked in film and TV and that’s a very, very long time now. Pag batteries have always been known for their robustness, reliability and performance, all things that are vitally important to me as often I find myself shooting in some very remote and very tough environments.

20180416_111019-1024x576 PAG MPL Mini Pag Link Batteries
Shooting with Venice deep in the Slot Canyon powered by a Pag Link PL150 battery.

 

For around 7 years I have been using the Pag Link battery system. Pag link allows you to quickly link together multiple batteries. This has many benefits. For a start you can charge many batteries at once with a single channel battery charger. This is great for me when travelling as I can use the tiny Pag travel charger to charge several batteries overnight. Or back at base with my 2 channel Pag charger I will often put 3 or 4 linked batteries on each charger channel so that all my batteries will charge in one single session. And you are not limited to using a Pag charger, you can stack the Pag Link batteries on almost any charger.

20180420_155349-e1526222971788-576x1024 PAG MPL Mini Pag Link Batteries
A single Pag PagLink PL150 battery will run Venice for around 2 hours.



Another benefit is being able to link a couple of batteries together when you need a higher current output, perhaps to power a big video light or to run a higher powered digital cinema camera. If using more than one battery on a camera it is even possible to hotswap the rear most battery without needing to turn off the camera or stop recording.

The Pag Link batteries have served me extremely well and even after 6 or more years of use are only showing very minimal capacity loss. But as modern cameras are getting smaller and smaller and need less and less power, even the already relatively compact Pag Link batteries sometimes seemed like overkill.

Enter the MPL series.

The Pag Link MPL batteries have taken what was already a great concept and miniaturised it. Using the latest battery cell technologies Pag have managed to produce new smaller and lighter stackable batteries with the similar capacities to the original Pag Links. Pag have also listened to customer feedback adding D-Tap ports to the tops of the batteries as well as an additional USB output. The USB output module can be swapped to other outputs if you need them such as Hirose or Lemo. In addition, the MPL batteries are fitted with industry standard ¼” mounting points. These can be used to either mount accessories to the battery or to mount the battery on to something that doesn’t have a standard battery connection.

DSC_0086-small-600x338 PAG MPL Mini Pag Link Batteries
Pag Link Mini MPL99 powering my FX6 while shooting the Volcano in Iceland.



My first real test for the MPL batteries was a trip to Iceland to shoot the Fagradalsfjall Volcano. When travelling by air you must take your Lithium batteries as carry on luggage. The MPL’s are built to very high standards and UN tested, so you can be confident that they are as safe and as flight friendly as possible. The smaller size and light weight makes it nice and easy to travel with these batteries.

 

To get to the Volcano you have to hike up a small mountain using rocky, slippery and sometimes very steep routes. It’s around 2.5 miles from the nearest road to the closest places from where you can see the volcano crater, so a minimum of a 5 mile round trip.  I was working on my own, so had to carry camera, lenses, tripod and batteries in a backpack. Plus spare clothing, food and drinks as the weather in Iceland changes frequently and can often be quite nasty. So, every gram of weight counted. I was shooting with a Sony FX6 using an Atomos Ninja V raw recorder and needed enough power to run everything for a full day of on and off shooting. The Pag MPL’s had just become available and were perfect for the job. The built in D-Taps could be used to power the recorder. I used a V-Mount adapter plate for the camera and the USB port in the MPL batteries was perfect for topping up my phone for the live streams I was doing.

DSC_0084-small-281x500 PAG MPL Mini Pag Link Batteries

I spent several days up at the Volcano, often hiking even further from the road, seeking out different camera angles and different views. A single 100Wh MPL 99 ran the whole setup for most of the day. By adding an additional 50Wh MPL50 on to the back of the MPL99 I had power in reserve. The diminutive size and light weight of these batteries made a big difference for this shoot. Then back at the hotel I could use the Pag travel charger to charge all of my MPL batteries overnight by connecting them together on the charger, no need to get up in the middle of the night to swap batteries over.

Since then, I’ve used the MPL batteries for many different applications. Their small size is deceptive, they don’t look like they would be able to power anything for a long time, but they can. On a shoot using a Venice 2 I used a stacked MPL99 and an MP50 to power the camera while walking around London to save weight. The batteries ran the camera for close to 2 hours and the capacity display on the battery as well as the run time indicator in the cameras viewfinder was highly accurate.

DSC_0301-small-1024x768 PAG MPL Mini Pag Link Batteries
Pag MPL99 and MPL50 being used to power a Sony Venice II



I can’t recommend the Pag Link system highly enough. The only negative is that the original larger V-Mount Pag Link batteries and the new compact V-Mount Pag Link ML batteries can’t be connected together. A new mating system for V-Mount was require for the new smaller batteries. The Gold mount versions both old and new can be stacked together. Stacked together, despite their diminutive size a pair of MPL99’s can deliver up to 12 amps of power, enough for most video lights. The intelligent linking system means there is no issue connecting a fully charged battery to a flat battery. These are very clever, small, light and compact batteries.

Nanlite Forza 300 LED Spotlight

 The Nanlite Forza 300 is a LED COB spotlight normally used with a reflector to provide a 55 degree light cone.

Forza-2_2.3.1-600x338 Nanlite Forza 300 LED Spotlight
Nanlite Forza 300 spotlight with included reflector.

 

The lamp is 300 watts and can be powered from the mains with the included power adapter or vai a pair of V-lock batteries. It is daylight balanced at 5500K and has a CRI of 95 (measured by myself). It has always resulted in very pleasing skin tone whenever I have used it.

Forza-skin_1.12.1-600x338 Nanlite Forza 300 LED Spotlight
Skin tones look good when using the Forza 300 from Nanlite.

 

The 300 watt LED COB emitter produces a similar amount of light to a 3000 watt tungsten lamp. This  makes the Forza 300 suitable for illuminating very large areas or as a source light for a large soft box or for use with large silk diffusers. Nanlite make a very nice parabolic reflectors/soft boxes for the Forza lamps that are very quick to erect due to the use of clever quick locking support arms.

Parabolic-reflector_5.1.1-600x338 Nanlite Forza 300 LED Spotlight
Parabolic reflector/soft box for the Nanlite Forza 300

 

The lamphead has a standard Bowens mount so there are many light modifiers that can be used, but one that I particularly like is the Nanlite zoomable Fresnel adapter. This large fresnel lens can be adjusted to provide a very tightly controlled light beam from just 5 degrees wide to 45 degrees wide. It comes with barn doors and turns the Forza 300 into something comparable to the old Arri 2K fresnel, just without the heat and power draw.

Fresnelbarn-doors_3.1.1-600x338 Nanlite Forza 300 LED Spotlight
Nanlite zoomable fresnel lens with barn doors for the Forza 300 and Forza 500.

 

I’m a big fan of fresnels as they give you good control of where your light is going. Make it dimmable as well and you have a very versatile lamp.

The light can be controlled via DMX as well as a couple of very cheap wireless remote control units (around £20/$30) and an app is due to be released soon. 

Like many modern lights it also has a number of effects modes including strobe, storm, TV and bad bulb and these can be quickly and easily selected from the lamps control unit and power supply. The build quality is very good. The lamp head is mostly metal while the control unit is a mix of good quality plastics and metal.  The whole thing weighs 4.8kg so you don’t need a particularly large light stand to support it.

with a street price of around £650/$850 this is a very affordable yet also very capable lamp. I would suggest that anyone trying to build their own versatile light kit should include at least one spot light and not just rely on LED panel lights. Having a good, bright spot light allows you to a lot more creative lighting as a spot light, especially if you add the Fresnel lens can be used with gobo’s or objects in the foreground to create interesting shadow effects.

Grab3_3.16.1-600x338 Nanlite Forza 300 LED Spotlight

For a recent short film shoot I used the Forza 300 to throw light through a forest of trees. The trees creating interesting shadows adding a lot of extra contrast to the shots.  For another scene I used the Forza 300 as a backlight through some smoke for an interesting mystic effect. A flat panel light cannot reproduce these effects in the same way.

grab1_3.3.1-600x338 Nanlite Forza 300 LED Spotlight

For this shoot I needed to power the lamp off batteries. It is worth noting that if running the lamp at is maximum output of 300 watts you will be drawing over 10 amps from each of the 2 V-Lock batteries need to run it. This is right at the limit of what many V-Locks can deliver.  As a result you may find your batteries cutting off before they are fully discharged. To run a high power LED lamp like this you should consider Lithium Manganese batteries or other batteries capable of at least a 12 amp output. My own preference is to use Pag Paglink batteries as by linking two batteries together you can double the amount of power they can deliver. Using 4 Paglink batteries (2 pairs of 2) I was able to run the lamp for 90  minutes at full power.

4xpags_3.13.1-600x338 Nanlite Forza 300 LED Spotlight
4 Paglink batteries will power the Forza 300 for around 90 minutes.



The lamp I used for the review was supplied by Prolight Direct UK. They are very knowledgable with many years of experience with all kinds of film and television lighting, so do contact them with your lighting needs.

I highly recommend the Forza 300. It is, in my opinion, one of the best of this type of lamp on the market today and very competitively priced. Please see the video above for more information.

Nanlite.com

Accsoon CineEye 2S

accsoon_cineeye2s_cineeye_2_5g_wireless_1611053137_1617027 Accsoon CineEye 2SWireless video transmitters are nothing new and there are lots of different units on the market. But the Accsoon CineEye 2S stands out from the crowd for a number of reasons.

First is the price, at only £220/$300 USD it’s very affordable for a SDI/HDMI wireless transmitter. But one thing to understand is that it is just a transmitter, there is no reciever. Instead you use a phone or tablet to receive the signal and act as your monitor. You can connect up to 4 devices at the same time and the latency is very low.  Given that you can buy a reasonably decent Android tablet or used iPad for £100/$140 these days, it still makes an affordable and neat solution without the need to worry about cables, batteries or cages at the receive end. And most people have an iPhone or Android phone anyway. The Accsoon app includes waveform and histogram display, LUT’s, peaking and all the usual functions you would find on most pro monitors. So it saves tying up an expensive monitor just for a directors preview. You can also record on the tablet/phone giving the ability for the director or anyone else linked to it to independently play back takes as he/she wishes while you use the camera for other things.

1611053189_IMG_1474630 Accsoon CineEye 2S

Next is the fact that it doesn’t have any fans. So there is no additional noise to worry about when using it. It’s completely silent. Some other units can get quite noisy.

And the best bit: If you are using an iPhone or iPad with a mobile data connection the app can stream your feed to YouTube, Facebook or any similar RMTP service. With Covid still preventing travel for many this is a great solution for an extremely portable streaming solution for remote production previews etc. The quality of the stream is great (subject to your data connection) and you don’t need any additional dongles or adapters, it just works! 

Watch the video, which was streamed live to YouTube with the CineEye 2S  for more information. At 09.12 I comment that it uses 5G – What I mean is that it has 5Ghz WiFi as well as 2.5Ghz Wifi for the connection between the CineEye and the phone or tablet. 5Ghz WiFi is preferred where possible for better quality connections and better range. https://accsoonusa.com/cineeye/

 

Chrosziel FX6 kit and Chrosziel Quick lock Plate

25-11-20201606323662401-fx6-kit_light-weight-support_topplate-fx6_02-600x400 Chrosziel FX6 kit and Chrosziel Quick lock Plate
Chrosziel FX6 Kit. Top plate, base plate and arm for the FX6

 

In the video below I take a look at the Chrosziel FX6 kit as well as the Chrosziel Quick Lock plate. The FX6 Kit includes a very nice lightweight top cheese plate that doesn’t get in the way of the existing handle.

There is a lightweight base plate with a highly adjustable soft and comfortable shoulder pad specifically designed for the FX6 that is compatible with Sony VCT type quick release plates (but can also be used with other base plates)  as well as an extension arm and extension cable for the hand grip. 

This versatile kit will be great for anyone wishing to shoulder mount the FX6 as well as those that like to use a VCT quick release plate on a tripod etc. 

401-150-04-e1610475844598-600x183 Chrosziel FX6 kit and Chrosziel Quick lock Plate
Chrosziel Quick Lock Plate and superior alternative to a VCT type QR plate.

 

As an alternative to the usual slightly wobbly Sony VCT quick release plate I also take a look at the Chrosziel Quick Lock Plate. This is designed to replace the Sony style tripod plates and is a significant upgrade. It is vey light but far, far more rigid than a normal VCT plate thanks to a completely redesigned locking system. The Quick Lock Plate is fully compatible with all shoulder mounts and base plates that you would normally use with a VCT plate, not just Chrosziel. While expensive it is a piece of kit that will last for years and years and if you use long lenses or simply want an exceptionally stable mounting system worth every penny.

 

Thoughts on the FX6

I’ve written a review of the FX6 that you can read here.

https://sonycine.com/articles/the-new-sony-fx6—the-definitive-review-by-alister-chapman/

But I thought I would also write more of an opinion piece here. What do I really think about the FX6 and also where does it fit in the grand scheme of things.

Sony_FX6_side_44062_02-Mid-1024x994 Thoughts on the FX6
Sony FX6 4K Camcorder

 

First off, it is a brilliant little camcorder. But it has to be. There is huge pressure from ever better mirrorless cameras and ever better larger cameras. Red’s Komodo is similarly priced and offers an interesting option if you are a film maker that doesn’t mind adding your own viewfinder etc..

Sony really have packed an amazing set of features into the FX6, S-Cinetone, LUT’s, CineEI all make it a very, very interesting camera for film makers and corporate video producers alike. But the FX6 hasn’t been aimed at broadcasters, the lack of interlace recording and the lack of a streaming function make it less desirable for news and current affairs. That’s more of the realm of the FX9.

The FX6 is likely to be a huge success. I know I will be getting one. It will be fantastic for my trips overseas where size and weight are important, and I can’t wait to try to shoot the Northern Lights with it. The low light performance is indeed very impressive but this could become a problem area for it.

When you have a camera with a base ISO of 12,800 I think there will be an expectation that you won’t need to light, that it will produce brilliant pictures no matter how dark it is. But you have to remember that one of the keys to getting good results in any light level is not the amount of light but the amount of contrast. You will still need to think about how you add or control the light in your scenes and it will be all too easy to blame the camera when you don’t get great looking pictures on a pitch dark night shoot with no light to add some contrast.

I also think that the gap between 800 ISO and 12,800 ISO is too big. At 12,800 ISO there is so little light that something called Photon Shot Noise becomes an issue. It can make the mid range noisier than you would like it to be, even when you are correctly exposed. And ND filters won’t help as they reduce the light hitting the sensor and the relative photon shot noise increases. But if you do want to shoot in very dark conditions, then the FX6 performance is indeed impressive.

When I had the pre-production FX6 I took it up to the Lake District, shot interiors at home and spent a couple of days examining the images with charts and test scenes. What I learnt was that it is a very easy camera to work with. Changing settings via the touch screen is quick and simple. The single menu button that first brings up what are referred to as status pages on the FX9 and then with a long push brings up the main menus is brilliant. One button for both. No fumbling around going from the status button to the menu button as on the FX9. The auto focus works brilliantly, and I love having a waveform display with the zebra levels clearly indicated on it. It makes judging exposure easy and reliable. Set the zebras to 61% and if you toggle the s709 LUT on and off you can check the brightness of a white card when looking at the S-Log3 or skin tones when looking at the s709.

waveform-s709-lines_1.2.1-1024x576 Thoughts on the FX6

Going back to the Auto Focus for a moment – Yes, it does work in S&Q and even when shooting UHD 100 or 120fps. BUT I did find it less responsive and slower to respond when shooting at 120fps, it definitely didn’t seem as good as when shooting at normal frame rates. And there are actually a few limitations, AF only works when the shooting frame rate is a direct multiple of the base frame rate.

it also has some other oddities, like the field of view when shooting 17:9  4K DCI is narrower than when shooting ordinary 16:9 UHD because of the way the scan modes work. If you want to output raw the FOV is narrower than when recording UHD internally.

I’m really looking forward to using it on gimbals, lighter weight sliders etc. For those on a tight budget having a lighter camera means you can also save money on your support gear compared to a heavier camera. I think I’m going to enjoy shooting with the FX6 and I’m sure many others will enjoy it to.

And that’s the thing. It’s an easy camera to use, it delivers a beautiful image with very little effort. This is one of it’s big strengths and why I believe it will convert a lot of mirrorless DSLR shooters over to a “proper” video camera. It brings the ease of a built in variable ND filter, LUT’s and other great exposure tools for shooting log, good battery life and pro audio all together in an easy to use package at a good price. At the same time it isn’t so big that you need huge pro tripods and expensive heavy duty support equipment.

It will also appeal to users of Sony’s Venice digital cinema camera to get into places you simply can’t get the bulk of a Venice or as a crash camera for high risk shots. The pictures match close enough that it won’t stand out in a finished production as an obviously different camera.

One issue is the lack of audio inputs when the top handle is removed. This does seem to be an oversight. Gimbal users will find it frustrating I’m sure. Time to break out the external audio recorders, at least the built in scratch mic will help with audio sync. Maybe someone will figure out a way to get audio into the camera body via the connector that the top handle plugs into. The other alternative is to take the video out of the FX6 to an external recorder that also has an audio input such as many of the Atomos recorders.

So where does this leave the FX9? The FX9 is a great camera. It is worth remembering that the FX6 really is Full Frame only (unless you are happy shooting HD in it’s super 35mm mode). So users of normal 35mm PL lenses or APSC lenses will be better off with the FX9 with it’s greater choice of scan modes including 6K FF, 5K crop FF and 4K s35. In the next firmware update the FX9 will also get a 2K s16 center scan mode and it will be able to use the Sony B4 lens adapter with 2/3″ ENG zoom lenses. I still love shooting with my super 35mm Fujinon MK’s on the FX9, it’s a great combination. The FX9 also has no issues with interlace, so news shooters that still need 1080i will want the FX9 and not the FX6. I have every intention of getting an FX6 but I have no plans on parting with my FX9. Because the images from the two cameras look virtually identical they will compliment each other nicely (anyone want to buy my FS5??). 

And that for me is the thing: Two cameras for two different types of shoots, but both look the same, so I can just use whichever is the most appropriate for the job without any concern. 


ACS Technical Panel Review The PXW-FX9

The ACS have produced a video report about some of the testing that they did with a pre-production FX9. It’s quite a long video but has some interesting side by side comparisons with the FS7 which we all already know very well. You’ve heard much of what’s in the video from me already, but I’m a Sony guy, so it’s good to hear the same things from the much more impartial ACS.

With my super geek hat on it was really interesting to see the colour response tests performed by Pawel Achtel ACS at 37.08. These tests use a very pure white light source that is split into the full spectrum and then the monochromatic light is projected onto the sensor. It’s a very telling test. I was quite surprised to see how large the FS7’s response is, it’s not something I have ever had the tools to measure. The test also highlights a lack of far red response from the FS7. It’s not terrible, but does help explain why warm skin tones perhaps don’t always look as nice as they could. I do wonder if this is down to the characteristics of the cameras IR cut filter as we also know the sensor to be quite sensitive to IR. The good news is that the PXW-FX9 has what Pawel claims to be the best colour accuracy of any camera he’s tested, and he’s tested pretty much all of the current cinema cameras. Take a look for yourself.

Sony FX9 ACS Roundtable from ACS on Vimeo.