CAMERA Digital

Sony A7s Drone Short

So, I’m out for drinks one night with my friend Jordan Rubin and he turns to me and says, “I’m thinking about doing a mock trailer for a film where a drone becomes self-aware and goes around trying to kill everyone.”  I said, sure, let’s do it next weekend!  The plan was simple: take Jordan’s Sony A7s and my set of Rokinon DS lensesthen rent a speedrail slider, a Kino Flo, and a rock-n-roll parcan… and shoot it all in two long days at a friends house.  Easy!
I had never used the Sony A7s in any production prior to this shoot. In fact, the only thing I had ever done with it before was hold it in my hands and make fun of its fold-out LCD.  Really the only thing I knew about it was that everyone loved its insanely high ISO options and the fact that you can shoot Sony “S-log” with it.  If you poke around the net, the only negatives you find about this camera is that it won’t shoot onboard 4k and that its max image quality is 8bit (even when recording off board).  There are miles of threads and discussions online going back and forth about 10bit vs. 8bit, but really let’s all remember that this is a camera that is readily available at any Best Buy for under $2,500 that can shoot 1080p S-log @ 50,000 ISO… so let’s move on.
THE DRONE.  This wasn’t a sizzle trailer or pitch concept for a feature length project, it was simply a short wrapped up in a trailer deliverable.  It was an all-hands-on-deck 2-day shoot in a borrowed house in Hollywood.  One of the fun/terrifying things about the shoot was always flying the drone in the shots (because we knew if we left it to CG, it would look like crap).  Unfortunately, we were about a month too early to get our hands on the new DJI Phantom 3 that can do things like GPS map and hold position when indoors (instead of drifting into walls/people). So we had to do it the hard way, which basically meant Jordan scaring the hell out of us as “drone pilot”.  I am proud to say that there are no computer generated shots in the project.  The only trick we used was the trusty “lock-off” in order to speed up a move or hide a pilot.
Getting back to the tech stuff:  all we had was a Fotex dumb Sony-to-EF adapter and a variable ND fader. We got as wide as 16mm and as long as 85mm, but we pretty much lived on the 50mm Rokinon DS prime.  We opted to not shoot S-log so we wouldn’t have to deal with all the heavy ND to counteract the 3200 native ISO, but instead went with some look profiles we found online to help us emulate a wider latitude (without having to increase the ISO).  This idea helped us in some ways:
  • We mentioned not having to shoot at a minimum of ISO 3200 already.
  • If your not going into a professional color grading session it helps you not have a starting point thats less flat and low color.
That being said, I wouldn’t do it again in the future, because a better workflow is to adjust to the unique way that the camera process its color contrast in skin tones.  Sony has always had a unique way of processing skin tonal differences (something I had forgotten since my F35 days)  I’d say get a good set of ND’s (not just a variable ND) and stick to S-log.  It’s always been a very durable base.  And after further investigation, the noise you have shooting at ISO 3200 is very minimal.  This camera is not very forgiving in post, so save all the info you can on location (especially those Sony highlights!)
At the end of the day, I would say the Sony A7s is a great little camera for the money.  Here’s what we ended up with:

Behind the scenes camera RAW of our process.

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