Contrary to the popular misconception among family and friends that I am some kind of hopped up gearhead, most of the time, I actually hate to upgrade or switch cameras. It takes me 6 months to catch up with the workings of a new camera, and frankly, most of the time, the incremental improvements are rarely worth the bother of learning all the new button, dial, and menu placements. Of course, there’s always an exception to that “rarely worth the bother” clause, and the Sony A7s is one of them.
This video, about the amazing Dolores Dragan and her fantastic Halloween creations, simply could not have been shot with any camera but the A7s, because no other camera (that I know of) can handle low light at high ISOs like this one can. The nighttime and twilight scenes in this video were almost all shot on the A7s, much of the time at ISOs of 12,800 or higher.
I actually came across Dolores’ work the year before, but when I shot it with the cameras I had then, the black lighting that she uses, and the noise of the high ISOs that I had to use at night, made for some very grainy, nasty looking video. So I shelved the project. But the A7s changed all that.
Mind you, even with a lowlight monster like the A7s, I still had to cherry pick just the right slice of twilight each night to shoot. Shoot too early, and you lose the atmosphere, shoot too late, and that blacklight becomes a flat, blue, pulsing lightsource. (And I should also mention that the daylight segments were shot on my RX10, which is still, for my money, the easiest and most versatile camera to grab fast moving sequences with).
But since I had such a short window to shoot every evening, and since my house is only a few miles from Dolores’ place, I was able to go over several nice evenings in a row to cherry pick the twilight. So I broke each evening visit down by technique. One night, I just grabbed headshots of the figures with my 70-200mm f/2.8 Nikkor on a tripod-mounted A7s.
One night I just shot with the A7s in APSC mode, fitted with my 10-18mm Sony E and mounted on my mag alloy Aviator Travel Jib. Those sweeping and rising jib shots were important.
This jib folds down quite small, is very well made, and for my A7s setup, requires only two 1.5lb dumbbell weights in the weight bag to balance well.
On another evening, I went back with the A7s mounted on my Varavon Lite 2 foot slider and did only slide moves.
On yet a fourth evening, I put the same setup on my cheap Glide Gear Syl3000 stabilizer and did some walkabout shots.
Now, I have owned a lot of stabilizers and I have to confess that this one isn’t the most sophisticated one in the bunch, but for some reason, it’s the fastest and easiest for me to get into reasonable balance.
I don’t pretend to be even near competent with this setup, all I know is that it produces smoother footage than I can get just handholding the camera…I’m fully aware that the footage does NOT look like good Steadicam footage, but we take what we can get:-)
Finally, because I was on assignment in Mexico shooting Day of the Dead on the actual night of Halloween, I recruited family friend and video guru Ryan Mancuso to shoot the uber important Halloween trick or treat stuff and he did a bangup job.
And here’s the scariest realization that came from this whole haunted Halloween shoot: I’m so old that I used to bounce Ryan on my knee when he was a toddler, and now, he’s tearing up the wedding video world with his company Atomic Tangerine Films, and in this case, saving the Old Man in Motion’s ass with his shooting and editing prowess. And so I realized that it’s not only witches who take to the sky on Halloween….time flies too:-).
4 thoughts on “Into the Heart of Halloween Darkness with the Sony A7s”
Beautiful work, as always. Thanks for the references to technique and gear — and crediting the RX10 with the daylight shots. Seeing those pushes me further toward acquisition of one of those…someday when prices have fallen drastically or there’s a used one in excellent condition available.
Does the RX10 handle direct daylight, sunlight, anywhere near as well as it does the open shade seen in this production?
Michael: I guess it’s okay in direct sunlight…I really hate shooting any camera in direct sunlight, but sometimes we gotta do it. The stuff of her setting up her mannikins was shot on a sunny day…it has decent dynamic range but the A7s is better…just not as convenient to use.
This is nice. I love your story edit too, Dolores is so articulate in her interview that it really elevates the story beyond just a simple Halloween story.
Congrats to you and Ryan, yet again,
Thanks Bob!I always have better luck with my interviews when I just sit down with them at a table and do audio only…it’s easier for a lot of people to relax that way. Still chipping away it:-).