I just finished shooting my first video for Levi’s and it was a learning curve of note.
Firstly, the client wanted to be able to see how the video progressed during the day, so I had to give them the ability to sit and view what’s being captured. I did this using the Sony Monitor. It synced wirelessly, by plugging into the camera directly, or by connecting it to the Atomos Shogun monitor I was using on camera. It was good to have a monitor that could give a red crop line around the part of the frame we would be using. The video was mainly for Instagram and YouTube. This meant we would’ve had to crop the 4K footage to become a portrait ratio video or square, and I had to be able to show this to the client.
I used the Sony A7R IV for this video. The in-body stabilization and the quick auto-focussing abilities of the camera and lenses was the ideal for this as I didn’t have a focus puller or couldn’t spend time on manually focussing and framing at the same time. I was keen on using the technology available today, and it worked well.
I was able to go to the company we were renting the gear from the day before to set it up and to be sure everything needed on the day is loaded and on the list. I would highly recommend this if you're not that experienced with setting up video gear and if you're going to have clients on set for the day. It's also a great time to build a relationship with the people managing the rental company, so you can possibly get gear for testing in future at a reduced rate. We got some extra lights to try out for free on the day because of this. It also forced me to practice my French, me being in Paris and the people I was dealing with not being great at English.
I used Sony’s G-series lenses, which were incredible. The focussing speeds, color, clarity, and confidence this ave me, will cause me to use it again.
For this video we used two different lights. We used:
- Kinoflo FreeStyle 4 LED - RGB ( 4x tubes LED 120 )
- Arri Fresnel Tungsten True Blue ST5 | 5Kw + Dimmer
Monitors and Other Equipment
- Sony OLED 25’’ Monitor PVM-A250 + lowboy/monitor bracket
- Atomos Shogun Inferno Monitor 7’’ + Cage
- Atomos Shogun Monitor + Capture + 2xSSD 500Gb
- Teradek Bolt 500 Kit
- Hawk-Woods Battery Kit
- Manfrotto 244 Variable Friction Magic Arm with Camera Bracket
What I’ve Learnt
I was able to go to the rental company a day before to check everything out, to set it up and to go through everything with the owner to show how everything works and works together. But, it took 3 hours to set up, check menus and that everything worked as it should. This was very beneficial, although a day with just the camera out shooting would’ve made a big difference, and I would’ve needed to pay for the rental, which I wasn’t prepared to do.
Changes I Recommend to Gear Companies
The monitor should be able to show different ratio options, so you can shoot in regular 16:9, but see what the video will look like in other formats, like for Instagram or YouTube. Giving the possibility to use custom ratios would be great to add, and won’t be too difficult to add in a software update.
Sony needs to make their menu system easier to use. It might be that the amount of options the camera offers is what pushed it to become such a widely used brand, but it can be improved.
When using the hybrid battery system that gives power to the camera, monitor and wireless data transmitter, the camera often displayed a warning of overheating and shut off a couple of minutes later. When using regular batteries for the camera, it didn’t. So it’s either the camera or the battery that caused it, and it should be corrected.
Difficulties I Had
It was the first time I used a Sony camera. I chose it because I knew the way the Sony focuses automatically was perfect for this type of video. It also had 60fps at 1080p and I could plug in all the needed peripherals which was not possible on the Canon 5D Mark III or IV.
But, the menu system got me calling a friend about three times on the day. How to send the video to HDMI instead of the camera’s SD card while changing the frame rate or to change the camera’s automatic aperture selection to manually being able to do so with greyed-out menu items was a first for me.
Thank goodness I had a great digital assistant who was supposed to only do the backing up. We both worked on the lighting too, so it worked out great and I was very relieved that we could manage to solve the problems. It’s as if Sony is trying to give you all the options they can, which I suppose is a good thing, but it can also be difficult to navigate and find what you are looking for on the day.
I used the Tilta Sony A7/A9 Series cage to put everything together. The Rig was great, and, although weighing what felt like a 2 year old child. I probably could’ve chosen a different, more back-bone friendly rig, but I needed to do some rotations and couldn’t have the camera “tied down” to only offer horizontal video. I was supposed to rotate and shoot from the top and pan over, so the rig I chose was the only option which allowed these type of shots.
If I Could Redo It
I would have chosen a larger handle, because I had to hold the camera with my hand and get down low to run along the floor to capture the three women’s feet and legs clad with jeans.
I would’ve asked for a second shooter, or an assistant to take the camera from me instead of me having to swing it on and off my shoulder each time.
It’s possible to record an HD version of the video at the same time as capturing the 4K footage by sending the files to the second Atomos 4K monitor the director was viewing from. I would’ve done that. I would then be content that we have everything I shot on two hard drives, from the start.
I would’ve started earlier. Call time was 8am, but I had to set up the camera, monitor, rig and everything that goes along with that. I had to brief the digital guy, and help set up the lights. I would’ve liked another person other than the studio assistant and would’ve asked the budget to be stretched to accommodate this request.
It was a great experience to work with clients on set, to share stories and to get an idea of what they like for their brand’s customers. Whenever I heard a “wow” or “ooh” from the people viewing the monitor, it gave me enthusiasm and motivation to get the next great shot.
The next step is to edit the various videos together, which is another large part of the process. I’ll write this up while doing it. If you have any questions about what a day like this entails, please let me know in the comments.