Some time ago I started using the Sony A7R2 mirrorless camera for my video productions. It’s an incredible camera with specs like 42,4 megapixel, 4K video recording in XAVC codec, Slog2, internal image stabilizer and a usable autofocus.
Out of the box with factory settings this camera already produces great results. But it can be improved. Both the image settings and a few button lay out customisations are needed and as a result you will push the quality of your video in the right direction.
So, first thing on my to-do list when I received the A7Rii (or A7R2 or A7Rmark2 or A7Rm2…) was figuring out the best and optimised video settings to achieve great results with this smart little camera. So in this post I love to share my findings with you.
This post was last updated on February 11th 2017.
Questions? Feel free to post a comment at the bottom of this page!
So, before I start, I assume you have read the manual? And have a good understanding on how to operate the A7R2 camera? Yes? Ok, there we go:
Update the camera. Firmware updates are free and stable. Current (February 2017) is version 3.30. In addition update your lenses.
Set the mode dial to video when you start shooting because it prevents making pictures by mistake.
Crop sensor or not?
The A7R2 can record in both full frame and APS-C (or S35) crop mode. There is a difference.
The S35 crop mode has a couple of advantages:
- it gives a sharper video
- reduced moire
- higher ISO settings are usable without too much grain
- full-pixel readout
The disadvantage of using the S35 mode:
- rolling shutter is more visible
I advise to use the S35 mode in general. Except situations with a lot of movement in your frame (sports, fast moving objects, car chases etc.) or when you really need the wide image of the full frame.
You can easily set the camera to “automatically” use S35 during filming and full frame during picture taking.
Setting the crop sensor
Found in Custom Settings Menu, Tab 6
APS-C/Super 35mm: Auto
Found in Camera Settings Menu, Tab 2
File Format: XAVC S 4K or HD
Record Setting: 25p (for PAL region)
Both HD and 4K look great. Use 4K if you want to crop and downsize in editing. HD gives smaller files.
Custom key settings
How I set up my custom key settings. This is to make things a little easier to operate. Some settings are only used for photography obviously, but I list them all, just to be complete.
Found in Custom Settings Menu, Tab 7
Control Wheel: ISO (inportant one!! let’s you change the ISO very fast with the control wheel)
1: MOVIE (this is the record button, C1 is better to reach)
2: Focus Settings
3: Focus Magnifier
4: Picture Profile
Center Button: AF/MF Control Hold
Left Button: Drive Mode
Right Button: ISO
Down Button: White Balance
AEL Button: AEL Hold
AF/MF Button: Eye AF (for photos)
Focus Hold Button: Focus Hold
Function menu settings
With the convenient Fn Button you can check the most important parameters of your camera.
Found in Custom Settings Menu, Tab 7
1: Drive Mode
2: Flash Mode
3: Flash Comp
4: Focus Mode
5: Focus Area
6: Exposure Comp
2: Metering Mode
3: White Balance
4: DRO/Auto HDR
5: Picture Profile
6: Shoot Mode
Found in Custom Settings Menu, Tab 1
The zebra pattern will come up when exposure hits 100%. BUT: there is still some more dynamic range on the sensor: 100%-110% IRE exposure. So you are not really blowing out all highlights at once. Another possibility is to set Zebra at 70% and expose for skintone.
You can’t focus on a 3″ screen so you need all the assistence there is. Peaking helps a little bit. But remember: peaking is only an aid to show contrast, it doesn’t tell you if the picture is in focus. Use autofocus and often check this with Custom Button 3: Focus Magnifier.
Found in Custom Settings Menu, Tab 2
Peaking Level: Mid
Peaking Color: Red
Speaking of focus and especially autofocus… With Sony E-mount lenses you can actually use the autofocus (though manually focusing should be preferred). Camera settings Tab 4:
AF drive speed = Slow
This prevents the camera from hunting like crazy: the focus speed is really slow, gently following subjects
AF Track Sens = Normal
Picture profile changes
The Picture Profiles are placeholders. They contain certain deafult settings out of the box, but you can program them anyway you like. If you don’t like a setting you can always reset to the default settings.
Found in Custom Settings Menu, Tab 6 These are the PP’s I use:
Use for pictures. Which you should take in RAW anyway.
A very standard 709 Picture Profile for really fast turn around. Nothing special needs to be done: shoot, edit and sent off. I found it better to change the following settings for a bit more pleasing image:
- Black Level 0
- Gamma ITU709
- Color Mode ITU709
- Saturarion -2 (the camera tends to saturate a bit too much)
- Detail -4 (set sharpening to a low value and sharpen more in post)
This is the Picture Profile I use most and with a few alterations for optimization. Gives better dynamic range, nicely protects the blacks. It cab look a bit flat but in your edit software you can really make this footage shine by adding the right amount of contrast and saturation. You can do a bit of color grading as well.
- Black Level -1
- Gamma: Cinegamma 3 (see explanation below)
- Black Gamma: Range = Middle, Level = -2
- Knee Manual with Point = 95% and Slope = +2
- Color Mode: Cinema for a bit flatter response (which you can tweak in post easily) or 709 for rich saturated colors
- Saturation -2 (the camera tends to saturate a bit too much)
- Color Phase +1
- Color Depth: R= +1, G= -1, B= +1, C= -1, M= -1, Y= -1
- Detail -2 (set sharpening to a low value and sharpen more in post)
This is the Picture Profile for working with Slog. No need to change this setting except for Detail. Only use PP7 when you know what to do with Slog footage in postproduction. It can yield nice results with maximum dynamic range but it is not necessary to use Slog for every production. Minimum ISO is 800.
- Detail -4 (set sharpening to a low value and sharpen more in post)
I found 709 to produce the rich and natural colors out of the box. Especially when you produce for internet or tv this is a quick starting setting. You can use another color space like Pro or Cinema for a bit wider range of colors. At first glance this looks a little desaturared but should have more color info and therefore it’s easier for post production.
I have found S-Gamut to introduce strange color shifts. S-Gamut is better reserverd for recording in Slog when you have to do color grading anyway. That is if you want to use Slog with this camera (which I think you should not use due to the 8-bit recording codec… which is very limited).
Use Cinegamma 1, 3 or 4 as gamma. The difference:
- 1 seems to handle contrast in brighter areas better, good for outdoor and bright settings
- 2 is the same but goes only to 100% IRE, I usually don’t use this one
- 3 is a good alround gamma, very usable for both indoor and outdoor
- 4 is better for lowlight situations, for indoor, evening, night
Switch between these where needed. The whole dynamic range of the senser is nicely compressed into to available recording format space. These gamma’s have a nice roll off in the highlights, reducing contrast and squeezing everything in. When using cinegammas in an interview situation, it is good practice to underexpose a face just a tiny bit (only a little!): this gives faces a little more contrast.
A note about Slog: after dong some more testing with the A7R2 I found it rather difficult to work with Slog2: it’s difficult to control colors and levels, it is certainly not suitable for low light situation and overal I guess the 8 bit recording format limitation stands in your way. Ah well, you don’t NEED to use Slog at all of course!
I found it best not to push the ISO beyond 3200 in ‘normal’ operation.
Don’t use AUTO ISO for your exposure, you can see ‘stepping’ between the ISO settings. I think it is best to have the ISO fixedto a certain value between 200 and 3200.
If you want the exposure to be automatic, it looks better to work in S mode: have the shutterspeed fixed at 1/50 and let the camera change the aperture. With most Sony E-mount lenses you will have a nice and fluent aperture adjustment. But of course it is better to manually adjust the exposure! Be sure to have a set of ND filters ready when working outside in daylight.
Either use auto white blance, which works quite nice on this camera, or use one of the preset white balances like Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent. If you what you do you can also set the white balance manually to a certain temperature.
I haven’t had time to check the audio. But hey, you propably want to record audio externally on a good recorder.
It is not really slowmotion, but you can record in higher frame rates (50p) and reduce the speed in your editing software. Only for HD. There are plenty of other cameras that handle slow motion better.
Lenses for Sony cameras
A little out of the scope of this post but here is my list of preferred lenses for the Sony A7RII in order of most desirable. Remark: there are many more new lenses available nowadays therefore this list is a bit outdated.
- Vario-Tessar 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS, basis lens, great for everything, great on a gymbal, excellent for photography, travel, best general wide lens, get this lens no matter what
- Vario-Tessar 24-70mm F4 ZA OSS, a zoom with a bit more tele, very versatile but not the sharpest one
- Sonnar 55mm F1.8 ZA, must have lens, one of the sharpest lenses around, great for interviews, portrait etc. can run fully automatic but has fly-by-wire focus which can be a pain
- Something tele like the Sony 70-200 F4.0, not much choice if you need tele and don’t want to go the Canon/Metabones route (11-5: romour has it that new Sony telelenses are on their way)
- 90mm Macro F2.8, the sharpest E-mount lens on the planet, for macro work, tele-stuff and portraits
Non Sony lenses: Zeiss
- Loxia 21mm F2.8 (manual focus only), alternative wide for the 16-35mm if you want sharper and faster glass, but it is a prime and fully manual. Very nioce lens.
- Loxia 50mm F2.0 (manual focus only), alternative to the 55mm if you want good manual focussing. I tested this lens for a brief moment, it georgious.
- Batis 25mm F2.0 new lens, excellent glass, autofocus, sharp, excellent
- Batis 85mm F1.8, excellent quality glass, extreme sharp, great for interviews or portraits, very difficult to choose between Sony 90mm Macro and this Zeiss Batis 85mm!
I’m still searching for a couple of useful LUT’s for the SLog2 footage. I might as well abandon the whole Slog recording because it is so much more easier to work with 709 or Pro and a good Cinegamma like Cinegamma 1, 3 or 4.
Feel free to post a comment at the bottom of this page!