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A Day at BANFF National Park with the Sony a7r Mk2


A few weeks back, I had the chance to spend the tail end of a corporate shoot in Canada at the famous Banff National Park. Boy, what a day that was. A piece of advice: allocate about a day of hiking time per lake to this wonder otherwise you will leave the park like myself: adventure-hungry, with only a few good shots to soothe you on the 2-hour bus drive back to Calgary.

Caveats: I had to travel light so I took no tripod, no gimbal and no rig to the mountains. I only had the Sony a7r Mk2 and a Samyang 35mm photo prime (ultimately a bad choice given the epic dimensions I encountered but hey, that's how we learn). I was more after photos but I ended up waiting for chipmunks while messing with frame rates in those constantly changing light conditions. So, guys, give me a break here and don't expect hugely pro work from such a setup.

The pictures speak for themselves and I think the music is a nice choice. As I mainly work with the FS7 I was not particularly familiar with the a7r so here and there I feel I stretched the limits of the s-log2 gamma a bit (although, often the sky was so grey that there's little to miss out on in the highlights). My impression is that this is certainly not a professional camera. It's too fiddly to work with, you have to wade through a menu to get the all-too-vital focus magnifier and switching between frame rates is also cumbersome (especially that you have to go down to 720p to record 100fps in PAL or 120fps in NTSC). A lack of ND filters is a huge headache on a sunny day too. Peaking is less than reliable, I'd say you should never trust it if you are being paid to film something with this camera. Get a Shogun Inferno!

The Samyang lens is not amazing either (it's not mine though and I could use the thing for free so I am not really complaining). The focus ring is rather clunky and the lens is not awesomely sharp. But again, we are talking about a lens worth a few hundred quid.

What I can only sing praises of is the XAVC-S codec. For the file size and the price of this camera, this codec is simply amazing. I didn't really notice a terrible amount of noise in the shadows even when I did not expose to the right of the luma scope (which is, btw, tiny). I did not grade the hell out of the footage because I am not a colourist and also because I want to remember this landscape as I saw it in real life and not through the colours of an Arriflex LUT or something. But this stuff has a lot of potential and when properly exposed, you will get that elusive highlight rolloff that everyone is musing about these days. If you have a lot of footage shot with this codec, consider transcoding before you ingest. Premiere Pro hates this codec and struggles with it during playback. I transcoded the footage to ProRes 422 and it worked a bit better.

Guys, don't expose to the right too much. 1-stop max but if you don't have loads of shadows to protect, just expose dead centre! The s-log2 is a powerful gamma and the XAVC-S is a good codec but it's by no means RAW or even ProRes RAW to give you a lot of latitude in the highlights. If you get some annoying shadows, you can use a plugin to clean it up in post.

Finally, I did not meet any bears. I half regret it but am also glad they never crossed my path. I'm sure the BBC has filmed loads of great bear scenes with their REDs. I was not on a mission. I was on holiday.

All the best!

#sonya7rMk2 #Canada #outdoorfilming #cameratest #samyang35mm #cameratest

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