The Road to 4k, for some of us was a simple one. For others, it was bumpy road. I’m not going to delve into the necessities, or lack there of, when it comes to shooting 4k and upward—there are plenty of blog out there about it. I just want to tell my personal 4k story and, more importantly, talk in depth about the a7s/Shogun combo just in case anyone planning on assembling this set up stumbles across my article and needs a little help deciding. If you don’t wanna hear me drone on, skip to the good stuff, scroll down to THE IMPORTANT STUFF section below.
My main cameras were a Blackmagic (BMCC) 2.5K camera and the Canon t2i—the first camera I ever bought. The t2i taught me everything I needed to know about HD video, and how to manually operate a camera. I was among the first to own a BMCC, I ordered one straight away after they were announced at NAB. I used the BMCC for almost two years and just as I was reaching the point where I was making a living, souly as a videographer, tragedy struck. On a job, my BMCC sunk to the bottom of a lake in below freezing temperatures. That was the end of the line for that cinema camera. But not all was lost. Through the grace of God, and the good heart of a single producer on that project, I quickly became the owner of a Red One Mx—what I thought was my dream camera at the time. This was also happening at the same exact time I was uprooting myself from my home in Kentucky to finally move to California and pursue my filmmaking dreams. It became abundantly clear that the Red One was a little more than out dated. So, it wasn’t weeks after arriving in LA that I became the proud owner of a Red Scarlet Mx—a still outdated camera, but defiantly newer than the Red One. I was moving up the latter. I still own and operate that Red Scarlet both personally and commercially. I dream of upgrading to the Red Weapon, but who has $60,000-$100,00 to drop on a camera. Now to get to the point. Tragedy struck once a gain when a misstep on a job sight led to my main ‘run and gun’ camera, a Sony Ax33 took a dive on the pavement. I was supplying Social Media Content at the time, so the AX33, mostly a consumer cam, served me well with some add-ons. This led me to where I am now. With more jobs coming up, I had to buy a new rig.
Me being me, of course I wanted 4k, or at least the option. The a7sII was just released, and I wanted it bad. The internal 5-axis stabilization is unbelievable, the 3-axis in my AX33 was great. And internal 4k is always a plus. But did I need it? We could argue about that all day. But I’ll just tell you, I ended up with the first a7s. And here’s why. I have film projects coming up that I have to shoot anamorphic. But I have no monitoring system to live view desqueezed footage. So, I really need a robust monitor capable of this. So, being as the Atomos Shogun retails at $2000, that left me with barely $1500 to spend on a new cam. So, i could totally buy another Ax33, or the recently announced Ax53 (more to come on that one later). But, I had owned an a7s briefly right before purchasing my Scarlet. I sold the a7s to afford the scarlet. And, I loved it…to say the least. So, being in a hurry, I purchased the next used a7s I came across. I had jobs coming up that were too close for comfort. It was either the a7sII and no shogun, or the a7s and a Shogun. That’s the long story short.
So, her I sit with this jewel:
That is a Sony a7s with a Metabones E to EF speebooster inside of a Honu a7s/gh4 both picked up on Craigslist, an Atomos Shogun from Film Tools in Pasadena inside a VARAVON Armor cage from Samy’s Camera in LA, One of my Rokinon DS primes, a Kamerar follow focus, a really cheap but impressive Aputure LED light i’ve been testing out, my Sennheiser MKE 600 mic, and its all sitting on top of my Manfrotto.
I’ve had this rig about a week now and i’ve been shooting with it every spare second I get.
If you’ve read this far into this post, then you already know that the a7s comes with a VERY steep learning curve. Being as that is a whole other post with in and of itself, I’m just going to continue hoping you understand that the a7s is futuristic when it comes to Low Light capabilites, but you really have to know what you are doing, as a cinematographer, to get good results.
THE IMPORTANT STUFF
How does it pair with the shogun? I’m still learning it, so this will be an evolving review, but over all it’s good. But the shogun is a little testy at times.
First thing you have to know, according to my online searches, is that every other person that buys the shogun has issues with the included battery system right out of the gate. And I did. The included battery came with about half a charge, and I got about twenty-five to thirty minutes of shooting out of it in the parking lot of Film Tools in Pasadena (those guys rock). Normal enough. But that night, after the battery had been on the included charger for HOURS, the battery only read to be about 2/3rds charged. WTF mates? The charger’s indicators both stay red, instead of one turning green while it’s charging and the other switching to green once the charge is complete. I started googling and found that plenty had people had this problem. Apparently Atomos is very well aware of this because this month, there is an included bonus for anyone who buys the Shogun, an external battery solution that can power, not only the shogun, but an a7s or GH4 for hours on end. Mine is in the mail as I write this, as soon as it is in, I’ll continue this post below with what I’ve learned about it.
But in the mean time here what I did. If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a whole drawer full of spare camera components, chargers, battery’s etc. Luckily, I had another cheap Chinese charger that is identical to the include Shogun charger, meant for a completely different battery system—one of those that company’s like ATOMOS buy in bulk and slap their logo on. I switched the charging tray from the Shogun’s charger into the other charger and………….It charged right up. Though, even on the older charger, the indicator on the charger never showed that the battery was full. These chargers are cheap, and not to be trusted.
If you do have a similar charger to switch the port with, just insure that they require the same input etc. Please don’t switch it with anything incompatible.
So, despite also being a cheap knock-off Sony battery, it will hold a charge….for now. My best advice, whenever buying any piece of electronic kit, jump on Ebay and purchase the genuine manufacturer batteries. Skimp on other things, don’t skimp on this. But this solution solved my problem until my battery kit gets here. Beware that if you buy a shogun Kit, there is a high likelihood of experience a battery issue straight away.
UPDATE: My battery problems only deteriorated from there. After switching the aforementioned battery trays, my problem was fixed for no more than two charges. Then I was back to square one. The weird LED indicators problem came back, and my batteries wouldn’t charge to their fullest. So, I finally broke down and went and purchased a Sony brand charger, specifically the AC-VQ1051D Dual battery charger. Surprisingly it was only $99 bucks. eighty-something if you count the return of the cheaper charger. I should have taken my own advice and done this to begin with. All my battery problems are currently solved.
Upon writing this update, I still haven’t received my rebate battery unit, it’ll be interesting to see, when it comes, if/how I use it. The Shogun battery life has seriously improved upon buying Sony brand batteries and chargers, so I’m not sure that I’ll use it on account of the shogun. If I do use it, It will probably be on account of the a7s.
The next problem, amidst not being able to use the shogun for 1/3 of the batteries life, was that at first my touch screen was spotty. On several occasions, it wouldn’t let me stop recording, I’m assuming it was just freezing up. I’ve since updated it to the latest firmware, and the problem hasn’t reoccurred.
Which leads me to another quirk. When updating the firmware on the Shogun, one has to load the update onto a Shogun compatible drive. Luckily, the SSD’s left over from my Blackmagic days were compatible with the Shogun. I have a Sandisk Extreme 240gb SSD and a Sandisk Extreme 120gb SSD. This is the only reason I went with the Shogun over Odyssey Q7, non proprietary drives. But, I spent hours trying to update the firmware, the Shogun just wouldn’t take. There is a set of super clear, dummy proof instructions on Atomos’s website on how to update. I tried EVERYTHING for hours and it just wouldn’t go. I reformatted the drive on the Shogun, on my Macbook, you name it. The solution? I finally tried it with my 120gb drive instead of my 240gb drive. I have no idea, why it wouldn’t upgrade from my 240gb drive. It recognizes and records to that drive with no problem. But the first time I loaded the 120gb with the update, it updated immediately. I’ll just chalk that up to a quirk that can’t be explained. Keep this in mind when you open up your brand new Shogun and have to update before using. Might save you the time I wasted.
The next problem that I’m in the middle of getting to the bottom of, is that as soon as I started using the Shogun, I started getting a little more grain than I was last week before I was using it. I’m thinking that my choice to go with the cheaper HDMI cable might be to blame. But I’m only comparing this grain to the grain i was getting at 1080p internally. Controlling the intake of the a7s is already stranger than any other camera I’ve used, so adding the shogun to the mix is just another step of strangeness—so it’ll take some more testing, I’ll get back to yo on this.
For now, that’s all I have to say hardware related.
Software wise, the anamorphic desqueezing is lovely. Loading Lut’s to the Shogun is a sinch, and very helpful…who wants to look at ugly flat SLog all day long. Switching through LUT viewing modes is very intuitive.
The focus peaking is….good. I haven’t really gotten used to it yet. I’ve never had a camera or monitor system that I could nail focus with, quite like the Blackmagic focus peaking system. Personal preference, I know. But focus peaking on the Shogun is usable, you can switch the color of the peaking and switch through sever different peaking modes. I’ll probably prefer it once I get used to it. I’ll get back to you on this as well.
The wave forms are everything you could ask for and more. The usual waveforms are there and you can not only move them around on your screen but increase/decreases their transparency to your own liking. Very comfortable.
Even through the previously stated freezing problem, I’ve yet to lose a frame or a shot. So it’s reliable.
Build quality wise, it is plasticy. I wasn’t going to use it for a second without a case. I set out hopeful to buy a rubber case like the one that come with the newly released Ninja Assassin but came home with the CARAVON Armor Shogun and I LOVE it. It has tightening screws (bottom left) to secure incoming and outgoing HDMI’s. The cage retails around $175, I picked mine up at Samy’s Camera—at the bigger location they have in LA. It was a little more than I wanted to spend, but I figured it was worth while in that it will protect my investment.
The Shogun comes in the best Pelican case ever. I now wish all of my pelican case were bright yellow. I have way toooooooo many Pelican cases.
The Honu a7s/GH4 cage is lovely. One of my biggest problem as soon as I started rigging the a7s—as happens with a lot of DSLR form-factor cameras—is that there is no way to lock the camera to a 1/4-20 thread. The Honu cage achieves this by locking to the bottom thread traditionally, then also locking into the shoe on top. The camera doesn’t budge. I have ordered the Honu top handle and it is on the way. I built the bottom half of the railing system with some old parts I had laying around, but mine are worn out so I’ll probably order the Honu rails in the coming weeks.
UPDATE: The handle came in from amazon, and it is worthless. It has a really strange mechanism that is meant to hold it in place. It really doesn’t hold well, not well enough to be trusted with heavy equipment. While trying to tighten it, I stripped the tightening wheel too bad to return it, so I tossed it aside and threw my Wooden Camera handle from my Red kit on it, to hold me over. The cage just has too many things….I don’t want to say wrong with it…but strange about it, so I’m letting it go. The strangest being that lots of the mounting holes aren’t threaded. Not only that, but the holes on top also seem to be kind of randomly placed. My Wooden Handle is on at a slight angle, beacuase a couple of the top holes that I really need to use, AREN’T threaded. So weird. The other thing is that the locking system up top, though it does hold well once you get it lined out, doesn’t work perfectly with the Metabones EF adapter. None of these problems are HUGE, every one of them has a work around. But personally, considering how much I will be using this rig, I want something I don’t ever have to worry about fighting to get a perfect set up.
The Aputure AL-H198C light is mounted more for my own benefit. I’m going to be using this camera for two things, commercial work and film work. And i’ll probably only use it for film in the dark, and I hate fiddling around in the dark, so it’s in the bag when I need it. But, I’m including it in this post because this particular light is a little jewel. I think I payed $35 for it. It was on sale. It takes Sony NP batteries or six AA batteries—I currently have it loaded with my rechargeable energizers. I bought it straight away because it is brightness AND color balance adjustable. So, in case I do wanna throw it on for an eye light or something, I wouldn’t have to switch gels, just spin the dial. Not only is it impressively bright for such a small light, but there was a model at Samy’s that was noticeably brighter, it just didn’t have the Kelvin adjustment. Being as I’ll probably use it most with the a7s, brightness wasn’t an issue so I opted for the adjustable model. As you can see below, this model isn’t as bright because it divides the LED’s in half and switches between them for color balance. The other model uses all the diodes at all times.
That’s all for now, more to come