By Logan Wood
Once or twice a year each camera brand releases a new camera, and these days all their specs seem to blend together. So, what makes the Sony a7R V so special? Why is this camera, among so many others, one of most talked about cameras for Sony shooters? For a bit of context, I focus mainly on video, but when documenting trips or shoots, I switch between photo and video. And that’s what appealed to me about a7R V is that its this killer stills camera, with video abilities that haven’t really been seen before in the R-line of Sony cameras. Below is a quick run-down of some photos and videos, from Ikelite’s Exuma Islands Expedition, that showcase Sony’s latest camera tech.
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When diving, the best shots can be ever fleeting, and only way you can capture those moments are when you and your camera work in perfect harmony. One key element to that success is a fast and reliable autofocus, and the Sony a7R V has got one of the best in the business. Below are three of my favorite moments when the autofocus worked perfectly.
The shot on the far right is a great example, and captures the excitement of the moment so well. This was right as we surfaced from a drift dive, and there was a group of nurse sharks resting in the sea grass right below us, everyone was so excited to see them.
As soon as we surfaced, I shot a sequence of 5 images, and each one hit focus perfectly. If the camera’s autofocus was hunting around the image or too slow to lock onto Peach's face, I would have missed the real emotion of the moment. Fortunately, all I had to do was choose which one I liked the most.
The next image was truly a fleeting moment. While ascending from my dive, I was recording video of the fish around me. As I looked up, I saw this diver reaching for the ladder, flooded in sun rays. Thanks to the custom functions I set up earlier, I was able to quickly switch out of video mode to photo mode and instantly take the shot. It’s not that the fast autofocus, or 10 frames per second made the shot, but they worked perfectly in the background, and as I’m sure many of you know, it can be extremely frustrating when they don’t.
The next three set of images are split-shots, and for me, these were a bit more of an effort to get and a less “run-and-gun” than the other shots. My mode of operation here was just setting the focus area on center fix, cranking the burst rate up to Hi+, pointing in the general direction, and hoping for the best. Ok, maybe there’s a little more skill involved, but as you can see from the burst sequence below, I missed a ton of shots.
The problem here is that the camera was wanting to focus on the waves that were lapping on the front of the dome. That’s why having a center fix focus area is so important. I missed many of these shots because I was using the “Wide” focus area, and the camera was hunting the entire image for the subject, when she was in the middleground, lost amongst waves. This isn’t a knock on the autofocus, it’s just a time to know what setting to use to get the best result.
All of these were shot in compressed RAW with file sizes around 65-80 megabytes, I don’t have a need for anything else higher quality, but there are a few higher quality options on this camera. In my opinion if your shots are just going to end up on social media, like mine, they’re going to get crushed by compression anyways. I found that the compressed RAW format offered plenty of flexibility for editing, so that works for me. However, storage is cheap, and if you’re not filling up your card with 4K video like me, shoot in the highest quality. Just make sure it’s some form of RAW.
During my week of diving and shooting with this camera, I shot a ton of video, and to get the best idea of its video abilities I suggest checking out the video embedded on this page. It has lots of sample footage from the trip with live commentary to go along with it. We also have a quick one minute edit with lots more footage from this camera on our YouTube channel.
A big selling point for me on this camera is that I can shoot in 10-bit color. I used to shoot on a a7R III and was disappointed when I started shooting more video that I could only get 8-bit. So it’s cool that this camera can record a lot more information.
Above, you can see I was able to bring out so much color and dynamic range in this shot after converting it from LOG. I just applied Sony’s free SLOG-3 to rec.709 LUT. I haven’t done any color correction or grading to the footage past that. What’s great to see is the absence of any banding in the colors. I find that when I’m shooting the rich blue’s of the ocean, cameras can have a tough time with the dramatic change in colors. However, the Sony a7R V handled this really well and I’ve only seen banding on one shot from the whole week.
If you look closely, you can see faint lines in the blue of the water in this shark image. This is “banding” and can happen when you push the color of an image too far.
I also shot some standard color picture profile, mostly in 120 and 24 frames per second and those came out nice. I like having a bit more flexibility with my final image, so I usually stick to LOG, but Sony’s colors are great so you can’t go wrong when you’re getting this right out of camera. In your editing software, I would just add a little color boost to bring back some light and saturation that’s lost to the water. But after that I think it looks really great.
The only negative that I ran into was a weird amount of noise in some of my shots. It’s common to get some noise with LOG, but it was showing up in the standard picture profiles too, which should’ve been cleaner. I’m going to chalk it up to just being underwater and having less light along with the sensor being 60 megapixels, and usually the higher megapixel sensors have a bit worse low light performance. But the noise didn’t completely ruin anything, a lot of it is still usable. I think if it was shot on something like a Sony a7S III, I don’t think would be there.
One thing to note, and you can learn from my mistakes here, is that if you’re digging through the menu changing things, double check that something else didn’t change as well. There were a few times I was testing different picture profiles and frames rates and I would have to switch from 4K to HD or 10-bit to 8-bit and I’d change one thing and something else would or wouldn’t change with it. It can cause problems later in editing if you’re not fully aware of what’s going on in your camera. I suggest just keeping to one set of settings unless you really need to change something for your shot.
Autofocus for video was, like photos, really fast and it worked. Which was great because it wasn’t something I really had think about, it was basically point and shoot. I’d say I had a bit more issues when I was shooting at f/2.8, but most of the time the Sony a7R V did a great job tracking really anything I put in front of it. Most of the time I was shooting at f/4 or f/5.6 and I had very little issues, maybe one or two during the whole week.
Sony cameras have always had great in-body stabilization, and this camera improves upon an already great system. The Sony a7R V has eight stops of IBIS, which I found to be really smooth. It also made it easier to stabilize in post to take out some of the micro jitters from swimming around. Honestly, most of the time it’s hard to believe the footage is handheld.
I know 8K video is a big feature talked about with this camera, but personally, at this point I think it’s a bit of a gimmick. Eventually I think it’ll be great to have, but when it’s limited to 24 frames per second, not the best codec, and I’ve seen some really bad rolling shutter. It’s just not practical for what I’m doing and 4K works much better. If you want to crop in a lot or just have 8K footage, just make sure you’re grabbing a fast enough memory card. If you want to shoot the highest quality 8K internally you’ll need something faster than a v60 card, or drop down to 200 and v60 card should work. For underwater shooting, I think something like 8K 60 frames per second would make more sense.
Worth the upgrade
Those were my main take aways from a week diving and shooting with the Sony a7R V underwater. I just scratched the surface of what it can really do but if you’re looking to upgrade then I think you’d be making a good decision. It’s a fast, multifaceted, innovative camera, that will last you many years. Check out part one if you haven’t and reach out to us via email@example.com with any questions you might have.
Logan Wood is a published photographer, cinematographer, and Producer at Ikelite. Stemming from a great appreciation for the outdoors and living an active lifestyle, his work focuses on capturing and sharing the natural world through the latest technologies. When not in the studio, Logan can be found cruising on his bike, going to concerts, and researching where to go next. You can see more of his work at loganwood.net and on Instagram @jlowood