Post Production

Small Camera, Big Picture – Producing a Dream with the Sony a6300

Shooting, producing and editing a promo film in two days

Being a filmmaker who primarily produces international documentaries, both long and short, I know the pain of traveling with large kits and dread the idea of bringing my full package, which includes my Sony FS7. It is always a pain filing the paperwork, making sure I’m first on the plane for overhead space, and then lugging the gear around in taxi cabs all over the city. I wanted to see how I could make a smaller package work without sacrificing too much on the quality of my finished product.

My girlfriend is currently located in Accra, Ghana, where her company is working out of a collaborative workspace for startups. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit her and the co-op workspace and I decided to take a camera just in case anyone at the space needed a short film made for their project. You never know. So, instead of packing the whole kit (see above), especially when I was only here to see my girlfriend, I threw my Sony a6300 in a bag along with a Canon 24-105 lens, adapted using a Metabones speed booster, a Zoom H4N, a Sennheiser MKH416 (I am a nut about audio and never go anywhere without this microphone), and a Sennheiser Evolution wireless kit. With everything in my backpack, I took off for my trip.

True to form, Practical Education Network, an organization working to teach Ghanaian students science using hands on learning techniques, asked for help creating a short promo film. We shot for approximately four hours, producing three interviews and b-roll, came back and edited it the next day.

Here is what I discovered about the a6300;

For the shoot I set the camera to S-log3, 100MBs in 4K. For focusing, I used peaks and focus magnification and lived with the microscopic screen on the back. I also turned on the Monitoring LUT*, allowing me to see what my image was going to look like in post.

(*I know this might be controversial to say, but I think the Monitoring LUT looks better on the a6300 than the Monitoring LUT on the FS7, not that it matters at all.)

The camera shoots amazing, clean images, with high dynamic range that are very forgiving in post. For as well as this little camera shoots, let me spell out all the issues you must overcome while using it as a primary camera:

  • I have read stories of the camera overheating but have only experienced it once in the past and, even though it told me it was overheating with a little thermometer icon, it didn’t shut down. You can decide if that is a good or bad thing.
  • Another thing I had read about this camera that spooked me; the rolling shutter is pretty bad. It is a thing, I won’t lie, and it is bad. I am not sure if it is worse than the a7s ii but I do know it is worse than the FS7. That being said I would not worry about a little rolling shutter. I learned to shoot around it and am always trying to cover it with an amazing story so people don’t notice!
  • The batteries don’t last long so you have to buy a ton of them or rig up some external power solution. I decided to buy a ton of batteries and change them every 30-45 minutes. Reading that the generic ones are not very good and Sony ones are overpriced I found a happy medium with the Vivitar brand.
  • No headphone jack.
  • I wish the histogram could show the S-log3 image when you have the monitoring LUT on. Even though I would like to look at the final image, I would prefer to monitor what is actually being recorded.

Because I had a ton of shots to get and only a few hours to get it done, I shot all the b-roll hand held and used a tripod for the interviews. Beware! The camera sucks light. I typically carry a circular ND, but forgot it (just visiting the girlfriend… remember?). To compensate for the lack of ND, I shot everything inside, or at dusk. There is really no way to compensate without the ND, so don’t forget the ND! I also recommend a Hoodman because the monitor is glossy. Why? I don’t know… Sony?

For audio, I hung my Zoom H4N around my neck, placed the shotgun on top of the camera and put a lav mic on one of the teachers for some verite moments. I looked like a geek.

Post

Post production is where this setup starts to fall apart. While Premiere Pro does take the AVC format, it does not seem to work as smoothly with the a6300 as it does with the FS7. I have retreated to re-wrapping the files using Pavtube Video Converter, which eats up a lot of time, and then I have to synch the audio. I note that Sony makes an XLR adapter for this camera, but I cannot justify the $600 on my b-cam when PluralEyes works so well.

Once my ADHD survived the long post production set up, I was able to shape the story. Because this was a quick project on a deadline, I didn’t have a lot of time for color grading. I simply added the Lumetri color LUT in Premiere Pro and brought the exposure down on the outside interview. Because I forgot the ND, I had slightly over exposed the image outdoors, allowing me to open the iris more and give me some depth. In post, I brought the exposure back down. The camera in Slog-3 is very forgiving. Other than that what you see is what I shot.

Overall the camera is amazing and I am learning to trust it as a backup camera or as an incognito camera. At times, smaller and less conspicuous is best for my line of work. That being said, I will take my FS7 any day of the week! As everyone will tell you, use the gear that is best for the job at hand.

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Timothy Wolfer is an Emmy award winning documentary filmmaker who specializes in providing compelling and credible coverage of humanitarian issues and international development. His travels have allowed him to produce in 25 countries such as:…

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CRAYONSEEDTimothy WolferMarcus WarrenMtDJeremy W Recent comment authors
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Jeremy W
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That’s a compact kit. I’m curious as to why you wouldn’t use EditReady to rewrap your footage? And one of those big Anker battery packs would probably work wonders for powering the camera.

CRAYONSEED
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CRAYONSEED

Thank so for this write-up. Have you considered using Davinci Resolve in post? You can sync the audio, apply a lut and export in prores or h264 in one step before editing, instead of having to use pavtube, then pluraleyes.

Fast rendering, too…

Timothy Wolfer
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I have not used Davinci Resolve. When I send stuff out for color grading I know that is what my Colorist uses. However if it can save me a few steps and time I might try it out. Thanks for the tip. How good is Resolve for auto syncing tons of b-roll? Will it match the 100 clips to 100 sources of audio without me telling it which one goes where?

CRAYONSEED
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CRAYONSEED

Hey man, it’s my pleasure. I just tested Resolve audio syncing with a client job that was well over 100 clips. What I found was that it worked well enough, but sometimes needed massaging when there were a lot of very small clips where the waveform was presumably not long enough. Funny thing is that when I would do 4-5 of these at a time, it would work regardless of the waveform. I should also note that I did not send a tone from my audio recorder or slate, which I should have done. You can also make things a… Read more »

MtD
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MtD

A couple of comments: I too, love the a6300 for this kind of work. The picture quality is stunning at this price point, and you can’t overstate the value of keeping a low profile. If I have to go very low light I’ll use my a7s, but 90% of the time I’m using the a6300. Yes, it burns through batteries. I have external power supplies for the camera, but usually don’t use them unless the camera is locked down on a tripod. I’ve also got the XLR-K2M XLR Adapter which I’ll use – again – if the camera is on… Read more »

Timothy Wolfer
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You stated it well. Great for low profile work and, yes, battery life sucks.

Marcus Warren
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Marcus Warren

Well done and looks good. I always hear that Canon has better color science than Sony cameras. How do you respond to that?

Timothy Wolfer
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So, I have heard this too. However I decided to go Sony with my FS7 and wanted to keep my b-cam consistent. The reason I started with the FS7 is that it is a shoulder mount camera without a rig. For docs where you shoot handheld for 6-12 hours a day, this takes a lot of pressure off your arms and no set up time if you need the camera to be ready in a moment’s notice. For the a6300 I like that they make a XLR adapter for it so I can use my MKH416 (once I do spend… Read more »