António Morais crouching down behind his camera

Number 6 | Shooting with the Alpha 7S III

António Morais

My name is António Morais – a Cinematographer and Sony Ambassador from Portugal. From an early age, my father gave me a taste for imaging, from painting to photography and film. I soon realised that the static image was not enough to crystallise my thoughts and I knew I wanted something more. Freezing the moment had its magic, but letting it live within the four lines of the frame seemed more challenging. After graduating, I haven’t stopped shooting video which reinforced my passion for cinematography. I have travelled to over 30 countries, always accompanied by what I like most, my cameras and accessories. When shooting difficulties arise, I calm down, feeling privileged, because I believe that my work helps people to travel, either through showing the real world or a fiction in the images I capture. I have recently been given the opportunity to shoot with the new Alpha 7S III and decided to test it in a cinema set condition to shoot my new project: “Number 6”.

Number 6: Choosing the right equipment for the Alpha 7S III

For this short movie, I opted for a very simple and versatile setup to have mobility in my shoot. I used a SmallRig cage, an Atomos Ninja V monitor, along with a baseplate, rods and support for the matte box.

For lights, I chose an all LED light setup. I love them as they are so fast and convenient to assemble. With the help of Filipe Ferraria (gaffer) and Pedro Teixeira (light assistant) we were able to achieve some very complex light set-ups in a tight schedule. To give you an example on how difficult it was, we shot inside the Planetarium’s dome where we had to work with the projector’s light as our base exposure which ended up being at 24fps 1/30 of a second at 16,000 ISO. Unbelievably, we were working with some of our cinema light sources at only 5 to 10%!

Another important aspect of filmmaking is choosing the right lens. For me, it had to be the G Masters lenses as they are designed specifically to take the best of the Sony cameras. For different looks, I opted for 24mm f/1.4 GM, 135mm f/1.8 GM and 400mm f/2.8 GM OSS.

Finally, the audio part was exclusively done in post-production. For storytelling purposes, we had to have a sound design that matches the style of the short movie. Ricardo Teixeira, the director, worked closely alongside Daniel Carvalho, our music composer, to achieve the level of sound intricacy that this piece needed.

António Morais framing a shot on his camera

Number 6: Choosing the right settings on the Alpha 7S III

Overall, I found the Alpha 7S III more mature and well-rounded than previous Alpha 7S models for filmmaking as you can see in the video. I shot in 4K (UHD) from 24P to 120P and at the highest resolution and a less compressed video codec (XAVC-S-I) at 10-bit 4:2:2 to get the best out of the image in all our lighting setups.

For picture profile, we opted for S-log3/S-gamut3 for the best dynamic as the scenes had a lot of contrast. The White Balance was of course set for each specific scene. For colour grading, we worked with Stéphane Sagaz, a Colourist and DIT, and developed a LUT to make the most of the dynamic range when used in S-log3/S-gamut3 to give everyone on set a view on the look of the final shot we were aiming for. This process is very important to give the whole crew a sense of where the final movie is going and creating this LUT in advance was also very useful to start the editing process as well and gave us a good base.

When it came to autofocus, I adjusted the speed and tracking sensitivity settings that let me emulate a manual rack focus. The camera behaved flawlessly every time except when it was completely dark in the scene, unsurprisingly.  For these special light conditions, it was very easy to make it lock focus on a certain position and wait for the light to turn on again to focus on a face again. In these situations, I used manual focus using the focus assist function which is a joy to use with the new EVF and LCD screen. Speaking of the screen, the touch integration and new menu made this camera even more fluid and easy to use. The battery life and the heat dissipation are also very impressive from an operator point of view, especially on the 16-hour shooting day we had.

Number 6: The post-production process

Post-production is an important process at Golpe Filmes. Our workflow involves both Adobe Premiere Pro and Davinci Resolve to work in tandem. For this project we transcoded the footage to a more manageable file to edit in Premiere and then we linked to the original files for the final grading. In this final process the 10-bit 4:2:2 codec made everything more enjoyable and more creative.

The director worked on the editing process with the help of Ana Moreira the Assistant Director alongside the Colourist Stéphane Sagaz. On the style we chose, we are now in an era where pastel colours are quite mainstream. I really like to go against this approach. Therefore, we opted for more punchy and contrasted images by using lighting ratios and colour contrast on set and refining in post for the light and colours to shine. I have always liked accentuated looks and I admire DP’s that have a body of work that showcases them. Two of my biggest inspirations are Roger Deakins ASC and Vittorio Storaro ASC, who both work within those boundaries of light and colour.

António Morais focusing a shot on his camera

The files that come from the Alpha 7S III are much better than previous models. The biggest difference is off course the 10-bit 4:2:2 but there is something else. I feel that Sony did some tweaking to their colour science, aiming for more natural and cleaner skin tones which is very good. Don’t get me wrong – the previous models were very capable, but they were limited by the 8-bit codec.

Another important aspect shooting a short movie is file transfer speeds. The new CFExpress Type A cards are just so fast! We copied a full 160GB card in less than 3 minutes on set. For example, I clearly remember delivering the card to Francisco (1st AD) and getting it back in the blink of an eye between set ups. I then asked Stéphane if I could safely format and he told me yes, he had copied twice! That says everything about the technology behind these cards.

Final thoughts on using Alpha 7S III on a set

As I’ve mentioned before, this is a much more well-rounded and mature camera than its predecessors for professional usage. The experience I had on set was smooth and the camera never failed me. With this kind of camera, I need fidelity and reliability from a camera which is what the Alpha 7S III gave me. I can’t risk even a minute on set second-guessing my equipment because I need all the time possible to be creative.

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