Ask Paul: What would you recommend for getting started with video?

Getting started with Video with Sony cameras.png

I enjoy hearing from colleagues and friends about Sony and am starting to get more and more inquiries not only about the Sony a9 camera but also, video.

As a photographer who has made most of his living with the frozen (still) image for nearly 3 decades, I'm starting to add more video to my mix this year and I couldn't be more excited about it.

I got an inquiry from a photographer who is primarily a wedding and portrait shooter and, with his permission, I'm sharing this email and response because I think it's really an issue that many starting out deal with.  ENJOY!

Q: Hey there, Paul! This time, it’s MY turn to ask you some questions.

Well, it’s really ONE question, but please bear with me.

We have been seriously considering adding video to our skill set. In so many ways, I feel like I waited too long.

So we’re now trying to refocus our efforts.

I don’t know if it will work, but we’re wiling to explore. Long story made short: As you know, I’ve already been invested in the Micro Four Thirds system with Olympus.

However, video is merely a hobby for Olympus, and they’ve admitted as much.

One of the most popular cameras for video is the Panasonic camera, a GH4 or a GH5, which would also allow me to use my current investment of Olympus glass. HOWEVER, it seems the Panasonic GH5 has some serious issues with autofocus, and a number of reviewers are complaining about it or simply tolerating it and saying “For video I use manual focus anyway.”

So if you were looking to recommend a camera to produce video clips for an experienced primarily stills photographer, what would you recommend? I’d be glad to have your honest opinion about it. Notice, I have NOT defined a budget. I’m merely interested in the tool that will serve me well, and I can decide budget from there. Thanks for your input! No rush. I don’t have any cash burning a hole in my pocket. LOL! Thanks! again.

And here's my reply

(TL;DNR - get the Sony a6500, and 16-50 kit lens to start or, get the 18-105 Sony with it's power zoom -- perfect for video.  Then add a full frame camera like the a7SII, the a7RII or the new a9 and get the ability to shoot full frame video).

Thanks so much for your note.  Those are some great questions.  And I will try to give you what I think is the best answer.

So you know I’m a Sony guy so I’m not going to sugar coat it.  I think they have the best view of the future going forward from both the standpoint of stills and video.

In fact, if you go back to my Sony switch You Tube back in 2014, you’ll see that — ironically enough — my first choice for switching to Sony wasn’t stills, it was video (and still is).

I do believe that video is going to be figuring into our futures — even us still shooters — because that is the way the world is evolving.  If you watch little ones, and I watch my kids and how they consume information on the web and they 1) love video and 2) easily go back and forth from stills to video — on an iPhone or an iPad it’s a swipe or a button press.  That is the future and video is going to be omnipresent.

I see this in many ways just as profound a shift — actually MORE of a shift — than when we went from film to digital.  This will impact not only our tools but the mindset with which we work.  It’s exciting and I am embracing my inner Spielberg as I move forward.  In fact I’m having more fun with it (despite the long learning curve to learn Premiere (but I’m getting there!) as I try to gain my footing on a somewhat rocky earth as the business changes.

In 2012 I was looking to update my gear since my Canon 5dm2 was getting long in the tooth as were the v1 zooms and I wanted to look at everything.  And I did.  Everything (well almost everything but enough to make what I feel was the best decision for me).

Babysteps, babysteps...

First came Samsung.  

I was given an early camera (which was BAD) but it came with an 85 mm f1.4 lens (which was INSANELY great) and while the EVF was slow, the camera was primitive, I had a sense that this was where the future was going.  Good thing I didn’t go in that brand direction because Samsung eventually bailed on their attempt, but still it was a great place to start.

Then I tried Olympus, Panasonic (GH2, GH3 — before the GH4), early Fuji (I had an XE-1 and some glass) but none of them ever really made me think that I could give up DSLR 100% of the time.  I just never loved the look I was getting from M4/3 though I know many love them.  (As an aside, the GH5 is a great camera with some awesome specs — I will address that a bit more later….suffice it to say they raised the bar for the standard offerings for a small compact video/stills hybrid camera).

Doing DSLR with video was always a huge PITA for me.  I just didn’t like using it and having to put a viewfinder on the back of the monitor on the camera just seemed like such a compromise.  

Working with the Sony cameras, I use the tilting monitor on the back of the camera, add an external monitor (I haven’t yet done that but am looking at the new 5” monitor from Small HD, Atomos, or the Sony 5” monitor, or look through the EVF just like I would look through it if I were to be taking stills.  To have that many options really works for me…especially as I move to video coming from my ingrained habits of shooting stills.

I was just about ready to give up on mirrorless all together and re invest in DSLR until my good friend (and fellow Sony Artisan Pat Murphy-Racey) said to me:  “I know you’re frustrated with mirrorless and you don’t want to try anything else, but please try ONE more camera.”  He suggested the newly launched Sony a6000 and the newly launched 70-200 f4 and I rented them from and the rest, as they say, is history.

I knew within minutes of picking of the camera that this was indeed going to work for me…and I migrated from Canon DSLR to Sony immediately.  I also stopped any dalliances with other mirrorless systems because I believe I had found "the One" (how's that for a Matrix reference!?) that I was looking for.

Three Sensor Sizes Give Sony users a distinct advantage

One of the reason was choice:  there are three basic sensors that I can use — from 1” sensors on the RX100V, RX10II, III, to the APS-C sized sensor on the a6300 and a6500 to the full frame (35mm size) sensors on the a7RII, a7SII and now the a9.  I like having those options and in fact last night I photographed an event using only the a7SII and the a6500 and it was great.  

Start small, get your feet wet, then expand...

So my recommendation to you starting out as wanting to try the Sonys for video would be to get an a6500…I wouldn’t get an older camera because the a6500 has built in 5 axis IBIS and if you plan on shooting 4K video there is a thermal sensor override that lets you keep going with video and it works well. The a6300 which is a bit cheaper, doesn’t have the IBIS and tends to overheat when shooting 4k video. You don’t want that to happen so trust me and get the a6500.

For a lens, you can start with the little 16-50 kit lens which is actually a good little lens, but be careful with it…it isn’t super heavy duty….you could also look at the 18-105 f4 which has a power zoom and is a favorite of videographers who want to use the camera and lens on a gimbal.  And, because it’s a power zoom you won’t need to rebalance it as you zoom.

There is a 16-70 f4 Zeiss lens which is a very good lens, though it’s more of a still photography lens, meaning that as you zoom, the lens protrudes so it’s not ideal for using on a gimbal because it would mean having to rebalance.

After you get your feet wet with the a6500, then you might want to go up to a full frame sensor and then add some glass.

I love the 24-70 f2.8 GMaster, it is superb and works well in AF on the a6500…it covers Full Frame.  Then you could add an 85mm such as the 85mm f1.4

GMaster lens, the 85 1.8 Sony or the 85mm f1.8 Zeiss Batis.  All are native on the E mount cameras but full frame and cropped.  I also have a relatively inexpensive 10-18 f4 which is the perfect super wide for gimbal work and it gives you a 15-27mm equivalent on a full frame.  You could add a 70-200 then and I recommend the 2.8 because it is the best made 70-200 that I have ever used for stills.  The smoothest zoom and the most even manual focus make it so good.  I’m very happy with this lens.

New Life for Sony A Mount Glass with the a9

If you get an a9, then the world opens up even more for your needs in glass.  You can use the Sony A mount lenses (the earlier models, meant for the a99II and are the old Minolta Maxxum mount).  The new sensor of the a9, coupled with a souped up Sony LAEA3 adaptor and those lenses will track at 10 FPS.

I have a 24-70 f2.8 A Mount lens and I absolutely love it (it might even be sharper than the GMaster!) and is amazingly smooth in manual focus.  I use MF with this lens all the time for stills and video.  A superb lens and you could probably find a used one for a song. 

The other thing about the new a9 is that it should really open up the Canon glass even more using adapters such as the Sigma MC11 or a Metabones EF-E.  There are reports out that they will perform as well on the new a9 (EF glass that is) as it does natively.  Note:  I have not tried for myself, so I cannot speak to the claims personally, but I plan to try it as soon as possible.

If that was the case, it opens up the range of the Canon optics onto the Sony line and that is very cool (though Canon probably doesn’t love that news)…

Even the AF on the a6500 with the 24-70 f2.8 and the LAE3 is very very good.  I cannot wait to see what happens with the new camera and sensor.

So there you have it -- I hope you find it helpful.



Any follow up questions?  Please post them in the comments below!