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How to make your Sony Alpha 7 III footage look cinematic

Filmmaking | Camera knowledge

How to make your Sony Alpha 7 III footage look cinematic fast!

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In today’s Article i want to talk about on how to make your Sony Alpha 7 iii Footage look cinematic.

I’ll explain to you my resolution and framerate settings, which picture profile I’m using and how to use it, how I set up my custom buttons to have the perfect settings in a run and gun environment and which Equipment I’m using to give the footage a more cinematic touch. 

Shooting with 8 Bit Cameras

Shooting Videos with an 8-Bit Camera and a limited dynamic range has its challenges. You’ll have to take a lot more care when taking the footage as you won’t have a lot of freedom fixing over or underexposed clips.

I’ve been using the Sony Alpha 7 III now for 1 ½ Years and I tried a lot of different Settings. Some while ago I left 120 FPS and CINE 4 behind me and finally found my holy grail of Settings, which work perfect for me. So let’s jump right into the Menu of my Sony Alpha 7 III.

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#1: Resolution:

I try to film as much as possible in 4K as it gives me a lot more freedom during post production. Unfortunately with the Sony Alpha 7 III we’re limited to 30 Frames per Second. So if you want to film 60 Frames per Seconds and higher you’ll have to reduce your resolution down to Full HD.

My Go-To Setting is 4K 30FPS with a Shutterspeed of 1/60 s on a 24 frames per second timeline. Let me tell you why:

  • I can still decide in Post, if I want to reduce the Footage to 80% SloMo or increase the Speed to 100%
  • With 80% SloMo your Video looks still quite natural and with a Shutter Speed of 1/60s you’ll get enough motion blur for your filmic look.
  • Slowing down your clip to 80% can smooth out your handheld footage. It will look a lot less shaky, which for me is the biggest advantage. It’s not a real slow motion, it’s rather a little dreamy, but still realistic.

 

High Frame Rate Settings

I only use 60 FPS to emphasize special Moments. Although of course Slow Motion always looks kind of cool and epic, the viewer might feel disconnected to what he sees in your video. A whole Video in Slow Motion feels unnatural and you’re losing the effect of Slow Motion in Moments, where you can really use it to make a Moment feel more Special.

120 Frames per second I’m only using, when I’m filming very fast moving objects and people. Filming a Person during a natural movement with 120 frames per second feels way too slow for me. Of course you can increase the speed again in post, but you’ll lose Image Quality and almost have no natural motion blur.

I’ll explain later how I set up my custom buttons to have quick access to the above mentioned settings.

#2 Picture Profile:

I’ve got to be honest: I’m not a very technical person and Sony Picture Profiles are still a mystery for me. So for now I can only tell you what works best for me. After testing different profiles the winner for me is the HLG 3 Picture Profile.

Here’s why:

  1. It’s a flat picture profile, which gives you a higher dynamic range and more flexibility in post
  2. It’s easy to expose – as long as you keep your exposure meter at around +1 and set your zebras at 99+ you should get usable footage – I know – it won’t work in every Situation. Soo try to avoid shooting during times where it’s very bright outside. I always prefer to shoot in the morning or late afternoon or during cloudy days
  3. It shows enough contrast so you can still see what’s happening on your small camera screen
  4. it’s easy to edit in post. I’ll show you in my next video how to do it

 

When it comes to the HLG 3 Settings I kept almost everything in standard, I only changed details to -7 as the in camera sharpening looks way too digital. It’s a better Solution to do a little bit of sharpening in post.

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3# Custom Button Settings

In a run and gun shooting environment it’s important to have your favorite settings always ready and easy to dial in, otherwise you might miss your shot. Especially as the Menu of the Sony Alpha 7 III is a ….. Well, it’s a nightmare.

So let me show you how I customized my buttons:

You can save your most important settings via the 2 memory positions on your mode dial.

Turn your mode dial on position 1. Now you can set up your camera: As mentioned above I use:

  • 4K 30 frames per second
  • picture profile 5 ( which corresponds to HLG 3 just don’t forget to reduce the detail settings)
  • next set your aperture to F2.8 (or your largest aperture)
  • Shutter Speed at double your frame rate – In my case 1/60 of a second.
  • Next set your white balance ( I often use the cloudy preset as it gives the footage a warm color, depending on what kind of look you want)
  • set your ISO at the lowest possible setting.

Now save all the Settings in your Menu right here . 

Next dial in position 2. Now we set up the SloMo Settings. You can keep most of the settings as mentioned before. Switch to Full HD and 60 FPS (Or 120FPS, if that’s your preference) and change the shutter speed to one hundred and twentieth of a Second or two hundred fortieth of a second for 120 Frames per second. Now go back into your Menu and save the settings.

That’s already it, for me the perfect basic settings to start with, available with just one switch of my mode dial. 

Of course those settings won’t work in every situation, so you’ll need some more custom settings to make quick changes.

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Customize your C-Buttons

Most Important: I changed the turn wheel to the ISO Setting. As you have a fixed Shutter Speed and most of the time you also want to have the highest Aperture, the ISO setting is the only way to correct your exposure. Having it on the wheel gives you very quick access.

My C1 Button changes the white balance. Always try to keep the white balance consistent for one sequence and don’t rely on auto white balance – fluctuating white balance will be very difficult to fix in post.

My C2 Button Changes the focus field. For wide and medium shots I often use the “field” focus field and for close up shots I use the flexible spot to have more control of the focus point.

With My C3 Button I can switch to APS-C mode which gives a 1,5 times crop. Super helpful, when you’re using Prime Lenses and need to zoom in a little bit.

 

With my C4 Button I’m switching the touch sensitive screen on and off. When switching it on  I can change the focus point with my finger tip.

#4  Equipment:

To give my footage a more cinematic touch there are a few tools I’m almost using for every shot, which won’t break the bank but can have a huge impact on your shots. You’ll find the links to the products down in my description.

 

ND Filter

First of all there is this Freewell variable ND Filter. As with a shutter speed of one sixtieth of a second most of your shots would be overexposed. So when you want to keep your aperture, the only chance to expose the image correctly is to use a ND Filter. For a few months now I’ve been using the variable ND Filters from Freewell with a built-in Mist Filter.

The Built quality is very good and the filter doesn’t change the colors too much, you’re super flexible with the variable stops and you even have this mechanical feel, when you come to one stop.

But the best of all is the built in mist filter, which makes the footage a lot smoother and not so digital. Especially, when you’re taking shots with backlight. I really love the dreamy look and character the filter adds to the footage. I mean look at this … I could watch that for hours.

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Stabilization

The second tool I’m using all the time is some sort of stabilization. Often I’m only using this Smallrig top handle. It’s very fast to set up and already has a huge Impact to get smoother footage.

When I’m using longer lenses I tend to use my Ronin SC Gimbal. It’s affordable and does its job. Unfortunately it doesn’t carry my 24-70 millimeter Sigma lense. But walking with my 85 millimeter on the gimbal gives me butter smooth footage.

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Sound

The third tool I’m always using is this Sennheiser MKE 400 Microphone. As you know 50% of the Viewer’s experience of your Video should be sound. So using Sound Effects is super important to make your footage come more alive and cinematic.

I tended to use all Sound Effects from envato elements and deleted all original sounds from the camera. But it saves you so much more time, if you can use the  original sounds and it also makes it more authentic. I’m still using the extensive Library from Envato Elements but I try to do as much as possible with my Sennheiser MKE 400. 

The microphone is very compact, the sound quality is super Impressive and you can even do Voice Overs with that microphone. I did the voiceover of my Greece video with the Sennheiser MKE 400 and I was really surprised by it.

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Lense

Last but not least I want to mention my Sony 85 mm f 1.8 lense. The Image Quality for the price tag of 450€ is simply amazing. The compressed look with this beautiful bokeh looks perfectly cinematic. If I could own only one lense, then this lense would be the one!

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That’s it – My Settings and tools to make my Sony Alpha 7 iii footage look more cinematic. I hope I could help you to make your alpha 7 more efficient and cinematic.

In the next article I’ll show you my workflow of editing my footage.

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