1080p to 4K in Full-Frame with Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AI-s lens

We've come a long way from the days when we were shooting 640x480 SD (Before 720x480). Do you remember? Then we all transitioned to High Definition, got the first HD camcorders and put 35mm DOF adapters on them, because we couldn't get narrow DOF from small sensors with fixed lenses.

For the last few years, just like most filmmakers, I've been shooting High Definition Video. I've owned HD camcorders that have all been designed with the typical video form-factor. When everyone else decided to shoot DSLR's I resisted.

From the Panasonic AG-HVX200, ( I had a Redrock DOF adapter for this one) and the Sony NEX-VG10 camcorder, to the Full-Frame NEX-VG900, all of them "video form-factor." The latter two NEX's were designed to use interchangeable lenses. Goodbye DOF adapter! The VG10 was the first of its kind.

It was challenging making the switch from SD to HD and from linear editing to NLE, but who doesn't like progress, specially when it comes with better quality and higher definition? Now we are ready for another leap forward, 4K is here!

The difference between TV 4K and Cinema 4K is about 256 pixels

I've never liked the idea of shooting DSLR for video, but at the moment there is no video form-factor camcorder with a full-frame 35mm sensor that will shoot 4K without breaking the bank. In fact, I don't think anyone makes a 4K FF camcorder?? Oh yeah, I always forget Canon's EOS-1D C, true Cinema 4K (4096x2160) full-frame DSLR, but at a cost of around $8000.

Most video form-factor 4K camcorders are not full-frame. The latest "flavor" is the old Super 35mm which is smaller than FF, but allows filmmakers to use PL mount lenses - those finicky, overpriced film lenses nobody can afford.
Set of seven Zeiss CP.2 PL lenses will cost about $26K

I use old manual Nikon lenses as my "prime lenses." I get the full-frame, with all of the extra sensitivity and NO crop factor of a full-frame 35mm sensor.  I happen to like the look of vintage Nikon glass. See my other blog's post on Nikon lenses I recommend for video: Have to Have Nikon Lenses.

I highly recommend the use of 35mm photo lenses for video. You can use your Canon, Nikon, Leica lenses - you name it, just buy the appropriate adapter and go. PL mount lenses are expensive. Good sharp 35mm photo lenses are easy to find and reasonably priced. Check eBay. BTW you can also get a PL adaptor to use a PL mount on a Sony a7s if you wish.

One of the first 4K recordings I made was to test my Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AI-s lens on the Sony Alpha a7s. This 28mm is considered one of the sharpest lenses ever made by Nikon, and we all agree we want to use sharp lenses with 4K video.

Sony a7s with a Nikon 28mm f/2.8 AI-s manual lens (UHD 3840x2160 4K)

I set up the camera with an Atomos Shogun recorder, hooked up the HDMI, broke out my life-size carved wooden skull and hit record. You be the judge, remember to view full-screen, and select the highest resolution, 2160p 4K, to view at its best.

I don't know about you, but I am impressed with the sharpness of this un-touched footage, straight from the camera without grading or sharpening. IMHO Nikon's 28mm f/2.8 AI-s lens is indeed an amazing lens. I even like the Bokeh. See more about this lens: Nikon Wonder Lens.

I'm so glad we now have interchangeable lens FF sensor digital acquisition in 4K!

My Choice: Cage for Sony Alpha a7s

I always mention the fact that I don't like using still cameras for video. If you have read any of my posts on the subject, you're probably tired of it. Well, here I go again.

I'm making the best of this situation for the sake of shooting 4K without breaking the bank, although I have to admit that Sony, Canon, Nikon and all other camera manufacturers have come a long way in providing adequate video features on still cameras. I also realize that it's fun to customize your own rig however you see fit; expensive, but fun.

Small wonder among giants

The a7s is a relatively small still camera, not much to hold on to. Even though it seems pretty strong and built mostly of metal, its size conveys the illusion of frailty. I quickly decided I was going to need a cage for this little wonder.
CUBE ALPHA a7s by motionnine.com

I looked at everything on the market I could find. Functionality may be the most important feature when it comes to cages, but I have to admit that I also consider appearance as an important feature of design. I have found that looks go hand in hand with functionality, most of the time.

I decided on the cage from Motion9. (motionnine.com) They call it the CUBE. I purchased it from eBay and got it quite fast. All the other cages I inquired about seemed to work fine and most were quite functional, but the CUBE seemed to have everything I wanted including "good looks."

The old venerable Pentax 6x7 medium format camera
I like the adjustable top handle on the CUBE - it can be repositioned and adjusted forward or aft to your preference. There are also numerous threaded holes throughout, to attach everything you need onto this camera.

They designed the CUBE with a cable guide/protection system. it consists of two rods and an attachment block with adjustable clamps. It looks a little awkward to me just protruding from the side, but it is functional and can also be used as a hand grip when holding the camera.

At first I didn't like the wooden grip, it seemed to me to be out of place on a high-tech camera. I have since grown to like it - it stands out, much like the old Pentax 6x7 wooden handle did in the old days.

I still remember the old days of film - I digress, sorry.

I can hookup anything I need on the cage, the controls on the Sony a7s are readily accessible and the camera is protected within the CUBE; what else can I ask for?

On the next post I'll delve into the 15mm rod system I decided on. Stay tuned.
Cage = protection

Rear view CUBE and Sony a7s - rod serves as a thumb rest

I would like to be clear here, I have NOT been given any of these products in exchange for positive reviews. These products have all been purchased and payed for by me with no help from these manufacturers.

My Choice: Rod Support System for a7s

The rod support system is the base on which we mount our still camera so we can attach all the necessary items we need to make it act like a pro-video camcorder. For fellas like me who are used to working with large pro camcorders they are a necessity.

I ran across a neat little rig on eBay. It turns out it's a Chines knock-off of a system designed by Edelkrone called the Pocket Rig. Edelkrone gave up on producing these ever since Chinese manufacturers started making them without permission.

Edelkrone doesn't sell them anymore, but you can still get them on eBay.
Folded Pocket Rig - Chinese knock-off
Shoulder brace and rods folds out for use

It's a pretty clever, extremely portable, rod system. It incorporates folding rods as well as a folding shoulder brace. I mount the camera with CUBE cage onto the Pocket Rig attach a matte box and follow focus and I'm ready to use on a tripod or I can fold-out the shoulder brace and use hand-held.

Below is the Sony a7s mounted on the Pocket Rig with the CUBE cage.
Here's the Pocket Rig with Sony a7s in a cage

I have NOT been given any of these products in exchange for positive reviews. These products have all been purchased and payed for by me with no help from these manufacturers.

My Choice: Full Rig Sans-Microphones

I wanted to show the rig as I finally put it together. I'm still waiting on the custom Lemo-XLR cables I ordered, so the two wireless mics are not shown.
Shogun mounted on matte-box

Sony a7s on a slider (micro-dolly)
The Sony Alpha a7s rests inside the (cage) CUBE made by Motionnine, it sits on top of the Pocket-Rig. The matte-box and follow-focus connect to the 15mm rods. The battery holder as well as the Shogun ride on the matte-box.

The battery marked Shogun #1 is actually running the camera - I'm using a dummy battery / DC coupler in the a7s that connects to a battery mount,  I have a smaller NP battery running the Shogun in these pictures, I normally run two NP-F970 batteries.

This rig is quite compact and works well for me. I can extend the shoulder brace on the pocket-rig and look through the viewfinder comfortably for hand-held work. 

I can also set it up on my micro-slider using my 501HDV head. Very compact indeed.

I'm using a hood recommended online that only cost $13 - the Koolertron 7 inch Sun Hood. It isn't a perfect fit, I had to modify the folds so it would work. It attaches with self adhesive velcro.

ATOMOS Shogun 4K Recorder

Did you know that when you are recording HD on the Sony a7s there's a 29 minute limit? I tested the Sony a7s and there is indeed a twenty-nine minute record limit. Some shooters need to shoot longer than 29 minutes, I hardly ever do.

If you are planing on shooting in 4K you needn't worry, the Atomos Shogun shoots all day, or as long as you have power and media available. As you might already know, Sony's a7s does NOT record 4K internally - you need an Atoms Shogun or other external recorder to do 4K.

Shooting 4K as long as you have power connected 
Having an external recorder means more power requirements and possibly more batteries to contend with. With an NP-F970 battery the Shogun can go on recording well beyond an hour ( I recorded for two hours and thirteen minutes before the NP-F970 gave up ) I'm running the Sony a7s on a BP-GL95 V-mount battery and it just goes and goes. I'm still working on how to go about it. I need a little more field testing before I decide for sure if I'll keep using these two batteries in the future.

UPDATE March 2, 2015
I stuck with two NP-F970 batteries instead of the much larger and heavier V-mount batteries.

I've shot some video in 4K and I am very happy with the Shogun. Atomos is releasing updates all through the year and many of the shortcomings will be addressed. We'll have Avid DNxHD, 3D Luts, 4K to HD down convert by the end of February 2015. FS Raw, Power Station, Master Caddy RAID all by end of March.

I've read some reviews that complain about the build quality of the Atoms Shogun and the fact that it is mostly plastic. I don't know anyone who likes plastic, but I disagree this time. The plastic construction doesn't bother me a bit. I like the feel, and I am impressed with the screen quality. It looks great at any angle. The screen can be calibrated and has a pixel density of 325ppi.

I don't usually throw my equipment around. I might be concerned if the recorder was going to be used in a professional news environment where you are shooting run-and-gun video. My friends work news and they beat the hell out of their equipment. Not on purpose, it's just that kind of work.

The Shogun is a touch screen system and the menu and features are implemented very well and quickly accessible. Very intuitive in my opinion. I really like the zoom feature which allows you to check your focus with 1:1 or 2:1 zoom.

As far as I know It's the only recorder that works with the Sony a7s and inputs 4K through HDMI. It will work with other 4K cameras as well, HDMI as well as 12G SDI, backwards compatible to 1.5G/3G/6G SDI and capable of recording in 10-bit. This makes the Shogun obsolete-proof for a bit.
Tiny Lemo connector bears the weight of four XLR connectors

The one thing I don't like is the XLR break-out cable. I think this is the weak link in this recorder system. Atomos should re-think this one, maybe an actual box with the XLR connectors that can be attached to the rig somehow. As it stands the four XLR connectors just hang from the Lemo connector.

The audio recording on the Shogun is fine. You're able to record from the camera through HDMI as well as through the two XLR connectors in the Lemo cable. You could connect an Apture V-Mic D2 or similar shotgun microphone to your a7s and have clean audio through HDMI and connect a wireless mic through the Lemo XLR with you favorite lavaliere like I do. The built-in Sony a7s mic is good for reference, I wouldn't trust it for production audio.

I replaced my NEX-VG900 with the a7s and Shogun recorder to shoot 4K. I'm still working on getting the rig and 15mm rod system figured out, stay tuned. I'll let you know what cage and rig I decide on.

I realize that the cost of getting both the Sony a7s and the Atomos Shogun might seem steep and that a comparable 4K system might be had at a lower price, but there isn't any other interchangeable lens full-frame 4K system to be had no matter what cost. Oh yeah, I forgot the Canon EOS-1D C DSLR, that will set you back nearly $8000.

You might prefer Super 35, I don't.  I want to use my vintage full-frame Nikon lenses without a crop factor. To each his own.

These products have all been purchased and payed for by me with no help from these manufacturers.