December 12, 2015

Insane Low-Light Shooting: Testing the New SLR Magic 50mm f/1.1 on the Sony a7S II

An f/1.1 is just about near the threshold of how fast a lens can be, and the best low-light camera out there right now is the Sony a7S II. That's why Johnnie Behiri over at cinema5D took SLR Magic's newest lens for a spin on this camera. Here are his results:

Shot in 4K/25p, 100 Mbit, Slog-2, ISO 28,000 to 409,600, Edited on Adobe Premiere CC 2015, graded with James Miller’s DELUTs. NO de-noising of any sort was used. The “trick” is to use a LUT that can mask well most of it.

https://vimeo.com/147290677

Apparently Johnnie had some concerns about the image quality of the lens, but since it's not out yet, SLR Magic has already heard from beta testers and will be addressing some of these issues:

From the two weeks of real life testing by several testers, we received 3 main concerns.
– Corner softness at infinity
– Sharpness at f/1.1
– Lens flare

We are currently making some changes within our capability to address the issues. The new changes would improve corner sharpness at infinity by approximately 20% but do not expect perfection after the changes. Sharpness at f/1.1 is not affected. Lens flare would be addressed with an optional lens hood.

Since SLR Magic has indeed said they are working on improving the lens, he's decided to hold off on the written review until the final units come in. Either way, the video posted above is simply amazing when you consider the conditions that Johnnie was shooting in. He posted an image of what the camera was seeing versus what his eye was seeing:

Now, people always come back and say, "Why would you ever do that, just light your shot." It's a valid point, but it's not always about cinema applications where we can control everything. Especially for documentary shoots with little crew, we can now get a cinematic result essentially working alone or just with a sound person. There are also locations that we may not want to disturb with lots of lights. Finally, shooting at a high ISO isn't always about just getting exposure only — getting cleaner high ISOs means that we can shoot at a deeper f-stop and therefore a deeper depth of field to keep our subjects in better focus, or for a different look. You might want to shoot at an f/4 or f/5.6 in a very dark setting, and having a camera that is relatively clean around 28,000 ISO can help tremendously.

The SLR Magic lens is available for pre-order right now in E-mount only (for $350), and I would expect it to get a little better before it ships for real. For more great videos from cinema5D, head on over to their website.      

Your Comment

15 Comments

Its a 50mm T1.1 not F1.1.

December 13, 2015 at 3:46AM

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Absolute madmen! Don't ever stop.

December 13, 2015 at 5:48PM

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Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
1509

It still cracks me up how many people still proclaim film's greater dynamic range...

December 13, 2015 at 5:57PM

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Vidrazor
540

To be fair, this has more to do with ISO and the lens at the moment of recording than to Dynamic Range in Post.

December 13, 2015 at 10:01PM

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Victor Niebla
Director / Producer / VFX
81

Well yeah, film has a greater dynamic range than an A7s.
But film stocks don't go to ISO 409 600 :)

December 14, 2015 at 1:13AM, Edited December 14, 1:13AM

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Vincent Allard
Director of Photography
103

ok I get it; its cool not using lights (I guess).

cinematic results ≠ digital gain + in-camera noise reduction + unusable* aperture

Just because you "Can", doesn't mean you "Should".
And I don't agree w/ the documentary justification logic.

*I can only imagine the look of horror a studio editor would make to seeing it.

December 13, 2015 at 7:58PM, Edited December 13, 8:13PM

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Daniel Reed
Hat Collector
1481

Yes but what you're not seeing is how much simpler and more economical it is to properly light up a scene with a camera like this.

December 13, 2015 at 9:12PM

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Vidrazor
540

That's exciting technic. The only thing I wory about is, that the result does not give a night feeling. It more looks like dusk or dawn most of the times.

To give an example of night feeling, Taxi driver with Robert de Niro lets you breath the night. A 400 Iso film pushed to 800 or 1600 Iso was all that was needed.

December 14, 2015 at 1:52AM

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Yes, that and a 1.3 million budget... When your only crew member is your backpack, you can do magic with these cameras.

December 14, 2015 at 3:18AM

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I agree completely with you.

The film should have been darkened in post to create the night feeling. Too bad it hasn't. You see this on many films on YT. People show the quality low light techniques, by making everything too bright.

December 15, 2015 at 10:29AM

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Agree with both of you as well.
I expose to the right and graded down to make it look like a night scene on the final footage.

But I think this video was made to show you the potential of what you can do with the lens and the camera combined. I am not a professional on color grading but if I have a photo of a night scene that looks flat as this, there is a world potential what you could do with the image.

December 15, 2015 at 2:05PM, Edited December 15, 2:05PM

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Keith Kim
Photographer
1665

There are a lot more applications this is useful for other than just narrative. Short films aren't the only things people shoot at night.

Any documentary could benefit from this especially nature documentaries that would rather capture the image of an animal than something especially cinematic.

Just because something doesn't fit into your process doesn't mean that it doesn't fit another persons process. Not everyone cares about the highest quality image, sometimes just the content itself is enough.

December 14, 2015 at 10:15AM, Edited December 14, 10:15AM

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Julian Faras
Editor, Cinematographer, Director
458

I think it looks great. I love this look.

December 17, 2015 at 5:50PM

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Willem Van den Broeck
Sound Engineer
8

I really don't understand why people are still shooting s-log in low light. It just isn't helping at all. Just look at the s-log 2 and s-log 3 curves, they are not meant for low light, you'll end up with less details in the shadows and a more noisy image overall. At least, in this test, the fast lens help a lot.
Everyone shooting in low light on a Sony camera should consider cinegamma or hypergamma. At a reasonable exposure, way much informations are caught in the shadows with a bonus of a better highlight roll off than rec709 for any direct light sources in the image.

December 17, 2015 at 10:19PM

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Julien H.
Technical DIrector
74

Just to pick up on the point about "why not jut light the shot". I'm a low to no budget amature film maker and I have some small lights but as I found out the other day to get the larger DOF with a higher f-stop to keep people in focus was extremly hard for us. The lights we had were very good quality but just not powerful enough to acomadate the f-stop we needed. We had to bump up the ISO and risk the noise. With this camera it just wouldn't be a problem. This means you can still get lights to control shadows and so on (if like me you like noir lit shots) BUT this means you don't need as powerful lights, or as big and bulky lights. Smaller lights mean batteries instead of cables etc etc etc..

December 18, 2015 at 8:03AM

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John Stockton
Filmmaker, Editor.
435

This is totally uninteresting. There is not one redeemable thing about this video.

December 20, 2015 at 9:58PM, Edited December 20, 9:58PM

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Hanuman
74