DISCLAMIER: Let me start this post by saying for the most part, I am camera agnostic when it comes to paid work. In other words, if a client has certain constraints, usually budgetary, I’ll make it work with most cameras. If I have a choice, I will choose the camera I think is right for the job. It’s not my intention to start a ‘this cam is the best’ debate. I’ve seen amazing stuff shot on every camera. I use the a7s II for many projects.
Oriana Layendecker, a friend and who I consider a genius when it comes to beauty and fashion photography, invited me out to shoot some footage of an editorial she put together. If you’re not familiar, editorial work is a big thing in the fashion and beauty world. If you’re a film person, it’s essentially a spec project. Amazing people come together to create a dope story in the form of images, but focused on fashion or beauty and a story told through the model’s expressions/clothing/styling/makeup/hair/etc. If it stands out, the project gets picked up and published by a major or minor fashion/beauty publication. We shot with a model I’ve been running into recently on jobs, Hazel Graye @ Fusion, so it was a fun shoot!
Why the a7s II?
I could only come for a portion of the shoot due to another job I was prepping for, so I knew I would not be able to shoot every single look that the team was doing. For me this shoot was to have fun, so I decided to bring a friend’s A7s II that I had on loan, with a Canon CN-E 85mm T/1.3 and see how it would hold up to my standards of normally shooting 4K and above for beauty (I usually shoot beauty on RED for the resolution). Initially, I was really disappointed with the raw footage. I shot on slog3, which I’ve since come to recognize is a mistake shooting such a flat image on an 8-bit camera. Too much to get into for this post, but see this link for why.
The Initial Results
When I scrubbed through the footage a few days later, I found it was below my standards. It was noisy and softer than I am used to with shooting beauty on RED. I shot at 120fps at 1080p. I typically shoot beauty and fashion editorials at a minimum of 48fps all the way up to 120fps, so I wasn’t able to shoot in 4K on the a7s II because of the need for higher frame rates. Here’s an image coming straight from cam using slog3:
I was shooting between 4000-8000 ISO to get a higher f-stop as well as shooting at 120fps. The a7s II is usually clean at those ISO values from my experience. The lighting was pretty bright so we definitely weren’t underexposed on the face, though I suspect the high contrast between the face and background had something to do with the noise in the shadows. However, I do dabble in color grading and was able to get back to a working image. Not all was lost!
The Final Results
Here’s one segment I put together:
I think it came out decently for what it was, but it answered my main question I went into the shoot with: Would I shoot beauty with the a7s II? For a large campaign that focuses strictly on beauty – faces, hair, lips, etc. I would not.
For social media – Instagram, YouTube, etc where it’s more about content (a beauty project that’s more reality or tutorial focused) vs strictly commercial, I have used the a7s II and would again.
I’ve found with the a7s II and other cameras, if you have controlled situations you can definitely make great images. I’ve just become accustomed to the highlight rolloff with RED and Alexa that make shooting high key and high contrast beauty much easier, especially in post.
At the end of the day – doable with the a7s II, but not my first choice.
Art direction by Oriana Layendecker
Makeup and Hair by Mary Irwin
Film by Arthur Woo