Zambian Smiles and the Sony FS5
Our video crew are in Chibombo Province, Zambia. It's 70km from the capital Lusaka but the drive has taken us 2 and half hours. Roads are not Africa's strong point. Zambia is only a two hour flight from Johannesburg but for some interstellar reason it seems much further. We've been through the usual travel gauntlet of packing camera gear, having bags searched at the airport, Leatherman knife confiscated again (when will I learn not to put it in my camera bag?), fighting for space in the plane's overhead storage, dodging death wish drivers, drinking too many Red Bulls and coming to terms with the fact that this is the rainy season and it looks like we and our gear are in for a good soaking. We should probably be feeling a little grumpy but we're not. How could we be when we're surrounded by possibly the nicest people on the planet?
Our video crew is small, made up of DP - Charles Meadows, Field Producer - Sheree Smuts and two local helpers, Peter and Jackson (fondly referred to collectively as Lords of the Ring). Along for the ride is our US client and 2 members of the Non Profit organisation we're filming. The shot list is long, the areas we need to cover far apart and the weather forecast is grim. This video shoot is going to be run and gun... better break out more of those Red Bulls.
I like run and gun filming, you have to rely on the moments unfolding for you rather than inventing them, it's an honest way of filming. Normally on shoots like this I've relied on the phenomenal Sony Alpha A7S to capture the story. Today is different. Today my voyeuristic weapon of choice is the Sony PXW-FS5. I already have an idea of what the image is going to look like, the FS5 shares the same sensor as the older FS700 but that is where the similarity ends. The FS5 is designed for run and gun filming, it fits in your hand like a glove, a glove that even OJ Simpson could put on. Throughout the day the camera was in hand, running from one location to the next, never becoming heavy or uncomfortable.
Electronic variable ND!!! Coming from the Sony A7S the biggest pain in the ass was messing around with variable ND filters and their inconsistencies. None of that headache with the Sony FS5, it's electronic ND is a piece of engineering wizardry that takes you from ND4 to ND128 (with everything in between). And just when you thought ND heaven couldn't get any better you find out that you can set it to auto ND... interior to exterior shots just became a doddle. There's a lot to like about the Sony FS5 from its ergonomics and button layout to its excellent battery life. It's solid as well, no flimsy bits like the FS700's mic holder. Is the camera perfect? Stupid question. Nothing is perfect apart from my wife and kids and possibly David Bowie's Lodger album. The menu system is typical Sony, functional but illogical. The autofocus seems a little hit and miss (yes when filming run and gun I'll sometime use autofocus much to the chagrin of the purists... bite me). No touch screen and a few other little frustrations exist within the camera but they all pale when compared to what the camera can do and what it offers... a great picture and extreme mobility with electronic variable ND.
It's 6pm and with it comes the sounds and light that are only found in Africa. The Incubate Video Crew are hunched over laptops feverishly willing faster transfer rates to the client and backup drives. I was right, it's been a real run and gun day supported by our producer's health app that reads 8km covered (somehow it feels like more). It's been a good day though. We've been surrounded by smiles and warmth wherever we've gone, the rain threatened but never materialised, the mosquito repellant worked and the Sony PXW FS5 was brilliant. All that's needed now is the long drive back to Lusaka to the joys of a cold beer and a big steak.