Guest post by Erik Bragg
In 2003, when professional skateboarder Danny Way debuted the first Mega Ramp in The DC Video, the Sony VX1000 DV camcorder was the weapon of choice for almost every professional skateboard cinematographer. Only 480 vertical lines of resolution to capture a skateboarder drop in on a ramp the size of a roller coaster, backside 360 over a 75’ gap at 50mph, and then fly up 23’ above a two and a half story quarter pipe!? If you’ve got the whole ramp in your shot, you’re only dedicating a few pixels to the death-defying pioneer who’s flipping his board through the air and breaking world records. Master skateboarding cinematographer Greg Hunt knew DV wasn’t going to cut it, and although most of the rest of the video was shot on the VX1000, he shot Danny’s Mega Ramp portion on Super 16mm.
Greg would have loved to shoot the entire video with film but it was too expensive and an overall pain in the ass. Danny’s part in the video blew minds and looked amazing. It won Skateboarding Magazine’s Best Video Part that year and redefined skateboarding’s limits.
Here we are, 10 years later, both skateboarding and video technology have progressed to unimaginable levels. Danny Way is still building bigger, gnarlier ramps and Sony is still on top in the skate video world. The Sony NEX-FS700 has replaced the Sony DCR-VX1000 as the go-to camera for professional skateboard cinematographers. It’s lightweight, shoots super slow motion, looks excellent in low light, accommodates almost any lens, and a single battery and SD card can get you all the way through most days.
I’ve been working on a full-length skate video with Danny for Plan B skateboards for a couple years now, and I’ve experimented with a ton of equipment in that time. The Sony NEX-FS700 has been by far my favorite camera to work with. That is, until now. Now that I’ve tried the Sony NEX-FS700 with the 4K upgrade.
I brought the 4K recorder and FS700 on its maiden voyage to Kauai, where Danny’s newer, bigger, faster, stronger ramp resides amongst the epic landscape of “The Garden Island.” The Way and Colin McKay dropped in on the massive concrete roll-in that leads you straight into a re-imagined quarter pipe with banks and features ranging from 25’ to 40.’ Using the 4K 120fps raw high-speed burst allows me to slow down tricks and show them for what they really are. The amount of detail in the image is incredible, especially when slowed down. I’ve gotten used to using 120fps and 240fps bursts on the FS700, but when you add 4K and the image control of 16-bit linear raw file, skateboarding has never looked better.
I’ve been shooting with the FS700 since July 1st, 2012. I preordered the camera based on its stats sheet and was pleasantly surprised by its latitude, smooth highlight roll off, and overall image quality. I couldn’t believe how well it performed in low light. All these features are supercharged with the 4K recorder.
Initially, I thought I’d only throw on the 4K recorder for shooting the Mega Ramp, B-roll, and save it for larger productions. After reviewing the footage, I’d be crazy not to shoot everything with it. When we weren’t skating, I went around Kauai shooting waterfalls, sunrises, and even found a New Zealander who climbed up into a tree and jumped out 65’ down into a lagoon. Kiwi Knievel jumped out in 4K 24p and then I asked him to do it again in 4K at 120fps. The camera records simultaneously to its SD card and I was able to easily send him his AVCHD clips that night.
Fortunately, deciding to shoot everything in 4K from now on is as simple throwing the recorder on. Wait, I shouldn’t say 4K everything. I did shoot a lot of 2K raw footage at 240fps. The ability to just let 240fps roll as long as you want to really creates opportunities I didn’t have before on the FS700 for capturing super slow motion. The fact that’s it’s raw too is just icing on the cake, or buffalo sauce on your wings for me. Not too big on sweets.
I used a SmallHD AC7-SDI monitor to make sure I wasn’t blowing it in 4K. With a giant, detailed image, it’s obvious if your focus is off. Focus features and false color buttons keep it clean, simple, and fast. Although sometimes I wondered if the false color feature was working because it was so hard to find anything around me that the latitude of my new pet beast couldn’t handle. The monitor definitely came in handy while I used a Nanoha macro lens and Cinevate Atlas 10 w/Moco for a little surprise you’ll have to wait to see.
Having the option to remove the recorder and yet keep it tethered was nice when I needed to lighten the load and shoot leaning over the edge of a 30 foot drop on the edge of the ramp.
The setup was an absolute breeze. I didn’t even read a manual or anything. The menu is simple and straightforward. Click around for 5 minutes and you’re an expert.
In skateboarding, sometimes the skater will mess up on a trick 20 times before he lands it. Maybe more. Maybe he’ll never land it. The HXR-IFR5 let’s you easily delete clips as you go along. I found myself deleting all the 4k bails right after every try, while leaving a record of everything recording to the SD card in the camera. That way, we still have a copy, but I’m saving card space and I won’t end up with a terabyte of falls to go through at the end of the day.
Wow, am I still talking about this camera? The bottom line is, the trip was a success. We spent 3 weeks getting tricks and making them look good. I tried to surf once, but I think I’ll stick to skateboarding and camera toys. I’m looking forward to incorporating the 4K FS700 into all of my scheduled productions this year and of course coming back to the island to watch Danny and Colin throw themselves in the air.