Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Sony 18-105.....The Baby Sea Monster

I really like shooting Super 35.  But one of the challenges has to do with lenses.
It's like they multiply when you put two of them in a backpack together, and you
end up with a fast prime (50mm F1.4) a wide zoom (10-20mm F4.5) a 'normal'
zoom (17-50 F2.8) a 'normal/telephoto' (50-150 F2.8) a fast, wide zoom (18-35 F1.8)
a fast 'portrait' prime (85mm F1.4) and a 'superzoom' (18-200mm F3.5-6.3).  So
when shooting 'unpredictable' stuff, you have a decision to make.  My ideal scenario
would be to have 8 arms like the great Sea Monster, and switch lenses quickly and 
still get the shots I needed.  In the absence of this, I would often use the lens that 
came as a kit lens with my FS700....the 'superzoom' (soon to be renamed 'The Sea Monster').  
And there are lots of pluses with this lens, even if you don't hear about them online
from 'cinema' shooters who look down on it.  Native E-mount 'goodies' like: nice image
stabilization, great range!, auto focus, face detection, tap to focus, auto iris.  It makes it
into a decent run and gun lens.   I know you have heard about all the negatives......
focus 'by wire', extending lens barrel, and ramping seems cinema shooters just
don't appreciate Sea Monsters the way they should.  Now there are other Sea Monsters out
there.  But these other Sea Monsters are a bit elitist.  They will only show up if you have a lot
of money.  Like this one. or this one.

Enter Sony's 'Baby Sea Monster'.  This lens, attempts to address some of the concerns
that shooters had with the original.  No extending's a total internal zoom from
18-105mm.  No ramping iris.  It's a constant F4 at any focal length.  It keeps the autofocus,
auto iris, face detection, tap screen to focus, and image stabilization (standard only, it
doesn't have the amazing 'active' mode of the original Sea Monster!)  But this is a Sea Monster
for everyone at just $599!  Yeah, the 'focus by wire' system is still there, but that wasn't 
really the worst problem.  The bigger problem was the 'pillow distortion'.  Yes it seems this Baby Sea Monster may have a bad tentacle or two.  Early reviews came out and showed just how bad it was.

I bought the lens before I saw the reviews.  After I got it, and confirmed that the distortion was indeed present and very, very bad, I called Sony Professional.  I had heard that the lens worked with 'in camera correction' that the Sony still cameras had....and I had heard rumors of a coming firmware fix, that would allow the cinema cameras to correct for the distortion as well.  Sony told me, that there was no firmware fix coming for the cinema cameras, and that it was meant for still cameras (which I found strange as it was a power zoom lens, but what do I know?)  It seems the extra pixels in a 16-24 megapixel still camera, allow for the distortion to be corrected.  So I returned the lens.  Imagine my surprise, when about 6 months later, I heard there WAS going to be a firmware fix after all.  It seems that the extra pixels in the 4K chip on the Sony FS700 and FS7, would also allow the distortion to be corrected.  But only in HD, (not 4k) and only up to 60fps.  So again, I ordered the lens.  After a quick firmware update to my FS700....I was in business.  With the firmware fix, this is a whole new Baby Sea Monster!  All tentacles are working properly.....there is none of the distortion that was previously there.! Here is a quick test video, showing some of the native E-mount goodies:


As you can see, the range, constant aperture, internal zoom, and auto functions make this an interesting lens.   Interesting enough that I put it to use on a job the day after I got it.
If you read my earlier blog posts, you can see one called 'Something for the Holidays'.
I was hired by the Governor's office to produce this video, and it was shot on the FS700 with the 18-105 lens.  Just in case you don't want to scroll down my is the video.

But alas, no way to use the high frame rates on my FS700 because the distortion would be back as the distortion compensation couldn't keep up with the high frame rates.  But I decided to try it anyways......and it seems that this Baby Sea Monster has a trick or two up it's sleeve.  See for yourself.

Yup, the high frame rates worked just fine, all the way up to 480fps!  Pretty cool!
It has some minuses, but really, it's a 'cracking' little lens.

Release the Kraken!!!


Small and light

Very nice range on Super 35 about a 6x zoom.....wide to moderate telephoto.

Constant F4 aperture

Internal zoom means no extending lens barrel

All the native E-mount goodies.  Great autofocus, face detection autofocus, standard image stabilization (good but not quite as good as the 'active' image stabilization on the 18-200), tap to focus on your LCD screen, and auto iris.

Works with zoom rocker and is pressure sensitive for 'feathered' zooms.

After firmware update, lens is great with very little distortion and nice looking images.

Seems to be parfocal!
Price $599

*Surprise bonus.....distortion compensation works at high frame rates (at least on
the FS700).


'Fly by wire' focus and zoom rings can be annoying.  Hard to
'hit spots' with manual focus ring and no 'snap zoom' with zoom ring.

I haven't tested it but distortion compensation probably won't work in 4K

Gabe Strong
G-Force Productions Digital Cinema

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