Sony A7Rii Stress Test: Will the A7Rii overheat shooting 4k in a steel mill? Will the camera handle a stressful video shoot in the dust and almost dark?

I could opine about the A7Rii and pixel peep.  I could talk about the crop versus full frame in 4k.  Pixel binning.  EF adaptors. ISO comparison versus the A7S. But everyone else has done that.

I want to talk about the Sony A7Rii in use in one of the most challenging environments possible.  A steel mill.  A fully operational, smelting hot, dust-filled steel mill.  I would guess that Sony never envisioned their new flagship hybrid camera at use in such an environment.

Steel Dynamics Inc. is one of the nation’s leading steel producers.  Their Columbus, MS mini-mill takes scrap and recycles it into automotive (and beyond) grade steel for clients across the country.

SDI takes scrap, melts it down in a 3,000°F furnace, processes it at the same high temperatures, then manufactures it into rolled steel. It’s a hot, demanding operation that produces a lot of dust and a lot of amazing footage opportunities.

My company, Broadcast Media Group, Inc., is producing a few videos for SDI that involve documenting the steel making process.  The facility is huge, with lots of stairs and lots of walking.  We shot the initial footage with the Canon C300 and C500.  The A7Rii seemed like an ideal camera with a much smaller footprint to finish the pick up shots.

We outfitted the A7Rii with the Metabones EF to E-mount adaptor (version 4) and put a Canon 24-70 f/2.8 zoom on it.  We built a custom color profile based upon the stock PP4 to closer match our custom Canon look.

We used Art Adams’ great DSC One Shot color chart to match the two cameras. We took a HD-SDI signal out of the C300 and HDMI signal from the A7Rii and ran them into the excellent Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q with full screen vectorscope enabled. Twenty minutes later, we had a close, not perfect, match.

With the camera color matched, blank SD card in, fast zoom lens on and battery charged, all we needed was to figure out how to support the camera without losing our small form factor.  A Manfrotto monopod fit the bill.

My questions about using the A7Rii:

How would the camera how up to the extreme heat and dust?

The lighting conditions were varied.  How will the image hold up at 2000+ ISO?

Will the footage be stable on a monopod with the 5 axis IBIS steady shot?

Will the battery hold up? (I took two.)

Will the color match existing footage without too much work?

Could I make the transition from the Canon menus to Sony menus without royally messing up a shot?

I followed the video setup from this great article: http://www.erwinvandijck.com/nieuws/optimized-video-settings-sony-a7r2, practiced the day before the shoot and away we went.

The environment around the furnace area was challenging to say the least.  The furnace is massive and is close to 3,000°F. The residual heat pushed ambient temperature to 120°F - 135°F at up to 100 feet away.  The dust particles in the work area gave the scene an action movie feel.

We shot B-roll, with clips no longer than 3:00.  Most shots were in the :30 - :45 range.  We kept the LCD screen extended from the body and recorded to the SD card at 4K UHD 100mbps. We were in the plant for over 2 hours straight.  We would turn off the camera to save battery when moving from location and put it in a bag to reduce exposure to dust.

We did not have a single heat related shutdown.  I was expecting some type of overheating issue in conditions that challenging, but nothing happened.  Impressive.

The light conditions were varied, to say the least.  The Canon f2.8 lens helped a lot, but the latitude and light sensory of the A7Rii were great.  We shot from 200 to 2000 ISO with no objectionable noise. The camera captured shadow detail, bright molten metal and everything in between.  We chose not to shoot SLog2. The color profile we built looked great out of the camera and with some occasional minor tweaking in Speedgrade.

I love shooting with my C300 on a monopod, but almost always reach for Warp Stabilizer to smooth out the results.  Even with IS lenses, we still get a little movement. The Sony 5 axis stabilization has gotten rave reviews.  Could it hold up?

Short answer- yes.  Long answer- amazing.  I couldn’t believe how much the IBIS stabilized the footage with a non native lenses with no lens-based stabilization.  Most of the footage could be used as-is with NO additional processing or stabilization.

Power was a concern after reading other reviews.  I brought the two kit supplied batteries with a full charge.  As a backup, I had a USB power brick in the bag with a micro cord to power the camera through it’s USB port.  We did have to bring that out 90 minutes into the shoot.  The ability to use off the shelf USB batteries in a pinch is great. But the native battery life was disappointing,

Were we able to match existing footage without too much work?  Absolutely.  But not without some caveats.  The A7Rii at 4k was sharper than 1080 HD from the Canons, as you would expect. It was amazing how clean the details resolved. The colorimetry was close and black levels were easily matched in Speedgrade.  The new camera intercut very well. Actually, it cut much better than I had hoped.

Could I adapt to the Sony menu in the middle of a physically challenging shoot?  Yes, but…  I, like everyone else, want to be able to map the record button to the shutter release button. And I was constantly going into the menu to switch between full frame and APC.  I would have paid money to able to get to this at the touch of a single button.

I’m very impressed with this camera.  It’s the best DSLR type camera we have owned.  It is the first small form camera that I feel could take some of the workload from our Canons.

I don’t like the fold-out LCD (though the image was good).  It’s too precarious and fragile feeling for me. Some of the menu layout and button assignment doesn’t make sense. The battery life isn’t very good.

But it is an amazing camera.  My Panasonic GH4 is heading to eBay any day now.  And the Canon 5DM3 is looking a bit nervous on the shelf by itself.

This camera has made me rethink what Sony is doing.  The A7Rii has made me excited about Sony again.