Nauticam Sony A7R II & Sony FE 90mm 2.8 Macro Lens: A Macro Video Powerhouse

Written by Lee Burghard October 2015

When the announcement from Nauticam was released stating support for the new Sony A7R II I was more than excited to get my hands on this camera.  In fact, as a diver who mainly shoots underwater video, excited would have been putting it lightly.

So what does the Sony A7R II offer to underwater videographers that makes it such a compelling choice?

  • 4K Video Capture - Unlike the Sony A7S, this new camera records high resolution 4K internally, eliminating the need for an external recorder. In addition Sony's XAVC S format captures the video at 100mbps, providing a high quality and editing-friendly format.
  • Super 35mm Mode - The camera is capable of switching between recording video in Full Frame Mode and Super 35mm Mode (similar to a cropped APS-C size sensor).  While in Super 35mm mode, the camera offers improved low-light performance at high ISO speeds, very similar to that of the low-light king, the Sony A7S.  The perk to me of having this feature available was being able to switch between these modes with a lens like the Sony FE 90mm 2.8 Macro lens. Essentially having the ability for more magnification and tighter framing when needed for shooting macro subjects underwater.
  • S-LOG2 - Picture profile support with S-LOG2 gamma offers a flat color profile for those who want increased dynamic range and more flexibility for color correction in post production. In order to shoot video in this mode the minimum ISO must be set at 800, this is a significant improvement over the original A7S that required a baseline ISO of 2000.
  • Automatic Exposure Settings -  For those who don't want to shoot in full manual mode, the camera is capable of recording video in Program Mode (full-auto), Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority.  The camera also has an Auto-ISO feature for anyone who wants to set the shutter speed and aperture manually, and simply allow the camera to adjust sensitivity for changing lighting conditions.
  • Improved Auto Focus for Video - The camera features a new phase-detection AF system which means continuous auto-focusing during recording is smooth with little to no focus hunting.

Add all of those features to a great performing macro lens like the Sony FE 90mm 2.8 Macro lens and you should have one very plausible macro video combination. In theory it all sounds great, but how would this combo actually perform underwater?  I decided to take this with me on a recent trip to Indonesia so you could see the results for yourself:

Helpful Equipment for Underwater Macro Video Shooting:

  • Stability - A reliable underwater tripod makes an excellent tool for providing steady footage.  While using the Nauticam A7R II I used the Nauticam Tripod Plate. Simply add on 3x double ball arms of your choice and you have a versatile and easily adjustable underwater tripod that sits directly on the sea floor. While it's designed for use with the Nauticam A7 and GH4 housing, it can be fitted onto a variety of other Nauticam housings as well.
  • Good Lighting - A pair of good video lights is essential for macro video.  I've personally become of fan of the Keldan 4X video lights. They pack 6000 lumens of power, very accurate color, and 110 degree wide beam with a soft light falloff all into a compact and travel friendly size.
  • Manual Focus Gear - If your macro lens and housing can accept a manual focus gear, it's worth adding.  While shooting with the Sony FE 90mm 2.8G macro lens I was using the Nauticam Focus Gear.  Manual focus gears tend to provide greater accuracy and control for those tricky underwater subjects. While auto-focus is convenient, I tend to often find it less reliable. 
  • External Video Monitor - While shooting with Nauticam A7R II I was using the SmallHD 501 Series Monitor and Nauticam Housing. Underwater video monitors like these are very useful for muck diving in my opinion.  By mounting an external video monitor to the top of your housing, you can keep your camera/tripod resting low to the ground while keeping yourself at an elevated position off the ground to view what you're shooting.  In addition they tend to offer a larger view than the camera's internal LCD, and can have a host of useful features like focus assist, focus peaking, zebra lines, and exposure assist functions just to name a few. 
  • Wet Macro Lens - Adding on a wet macro lens like the Nauticam SMC will add a whole element to your underwater shooting by opening up new creative opportunities for super macro footage. You can capture footage of tiny subjects like a pygmy seahorse, or get in close for detail shots like the eye of an octopus. Compared to other wet macro lenses that I've used, I've found the SMC to have superior corner sharpness, contrast, and overall image quality. 
  • Flip Holders - These are fantastic tools that are used for flipping wet macro lenses on or off from the front of your flat port with ease. Most flat ports can generally accept some type of flip holder.  The Nauticam flat port I used with the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8G lens had a 67mm threaded front, so I used the Saga Dive Flip Lens Holder with the Nauticam SMC.