I’ve heard that people were getting great results with Sony’s Z5U’s Smooth Slow record feature so I had to check it out. When shooting action sports and any fast motion that might be intended for playback in slow motion, it is much better to shoot more frames per second than to simply adjust the speed of the clip in postproduction. Slowing down a clip that was shot at 30 fps to %50 can look ok but usually results in an unsmooth slow motion that can be a little jarring or jagged. Shooting upwards of 100 frames per second will give you incredibly smooth slow motion with great detail in all the motion. For that reason this feature is very intriguing.
The camera allows you to activate this feature within the menu. You can shoot 240 fields a second (aproximately 120 frames per second) in 3, 6, or 12-second bursts. When activated, the camera has an internal drive that buffers the image and allows for recording once you’ve triggered the recording with the record button. The 3-second recording offers the highest quality. The 6-second recording option is slightly lower resolution and a bit lower resolution if you activate 12 seconds. The 3-second feature provides crystal clear results with stunning slow motion but I was skeptical as to whether that would be enough time to film snowboarding and skateboarding tricks.
So I decided to take the camera out in Bear Valley’s Terrain Park for an afternoon to experiment with this feature.
After filming several clips I found that 3 seconds is plenty of time to film almost every feature in the park even the biggest jumps. There were times when someone was doing a trick that involved a stall on a jib or something on the approach to a jump that I wanted to record, so I experimented with 6 and 12 seconds as well. I found that the 6-second feature allowed for great results that were very hard to notice the difference in resolution. However the 12-second feature was a much lower quality and never really found a time when I needed that much time to record a trick.
Another great thing about this feature is that it allows you to set the trigger point to beginning, middle, and end. Since the camera is constantly buffering the images you can set the trigger point to end and then follow the action with your camera, after the talent lands the trick you can hit the record button and it will grab the 3 seconds (or whatever mode 3,6,12 you selected) before that point. The camera then takes a moment to record those images to tape and gives you a display of your shot on the viewfinder while it does this. I thought this was great because especially when filming in the snow it’s difficult to see through the viewfinder and allows for you to check and see if the shot you got was the one you were hoping for
There are some things to consider when using this feature. It is important to note that you have to first switch the camera to interlaced recording before you can activate smooth slow record. Most extreme sports look better with faster shutter speeds and interlaced so I didn’t find this to be a problem. The only real disadvantage I found was that in this mode you cannot record sound. While it is nice to include ambient noises in extreme sports pieces, in my experiences editing I have found that more often than not I end up editing out the ambient sound. So this didn’t bother me too much but keep that in mind while using this feature.
When I got home and captured the footage I couldn’t have been more impressed. I’ve shot everything from surfing, skating, snowboarding, to mixed martial arts and I was amazed at how many great shots I got in just one day. The slow motion was so smooth and looked incredible on my playback monitor. I compared the results with other footage that was shot in 30 fps and then slowed in postproduction and the results from the Z5U were much cleaner.
Many features within cameras come and go and aren’t recognized within the professional community of videographers and cinematographers. The Z5U’s smooth slow record feature is one that is here to stay. I posted a video as a review of this feature. Every shot in the video is shot in Sony’s smooth slow record except for the opening montage, where I also used the interval record feature. I also experimented with taking the footage shot in this mode and then speeding it up to normal speed as well as slowing it down even more. I found that the results looked natural and clean. Typically I wouldn’t include so many slow motion shots in one 3 min piece but I did for the sake of this demo.