One lens to rule them all: Sony Clear Image Zoom

on March 30, 2016

Since I started using a Sony A7RII for production work, (Yes, although I am a ML fanboy, each camera is a different brush, and different paintings need different strokes. Why Whatchu talkin’about?) I have been exploring not just the workd of mirrorless, but SOny in particular.
Fuji cameras seem to have phenomenal UX, or User Experience, and anyone who has come from the old film days will LOVE shooting with Fuji. Their Jpeg engine is so good, it’s the only camera that I would feel comfortable shooting and publishing jpegs straight from camera, skipping my computer altogether. And as any shooter knows, you do this because you love shooting, not because you love sitting in front of a computer screen.
Sony is a bit of a different beast though.
I noticed this especially when the latest Sony A6300 and Fuji X-pro2 came out.
Both of these cameras are very similar, and even have the same APS-C sensor made by Sony. (This hasn’t been OFFICIALLY confirmed, but come on. We know who makes sensors for Fuji, and the specs are a giveaway.)
The differences in pedigree are what separates these two. The Fuji is more FUN to shoot, but the Sony is more of a TOOL that I can use.
Which brings me to the genius of Clear Zoom.
As photographer, we have been told for YEARS not to use digital zoom, and only use optical zoom in camera. Digital zoom is nothing more than a crop, and you might as well just do that when you get back home.
But Clear Image Zoom is different. It uses a center crop on the sensor and a software algorithm to zoom in.
Now, the big disclaimer is that this mode doesn’t work in RAW, because, well, RAW photos are just that- bits of data that have not been interpreted at all.
But when you are shooting in MOVIE mode, it’s a whole different story.
You can shoot in movie mode, and use Clear Image Zoom to get TWICE as close in on your subject- AND STILL KEEP RECORDING IN 4K!
Add to that, that you can shoot 4K in both full frame and APS-C, and you suddenly have a new slew of lenses at your disposal.
Now- before the trolls come out from their bridges, let me start with the disclaimer that this is not meant to be a substitute for proper LENSING. Lensing is the choice of focal length based on the look, character, and compression of a particular focal length. You can frame up two shot identically with a 20mm and a 135mm and get VERY different images. See any Coen Brothers Comedy to see the power of wide angle lenses.
But this DOES mean that if you are traveling light, and don’t have your whole bag of lenses, you can still “work” the shot. This method also works great if you are shooting Guerrilla-style and need to remain incognito. The longer you stay in a spot, changing lenses and yelling “action” the more likely security will come and ask you what you’re doing.
I have found that if I have a 24mm lens for an establishing wide shot, I can then go to APS-C for a medium or two-shot that feels like a 35mm, then use Clear Zoom at 2X for the closeups that frame at about 70mm. Now keep in mind that these “70mm” shots will still have that wide angle distortion to them, so this is best used for comedies, and try to stay in the center of the frame.
I’ve found that the 35mm length doesn’t have that “funny” look to it, and I can get the Wide establishing in 35mm, go to 50mm for the two-shot, and then use Clear Zoom to get me in around 100mm. When I’m walking around town doing street photography, and I moved to start shooting a video, this is my setup.
Storytelling is about making choices, showing contrast and movement, and changing the visual image. Without much fanfare, I can get coverage on something happening right in front of me- a shopkeeper opening up at first light and sweeping the walk- and capture a wide, medium, and close, all in seconds. If I would have reached into my bag to change lenses, the moment would have been gone, and there would BE no story to tell.
The biggest reason this works is because you have a MASSIVE megapixel count, and have plenty of room to spare on the sensor. The loss of quality is absolutely minimal, and most importantly, you retain that 4K resolution for post- including options to “pan and scan” if the spirit moves you.
It’s not as great as having a multiple bodies at the ready with multiple primes, but it’s a tool in your kit that should NOT be overlooked.