Guest Column: Russell Gienapp brings the Sony F5/55 to the Arctic

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Recently, a friend and associate of ours – Cinematographer Russell Gienapp – headed to the Arctic to work on a project. He brought with him a Sony F5/55 to work with. Most notably, the severe cold (something Russell will elaborate in detail about) wasn’t a hinderance to this camera. Want to learn more about this amazing camera? We’ll be having an event very soon to show it up close and personal. We’ll have details next week!

Anyway, here’s Russell to tell his amazing tale.

As documentary gigs go, this one was a head scratcher. Follow an arctic expedition of injured Canadian veterans as they trek seven days in the high arctic. Oh, and you will be trekking with them and a tent will be your hotel room. No second chances and no resupply; if something breaks you better be able to fix it with Gorilla Tape.

A great deal of my gigs are physically and/or environmentally challenging. At times it seems like 1/2 my job is how to take cameras in places that always seem to exceed the manufacture’s “recommended” conditions.

But, this one was unique. A world of snow and ice, power consumption headaches and plan B’s were constantly in my mind during the 2 months leading to the trip.

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My first concern was to find a camera that was robust, have fantastic dynamic range, a solid fat codec and ergonomic. High frame rates would be nice… Did I say ergonomic? Very early in the process I decided on the Sony F5 with an OLED viewfinder.

I have been hard pressed to fully adopt a 35mm chip camera that could do what I need it to do until the introduction of the F5/55. When it comes to documentary shooting I found that earlier systems had too many moving parts, awkward rigs and work-arounds that I believe translate into lost moments. Those systems were not bad. They just never felt right.

But all the dynamic range and good ergonomics in the world is useless when you have a -20°C / 0°F block of ice for a camera that sucks the life out of your cold compromised lithium-ion batteries. There are things I have done in past arctic shoots to keep batteries warm, (including leaving the camera on in standby) but this time around those techniques were just not feasible because of the expedition nature of this shoot.

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In my research on battery technology I stumbled on a web page showing Sony’s new Olivine lithium iron phosphate batteries. Most of the info was about the simultaneous, one hour charging of the 2 x 75WH batteries and the increase in charging cycles and high temp performance. But, there was one reference to performing better in the cold. I immediately called Sony and found that the published low temperature range was -20°C. Sign me up for two… No, make that four.

Though I was a bit too preoccupied to do any true tests, these batteries definetly outperformed lithium ion batteries that I have used in the past in the arctic. Though the temps were at times -20 to -30°C, I was only down 25%+/- in runtime. I never was wanting for power and there were times when I was charging lightly frost-covered batteries (due to being in the tent) with no problems. As a comparison, we had some mapping equipment that used large standard li-on batteries that just refused to take any charge and we sadly had to put that piece of kit away for the duration.

When I left for this trip, my biggest hope was that I over-prepared. With the help of my friend at Vistek, Sony Canada, Sim Digital in Toronto and a custom polar bag made by 1st AC Lori Longstaff, I am glad to say that I survived documenting the largest polar expedition ever attempted.