Ultra Low Light Video with Metabones Speed Booster

Last night I had a ball filming  at a very dimly lit bar in Santa Monica.  There was a magical, convivial vibe in the air, and I wanted to capture the mood of the place the way I felt it, without attracting attention from anyone.  I had my NEX-5n, Metabones Speed Booster, and a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens with me, and it proved the ultimate combo for low light, incognito shooting.

Throughout the evening I stole shots around the club, often being just a couple feet from my unsuspecting targets, and almost nobody noticed.  To the casual observer, the tiny 5n looks like a point-and-shoot.  Of course, I made sure to not linger too long .  As a rule of thumb, it takes about 10 to 15 seconds for strangers to realize I’m not just taking a picture.

At one point, a young lady did notice I was shooting video.  We ended up in conversation, I took a couple shots of her, and she gave me her number.  So maybe being conspicuous has its advantages, too.

Camera settings: Sunset Profile, white balance set to Tungsten, Contrast 0, Saturation -1, Sharpness -3, DRO Level 1.  You don’t want to lower the contrast too much with DSLR’s in low light because you’ll just amplify the nasty-looking grain.  Better to make the best of your 8-bit color space by devoting those shades of grey to the midtones, not the shadows.


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  1. Rob

    Hi Brandon,

    great work, I love how you capture all these beautiful moments between people and are able to make it look so cool at the same time 🙂
    Your videos inspired me to buy a nex 5-n and a speed booster, too, have attached my old Nikon 35mm f2 and love that combination! I would like to ask you a couple of questions though, maybe you can share your tricks? 🙂

    – Do you use any image stabilisation in post processing? Your footage looks so smooth! Or maybe you’ve got some super steady hands when you hold the camera?

    – How do you focus in situations where you have to be quick? I find it’s very fast to work with focus peak switched on, but it’s still hard to nail the focus that way, especially on very wide apertures. If I zoom in, adjust focus, then zoom out and start recording I get sharp focus but that process almost seems to take too long when I try to capture a spontaneous moment.

    – Where do you hold your camera so it’s most unobtrusive? Do you hold it quite low (in front of belly) with screen flipped up and looking down? Or do you hold it higher, rest it on a table or hold it to your eyes?

    Thanks so much for all your inspiration again, your work is awesome!!!….. 🙂


    • Brandon Li

      Thanks Rob!

      Image stabilization: I use as little as possible. On panning shots and camera moves, I usually add Lock and Load at a level of .2 overall strength or less. To keep the camera as steady as possible, make sure you support the lens at the bottom and at the front of the barrel. A lot of camera
      shake comes from trying to keep the camera’s base steady and ignoring the lens barrel.

      Focus: I just use focus peaking; sometimes my shots are still a bit soft but I just edit out the bad ones. I don’t use the zoom-in focus assist because it takes too long, as you’ve found.

      Tip: make sure you enable full-screen video recording so that your video image uses the entire LCD screen. Go into “Settings”, scroll about halfway down to “Main Settings” and go to “Wide Image”. Set this to “Full Screen”. This will aid in focusing.

      I usually shoot at waist-level. People tell me that it looks like I’m just reviewing my photos. When I’m feeling bold, I raise the camera to eye-level or higher. Above eye-level, people usually assume I’m getting a crowd shot so they don’t fixate on the camera. Shooting at eye-level is the most intrusive and noticeable. Try to keep your shots down to 3-5 seconds if people are sober/self-conscious, and 10-20 seconds if they’re engaged in other activities. And don’t stand in one place too long. Keep moving around the venue.

      • Rob

        Thanks for your reply and your tip about enabling full-screen video recording – I wasn’t aware of that setting before and it makes a huge difference. Just completed my first video with the NEX-5N and speedbooster setup, am really happy…


        Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm, knowledge and tricks…. Rob

        P.S.: I’ve edited the video in Adobe Photoshop which I find is brilliant and so easy to use when it comes to complex color grading such as local contrast enhancements, dodging/burning etc…

  2. Heather

    Wonderful site, very informative.

    • Brandon Li

      Thanks Heather!

  3. Justin

    Hey Brandon,
    Great video and love the site. I am considering buying a speed booster for my 5n after reading and seeing your work.
    What two fonts are you using in the title shot? Really like the look of those fonts!

    • Brandon Li

      Hi Justin,

      Apologies for the delayed response. The fonts are actually the logo for the bar, which I downloaded from the internet. So it’s probably a custom font or someone’s handwriting.

  4. Mark

    You have a true talent (Sorry to clutter but it had to be said).
    Oh… and the website is great!

    • Brandon Li

      Thank you!

  5. Jason

    Love your videos!!! It inspired me to do my own on a trip with my family. I also bought the Nikon 50mm pancake lens because you spoke so highly about it. I should receive it this week and will start using it on my video projects. Here is the video I did: https://vimeo.com/76921913. Let me know what you think.

    • Brandon Li

      Hey Jason! Looks really cool! Great choice of music and tone. You had a couple shots that got cut too short to register – might want to look out for that. Also, it’s good practice in editing to try to remove anything that doesn’t move your story forward, even if the story is as simple as taking a trip and seeing sights. Watch out for repetitive content. But I’m really glad you’re taking the plunge with this system. It’s about as painless as DSLR filmmaking gets, in terms of portability. Best of luck with your new lens!

      • Jason

        Great feedback!! I really appreciate you taking the time to critique my work.

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