By Daniel Rodriguez
Sony has always been a company that prioritizes and implements the requests of the customer. They are constantly innovation throughout all aspects of production — from initial capture to display. At NAB 2017, Sony’s goal was to further expand benchmarks the company has made in the past few months.
To reflect its focus as a company, Sony’s NAB booth was focused on four areas: image capture, media solutions, IP Live and HDR (High Dynamic Range). Sony’s focus was to demonstrate its ability to anticipate for future demands in capture and distribution while introducing firmware updates to many of their existing products to complement these future demands.
Since Sony provides customers and clients with a path from capture to delivery, it’s natural to start with what’s new for imaging. Having already tackled the prosumer market with its introduction of the a7sii, a7rii, FS5 and FS7ii, and firmly established its presence in the cinema camera line with the Sony F5, F55 and F65, it’s natural that Sony’s immediate steps weren’t to follow up on these models so soon, but rather introduce models that fit more specific needs and situations.
The newest Sony camera introduced at NAB was the UMC-S3CA. Sporting the extremely popular sensor from the a7sii, the UMC-S3CA is a 4K interchangeable lens E mount camera that is much smaller than its sensor sibling. Its Genlock ability allows any user to monitor, operate and sync many at a time, something extremely promising for emerging media like VR and 360 video. It boasts an incredible ISO range from 100-409,600 and recording internal 4K UHD recording at 23.98p, 25fps and 29.97p in 100Mbps and 60Mbps modes. The size of this particularly small camera is promising for those who love the a7sii but want to employ it in more specific cases, such as crash cams, drones, cranes and sliders.
To complement its current camera line, Sony has released an updated version of their electronic viewfinder DVF-EL100 —the DVF-EL200 (pictured)— which also boasts a full 1920x1080p resolution image and is about twice as bright as the previous model. Much like updated versions of Sony’s cameras, this monitor’s ergonomics are attributed to the vast input from users of the previous model, something that the company prides itself on. (Our main image show the F55 with the DVF-EL200 viewfinder.)
Just because Sony is introducing new products doesn’t mean that it has forgotten about older products, especially those that are part of its camera lines. Prosumer models, like the Sony PXW-Z150 and Sony PXW-FS5, to professional cinema cameras, such as the Sony PMW-F5 and PMW-F55, are all receiving firmware updates coming in July 2017.
The most notable firmware update of the Z150 will be its ability to capture images in HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) to support easier HDR capture and workflow. The FS5 will also receive the ability to capture in HLG, in addition to the ability to change the native ISO from 2000 to 3200 when shooting in SLog2 or SLog3 and 120fps capabilities at 1080p full HD. While many consider the F65 to be Sony’s flagship camera, some consider the F55 to be the more industry friendly of Sony’s cinema camera line, and Sony backs that up by increasing it’s high frame rate capture in a new firmware update. This new firmware update will allow the F55 to record in 72, 75, 90, 96 and 100fps in 4K RAW and in the company’s new compressed Extended Original Camera Negative (X-OCN) format.
Sony’s new X-OCN codec continues to be a highlight of the company’s developments as it boasts an incredible 16-bit bit-depth despite it being compressed, and it’s virtually indistinguishable from Sony’s own RAW format. Due to its compression, it boasts file sizes that are equivalent to 50 percent less than 2K 4:3 Arriraw and 4K ProRes 4444 XQ and 30 percent less than F55 RAW. It’s considered the most optimal and suitable format for HDR content capturing. With cameras like the F5, F55 and its smaller alternatives, like the FS7 and FS7II allowing RAW recording, Sony is offering a nearly indistinguishable alternative to cut down on storage space as well as allow more recording time on set.
Speed and Storage
As Sony continues to increase its support for HDR and larger resolutions like 8K, it’s easy to consider the emergence of X-OCN as an introduction of what to expect from Sony in the future.
Despite the introduction of X-OCN being the company’s answer to large file sizes from shooting RAW, Sony still maintain a firm understanding of the need for storage and the read/write speeds that come with such innovations. As part of such innovations, Sony has introduced the AXS-AR1 AXS memory and SXS Thunderbolt card reader. Using a Thunderbolt 2 connector, which can be daisy-chained since the reader has two inputs, the reader has a theoretical transfer speed of approximately 9.6Gbps, or 1200MBps. Supporting SxS and Sony’s new AXS cards, if one were to download an hour’s worth of true 4K footage at 24fps, shot in X-OCN, it would only take about 2.5 minutes to complete the transfer.
To complement these leaps in storage space and read/write speeds, Sony’s Optical Disc Archive Generation 2 is designed as an optic disc-based storage media with expandable robotic libraries called PetaSites, which through the use of 3.3TB Optical Disc Archive Cartridges guarantee a staggering 100-year shelf life. Unlike LTOs, which are generally only used a handful of times for storing and retrieving, Sony’s optical discs can be quickly and randomly accessed as needed.
HDR continues to gain traction in the world of broadcast and cinema. From capture to monitoring, the introduction of HDR has spurred many companies to implement new ways to create, monitor, display and distribute HDR content. As mentioned earlier, Sony is implementing firmware updates in many of its cameras to allow internal HLG, or Instant HDR, capture without the need for color grading, as well as compressed X-OCN RAW recording to allow more complex HDR grading to be possible without the massive amounts of data that uncompressed RAW takes up.
HDR gamma displays can now be monitored on screens like the Sony FS5’s, as well as higher-end displays such as their BVM E171, BVM X300/2 and PVM X550.
What stood out about Sony’s mission with HDR is to further implement its use in realtime, non-fiction content, and broadcasts like sporting events through IP Live. The goal is to offer instantaneous conversions to not only output media in 4K HDR and SDR but also offer full HD HDR and SDR at the same time. With its SR Live System Sony hopes to implement updates in their camera lines with HLG to provide instant HDR which can be processed through its HDRC-4000 converters. As the company’s business model has stated Sony’s goal is to offer full support throughout the production process, which has led to the introduction of XDCAM Air, which will be an ENG-based cloud service that addresses the growing need for speed to air. XDCAM Air will launch in June 2017.
To round out its production through delivery goals, Sony continues with Media Backbone Navigator X, which is designed to be an online content storage and management solution to ease the work between capture and delivery. It accepts nearly any file type and allows multiple users to easily search for keywords and even phrases spoken in videos while being able to stream in realtime speeds.
Media Backbone Navigator X is designed for productions that create an environment of constant back and forth and will eliminate any excessive deliberation when figuring out storage and distribution of materials.
Sony’s goal at NAB wasn’t to shock or awe but rather to build on an established foundation for current and new clients and customers who are readying for an ever-changing production environment. For Sony, this year’s NAB could be considered preparation for the “upcoming storm” as firmware updates roll out more support for promising formats like HDR.
Daniel Rodriquez is a New York-based cinematographer, photographer and director. Follow him on Instragram: https://www.instagram.com/realdanrodriguez.