By Fergus Burnett
I visited Sony HQ in Manhattan for their pre-NAB Show press conference recently. In a board room with tiny muffins, mini bagels and a great view of New York, we sat pleasantly for a few hours to learn about the direction the company is taking in 2016.
Sony announced details for a slew of 4K-, HDR-capable broadcast cameras and workflow systems, all backwards compatible with standard HD to ease the professional and consumer transition to Ultra-HD.
As well as broadcast and motion picture, Sony’s Pro division has a finger in the corporate, healthcare, education and faith markets. They have been steadily pushing their new products and systems into universities, private companies, hospitals and every other kind of institution. Last year, they helped to fit out the very first 4K church.
I work as a DIT/dailies technician in the motion picture industry rather than broadcast, so many of these product announcements were outside my sphere of professional interest, but it was fascinating to gain an understanding of the immense scale and variety of markets that Sony is working in.
There were only a handful of new additions the CineAlta (pictured) line, firmware updates for the F5 and F55, and a new 4K recording module. These two cameras have really endured in popularity since their introduction in 2012.
The new AXS-R7 recording module (right) offers a few improvements over its predecessor the AXS-R5. It’s capable of full 4K up to 120fps and has a nifty 30-second cache capability, which is going to be really useful for shooting water droplets in slow motion. The AXS-R7 uses a new kind of high-speed media card that looks like a slightly smaller SxS — it’s called AXSM-S48. Sony is really on fire with these names!
A common and unfortunate problem when I am dealing with on-set dailies is sketchy card readers. This is something that ALL motion picture camera companies are guilty of producing. USB 3.0 is just not fast enough when copying huge chunks of critical camera data to multiple drives, and I’ve found the power connector on the current AXS card reader to be touchy on separate occasions with different readers, causing the card to eject in the midst of offloading. Though there are no details yet, I was assured that the AXSM-S48 reader would use a faster connection than USB 3.0. I certainly hope so; it’s a weak point in what is otherwise a fairly trouble-free camera ecosystem.
Looming at the top of the CineAlta lineup, the F65 is still Sony’s flagship camera for cinema production. Its specs were outrageous four years ago and still are, but it never became a common sight on film sets. The 8K resolution was mostly unnecessary even for top-tier productions. I inquired where Sony saw the F65 sitting among its competition, from Arri and Red, as well as their own F55 which has become a staple of TV drama.
Sony sees the F65 as their true cinema camera, ideally suited for projection on large screens. They admitted that while uptake of the camera was slow after its introduction, rentals have been increasing as more DPs gain experience with the camera, enjoying its low-light capabilities, color gamut and sheer physical bulk.
Sony manufactures a gigantic fleet of sensible, soberly named cameras for every conceivable purpose. They are very capable production tools, but it’s only a small part of Sony’s overall strategy.
With 4K HDR delivery fast becoming standard and expected, we are headed for a future world where pictures are more appealing than reality. From production to consumption, Sony could well be set to dominate that world. We already watch Sony-produced movies shot on Sony cameras playing on Sony screens, and we listen to Sony musicians on Sony stereos as we make our way to worship the God of sound and vision in a 4K church.
Enjoy NAB everyone!