Tag Archives: Daniel Rodriguez

Sony’s NAB updates — a cinematographer’s perspective

By Daniel Rodriguez

With its NAB offerings, Sony once again showed that they have a firm presence in nearly every stage of production, be it motion picture, broadcast media or short form. The company continues to keep up to date with the current demands while simultaneously preparing for the inevitable wave of change that seems to come faster and faster each year. While the introduction of new hardware was kept to a short list this year, many improvements to existing hardware and software were released to ensure Sony products — both new and existing — still have a firm presence in the future.

The ability to easily access, manipulate, share and stream media has always been a priority for Sony. This year at NAB, Sony continued to demonstrate its IP Live, SR Live, XDCAM Air and Media Backbone Hive platforms, which give users the opportunity to manage media all over the globe. IP Live allows users to access remote production, which contains core processing hardware while accessing it anywhere. This extends to 4K and HDR/SDR streaming as well, which is where SR Live comes into play. SR Live allows for a native 4K HDR signal to be processed into full HD and regular SDR signals, and a core improvement is the ability to adjust the curves during a live broadcast for any issues that may arise in converting HDR signals to SDR.

For other media, including XDCAM-based cameras, XDCAM Air allows for the wireless transfer and streaming of most media through QoS services, and turns almost any easily accessible camera with wireless capabilities into a streaming tool.

Media Backbone Hive allows users to access their media anywhere they want. Rather than just being an elaborate cloud service, Media Backbone Hive allows internal Adobe Cloud-based editing, accepts nearly every file type, allows a user to embed metadata and makes searching simple with keywords and phrases that are spoken in the media itself.

For the broadcast market, Sony introduced the Sony HDC-5500 4K HDR three-CMOS sensor camcorder which they are calling their “flagship” camera in this market. Offering 4K HDR and high frame rates, the camera also offers a global shutter — which is essential for dealing with strobing from lights — and can now capture fast action without the infamous rolling shutter blur. The camera allows for 4K output over 12G SDI, allowing for 4K monitoring and HDR, and as these outputs continue to be the norm, the introduction of the HDC-5500 will surely be a hit with users, especially with the addition of global shutter.

Sony is very much a company that likes to focus on the longevity of their previous releases… cameras especially. Sony’s FS7 is a camera that has excelled in its field since its introduction in 2014, and to this day is an extremely popular choice for short form, narrative and broadcast media. Like other Sony camera bodies, the FS7 allows for modular builds and add-ons, and this is where the new CBK-FS7BK ENG Build-Up Kit comes in. Sporting a shoulder mount and ENG viewfinder, the kit includes an extension in the back that allows for two wireless audio inputs, RAW output, streaming and file transfer via Wireless LAN or 4G/LTE connection, as well as QoS streaming (only through XDCAM Air) and timecode input. This CBK-FS7BK ENG Build-Up Kit turns the FS7 into an even more well-rounded workhorse.

The Sony Venice is Sony’s flagship Cinema camera, replacing the Sony F65, which is still brilliant and a popular camera. Having popped up as recently as last year’s Annihilation, the Venice takes a leap further in entering the full-frame, VistaVision market. Boasting top-of-the-line specs and a smaller, more modular build than the F65, the camera isn’t exactly a new release — it came out in November 2017 — but Sony has secured longevity in their flagship camera in a time when other camera manufacturers are just releasing their own VistaVision-sensored cameras and smaller alternatives.

Sony recently released a firmware update to the Venice that allows X-OCN XT — their highest form of compressed 16-bit RAW — two new imager modes, allowing the camera to sample 5.7K 16:9 in full frame and 6K 2.39:1 in full width, as well as 4K signal over 6G/12G SDI output and wireless remote control with the CBK-WA02. Since the Venice is smaller and able to be mounted on harder-to-reach mounts, wireless control is quickly becoming a feature that many camera assistants need. Newer anamorphic desqueeze modes for 1.25x, 1.3x, 1.5x and 1.8x have also been added, which is huge, since many older and newer lenses are constantly being created and revisited, such as the Technovision 1.5x — made famous by Vittorio Storaro on Apocalypse Now (1979) — and the Cooke Full Frame Anamorphics 1.8X. With VistaVision full frame now being an easily accessible way of filming, new forms of lensing are now becoming common, so systems like anamorphic are no longer limited to 1.3X and 2X. It’s reassuring to see Sony look out for storytellers who may want to employ less common anamorphic desqueeze sizes.

As larger resolutions and higher frame rates become the norm, Sony has introduced the new Sony SxS Pro X cards. A follow up to the hugely successful Sony SxS Pro+ cards, these new cards boost an incredible transfer speed of 10Gbps (1250Mbps) in 120GB and 240GB cards. This is a huge step up from the previous SxS Pro+ cards that offered a read speed of 3.5Gbps and a write speed of 2.8Gbps. Probably the most exciting part of these new cards being introduced is the corresponding SBAC-T40 card reader which guarantees a full 240GB card to be offloaded in 3.5 minutes.

Sony’s newest addition to the Venice camera is the Rialto extension system. Using the Venice’s modular build, the Rialto is a hardware extension that allows you to remove the main body’s sensor and install it into a smaller body unit which is then tethered either nine or 18 feet by cable back to the main body. Very reminiscent of the design of ARRI’s Alexa M unit, the Rialto goes further by being an extension of its main system rather than a singular system, which may bring its own issues. The Rialto allows users to reach spots where it may otherwise prove difficult using the actual Venice body. Its lightweight design allows users to mount it nearly anywhere. Where other camera bodies that are designed to be smaller end up heavy when outfitted with accessories such as batteries and wireless transmitters, the Rialto can easily be rigged to aerials, handhelds, and Steadicams. Though some may question why you wouldn’t just get a smaller body from another camera company, the big thing to consider is that the Rialto isn’t a solution to the size of the Venice body — which is already very small, especially compared to the previous F65 — but simply another tool to get the most out of the Venice system, especially considering you’re not sacrificing anything as far as features or frame rates. The Rialto is currently being used on James Cameron’s Avatar sequels, as its smaller body allows him to employ two simultaneously for true 3D recording whilst giving all the options of the Venice system.

With innovations in broadcast and motion picture production, there is a constant drive to push boundaries and make capture/distribution instant. Creating a huge network for distribution, streaming, capture, and storage has secured Sony not only as the powerhouse that it already is, but also ensures its presence in the ever-changing future.


Daniel Rodriguez is a New York based director and cinematographer. Having spent years working for such companies as Light Iron, Panavision and ARRI Rental, he currently works as a freelance cinematographer, filming narrative and commercial work throughout the five boroughs. 

 

Digging Deep: Sony intros the PXW-FS7 II camera

By Daniel Rodriguez

At a press event in New York City a couple of weeks ago, Sony unveiled the long-rumored follow-up to its extremely successful Sony PXW FS7 — the Sony PXW-FS7 II. With the new FS7 II, Sony dives deeper in the mid-level cinematographer/ videographer market that it firmly established with the FS100, FS700, FS7 and the more recent Sony FS5.

Knowing they are competing with cameras of other similarly priced brands, Sony has built upon a line that fulfills most technical and ergonomic needs. Sony prides itself on listening to videographers and cinematographers who make requests and suggestions from first-hand field experience, and it’s clear that they’ve continued to listen.

New Features
The Sony FS7 II might be the first camera where you can feel the deep care and consideration from Sony for those who have used the FS7 extensively, in regards to improvements. Although the body and overall design might seem nearly identical to the original FS7, the FS7 II has made subtle but important ergonomic improvements to the camera’s design.

Improving on their E-mount design, Sony has introduced a lever locking mechanism much how a PL mount functions. Unlike the PL mount, the new lever lock rotates counter-clockwise but provides a massive amount of support, especially since there is a secondary latch that prevents you from accidentally turning the lever back. The mount has been tested to support the same weight as traditional PL mounts, and larger cinema zooms can be easily mounted without the need of a lens support. Due to its short flange distance, Sony’s E-mount has become very popular with users for adapting almost all stills and cinema lenses to Sony cameras, and with this added support there is reduced risk and concern when adding lens adapters.

The camera body’s corners and edges have all been rounded out, allowing users to have a much more comfortable control of the camera. This is especially helpful for handheld use when the camera might be pressed up against someone’s body or under their arm. Considering things like operating below the underarm and at the waist, Sony has redesigned the arm grip, and most of the body, to be tool-less. The arm grip no longer requires tools to be adjusted and now uses two knobs to allow easy adjustments. This saves much needed time and maximizes comfort.

The viewfinder can now be extended further in either direction with a longer rod, which benefits left-eye dominant operators. The microphone holder is no longer permanently attached to the other side of the rod so it can either be adapted to the left side of camera to allow viewing the monitor to the right of the camera or it could be removed altogether. Sony has also made the viewfinder collapsible for those who’d rather just view the monitor. The viewfinder rod is now square shaped to allow uniform horizontal aligning in the framing in relation to the cameras balancing. This stemmed from operators confusing their framing by believing framing was crooked due to how the viewfinder was aligned, even if the camera was perfectly balanced.

Sony really kept the smaller suggestions in mind by making the memory card slots protrude more than on the original FS7. This allows for loaders to more easily access the memory card should they be wearing something that inhibits their grip, like gloves. Compatibility with the newer G-series XQD cards, which boast an impressive 440MBps write and 400MBps read speed, allowing FS7 II users to quickly dump their footage on the field without the worry of running out of useable memory cards.

Coming straight out the box is the FS7 II’s ability to do internal 4K DCI (4096×2160) without the need for upgrades or HDMI output. This 4K can be captured in nearly every codec, whether in XAVC, ProRes 422HQ, or RAW, with the option of HyperGammas, Slog-3 or basic 709. RAW output will be available to the camera, but like its siblings, an external recorder will still be required to do so. The FS7 II will also be capable of recording Sony’s version of compressed RAW, XOCN, which allows 16-bit 3:1 recording to an external recorder. Custom 3D LUTs will still be available to be uploaded into the camera. This allows more of a cinematographer’s touch when using a custom LUT, rather than factory presets.

Electronic Internal Variable ND
The most exciting feature of the Sony FS7 II — and the one that really separates this camera from the FS7 — is the introduction of an Electronic Internal Variable ND. Introduced originally in the FS5, the new options that the FS7 II has over the FS5 with this new Electronic Variable ND makes this a very promising camera and an improvement over its older sibling.

Oftentimes with similarly priced cameras, or ones that offer the same options, there is either a lack of internal NDs or a limited amount of internal ND control, which is either too much or not enough when it comes to exposure control. The term Variable ND is also approached with caution from videographers/cinematographers with concerns of color shifts and infrared pollution, but Sony has taken care of these precautions by having an IR cut filter over the sensor. This way, no level of ND will introduce any color shifts or infrared pollution. It’s also often easy to break the bank buying IR NDs to prevent infrared pollution, and the constant swapping of ND filters might prove a disadvantage when it comes to being time-efficient, which could also lead you to open or close your F-stop to compensate.

Compromising your F-stop is often an unfortunate reality when shooting — indoors or outdoors — and it’s extremely exciting to have a feature that allows you to adjust your exposure flawlessly without worrying about having the right ND level or adjusting your F-stop to compensate. It’s also exciting to know that you can adjust the ND filter without having to see a literal filter rotate in front of your image. The Electronic Variable ND can be adjusted from the grip as well, so you can essentially ride the iris without having to touch your F-stop and risk your depth of field being inconsistent.

closeup-settingsAs with most modern-day lenses that lack manual exposure, riding the iris is simply out of the question due to mechanical “clicked” irises and the very obvious exposure shift when changing the F-stop on one of these lenses. This is eliminated by letting the Variable ND do all the work and allowing you to leave your F-stop untouched. The Electronic Variable ND on manual mode allows you to smoothly transition between 0.6ND to 2.1ND in one-third increments.

Recording in BT
Another exciting new addition to the FS7 II is the ability to record in BT. 2020 (more commonly known as Rec. 2020) internally in UHD. While this might seem excessive to some, considering this camera is still a step below its siblings the F55 and F65 as far as use in productions where HDR deliverables are required, providing the option to shoot Rec. 2020 futureproofs this camera for years to come especially when Rec. 2020 monitoring and projection becomes the norm. Companies like Netflix usually request an HDR deliverable for their original programs so despite the FS7 II not being on the same level as the F55/F65, it shows it can deliver the same level of quality.

While the camera can’t boast a global shutter like its bigger sibling, the F55, the FS7 does show very capable rolling shutter with little to no skewing effects. In the FS7 II’s case it is preferable to retain rolling shutter over global because as a camera that leans slightly toward the commercial/videography spectrum of cinematography, it is preferable to retain a native ISO of 2000 and the full 14 stops over global shutter, which is easy to overlook and use cost much-needed dynamic range.

This exclusion of global shutter retains the native ISO of the FS7II at 2000 ISO, which is the same as the previous FS7. Retaining this native ISO puts the FS7 II above many similar priced video cameras whose native ISOs usually sit at 800. While the FS7 II may not be a low-light beast like the Sony a7s/a7sii, the ability to do internal 4K DCI, higher frame rates and record 10-bit 422HQ (and even RAW) greatly outweigh this loss in exposure.

The SELP18110G 18-110 F4.0 Servo Zoom
Alongside the Sony FS7 II, Sony has announced a new zoom lens to be released alongside the camera. Building off what they have introduced before with the Sony FE PZ 28-135 F4 G, the 18-110 F4 is a very powerful lens optically and the perfect companion to the FS7 II. The lens is sharp to the edges; doesn’t drop focus while zooming in and out; has no breathing whatsoever; has a quiet internal zoom, iris, and focus control; internal stabilization; and a 90-second zoom crawl from end to end. The lens covers Super 35mm and APSC-sized sensors and retains a constant f4 throughout each focal length.

It’s multi-coating allows for high contrast and low flaring with circular bokeh to give truly cinematic images. Despite its size, the lens only weighs 2.4 pounds, a weight easily supported by the FS7 II’s lever-locking E mount. Though it isn’t an extremely fast lens, paired with a camera like the FS7 II, which has a native ISO of 2000, the 18-110 F4 should prove to be a very useable lens on the field and as well in narrative work.

Final Impressions
This camera is very specifically designed for camerapersons who either have a very small camera team or shoot as individuals. Many of the new features, big and small, are great additions for making any project go down smoothly and nearly effortlessly. While its bigger siblings the F55 and F65 will still dominate major motion picture production and commercial work, this camera has all its corners covered to fill the freelance videographer/cinematographer’s needs.

Indie films, short films, smaller commercial and videography work will no doubt find this camera to be hugely beneficial and give as few headaches as possible. Speed and efficiency are often the biggest advantage on smaller productions and this camera easily handles and facilitates the most overlooked aspects of video production.

The specs are hard to pass up when discussing the Sony FS7 II. Hearing of a camera that does internal 4K DCI with the option of high frame rates at 10-bit 422HQ with 14 stops of dynamic range and the option to shoot in Slog3 or one of the many HyperGammas for faster deliverables should immediately excite any videographer/cinematographer. Many cinematographers making feature or short films have grown accustomed to shooting RAW, and unless they rent the external recorder, or buy it, they will be unable to do so with this camera. But with the high write speeds of the internal codecs, it’s difficult to argue that, despite a few minor features being lost, the internal video will retain a massive amount of information.

This camera truly delivers on providing nearly any ergonomic and technical need, and by anticipating future display formats with Rec.2020, this shows that Sony is very conscious of future-proofing this camera. The physical improvements on the camera have shown that Sony is very open and eager to hear suggestions and first-hand experiences from FS7 users, and no doubt any suggestions on the FS7 II will be taken into mind.

The Electronic Variable ND is easily the best feature of the camera since so much time in the field will be saved by not having to swap NDs, and the ability to shift through increments between the standard ND levels will be hugely beneficial to get your exposure right. Being able to adjust exposure mid shot without having filters come between the image will be a great feature to those shooting outdoors or working events where the lighting is uneven. Speed cannot be emphasized enough, and by having such a massively advantageous feature you are just cutting more and more time from whatever production you’re working.

Pairing up the camera with the new 18-110 F4 will make a great camera package for location shooting since you will be covered for nearly every focal length and have a sharp lens that has servo zooming, internal stabilization and low flaring. The lens might be off-putting to some narrative filmmakers, since it only opens to a F4.0 and isn’t fast by other lens standards, but with the quality and attention to optic performance the lens should be considered seriously alongside other lenses that aren’t quite cinema lenses but have been used heavily so far in the narrative world. With the native ISO of 2000, one should be able to shoot comfortably wide open or closed down with proper lighting and for films done mostly in natural light this lens should be highly considered.

Oftentimes when choosing a camera, the biggest question isn’t what the camera has but what it will cost. Since Sony isn’t discontinuing the original FS7, the FS7 II will be more expensive, and when considering BP-U60 batteries and XQD cards the price will only climb. I think despite these shortcomings, one must always consider the price of storage and power when upgrading your camera system. More powerful cameras will no doubt require faster cards and bigger power supplies, so these costs must be seen as investments.

While XQD cards might be considered pricey to some, especially those who are more familiar with buying and using SD cards, I consider jumping into the XQD card world a necessary step to develop your video capabilities. CFast cards are becoming the norm in higher-end digital cinema, especially when the FS7 II is being heavily considered.

Compromise is often expected in any level of production, be it technically, logistically or artistically. After getting an impression of what the FS7 II can provide and facilitate in any production scenario I feel this is one of the few cameras that will take away feelings of compromise from what you as a user can provide.

The FS7 II will be available in January 2017 for an estimated street price of $10,000 (body only) and $13,000 for the camcorder with 18-110mm power zoom lens kit.


Daniel Rodriguez is cinematographer and photographer living in New York City. Check out his work here. Dan took many of the pictures featured in this article.