Tag Archives: Sony cameras

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. 

 

DP Rick Ray: Traveling the world capturing stock images

By Randi Altman

It takes a special kind of human to travel the world, putting himself in harm’s way to collect hard-to-find stock imagery, but Rick Ray thrives on this way of life. This Adobe Stock contributor has a long history as a documentary filmmaker and a resume that includes 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama (2006), Letters Home from the South China Seas: Adventures in Singapore & Borneo (1989) and Letters Home from Iceland (1990).

Let’s find out more about what makes Ray tick.

As a DP, are you just collecting footage to sell or are you working on films, docs and series as well?
I used to be a documentary filmmaker and have about 24 published titles in travel and biography, including the 10 Questions For The Dalai Lama and the TV series Raising The Bamboo Curtain With Martin Sheen. However, I found that unless you are Ken Burns or Michael Moore, making a living in the world of documentary films can be very difficult. It wasn’t until I came to realize that individual shots taken from my films and used in other productions were earning me more income than the whole film itself that I understood how potentially lucrative and valuable your footage can be when it is repurposed as stock.

That said, I still hire myself out as a DP on many Hollywood and independent films whenever possible. I also try to retain the stock rights for these assignments whenever possible.

A Bedouin man in Jordan.

How often are you on the road, and how do you pick your next place to shoot?
I travel for about three to four months each year now. Lately, I travel to places that interest me from a beauty or cultural perspective, whether or not they may be of maximal commercial potential. The stock footage world is inundated with great shots of Paris, London or Tokyo. It’s very hard for your footage to be noticed in such a crowded field of content. For that reason, lesser known locations of the world are attractive to me because there is less good footage of those places.

I also enjoy the challenges of traveling and filming in less comfortable places in the world, something I suppose I inherited from my days as a 25-year-old backpacking and hitchhiking around the world.

Are you typically given topics to capture — filling a need — or just shooting what interests you?
Mostly what interests me, but also I see a need for many topics of political relevance, and this also informs my shooting itinerary.

For example, immigration is in the news intensively these days, so I have recently driven the border wall from Tijuana to the New Mexico border capturing imagery of that. It’s not a place I’d normally go for a shoot, but it proved to be very interesting and it’s licensing all the time.

Rick Ray

Do you shoot alone?
Yes, normally. Sometimes I go with one other person, but that’s it. To be an efficient and effective stock shooter, you are not a “film crew” per se. You are not hauling huge amounts of gear around. There are no “grips,” and no “craft services.” In stock shooting around the world, as I define it, I am a low-key casual observer making beautiful images with low-key gear and minimal disruption to life in the countries I visit. If you are a crew of three or more, you become a group unto yourself, and it’s much more difficult to interact and experience the places you are visiting.

What do you typically capture with camera-wise? What format? Do you convert footage or let Adobe Stock do that?
I travel with two small (but excellent) Sony 4K handicams (FDR-AX100), two drones, a DJI Osmo handheld steady-grip, an Edelkrone slider kit and two lightweight tripods. Believe it or not, these can all fit into one standard large suitcase. I shoot in XDCAM 4K and then convert it to Apple ProRes in post. Adobe Stock does not convert my clips for me. I deliver them ready to be ordered.

You edit on Adobe Premiere. Why is that the right system for you, and do you edit your footage before submitting? How does that Adobe Stock process work?
I used to work in Final Cut Pro 7 and Final Cut Pro X, but I switched to Adobe Premiere Pro after struggling with FCPX. As for “editing,” it doesn’t really play a part in stock footage submission. There is no editing as we are almost always dealing with single clips. I do grade, color correct, stabilize and de-noise many clips before I export them. I believe in having the clips look great before they are submitted. They have to compete with thousands of other clips on the site, and mine need to jump out at you and make you want to use them. Adobe allows users to submit content directly from Premiere to Adobe Stock, but since I deal in large volumes of clips in submitting, I don’t generally use this approach. I send a drive in with a spreadsheet of data when a batch of clips are done.

A firefighter looks back as a building collapses during the Thomas Fire in Ventura, California.

What are the challenges of this type of shooting?
Well, you are 100% responsible for the success or failure of the mission. There is no one to blame but yourself. Since you are mostly traveling low-key and without a lot of protection, it’s very important to have a “fixer” or driver in difficult countries. You might get arrested or have all of your equipment stolen by corrupt customs authorities in a country like Macedonia, as happened to me. It happens! You have to roll with the good and the bad, ask forgiveness rather than permission and be happy for the amazing footage you do manage to get,

You left a pretty traditional job to travel the world. What spurred that decision, and do you ever see yourself back at a more 9-to-5  type of existence?
Never! I have figured out the perfect retirement plan for myself. Every day I can check my sales from anywhere in the world, and on most days the revenue more than justifies the cost of the travel! And it’s all a tax write-off. Who has benefits like that?

A word of warning, though — this is not for everyone. You have to be ok with the idea of spending money to build a portfolio before you see significant revenue in return. It can take time and you may not be as lucky as I have been. But for those who are self-motivated and have a knack for cinematography and travel, this is a perfect career.

Can you name some projects that feature your work?
Very often this takes me by surprise since I often don’t know exactly how my footage is used. More often than not, I’m watching CNN, a TV show or a movie and I see my footage. It’s always a surprise and makes me laugh. I’ve seen my work on the Daily Show, Colbert, CNN, in commercials for everything from pharmaceuticals to Viking Cruises, in political campaign ads for people I agree and disagree with, and in music videos for Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay and Roger Waters.

Fire burns along the road near a village in the Palestinian territories.

Shooting on the road must be interesting. Can you share a story with us?
There have been quite a few. I have had my gear stolen in Israel (twice). In Thailand my gear was confiscated by corrupt customs authorities in Macedonia, as I mentioned earlier. I have been jailed by Ethiopian police for not having a valid filming permit, which was not necessary. Once a proper bribe was arranged they changed clothes from police into costumed natives and performed as tour guides and cultural emissaries for me.

In India, I was on a train to the Kumba Mela, which was stopped by a riot and burned. I escaped with minor injuries. I was also accosted by communist revolutionaries in Bihar, India. Rather than be a victim, I got out of the car and filmed it, and the leader and his generals then reviewed the footage and decided to do it over. After five takes of them running down the road and past the camera, the leader finally approved the take and I was left unharmed.

I’ve been in Syria and Lebanon and felt truly threatened by violence. I’ve been chased by Somali bandits at night in a van in Northern Kenya. Buy me a beer sometime, I’ll tell you more.

Review: Sony’s a6300 E-mount camera

By Brady Betzel

It’s fair to say that the still and motion camera market isn’t boring. Canon and Nikon have been the huge players in the market, more so a few years ago when Canon introduced the landscape-changing 7D and full-frame 5D cameras. The 5D was the magic camera for the filmmaking community. Over the years, other companies have been breaking the 5D mold with cameras like Blackmagic with its Pocket Cinema Camera, but once the filmmaking community started lusting for higher frame rates that filmed at higher than 1920×1080 resolution, along with a Log or Log-like color space, the field began to really open up.

It seems that’s when Sony started taking the prosumer camera market seriously and doubled down on the Sony a6000 mirrorless E-mount camera, which eventually led to the 4K (technically UHD) recording-capable a6300 and a6500.

Once people started seeing the images and video that the APS-C-based a6300 produced, mixed with the awesome low-light capabilities and wide dynamic range using picture profiles like SLog2/3 — Sony had a bonafide hit on their hands. And if you still wanted more sensor size than the a6300 can provide with its crop sensor, you have the full-frame A7SII and A7RII (and, hopefully, soon the A7R/S III).

In this review, I am going to cover the Sony a6300 and explain why it’s a good value for anyone looking to make some great content, or even just have top-notch 4K home videos. The image fidelity that comes from the Sony a6300 is truly incredible. It’s a little hard to quantify for me, but I think that the Sony a6300 has a look from the sensor that is superbly unique to a handheld camera. The Sony a6300 delivers a top-notch product for around $949.99 (not including lenses) or $1049.99, which includes a 16-50mm lens… but more on pricing later.

Technically, the Sony a6300 is a handheld camera camera with an interchangeable E-mount lens system. Since this is an APS-C crop sensor camera, it is not full frame. The sensor will record images at 24.2 megapixels and up to UHD (3840×2160) resolution when recording video, and since I work in video I am focusing on that aspect of the a6300. It records in the Sony created xvYCC color space — essentially an extended gamut color space that allows for more saturation but is compatible with existing YCC color space. Short answer: more saturation. It accepts Sony Memory Stick Duo or SD memory cards to record on, but do some research on your memory card as not all will allow for UHD recording at the full 100Mb/s. In movie mode you have an ISO range of 100-25600, which really shines in the high ISO range when filming in low light.

In terms of video recording formats, the Sony a6300 stays in the family with its XAVC S, AVCHD and MP4 all of which are 8-bit out of the camera. Keep in mind that if you edit a lot of footage in XAVC- or AVCHD-based codecs, your computer will need to be on the higher end and/or you will want to create proxy media to edit before finishing and color correcting. The XAVC and AVCHD codecs allow for pretty good quality video to be recorded, but this really stresses editing systems because of the way interframe codecs work. If you notice your system can’t play down your clips, it might be time to think about transcoding them to a more edit-friendly codec like ProRes, Cineform or DNxHR.

When recording in XAVC S 4K/UHD (3840×2160) you can shoot in multiple framerates and bitrates — 24p @ 100/60Mbps; 30p @ 100/60Mbps; XAVC S HD (1920×1080) 60p/30p/24p @ 50Mbps and 120p @ 100/50Mbps as well as many other options — but for this review those are the ones that really matter. The real beauty in the Sony a6300 is the ability to shoot in Log color space, which in very basic terms is a video with a grayish-flat color that allows for advanced color correction in post production because there is more information to pull out of the shadows and highlights aka dynamic range.

S-Log 2 split screen.

To enable the Log color spaces, find the Picture Profile menu under menu five and select PP7, PP8 or PP9. This is where you will find the Gamma menu and S-Log 2- or 3-enabled by default. There are more options but the next one that concerns a lot of people is the Color Mode, which can be changed to S-Gamut, S-Gamut3.Cine, S-Gamut3 and more. These are a little tricky, and my best piece of advice is to try each combination in different lighting environments like sunset, a bright blue sky with gradations and low light to see which works best for each situation. I noticed I got a good amount of noise in S-Log3 S-Gamut3.Cine, but I really tried to push the low light in that mode. I fixed excessive shadow noise when I was color correcting by using Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite Denoiser — read my review.

I noticed S-Log2 left me a little more detail in the highlights, while S-Log 3 gave a little more detail in the shadows; that may have just been my experience, but that is what I noticed. In addition, when shooting in S-Log 2/3 I noticed some macro-blocking/banding in shots that had color gradations, like a blue sky turning into white or even very bright lights — this will look like square digital artifacts or bands arcing across the gradient. I even saw a dead pixel flash when shooting some really low-light footage. The real test is to watch this footage on a huge TV or output monitor above 32-inches because you will really start to see the noise and banding that is present. I did some testing with noise removal, and with a little bit of noise removal elbow grease you can get a great picture. Overall, I am very impressed with the Log type images I was able to pull out of the a6300 and how well they held up in color correction. Typically, a camera that can pull this type of image would be at least over $5,000-6,000 or more plus lenses, so the a6300 is a steal.

After all that S-Log talk you might be asking, “What if I just want to shoot great video and not worry about Logs and Gamuts?” Well, you can set the Picture Profile to 1-6 and get a great image with little to no color correction needed. Specifically, Picture Profile 1 is really the automatic setting to use; it is described by Sony as being the “Movie Gamma,” which basically means your video will look good.

For more descriptions on the Picture Profiles of the Sony a6300, check out their help guide. You will need to test out all of the Picture Profiles though as they all have different characteristics, such as more detail in the shadows but less accurate color in the highlights. Just something to take a few hours and test out.

More Cool Stuff
The internal microphone on the a6300 is ok, but probably shouldn’t be used to use as your primary audio recording. I would suggest something like the Røde VideoMic Pro. Unfortunately without being able to monitor your audio by headphones you will definitely need to test your external microphone to check whether you need a pre-amp, or if something like the VideoMic Pro +20dB boost will be enough or too loud.

One thing that really stuck out to me was how fast the automatic focus was on the Sony a6300. I am used to using a Canon EOS Rebel t2i camera, and the Sony a6300 is lightning fast, almost instantaneous. It really impressed me. I was visiting Disneyland when I had the a6300 and was taking some stills and video around the park, I took a picture of my son, but the Sony a6300 had accidentally caught a bubble in the autofocus and very clearly took a picture of that bubble. It was accidentally incredible.

In addition to the camera, Sony let me borrow a few lenses when I tested out the a6300, including the 50mm f1.8 ($249.99), E 35mm f1.8 ($449.99) and E PZ 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 ($349.99). While the 35mm and 50mm are great , I felt that the 16-50mm zoom lens did the job for me overall. In low-light situations it definitely helped to have the f1.8 prime lenses in my bag, but during daylight, and even dusk, the zoom lens was great. However, when taking portraits or footage where I wanted a nice bokeh background, the prime lenses were what I had to use.

If I was going to buy this camera for myself I would weigh the idea of spending a little more money and grabbing a really nice lens, whether it be a prime or zoom. The only problem with that is most of the upgraded lenses are for full-frame cameras, which brings me to my next point: Would I just go all the way to a full-frame Sony A7rII or A7sII camera? In my mind, if I have enough money to get a full-frame camera I do it. The quality, in my eyes, is far superior. However, you are going to be paying an extra $1,000 to $2,500, depending on the lenses, whether you buy new or used. So a middle ground might be to buy the full-frame lenses like the G Master series for the a6300. This way when you find the right Sony body you don’t have to upgrade lenses as the full-frame lenses will work on the a6300. Keep in mind you will have a crop factor of 1.5, which means a full-frame 50mm lens will actually be a 75mm lens. That might be more confusing than helpful, but it is a constant fight for Sony a6300 owners after they see what the Sony cameras can do. Another option is to take a look at Craigslist or Ebay and see if anyone is selling a used a6300 or A7srII. I did a cursory search when writing this article and found a Sony a6300 with four lenses and extra accessories for $1,300, and another a6300 for sale with one lens for $700, so there are options for used cameras at a great price.

So what didn’t I like about the Sony a6300? There is no headphone jack to monitor your audio. That’s a big one, but one possible solution is using the micro-HDMI port. If you use an external monitoring solution, like an Atomos or a SmallHD monitor, you will be able to use their audio monitoring. Also, I just can’t get used to Sony’s menu and button setup. Maybe because I’ve been used to Canon’s menu, button and wheel setup for a while, but Sony’s setup for some reason throws me off. I feel like I have to go in to one or two extra menus before I get to the settings I want.

Summing Up
The bottom line is that the Sony a6300 is an incredible UHD-capable camera that can be purchased with a lens for around $1,000. It lacks things like proper audio monitoring but gives you great control over your color correction when filming in SLog 2 or 3, and with a little noise reduction you will have clean low-light footage in the palm of your hand.

There is a newer version of this camera in the a6500, which has the following upgrades over the a6300 — 5-axis image stabilization, touchscreen LCD (can swipe to change focus on an object or touch to set focus) and improved menu system. The a6500 costs $1,399.99 for the body only. The image stabilization is what really sells the a6500 since you can now use any lens (with adapters) that you want while still benefitting from image stabilization. Either way, the a6300 is the best bet to get a great UHD-capable camera at a great price, especially if you can find someone selling a used one with a bunch of lenses and batteries. The video that comes from the Sony line of cameras is unmistakable, and will add a level of professionalism to anyone’s videography arsenal.

You can see my Sony a6300 Slow Motion SLog 2/SLog 3 test as well as my UHD tests on YouTube.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Sony reveals new camcorders, camera updates at IBC2014

At IBC today, Sony unveiled new camcorders and camera updates. One of their biggest announcements was the PXW-FS7 Super 35 camcorder, the newest addition to its large sensor line, delivering long-form recording capabilities with 4K resolution in a compact, hand-held design.

The new PXW-FS7 XDCAM Super 35 camcorder combines the flexibility of native E-mount technology, the recording efficiency of the XAVC-L codec; the transfer speed and intelligence of XQD memory cards; and comfortable, handheld ergonomics, including a new “Smart Grip.” The new camcorder is designed for a range of long-form shooting and production applications, from “cinéma vérité”-style documentaries and reality TV to magazine shows, commercial and corporate applications.

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