I was lucky enough to go out and play with an F55 while in Singapore. There was no pressure, nothing specific to shoot, just play time. This meant I could try different frame rates, different frame sizes, basically I could experiment. I also had the use of one of the lovely (but very heavy) Fujinon Cabrio 19-90mm PL mount servo zooms. The F55 was configured with the LCD EVF (my choice, I could have used the OLED) R5 recorder and a couple of Olivine batteries. The camera was one of Sony’s early pre production models, so while most things did work there were some modes and functions that couldn’t be used together that will be available on the production cameras. Most of the time I shot at 25p recording 1920×1080 XAVC HD with S-Log2 in camera and 4K raw in the RAW. I did also shoot quite a bit of 4K XAVC at 25p and 4K raw at 50p.
The cameras menu system is well laid out and clear and easy to use. It’s different to the menu system used on the F3 and EX cameras, it’s actually much closer to the menu system used by the F65. The cameras key functions, things like ISO, shutter speed and white balanced are controlled using the 6 hot keys arranged around the camera function LCD on the left of the camera (Sony refer to these buttons as “switches” in the manual which is a little confusing). So much of the time there is no need to go in to the main menu. One thing I did miss was a dedicated white balance switch. There is a hot key button that allows you to choose between presets for tungsten, daylight or your own numerical colour temperature (just dial in the temp you want). But to do a white balance with a grey card, you have to go in to the menu and set the white balance from within the menu. Maybe on the production cameras you will be able to assign this to one of the assignable buttons. Of course with raw your not really changing the white balance in the traditional sense. What your changing is the white balance of the monitoring output and the white balance settings attached to the raw clips metadata.
The camera is simple to operate once you have it in the record mode you want. But the multitude of modes, frame sizes, frame rates, compressed, codecs and raw, EI or non-EI will I’m sure confuse some people. Currently the camera has to be in some quite specific modes in order to be able to make use of the R5 recorder for raw recording. If the camera is in the wrong mode the R5 doesn’t even come online. But this is a pre production camera with early firmware so I’m sure the range of modes that can be used together will increase. As it wasn’t possible to shoot 4K XAVC S-Log internally and 4K raw on the R5 at the same time, for most of the filming I did I shot internally in HD using XAVC and S-Log2 while recording 4K raw on the R5. I did also take some time to shoot similar shots in 4K XAVC to compare to the raw footage.
In the viewfinder you get the usual comprehensive information about the camera setup including the remaining record time on both the SxS cards and AXS card in the R5. The nice thing about the R5 is that it really does become a part of the camera and is controlled fully by the camera unlike many off-board recorders where you have to setup the recorder separately from the camera. The R5 has no buttons or switches on it’s exterior, just a couple of status LED’s, it’s all controlled from the F55’s menu.
VIEWING YOUR FOOTAGE.
For viewing and managing the raw footage Sony have a clip viewer application (which will be supplied with the camera or for free download) which is essentially the same as the F65 raw viewer. There are Mac and PC versions. Being realistic your going to need a fast computer with USB3 to be able to use this properly. I’ve just upgraded to a new Retina MacBook pro in anticipation of the arrival of my own F5. Transferring 250GB of raw data from the AXS card to a 2.5″ USB3 hard drive took about an hour. Thats not even real time. 250GB is about 30 mins of footage, some of which was 50p.
Of course 2.5″ hard drives are not the fastest of drives so I’m sure I will be able to speed this transfer process up, probably to just a little faster than real time. But even so, be prepared for a slower workflow when working with 4K raw than perhaps your used to right now with conventional HD cameras. The Raw Viewer software allows you to view and playback clips using different gamma curves and lookup tables, as well as applying a number of image adjustments and corrections. You can also use it to convert the raw files to DPX files, either with or without adjustments such as a gamma curve, so right out of the box you should be able to work with the material.
BlackMagic already have the raw and XAVC codecs working within a soon to be released versions of Resolve (including the free Resolve Lite), this software will be released well before the cameras becomes available. There are also working plug-ins for Adobe Premiere Pro from Rovi that should be finalised before the cameras ship with other NLE’s like Edius and FCP-X promising support in the very near future. For Avid MC, there will be Sony Plug-Ins for both XAVC and RAW at the start of Feb. For FCP-X, Apple has a plan to support XAVC (both 4K & HD) soon (I don’t have an exact timescale I’m afraid) with a plug-in developed by Sony. Sony Vegas, will support XAVC at the start of Feb as well.
I’m looking at building a dedicated Linux based workstation for working with the F5/F55 4K material. I plan to use the HD internal recordings as proxies for the edit on my Macbook or iMac and then do the 4K finishing using Resolve running on a Linux machine with plenty of graphics processing grunt. It’s much cheaper to build a Linux workstation than a MacPro, in addition it’s much easier to add additional graphics cards to get more GPU cores. These days it’s the number and power of the GPU (Graphics Processor) rather than the normal CPU that counts.
Getting back to the shoot. The Fujinon Cabrio lens interfaces directly with the camera, so power is supplied to the lens for the servo zoom. Annoyingly the record button on the lens didn’t work, so I had to press the REC button on the camera body. I suspect this is just a camera firmware issue (UPDATE: According to Fuji this is a limitation of the Cooke i/Arri LDS lens connection protocols, in the future it may be possible to use either an adapted protocol or a cable between the lenses 20 pin connector and the cameras remote port). It behaves much like a traditional ENG lens, but it is a massive lump of glass making the camera extremely front heavy. I had a slight problem one morning coming from a nice air conditioned hotel out into the humidity of Singapore. The lens fogged up, as would any lens in those circumstances, as the front element is so big, it did take a very long time to get to the ambient temperature before I could use it. One small feature that is very nice is that the lens markings have been applied using glow-in-the-dark paint, rather like a watch face. So when shooting in the dark at night you could still easily see your focus markings. I wish camera manufacturers would do this with the camera button markings etc. The images produced by the Cabrio 19-90 are really very good. Lens flare is very well controlled, the images are sharp and free from any obvious defects. The bokeh is also very nice considering it is a relatively compact high ratio zoom lens. The Cabrio lens really makes the F55/F5 well suited to run and gun shooting. Stop the F55 down by an additional 2.5 stops and you’ll have approximately the same DoF on the F55 as you would have on a 2/3″ ENG camera. With such sensitive cameras as the F5/F55 this should be easy enough to do in most shooting situations.
The F55’s native ISO of 1250 meant I didn’t need to use any additional gain shooting around Singapore’s Marina Bay area at night. This is a well lit area, but even so the low light performance is impressive. Noise and grain at 1250 ISO is very hard to see, it’s a really, really clean camera. At higher ISO’s you do start to see noise and grain, but thanks to the 4K sensor this has a very fine film like look. I checked out the noise on the F5 at 20,000 ISO and it’s really not that bad, in fact during the workshop someone turned the camera to 20,000 ISO and most people looking at the monitor didn’t realise.
In S-Log2 the camera has an EI mode that keeps the recording ISO at 1250 but then adds gain to the monitor and viewing LUT’s as well as the clips metadata. I deliberately over exposed a number of S-Log2 shots to see how they would grade. The results were very impressive, not quite as forgiving as raw, but very good with lots of information preserved in the highlights. One concern I have with the F5 is that it may actually be a little bit too sensitive. The F5 we had in Singapore in S-Log2 was rated at 2500 ISO, that’s really sensitive and I do have a fear that I’m going to have to use a lot of external ND filtration in addition to the cameras internal ND’s when I want a shallow depth of field.
The camera really didn’t take long to get used to. I think new users will need to read through the manual to look at the various recording options, monitoring and look up table settings. For example the camera has to be in the correct base mode (EI or Custom) before you can setup the 4K raw recordings. But beyond that it is a very logical and straight forward camera to use.
Shooting in 4K has it’s challenges. Focus is ultra critical, especially if you are shooting in 4K so that post production can crop into the image for re-framing. I found that I was using the focus-mag button on the viewfinder for every shot, checking and double checking focus. I was using the 3.5″ LCD EVF for the shoot but I did try the OLED too. When your viewfinder is “only” HD or maybe not even HD you are going to need to magnify the image to see that critical 4K focus.
As well as focus-mag you also have the usual peaking modes and settings (which can be assigned to the assignable buttons). But I really found that for 4k, while very useful, peaking alone was not enough to be 100% certain that your focus is spot on with any of the viewfinders, not even the OLED. I’m not saying that the viewfinders are sub standard, just that you really need a much bigger screen than 7″ to see 4K focus without zooming in to the image.
While the DVF-EL100 OLED EVF is rather nice the small size of it’s panel (0.7″) does mean that some of the sharpness advantage it has over the 3.5″ LCD DVF-L350 is lost. The bigger screen of the 3.5″ LCD is easier to see than the very small OLED. In addition the flip up monocular of the 3.5″ LCD does make it more versatile. For ENG type shoots, run and gun or documentary shoots, I think the 3.5″ finder is the better choice. If you shoot drama then you can use the higher resolution OLED EVF and then add a larger monitor/viewfinder as well. The F5/F55 has to separate HDSDI busses. The main bus can be used to output clean video while the sub bus can be used to feed video with camera data overlays added for external viewfinders etc. There are two HDSDI connections on each bus.
I really enjoyed shooting with the F55. It was easy to use and the key camera controls are well placed. With the right shoulder mount (including the Sony one) it will be reasonably well balanced with most prime lenses (I only had a generic base plate for the matte box rails). I do think that with many heavier lenses, rather than use the relatively light NP-FL75 batteries you will be better off with larger and heavier batteries to get better balance. One FL75 ran the camera for around 2 hours so a 150Wh battery would run it for about 4 hours.
The NP-FL75’s do charge very fast indeed, taking about 90 mins to fully charge from flat. You don’t have to use the new Sony batts. Any standard V mount battery will work. I’m going to be testing some of the new LiTH 150Wh batteries that are the same size as a typical 95Wh battery when I get my F5.
My next shoot with an F5 will be at the end of January when I will be taking one up to Arctic Norway to shoot the next part of my on-going Northern Lights film project. I’ll be shooting interviews with the local Sami people about the folklore and traditions that surround the Aurora as well as the Aurora itself. It will be interesting to see if I can shoot the Aurora in real time 4K using the F5’s 20,000 ISO rating. It should be possible as I managed with the F3 last year. I’ll be posting some sample clips from my Singapore shoot very soon (once I work out the best way to distribute a gig or more of material).