I recently completed a week long shoot with a Sony Venice in the USA, so I thought I would tell you about my experience. The camera I used had a beta of the dual ISO firmware so it could shoot at both the native ISO of 500 and the second native ISO of 2500. This was particularly useful for the shoot as a lot of the filming was done in some very dark places.
I can’t show any of the footage to you yet. But I will be able to link to the finished films once they are released a little later in the year by my client. I have to say straight away that I think the footage looks pretty amazing.
The first location was Las Vegas. I shot a number of views of the Las Vegas strip from the balcony of my hotel room in the Cosmopolitan hotel. These were pretty straight forward thanks to the cameras dual ISO capabilities. One of the shots was a day to night sequence, shooting locked off shots during the day and then at night to be blended together to go from day to night. The day time shots were done at the base 500 ISO and then the night shots done at 2500 ISO.
Sigma FF Fast Primes.
For these shots I used one of the really nice 24mm Sigma full frame high speed PL primes and the camera was setup in the 6K x 4K full frame mode.
For most of the shoot we did however shoot using the s35mm 17:9 DCI mode shooting at 60fps, and we made quite a few changes to the frame rates and frame sizes in the course of the shoot. The Sigma FF Primes are really beautiful lenses. Very well built, solid lenses that produce very sharp images even when wide open. The ability to shoot at T1.5 or T2.0 turned out to be a huge benefit on this shoot as many shots were done either at night or in some very dark locations.
One thing to note here is that I was working on my own. Venice is set up as a camera for high end shoots where it is expected that there will be a camera assistant working with the cinematographer or camera operator. During the shoot I made many changes to the cameras frame rate and aspect ratio. These changes are most easily done using the LCD screen and hot keys on the side of the camera away from the camera operator. So there were many times when I had to walk around to the other side of the camera or spin the camera around on the tripod to make these changes. It’s not really a big deal, but it is something to be aware of if you are going to use Venice as a “one man band”.
On the operators side of the camera there is a small LCD panel where you can change the shutter speed, ND filter, EI and white balance. But for anything else you need to either use the LCD panel on the other side of the camera or go into the main menu. Talking of the menu system – it’s very well laid out and quite logical.
Venice is a much simpler camera to use than the F55. In part because at the moment the feature set is still a little limited – there are no high speed modes, time-lapse, picture cache or other stunt modes. But the main reason it’s simpler is the design and layout of the main LCD and hot keys has been simplified and is better organised.
The “Home” screen has they key functions that you are likely to change while shooting – shutter speed, EI, ND and white balance. There is also a control for the frame rate, although the options for this are currently quite limited with it currently normally being locked to a single fixed speed set in the project settings. The Home screen also tells you how much space is left on your media, the aspect ratio and frame size, clip name, recording format(s), the battery status. Plus there are audio level displays for channels 1 and 2.
If you need to make any other changes to the cameras setting then you press the large menu button to bring up the main menu. This is divided into 5 sections each with it’s own hot key – Project – TC/Media – Monitoring – Audio – Info. The 6th hot key takes you into further settings for some of the menu pages.
There is a simulator for the Venice menu system here; https://www.sony.net/Products/Cinematography/Venice/Camera_simulator/index.html
Something else a first time Venice shooter should be aware of is that the cameras audio input is via a single 5 pin XLR connector. This can be set up as either a 2 channel analog line/mic input (with switchable phantom power) or an AES/EBU digital input. There are no 3 pin XLR’s on Venice so make sure you have the right cables or adapters.
While Venice isn’t a big camera, it is very dense. That is to say – a lot of electronics has been packed into quite a small body. It is…. shall we say… reassuringly heavy! I guess I have been a bit spoilt by the light weight of the F55. Venice is quite a lot heavier even though it isn’t really all that much bigger. I was shooting using the R7 recorder, recording to 16 bit X-OCN files as my primary material. With the R7 and a couple of Pag Paglink batteries on the back the camera was nicely balanced with the Sigma primes.
I was pleasantly surprised by the power consumption. A single 95Wh Paglink battery would run the camera for over an hour and a PL150 for around 2 hours which is a pretty respectable run time for a digital cinema camera. Certainly a lot more that I would get from an F65 or Arri.
The new DVF-EL200 viewfinder is a big step up from the DVF-EL100 often used on the F55 and F5 cameras. The image is brighter, higher resolution and the dipoter adjustment much better. Venice puts the information displays outside the picture area so the image isn’t obstructed by any text information. The large rotary encoder on the front of the viewfinder controls peaking, brightness and contrast.
Rating the camera – I had already done a few camera tests with Venice so I knew that the base ISO’s of 500 and 2500 matched well with my light meter. I also knew that there is very little noise at 500 ISO and only a little bit more at 2500. For most daylight shots I shot at 500 ISO/500 EI. I don’t feel that there is the same need to rate the camera 1 to 2 stops lower as I do with the F55, FS7 or FS5. It just isn’t necessary for normal light levels. For some scenes that had low average brightness levels I did choose to shoot at 500 ISO/320 EI as it seemed a waste to shoot at 500 EI when the scene highlights were no where near clipping. The slightly lower Ei helped to put just a little more information into the already highly detailed shadow areas of my images. For the darker locations and night scenes I switched the camera to the higher base ISO of 2500 to gain a pretty decent sensitivity boost. When using the 2500 ISO mode I found I ended up shooting at 1600 EI to keep the noise levels very similar to the noise levels at 500 ISO/500 EI.
The noise that you do get when shooting at the 2500 ISO base is really pleasing. I’m not normally a fan of any noise, my personal preference is normally for clean images as these tend to give the greatest post production flexibility. But there is something that just looks nice about the little bit of extra noise that there is at 2500. It’s very, very fine grain that is different in every frame. Dare I say it looks very film like? I need to experiment with this further, but I suspect that many people may choose to use 2500 ISO even when they have plenty of light as the noise adds some character and a pleasing texture to the shots. I’m not going to get into too much of a debate here about the merits of shooting with a bit of grain verses adding it in post. Personally I would probably normally opt to shoot clean and add any noise later, but Venice certainly brings some interesting options to the table and I would not rule out deliberately choosing 2500 ISO, even when there is plenty of light, to take advantage of the really nice looking noise.
We shot a lot of the film in the bottom of a deep Slot Canyon. For those that don’t know what this is – it is a very narrow, very deep, steep sided twisting gully carved out over millions of years by flood water. The Slot Canyon we shot in was often only 2 or 3ft wide (1m) and around 60ft (20m) deep. In most parts sunlight never reaches directly to the bottom, so it’s often very dark. But in a few spots very narrow shafts of light just about make it to the bottom when the sun is directly overhead. This creates some areas of incredibly high contrast as beams of full desert sun penetrate into near total darkness.
Venice was the perfect camera for this situation. The high base ISO mode and the 2500 ISO exposure rating allowed me to capture the dark textures of the sandstone walls of the canyon, while the 15 stop latitude meant that I could also capture the almost laser like light beams as they created intense pools of light. In addition towards the upper parts of the Canyon you get incredibly vivid reds and oranges as the sunlight reflects of the red rocks. To the naked eye it looks like the canyon walls are on fire and Venice did an amazing job of capturing these intense colours.
My hotel room in the city of Page, Arizona was decorated with photographs taken in Slot Canyons. In many of the photos the shafts of light were completely over exposed with no detail or texture. I’m pleased to say that the footage from Venice almost always retained some detail and texture, even in the the most extreme cases. This for me has been one of the most impressive things about the way Venice behaves. There is something very nice about the way that Venice reaches the extreme ends of it’s exposure range, something the F55 doesn’t quite do and I really like it. Venice seems to hang n to those exposure extremes just that bit better. In addition Venice also retains an amazing amount of color information in the deepest darkest shadow areas.
Another location we shot at was the Grand Canyon’s Horseshoe bend. This a well know spot and frankly, if you have good light, it’s tough to make a bad picture. This is one of those locations where everything is on a grand scale. So it deserved a big image. Time to use the 6K x 4K full frame mode and those beautiful Sigma FF primes again. In the grading suite whenever I show people the shots from Venice at Horseshoe Bend there is almost always a “wow” moment. The texture and detail in the shots is amazing and starting with a 6K image for a 4K production gives you quite a bit of room to crop in to the image if you wish.
What about skin tones? Well we did shoot some Navajo dancers doing traditional native American dances and hoop dances. Even in the very harsh Arizona light the skin tones looked great.
With so many different locations to shoot at in one week, some of them very remote, being highly mobile was really important to us. While Venice is heavier than the F55 that I normally shoot with, it is still an easy camera to transport. We had to lug the kit by hand across the desert to get to the Slot Canyon. I used a Miller CX18 fluid head with a 100mm bowl on a set of Miller carbon fibre legs. This is a pretty light tripod setup, similar to that used by ENG news crews. I didn’t need to go to a 150mm bowl or heavier tripod than this for this shoot because Venice is a very manageable weight and it worked very well.
One scene was a nigh time campfire scene. For the Venice camera shooting at 2500 ISO and paired with the Sigma T1.5 primes this wasn’t really too much of a challenge. The fire was a large wood fire and it was producing enough light to illuminate the faces of the subjects in the scene. Although perhaps this could have been shot without any additional lighting it was decided to add a little bit of extra light to fill in a few shadows and add a small amount of detail into the background of the wide shots.
For this I used a Light and Motion Stella Pro 5000 Led lamp. For a one man band these waterproof LED lights are really excellent. They produce lots of good quality light and can be fitted with all kinds of modifiers. For this application I used a Fresnel lens to narrow down the light cone. In addition they can be remotely controlled using a simple hand held Elinchrom remote control. This makes getting the light level just right really easy as you can look in the cameras viewfinder while dimming the lamps with the remote. It’s possible to control several lamps with one remote.
I shot using Sony’s X-OCN codec recording on to AXS cards in the R7 recorder. These 16 bit linear files are surprisingly easy to work with. The compact file size was a huge help. I didn’t get through more than 2 x 512GB cards in a day, even though we were shooting 4K 60P or 6K 24p. This really helped with data management in the evenings. There’s big difference between backing up 1TB of X-OCN compared to what would have been around 5TB if it had been uncompressed raw. Yet there are no signs of any artefacts in the material. The X-OCN files are also very easy to handle in post production, I can even preview them in real time on my laptop at half resolution. In post production the 16 bit linear files handle beautifully, revealing amazing amounts of picture information.
At the end of this shoot I am left with a big problem though. Now I’ve shot a real production with Venice – I don’t want to shoot with anything else. I have been telling myself that I will stick with my F5/R5 for a bit longer, maybe upgrade the F5 to an F55 and then hire in a Venice as needed. But now I want to shoot with Venice whenever possible. Every time I pick up a Venice and go and shoot with it I come back with images that surprise me. They just seem to look great with very little effort. So now I think I might just have to figure out a way to buy one.