DIY Assignable Button Labels.

DSC_0191-3-1024x768 DIY Assignable Button Labels.
DIY labels for the assignable buttons on my FX9.

Maybe it’s just because I’m getting old,  but I do like to have a label to remind me of what I have assigned to the assignable buttons on my cameras. 

There are lot’s of ways you can make a label from a post-it-note to camera tape. But I recently got a new label printer from Dymo and with the right tape it will print white text on clear tape.  The printers are around $40 so they are not too expensive. If you’re anything like me once you get one you will find yourself labelling everything, so a worthwhile investment. 

DSC_0192-3-768x1024 DIY Assignable Button Labels.
Dymo labels for the assignable buttons on my PXW-FX9


For the labels on my FX9 I used the smallest “8” point text size and you will need to trim the labels down with a sharp pair of scissors. They need to be very small to fit in the gaps between the buttons. I found a pair of tweezers really helps to hold the label while you cut it and peel of the backing. Then you can use the tweezers to place your swanky new label exactly where you want it.

I think they look pretty good and are worth the effort. The printer I used is a Dymo Label Manager 160 and the tape is a Office Depot white on clear 12mm plastic tape. There are lots of colour choices if you don’t want clear tape. Looking at the pictures of the camera I now realise I should have taken a bit more time to get the labels straight! Fortunately you can peel them off without leaving any nasty residue or damaging the paint.

DSC_0198-3-1024x768 DIY Assignable Button Labels.
The dymo printer I used to knock up the labels.

Sony Introduces Cinema Line and teases the PXW-FX6

FX6_side_44062_02-Mid Sony Introduces Cinema Line and teases the PXW-FX6
Sony are teasing the PXW-FX6.

So there is no IBC show this year and instead Sony are doing various online sessions with the latest news as well as guides to some of the most recent products and firmware. 

Today’s news is of new branding for Sony most recent digital cinema cameras, Vence and the PXW-FX9. These cameras are now members of what Sony are calling “Cinema Line” and in addition there are pictures of a smaller camera not surprisingly called the FX6 that looks like – well – what you would expect an FS5 replacement to look like. 

In the past Sony’s digital cinematography cameras were denoted by their “Cinealta” badges. But to some extent this became somewhat confused as all sorts of cameras like the Sony EX1 and Venice were classed as Cinealta. So what exactly is the new Cinema Line?

To quote from the Sony Press Release:

“At Sony, we celebrate and have the deepest respect for filmmakers, cinematographers, and storytellers. With Cinema Line, we’re tapping into our DNA from both the film industry and digital imaging prosumer market and combining it to develop new creative tools. This line of products will enable creators to push their creative boundaries further and capture the emotion in each and every frame.” says Claus Pfeifer, Head of Connected Content Acquisition, Media Solutions, Sony Professional Europe.

So, I’m not really sure! My guess is it’s a set of products, not just cameras  aimed at what we now tend to call Cinematography rather than broadcast television or industrial video applications. Of course there is a huge amount of cross-over between all these different genres these days, so I’m sure the Cinema Line products will be used all over the place.

My main hope from this is a more unified look from any cameras in the Cinema Line. My big hope is that the FX6 will have S-Cinetone and that when you shoot S-Log3 with the FX6 that it will look like the S-log3 from the FX9 or Venice. This will make grading and post production easier where you mix and match cameras.

What about the FX6?

I don’t have any more solid information than you right now. We can expect it to be Full Frame, to shoot 10 bit 4:2:2 4K using S-Log3 and to probably have a raw output. As the FS5 is based on the A7S hardware with an F5 sensor it wouldn’t surprise me if the FX6 was based on the A7SIII hardware with the FX9 sensor perhaps. So it might have 4K at 120fps. From the pictures it appears to only have 2 channels of audio and the cover for the card slots (there must be 2 as there is a slot select switch) doesn’t look big enough for two XQD or CF Express Type B, so I would guess that like the A7SIII it’s SD cards or perhaps CF Express Type A.  Another thing I notice in the pictures is a lack of an AF/MF focus switch and in particular no menu navigation controls, so I will guess the LCD is a touch screen and it will rely on this for a lot of function control and menu navigation. But this is just speculation, so don’t hold me to any of it!!!

FX9 Green Fringing and White Balance Update From Sony Japan.

I had a long, very in depth and very interesting web meeting with several members of the FX9 engineering team in Japan last week. They have been looking into the green fringing that some FX9 users have been reporting in various user groups. I have to say that this hasn’t been something that I have found to be a problem, but if you keep on reading you’ll find out why that is!

The first thing that became very clear in the discussion was that they take issues like this extremely seriously. The FX9 is their baby and they want end users to be happy with it. I was shown a lot of examples of very carefully executed tests using calibrated light sources, test charts, and various objects with different colours or reflectivity placed in extreme contrast situations.

And yes, in some cases the images would show a green edge around the high contrast edge of an extremely backlit object. Not just with the FX9 but also with the FS7 they were comparing it against.

The cause is Chromatic Aberration in the lens.

In every case the cause of the coloured edge is chromatic aberration. Chromatic aberration is an optical phenomenon cause by the way the glass in a lens will inevitably refract different wavelengths of light (and thus different colours) by different amounts. So when one colour is in precise focus, other colours may be slightly out of focus and this causes blurring of one colour and this typically manifests itself as a blue, green or red fringe – chromatic aberration.

So the root cause of this issue is not the camera, it is the lens and it will vary from lens to lens. But do keep reading – there is more you need to know…….

Other Factors.

However there are other factors at play. One is the way a bayer sensor works. There is a huge resolution difference between the green channel and the red and blue channels. A lot of complex processing is used to compensate for this and that processing is optimised for what you might call “normal” or “typical” scenes. So when presented with a shot that has extreme contrast and a lot of optical chromatic aberration sometimes this processing isn’t going to deliver a fully optimised image and it may reveal the differences in resolution between the 3 colour channels. This is particularly the case with green CA as the green channel has much greater resolution than the others. 

But the FS7 doesn’t do it….

But this bayer/processing issue will be broadly similar between the FX9 and FS7, so why are more FX9 owners reporting a problem than FS7 owners?

The answer it seems is white balance!

All the  reports of this issue have occured when the camera has been set to a daylight white balance, most of the time it has been when the camera has been set to it’s default 5500K daylight preset.

When comparing the FX9 with the FS7 with both set to 5500K the FX9 has a small but noticeable bias towards green. I and many others have been aware of this from the launch of the camera, especially when you use the camera in the CineEI mode and use the standard s709 LUT from Sony. The images are distinctly more green than any other Sony camera and a fair bit more green than the FS7, FS5 and Alphas.

It’s not that white objects won’t be white, it’s just that overall the image looks a bit green. This is easily dialed out by adding a +20 offset to the cameras tint control and that is how I have been using my camera pretty much from day one.

When you think about it – or when you analyse the situation carefully as Sony have, if the camera has more green, what will happen if you have green CA? Well it’s going to be much more pronounced.  And that is what we are seeing. The way the colours in the FX9 are tuned has an unfortunate side effect of making green CA much more obvious.

This explains why I have never really had an issue with green CA. I’m normally running a +20 tint offset which reduces the green in the camera plus I tend to use my own less green versions of the s709 LUT or I use ACES which is also less green than Sony’s own s709 LUT. So overall I have already dialed out the green and unknowingly fixed an issue I didn’t know I had.

So the engineers in Japan are currently recommending adding a +20 tint to the camera when shooting daylight. In particular instead of using a preset of 5500K to use 5000K and +20 tint to achieve the same white balance but a less green image. They are also assessing whether the camera needs to have it’s processing adjusted so that it is less green when using the 5500K preset. At warmer colour temperatures this issue does not seem to ever be a problem, it’s only with daylight.

Push Auto White Balance.

Further to this it’s also worth noting that if you use the cameras Push Auto white balance to set the white balance with a white or grey card then this will normally deliver the optimum white balance for the scene you are shooting and it won’t be biased towards green. And we should remember that Push Auto white balance works correctly in both the CineEI mode and Custom mode. If you use Push Auto WB there is no need to add a +20 Tint and the pictures should look natural and well balanced. Having become used to using preset white balance values when shooting S-Log with Sony cameras for so many years I keep forgetting that you can now do this. 

Another benefit of Push Auto WB is that as it balances the camera correctly it also helps bring the FS5, FS7, F55 etc and FX9 closer together if you are using a mix of different cameras. I was recently shooting with a Venice and FX9 side by side and by using the Push Auto WB on both Venice and the FX9 it became extremely hard to tell one from the other. Previously when using the presets the FX9 always looked a touch green.

Also – if you are using daylight balanced LED or fluorescent lights using Push Auto white balance will help correct out any tendency towards green that the lights may have. So really Push Auto White Balance is a win-win situation and let’s face it a lot of you have been asking for it in CineEI for a long time – so now we have it, let’s use it.

What about Aperture Correction?

In my own experiments I found that in Custom Mode turning off the cameras Aperture correction (http://www.xdcam-user.com/2020/07/reducing-ca-artefacts-in-the-sony-fx9/) can help reduce the visibility of the CA. As CA is an optical edge effect, anything that enhances edges will also enhance the CA and turning off aperture correction prevents the CA from being boosted by the aperture correction. Overall I personally prefer the images you get from the FX9 with aperture correction off anyway, they are a little bit less sharp and more rounded. 

And slightly off topic, what about image quality at FF and S35 2K scan? This was discussed as well, the engineers want people to be happy with the camera. The issue is that this is a camera with a 6K sensor and an optical system designed around that 6K sensor. So if you then reduce the resolution of the sensor readout the optics are no longer optimised (mainly the Optical Low Pass Filter). As a result there is an inevitable increase in aliasing and moire. Unfortunately this is just the way the physics works and there is not much that can be done about it. But the engineers know that the FX9 will be compared with the FS7 – which also has similar issues in it’s S35 2K scan modes. The goal of the engineers is that the FX9 should not be worse than the FS7 and there are some tweaks in the pipelines to the image processing that will bring some improvements to the FX9 when using 2K scan. But let’s be realistic, this will always be a camera with a 6K sensor and a 6K OLPF, so the Full Frame and Super 35mm 2K scan modes will never match the quality of the 6K and 4K scan modes, it just isn’t possible so don’t expect miracles. These tweaks may take a bit of time to be finalised, so I’m not sure when we will see them. I think what we should see however is the 2K scan from an FX9 being indistinguishable from the 2K scan of an FS7.

Don’t Upgrade FCP-X or OSX!

UPDATE 29th Sept 2020.
The issues have now been resolved so it is now safe to update.


27th Aug 2020
If you are a mac user and especially of you use it to edit footage from a Sony camera I recommend that you do not upgrade the operating system to OSX 10.15.6, Pro Video Codecs to 2.1.2 or upgrade FCP-X to version 10.4.9 at this time.

At the moment there is clearly an issue with footage from the FX9 after these updates. It is not clear whether this is due to the new Pro Video Codecs package 2.1.2  that is comes as part of the update to OSX 10.15.6 or whether it is just related to the FCP-X 10.4.9 update. Some users are reporting that some FX9 MXF files can not be previewed in Finder after updating as well as not being visible in FCP-X.

While so far it I have only seen reports that footage from the FX9 is affected, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Venice material is also affected.

I would suggest waiting for a few weeks after the release of any update before updating and never do an update half way through an important project.

UPDATE: Sony know about the issue and are working with Apple to resolve it. It only seems to affect some FX9 footage and possibly some Venice footage. It appears as the culprit is the Pro Video Codecs update, but this is yet to be confirmed. I would still suggest waiting before upgrading  even if you are using a different camera.

Don’t Panic! The A7S III didn’t just make your big pro camera obsolete.

Screenshot-2020-07-31-at-10.07.40 Don't Panic! The A7S III didn't just make your big pro camera obsolete.
Sony’s new A7S III video centric mirrorless camera.

So Sony have just launched the A7S III. And very impressive it is. Amazing low light performance, great dynamic range and lots of nice 10 bit codecs. You can even get a 16 bit raw output if you want. I can’t wait to get one. But I really don’t see the A7S III as a threat to or replacement of my FX9 or any other 4K professional video camera.

All the same discussions took place when the original A7S was launched. Sony F5 owners looked at the A7S and said – heck how can that little camera shoot full frame 4K while my camera can’t even shoot s35 4K. Why can the A7S have AF when my F3/F5 doesn’t. How can a camera that produces such beautiful images only cost 1/5th of what my F5 costs. But here we are 6 years on and the A7S and A7S II didn’t replace any of the bigger cameras and when the FS5 was launched people snapped up the FS5, often to replace an A7.

Why? Ergonomics.
 
I don’t ever want to go back to having to carry and use a big box of different ND filters for different light levels. I find the small LCD screen on the back of a DSLR to be of very limited use and while the A7S III does have a very good EVF it’s placement makes it hard to use it on a tripod or in anything other than a simple hand hold with the camera up against your face.
If you want to shoot log then you really want built in LUTs. There are the battery and power questions. How do you power the camera and accessories without needing two or more power systems or a rig to take a big external battery and a bunch of adapters? Then there’s having buttons and switches for all the frequently accessed functions. I could go on but you only have to look at the many franken-rigs that end up built around DSLR type cameras just to make them usable to see the problems. Almost always the first purchase to go with a DSLR is a cage. Why do you need a cage? Because you know your going to have to bolt a ton of stuff to that once small, portable camera to turn it into a professional video making tool.

 

Sure, I will almost certainly get an A7S III and it will be a great camera to compliment my FX9. And yes, there may even be some projects where I only take the A7S III, just as there have been shoots where I have used just my A7S. But it won’t ever replace my FX9, they are two very different tools, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

 

The image quality gap between traditional large professional video cameras and handheld stills type cameras will continue to get smaller and smaller as electronics continue to be further miniaturised, that is inevitable, but the cameras form factor will still be important.
 
The small cars of today often have all the same bells and whistles as a large luxury car of 10 years ago. Let’s say you’ve gone on vacation (remember those?) and it’s a road trip. You get to the car rental office and you have a choice between a large, spacious, stable, less stressed car or a small car that has to work a bit harder to get you to the same place. Both will get you there, but which do you choose? There might be some instances where the small car is preferrable, perhaps you will be in a lot of narrow city streets a lot. But for most road trips I suspect most people will opt for the big comfy cruiser most of the time.

For me the A7S III will be that nippy little car, a camera that I can pop in a pocket to grab beautiful images where I can’t use a bigger camera. But for my main workhorse I don’t want fiddly, I don’t want a ton of accessories hanging off it just to make it workable. I want the luxury cruiser that will just take it all in it’s stride and get on with the job and right now that’s my FX9.

PXW-FX9 Exposure Accuracy – Can I use A Light Meter?

This came up during a Facebook discussion. Can you use a light meter with the FX9 and will the exposure be correct?

When I first met the FX9 at Sony’s Pinewood Studios facility we tested and checked all sorts of different aspects of the cameras performance against various light meters and test charts. I found that the camera matched what we expected perfectly well.

But just to be sure I have just tested my own example against my trusty Sekonic light meter and once again I am happy to say that everything seems to match as expected.

In this simple setup I used a couple of different charts with middle grey and 90% white – I do find that there is some variation between charts in how reflective the 90% and 18% reflectivity areas are. So I’ve used a couple here and my main reference is the large DSC Labs white and middle grey chart.

I used the dimmers on my lights so that my metered exposure reading for 24fps 1/48th shutter came to exactly f5.6. Then I set the lens to f5.6 (Sony 24-70mm GMaster).

The result is pretty much as close to a perfect exposure as one can expect. So don’t be afraid to use a light meter with the FX9.

Screenshot-2020-07-21-at-10.11.45-1024x648 PXW-FX9 Exposure Accuracy - Can I use A Light Meter?
Exposed via the light meter, screen grab from Catalyst Browse.

 

Screenshot-2020-07-21-at-10.14.53-1024x543 PXW-FX9 Exposure Accuracy - Can I use A Light Meter?
And the levels as measured in DaVinci Resolve. All looks good and where you would expect S-Log3 to be.

Reducing CA Artefacts In The Sony FX9.

I’ve been experimenting a bit trying to reducing the effect of Green/Cyan CA with the FX9. I have discovered a couple of things that can help reduce interactions between the cameras processing and areas of high contrast that may be exhibiting bright green/cyan fringes.

First thing to note is that a lens with less or no CA will not have the same issue. But as no lens is totally CA free the below settings can help.

These changes are for Custom Mode Only.

1: Turn OFF the aperture correction in the paint menu. Turning off the aperture correction noticeably reduces the cameras tendency to create black halos in areas of extreme contrast and it also reduces the enhancement of areas of strong CA. This has a softening/smoothing effect on bright CA making it much less noticeable. There is very, very little loss of sharpness in the rest of the image and I actually prefer the way the camera looks with this turned off.

2: Use the Multi-Matrix to reduce the brightness of Green/Cyan CA. The most common examples of CA causing an issue are with background out of focus high contrast areas. In this case the CA is normally Green/Cyan. It’s possible to tune the cameras multimatrix to reduce the brightness of these green/cyan edges. If you turn ON the mutli-matrix and then select CY+ and set this to -30 you will see a very useful reduction in the intensity of the CA. For a stronger reduction in addition select CY and set this to -15. 
Changing these setting will have an impact on the reproduction of other cyan objects in your shots, but you should see this in the VF and testing various scenes these changes are typically not noticable. In some cases I am finding I actually like this slightly modified look!

Use both of the above together for the strongest impact. But if you are only going to use one, turn off the aperture correction.

Without-adjustments_1.2.1-1024x576 Reducing CA Artefacts In The Sony FX9.
CA on over exposed areas with no corrections (400% zoom)

 

With-Aperture-Off-CY-adjust_1.1.1-1024x576 Reducing CA Artefacts In The Sony FX9.
With Aperture turned OFF and the CY+ set to -30 (400% zoom)

Raw Myths. You Can’t Change The white Balance Of the Camera Or ISO in Post.

It’s amazing how often people will tell you how easy it is to change the white balance or adjust the ISO of raw footage in post. But can you, is it really true and is it somehow different to changing the ISO or white balance of Log footage?

Let’s start with ISO. If ISO is sensitivity, or the equivalent of sensitivity how on earth can you change the sensitivity of the camera once you get into post production. The answer is you can’t.

But then we have to consider how ISO works on an electronic camera. You can’t change the sensor in a video camera so in reality you can’t change how sensitive an electronic camera is (I’m ignoring cameras with dual ISO for a moment). All you can do is adjust the gain or amplification applied to the signal from the sensor.  You can add gain in post production too. So, when you adjust the exposure or using the ISO slider for your raw footage in post all you are doing is adjusting how much gain you are adding. But you can do the same with log or any other gamma. 

One thing that makes a difference with raw is that the gain is applied in such a way that what you see looks like an actual sensitivity change no matter what gamma  you are transforming the raw to. This makes it a little easier to make changes to the final brightness in a pleasing way. But you can do exactly the same thing with log footage.  Anything you do in post must be altering the recorded file, it can never actually change what you captured.

Changing the white balance in post: White Balance is no different to ISO, you can’t change in post what the camera captured. All you can do is modify it through the addition or subtraction of gain.

Think about it. A sensor must have a certain response to light and the colours it sees depending on the material it’s made from and the colour filters used. There has to be a natural fixed white balance or a colour temperature that it works best at.

The Silicon that video sensors are made from is almost always more sensitive at the red end of the spectrum than the blue end. So as a result almost all sensors tend to produce the best results with light that has a lot of blue (to make up for the lack of blue sensitivity) and not too much red. So most cameras naturally perform best with daylight and as a result most sensors are considered daylight balanced.

If a camera produces a great image under daylight how can you possibly get a great image under tungsten light without adjusting something? Somehow you need to adjust the gain of the red and blue channels.

Do it in camera and what you record is optimised for your choice of colour temperature at the time of shooting. But you can always undo or change this in post by subtracting or adding to whatever was added in the camera.

If the camera does not move away from its native response then if you want anything other than the native response you will have to do it in post and you will be recording at the cameras native white balance. If you want a different colour temp then you need to add or subtract gain to the R & B channels in post to alter it.

Either way what you record has a nominal white balance and anything you do in post is skewing what you have recorded using gain. There is no such thing as a camera with no native white balance, all cameras will favour one particular colour temperature. So even if a manufacturer claims that the white balance isn’t baked in what they mean is they don’t offer the ability to make any adjustments to the recorded signal. If you want the very best image quality, the best method is to adjust at the time of recording. So, as a result a lot of camera manufacturers will skew the gain of the red and blue channels of the sensor in the camera when shooting raw as this optimises what you are recording. You can then skew it again in post should you want a different balance. 

With either method if you want to change the white balance from what was captured you are altering the gain of the red and blue channels. Raw doesn’t magically not have a white balance, so shooting with the wrong white balance and correcting it in post is not something you want to do. Often you can’t correct badly balanced raw any better than you can correct  incorrectly balanced log.

How far you can adjust or correct raw depends on how it’s been compressed (or not), the bit depth, whether it’s log or linear and how noisy it is. Just like a log recording really, it all depends on the quality of the recording. 

The big benefit raw can have is that the amount of data that needs to be recorded is considerably reduced compared conventional component or RGB video recordings.  As a result it’s often possible to record using a greater bit depth or with much less compression. It is the greater bit depth or reduced compression that really makes a difference. 16 bit data can have up to 65,536 luma gradations, compare that to the 4096 of 12 bit or 1024 of 10 bit and you can see how a 16 bit recording can have so much more information than a 10 bit one. And that makes a difference. But 10 bit log v 10 bit raw, well it depends on the compression, but well compressed 10 bit log will likely outperform 10 bit raw as the all important colour processing will have been done in the camera at a much higher bit depth than 10 bit.

Inside the Big Top. A short film from Glastonbury 2019. Shot on Venice.

As there is no Glastonbury Festival this year the organisers and production company have been releasing some videos from last year. This video was shot mostly with Venice using Cooke 1.8x anamorphics. The non Venice material is from an FS5. It’s a behind the scenes look at the activities and performances around the Glastonbury Big Top and the Theater and Circus fields. 

 

Are We Missing Problems In Our Footage Because We Don’t Use Viewfinders Anymore?

I see it so many times on various forums and user groups – “I didn’t see it until I looked at it at home and now I find the footage is unusable”.

We all want our footage to be perfect all of the time, but sometimes there might be something that trips up the technology that we are using. And that can introduce problems into a shot. The problem is perhaps that these things are not normal. As a result we don’t expect them to be there, so we don’t necessarily look for them. But thinking about this, I also think a lot of it is because very often the only thing being used to view what is being shot is a tiny LCD screen.

For the first 15 years of my career the only viewfinders available were either a monocular viewfinder with a magnifier or a large studio style viewfinder (typically 7″).  Frankly if all you are using is a 3.5″ LCD screen, then you will miss many things!

I see many forum post about these missed image issues on my phone which has a 6″ screen. When I view the small versions of the posted examples of the issue I can rarely see it. But view it full screen and it becomes obvious. So what hope do you have of picking up these issue on location with a tiny monitor screen, often viewed too closely to be in good focus.

A 20 year old will typically have a focus range of around 12 diopters, but by the time you get to 30 that decreases to about 8, by 40 to 5 and 50 just 1 or 2. What that means (for the average person) is that if you are young enough you might be able to focus sufficiently on that small LCD when it’s close enough to your eyes for you to be able to see it properly and be able to see potential problems. But by the time you get to 30 most people won’t be able to adequately focus on a 3.5″ LCD until it’s too far from their eyes to resolve everything it is capable of showing you. If you are hand holding a camera with a 3.5″ screen such that the screen is 30cm or more from your eyes there is no way you can see critical focus or small image artefacts, the screen is just too small. Plus most people that don’t have their eyesight tested regularly don’t even realise it is deteriorating until it gets really bad.

There are very good reason why viewfinders have diopters/magnifiers. They are there to allow you to see everything your screen can show, they make the image appear larger, they keep out unwanted light. When you stop using them you risk missing things that can ruin a shot, whether that’s focus that’s almost but not quite right, something in the background that shouldn’t be there or some subtle technical issue.

It’s all too easy to remove the magnifier and just shoot with the LCD, trusting that the camera will do what you hope it to. Often it’s the easiest way to shoot, we’ve all been there I’m sure. BUT easy doesn’t mean best. When you remove the magnifier you are choosing easy shooting over the ability to see issues in your footage before it’s too late to do something about it.

Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.