The Sony PXW-FS5 is a great little camera. It’s a camera I really enjoy shooting with as I can just grab it and go, picking up some great pictures with the minimum of effort. The built in Picture Profiles offer a wide range of different looks that can be quickly selected by pressing the P Profile button and choosing a profile. But one of the best parts is that you can tweak and adjust each profile to suit different shooting applications.
I tend to leave Picture Profile 7 alone. This is the S-Log2/S-Gamut profile that you must use when shooting raw and S-Log2 is my preferred log curve for shooting 8 bit UHD. But that leaves profiles 1 to 6 to play with and adjust, plus profiles 8 and 9 if you don’t use S-Log3. If you want to go back to the factory settings each profile can be reset individually (using “reset” within the profile settings).
Perhaps the two most challenging situations to shoot in are scenes that are high contrast and bright or low light scenes. Often you may encounter both types of scene on the same shoot, so it would be good if the pictures were at least similar. So we don’t want to use totally different color settings. But you can use different gamma settings to help better deal with the differing lighting levels and contrast ranges.
For brighter scenes I am a big fan of Sony’s “Cinegammas”. The Cinegammas differ from the standard gammas in the way they handle highlights. Basic television gamma has a very limited dynamic range, around 6 stops. Then to extend the dynamic range something called a “knee” is added to the top of the gamma curve. The point where the curve transitions from normal gamma to the knee is called the “knee point”. Everything above the knee is is compressed or squeezed. So in effect below the Knee 1 stop is record with 1 stops worth of data, but above the knee 3 or 4 stops may be recorded in the same space.
In practice this means anything brighter than the knee point will have very little contrast, when you have low contrast it is also hard to see any detail. So the highlights in the image look flat, lack texture and detail. If you have bright skin tones up in the knee they just look like blobs of color. Cotton wool clouds come out as white blobs in the sky and it is the knee that is largely responsible for the “video look”.
Sony’s Cinegammas are different. They do not have a knee. Instead of a hard knee point where you switch instantly from not compressed to compressed they have a slow and gradual transition from not compressed to very compressed. This is not unlike the way film behaves and is typically called a “highlight roll-off”. In practice because this transition is gradual it is less obvious. Because it is less obvious you can start the transition lower down the gamma curve which means you have more recording range for the highlights and can therefore increase the captured dynamic range. But to get the best looking recordings you want to keep faces and skin tones below the more aggressive parts of the roll off, so often you need to expose marginally darker than you would with conventional gamma.
If you want to use the Cinegammas and are doing anything for broadcast TV that will not be graded and the video levels corrected to the 100% maximum required for broadcast then you should only ever use Cinegamma 2. All the other Cinegammas allow recording up to 109%.
All the Cinegammas record a similar extended dynamic range, Cinegamma 2 will almost always appear a little darker as it’s recording range is shrunk to ensure it does not exceed 100%., but even though it may appear a little darker, the captured dynamic range is the same.
For brighter scenes Cinegamma 1 is my go-to gamma curve on the FS5. It captures a large dynamic range. For darker scenes I will often use Cinegamma 4 as this raises shadows and the mid range. Cinegamma 4 is also useful for shooting back lit scenes.
Cinegamma 3 is a little more contrasty than Cinegamma 1 so if you want a picture with higher contrast this is the curve you should consider.
What about color?
The standard color mode is OK, but I find it a little gaudy. If you want a more film like look then the Cinema mode works quite well to give a more de-saturated look. But my favourite color mode is the Pro color mode. It’s not as vibrant or highly saturated as the standard or ITU709 color modes but it does produce very accurate colors. It’s a bit less green that the standard color mode. If you want a more vibrant image you can increase the saturation, I find Pro Color at +14 saturation gives great color straight out of the camera.
The Color Depth control is a bit of an odd control. It works by targeting a particular color, but instead of increasing/decreasing the saturation of the color it makes the luminance level of objects that are that color brighter or darker. If you make a red car darker in brightness it makes the color appear stronger relative to the brightness. A positive setting makes the luminance darker, so the color appears stronger, a negative setting makes the luminance brighter so the color appears slightly more washed out.
First the standard look (notice the blobby, flat, no texture look to the clouds from the knee):
So, here are some suggested settings for different shooting conditions. Remember, you can mix and match the color and gamma settings, so if you like the colors from one profile you can take the color settings and use them with the contrast settings (gamma, black gamma) of another.
1: AC-GPMC – General purpose, medium contrast (good all-round profile).
Gamma: Cine3, Black Gamma Middle -7, Color Mode Pro, Saturation +16 (substitute Cine3 with Cine2 for direct to air broadcast).
2: AC-GPBT – General purpose for bright high contrast scenes.
Gamma: Cine1, Black Gamma Low -3, Color Mode Pro, Saturation +16 (substitute Cine1 with Cine2 for direct to air broadcast).
3: AC-GPGD – General purpose, looks good direct but good if going to be graded (shadows raised to help in grading)
Gamma: Cine1, Black Gamma Low +4, Color Mode Pro, Saturation 0 (substitute Cine1 with Cine2 for direct to air broadcast).
4: AC-GPLL – General purpose profile for darker scenes (raised shadows to make grading easier).
Gamma: Cine4, Black Gamma High +7, Color Mode Pro, Saturation +6 (substitute Cine4 with Cine2 for direct to air broadcast).
5: AC-EXLL – For use in very low light levels (is the equivalent to adding +6db gain, does increase noise).
Gamma: ITU709(800), Black Gamma Low +7, Color Mode Pro, Saturation 0.
6: AC-ASIA1 – Vibrant colors, slight boost to reds/blues.
Gamma: Cine3, Black Gamma Middle -7, Color Mode ITU709, Saturation +10, Color Depth R+5, G-3, B+2, C+1, M0, Y-2.
AC-FILM1 – Film like color and contrast.
Gamma Cine1, Black Gamma Middle -7, Color Mode Cinema, Saturation +8, Phase -3, Color Depth R+4, G-1, B+1, C0, M0, Y-4.
I’m running some workshops for Singapore Media Academy in September. Spaces are limited and I don’t get to visit Asia as much as I used to. So if you are interested in attending one of my highly regarded and popular workshops here is a great opportunity.
The first is on Creative Composition. Good shot composition can make or break a production. In the workshop I will guide you through ways to achieve images that will draw the audience in, focus the viewers attention or create different emotional reactions. I will show you how to deal with composition in moving shots, something that can be difficult. We will use case studies of well known movies to see clever use of classic techniques such as the rule of thirds, vanishing lines or Fibonacci curves. We will see how subtle lighting changes can be used to direct the audiences gaze. From the framing of a simple interview to the staging of a complex scene the workshop will help you develop engaging and interesting images. Understanding basic composition is one of the keys to great productions whether it’s for TV news or the cinema.
DIGITAL CINEMATOGRAPHY, LOG AND RAW (Plus HDR).
The second workshop is on Digital Cinematography, Log and Raw. This is an essential workshop for those serious about obtaining the best possible images with a modern electronic video camera. I will explain the differences between standard gammas, log and raw in a way that’s easy to understand but will give you all the information you need to be able to make informed decisions about which to use and when. Next I will teach you how to expose Log and Raw looking closely at how to use exposure offsets for the best results in differing lighting conditions. Then we will look at Look Up Tables. I’ll show you how and when to use them and how to easily create your own. We will finish with some practical end to end workflow sessions where you will develop your own LUT’s, shoot with log or raw and then perform a basic grade on your content. This will include how to use color managed grading tools such as the Academy of Motion Pictures workflow “ACES”. There’s no hard to understand mathematics, no complex formula’s, just easy to understand explanations and great practical tips and advice that will make log and raw easy to understand and use. I will also include how to expose and shoot for HDR and what you need to consider for HDR productions. More details can be found with the links below:
Although it’s been on the market for a while now I have not yet had a chance to write a proper review of the PXW-Z150. I’ve played with it a few times and I’ve felt it offers good value (approx £3k/$4K). As it’s starting to gain some traction amongst corporate producers and those looking for a straight forward 4K camera with lot’s of bang for the buck I though it’s time to share my thoughts.
Cameras like the Z150 are often overlooked these days as they don’t have the “cool” factor that comes with the large sensor Super 35mm cameras that are all the rage, cameras like the PXW-FS5 or FS7.
But not everyone wants shallow depth of field all of the time. In addition many people want zoom lenses that can zoom in to get a tight shot and zoom back out smoothly without a focus shift. If you add portability and ease of use into the mix then there is no Super 35mm camera that offers all of these. Want a big par focal zoom range – the lens gets big, heavy and very expensive.
This is where a one piece camera with a fixed zoom lens comes into it’s own. For a fraction of the the price of any of the 10 times or more par-focal S35m zoom lenses you can get a fully functioning camcorder. The PXW-Z150 has a 12x optical zoom that can be boosted up to 24x in HD (more on that later).
So lets take a closer look at the Z150.
From the outside the PXW-Z150 resembles many other handycam style cameras and is almost identical to the HXR-NX100. But this is from the PXW product line, I’m lead to believe that stands for “Professional XAVC Writer”. So this means it will have the XAVC codec. It’s also an XDCAM camcorder and in this case that means it also includes the MPEG2 HD codec. In addition in case you haven’t spotted it there is also a big “4K” symbol on the side.
CODECS AND RECORD FORMATS
So the camera can record UHD (3840 x 2160, the 4K standard for TV) at up to 30fps using Sony’s XAVC-L codec. This is the long GoP version of XAVC and comes in 60 and 100Mb/s versions in the Z150. It is worth considering that this codec does require a pretty good computer to work with it in post production, ideally a minimum of a 4 core i7 processor with 16GB of main ram plus a good NVIDIA or AMD graphics card with 2GB of dedicated video ram. In UHD XAVC-L is limited to 8 bit 4:2:0, this still produces a great looking image but is not considered good enough for main stream UHD broadcast.
The image below is a UHD frame grab from the Z150. Click on the image to see larger versions including the full 3840×2160 image. The grab is a jpeg so may have some compression artefacts not in the original frame.
If you are not shooting in UHD then you have lots of options. Again we have XAVC-L now at 25, 35 and 50Mb/s and up to 60fp. 35Mb/s and 50Mb/s XAVC-L is normally considered broadcast quality at 25/30fps. In HD XAVC-L is 10 bit 4:2:2.
As well as XAVC-L you also have two more 8 bit HD codecs, MPEG2HD and AVCHD. There are two versions of MPEG2HD, the regular HD version which is 4:2:0 at 35Mb/s as found in the older EX1 and EX3 camcorders as well as the 50Mb/s HD422 4:2:2 broadcast quality version as found in the PMW-200 and most of Sony broadcast camcorders. These older MPEG2 “XDCAM” codecs are still incredibly popular and accepted almost everywhere for broadcast HD. They are really easy to use and even though they are 8 bit still give great looking pictures. Finally if you just need something compact there is AVCHD, although frankly why you would want to use AVCHD when you have so many better options available I’m not sure. Perhaps those running older or consumer based edit software will benefit from the inclusion of AVCHD.
In order to be able to record all the different formats available you must use SDXC cards. These are readily available and low cost. Please remember though that SD cards are consumer media. It is normally very reliable (probably more reliable than tape used to be) but card failures can occur and a duff card could result in the loss of everything on the card. Fortunately Sony have considered this and the camera features two card slots.
The two card slots can be configured in a number of ways. To record long events you can use relay record where once the first card is full the camera will automatically switch to the second card. For security you can use simultaneous record where you record to both slots at the same time. This means you are creating an instant backup, so the failure of a single card should not be a drama. As a further option you can control the recording function of each card slot separately. You can use the record button on the hand grip to control one slot and the record button on the carry handle to control the other to give 2 independent recordings.
A further recording function is the ability to record a proxy file alongside the main recording. The proxy file can be used in a number of ways. One way is to provide an easier to handle 720p HD file for use as an edit proxy when shooting in UHD. Another is as a small compact file that can be uploaded to the internet via the cameras built in ftp function, perhaps for a breaking news story or remote editing and preview. As this is a proper video camera there are none of the overheating problems or limited record time issues that effect many DSLR type cameras.
One word of advice: Buy your cards from a reputable source. There is a lot of fake media out there that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. The fake cards are often unreliable, so do make sure you only buy good quality genuine media from one of the main brands such as Transcend, Lexar, SanDisk etc.
1″ TYPE SENSOR.
The sensor that feeds all these different codecs is a “1 inch type” Exmor RS back illuminated CMOS sensor with 14.2 million effective pixels. What does all that mean?
“1 Inch Type” means the sensor size is bigger than the sensor on a 2/3″ broadcast camera but smaller than APS-C, Micro 4/3rds or Super 35mm (see this for more info on imperial type sensor sizes). So the depth of field will be deeper (more in focus) than a camera like Sony’s PXW-FS5 with it’s Super 35mm sensor, but shallower than most typical 2/3″ ENG broadcast shoulder cameras and other traditional handycams with 1/2″ or 1/3″ sensors.
Exmor RS is Sony’s latest generation of back illuminated sensor technology that gives better low light performance with small pixels compared to traditional front illuminated sensors. In addition RS stands for “Rear Stacked”. The stacking technology allows for a faster sensor readout among other things and this significantly reduces image skew and rolling shutter artefacts compared to the previous generation of these sensors. The faster readout also means that every pixel is used when shooting at up to 120 fps in HD using the cameras super slow motion function (note that this is 120fps interlace XAVC-L), so less aliasing and moire.
While RS does not eliminate rolling shutter artefacts from what I can see the Z150 offers a big improvement over cameras like the PXW-X70 and the A7S. You have to pan very fast before rolling shutter becomes a problem and in normal use skew and jello should not cause any significant problems.
12X OPTICAL ZOOM LENS.
Light is fed to the sensor by a 12x optical zoom lens. On the side of the camera there is a big and bold “18X“. That’s there because this camera also has Sony’s clever “Clear Image Zoom” technology. In the past if you mentioned a digital zoom it used to make people cringe as it normally meant a drop in picture quality. But Clear Image Zoom really is very clever.
First of all remember that in HD you have a UHD sensor, so you can crop into this by 2 times with virtually no loss in image quality anyway. So in HD you have an additional 2x zoom on top of the optical zoom giving a combined total of 24x. In UHD the camera uses a database of textures to determine the best way to process the image. This allows for a virtually transparent extra 1.5x electronic zoom on top of the optical one. This gives you the 18x zoom range indicated on the camera body. In use, the clear image zoom function works seamlessly with the optical zoom. So as you zoom in or out the electronic zoom takes over where the optical one finishes.
There is the very slightest of bumps in the zoom at the changeover point from optical to digital which I don’t think most audiences would spot. After shooting so much recently with Super 35mm cameras I really had forgotten just how much quicker it can be to shoot with a good par-focal zoom with a high zoom ratio (par focal – focus remains constant through the zoom range). The lens is reasonably wide at the equivalent of 29mm going all the way optically to a 348mm in full frame 35mm terms. The only downside really to the zoom is that the widest aperture ramps from f2.8 to f4.5 as you zoom in. This is one of the penalties you pay for having a larger sensor.
Another slight peculiarity of the aperture is that the minimum is f11. Most lenses go down to f16 or smaller, but this is limited to f11. I suspect this may be to prevent something called diffraction limiting. When light travels though a very small aperture it can become slightly defocussed. When you have very small pixels (like when you cram 4K’s worth of pixels onto a smallish sensor) this slight defocussing has a big impact and can lead to soft and blurry looking pictures. I suspect that Sony may be limiting the smallest aperture to f11 to prevent this and help ensure sharp pictures at all times. If you have too much light then don’t worry as you have a 4 way ND filter system where you can choose between clear, 1/4, 1/16th and 1/64 ND.
The lens has three control rings. One for aperture, one for zoom and one for focus. Unfortunately none of these have any markings as they are all electronic controls with no direct connection to the mechanics of the lens. Fortunately though the lens is quite responsive. The iris ring works well with almost no lag. The zoom ring is the weakest link as you can turn the zoom ring faster than the lens can zoom and this can result in some lag as you wait for the zoom to catch up. The zoom speed range is pretty good, using the rocker on the hand grip you can go from a very slow creeping zoom to a respectable 2.5 seconds (approx) from fully wide to 12x.
The focus ring is big and chunky, easy to find and easy to grip. While you can’t crash focus with it the manual focus, it is nice and responsive and doesn’t exhibit any nasty overshoots or other surprises. So manual focussing is nice and easy. This is assisted by a good viewfinder peaking and a focus magnification system that helps you determine the sharpest parts of the image with ease. One observation though is that if you leave the peaking on the default “White” setting it can make some scenes appear over exposed as white sparkles appear across areas of fine detail. For this reason I normally use the Red or Blue peaking colors.
INPUT AND OUTPUT CONNECTIONS
For audio there is a built in stereo mic on the front of the handle that is adequate for background and ambient sound recording. You then have the usual 2x XLR connectors with switchable phantom power on the front of the hand grip plus Sony’s MI Shoe on the top. Using the MI Shoe you can connect Sony’s UWP-D radio microphones directly to the camera via a low cost mounting adapter (SMAD-P3) eliminating the need for wires or batteries in the microphone receiver. It’s a very neat system.
To output your pictures you have an HDSDI connector on the rear of the camera for HD plus an HDMI port that can deliver UHD. There is also a legacy standard definition composite video output, this is one of the few Sony professional cameras to still have this built in. There is of course also a headphone socket on the rear panel of the camera just above the DC in socket.
POWER AND BUILD QUALITY.
The PXW-Z150 runs off readily available and incredibly common Sony NP-F series batteries. It’s a low power camera so a single battery lasts for ages. I got about 3.5 hours from one of the smaller F770 batteries. An F970 would give at least half a working day, so two of those is all that most people would need.
When I first picked the camera up it felt good. Like most modern cameras it’s constructed from a mix of plastics and alloy. The plastics appear to be of good quality and it seems to be well constructed. Perhaps not quite as high quality as the PXW-FS5 or FS7 but this is a much cheaper camera.
Buttons and switches:
There are very few switches on this camera. Just the on/off switch and switches for the audio inputs. But there are plenty of buttons including 6 user assignable buttons. For exposure control you have push buttons that select the gain, white balance and shutter settings and work in conjunction with a small up/down rocker button on the front left of the body. The rocker is used to scroll though the selections available for each of these. In practice this works quite well except that once you select one of these functions, lets say the gain, it remains selected and the rocker switch active unless you press a different function. If you press gain again to try to deselect it, gain will switch to auto and you have to press it again to go back to manual. It’s a minor thing but did result in me ending up accidentally going to auto gain or shutter when I didn’t mean to. I’m sure if you were to use the camera regularly you would soon get used to this.
Iris(aperture) is switched between auto and manual via a dedicated button as is focus. Autofocus works surprisingly well even in low light. It’s not fast but hunting is minimal once it’s focussed and it was able to track moving objects quite well.
While a one inch sensor is bigger than 2/3″ or 1/2″ it’s still significantly smaller than the Super 35mm sensors that are all the range. The Z150 has a lot of pixels squeezed onto quite a small space, so don’t expect amazing low light performance, it’s not that kind of camera. However it’s low light performance is very good for this class of compact all-in-one UHD/4K camera. For all but the most critical applications you can add 12dB of gain without any major dramas to boost the low light performance. +24dB isn’t horrendous if you really have to push the camera and the top limit of +33dB is impressive but rather noisy. In low light the lens works best when it’s wide and at f2.8. Zoom in and it drops down to f4.5 and that does drop your brightness by over a stop or the equivalent of a little over 6dB of gain (1 f-stop = 6dB = Double/half the ISO).
So picture quality… that’s a pretty important factor.
Single small sensor cameras have come a long way in recent years and the Z150 is no exception. The picture quality is pretty good for a budget camera. The smallish sensor with it’s tightly packed and very small pixels does impose some limitations on just how good it can be, especially in dynamic range and sensitivity but it does produce a nice picture for what it is.
Colours are vibrant, noise levels are low and dynamic range perfectly useable. I estimate about 10 stops of dynamic range so it’s not in the same league as the super 35mm cameras, but respectable none the less. Noise levels are low enough that you can afford to slightly under expose the camera and tweak the pictures a little in post production if you need to. This can be useful if you notice the camera is struggling with bright highlights. I used the cameras built in Histogram to help judge exposure and found that if I had bright highlights such as the bright clouds in the sky as seen in the frame grabs here, that the best results were achieved when ensuring the highlights were below the grey 100% line on the histogram. If you expose the highlights all the way to the far right of the histogram (109%) the highlight areas are flattened by the cameras knee and they can look a bit odd. I felt it was best to expose just a little lower as this gives better looking highlights (about half to one stop). If using auto exposure, including a -0.5 to -1 EV offset to the auto exposure (in the camera menu) has the same effect. Chromatic aberration is very low, probably being hidden by in camera processing. and the sharpening/detail correction well balanced. The PXW-Z150 creates good looking images for a single smaller chip sensor out of the box.
But as well as the standard look the camera does include 6 picture profiles which can be found towards the bottom of the camera menu. Each profile gives a quite different look.
As you can see each of these looks is quite different (The Z150 also has several different scene settings that can be used for shooting in full auto under differing lighting conditions, these change the way the camera works out the auto exposure levels).
The dynamic range is no different in each profile. PP2, the DSLR look adds contrast by crushing the mid range and blacks, it’s also highly saturated to give stronger colors, particularly reds. The red flower in the frame grab was not that red.
Picture Profile 3 mixes Rec709 gamma with Sony’s “Pro” color matrix. I like the Pro color settings as it gives true to life colors and it grades quite well if you want to make tweaks in post production.
Picture Profile 4 is Rec709 (ITU709) gamma and color. To me the colors are not as accurate as they could be. The flower looks a little too “electric” compared to the real life color.
The Cinematone Gammas in picture profiles 5 and 6 flatten the image a little and bring up the shadows. This can help a little if you wish to tweak or adjust the images in post production. The Cinematone gammas are not the same as the Cinegammas found in the higher dynamic range cameras like the FS5 or A7.
Personally I did not like the colors associated with the Cinematone color settings. But one of the great things about the Picture Profiles is you can mix and match the various gamma curves and color matrix settings to create your own looks and styles. The “Pro” color matrix offers some very accurate colors and I quite like the look that you get when you combine Cinematone 2 gamma with the Pro color matrix. If you find the colors a little flat you can boost the saturation level a bit, I found that setting the saturation to +15 gave a great look straight from the camera. Don’t be afraid to go into the Picture Profile settings and experiment with different combinations of Gamma curve and Color matrix. Just don’t turn up the Saturation too high, I would not recommend going above +20.
One small annoyance I found with the PXW-Z150 was that the only menu button is up on the top of the hand grip. As I like to fiddle around with the Picture Profile settings I did find it a little awkward to access the menu controls on the very top of the camera, especially if it was at shoulder height or above on a tripod. You can’t see them up there!
Like most modern cameras the PXW-Z150 has a full set of WiFi features including the ability to transfer files wirelessly via ftp to a remote server, to stream live or control the camera from a tablet or mobile phone. A future firmware update will add Sony’s QoS (Quality Of Service) streaming error correction that promises much improved image quality over poor network connections when streaming to a Sony QoS server. To remotely control the camera you need to install Content Browser Mobile on your Android or iOS device.
SUPER SLOW MOTION
One more trick that the PXW-Z150 has is the ability to shoot continuously at up to 120fps (100fps when the camera is set to 50i area). The image is full HD but more highly compressed than the regular HD recordings, plus it’s interlaced, not progressive. In addition the inevitable faster shutter speeds mean that you do need plenty of light to get the very best results. I could definitely see a small drop in image quality when shooting at 100 or 120 fps, but the footage is perfectly useable and it is great to be able to slow down motion by 4 or 5 times. You do need to be a little careful if using the interlaced footage within a progressive production as very fast moving objects that travel through the frame may exhibit the combing artefact common in regular interlace material when show progressively. To get the full 5x slow down the camera needs to be set to 60i area to allow the selection of 120fps.
The PXW-Z150 is a compact jack of all trades camera that’s easy to work with, has a great zoom range and delivers a respectable looking image. The largeish 1″ sensor gives a greater degree of control over the depth of field than you will have with a camera with a 1/2″ or 1/3″ sensor. But it’s isn’t going to give you that super shallow film look unless you are using longer focal lengths.
I think the Z150 will find a home in many corporate and industrial production applications. The ability to shoot in 4K gives the flexibility to crop int the image to re-frame shots for HD productions. And the price is good too, you get a lot of camera for the money.
In case you missed the webinars I presented yesterday here are recordings of the 2 afternoon sessions. The first one on HDR, what is it and what does it mean for you. The second is a question and answers session on Sony’s large sensor cameras, from the FS5 to the F55. There were quite a few a6300 and A7s questions thrown in there too!
Hopefully I will be able to find a sponsor that will be able to make these a regular event.
This post might be a little controversial, I am often told “you don’t need to know the technical stuff to be a cinematographer” or “I don’t need to know about log and gamma, I just want to shoot”.
I would argue that unless you are working closely with a good DIT a modern DP/Cinematographer really does need to understand many of the technical aspects of the equipment being used, in particular the settings that alter the way the camera captures the images. Not just things like “set it to gamma x for bright scenes” but why you would want to do that.
Now I’m not saying that you have to be a full blown electronics engineer, but if you really want to capture the best possible images it really is very important that you truly understand what the camera is doing. It’s also a huge help to understand how your footage will behave in post production. Any craftsman should understand the correct way to use his tools and not only know how to use them but how they work.
Part of the understanding of how your chosen camera behaves comes from testing and experimentation. Shooting test clips across a range of exposures, trying different gamma or log curves and then taking the footage into post production and seeing how it behaves.
Film cinematographers will shoot tests with different film stocks before a large production under the kinds of lighting conditions that will be encountered during the film. Then the film would be processed in different ways to find the best match to the look the cinematographer is trying to achieve. Digital cinematographers should be doing the same and importantly understanding what the end results are telling them.
Most of the great painters didn’t just pick up a paint brush and slap paint on a canvas. Many artists from Da Vinci to Turner studied chemistry so they could develop new paints and painting techniques. DaVinci was a pioneer of oil painting, Turner used to make his own paints from base pigments and chemicals and patented some of the unique colors he created.
This doesn’t take anything away from the traditional skills of lighting and composition etc, those are just as important as ever and always will be. But modern electronic cameras are sophisticated devices that need to be used correctly to get the best out of them. I believe that you need to understand the way your camera responds to light. Understands it’s limitations, understand it’s strengths and learn how to use those strengths and avoid the weaknesses.
And that’s a really important consideration. Today the majority of the cameras on the market are capable of making great images…… Provided you know how to get the best from them. One may be stronger in low light, one may be better in bright light. It may be that one camera will suit one job or one scene better than another. You need to learn about these differences and understanding the underlying technologies will help you figure out which cameras may be candidates for your next project.
It’s not just the camera tech that’s important to understand but also how to manage the footage all the way from the camera to delivery. While you don’t need to be an expert colorist, it certainly helps if you know the process, just as film cameramen know about color timing and film processing. A trend that is growing in the US is high end cinematographers that also grade.
This has come about because in the days of film the cinematographer could determine the look of the finished production through a combination of lighting, the choice of film stock and how it was to be processed. Today a cinematographer may have much less control over the final image as it passes through the post production and grading process. Often the final look is determined by the colorist as much as the cinematographer. By also becoming colorists and staying with their material all the way through post production, cinematographers can retain control of the final look of the production.
As HDR (High Dynamic Range) delivery becomes more important along with the need to deliver SDR content at the same time, a good understanding of the differences between and limitations of both systems will be needed as you may need to alter the way you expose to suit one or the other.
So, there is lots that you need to know about the technology used in todays world of digital cinematography. Where there is a big enough budget DIT’s (Digital Imaging Technicians) can help cinematographers with guidance on camera setups, gamma, color science, LUT’s and workflows. But at the low budget end of the market, as a cinematographer you need at the very least a firm grasp of how a modern camera works, how to correctly mange the dat it produces (you would be amazed how many people get this wrong). Finally how the material handles in post production, if you really want to get the best from it.
It isn’t simple, it isn’t always easy, it takes time and effort. But it’s incredibly rewarding when it all comes together and results in beautiful images.
If you disagree or have your own take on this please post a comment. I’d love to hear other views.
UPDATE – IT IS NOW CONFIRMED THAT THE NEW 440MB/s CARDS WILL NOT WORK UNDER V7 OR EARLIER FIRMWARE. A FIX WILL BE INCLUDED IN VERSION 8.
There have been some comments on an older thread about problems with the very latest slightly faster Sony G series 128GB XQD cards with Sony’s F5 and F55 cameras (thanks Justin and Richard).
Many people, including myself use XQD cards with the Sony QDA-EX1 adapter in the PMW-F5 and PMW-F55 as well as other SxS cameras. Up to now I’ve never heard of any real problems, basically they work pretty much the same as SxS cards.
Very recently Sony released a new very slightly faster XQD cards. The old cards have a maximum write speed of 350MB/s while the new cards have a max write speed of 440MB/s. You can see in the image above of one of the new cards that both the read and write speeds are shown on the front of the card. The old (good) cards only show a single speed (400MB/s).
From what I have been able to gather so far the old 128GB G series cards work just fine, but a few people are reporting that the new faster 128GB ones do not. Problems include being unable to format the cards in the camera or unable to write anything to the cards.
If you have any experience of this issue, good or bad, with the new 64GB or 128GB 440MB/s cards please let me know by adding a comment.
I often hear people talking about future proofing content or providing the best they can for their clients when talking about 4K. Comments such as “You’d be crazy not shoot shoot 4K for a professional production”. While on the whole I am a believer in shooting in 4K, I think you also need to qualify this by saying you need to shoot good 4K.
As always you must remember that bigger isn’t always better. Resolution is only one part of the image quality equation. Just take a look at how Arri’s cameras, the Alexa etc, continue to be incredibly popular for high end production even those these are in effect only HD/2K cameras.
Great images are a combination of many factors and frankly resolution comes some way down the list in my opinion. Just look at how DVD has managed to hang on for so long, feature films on DVD still look OK even though the resolution is very low. Contrast and dynamic range are more important, good color is vital and low noise and artefact levels are also essential.
A nice contrasty image with great color, low noise and minimal artefacts up scaled from HD to 4K may well look a lot better than a 4K originated image that lacks contrast or has other artefacts such as compression noise or poor color.
So it’s not just about the number of pixels that you have but also about the quality of those pixels. If you really want to future proof your content it has to be the best quality you can get today, not just the largest you can get today.
On Tuesday the 26th of July I will be hosting a series of free live webinars giving you the chance to ask me questions about many of the things I write about here. This is a trial run, I’ve done webinars for many people in the past and they have always gone down well, but these webinars are going to come live from xdcam-user HQ.
If they are a success I will make this a regular event with a webinar day once a month with new subjects covered each time as well as an open Q&A session. This will give you the chance to ask questions on any aspect of video production, so start thinking about what you want to ask.
If you haven’t attended a webinar before here is how it works: You log in online to the webinar using the link provided. You will hear me and any guest presenters and see any pre-prepared information slides that I have on your computer/tablet/phone screen. You ask questions by typing them into a question box, nobody will see or hear you. I will try to respond to as many questions as I can within the one hour time limit. The session will also be recorded and can be downloaded later if you wish. There are dedicated online versions of the webinar page for computers, tablets and smart phones, so you should be able to log in almost anywhere where you have an internet connection.
There will be 2 webinars where I will take questions on any of the Sony large sensor cameras, including the FS5, FS7, F5 and F55. If you want to know about settings, exposure, LUT’s, slow mo, lenses or anything else you can ask me on the 26th. These are timed so that there is an opportunity for people in most countries around the world to join one or the other at a sensible time of day.
Click on the appropriate link below to register. Please only register for sessions you will actually attend as numbers are restricted.
This is something that comes up a lot and I get many questions about. In part because I designed the MTF B4 to Canon, FZ and E-Mount adapters. Budget adapters that allow you to use a 2/3″ B4 ENG lens on a Super 35mm sensor by using the lenses 2x extender or on a center crop sensor without the 2x.
The question is… what will the pictures look like?
The answer is… it depends on the lens.
Not a very helpful answer perhaps, but that’s the truth of it. Different lenses perform very differently. For a start I would say forget 4K. At best these lenses are suitable for HD and you want to have a great HD lens if you want good HD pictures.
But what about the “look” of the images? My experience is that if you put a wide range ENG zoom on a S35mm camera the look that you get can be best described as “2/3″ ENG look with maybe shallow depth of field”. Lets face it, ENG lenses are full of compromises. To get those great big zoom ranges with par-focal focus there are a lot of glass elements in those lenses. Lot’s of elements means lots of places where CA and flare can occur. The end result is often a lowering of contrast and color fringing on hard edges, the very same look that we are used to seeing on 2/3″ cameras. Typical cine or DSLR lenses tend to have simpler optical designs. Prime lenses are normally sharper and show better contrast with less flare than zooms due to there simpler internal design.
So don’t expect to put a typical B4 ENG lens on your S35mm camcorder and still have that crisp, high contrast digital cinema look. Of course B4 zooms are handy for the ability to zoom in and out through huge ranges while holding focus. So an adapter and lens may well make your S35mm camera more versatile. But if you want the best possible images stick to cine style lenses, DSLR lenses or zooms designed for S35.
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.