2 Places Remain for Norway 2016!

Aurora over a Fjord in Tromso.
Aurora over a Fjord in Tromso.

Unbelievably I still have two places left for my Northern Lights trip in February. Normally these tours sell out well in advance, but I’ve had a number of cancellations, re-bookings and other changes that mean that there are still 2 places left. These trips really are a big, exciting adventure. We stay in at an amazing location miles from the nearest town and only accessible by snow scooter. We go ice fishing, cook out in a Sami tent, go dog sledding, snowmobiling and enjoy traditional saunas. The sun is still very active and the Aurora has been amazing this winter. It probably won’t be this good in 2017 and then we will go into the low side of the 11 year sunspot cycle, so it could be a long wait for the next big show. Full details are here: http://www.xdcam-user.com/northern-lights-expeditions-to-norway/

Sony PMW-F55 to get 4K raw at 120fps.

F554K HFRMore good news for Sony PMW-F55 owners. A rather obscure announcement over on the official Sony user group states that the PMW-F55 will gain the ability to record 4K raw at up to 120fps via an optional future accessory.

This is great news for F55 owners. We can hope that perhaps this option will get extended to the F5 as well (after all the FS700 and  can do it for short bursts and possibly the FS5 will be able to do it too using their internal memory caches to cache 4 seconds of the 4K HFR before copying it to the R5 or Odyssey).  I do hope that the F55 4K raw isn’t limited to a 4 second burst and that it’s the full 16 bit raw that you get at up to 60fps.

Quite what the optional accessory will be I don’t know, but my guess would be a new raw recorder or new faster AXS media, but it could also be an internal upgrade allow the high speed raw to be passed to the existing R5 and AXS media.

New Sony A6300 shoots 4K XAVC-S

A6300Damn, I just purchased a Sony A6000 to take to Norway next week and this pops up. It’s the latest camera in the compact camera range from Sony that started with the NEX-5 and NEX-3, great little cameras that take great photos and have been timelapse work-horses for me.

The A6300 specs are beyond impressive. It has a new 25MP sensor with an improved type of construction that improves sensitivity. It’s only APS-C so I’m not expecting A7 MK2 performance, but it should do very well when the light levels are low.

One of the headline features for me though is it’s ability to shoot 4K XAVC-S that is originated from a 6K image coming off the sensor. On top of that this truly pocket sized camera has what appear to be the full compliment of cinegammas as well as S-log2 and S-log3. Now before everyone gets too excited, do remember that XAVC-S is 8 bit whether in HD or SD, but even so this is an amazing feature set for this kind of camera.

If that isn’t enough it can even shoot in HD at upto 120fps!

The price? Well the body only is $999 USD. It’s E-Mount so as usual you can put all kinds of lenses on it from Sony power zooms to PL mount primes and everything in between. For more information on what on paper at least appears to be a remarkable little camera click here.

Sony make official statement regarding PXW-FS5 image artefacts.

I have been given an official statement from Sony about the image artefacts that some people are seeing from the PXW-FS5:

Sony has investigated the PXW-FS5 image artifact issues reported by users. Our engineers have been able to duplicate these issues and identify their root cause. Sony plans to provide a firmware update. Our goal is to issue this revised firmware toward February/end.

 To ensure that users achieve the best results from the FS5, Sony is also preparing guidelines to help professional shooters take full advantage of the FS5’s features, including S-Log and S-Gamut.

My understanding is that this primarily relates to the edge tearing issue as well as the blocking type artefacts that can be seen, particularly at higher gain levels. It’s great to see solid proof that Sony do listen to us. They always have done, but often simply went away and investigated and fixed the issue without actually saying anything.

It does still need to be remembered that in UHD the camera is an 8 bit camera and this firmware update will not change that. Nor will it change the recording bit rate.  I also do not expect to see a change of the cameras base ISO, so don’t expect to see any significant difference to the cameras noise levels. So while I am sure the firmware will bring a useful and welcome improvement to the image quality, you will still need to be careful how you shoot with the camera, especially in low light or with S-log in UHD. The user guides that are being prepared will hopefully address these areas.

Sony are making a very big effort to become more customer focussed. On Monday I was asked by Sony Europe to present a free webinar for customers that have registered their cameras with Sony Prime Support. Over the coming weeks and months there is going to be a lot of new content in the form of user guides, webinars, tutorials, videos etc on the Sony website. So if you haven’t bothered to register your camera with Sony Prime Support, now is the time to do it as this will give you free access to all this new content as it becomes available.

PMW-F55 and PMW-F5 Firmware V7.01 Released

f5-firmware7A busy day for Sony because as well as the version 3 firmware for the FS7 Sony have also released firmware version 7.01 for the PMW-F55 and F5. No, you didn’t miss version 7.0. Sony chose not to release version 7.0 as they wanted to incorporate some bug fixes into the first release of the generation 7 firmware.

This is another significant release as it include a whole new way of operating and controlling the camera from the side panel. The new menu system called “quick menu” includes 6 pages of key camera functions laid out in a simple and logical manner. It really does make the F5 and F55 cameras much simpler and faster to use.

The F55 camera also gains the ability to record Rec-2020 color in custom mode for compatibility with future TV standards. This gives baked in rec-2020 color in the same was as you have rec-709 color when you shoot with the camera set to rec-709. In Cine EI both the F5 and F55 can be set to S-Gamut or S-Gamut3 to record color ranges compatible with rec-2020 .

Both cameras gain an increased zebra range with zebras now going all the way down to 0% and the ability to record an interlaced HD proxy when shooting at 50p or 60p in 4K.

For more details and the download links please go to the official Sony F5/F55 forum.

PXW-FS7 Firmware Version 3.0 Released

fs7-firmware3Good news. Firmware version 3.0 has just been released for the PXW-FS7. This is a major update for the FS7 and adds some important new features such as a 2K center scan mode that can be used to allow you to use super16 lenses or more importantly eliminate aliasing and moire when shooting above 60fps.

For users of the Cine-EI mode there are major improvements to the usability of the waveform display as this now works with most LUT combinations (but not in S&Q or when outputting 4K). In addition you can now enable noise reduction in Cine EI, although be aware that this may introduce banding artefacts in some situations.

Zebras now go all the way down to 0% so if you want you can use zebras to measure white or grey cards when shooting log or to measure the recommended skin tone levels for S-log (40-55%) and hypergamma (55-60%) recordings.

Also there is a proper time-lapse mode and some improvements to the quality of the raw recordings when using an external recorder raw such as the 7Q.



There are some ungrateful people out there!

Rant time, so ignore this if you are not interested.

I run xdcam-user.com for free. I provide a wealth of guides, LUT’s documentation and articles for free. It costs readers of the site absolutely nothing.

All I ask in return is for those that want to say thank you to buy me a coffee or a beer in the form of a small paypal payment for a coffee or beer.

But sadly there are some people out there that either don’t read what it says immediately above and below the PayPal button or pay any attention to what is stated on the PayPal transaction page. It clearly states “buy Alister a coffee (beer etc)”.

They make the payment and then open a PayPal dispute when they don’t receive whatever it is they are expecting to receive and I have to go through the whole rigmarole of refunding them etc.

Come on people, READ what it says you are buying, you are buying me a coffee or a beer as a token of your appreciation for the time and effort that goes in to running this site and providing a free resource. The LUT packs, PDF’s and other downloads are all under free links.

And finally I do appreciate the coffee’s and beer’s, I really do. I’m sorry that I don’t get around to thanking everyone that makes a contribution but I only have a limited amount of time that I can spend on the website and I often have to spend that time answering questions, responding to comments, preparing new articles and moderating the forum to keep the thousands of spammers and hackers that target the site every day at bay.

So a big thanks to all that have made a contribution of any size, but a suggestion to READ THROUGH THE TRANSACTION DETAILS to those that then open a dispute.

Rant over. Normal service shall be resumed.

Now’s the time to buy a 7Q!



I love my Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q! It’s a fantastic piece of kit. A first rate monitor, highly capable video recorder and a toolbox full of useful tools for the digital cinematographer. I can use it simply as a high grade OLED monitor to check my pictures or I can use it to record at higher quality levels than many internal recorders and then add LUT’s, cross convert from HDMI/SDI, down convert, superimpose a waveform display or zebras on the output and much more. One of my favourite functions is being able to connect it to both the A & B SDI outputs on the FS7 or F5/F55 and view BOTH the LUT’d output from the camera as well as the clean S-Log signal via the picture in picture function.

Right now Convergent Design are offering $500 off the base price and throwing in a free 256GB SSD. Thats really an impressive deal for a really great piece of kit.

Try Before You Buy.

In the last few days I have received a lot of questions along the lines of “which camera is going to be best for me” or “which monitor should I buy”? These are very common questions.

Before the internet, when you wanted a new camera you would either try one belonging to someone else or go to a camera store and try out the camera you were interested in for yourself. That way you could hold it in your hand (or on your shoulder), look through the viewfinder, take some clips and look at the picture quality. Today however it appears that a lot of very important purchasing decisions are being entirely based on online reviews and opinions. I can write a review and say “look how wonderful this camera is” because I think it is great. But just because I think it’s great doesn’t mean it’s going to be great for everyone else (I do try to consider other peoples needs and wishes, but I’m only human). Likewise someone else might say “this camera is rubbish” and of course they are completely entitled to express that view and if they think it’s rubbish, well….  then they think it’s rubbish. But those views and opinions are just that, opinions…. and yours may differ.

Once upon a time equipment dealers used to make quite respectable profit margins on the sale of an expensive video camera. Today however margins are very slim (often less than 5%) as online price cutting forces dealers into ever deeper discounts. As a result dealers are now often not able to lend you a camera to test. Many will still have demo units in their showrooms for you to play with, so support your local dealer, go to them and take a look at the camera (or whatever it is you are buying). Then buy from the dealer, that way you can build up a relationship with your dealer that can help when you need spares or accessories in a hurry. But what if the dealer doesn’t have a demo unit, what’s the solution in that case?

Hire a camera before you buy it. If you purchase a camera and then decide you don’t like it, sure you can sell it, but you’ll loose a lot more money than a days hire charge.  Renting a camera for even just one day will allow you to put it’s through it’s paces. To hold it, shoot with it, test the workflow and look at the image quality. A days rental isn’t going to break the bank.

log is often a poor choice for low light.

UPDATE: Following much debate and discussion in the comments section and on my Facebook feed I think one thing that has become clear is an important factor in this subject is the required end contrast. If you take S-Log3 which has a raised shadow range and shoot with it in low light you will gain a low contrast image. If you choose to keep the image low contrast then there is no accentuation of the recorded noise in post and this can bring an acceptable and useable result. However if you need to grade the S-log3 to gain the same contrast as a dedicated high contrast gamma such as 709, then the lack of recorded data can make the image become coarser than it would be if recorded by a narrow range gamma. Furthermore many other factors come into play such as how noisy the camera is, the codec used, bit depth etc. So at the end of the day my recommendation is to not assume log will be better, but to test both log and standard gammas in similar conditions to those you will be shooting in.

Log gamma curves are designed for one thing and one thing only, to extend the dynamic range that can be recorded. In order to be able to record that greater dynamic range all kinds of compromises are being made.

Lets look at a few facts.

Amount of picture information:
The amount of picture information that you can record, i.e. the amount of image samples, shades or data points is not determined by the gamma curve. It is determined by the recording format or recording codec. For example a 10 bit codec can store up to 1023 shades or code values while an 8 bit codec can record up to 255 shades or code values (in practice this is a maximum of 235 shades as 16 are used for sync). It doesn’t matter which gamma curve you use, the 10 bit codec will contain more usable picture information than the 8 bit codec. The 10 bit picture will have over 1000 shades while the 8 bit one less than 255. For low light more “bits” is always going to be better than less as noise can be recorded more faithfully. If noise is recorded with only a few shades or code values it will look coarse and ugly compared to noise recorded with lots more levels which will look smoother.

Bottom line though is that no matter what gamma curve, the  maximum amount of picture information is determined by the codec or recording format. It’s a bit of a myth that log gives you more data for post, it does not, it gives you a broader range.

Log extends the dynamic range: This is the one thing that log is best know for. Extending the dynamic range, but this does not mean we have more picture information, all it means is we have a broader range. So instead of say a 6 or 7 stop range we have a 14 stop range. That range increase is not just an increase in highlight range but also a corresponding increase in shadow range. A typical rec-709 camera can “see” about 3 or 4 stops below middle grey before the image is deemed to be too noisy and any shades or tone blend into one. An S-log2 or S-log3 camera can see about 8 stops below middle grey before there is nothing else to see but noise. However the lower 2 or 3 stops of this extended range really are very noisy and it’s questionable as to how useful they really are.

Imagine you are shooting a row of buildings (each building representing a few stops of dynamic range). Think of standard gammas as a standard 50mm lens. It will give you a great image but it won’t be very wide, you might only get one or two buildings into the shot, but you will have a ton of detail of those buildings.

Shot of buildings taken with standard lens, think "standard gamma"
Shot of buildings taken with standard lens, think “standard gamma”

Think of a wide dynamic range gamma such as S-log as a wide angle lens. It will give you a much wider image taking in several buildings and assuming the lens is of similar quality to the 50mm lens, the captured pictures will appear to be of similar quality. But although you have a wider view the level of detail for each building will be reduced. You have a wider range, but each individual building has less detail

Buildings shot with 20 mm wide lens. Think "wide gamma" or log gamma.
Buildings shot with 20 mm wide lens. Think “wide gamma” or log gamma.

But what if in your final scene you are only going to show one or two buildings and they need to fill the frame? If you shoot with the wide lens you will need to blow the image up in post to the show just the buildings you want. Blowing an image up like this results in a lower quality image. The standard lens image however won’t need to be blown up, so it will look better. Log is just the same. While you do start off with a wider range (which may indeed be highly beneficial) each element or range of shades within that range has less data than if we had shot with a narrower gamma.

Wide lens (think wide gamma) cropped to match standard lens (think standard gamma). Note the loss of quality.
Wide lens (think wide gamma) cropped to match standard lens (think standard gamma). Note the loss of quality compared to starting with standard.

Using log in low light is the equivalent of using a wide angle lens to shoot a row of buildings where you can actually only see a few of the buildings, the others being invisible and then blowing up that image to fill the frame. The reality is you would be better off using the standard lens and filing the frame with the few visible building, thus saving the need to blow up the image.

Shooting a scene where most of it is dark with wide lens (wide gamma/log) wastes a lot of data.
Shooting a scene where most of it is dark with wide lens (wide gamma/log) wastes a lot of data.
Using a narrower lens (narrow or standard gamma) wastes less data and the information that is captured is of higher quality.
Using a narrower lens (narrow or standard gamma) wastes less data and the information that is captured is of higher quality.

S-Log2/3 has a higher base ISO: On a Sony camera this higher ISO value is actually very miss-leading because the camera isn’t actually any more sensitive in log. The camera is still at 0dB gain, even though it is being rated at a higher ISO. The higher ISO rating is there to offset an external light meter to give you the darker recording levels normally used for log. Remember a white card is recorded at 90% with standard gammas, but only 60% with log. When you change the ISO setting upwards on a light meter it will tell you to close down the aperture on the camera, that then results in the correct darker log exposure.

S-Log3 may appear at first brighter than standard gammas when you switch to it. This is because it raises the very bottom of the log curve and puts more data into the shadows. But the brighter parts of the image will be no brighter than with a camera with standard gammas at 0db gain. This extra shadow data may be beneficial for some low light situations, so if  you are going to use log in low light S-Log3 is superior to S-Log2.

If you can’t get the correct exposure with log, don’t use it! Basically if you can’t get the correct exposure without adding gain or increasing the ISO don’t use log. If you can’t get your midrange up where it’s supposed to be then you are wasting data. You are not filling your codec or recording format so a lot of data available for picture information is being wasted. Also consider that because each stop is recorded with less data with log not only is the picture information a bit coarser but so too is any noise. If you really are struggling for light, your image is likely to be a bit dark and thus have a lot of noisy and coarse noise is not nice. Log has very little data allocated to the shadows in order to free up data for the highlights because one of the key features of log is the excellent way it handles highlights as a result an under exposed log image is going to lack even more data. So never under expose log.

Chart showing S-Log2 and S-Log3 plotted against f-stops and code values. Note how little data there is for each of the darker stops, the best data is above middle grey.
Chart showing S-Log2 and S-Log3 plotted against f-stops and code values. Note how little data there is for each of the darker stops, the best data is above middle grey.

Think of log as the opposite of standard gammas. With standard gammas you always try never to over expose and often being very slightly under exposed is good. But log must never be under exposed, there is not enough data in the shadows to cope with under exposure. Meanwhile log has more data in the highlights, so is very happy to be a little over exposed.

My rule of thumb is quite simple. If I can’t fully expose log at the base sensitivity I don’t use it. I will drop down to a cinegamma or hypergamma. If I can’t correctly expose the hypergamma or cinegamma then I drop down to standard gamma, rec-709.

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