The ACS have produced a video report about some of the testing that they did with a pre-production FX9. It’s quite a long video but has some interesting side by side comparisons with the FS7 which we all already know very well. You’ve heard much of what’s in the video from me already, but I’m a Sony guy, so it’s good to hear the same things from the much more impartial ACS.
With my super geek hat on it was really interesting to see the colour response tests performed by Pawel Achtel ACS at 37.08. These tests use a very pure white light source that is split into the full spectrum and then the monochromatic light is projected onto the sensor. It’s a very telling test. I was quite surprised to see how large the FS7’s response is, it’s not something I have ever had the tools to measure. The test also highlights a lack of far red response from the FS7. It’s not terrible, but does help explain why warm skin tones perhaps don’t always look as nice as they could. I do wonder if this is down to the characteristics of the cameras IR cut filter as we also know the sensor to be quite sensitive to IR. The good news is that the PXW-FX9 has what Pawel claims to be the best colour accuracy of any camera he’s tested, and he’s tested pretty much all of the current cinema cameras. Take a look for yourself.
The PXW-FX9 features a 6K Full Frame sensor. With this sensor it is possible to select various scan modes and frame sizes. It is important to understand what these mean and which scan modes can be used with which frame rates and recording formats.
There are two selectable frame sizes, Full Frame (FF) and Super 35 (s35). Full Frame is the larger of the two sensor scan sizes. When Full Frame is selected the sensor area is similar to that of a Full Frame photo camera. In the Full Frame mode you will need to use lenses designed for Full Frame. The frame size in Full Frame scan mode is also similar to the VistaVision film format.
In the Super 35mm mode a reduced area of the sensor is used that is of a similar size to a frame of super 35mm movie film. In this mode you can use lenses designed for APS-C, Super 35mm movie film as well as lenses designed for Full Frame cameras. If you use a Full Frame lens in the Super35 scan mode the field of view will be narrower than it would be in the Full Frame mode by a factor of 1.5.
FF 6K Scan is the highest quality scan mode available in the FX9. The sensor operates in the Full Frame format and a full 6K scan is used, reading 19 million pixels from the sensor. The 6K image is then downsampled to UHD (or HD) for recording. By starting at 6K and downsampling the quality of the UHD recordings will be higher than possible from a 4K scan. Noise in the image is reduced and the resolution and colour sampling is maximised. However there are some frame rate limitations in FF 6K scan. The highest frame rate that can be selected when using FF 6K scan is 30 frames per second. You can record either UHD or HD from FF 6K scan.
FF 2K scan, optimised for speed, quality is reduced. Uses the same Full Frame sized sensor area as FF 6K. However, the sensor is read at 2K instead of 6K. The reduced resolution allows the sensor to be read out much faster, currently up to 120fps. However in this mode the cameras optical filtering is less optimum and this means that the image quality is somewhat reduced compared to the FF 6K scan. This scan mode is best suited to high frame rate shooting where the ability to shoot at a high frame rate is the main priority. You can only record HD from FF 2K scan. I recommend FF 2K is only used for 120fps recording.
S35 4K Medium Balance of Quality and Speed. In this mode 4K of pixels are read out. This is similar to the scan area and number of pixels of a PXW-FS7 or FS5. As a result the resolution of the recordings will be similar to that of other 4K s35 cameras. Because there is no downsampling in this mode the image quality is not quite as high as can be achieved from the FF 6K scan mode. But the reduced number of pixels that need to be read means that the S35 4K scan can be used at frame rates up to 60fps. You can record either UHD or HD from s35 4K scan.
S35 2K scan optimised for speed with s35 or APS-C lenses, quality is reduced. As above uses the smaller Super 35mm frame area. However, the sensor is read at 2K instead of 4K. The reduced resolution allows the sensor to be read out much faster. The FF 2K scan mode can operate at up to 120fps. In this mode the cameras optical filtering is less than optimum and this means that the image quality is somewhat reduced compared to the FF 6K or S35 4K scan. This scan mode is best suited to high frame rate shooting where the ability to shoot at a high frame rate is the main priority and only Super 35mm or APS-C lenses are available. You can only record HD from S35 2K scan and I recommend you only use the mode when you need to shoot 120fps with a s35 or APS-C lens.
The only thing changing the focal length or sensor size changes is magnification and you can change the magnification either by changing sensor size or focal length and the effect is exactly the same either way. So in terms of perspective, angle of view or field of view an 18mm s35 setup will produce an identical image to a 27mm FF setup. The only difference may be in DoF depending on the aperture where f4 on FF will provide the same DoF as f2.8 on s35. If both lenses are f4 then the FF image will have a shallower DoF.
Today’s modern cameras give us the choice to shoot either FF or s35. Either can result in an identical image, it’s only a matter of aperture and focal length. So pick the one that you feel most comfortable with for you production. FF is nice, but it isn’t magic.
Really it’s all about the lens.
The really important thing is your lens choice. I believe that what most people put down as “the full frame effect” is nothing to do with the sensor size but the qualities of the lenses they are using. Full frame stills cameras have been around for a long time and as a result there is a huge range of very high quality glass to choose from (as well as cheaper budget lenses). In the photography world APS-C which is similar to super 35mm movie film has always been considered a lower cost or budget option and many of the lenses designed for APS-C have been built down to a price rather than up in quality. This makes a difference to the way the images may look. So often Full Frame lenses may offer better quality or a more pleasing look, just because the glass is better.
I recently shot a project using Sony’s Venice camera over 2 different shoots. For the shoot we used Full Frame and the Sigma Cine Primes. The images we got looked amazing. But then the second shoot where we needed at times to use higher frame rates we shot using super 35 with a mix of the Fujinon MK zooms and Sony G-Master lenses. Again the images looked amazing and the client and the end audience really can’t tell the footage from the first shoot with the footage from the second shoot.
Downsampling from 6K.
One very real benefit shooting 6K full frame does bring, with both the FX9 and Sony Venice (or any other 6K FF camera) is that when you shoot at 6K and downsample to 4K you will have a higher resolution image with better colour and in most cases lower noise than if you started at 4K. This is because the bayer sensors that all the current large sensor camera use don’t resolve 4K when shooting at 4K. To get 4K you need to start with 6K.
So you have just taken delivery of a brand new PXW-FX9. Turned it on and plugged it in to a 4K TV or monitor – and shock horror there are little bright dots in the image – hot pixels.
First of all, don’t be alarmed, this is not unusual, in fact I’d actually be surprised if there weren’t any, especially if the camera has travelled in any airfreight.
Video sensors have millions of pixels and they are prone to disturbance from cosmic rays. It’s not unusual for some to become out of spec. So all modern cameras incorporate various methods of recalibrating or re-mapping those pesky problem pixels. On the Sony professional cameras this is called APR. Owners of the Sony F5, F55, Venice and FX9 will see a “Perform APR” message every couple of weeks as this is a function that needs to be performed regularly to ensure you don’t get any problems.
You should always run the APR function after flying with the camera, especially on routes over the poles as cosmic rays are greater in these areas. Also if you intend to shoot at high gain levels it is worth performing an APR run before the shoot.
If your camera doesn’t have a dedicated APR function, typically found in the maintenance section of the the camera menu system, then often the black balance function will have a very similar effect. On some Sony cameras repeatedly performing a black balance will active the APR function.
If there are a lot of problem pixels then it can take several runs of the APR routine to sort them all out. But don’t worry, it is normal and it is expected. All cameras suffer from it. Even if you have 1000 dead pixels that’s still only a teeny tiny fraction of the 19 million pixels on the sensor.
APR just takes 30 seconds or so to complete. It’s also good practice to black balance at the beginning of each day to help minimise fixed pattern noise and set the cameras black level correctly. Just remember to ensure there is a cap on the lens or camera body to exclude all outside light when you do it!
One of the great features of the PXW-FX9 is the ability to connect a phone or tablet to the camera via WiFi so that you can view a near live feed from the camera (there’s about a 5 to 6 frame delay).
To do this you need to install the latest version of the free Sony Content Browser Mobile application on your phone. Then you would normally connect the phone to the cameras WiFi by placing the FX9 into Access Point Mode and use either NFC to establish the connection if your phone has it, or by manually connecting your phone’s WiFi to the camera.
However for many people this does not always provide a stable connection with frequent drop outs and disconnects. Fortunately there is a another way to connect the camera and phone and this seems much more stable.
First put the cameras WiFi into “Station Mode” instead of “Access Point” mode. Then setup your phone to act as a WiFi Hotspot. Now you can connect the camera to the phone by performing a network search on the camera. Once the camera finds the phones WiFi hotspot you connect the camera to the phone.
Once the connection from the camera to the phone has been established you should open Content Browser Mobile and it should find the FX9. If it doesn’t find it straight away swipe down with your finger to refresh the connection list. Then select the camera to connect to it.
Once connected this way you will have all the same options that you would have if connected the other way around (using Access Point mode). But the connection tends to be much, much more stable. In addition you can also now use the cameras ftp functions to upload files from the camera via your phones cellular data connection to remote servers.
If you want to create a bigger network then consider buying one of the many small battery powered WifI routers or a dedicated 4G MiFi hotspot and connect everything to that. Content Browser Mobile should be able to find any camera connected to the same network. Plus if you use a WiFi router you can connect several phones to the same camera.
It’s a common problem. You are shooting a performance or event where LED lighting has been used to create dramatic coloured lighting effects. The intense blue from many types of LED stage lights can easily overload the sensor and instead of looking like a nice lighting effect the blue light becomes an ugly splodge of intense blue that spoils the footage.
Well there is a tool hidden away in the paint settings of many recent Sony cameras that can help. It’s called “adaptive matrix”.
When adaptive matrix is enabled, when the camera sees intense blue light such as the light from a blue LED light, the matrix adapts to this and reduces the saturation of the blue colour channel in the problem areas of the image. This can greatly improve the way such lights and lighting look. But be aware that if trying to shoot objects with very bright blue colours, perhaps even a bright blue sky, if you have the adaptive matrix turned on it may desaturate them. Because of this the adaptive matrix is normally turned off by default.
If you want to turn it on, it’s normally found in the cameras paint and matrix settings and it’s simply a case of setting adaptive matrix to on. I recommend that when you don’t actually need it you turn it back off again.
Most of Sony’s broadcast quality cameras produced in the last 5 years have the adaptive matrix function, that includes the FS7, FX9, Z280, Z450, Z750, F5/F55 and many others.
In the last month or so it has become increasingly hard to find dealers or stores with 3rd party BP-U style batteries in stock.
After a lot of digging around and talking to dealers and battery manufacturers it became apparent that Sony were asking the manufacturers of BP-U style batteries to stop making and selling them or face legal action. The reason given being that the batteries impinge on Sony’s Intellectual Property rights.
Why Is This Happening Now?
It appears that the reason for this clamp down is because it was discovered that the design of some of these 3rd party batteries was such that the battery could be inserted into the camera in a way that instead of power flowing through the power pins to the camera, power was flowing through the data pins. This will burn out the circuit boards in the camera and the camera will no longer work.
Users of these damaged cameras, unaware that the problem was caused by the battery were sending them back to Sony for repair under warranty. I can imagine that many arguments would have then followed over who was to pay for these potentially very expensive repairs or camera replacements.
So it appears that to prevent further issues Sony is trying to stop potentially damaging batteries from being manufactured and sold.
This is good and bad. Of course no one wants to use a battery that could result in the need to replace a very expensive camera with a new one (and if you were not aware it was the battery you could also damage the replacement camera). But many of us, myself included, have been using 3rd party batteries so that we can have a D-Tap power connection on the battery to power other devices such as monitors.
Only Option – BP-U60T?
Sony don’t produce batteries with D-Tap outlets. They do make a battery with a hirose connector (BP-U60T), but that’s not what we really want and compared to the 3rd party batteries it’s very expensive and the capacity isn’t all that high.
So where do we go from here?
If you are going to continue to use 3rd party batteries, do be very careful about how you insert them and be warned that there is the potential for serious trouble. I don’t know how widespread the problem is.
We can hope perhaps that maybe Sony will either start to produce batteries with a D-Tap of their own. Or perhaps they can work with a range of chosen 3rd party battery manufacturers to find a way to produce safe batteries with D-Tap outputs under licence.
Blackmagic Design have just released the latest update to DaVinci Resolve. If you have been experiencing crashes when using XAVC material from the PXW-FX9 I recommend you download and install this update.
If you are not a Resolve user and are struggling with grading or getting the very best from any log or raw camera, then I highly recommend you take a look at DaVinci Resolve. It’s also a very powerful edit package. The best bit is the free version supports most cameras. If you need full MXF support you will need to buy the studio version, but with a one off cost of only $299 USD it really is a bargain and gets you away from any horrid subscription services.