All posts by alisterchapman

FS5 Eclipse and 3D Northern Lights by Jean Mouette and Thierry Legault.

Here is something a little different.

I few years ago I was privileged to have Jean Mouettee and Thierry Legault join me on one of my Northern Lights tours. They were along to shoot the Aurora on an FS100 (it might have been an FS700) in real time. Sadly we didn’t have the best of Auroras on that particular trip. Theirry is famous for his amazing images of the Sun with the International Space Station passing in front of it.

iss_atlantis_transit2_2010 FS5 Eclipse and 3D Northern Lights by Jean Mouette and Thierry Legault.
Amazing image by Thierry Legault of the ISS passing in front of the Sun.

Well the two of them have been very busy. Working with some special dual A7s camera rigs recording on to a pair of Atomos Shoguns, they have been up in Norway shooting the Northern Lights in 3D. You can read more about their exploits and find out how they did it here: https://www.swsc-journal.org/articles/swsc/abs/2017/01/swsc170015/swsc170015.html

To be able to “see” the Aurora in 3D they needed to place the camera rigs over 6km apart. I did try to take some 3D time-lapse of the Aurora a few years back with cameras 3Km apart, but that was timelapse and I was thwarted by low cloud. Jean and Thierry have gone one better and filmed the Aurora not only in 3D but also in real time. That’s no mean feat!

20170218_233041_rec FS5 Eclipse and 3D Northern Lights by Jean Mouette and Thierry Legault.
One of the two A7s camera rigs used for the real time 3D Aurora project. The next stage will use 4 cameras in each rig for whole sky coverage.

If you want to see the 3D movies take a look at this page: http://www.iap.fr/science/diffusion/aurora3d/aurora3d.html

I’d love to see these projected in a planetarium or other dome venue in 3D. It would be quite an experience.

Jean was also in the US for the total Eclipse in August. He shot the eclipse using an FS5 recording 12 bit raw on a Atomos Shogun. He’s put together a short film of his experience and it really captures the excitement of the event as well as some really spectacular images of the moon moving across the face of the sun. I really shows what a versatile camera the FS5 is.

If you want a chance to see the Northern Lights for yourself why not join me next year for one of my rather special trips to Norway. I still have some spaces. http://www.xdcam-user.com/northern-lights-expeditions-to-norway/

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Why do we strive to mimic film? What is the film look anyway?

 

Please don’t take this post the wrong way. I DO understand why some people like to try and emulate film. I understand that film has a “look”. I also understand that for many people that look is the holy grail of film production. I’m simply looking at why we do this and am throwing the big question out there which is “is it the right thing to do”? I welcome your comments on this subject as it’s an interesting one worthy of discussion.

In recent years with the explosion of large sensor cameras with great dynamic range it has become a very common practice to take the images these cameras capture and apply a grade or LUT that mimics the look of many of todays major movies. This is often simply referred to as the “film look”.

This look seems to be becoming more and more extreme as creators attempt to make their film more film like than the one before, leading to a situation where the look becomes very distinct as opposed to just a trait of the capture medium. A common technique is the “teal and orange” look where the overall image is tinted teal and then skin tones and other similar tones are made slightly orange. This is done to create colour contrast between the faces of the cast and the background as teal and orange are on opposite sites of the colour wheel.

Another variation of the “film look” is the flat look. I don’t really know where this look came from as it’s not really very film like at all. It probably comes from shooting with a log gamma curve, which results in a flat, washed out looking image when viewed on a conventional monitor. Then because this look is “cool” because shooting on log is “cool” much of the flatness is left in the image in the grade because it looks different to regular TV ( or it may simply be that it’s easier to create a flat look than a good looking high contrast look). Later in the article I have a nice comparison of these two types of “film look”.

Not Like TV!

Not looking like TV or Video may be one of the biggest drivers for the “film look”. We watch TV day in, day out. Well produced TV will have accurate colours, natural contrast (over a limited range at least) and if the TV is set up correctly should be pretty true to life. Of course there are exceptions to this like many daytime TV or game shows where the saturation and brightness is cranked up to make the programmes vibrant and vivid.  But the aim of most TV shows is to look true to life. Perhaps this is one of the drivers to make films look different, so that they are not true to life, more like a slightly abstract painting or other work of art. Colour and contrast can help setup different moods, dull and grey for sadness, bright and colourful for happy scenes etc, but this should be separate from the overall look applied to a film.

Another aspect of the TV look comes from the fact that most TV viewing takes place in a normal room where light levels are not controlled. As a result bright pictures are normally needed, especially for daytime TV shows.

But What Does Film Look Like?

But what does film look like? As some of you will know I travel a lot and spend a lot of time on airplanes. I like to watch a film or 2 on longer flights and recently I’ve been watching some older films that were shot on film and probably didn’t have any of the grading or other extensive manipulation processes that most modern movies go through.

Lets look at a few frames from some of those movies, shot on film and see what they look like.

Lawrence-of-Arabia-01-1024x576 Why do we strive to mimic film? What is the film look anyway?
Lawrence of Arabia.

The all time classic Lawrence of Arabia. This film is surprisingly colourful. Red, blues, yellows are all well saturated. The film is high contrast. That is, it has very dark blacks, not crushed, but deep and full of subtle textures. Skin tones  are around 55 IRE and perhaps very slightly skewed towards brown/red, but then the cast are all rather sun tanned. But I wouldn’t call the skin tones orange. Diffuse whites typically around 80 IRE and they are white, not tinted or coloured.

braveheart1-1024x576 Why do we strive to mimic film? What is the film look anyway?
Braveheart.

When I watched Braveheart, one of the things that stood out to me was how green the foliage and grass was. The strong greens really stood out in this movie compared to more modern films. Overall it’s quite dark, skin tones are often around 45 IRE and rarely more than 55 IRE, very slightly warm/brown looking, but not orange. Again it’s well saturated and high contrast with deep blacks. Overall most scenes have a quite low peak and average brightness level. It’s quite hard to watch this film in a bright room on a conventional TV, but it looks fantastic in a darkened room.

Indy_cuts_bridge Why do we strive to mimic film? What is the film look anyway?
Raiders Of The Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark does show some of the attributes often used for the modern film look. Skin tones are warm and have a slight orange tint and overall the movie is very warm looking. A lot of the sets use warm colours with browns and reds being prominent. Colours are well saturated. Again we have high contrast with deep blacks and those much lower than TV skin tones, typically 50-55IRE in Raiders. Look at the foliage and plants though, they are close to what you might call TV greens, ie realistic shades of green.

A key thing I noticed in all of these (and other) older movies is that overall the images are darker than we would use for daytime TV. Skin tones in movies seem to sit around 55IRE. Compare that to the typical use of 70% zebras for faces on TV. Also whites are generally lower, often diffuse white sitting at around 75-80%. One important consideration is that films are designed to be shown in dark cinema theatres where  white at 75% looks pretty bright. Compare that to watching TV in a bright living room where to make white look bright you need it as bright as you can get. Having diffuse whites that bit lower in the display range leaves a little more room to separate highlights from whites giving the impression of a greater dynamic range. It also brings the mid range down a bit so the shadows also look darker without having to crush them.

Side Note: When using Sony’s Hypergammas and Cingeammas they are supposed to be exposed so that white is around 70-75% with skin tones around 55-60%. If used like this with a sutable colour matrix such as “cinema” they can look quite film like.

If we look at some recent movies the look can be very different.

the_revenant Why do we strive to mimic film? What is the film look anyway?
The Revenant

The Revenant is a gritty film and it has a gritty look. But compare it to Braveheart and it’s very different. We have the same much lower skin tone and diffuse white levels, but where has the green gone? and the sky is very pale.  The sky and trees are all tinted slightly towards teal and de-saturated. Overall there is only a very small colour range in the movie. Nothing like the 70mm film of Laurence of Arabia or the 35mm film of Braveheart.

deadmen-1024x576 Why do we strive to mimic film? What is the film look anyway?
Dead Men Tell No Tales.

In the latest instalment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise the images are very “brown”. Notice how even the whites of the ladies dresses or soldiers uniforms are slightly brown. The sky is slightly grey (I’m sure the sky was much bluer than this). The palm tree fronds look browner than green and Jack Sparrow looks like he’s been using too much fake tan as his face is border line orange (and almost always also quite dark).

wonder_woman_still_6 Why do we strive to mimic film? What is the film look anyway?
Wonder Woman.

Wonder woman is another very brown movie. In this frame we can see that the sky is quite brown. Meanwhile the grass is pushed towards teal and de-saturated, it certainly isn’t the colour of real grass.  Overall colours are subdued with the exception of skin tones.

These are fairly typical of most modern movies. Colours generally quite subdued, especially greens and blues. The sky is rarely a vibrant blue, grass is rarely a grassy green. Skin tones tend to be very slightly orange and around 50-60IRE. Blacks are almost always deep and the images contrasty. Whites are rarely actually white, they tend to be tinted either slightly brown or slightly teal. Steel blues and warm browns are favoured hues. These are very different looking images to the movies shot on film that didn’t go through extensive post production manipulation.

So the film look, isn’t really about making it look like it was shot on film, it’s a stylised look that has become stronger and stronger in recent years with most movies having elements of this look. So in creating the “film look” we are not really mimicking film, but copying a now almost standard colour grading recipe that has some film style traits.

BUT IS IT A GOOD THING?

In most cases these are not unpleasant looks and for some productions the look can add to the film, although sometimes it can be taken to noticeable and objectionable extremes. However we do now have cameras that can capture huge colour ranges. We also have the display technologies to show these enormous colour ranges. Yet we often choose to deliberately limit what we use and very often distort the colours in our quest for the “film look”.

HDR TV’s with Rec2020 colour can show both a greater dynamic range and a greater colour range than we have ever seen before. Yet we are not making use of this range, in particular the colour range except in some special cases like some TV commercials as well as high end wild life films such as Planet Earth II.

This TV commercial for TUI has some wonderful vibrant colours that are not restricted to just browns and teal yet it looks very film like. It does have an overall warm tint, but the other colours are allowed to punch through. It feels like the big budget production that it clearly was without having to resort to  the modern defacto  restrictive film look colour palette. Why can’t feature films look like this? Why do they need to be dull with a limited colour range? Why do we strive to deliberately restrict our colour pallet in the name of fashion?

What’s even more interesting is what was done for the behind the scenes film for the TUI advert…..

The producers of the BTS film decided to go with an extremely flat, washed out look, another form of modern “film look” that really couldn’t be further from film. When an typical viewer watches this do they get it in the same way as we that work in the industry do?  Do they understand the significance of the washed out, flat, low contrast pictures or do they just see weird looking milky pictures that lack colour with odd skin tones? The BTS film just looks wrong to me. It looks like it was shot with log and not graded.  Personally, I don’t think it looks cool or stylish, it just looks wrong and cheap compared to the lush imagery in the actual advert (perhaps that was the intention).

I often see people looking for a film look LUT. Often they want to mimic a particular film. That’s fine, it’s up to them. But if everyone starts to home in on one particular look or style then the films we watch will all look the same. That’s not what I want. I want lush rich colours where appropriate. Then I might want to see a subdued look in a period piece or a vivid look for a 70’s film. Within the same movie colour can be used to differentiate between different parts of the story. Take Woody Allen’s Cafe Society, shot by Vittorio Storaro for example. The New York scenes are grey and moody while the scenes in LA that portray a fresh start are vibrant and vivid. This is I believe important, to use colour and contrast to help tell the story.

Our modern cameras give us an amazing palette to work with. We have the tools such as DaVinci Resolve to manipulate those colours with relative ease. I believe we should be more adventurous with our use of colour. Reducing exposure levels a little compared to the nominal TV and video – skin tones at 70% – diffuse whites at 85-90%, helps replicate the film look and also leaves a bit more space in the highlight range to separate highlights from whites which really helps give the impression of a more contrasty image. Blacks should be black, not washed out and they shouldn’t be crushed either.

Above all else learn to create different styles. Don’t be afraid of using colour to tell your story and remember that real film isn’t just brown and teal, it’s actually quite colourful. Great artists tend to stand out when their works are different, not when they are the same as everyone else.

 

Sony European Workshop Tour.

2_SideL-1024x754 Sony European Workshop Tour.
The PXW-FS7, Sony best selling pro video camera.

Just to let you know that from next month Sony we will be holding a tour in selected European countries to showcase their Handheld camcorder range,  and as a result starting from November they will visit 4 locations across the UK, as detailed below. I will be in attendance at the UK events offering free advice and info, so if there is anything you are struggling with why not drop in and see me:

07/11/17              KitPlus Show, MediaCityUK Studios, Manchester, M50 2HQ

14/11/17              Vanilla, Great Titchfield Street, London, W1W 5BB

21/11/17              Principality Stadium, Cardiff, CF10 1NS

07/12/17              Glasgow Science Centre, Glasgow,G51 1EA

Sony will be exhibiting kit and I will be holding “HDR for All” seminars in all the above. The registration page can be found here:

http://m.info.pro.sony.eu/webApp/SonyProTourUK

4  different product areas will be on show as follows:

Large Format Sensor

Showing PXW-FS7 II, FS7 & FS5

4K HDR Production

Showing PXW-Z90, PXW-Z150 & HXR-NX80 (TBC)

HD Production

Showing PXW-X70, PXW-X200, HXR-NX100

Live Event Production

Showing MCX-500, RM-30BP, HXR-NX5R, SRG-360, RM-IP10 and possibly an RX0 (TBC)

 

The Dangers Of Hidden Moisture.

Electronics and water are two things that just don’t match. We all know this and we all know that dropping a camera into a river or the sea probably isn’t going to do it a great deal of good. But one of the very real risks with any piece of electronics is hidden moisture, moisture you can’t see.

Most modern high definition or 4K pro video cameras have fans and cooling systems designed to keep them operating for long periods. But these cooling systems mean that the camera will be drawing in air from the outside world into the cameras interior. Normally this is perfectly fine, but if you are operating in rain or a very wet environment such as high humidity, spray, mist, fog etc it will mean a lot of moisture circulating through the camera and this can be a cause of problems.

If the camera is warm relative to the ambient temperature then generally humid air will simply pass through the camera (or other electronics) without issue. But if the camera is colder than the airs dewpoint then some of the moisture in the air will condense on the cameras parts and turn into water droplets.

A typical dangerous scenario is having the camera in a nice cool air conditioned car or building and then taking the camera out of the car/building to shoot on a warm day.  As the warm air hits the slightly colder camera parts moisture will form, both on the outside and the inside of the cameras body.

Moisture on the outside of the camera is normally obvious. It also tends to dry off quite quickly, but moisture inside the camera can’t be seen, you have no way of knowing whether it’s there or not. If you only use the camera for a short period the moisture won’t dry out and once the fans shut down the cameras interior is no longer ventilated and the moisture stays trapped inside.

Another damaging scenario is a camera that’s been splashed with water, maybe you got caught in an unexpected rain shower. Water will find it’s way into the smallest of holes and gaps through capillary action. A teeny, tiny droplet of water inside the camera will stay there once it gets inside. Get the camera wet a couple of times and that moisture can start to build up and it really doesn’t take a lot to do some serious damage. Many of the components in modern cameras are the size of pin heads. Rain water, sea water etc contain chemicals that can react with the materials used in a cameras construction, especially if electricity is passing through the components or the water and before you know it the camera stops working due to corrosion from water ingress.

Storing you delicate electronics inside a nice waterproof flight case such as a Pelicase (or any other similar brand) might seem like a good idea as these cases are waterproof. But a case that won’t let water in also won’t let water and moisture out. Put a camera that is damp inside a wateproof case and it will stay damp. It will never dry out.  All that moisture is gong to slowly start eating away at the metals used in a lightweight camera body and some of the delicate electronic components. Over time this gets worse and worse until eventually the camera stops working.

So What Should You Do?

Try to avoid getting the camera wet. Always use a rain cover if you are using a camera in the rain, near the sea or in misty, foggy weather. Just because you can’t see water flowing off your camera it doesn’t mean it’s safe. Try to avoid taking a cold camera from inside an air conditioned office or car into a warmer environment. If you need to do this a lot consider putting the camera in a waterproof bag ( a bin bag will do) before taking the camera into the warmer environment. Then allow the camera to warm up in the bag before you start to use it. If driving around in a car from location to location consider using less air conditioning so the car isn’t so cold inside.

Don’t store or put away a damp camera. Always, always throughly dry out any camera before putting it away. Consider warming it up and drying it with a hairdryer on a gentle/low heat setting (never let the camera get too hot to handle). Blow warm dry air gently into any vents to ensure the warm air circulates inside to remove any internal moisture. Leave the camera overnight in a warm, dry place with any flaps or covers open to allow it to dry out throughly.

If you know you camera is wet then turn it off. Remove the battery and leave it to dry out in a warm place for 24 hours. If it got really wet consider taking it to a dealer or engineer to have it opened up to make sure it’s dry inside before adding any power.

If you store your kit in waterproof cases, leave the lids open to allow air to circulate and prevent moisture building up inside the cases. Use Silica Gel sachets inside the cases to absorb any unwanted moisture.

If you live or work in a warm humid part of the world it’s tough. When I go storm chasing going from inside the car to outside in the warm to shoot is not healthy for the camera. So at the end of each day take extra care to make sure the camera is dry. Not just any obvious moisture on the outside but dry on the inside. So this normally means warming it up a little (not hot, just warm). Again a hair drier is useful or leave the camera powered up for a couple of hours in an air conditioned room (good quality aircon should mean the air in the room is dry). I keep silica gel sachets in my camera bags to help absorb any surplus moisture. Silica gel sachets should be baked in an oven periodically to dry them out and refresh them.

Fogged Up Lens?

Another symptom of unwanted moisture is a fogged up lens. If the lens is fogged up then there will almost certainly be moisture elsewhere. In the case of a fogged up lens one thing that sometimes helps (other than a hairdryer) is to zoom in and out a lot if it’s a zoom or change the focus a lot. Moving the lens elements backwards and forwards inside the lens helps to circulate air inside the lens and can speed up the time it takes to dry out.

SD Cards – how long do they last?

This came up on facebook the other day, how long do SD cards last?

First of all – I have found SD cards to be pretty reliable overall. Not as reliable as SxS cards or XQD cards, but pretty good generally. The physical construction of SD cards has let me down a few times, the little plastic fins between the contacts breaking off.  I’ve had a couple of cards that have just died, but I didn’t loose any content as the camera wouldn’t let me record to them. Plus I have also had SD cards that have given me a lot of trouble getting content and files off them. But compared to tape, I’ve had far fewer problems with solid state media.

But something that I don’t think most people realise is that a  lot of solid state media ages the more you use it. In effect it wears out.

There are a couple of different types of memory cell that can be used in solid state media. High end professional media will often use single level memory cells that are either on or off. These cells can only store a single value, but they tend to be fast and extremely reliable due to their simplicity. But you need a lot of them in a big memory card.  The other type of cell found in most lower cost media is a multi-level cell. Each multi-level cell stores a voltage and the level of the voltage in that cell represents many different values. As a result each cell can store more than one single value. The memory cells are insulated to prevent the voltage charge leaking away. However each time you write to the cell the insulation can be eroded. Over time this can result in the cell becoming leaky and this allows the voltage in the cell to change slightly resulting in a change to the data that it holds. This can lead to data corruption.

So multi level cards that get used a lot, may develop leaky cells. But if the card is read reasonably soon after it was written to (days, weeks, a month perhaps) then it is unlikely that the user will experience any problems. The cards include circuitry designed to detect problem cells and then avoid them. But over time the card can reach a point where it no longer has enough memory to keep mapping out damaged cells, or the cells loose there charge quickly and as a result the data becomes corrupt.

Raspberry Pi computers that use SD cards as memory can kill SD cards in a matter of days because of the extremely high number of times that the card may be written to.

With a video camera it will depend on how often you use the cards. If you only have one or 2 cards and you shoot a lot I would recommend replacing the cards yearly. If you have lots of cards either use one or two and replace them regularly or try to cycle through all the cards you have to extend their life and avoid any one card from excessive use which might make it less reliable than the rest.

One thing regular SD cards are not good for is long term storage (more than a year and never more than 5 years) as the charge in the cells will leak away over time. There are special write once SD cards designed for archival purposes where each cell is permanently fused to either On or Off.  Most standard SD cards, no matter how many times they have been used won’t hold data reliably beyond 5 years.

What does ISO mean with todays cameras?

Once upon a time the meaning of ISO was quite clear. It was a standardised sensitivity rating of the film stock you were using. If you wanted more sensitivity, you used film with a higher ISO rating. But today the meaning of ISO is less clear and we can’t swap our sensor out for more or less sensitive ones. So what does it mean?

ISO is short for International Standards Organisation. And they specify many, many different standards for many different things. For example ISO 3166 is for country codes, ISO 50001 is for energy management.

But in our world of film and TV there are two ISO standards that we have blended into one and we just call it “ISO”.

ISO 5800:2001 is the system used to determine the sensitivity of color negative film found by plotting the density of the film against exposure to light.

ISO 12232:2006 specifies the method for assigning and reporting ISO speed ratings, ISO speed latitude ratings, standard output sensitivity values, and recommended exposure index values, for digital still cameras.

Note a key difference: ISO 5800 is the measurement of the actual sensitivity to light of film.  ISO 12232 is a standardised way to report the speed rating, it is not a direct sensitivity measurement.

Within the digital camera ISO rating system there are 5 different standards that a camera manufacturer can use when obtaining the ISO rating of a camera. The most commonly used method is the Recommended Exposure Index (REI) method, which allows the manufacturer to specify a camera model’s EI or base ISO arbitrarily based on what the manufacturer believes produces a satisfactory image. So it’s not really a measure of the cameras sensitivity, but a rating that if used with a standard external calibrated light meter to set the exposure will give a satisfactory looking image. This is very different to a sensitivity measurement and variations in the opinion as to what is a satisfactory image will vary from person to person. So there is a lot of scope for movement as to how an electronic camera might be rated.

As you cannot change the sensor in a digital camera, you cannot change the cameras efficiency at converting light into electrons (which is largely determined by the materials used and the physical construction). So you cannot change the actual sensitivity of the camera to light. But we have all seen how the ISO number of most digital cameras can normally be increased (and sometimes lowered) from the base ISO number.

Raising and lowering the ISO in an electronic camera is normally done by adjusting the amplification of the signal coming from the sensor, typically referred to as “gain” in the camera. It’s not actually a physical change in the cameras sensitivity to light, it like turning up the volume on a radio to make the music louder. Dual ISO cameras that claim not to add gain when switching between ISO’s typically do this by adjusting the way the signal from the sensor is converted from an analog signal to a digital one. While it is true that this is different to a gain shift it does typically alter the noise levels as to make the picture brighter you need to sample the sensors output lower down and closer to the noise floor. Once again though it is not an actual sensitivity change, it does not alter the sensors sensitivity to light, you are just picking a different part of it’s output range.

Noise and Signal To Noise Ratio.

Most of the noise in the pictures we shoot comes from the sensor and the level of this noise coming from the sensor is largely unchanged no matter what you do (some dual ISO cameras use variations in the way the sensor signal is sampled to shift the noise floor up and down a bit). So the biggest influence on the signal to noise ratio is the amount of light you put on the sensor. More light = More signal. The noise remains the same but the signal is bigger so you get a better signal to noise ratio, up to the point where the sensor overloads.

But what about low light?

To obtain a brighter image when there the light levels are low and the picture coming from the sensor looks dark the signal coming from the sensor is boosted or amplified (gain is added). This amplification makes both the desirable signal bigger but also the noise bigger. If we make the desirable picture 2 times brighter we also make the noise 2 x bigger. As a result the picture will be more noisy and grainy than one where we had enough light to get the brightness we want.

The signal to noise ratio deteriorates because the added amplification means the recording will clip more readily. Something that is close to the recordings clip point may be sent above the clip point by adding gain, so the range you can record reduces while the noise gets bigger. However the optimum exposure is now achieved with less light so the equivalent ISO number is increased. If you were using a light meter you would increase the ISO setting on the light meter to get the correct exposure. But the camera isn’t more sensitive, it’s just that the optimum amount of light for the “best” or “correct” exposure is reduced due to the added amplification.

So with an electronic camera, ISO is a rating that will give you the correct brightness of recording for the amount of light and the amount of gain that you have. This is different to sensitivity. Obviously the two are related, but they are not quite the same thing.

Getting rid of noise:

To combat the inevitable noise increase as you add gain/amplification most modern cameras use electronic noise reduction which is applied more and more aggressively as you increase the gain. At low levels this goes largely un-noticed. But as you start to add more gain and thus and more noise reduction you will start to degrade the image. It may become softer, it may become smeary. You may start to see banding ghosting or other artefacts.

Often as you increase the gain you may only see a very small increase in noise as the noise reduction does a very good job of hiding the noise. But for every bit of noise thats reduced there will be another artefact replacing it.

Technically the signal to noise ratio is improved by the use of noise reduction, but this typically comes at a price and NR can be very problematic if you later want to grade or adjust the footage as often you won’t see the artefacts until after the corrections or adjustments have been made. So be very careful when adding gain. It’s never good to have extra gain.

Thoughts on: FS7 v EVA1.

2_SideL-1024x754 Thoughts on: FS7 v EVA1.
The PXW-FS7, Sony best selling pro video camera.

I don’t like comparing two models directly and coming out with a one is better than the other conclusion. And I don’t want this to sound like a Sony fanboy put-down of the Panasonic EVA1. But I’ve had a lot of people ask me whether they should buy an FS7 or wait for the EVA1.

First of all: I have a good relationship with Sony. I like Sony cameras, I’ve been using them for all of my career and they have served me very well, so yes, I am probably biased.

Second: I haven’t shot with an EVA1, I have only seen highly compressed online clips and read the spec sheets, so I don’t really know how it performs. Very few people do.

Third: We are at the limits of what can be extracted from a silicon based sensor. The underlying technology is the same whether you are Arri, Panasonic or Sony and there is a limit to the efficiency of silicon at converting light into electrons, dynamic range, noise etc. So really we won’t see any one camera appear on the market that is massively different to any other with a similar sized sensor, especially at similar price points.

The FS7 is the most successful pro video camera Sony have ever produced by a big margin. There are thousands of FS7’s out in the field being used day-in, day-out to produce all kinds of TV and video productions. It is the industry standard camera for most large sensor TV and video productions. Most TV producers have heard of it, many specify it. I have even seen producers offered Red’s, F55’s or Alexa’s for the same rate as an FS7 but the producers insisted on the FS7 because it’s what they know, it’s what they are comfortable with. They know exactly what they are getting and how to handle the material.

The FS7 is an incredibly versatile camera. It can shoot HD, UHD and 4K. It can record using XAVC and the XDCAM HD codec which is ingrained in television broadcasting world wide due to its low computing power requirements.  At the same time it can (via an adapter) output raw for high end film style productions. It can shoot at up to 180fps in HD for slow motion as well as 4K 10bit 422 at 60fps for normal speed or off-speed applications. It’s approved by Netflix for 4K production. There isn’t much it can’t do. It isn’t perfect, no camera is, but it represents amazing bang for the bucks and it can make very pretty pictures.

It uses professional grade recording media for reliability and speed. You can off-load your footage from the XQD cards incredibly quickly. The cards themselves are robust and reliable, there is no need to resort to parallel recording for safety. It just works as it should.

THE LENS MOUNT

If you have an FS7-II then you also have the wonderful variable ND filter and a locking E-Mount. The E-Mount is one of the biggest benefits of the FS7 over it’s competitors. Thanks to E-Mount you can use just about any lens you want as well as adapters such as speedboosters. Even the new high end Venice camera features an E-Mount because producers and directors want flexibility. Need to use the camera to shoot news? Stick on a B4 ENG zoom via an adapter. Want to shoot a movie? Use a Fujinon MK or use a true Cine lens with a PL adapter. On a budget, throw on some old Canon FD lenses or Canon EF lenses just by swapping the adapter.

Whatever any other manufacturer (or even Sony themselves) produces, none of these things will change overnight. The camera will continue to perform just as well tomorrow, next week, next month, next year as it does today. Even if a substantially better camera comes out today it will take at least 6 months for that camera to become widely accepted and longer still for it to become an industry standard like the FS7. From an image quality point of view it’s unlikely that there will be a significantly better camera at this price point any time soon because of the limits of what can be done with current sensor technology. In terms of what the camera can do, what more would you like from the FS7? It’s already feature packed.

If we take a look at what Sony have done with the new high end Venice camera you will see that if the sensor is used as a super 35mm sensor (like the FS7) it has the same pixel count as the FS7. Both are 4K at super 35mm. To get a higher resolution with Venice you have to take advantage of the larger full frame capabilities of the Venice sensor, this then gives you 6K’s worth of pixels. Why did Sony do this? why not just cram more pixels onto a super 35mm sensor?

Pixel size is very important. It’s part of the reason why cameras with bigger sensors tend to produce better pictures. A bigger pixel can gather more photons of light, making it naturally more sensitive. A bigger pixel can also hold a larger electrical signal before it overflows, this allows for a bigger dynamic range. The color filters can also be bigger allowing for higher quality filters for better color accuracy and less pixel to pixel cross-talk. For Venice, Sony chose to keep the pixels as big as possible to get the best possible image quality with low noise and high dynamic range. 4K’s worth of pixels is plenty for most productions. It’s worth remembering that the Arri cameras are only 2.8K and most people seem happy with their image quality.

The Panasonic EVA1 has more pixels than the FS7. This gives Panasonic an easy sales pitch advantage. The easy sell is the “big is better” sell.  More pixels thus higher resolution is an easy sell, bigger numbers sound better. But cramming more pixels on to the same size of sensor means the pixels must be much smaller. How will the fact that the pixels are significantly smaller effect the image quality? Only time will tell. I’m sure the EVA1 will be a good camera but I suspect that Panasonic will be trading off a bit of sensitivity and dynamic range to gain a small resolution advantage, thank most people will really struggle to see. It’s a game of swings and roundabouts that every manufacturer plays.

The FS7 is a well respected, very capable camera. It’s tried and tested. It has an incredibly flexible lens mount. One of the Canon C300’s restrictions and perhaps part of the reason why it sin’t as popular as the FS7 is the lens mount and the EVA1 shares those same restrictions. With no variable ND filter, when using most Canon lenses the aperture will go in steps making smooth mid shot exposure changes impossible. What do you do if you want to shoot in extremely low light? there’s no speed booster option. What do you do if you want to use a PL Mount cinema lens? Rent an FS7 perhaps?

The EVA1’s planned recording rates max out at 400Mb/s (probably an SD card limitation, and I have big questions over the reliability of SD cards when pushed that hard). The FS7 reaches 600Mb/s when recording 4K 60p.

The FS7 can record 4 channels of audio and has the great MI-Shoe system that allows you to power your radio mic receiver from the camera batteries. I love this system. I have the dual channel reciever so I can use 2 radio mics at once with ease. Plus I can also record a stereo atmos track at the same time.

So, all in all, the FS7 still has a great feature set and it produces a great image. The FS7 viewfinder is great for those of us that can’t focus on an LCD screen just inches from our faces. The EVA1 is not suddenly going to oust the FS7 from it’s top spot. If I was looking for a new camera as a freelance operator right now the FS7 would still be my first choice. I want to be able to work today so I need a camera that will be asked for by producers today and for the foreseeable future. Panasonic are a bit late to this particular party. To make a big impact when you are late you need to have something very special (or very cheap) and while the EVA1 will probably be a perfectly good camera, I do’t think it is going to topple the FS7 from it’s current position as the go-to large sensor workhorse.

Norway and the Northern Lights 2018.

Over-barn-vibrant-1024x665 Norway and the Northern Lights 2018.After a test run starting and finishing in Alta last year I have decided to run the trips from Alta again next year. The hotel is nicer and the itinerary more relaxed. Starting and finishing at Alta gives us more time at the cabins.

2017/2018 Northern Lights Expeditions to Norway, travelling by road and snow scooter, staying in mountain cabins. Including food for 4 days, ice fishing, snow scooter use and optional photo/video tuition. You must book your own flights to Alta, Norway.

2018 Tour 1: Arctic Dawn. On this tour we will see the very first sunrise of the year. The moon will be absent during the night, so best suited for shooting and viewing faint Aurora.  Arrive Friday 12th January 2018, depart Thursday 18th January 2018.   £1,350 per person. Max 8 people. (cost of flights NOT included).  You must arrange your own transport to and from Alta, Norway.

2018 Tour 2: Moonrise Tour. On this tour we will have a rising moon (after new moon) The moon will start at 18% illumination and increase to 53% illumination over the course of the tour. This will provide interesting possibilities for moonlit landscapes, but if the Aurora is very, very faint it will be harder to see. The days will be longer during this tour than the first tour. Arrive Thursday 18th of January 2018, Depart Wednesday 24th of January 2018. £1350 per person max 8 guests.

These really are amazing adventures. Not just a chance to see the Northern Lights but also a chance to experience some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet. Full details can be found by clicking here.

Sony Venice at IBC 2017.

AJC05782-1024x683 Sony Venice at IBC 2017.
Sony Venice Digital Cinema Camera.

As well as several Sony Venice cameras on the Sony booth, Sony will be holding a special IBC screening of the Venice demo films projected in HDR using Dolby Vision in the main big screen auditorium of the RAI at 2.30pm on Friday. Ed Wild the DP of the UK film will also be there to answer any questions. If you are interested in Sony Venice this should not be missed.