Category Archives: cameras

Low Light Performance – It’s all about the lens!

This post follows on from my previous post about sensors and was inspired by one of the questions asked following that post.

While sensor size does have some effect on low light performance, the biggest single factor is really the lens. It isn’t really bigger sensor that has revolutionised low light performance. It’s actually the lenses that we can use that has chnge our ability to shoot in low light. When we used to use 1/2″ or 2/3″ 3 chip cameras for most high end video production the most common lenses were the wide range zoom lenses. These were typically f1.8 lenses, reasonably fast lenses.

But the sensors were really small, so the pixels on those sensors were also relatively small, so having a fast lens was important.

Now we have larger sensors, super 35mm sensors are now common place. These larger sensors often have larger pixels than the old 1/2″ or 2/3″ sensors, even though we are now cramming more pixels onto the sensors. Bigger pixels do help increase sensitivity, but really the biggest change has been the types of lenses we use.

Let me explain:

The laws of physics play a large part in all of this.
We start off with the light in our scene which passes through a lens.

If we take a zoom lens of a certain physical size, with a fixed size front element and as a result fixed light gathering ability, for example a typical 2/3″ ENG zoom. You have a certain amount of light coming in to the lens.
When the size of the image projected by the rear of the lens is small it will be relatively bright and as a result you get an effective large aperture.

Increase the size of the sensor and you have to increase the size of the projected image. So if we were to modify the rear elements of this same lens to create a larger projected image (increase the image circle) so that it covers a super 35mm sensor what light we have. is spread out “thinner” and as a result the projected image is dimmer. So the effective aperture of the same lens becomes smaller and because the image is larger the focus more critical and as a result the DoF narrower.

But if we keep the sensor resolution the same, a bigger sensor will have bigger pixels that can capture more light and this makes up for dimmer image coming from the lens.

So where a small sensor camera (1/2″, 2/3″) will typically have a f1.8 zoom lens when you scale up to a s35mm sensor by altering the projected image from the lens, the same lens becomes the equivalent of around f5.6. But because for like for like resolution the pixels size is much bigger, the large sensor will be 2 to 3 stops more sensitive, so the low light performance is almost exactly the same, the DoF remains the same and the field of view remains the same (the sensor is larger, so DoF decreases, but the aperture becomes smaller so DoF increases again back to where we started). Basically it’s all governed by how much light the lens can capture and pass through to the sensor.

It’s actually the use of prime lenses that are much more efficient at capturing light has revolutionised low light shooting as the simplicity of a prime compared to a zoom makes fast lenses for large sensors affordable. When we moved to sensors that are much closer to the size of sensors used on stills cameras the range and choice of affordable lenses we could use increased dramatically. We were no longer restricted to expensive zooms designed specifically for video cameras.

Going the other way. If you were to take one of todays fast primes like a common and normally quite affordable 50mm f1.4 and build an optical adapter of the “speedbooster” type so you could use it on a 2/3″ sensor you would end up with a lens the equivalent of a f0.5 10mm lens that would turn that 2/3″ camera into a great low light system with performance similar to that of a s35mm camera with a 50mm f1.4.

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Adjusting the Color marix

Every now and again I get asked how to adjust the color matrix in a video camera. Back in 2009 I made a video on how to adjust the color matrix in the Sony’s EX series of cameras. This video is just as relevant today as it was then. The basic principles have not changed.

The exact menu settings and menu layout may be a little different in the latest cameras, but the adjustment of the matrix setting (R-G, G-R etc) have exactly the same effect in the latest camera that provide matrix adjustments (FS7, F5, F55 and most of the shoulder mount and other broadcast cameras). So if you want a better understanding of how these settings and adjustment works, take a look at the video.

I’ll warn you now that adjusting the color matrix is not easy as each setting interacts with the others. So creating a specific look via the matrix is not easy and requires a fair bit of patience and a lot of fiddling and testing to get it just right.

Why hasn’t anyone brought out a super sensitive 4K camera?

Our current video cameras are operating at the limits of current sensor technology. As a result there isn’t much a camera manufacturer can do to improve sensitivity without compromising other aspects of the image quality.
Every sensor is made out of silicon and silicon is around 70% efficient at converting photons of light into electrons of electricity. So the only things you can do to alter the sensitivity is change the pixel size, reduce losses in the colour and low pass filters, use better micro lenses and use various methods to prevent the wires and other electronics on the face of the sensor from obstructing the light. But all of these will only ever make very small changes to the sensor performance as the key limiting factor is the silicon used to make the sensor.
 
This is why even though we have many different sensor manufacturers, if you take a similar sized sensor with a similar pixel count from different manufacturers the performance difference will only ever be small.
 
Better image processing with more advanced noise reduction can help reduce noise which can be used to mimic greater sensitivity. But NR rarely comes without introducing other artefacts such as smear, banding or a loss of subtle details. So there are limits as to how much noise reduction you want to apply. 
 
So, unless there is a new sensor technology breakthrough we are unlikely to see any new camera come out with a large, actual improvement in sensitivity. Also we are unlikely to see a sudden jump in resolution without a sensitivity or dynamic range penalty with a like for like sensor size. This is why Sony’s Venice and the Red cameras are moving to larger sensors as this is the only realistic way to increase resolution without compromising other aspects of the image. It’s why all the current crop of S35mm 4K cameras are all of very similar sensitivity, have similar dynamic range and similar noise levels.

A great example of this is the Sony A7s. It is more sensitive than most 4K S35 video cameras simply because it has a larger full frame sensor, so the pixels can be bigger, so each pixel can capture more light. It’s also why cameras with smaller 4K sensors will tend to be less sensitive and in addition have lower dynamic range (because the pixel size determines how many electrons it can store before it overloads).

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/

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.

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.

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.

Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.

So here it finally is. Sony’s latest digital cinema camera and finally it has a name rather than a number and it’s called Venice.

AJC05782-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
Sony Venice Digital Cinema Camera.

I was lucky enough to be involved with Venice during the filming of the UK promo film, so I have had a little bit of a chance to play with one, seen it in action in the hands of an experienced DP (Ed Wild B.S.C.) and I have copies of the footage from it (I did the BTS film). So I have a pretty good idea of what we are dealing with…… and it’s good, it’s very, very good.

20170817_173653-1024x576 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
On-set with Sony’s Venice.

For a long time I have been saying that what we need is better pixels, not more pixels and that’s precisely what Sony have delivered in Venice. The newly developed sensor is a full frame sensor, 36mm x 24mm with 6K’s worth of horizontal pixels. This means that if you use the camera as a super 35mm camera you have 4K (and for the demo films the pre production cameras used only worked at 4K, the equivalent of 35mm 4 perf. 6K will come a little later). Venice will be able to do a huge range of resolutions and aspect ratios including Anamorphic.

Why only 6K? Well it’s down to pixel size. Bigger pixels can capture more light and they can also store more electrons before they overload. This means you get a bigger dynamic range than would typically be possible with smaller pixels. The extra light capturing capability can be used in one of 2 ways, to increase sensitivity or to decrease noise. It appears that the engineers behind Venice went for the latter, lower noise.

20170817_144204-1024x576 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
There’s a Sony Venice digital cinema camera buried under there somewhere.

A lot of research was done for this camera. Engineers from Japan met with many ASC and BSC cinematographers. They talked to post houses and colourists to find out what was really needed. I know that Claudio Miranda A.S.C. played an important part in the development process, he also shot the US demo film. The end result is a pretty sensitive camera (500 ISO) with very low noise and over 15 stops of dynamic range. Yes – that’s right over 15 stops without resorting to double exposures or any other tricks!!

AJC05784-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
Left side of the Sony Venice cinema camera.

While the sensor isn’t a global shutter sensor it does have an extremely fast readout rate. This extra fast readout means that jello and other rolling shutter artefacts are minimised to the point where it behaves much more like a global shutter sensor.  Generally speaking, the extra memory circuits needed to get a global shutter either add noise, reduce sensitivity or reduce dynamic range. So it’s not a huge surprise to see the fast read out approach. There was quite a bit of filming done with a rather lovely Lamborghini Uraco, both hand held inside the car and mounted on the front of the car. Looking at the rushes there is no sign of any noticeable rolling shutter artefacts, even the trees flashing past in the background are still nice and vertical.

AJC05801-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
Viewfinder overlays are now outside of the visible image area.

A lot of the car shooting took place at dusk and an interesting thing that came out of the UK demo reel shoot was how well it performed in low light. The 500 ISO rating is deceptive, because the camera produces so little noise you can rate the camera at a higher ISO and still get good results. Most current cinema cameras don’t produce the best results unless you rate them lower than their base ISO’s. Venice is different, the base ISO is very low noise and very high dynamic range. There appears to be little need to rate it lower for even less noise, although you could if you wish. I asked Ed Wild about this and he was really pleased with Venice’s ISO rating commenting that he often had to rate cameras from other manufacturers lower than the base ISO while he felt Venice at 500 ISO worked really well and that he would even consider rating it higher if needed.

Having a low base ISO means there is less need to use large amounts of ND on outdoor shoots. But talking of ND filters one of the great features of Venice is an 8 stage, behind the lens glass ND filter system. This allows you to choose just the right amount of ND for the light levels you have with no loss of quality. During the pre-shoot test and prep day at Pinewood each stage of the ND was carefully tested for colour shifts and accuracy, no problems were found.

ND-filter-1024x448 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
Sony Venice has 2 internal ND filter wheels giving 8 ND levels.

The lens mount on a Venice camera can be changed. It’s not a quick release mount as on the F55 or F5 cameras. It’s normally a PL mount. But the PL mount can be removed and the camera changed to a Sony E-Mount. 6 bolts remove the PL mount and a locking E mount similar to the one on the FS7 II is on the cameras body. This opens up the possibility of using a huge range of lenses, practically anything in fact as it’s easy to adapt from E-Mount to other mounts such as Canon EF for example. For the UK demo reel XTAL Anamorphics from MovieTec were used. Ultra Primes were used for the US promo film.

VENICE A Truly Modular Camera.

Not only can the lens mount be changed but the entire front part of the camera can be changed by removing just 4 screws. Venice is built as a modular camera and the front part of the camera that contains the sensor and ND filters is a removable module (no need for lab conditions or clean rooms to remove the module). This means that in the future Sony could release new sensor options for Venice. Maybe a higher resolution sensor, a monochrome sensor or a high speed sensor. Removing the front sensor module from the camera allows easy access to the cameras internal near silent fan so that it can be cleaned or replaced should that become necessary. All of the cameras electronics are in sealed compartments for dust and moisture protection and rubber seals are installed around any openings such as the SxS card access door. In addition if you do use the AXS-R7 recorder to record Raw/X-OCN this too is weather sealed.

AJC05794-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
There are 2 SXS card slots on the camera body.

Venice records to SxS cards and with the AXS-R7 attached to AXS cards. You can record XAVC, ProRes HD, ProRes Proxy, as well as Raw/X-OCN. The XAVC recording option allows you to record direct to compact but high quality ready to go files or to record lower resolution proxy files.  X-OCN gives a 16 bit linear workflow with raw type performance but without massive files. There is very little difference between X-OCN and Sony 16 bit linear raw and different versions of X-OCN work at different bit rates so you can pick and choose the right balance of image quality against file size for each project.

AJC05796-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
Plenty of output options on the Sony Venice camera including 4 x HDSDI/4K SDI and an additional dedicated monitor output.

For Venice Sony have developed new colour science that is designed to emulate film. Looking at the rushes from the camera it really looked nice without any grading. The images contain lots of lush colours. You could see amazing subtle tonal information in the leaves and trees in the shots. Skin tone highlights roll of in a particularly pleasing way.

One of the biggest criticisms of the PMW-F55 and F5 cameras when they were launched was that they were too complex to drive. The F55 menu system is very large containing many, many pages of settings and adjustments. This is a cinema camera without a lot of the fancy modes that cameras like the F5 or F55 have so the menus are simpler straight away. A lot of time was spent trialling different menu structures to determine the easiest and friendliest structure. At the press event during the hands on session most people found it quite easy to navigate around the menus. But really the way the side panel and the quick menu is set up means you won’t need to dive into the main menu very often.

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Sony Venice right side.

The camera body is a bit bigger than an F55/F5 and a lot smaller and lighter than an F65. On the right side of the camera there is the main LCD display, which is very similar to the one on the F55/F5 with 6 hot keys around it and a rotary menu dial. This is actually quite similar to the F55’s new Quick Menu system and easy to master.  All the key functions and setup options are just a couple of button presses away. This is the main display and where most of the cameras settings can be changed. It’s on the right side so the AC or DIT can get at it and see it easily. Pressing the user button turns 5 of the 6 buttons around the LCD into user assignable buttons (the 6th button is used to set the assignable functions).

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The right side main LCD display and option buttons.

On the left side of the camera there is a small information display that shows the frame rate, shutter speed, ND, ISO and white balance.

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The left side information display.

The white balance of the camera can be dialled in manually unlike the F55 you are no longer tied to 3 presets. You can now dial in the white balance you want down to 1 kelvin increments. Once you have set your white balance you can include your new custom setting in the preset list for quick recall at any time.

The camera can run off either 12V or 24V and it has an internal 24V inverter so that when using a 12V power source such as a V-Mount battery you still get 24V out of the industry standard 24V lemo connectors.

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The Sony Venice PL mount is secured to the cameras body with 6 bolts. When removed there is a locking E-Mount.

Venice is a modular camera system with various upgrade options. The base camera comes as a 4K super 35mm camera. the 6K option, anamorphic options (6K full frame and 4K 35mm) and other options will be available as option licences. These licences can be purchased as weekly, monthly or permanent options depending on your needs.

What about the picture? I spent a couple of days looking at footage from this camera both in my own grading suite and at Sony’s Pinewood facility during the production of the BTS film. I also saw it projected at the press day and it looks good. One problem today is that there are so many very good and very capable cameras that it’s tough to really pinpoint things that make one stand out as better than another. What I have found to be very pleasing from Venice is the skin tones. Sony have introduced new colour science and colour management for Venice and I think it looks really good. Even before grading, just looking at the clips on a monitor with S-Log3 gamma the pictures have a wonderful rich look. It’s worth noting that the cameras used for both the US and EU launch films were hand made pre-production units and the engineers are still learning how to fully exploit the new sensors in these cameras. So we can only expect them to get better between now and when they become available to buy.

Will I be getting one? Probably not. This is a wonderful camera and I would love to own one, but Venice will be more expensive than the F55 and probably not the best investment for me at least. However I fully intend to get my grubby fingers on one as soon as possible to learn all of it’s in’s and out’s as I hope to use a Venice for some short films I have planned. This is a serious Alexa or Red alternative It has image quality to rival or better almost any other digital cinema camera, but that does come at a price, although it’s no more expensive than any other comparable camera.

The estimated price for the base camera is expected to be around €37,000. Full frame and anamorphic options will be payable options, with the full-frame option costing a approx €4,000 and the anamorphic costing a approx €6,000.  it should be available from around February 2018.