Category Archives: cameras

Recording the slow motion S&Q output of an FS5 to a normal external recorder (not raw).

This has been asked a couple of times. How do I record the slow motion S&Q output of my PXW-FS5 to an external recorder if I don’t have the raw option or don’t want to use raw.

Well it is possible and it’s quite easy to do. You can do it with either an SDI or HDMI recorder, both will work. The example here is for the new Atomos Ninja V recorder, but the basic idea is the same for most recorders.

Just to be absolutely clear this isn’t a magic trick to give you raw with a conventional non raw recorder. But it will allow you to take advantage of the higher quality codec (normally ProRes) in the external recorder.

Oh and by the way – The Ninja V is a great external monitor and recorder if you don’t want raw or you need something smaller than the Inferno.

So here’s how you do it:

In the camera menu and “Rec Set” – set the file format to XAVC HD and the Rec Format to 1080/50p or 1080/60p it MUST be 50p or 60p for this to work correctly.

DSC_0340 Recording the slow motion S&Q output of an FS5 to a normal external recorder (not raw).


In “Video Out” select the HDMI (for the Ninja, if you recorder has SDI then this works with SDI too).

DSC_0339 Recording the slow motion S&Q output of an FS5 to a normal external recorder (not raw).

Set the SDI/HDMI to 1080p/480i or 1080p/560i it MUST be p not i

Set HDMI TC Output to ON

Set SDI/HDMI Rec Control to ON

DSC_0338 Recording the slow motion S&Q output of an FS5 to a normal external recorder (not raw).

Connect the Ninja (or other recorder) via HDMI and on the Ninja under the input settings set the record trigger to HDMI – ON. If you are using a recorder with SDI you should have similar options for the SDI input.

DSC_0342 Recording the slow motion S&Q output of an FS5 to a normal external recorder (not raw).

So now what will happen is when you use the S&Q mode at 100fps or higher the camera will act as normally, you will still need a SD card in the camera. But when the camera copies the slow motion footage from the internal buffer to the SD card the external recorder will automatically go into record at the same time and record the output stream of the buffer. Once the buffer stream stops, the recorder will stop.

The resulting file will be 50p/60p. So if you want to use it in a 24/25/30p project and get the full slow-mo benefit you will need to tell the edit software to treat the file as a 24/25/30p file to match the other clips in your project. Typically this is done by right clicking on the clip and using the “interpret footage” function to set the frame rate to match the frame rate of your project or other footage.

And that’s it. It’s pretty simple to do and you can improve the quality of your files over the internal recordings, although I have to say you’ll be hard pushed to see any difference in most cases as the XAVC is already pretty good.

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Vocas Sliding Base Plate System.

Let’s face it, camera base plates are not really very exciting things. But they are very necessary additions to most peoples kit, especially for any of the full size super 35mm digital cinema cameras. From Red’s to F55’s to FS7 etc, they will almost always need some form of base plate at some point.

So what’s different about the Vocas sliding system?

A complete Vocas sliding base plate system comprises two main parts. The first bit attaches to the camera and that will be either a generic flat camera mounting adapter plate or a custom camera mounting plate for cameras that don’t have flat bases, for example the FS7 or Venice where the adapter follows the curve or shape of the bottom of the camera.

DSC_0315 Vocas Sliding Base Plate System.
The Vocas Sliding system adapter for Sony’s PXW-FS7 cameras. Note this even has the very small screws normally used by the shoulder pad to help keep it very stable.
DSC_0328 Vocas Sliding Base Plate System.
On the left is a 15mm rod VCT type shoulder mount. Middle is the FS7 camera adapter plate and right is a generic flat camera adapter plate.

The second part is a shoulder mount, shoulder pad or tripod plate or generic flat mounting plate that the camera adapter smoothly and securely slides onto.

20180514_092732 Vocas Sliding Base Plate System.
Vocas Sliding base plate system on a Sony Venice. 19mm shoulder/VCT plate and dedicated Venice base adapter.
DSC_0329 Vocas Sliding Base Plate System.
The VCT/15mm rod shoulder plate with the FS7 camera plate attached. Note the allen key and mounting screws stored within the base plate.

One of the first benefits of this system is that you can easily alter the position of the camera relative to the base plate or shoulder pad. This makes balancing the camera on your shoulder or on a tripod much easier. A large red level locks the two sliding parts securely in place and there is a safety release catch that must be pressed if you wish to separate the mounting plate from the base plate, so they can’t come apart by accident. However if you need to move the camera forwards or backwards relative to the mounting plate all you need to do is release the large red locking lever.

DSC_0334 Vocas Sliding Base Plate System.
PMW-F5 on the same VCT/15mm rod base plate as shown with the FS7 adapter and Sony Venice above.

Another benefit of the system is that it is very quick to reconfigure if you need to. For example many cinematography accessories are mounted using 19mm rails rather than the lightweight 15mm rails often used with ENG or smaller rigs. Perhaps you have been shooting handheld where a lightweight 15mm setup works better. Using the Vocas sliding system you can have a light weight base plate with a comfortable shoulder pad, 15mm front and rear rails that will clip in and out of a VCT style quick release tripod plate attached to the camera for your handheld shots. Then when you need to go to a bigger lens perhaps and 19mm rods, you simply slide off the 15mm base plate and slide on the Vocas 19mm plate. Quickly transforming the camera into a heavy duty rig that will then attach to an Arri style tripod plate. Need to keep the 19mm rods but now need a shoulder pad? Well that’s easy too as there is a matching shoulder pad for the 19mm base plate. It’s all very quick and very easy.

DSC_0335 Vocas Sliding Base Plate System.
My PMW-F5 now on a 19mm Arri compatible base plate. It took just a few seconds to swap from the 15mm plate to the 19mm plate. No tools needed.

It also means that if you have multiple cameras all you is a mounting plate on each of your cameras then you can use the same base plate on all your cameras just by sliding it on and off as needed, or swap between lot’s of different types of plates depending on your needs.

If you don’t need a base plate with rods etc and just need a quick way to mount your camera to a tripod then there is also a basic tripod adapter that the camera can be slid directly onto. This gives you a really secure, quick release, low profile mounting system that is free from the wobble that often plagues other quick release mounts. It’s ideal for crash cams, car mounts and car rigs. Or for those situations where you just need something quick and compact. This would also help keep the weight down for use on gimbals or perhaps a stedicam. Need to go back to a shoulder mount or full tripod rig with rods, just slide the camera off the tripod plate and slide it on to your preferred 15mm or 19mm shoulder plate.

DSC_0332 Vocas Sliding Base Plate System.
Top is the 15mm/VCT type base plate. In the middle is the generic tripod platethat can be used as a low profile, adjustable quick release mount on gimbals, tripods, stedicam etc.

Nice touches on the VCT type base plates are the adjustable height rod mounts and also an adjustable tensioner for the rear mounting spigot. Normally on a VCT base plate the rear spigot doesn’t do a great deal to add stability to the system, it just helps to loosely locate the base plate. However Vocas have added the ability to put some tension on to the rear spigot to help pull the camera down onto the VCT plate. This can greatly decrease, if not eliminate the wobble and flex that is all to common with these quick release plates.

DSC_0336 Vocas Sliding Base Plate System.
The tensioner/clamp for the rear pin on a VCT tripod plate.
DSC_0337 Vocas Sliding Base Plate System.
Adjustable height rod mount at the front. The large red lever at the left side is used to allow the camera to be slid forwards and backwards to adjust the position/balance. A small red push button safety catch and the pin it operates can be see on the upper right of the base plate.

Another really nice touch is that the attachment screws for the mounting plate and an allen key for adjusting the height of the rod mounts can be stored inside the base plate so you should never loose them.

Any downsides? Well yes, any 2 part system like this is going to be a little more complex with more parts and a bit more metal than a basic fixed mounting plate, so the sliding base plate ends up a touch heavier than the equivalent fixed position base plate. It’s not a big difference, but it does add a bit of weight. However in most cases I believe it’s worth it. Especially if you are swapping between 15mm and 19mm systems frequently. Being able to quickly and easily re-balance the camera when handheld and you change lenses is very nice.

DSC_0327 Vocas Sliding Base Plate System.
The 19mm Arri compatible base plate, in this case with the FS7 adapter on it.

If you have more than one camera it makes it easier to share different mounting systems between them. So while the initial cost may be a bit more, in the long run you only ever need to add new mounting adapters to keep using all the different base plates you have with extra cameras or new cameras.

DSC_0320 Vocas Sliding Base Plate System.
Arri compatible shoulder pad. This would attach under the 19mm base plate instead of an Arri dovetail.

As always with Vocas products the quality of the engineering is first class. The parts fit together beautifully. Only high quality materials are used and the finish is very nice. So if you are looking for a really nice base plate for your camera – or cameras – do take a look at the Vocas sliding system. It’s really very well thought out and something that will last for a very long time.

Disclosure: I have a good relationship with the guys at Vocas. I had been shown this system at various trade shows and it looked interesting, so I approached Vocas for the loan of a review system so I could write this article.

Sony Venice to get 4K 120fps in Version 4.

Coming just a few days after the release of the Venice version 3 firmware, Sony have just released details of the next major Venice update which is planned to be released in June of this year. Last year when Sony started talking about HFR (high frame rates) for Venice it was expected that 4K would reach at least 96fps. However it has now been confirmed that the version 4 update will include the option to purchase an HFR licence that will allow you to shoot in 4K at up to 120fps.

It is worth noting however that 120fps will only be available when shooting 2.39:1. When shooting 17:9 the limit will be 110fps, still better than the originally promised 96fps. As well as 4K HFR you will also be able to shoot at 60fps in 6K 3:2 and 75fps 4K 3:2 ideal for use with 2x Anamorphic lenses.

The full press release is below:

Basingstoke, UK, 31st January 2019: Sony will be upgrading the capabilities of its next-generation motion picture camera system, VENICE, by introducing High Frame Rate (HFR) shooting, advanced remote-control functionalities and Cooke/i3 and Zeiss extended metadata support, as part of its latest firmware update. Following the recent release of VENICE’s firmware Version 3.0 and the upcoming launch of its Extension System (CBK-3610XS), which was developed in collaboration with James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment and is currently being used to shoot the AVATAR sequels, the latest upgrade will offer filmmakers even greater creative freedom, flexibility and choice.

The new optional High Frame Rate license allows VENICE to shoot at speeds of up to 120fps at 4K 2.39:1, and 60fps at 6K 3:2 as well as up to 110fps at 4K 17:9 and 75fps at 4K 4:3 with anamorphic lenses. The new additional frame rates are particularly well-suited for drama, movie and commercial productions in 4K and 6K, as well as productions at 50/60p in 6K and VR productions using large viewing angle of 6K 3:2 in 60p. All High Frame Rates support X-OCN recording including X-OCN XT* implemented from Ver.3.0 and High Frame Rate up to 60fps support XAVC 4K and ProRes recording.

“At Sony, we pride ourselves on working closely with our customers and partners to create solutions that enable modern filmmakers to bring their vision to reality just the way they intend to. In fact, High Frame Rate shooting was a feature that was frequently requested by our customers. We listened to their feedback and are excited to now offer this feature to all new and existing VENICE users,” explained Sebastian Leske, Product Marketing Manager, Cinematography, Sony Professional Solutions Europe. “Last year at Cine Gear Expo, we announced that Version 4.0 will include 120fps in 2K. However, we are excited to announce today that, as a result of the hard work of our engineering team, Version 4.0 will now include 120fps in 4K. With firmware Version 4.0, our state-of-the-art VENICE will become even more powerful, fortifying its position as the go-to solution for cinematographers who want to create stunning imagery and capture emotion in every frame.”

Additionally, Version 4.0 of the VENICE firmware will introduce:

·       700 Protocol – A control protocol developed by Sony to connect VENICE to a remote-control unit (RM-B750 or RM-B170) and a RCP-1500 series remote control panel, giving filmmakers greater flexibility in bringing their visions to life. Further expanding on the camera’s existing remote-control capabilities, the VENICE now offers paint control, iris control, recording start/stop, clip control, and more. The upgraded remote-control function also adds new workflows to extend VENICE’s use in multi-camera and live production settings, such as live concerts and fashion shows.

·        Support for Cooke’s /i third generation metadata Technology, /i3 and ZEISS eXtended Data technology (based on Cooke /i Technology) – Extended lens metadata can now be embedded straight into a RAW/X-OCN/XAVC file and HD-SDI output without the need for additional metadata equipment. The new function allows distortion and shading caused by supported lenses to be easily rectified, significantly reducing post-production costs.

Further features include an extended Mask+Line setting in the Frame line set-up, selectable functions for the assignable buttons of the DVF-EL200 viewfinder and pure Progressive HD-SDI output in 25p and 29p.

Both the free upgrade to firmware Version 4.0 and the optional HFR licence will be available in June 2019.

To learn more about VENICE, please join Sony at BSC Expo 2019 in Battersea Evolution, Battersea, London at stand 545 or visit pro.sony/en_GB/products/digital-cinema-cameras/venice.

*Excluding 6K 3:2 50p/60p

Do the images from my Sony camera have to look the way they do?

— And why do Sony cameras look the way they do?

It all about the color science.

“Color Science” is one of those currently in fashion phrases that gets thrown around all over the place today. First of all – what the heck is color science anyway? Simply put it’s how the camera sees the colors in a scene, mixes them together, records them – and then how your editing or grading software interprets what is in the recording and finally how the TV or other display device turns the digital values it receives back into a color image. It’s a combination of optical filters such as the low pass filter, color filters, sensor properties, how the sensor is read out and how the signals are electronically processed both in the camera, by your edit/grading system and by the display device. It is no one single thing, and it’s important to understand that your edit process also contributes to the overall color science.

Color Science is something we have been doing since the very first color cameras, it’s not anything new. However us end users now have a much greater ability to modify that color science thanks to better post production tools and in camera adjustments such as picture profiles or scene files.

Recently, Sony cameras have sometimes been seen by some as having less advanced or poor color science compared to cameras from some other manufacturers. Is this really the case? For Sony part of the color science issue is that historically Sony have deliberately designed their newest cameras to match previous generations of cameras so that a large organisation with multiple cameras can use new cameras without having them look radically different to their old ones. It has always been like this and all the manufacturers do this, Panasonic cameras have a certain look as do Canon etc. New and old Panasonics tend to look the same as do old and new Canon’s, but the Canon’s look different to the Panasonics which look different to the Sony’s.

Sony have a very long heritage in broadcast TV and that’s how their cameras look out of the box, like Rec-709 TV cameras with colors that are similar to the tube cameras they were producing 20 years ago. Sony’s broadcast color science is really very accurate – point one at a test chart such as a Chroma DuMonde and you’ll see highly repeatable, consistent and accurate color reproduction with all the vectors on a vector scope falling exactly where they should, including the skin tone line.

On the one hand this is great if you are that big multi-camera business wanting to add new cameras to old ones without problems, where you want your latest ENG or self-shooters cameras to have the same colors as your perhaps older studio cameras so that any video inserts into a studio show cut in and out smoothly with a consistent look.

But on the other hand it’s not so good if you are a one man band shooter that wants something that looks different. Plus accurate is not always “pretty” and you can’t get away from the fact that the pictures look like Rec-709 television pictures in a new world of digital cinematography where TV is perhaps seen as bad and the holy grail is now a very different kind of look that is more stylised and much less true to life.

So Sony have been a bit stuck. The standard look you get when you apply any of the standard off-the shelf S-Log3 or S-Log2 LUT’s will by design be based on the Sony color science of old, so you get the Sony look. Most edit and grading applications are using transforms for S-Log2/3 based on Sony’s old standard Rec-709 look to maintain this consistency of look. This isn’t a mistake. It’s by design, it’s a Sony camera so it’s supposed to look like other Sony cameras, not different.

But for many this isn’t what they want. They want a camera that looks different, perhaps the “film look” – whatever that is?

Recently we have seen two new cameras from Sony that out of the box look very different from all the others. Sony’s high end Venice camera and the lower cost FS5 MKII. The FS5 MKII in particular proves that it’s possible to have a very different look with Sony’s existing colour filters and sensors. The FS5 MK II has exactly the same sensor with exactly the same electronics as the MK I. The only difference is in the way the RGB data from the sensor is being processed and mixed together (determined by the different firmware in the Mk1 and mk2) to create the final output.

The sensors Sony manufacture and use are very good at capturing color. Sony sensors are found in cameras from many different manufacturers. The recording systems in the Sony cameras do a fine job of recording those colors as data within the files the camera records as data with different code values representing what the sensor saw. Take that data into almost any half decent grading software and you can change the way it looks by modifying the data values. In post production I can turn almost any color I want into any other color. It’s really up to us as to how we translate the code values in the files into the colors we see on the screen, especially when recording using Log or raw. A 3D LUT can change tones and hues very easily by shifting and modifying the code values. So really there is no reason why you have to have the Sony 709 look.

My Venice emulation LUT’s will make S-Log3 from an FS5 or FS7 look quite different to the old Sony Broadcast look. I also have LUT’s for Sony cameras that emulate different Fuji and Kodak film stocks, apply one of these and it really looks nothing like a Sony broadcast camera. Another alternative is to use a color managed workflow such as ACES which will attempt to make just about every camera on the market look the same applying the ACES film style look and highlight roll-off.

We have seen it time and time again where Sony footage has been graded well and it then becomes all but impossible to identify what camera shot it. If you have Netflix take a look at “The Crown” shot on Sony’s F55 (which has the same default Sony look as the FS5 MK1, FS7 etc). Most people find it hard to believe the Crown was shot with a Sony because it has not even the slightest hint of the old Sony broadcast look.

If you use default settings, standard LUT’s etc it will look like a Sony, it’s supposed to! But you have the freedom to choose from a vast range of alternative looks or better still create your own looks and styles with your own grading choices.

But for many this can prove tricky as often they will start with a standard Sony LUT or standard Sony transform. So the image they start with has the old Sony look. When you start to grade or adjust this it can sometimes look wrong because you have perhaps become used to the original Sony image and then anything else just doesn’t seem right, because it’s not what you are used to. In addition if you add a LUT and then grade, elements of the LUT’s look may be hard to remove, things like the highlight roll off will be hard baked into the material, so you need to do need to think carefully about how you use LUT’s. So try to break away from standard LUT’s. Try ACES or try some other starting point for your grade.

Going forward I think it is likely that we will see the new Venice look become standard across all of the Cinema style cameras from Sony, but it will take time for this to trickle down into all the grading and editing software that currently uses transforms for s-Log2/3 that are based on the old Sony Rec-709 broadcast look. But if you grade your footage for yourself you can create just about any look you want.

Out and about with the PXW-Z280.

DSC_0037-1024x576 Out and about with the PXW-Z280.
Sony’s 4K PXW-Z280 handycam.

I have recently returned from a trip around Canada. While I was there I spent some more time shooting with Sony’s new PXW-Z280 handycam camcorder. This neat little camera continues to surprise me. I used a pre-production sample to shoot parts of an airshow in the summer and it worked really well. It was so easy to use, I had forgotten how much quicker it is to work with a camera with a 17x zoom lens compared to a large sensor camera with a very limited zoom range or prime lenses.

The Z280 uses 3x state of the art EMOR Stacked multi layer sensors. Each is full 4K, so you have full RGB 4K, unlike a single chip camera where the chroma resolution is much reduced by the bayer layout of the pixels. The 3 chip, full resolution design also means no aliasing in the color channels as is often typical of single chip designs.

The color splitting prism is more efficient than the absorption color filters on a single chip design, so more light gets to the pixels. The multi layer sensors have very good on-sensor processing so even though the pixels are rather small you get good sensitivity, low noise and good DR. The Z280 is approx  650-700 ISO with the base gammas so very close to an FS7 with it’s standard gammas and the colors match an FS7  extremely well. The picture look really nice.

DSC_0046-1024x576 Out and about with the PXW-Z280.
3x 4K sensors, 17x zoom and variable ND filter is a great combination on the PXW-Z280

From the testing I have done in the cameras dedicated HDR mode, where you can choose between HLG and S-Log3, with S-Log3 the DR of the Z280 appears to be around 13 stops, which is really quite remarkable for this type of camcorder. The sensor readout is very fast so rolling shutter is minimal.

When you factor in the Z280’s f1.9 lens, compared to an FS7 with the Sony F4 zoom or many other zooms that are typically around F4 the Z280 with it’s f1.9 lens does better in low light and offers similar DoF when both are wide open. Of course you can change the lens on an FS7 and use a faster lens, but then you won’t have anywhere near the zoom range of the Z280.
 

Like any small compact camera, it isn’t 100% perfect. Overall the lens is pretty good for a low cost 4K zoom, but like many 17x zooms it does have a touch of barrel distortion when fully wide. As well as the LCD It has an excellent OLED viewfinder that is much, much better than those typically found on Sony’s smaller cameras. It has Timecode in/out and genlock, all the XAVC-I and L codecs as well as MpegHD. There is a full suite of wifi, LAN and network functions for streaming, ftp and remote control as well as the ability to offload files from the cards to a USB drive or memory stick without a computer. It’s a modern camera designed for the modern news or documentary shooter and a big step up in terms of image quality from the PXW-X200 IMHO.

A full review and sample video will be coming in the very near future with lot’s more information.

ProRes Raw Webinar – How to use ProRes Raw with the FS5 and FS7

Last week I presented a Webinar in conjunction with Visual Impact on how to shoot ProRes Raw with Sony’s FS5 and FS7. The Webinar was recorded, so if you missed it you can now watch it online. It’s almost 2 hours long and contains what I hope is a lot of useful information including what you need, exposure and how to get the footage in to FCP-X. I tried to structure the FCP-X part presentation in such a way that those that don’t normally use FCP-X (like me) will be able to get started quickly and understand what is going on under the hood.

Since the webinar it has been brought to my attention by Felipe Baez (thanks Felipe) that it is possible to add a LUT after the color panel and grading tools by adding the “custom LUT” effect to your clip. To do this you will set the raw input conversion to S-log3. Then add your color correction, then add the Custom LUT effect.

A big thank you to Visual Impact for making this possible, do check them out!

Here is the link to the video of the webinar:

 

PXW-FS5 II Secret Sauce and Venice Colour Science.

At NAB 2018 a very hot topic is the launch of the FS5 II. The FS5 II is an update on the existing FS5 that includes the FS Raw output option and the HFR option as standard. So out of the box this means that this camera will be a great match to an Atomos Inferno to take advantage of the new Apple ProRes Raw codec.

Just like the FS5 the FS5 II can shoot using a range of different gamma curves including Rec-709, HLG, S-Log2  and S-Log3. So  for those more involved projects where image control is paramount you can shoot in log (or raw)  then take the footage into your favourite grading software and create whatever look you wish. You can tweak and tune your skin tones, play with the highlight roll off and create that Hollywood blockbuster look – with both the FS5 and the FS5 II. There is no change to this other than the addition of FS-Raw as standard on the FS5 II.

The big change, is to the cameras default colour science.

FS5II-1-1024x564 PXW-FS5 II Secret Sauce and Venice Colour Science.
New color science from the Sony PXW-FS5 II

Ever since I started shooting on Sony cameras, which was a very long time ago, they have always looked a certain way. If you point a Sony camera at a Rec-709 test chart you will find that the colours are actually quite accurate, the color patches on the chart lining up with the target boxes on a vector scope. All Sony cameras look this way so that if you use several different cameras on the same project they should at least look very similar, even if one of those cameras is a few years old.  But this look and standard was establish many years ago when camera and TV technology was nowhere near as advanced as it is today.

in addition, sometimes accurate isn’t pretty. Television display technology has come a long way in recent years. Digital broadcasting combined with good quality LCD and OLED displays now mean that we are able to see a wider range of colours and a larger dynamic range. Viewers expectations are changing, we all want prettier images.

When Sony launched the high end Venice digital cinema camera a bold step was taken, which was to break away from the standard Sony look and instead develop a new, modern, “pretty” look. A lot of research was done with both cinematographers and viewers trying to figure out what makes a pretty picture. Over several months I’ve watched Pablo, Sony’s colourist at the Digital Motion Picture Center at Pinewood studios develop new LUT’s with this new look for the Venice camera. It hasn’t been easy, but it looks really nice and is quite a departure from that standard Sony look.

The FS5 II includes many aspects of this new look. It isn’t just a change to the colours it is also a change to the default gamma curve that introduces a silky smooth highlight roll off that extends the dynamic range well beyond that normally possible with a conventional Rec-709 gamma curve. A lot of time was spent looking at how this new gamma behaves when shooting people and faces. In particular those troublesome highlights that you get on a nose or cheek that’s catching the light. You know – those pesky highlights that just don’t normally look nice on a video camera.

So as well as rolling off the brightness of these highlights in a smooth way, the color also subtly washes out to prevent the highlight color bloom that can be a video give away. This isn’t easy to do. Any colorist will tell you that getting bright skin tone highlights to look nice is tough. You bring down the brightness and it looks wrong because you loose too much contrast. De-saturate too much and it looks wrong as it just becomes a white blob. Finding the right balance of extended dynamic range with good contrast, plus a pleasing roll-off without a complete white-out is difficult enough to do in a grading suite where you can tweak and tune the settings for each shot. Coming up with a profile that will work over a vast range of shooting scenarios with no adjustment is even tougher. But it looks to me as though the engineers at Sony have really done a very nice job in the FS5 II.

Going forwards from here I would expect to see, or at least like to see, most of Sony’s future cameras have this new colour science. But this is a big step for Sony to break away from decades of one look and every camera looking more or less the same.  But do remember this change is primarily to the default, “standard” gamma look. It does not effect the FS5 II’s log or raw recordings. There is also going to have to be a set of LUT’s to go with this new color science so that those shooting with with a mix of the baked in look and S-log or raw can make all the footage match. In addition users of other S-Log cameras will want to be able to make their cameras match. I see no reason why this won’t be possible via a LUT or set of LUT’s, within the limitations of each cameras sensor technology.

There has been a lot of people that seem unhappy with the FS5 II. I think many people want a Sony Venice for the price of an FS5. Let’s be realistic, that isn’t going to happen. 10 bit recording in UHD would be nice, but that would need higher bit rates to avoid motion artefacts which would then need faster and more expensive media. If you want higher image quality in UHD or 4K DCI do consider an Atomos recorder and the new ProRes Raw codec. The files are barely any bigger than ProRes HQ, but offer 12 bit quality.

Given that the price of the FS5 II is going to be pretty much the same or maybe even a little lower than the regular FS5 (before you even add any options), I am not sure why so many people are complaining. The FS5-II takes a great little camera, makes it even better and costs even less.

 

Sony Venice. Dual ISO’s, 1 stop ND’s and Grading via Metadata.

With the first of the production Venice cameras now starting to find their way to some very lucky owners it’s time to take a look at some features that are not always well understood, or that perhaps no one has told you about yet.

Dual Native ISO’s: What does this mean?

An electronic camera uses a piece of silicon to convert photons of light into electrons of electricity. The efficiency at doing this is determined by the material used. Then the amount of light that can be captured and thus the sensitivity is determined by the size of the pixels. So, unless you physically change the sensor for one with different sized pixels (which will in the future be possible with Venice) you can’t change the true sensitivity of the camera. All you can do is adjust the electronic parameters.

With most video cameras the ISO is changed by increasing the amount of amplification applied to the signal coming off the sensor. Adding more gain or increasing the amplification will result in a brighter picture. But if you add more amplification/gain then the noise from the sensor is also amplified by the same amount. Make the picture twice as bright and normally the noise doubles.

In addition there is normally an optimum amount of gain where the full range of the signal coming from the sensor will be matched perfectly with the full recording range of the chosen gamma curve. This optimum gain level is what we normally call the “Native ISO”. If you add too much gain the brightest signal from the sensor would be amplified too much and exceed the recording range of the gamma curve. Apply too little gain and your recordings will never reach the optimum level and darker parts of the image may be too dark to be seen.

As a result the Native ISO is where you have the best match of sensor output to gain. Not too much, not too little and hopefully low noise. This is typically also referred to as 0dB gain in an electronic camera and normally there is only 1 gain level where this perfect harmony between sensor, gain and recording range is achieved, this becoming the native ISO.

Side Note: On an electronic camera ISO is an exposure rating, not a sensitivity measurement. Enter the cameras ISO rating into a light meter and you will get the correct exposure. But it doesn’t really tell you how sensitive the camera is as ISO has no allowance for increasing noise levels which will limit the darkest thing a camera can see.

Tweaking the sensor.

However, there are some things we can tweak on the sensor that effect how big the signal coming from the sensor is. The sensors pixels are analog devices. A photon of electricity hits the silicone photo receptor (pixel) and it gets converted into an electron of electricity which is then stored within the structure of the pixel as an analog signal until the pixel is read out by a circuit that converts the analog signal to a digital one, at the same time adding a degree of noise reduction. It’s possible to shift the range that the A to D converter operates over and the amount of noise reduction applied to obtain a different readout range from the sensor. By doing this (and/or other similar techniques, Venice may use some other method) it’s possible to produce a single sensor with more than one native ISO.

A camera with dual ISO’s will have two different operating ranges. One tuned for higher light levels and one tuned for lower light levels. Venice will have two exposure ratings: 500 ISO for brighter scenes and 2500 ISO for shooting when you have less light. With a conventional camera, to go from 500 ISO to 2500 ISO you would need to add just over 12dB of gain and this would increase the noise by a factor of more than 4. However with Venice and it’s dual ISO’s, as we are not adding gain but instead altering the way the sensor is operating the noise difference between 500 ISO and 2500 ISO will be very small.

You will have the same dynamic range at both ISO’s. But you can choose whether to shoot at 500 ISO for super clean images at a sensitivity not that dissimilar to traditional film stocks. This low ISO makes it easy to run lenses at wide apertures for the greatest control over the depth of field. Or you can choose to shoot at the equivalent of 2500 ISO without incurring a big noise penalty.

One of Venice’s key features is that it’s designed to work with Anamorphic lenses. Often Anamorphic lenses are typically not as fast as their spherical counterparts. Furthermore some Anamorphic lenses (particularly vintage lenses) need to be stopped down a little to prevent excessive softness at the edges. So having a second higher ISO rating will make it easier to work with slower lenses or in lower light ranges.

COMBINING DUAL ISO WITH 1 STOP ND’s.

Next it’s worth thinking about how you might want to use the cameras ND filters. Film cameras don’t have built in ND filters. An Arri Alexa does not have built in ND’s. So most cinematographers will work on the basis of a cinema camera having a single recording sensitivity.

The ND filters in Venice provide uniform, full spectrum light attenuation. Sony are incredibly fussy over the materials they use for their ND filters and you can be sure that the filters in Venice do not degrade the image. I was present for the pre-shoot tests for the European demo film and a lot of time was spent testing them. We couldn’t find any issues. If you introduce 1 stop of ND, the camera becomes 1 stop less sensitive to light.  In practice this is no different to having a camera with a sensor 1 stop less sensitive. So the built in ND filters, can if you choose, be used to modify the base sensitivity of the camera in 1 stop increments, up to 8 stops lower.

So with the dual ISO’s and the ND’s combined you have a camera that you can setup to operate at the equivalent of 2 ISO all the way up to 2500 ISO in 1 stop steps (by using 2500 ISO and 500 together you can have approximately half stops steps between 10 ISO and 650 ISO). That’s an impressive range and at no stage are you adding extra gain. There is no other camera on the market that can do this.

On top of all this we do of course still have the ability to alter the Exposure Index of the cameras LUT’s to offset the exposure to move the exposure mid point up and down within the dynamic range. Talking of LUT’s I hope to have some very interesting news about the LUT’s for Venice. I’ve seen a glimpse of the future and I have to say it looks really good!

METADATA GRADING.

The raw and X-OCN material from a Venice camera (and from a PMW-F55 or F5 with the R7 recorder) contains a lot of dynamic metadata. This metadata tells the decoder in your grading software exactly how to handle the linear sensor data stored in the files. It tells your software where in the recorded data range the shadows start and finish, where the mid range sits and where the highlights start and finish. It also informs the software how to decode the colors you have recorded.

I recently spent some time with Sony Europe’s color grading guru Pablo Garcia at the Digital Motion Picture Center in Pinewood. He showed me how you can manipulate this metadata to alter the way the X-OCN is decoded to change the look of the images you bring into the grading suite. Using a beta version of Black Magic’s DaVinci Resolve software, Pablo was able to go into the clips metadata in real time and simply by scrubbing over the metadata settings adjust the shadows, mids and highlights BEFORE the X-OCN was decoded. It was really incredible to see the amount of data that Venice captures in the highlights and shadows. By adjusting the metadata you are tailoring the the way the file is being decoded to suit your own needs and getting the very best video information for the grade. Need more highlight data – you got it. Want to boost the shadows, you can, at the file data level before it’s converted to a traditional video signal.

It’s impressive stuff as you are manipulating the way the 16 bit linear sensor data is decoded rather than a traditional workflow which is to decode the footage to a generic intermediate file and then adjust that. This is just one of the many features that X-OCN from the Sony Venice offers. It’s even more incredible when you consider that a 16 bit linear  X-OCN LT file is similar in size to 10 bit XAVC-I(class 480) and around half the size of Apples 10 bit ProRes HQ.  X-OCN LT looks fantastic and in my opinion grades better than XAVC S-Log. Of course for a high end production you will probably use the regular X-OCN ST codec rather than the LT version, but ST is still smaller than ProRes HQ. What’s more X-OCN is not particularly processor intensive, it’s certainly much easier to work with X-OCN than cDNG. It’s a truly remarkable technology from Sony.

Next week I will be shooting some more test with a Venice camera as we explore the limits of what it can do. I’ll try and get some files for you to play with.

Scene files for the Sony PXW-FS7M2.

Here are some scene files for the PXW-FS7-II and original PXW-FS7. The first 5 scene files I published a couple of years ago but never got around to converting them over to the PXW-FS7-II. You can download the files in their correct folder structure to put on to an SD card so you can load them directly in to an FS7 or FS7-II. Or you can manually copy the settings from here. If copying the settings in manually I recommend you start by going to the “Files” section of the cameras menu and “Scene File” and import a “standard” default scene file from the cameras internal memory first to ensure you paint settings are at the original factory defaults prior to entering the settings by hand. The easiest way is to load the files linked at the bottom of the page onto an SD card and then go to the files section of the menu to load the scene files into the camera from the SD card.

If you find these useful, please consider buying me a coffee or other drink. It’s always appreciated!


Type



pixel Scene files for the Sony PXW-FS7M2.

The paint settings in for each of these setups are standard except for the items listed in each profile.

Scene File 1: AC-Neutral-HG4.

Designed as a pleasing general purpose look for medium to high contrast scenes. Provides a neutral look with slightly less yellow than the standard Sony settings. I recommend setting zebras to 60% for skin tones or exposing a white card at 75-80% for the best results.

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG4 .  White Clip: OFF.  Aperture : OFF

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: Standard. User Matrix: ON. Level: 0. Phase: 0.

R-G: +10. R-B: +8. G-R: -12. G-B: -9. B-R: -5. B-G: -15.

Scene File 2: AC-Neutral-HG3

Similar to the above except better suited to lower contrast scenes or lower light levels. Provides a neutral look with slightly less yellow than the standard Sony settings. I recommend setting zebras to 60% for skin tones or exposing a white card at 75-80% for the best results.

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG3 .  White Clip: OFF.  Aperture : OFF

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: Standard. User Matrix: ON. Level: 0. Phase: 0.

R-G: +10. R-B: +8. G-R: -12. G-B: -9. B-R: -5. B-G: -15.

Scene File 3: AC-FILMLIKE1

A high dynamic range look with film like color. Will produce a slightly flat looking image. Colours are tuned to be more film like with a very slight warm tint. I recommend settings zebras to 57% for skin tones and recording white at 70-75% for the most “filmic” look.

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG7 .  White Clip: OFF.  Aperture : OFF

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: Cinema. User Matrix: ON. Level: -3. Phase: 0.

R-G: +11. R-B: +8. G-R: -12. G-B: -9. B-R: -3. B-G: -12.

Scene File 4: AC-FILMLIKE2

A high dynamic range look with film like color. Will produce a n image with more contrast than Filmlike1. Colours are tuned to be more film like with a very slight warm tint. I recommend settings zebras to 57% for skin tones and recording white at 70-75% for the most “filmic” look.

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG8.  White Clip: OFF.  Aperture : OFF

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: Cinema. User Matrix: ON. Level: -3. Phase: 0.

R-G: +11. R-B: +8. G-R: -12. G-B: -9. B-R: -3. B-G: -12.

Scene File 5: AC-VIBRANT-HG3

These setting increase dynamic range over the standard settings but also increase the colour and vibrance. Designed to be used for when a good dynamic range and strong colours are needed direct from the camera. Suggested zebra level for skin tones is 63% and white at approx 75-80%.

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG3.  White Clip: OFF.  Aperture : OFF

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: Standard. User Matrix: ON. Level: +23. Phase: -5.

R-G: +12. R-B: +8. G-R: -11. G-B: -6. B-R: -6. B-G: -17.

Scene File 6: AC-VIBRANT-HG4

These setting increase dynamic range over the standard settings but also increase the colour and vibrance. HG4 has greater dynamic range than HG3 but is less bright, so this variation is best for brighter high dynamic range scenes. Designed to be used for when a good dynamic range and strong colours are needed direct from the camera. Suggested zebra level for skin tones is 60% and white at approx 72-78%.Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG3.  White Clip: OFF.  Aperture : OFF

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: Standard. User Matrix: ON. Level: +23. Phase: -5.

R-G: +12. R-B: +8. G-R: -11. G-B: -6. B-R: -6. B-G: -17.

Scene File 7: AC-KODAKISH3200K (Include “Scene White Data – ON” when loading from the SD card).

This is a highly experimental scene file that uses a heavily tweaked matrix along with extensive colour adjustments via the multi-matrix. The aim being to reproduce a look reminiscent of Kodak film stock. The white balance is deliberately skewed very slightly bue/teal and then skin tones and orange shades boosted. When loading this scene file from an SD card you must also set “White Data” to ON to import the offset color preset. You can then either use the preset white balance or white balance using memory A/B and a white card. Do NOT use ATW.  This version is intended for use under TUNGSTEN lighting where the white balance would normally be 3200K. Please test that this profile produces a result you like before you start shooting with it as the look is quite strong and may be difficult to change later if you don’t like it. I recommend settings zebras to 57% for skin tones and recording white at 70-75% for the most “filmic” look.

White: Preset White 2800K

Offset White A: ON.  Warm Cool A: -25. Warm Cool Balance A: +10

Offset White B: ON.  Warm Cool B: -25. Warm Cool Balance A: +10

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG4 .  White Clip: OFF.  Aperture : OFF

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: Cinema. User Matrix: ON. Level: -10. Phase: 0.

R-G: +61. R-B: +29. G-R: -6. G-B: -35. B-R: +21. B-G: -5.

MultiMatrix: ON

B: Hue -18, Saturation 0.

B+: Hue +5, Saturation 0.

MG-: Hue +5, Saturation 0.

MG: Hue +5 Saturation -7.

MG+: Hue 0, Saturation -3.

R: Hue -21, Saturation +65.

R+: Hue +0, Saturation +99.

YL-: Hue +39, Saturation +44

YL: Hue 0, Saturation 0.

YL+ Hue +20, Saturation -10.

G-: Hue -71, Saturation 0.

G: Hue -61, Saturation +10.

G+: Hue -23, Saturation +11

CY: Hue -40, Saturation +9.

CY+:Hue -22, Saturation +54.

B-:Hue +20, Saturation -5.

Scene File 8: AC-KODAKISH5600K (Include “Scene White Data – ON” when loading from the SD card).

This is a highly experimental scene file that uses a heavily tweaked matrix along with extensive colour adjustments via the multi-matrix. The aim being to reproduce a look reminiscent of Kodak film stock. The white balance is deliberately skewed very slightly bue/teal and then skin tones and orange shades boosted. When loading this scene file from an SD card you must also set “White Data” to ON to import the offset color preset. You can then either use the preset white balance or white balance using memory A/B and a white card. Do NOT use ATW.  This version is intended for use under daylight lighting where the white balance would normally be 5600K/6000K. Please test that this profile produces a result you like before you start shooting with it as the look is quite strong and may be difficult to change later if you don’t like it. I recommend settings zebras to 57% for skin tones and recording white at 70-75% for the most “filmic” look.

White: Preset White 4900K

Offset White A: ON.  Warm Cool A: -25. Warm Cool Balance A: +10

Offset White B: ON.  Warm Cool B: -25. Warm Cool Balance A: +10

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG4 .  White Clip: OFF.  Aperture : OFF

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: Cinema. User Matrix: ON. Level: -10. Phase: 0.

R-G: +61. R-B: +29. G-R: -6. G-B: -35. B-R: +21. B-G: -5.

MultiMatrix: ON

B: Hue -18, Saturation 0.

B+: Hue +5, Saturation 0.

MG-: Hue +5, Saturation 0.

MG: Hue +5 Saturation -7.

MG+: Hue 0, Saturation -3.

R: Hue -21, Saturation +65.

R+: Hue +0, Saturation +99.

YL-: Hue +39, Saturation +44

YL: Hue 0, Saturation 0.

YL+ Hue +20, Saturation -10.

G-: Hue -71, Saturation 0.

G: Hue -61, Saturation +10.

G+: Hue -23, Saturation +11

CY: Hue -40, Saturation +9.

CY+:Hue -22, Saturation +54.

B-:Hue +20, Saturation -5.

Scene File 9: AC-Minus-G1

A hand scene file to have for shooting under mixed lights or low quality lights where there is too much green. By using a combination of the FL-Light colour matrix and a custom preset matrix this profile reduces the some problematic green colour cast that can be present. It uses Hypergamma 3 to give a more pleasing highlight roll off and increased dynamic range without reducing the low light performance. Great for office interviews! I recommend setting zebras to 62% for skin tones and recording white (white card) at between 75 and 80% for the best results.

Black: Master Black: -3.  Gamma: HG3 .  White Clip: OFF.  Aperture : OFF

Matrix: ON. Adaptive Matrix: Off. Preset Matrix: ON. Preset Select: FL Light. User Matrix: ON. Level: 0. Phase: 0.

R-G: +10. R-B: +8. G-R: -12. G-B: -9. B-R: -5. B-G: -15.

 

Here are the files ready to load into you own FS7 or FS7II. Click on the link below to get to the download page where you can download a zip file with all of the scene files already in the correct folder structure to place on an SD card. Simply unzip the download and copy the “private” folder to the root of an empty SD card. These scene files have taken a lot of time and effort to develop. I offer them without charge for your own use. If you find them useful please consider buying me a coffee or other drink.


Type



pixel Scene files for the Sony PXW-FS7M2.

If you already have scen files on your own SD card then you can copy my files from either:

PRIVATE/SONY/PRO/CAMERA/PXW-FS7/

or

PRIVATE/SONY/PRO/CAMERA/PXW-FS7M2

To the same folder your own SD card. You can re-number the if you need to. Once the files are on an SD card insert the SD card in to the camera. Go to the “File” menu and “Scene File” and choose “Load from SD Card”.

FS7 – FS7M2 Scene Files

Want to know more – why not come to a workshop:

The Sony PXW-Z90 – a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it’s best!

Normally when I travel up to arctic Norway for my annual Northern Lights expeditions I take a large sensor video camera. Last year it was the Sony FS5, which performed very well and gave me some great results. But this year I decided to down size and instead of taking a bulky camera I chose to take a pre-production sample of Sony’s diminutive new PXW-Z90 camcorder.

36B8104-683x1024 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
In Norway with the PXW-Z90.

On the outside the Z90 looks almost exactly the same as the older PXW-X70 camcorder. I’ve shot several videos with the X70 and it’s a great little camcorder that produces a very good image considering it’s small size. Being a new model I expected the Z90 to offer some small improvements over the X70, but what I didn’t expect was the very big improvements that the Z90 brings.

The Z90 is the first camcorder from Sony to incorporate a new design of sensor. It’s a 1″ type sensor, so like the X70, bigger than you used to find on small handycams, but not as big as the super 35mm sensor found in the FS5, FS7 etc. This is a nice size for this type of camera as it makes it possible to obtain a shallow depth of field by using the cameras built in ND filters (yes- it really does have ND filters built in) and a large aperture. Or if you need a deeper depth of field for easier focussing or run and gun then you can use a smaller aperture by switching out the ND filters. The maximum aperture of the zoom lens is f2.8 but it does stop down to f4 towards the telephoto end.

stacked-cmos The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
Sony’s new stacked CMOS EMOR RS sensor

This new sensor uses a new construction method that allows it to have several layers of electronics immediately below the imager pixels. The “stacked” sensor can as a result incorporate more image processing and a large memory area right under the pixels. This means that the sensor can be read out much more quickly than is normal for this type of camera and as a result rolling shutter is hugely reduced (I didn’t notice any in any of my footage).

As well as a reduction in rolling shutter compared to other similar sensors, the ability to do more on chip image processing appears to bring other advantages as the noise levels from this camera are very low indeed.

Z90-Night-scooter-ride-1024x576 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
Frame grab from a night time snow scooter ride. Shot at +15dB gain the noise is still very minor. (click on the image to view a larger version.

The low noise levels mean that this camera performs surprisingly well in low light. Adding in +6dB  was not a problem if needed. Even with +15dB of gin the images hold together very well. Clearly the camera is doing a fair bit of electronic noise reduction at higher gain levels and there is a slight increase in image smear as a result. Plus in certain circumstances the noise levels do rise, especially if you have large dark areas amongst in an otherwise brighter scene. In my sample footage during the night time snow scooter ride, which was shot at +15dB gain, you don’t see and noise over the snow, but you can see some grainy noise over the dark jacket of the snow scooter driver (see the frame grab above).  The fact that you can push the camera up to +15dB and in most cases get a pretty good image is very nice.

Z90-HLG-frame-grab-1024x576 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
Frame grab form a PXW-Z90 – Hybrid Log Gamma. Click on the image to see a larger version.

On top of good sensitivity you also have great dynamic range, more than the X70 and enough to make direct HDR shooting and log shooting possible with this tiny hand held camcorder. It doesn’t quite have the dynamic range of an FS5 or FS7, but there is still plenty of range to help deal with challenging lighting situations.

As well as bringing a nice improvement in image quality over the X70 (which is pretty good already) the new sensor brings a vastly improved autofocus system. There are 273 focus detection points which are combined with faster readout, faster on sensor processing and the same AF processing technology as used in the flagship Sony A9 stills camera. This brings a really remarkable autofocus system to this camera. The AF system is a newly developed hybrid system that combines phase detection AF with new algorithms created specifically for video rather than stills photography. At last this is an autofocus system that really works for a video camera. It is intelligent and responsive. There is no hunting for focus, it just seems to get on with the job.

AJC03989-1024x683 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
Adjusting the AF response on the PXW-Z90.

Just about every aspect of the autofocus system can be customised in the camera menu. You can choose between using focus zones, the full image width or selectable focus spot areas. The cameras LCD screen is a touch screen so you tap the screen where you want to focus.

You can also tailor the AF’s response speed, you can adjust the size of the tracking range, using a wide range for occasions when you want the AF to follow an object through the shot, or use a narrow range to restrict the focus depth range.

AJC03986-1024x683 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The PXW-Z90’s variable AF drive speed.

You can customise how quickly the AF will move from one object to another, from staying locked on to a faster more responsive setting.

In addition it has that wonderful Sony face detection system that allows you to choose one face out of a crowd of people using the thumb stick on the hand grip or the touch screen. Once selected the camera will stay locked to that face.

36B8087-1024x576 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
Working with the PXW-X90 in Norway.

While I was up in Norway it was between -24c and -30c. In those temperatures you really don’t want to take your mittens off for more than a minute or so. Being able to rely on the cameras autofocus allowed me to keep my fingers warm. Not one shot out of all my rushes from the trip has incorrect focus. That is truly remarkable and made shooting with this camera a real pleasure. I’m not saying that you should always use autofocus. When possible I love to be able to pick and choose how I focus. But in many situations or for less experienced shooters this autofocus system will be a game changer.

For my test shoot in Norway I mostly used Picture Profile number 10 which gives an instant HDR workflow thanks to the use of Hybrid Log Gamma. Using HLG you can shoot as you would do with any other conventional camera. Then take the footage and play it back in HDR on an HDR TV without any grading or other post production work. I also shot at a couple of locations using S-Log2 to test how that worked (I was shooting in UHD and the camera is 8 bit in UHD. For 8 bit I prefer S-Log2 over S-Log3). The Z90 has 10 picture profiles that allow you to tailor how the image looks, including a crunchy DSLR type look. Some filmic looks using Sony’s cinegammas as well as profiles for shooting S-Log2, S-Log3 and Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG).

Z90-dog-sled-frame-grab-1024x576 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
Dog sledding in the arctic (frame grab). Shot in HDR using HLG on the PXW-Z90.

The Z90 has Sony’s XAVC-L codec. This high quality codec offers 10 bit 4:2:2 broadcast quality recordings in HD and 8 bit 4:2:0 recordings in UHD (3840 x 2160). The camera records to SDXC cards, so media costs are very low. There are two card slots and you can record to each slot singly, record to one card after the other or dual record on to both cards at the same time for redundancy and an instant back. You can even use each of the cameras two record buttons to control the records on each card independently should you wish.

36B7978-1024x576 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The PXW-X90 is very small, so carrying it around on the snow scooters was easy.

AJC03977-1024x683 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The rear of the hand grip of the PXW-Z90.

The Z90 is a small camcorder and like all small camcorders this doesn’t leave much room for large buttons and switches. The menu system and many of the cameras functions can be controlled via the touch screen LCD or the small joystick/thumb stick on the hand grip. Iris, shutter speed and gain each have a dedicated access button that selects the function.

AJC03975-1024x683 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The Full Auto switch and ND filter control on the PXW-Z90.

Then you use the thumb stick to select the value you want, or you can set each item to Auto. In addition there is a switch to put the camera into full auto on the rear of the camera. Just below the full auto switch is the control switch for the ND filters.

AJC03970-1024x683 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The Sony PXW-Z90 compact 4K camcorder.

The lens is a Zeiss 12x optical zoom with built in optical image stabilisation. It is controlled by a single ring around the barrel of the lens which can be switched between focus control or zoom control. In addition there is the usual zoom rocker on the handgrip as well as a small zoom switch on the top handle. In addition to the optical stabilisation the camera also has Sony’s electronic “super steadyshot” stabilisation that can be used in addition to the optical stabilisation. Another very handy function is “Clear Image Zoom”. This is a form of electronic zoom function that makes use of a database of textures and object types. When using clear image zoom the camera uses this database to apply just the right amount of image processing during the electronic zoom process. In most cases you can’t see any degradation of the image when using clear image zoom. I left it on for all of the Norway shoot as it turns the 12x zoom into a very handy 18x zoom.

X90-wide-1024x576 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The wide end of the PXW-X90’s zoom range.

x90-telephoto-1024x576 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The long end of the PXW-X90’s zoom lens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After doing so much shooting on large sensor cameras with restricted zoom ranges getting back to a small camera with a big zoom range was fun. For future Norway trips I am very tempted to switch to a camera like the Z90.

AJC03972-1024x683 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The right side of the PXW-Z90.

The Z90 body is almost exactly the same as the X70. The cameras top handle has 2x XLR connectors with the audio controls for the two channels on the opposite side of the handle.

AJC03978-1024x683 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The audio controls of the PXW-Z90.

If you want to make the camera more compact the handle can be removed, but when you do this you will no longer have any XLR connectors. Instead you will have an MI shoe on the top of the camera body  that can be used to connect a Sony UWP-D radio mic or a n XLR adapter. There is also a stereo microphone built into the main body of the camera, so even with the hand grip removed there are plenty of audio options.

AJC03985-1024x683 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The PXW-Z90’s flip out LCD screen.

The flip out LCD panel acts as the cameras main viewfinder. Opening and closing the LCD screen turns the camera on and off. It starts up and shuts down very quickly. The resolution of the LCD is similar to most other modern camera LCD’s. It’s adequate for this type of camera, but it isn’t the highest resolution screen in the world. To check focus you have a button on the top of the hand grip to activate the image magnification function and the camera has a coloured peaking system to help pick out what is, and what is not in focus.  I suspect that with this particular camera, many users will take advantage of the cameras excellent auto focus system and there is a lot of feedback to the user of how this is working including coloured boxes that indicate exactly what the camera is focussing on.

AJC03974-e1519143855419-683x1024 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The rear of the Sony PXW-Z90.

As well as the side LCD panel there is also a small OLED electronic viewfinder on the rear of the camera. This is very useful for use in very bright sunlight, but it is rather small.

The cameras gain, shutter and iris functions each have a dedicated button on the side of the camera. One push of the appropriate button enables that function to be controlled by a small dial wheel just under the front of the lens.

AJC03968-1024x683 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
Iris, gain and shutter speed controls on the side of the PXW-Z90.

Press the shutter button and the wheel controls the shutter. Press the gain button and the wheel controls the gain. Overall this system works well, but I would still prefer a separate gain switch and a shutter speed up/down switch. On the rear of the hand grip there is a small joystick that sits under your thumb. You can use this thumb-stick to set many of the cameras settings and to navigate through the cameras menu system.  In addition you can use the LCD touchscreen to navigate through the menu as well as select your autofocus points etc.

The PXW-Z90 is a small camera that packs a very big punch. It’s never going to give the fine degree of image control that you get with most large sensor cameras and it won’t quite deliver the same image quality either (although it’s really, really close). If you need a small, discrete camera, perhaps you travel a lot, or you just need a “B” camera, then the Z90 offers a  possible solution.  I haven’t even touched on all the streaming, ftp and wifi capabilities of this camera. The auto focus system is a delight to use and it’s the best AF system I’ve ever come across on a video camera. The new sensor in the Z90 is clearly a fairly large step forwards from the sensor in the previous similar model the X70, it has more dynamic range, a lot less rolling shutter (not that it’s a big problem on the X70) and the final images look better as a result. I might just have to add one to my camera collection.

 

If you would like to join me on one of my adventures to arctic Norway please see take a look at this page. I’ve been running these trips for 11 years and EVERY tour has seen the Northern Lights. This year was no exception and we got to see some really great Auroras and had a great time dog sledding, ice fishing and exploring the Finnmarksvidda.

A7-first-night1-1024x684 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
2018 was yet another great year for my Aurora tours. This picture taken on January 20th.