Category Archives: cinematography

PXW-FS5 Native ISO’s

This is as much for my benefit as yours as I can never remember what the native ISO (0dB) is for each of the gamma curves in the FS5.

Standard 1000 ISO
Still 800 ISO
Cinegamma 1  800 ISO
Cinegamma 2  640 ISO
Cinegamma 3  1000 ISO
Cinegamma 4  1000 ISO
ITU709 1000 ISO
ITU709(800) 3200 ISO
S-Log2 3200 ISO
S-Log3 3200 ISO

Using dB and setting it to 0dB really is so much easier with this camera!

The new Sony FS7 zoom lens, the Sony SELP18110G.

AJC03714-1024x681 The new Sony FS7 zoom lens, the Sony SELP18110G.
Sony SELP18110G servo zoom lens.

When Sony launched the FS7 II they also launched a new lens to go along with it. The previous zoom lens that was bundled with the FS7 was the SELP28135G, a 28-135mm f4 zoom lens that would work with Super 35mm, APS-C and full frame cameras. While generally well received this lens is not without it’s problems. For a start it’s not really wide enough for use as a general purpose lens on an APS-C or Super 35mm sensor. The other problem is that the zoom is very slow. Even when set to manual zooming in and out takes a long time. You turn the zoom ring and then have to wait for the lens to catch up.

The new lens is a wider 18mm to 110mm f4 lens. This is a really useful zoom range for a Super 35mm camera. But the new lens can only be used on S35mm and APS-C cameras. It can’t be used with full frame cameras like the A7s in full frame mode.

AJC03718-1024x681 The new Sony FS7 zoom lens, the Sony SELP18110G.
The front element of the Sony SELP18110G.

But what about the zoom speed? Well this has been addressed too. On the 28-135mm lens the zoom function is electronic. There is no mechanical connection between the zoom ring and the optics of the lens. The 18-110 has a proper mechanical connection between the zoom ring and the internal lenses, so now you can crash zoom in and out as fast as you want. In addition the zoom servo motor is much faster and motorised zooms take place much more rapidly. One downside to this is that it’s a bit harder to control the zoom speed. You can do slow creeping zooms if you are very careful with the cameras zoom rocker, but it’s hard to do. The difference in pressure on the zoom rocker between creeping zoom and medium speed is tiny. The lens tended to change zoom speed quite quickly. While it is indeed very nice to have a variable speed motorised zoom, don’t expect the fine degree of control that you get from admittedly more expensive traditional ENG lenses. Lets face it this lens is only around £3K/$5K which is remarkable cheap for a parfocal s35mm zoom. Take a look at the video below for an idea of the zoom speeds etc.

Is it really parfocal? Well yes, it does seem to be parfocal. I only had the lens for a morning to play with, but in all my tests the focus remained constant throughout the zoom range.

So, what about focus? Like the 28-135mm lens there is a nice big focus ring that slides fore and aft.

AJC03723-e1487017741838 The new Sony FS7 zoom lens, the Sony SELP18110G.
Focus, zoom and iris rings on the SELP18110G.

In the rear position the focus is manual and there are calibrated focus markings and end stops. You get about 180 degrees of focus travel from 0.95m (3.1ft) to infinity (in autofocus you can focus slightly closer when the lens is at the wide end). The focus ring has 0.8mm pitch teeth for use with most standard follow focus units, although this gear ring is very close to the end of the lens, so it may be tricky to use if you have a matte box in place. Breathing is very well controlled and barely noticeable unless going through very large focus throws. Out of focus Bokeh isn’t bad either, I didn’t observe any nasty surprises in the limited time I had to play with the lens.

Bokeh-1024x576 The new Sony FS7 zoom lens, the Sony SELP18110G.
Frame Grab. Near and far out of focus bokeh is reasonable on the Sony SELP18110G. Click on the image to view a full size copy.

Sharpness and flare. The lens appears to be nice and sharp at the wide end but just a touch soft at the long end. It’s not bad overall but when shooting at 4K I could just about detect the lens becoming marginally softer as I zoomed in. The sample I had was a well used pre-production prototype, but I’m going to guess that the production lenses won’t be hugely different. Shooting the roof of a house against a bright sky revealed only a small amount of flare, certainly nothing out of the unusual for a zoom lens.

18110-110-1024x576 The new Sony FS7 zoom lens, the Sony SELP18110G.
Frame grab from the Sony SELP18110G at 110mm. Click on the image to view a full size copy.
18110-18-1024x576 The new Sony FS7 zoom lens, the Sony SELP18110G.
Frame grab shot with Sony SELP18110G at 18mm. Click on the image to view the full size image.

Overall I really like this lens. It even has a support point at the front of the lens body for additional stability. While f4 isn’t the largest of apertures it is quite usable and even wide open the lens performs well. For the money it is a lot of lens. I think we need to be realistic with our expectations for zoom lenses and large sensors. Bigger zoom ratios require bigger lens elements if we want to maintain a constant aperture. Bigger lens elements cost more to produce.

AJC03729-e1487018834354 The new Sony FS7 zoom lens, the Sony SELP18110G.
Underside of the Sony SELP18110G showing the extra lens support points. A lens foot that attaches to the rear mounting is included with the lens.

One advantage Sony have over the competition is that it’s easier to make zoom lenses for the very short flange back distance of the E-Mount cameras compared to the deeper flange back of PL or Canon mounts. The closest competition to this lens is the Canon 18-80mm T4.4 (f4 ish) which is a fair bit more expensive (£4K/$6K). If you want a similar zoom range then you’re looking at the beautiful  Fujinon 20-120 T3.4 at around £14K/$19K.

Northern Colour – new Northern Lights video.

It’s that time of year again. After another simply amazing trip to northern Norway I am pleased to be able to share with you my latest Aurora video. It was shot with a Sony A7s and a Sony A6300. The lenses used were a Sigma 20mm f1.4 art lens. An older Sigma 20mm f1.8, a samyang 14mm f2.8 and a Sony 16mm f2.8 pancake lens. A Metabones Speedbooster Ultra was used on the A6300. For the slider shots I used a home built track (made so it fits my suitcase perfectly) and a Cinetics Cinemoco controller. Hope you enjoy it.

Not all raw is created equal. Log may be better

This keeps cropping up time and time again.

Unfortunately every now and again a new term or buzzword comes along that gets taken as a holy grail term. Two that come to mind right now are log and raw. Neither log, nor raw, are magic bullet solutions that guarantee the best performance. Used incorrectly or inappropriately both can result in inferior results. In addition there are many flavours of log and raw each with very different performance ranges.

A particular point in case is the 12 bit raw available from several of Sony’s mid range large sensor cameras, the FS700, FS7 and FS5.

Raw can be either log or linear. This particular flavour of raw is encoded using linear data.  If it is linear then each successively brighter stop of exposure should be recorded with twice as many code values or shades as the previous stop. This accurately replicates the change in the light in the scene you are shooting.  If you make the scene twice as bright, you need to record it with twice as much data. Every time you go up a stop in exposure you are doubling the light in the scene. 12 bit linear raw is actually very rare, especially from a camera with a high dynamic range. To my knowledge, Sony are the only company that offer 14 stops of dynamic range using 12 bit linear data.

There’s actually a very good reason for this: Strictly speaking, it’s impossible! Here’s why: For each stop we go up in exposure we need twice as many code values. With 12 bit data there are a maximum of 4096 code values, this is not enough to record 14 stops.

If stop 1 uses 1 code value, stop 2 will use 2, stop 3 will use 4, stop 4 will use 8 and so on.

STOP:  CODE VALUES:  TOTAL CODE VALUES REQUIRED.

+1          1                                   1
+2          2                                   3
+3          4                                   8
+4          8                                   16
+5          16                                32
+6          32                                64
+7          64                                128
+8          128                             256 Middle Grey
+9          256                             512
+10       512                             1,024
+11       1,024                          2,048
+12       2,048                         4,096
+13       4,096                         8,192
+14       8,192                         16,384

As you can see from the above if we only have 12 bit data and as a result 4096 code values to play with, we can only record an absolute maximum of 12 stops of dynamic range using linear data. To get even 12 stops we must record the first couple of stops with an extremely small amount of tonal information. This is why most 14 stop raw cameras use 16 bit data for linear or use log encoded raw data for 12 bit, where each stop above middle grey (around stop +8) is recorded with the same amount of data.

So how are Sony doing it on the FS5, FS7 etc? I suspect (I’m pretty damn certain in fact) that Sony use something called floating point math. In essence what they do is take the linear data coming off the sensor and round the values recorded to the nearest 4 or 8. So, stop +14 is now only recorded with 2,048 values, stop +13 with 512 values etc. This is fine for the brighter stops where there are hundreds or even thousands of values, it has no significant impact on the brighter parts of the final image. But in the darker parts of the image it does have an impact as for example stop +5 which starts off with 16 values ends up only being recorded with 4 values and each stop below this only has 1 or two discreet levels. This results in blocky and often noisy looking shadow areas – a common complaint with 12 bit linear raw. I don’t know for a fact that this is what they are doing. But if you look at what they need to do, the options available and you look at the end results for 12 bit raw, this certainly appears to be the case.

Meanwhile a camera like the FS7 which can record 10 bit log will retain the full data range in the shadows because if you use log encoding, the brighter stops are each recorded with the same amount of data. With S-Log2 and 10 bit XAVC-I the FS7 uses approx 650 code values to record the 6 brightest stops in it’s capture range reserving approx 250 code values for the 8 darkest stops. Compare this to the linear example above and in fact what you will see is that 10 bit S-Log2 has as much data as you would expect to find in a straight 16 bit linear recording below middle grey (S-Log 3 actually reserves slightly more data for the shadows). BUT that’s for 16 bit. Sony’s 12 bit raw is squeezing 14 stops into what should be an impossibly small number of code values, so in practice what I have found  is that 10 bit S-log has noticeably more data in the shadows than 12 bit raw.

In the highlights 12 bit linear raw will have more data than 10 bit S-log2 and S-Log3 and this is borne out in practice where a brightly exposed raw image will give amazing results with beautiful highlights and mid range. But if your 12 bit raw is dark or underexposed it is not going to perform as well as you might expect. For dark and low key scenes 10 bit S-Log is most likely going to give a noticeably better image. (Note: 8 bit S-log2/3 as you would have from an FS5 in UHD only has a quarter of the data that 10 bit has. The FS5 records the first 8 stops in  8 bit S-log 2 with approx 64 code values, S-Log3 is only marginally better at approx 80 code values. 12 bit linear outperforms 8 bit log across the entire range).

Sony’s F5 and F55 cameras record to the R5 and R7 recorders using 16 bit linear data. 16 bit data is enough for 14 stops. But I believe that Sony still use floating point math for 16 bit recording. This time instead of using the floating point math to make room for an otherwise impossible dynamic range they use it to take a little bit of data from the brightest stop to give extra code values in the shadows. When you have 16,384 code values to play with you can afford to do that. This then adds a lot of extra tonal values and shades to the shadows compared to 10 bit log and as a result 16 bit linear raw will outperform 10 bit log across the entire exposure range by a fairly large margin.

So there you have it.  I know it’s hugely confusing sometimes. Not all types of raw are created equal. It’s really important to understand this stuff if you’re buying a camera. Just because it has raw it doesn’t necessarily mean an automatic improvement in image quality in every shooting situation. Log can be just as good or possibly even better in some situations, raw better in others. There are reasons why cameras like the F5/R5 cost more than a FS5/Shogun/Odyssey.

What is XOCN? Why is it so good, why do we need it?

This time last year I was just starting to earn about a new codec from Sony called XOCN (eXtended Original Camera Negative). XOCN is currently only available with the Sony F5/F55 and the new AXS-R7 raw recorder. Sony’s original R5 raw recorder takes 16 bit sensor data and applies a very mild amount of compression before recording the sensor data as linear raw. I have never seen any compression artefacts when using the 16 bit linear raw and it really is an amazing format to work with. So much so that I will always use it whenever possible.

But now as well as 16 bit linear raw the R7 can record 16 bit linear XOCN. Now, I’ll be completely honest here, I’m really not sure what the difference is between raw and XOCN. As far as I can tell XOCN is very, very similar to raw but sufficiently different to raw to avoid infringing on patents held by other manufacturers for compressed raw. XOCN is more highly compressed than Sony’s raw, but in every test I’ve done I have found it hard to spot any compression problems or any significant difference between XOCN and the original 3:1 raw.

So, I hear you ask…. “If it’s really that good what don’t we just do away with XAVC and use XOCN?” Well that is a good question. It all depends on processing power. XAVC is a traditional codec so inside the codec is a normal video image, so the only thing a computer has to do to play it back is uncompress the codec. XOCN is a compressed wrapper that contains sensor data, in order to view the image the computer has to uncompress the data and then it has to construct the image from the data. So you need a really good graphics card in a decent computer to work with XOCN. But if you do have a decent edit or grading workstation you should find XOCN straight forward to work with, it doesn’t require specialist cards to accelerate the decoding as Red raw does.

The key benefit that XOCN brings over traditional video is that it is 16 bit. 10 bit video is pretty good. In a 10 bit video you have almost 1000 tonal values, not bad when you consider that we have been using 8 bit for decades with only 235 shades. But 16 bit brings the potential for a whopping great 65,535 shades. This starts to make a big difference when you are extensively manipulating the image in post production. Any of you that are in to photography will know that you can push and pull a 16 bit raw photograph far, far further than an 8 bit jpeg. 16 bit video is no different.

But what’s really amazing about XOCN is you get almost all the benefits of linear raw but in a file size smaller than the same resolution 10 bit ProResHQ. If you use XOCN-LT the files are roughly half the size of ProResHQ. This means your media lasts a sensible amount of time and backups, transfers and archiving are all much easier, much faster than with uncompressed raw. Sony’s 3:1 compressed raw from the R5 has always been pretty easy to deal with. XOCN is even easier. Using XOCN-LT you can squeeze well over 2 hours of 16bit 4K on to a 512GB AXS card! In fact the file sizes are only marginally larger than XAVC class 480.

xocn-data-rates-1024x276 What is XOCN? Why is it so good, why do we need it?

The reduction in data rates becomes really significant if you shoot at high frame rates. As 50p and 60p productions become more common XOCN allows production companies to shoot 60fps with the benefits of 16 bit data but with files sizes barely any bigger than 24fps ProResHQ. If you have a Sony PMW-F55 you can shoot at 120fps in 4K using XOCN and the files are twice as big as 24fps raw.

For further information on XOCN please take a look at this page from Sony, it’s very informative and has a very good example of why 16 bit data is important, especially if you are shooting for HDR.

https://pro.sony.com/bbsc/ssr/show-highend/resource.solutions.bbsccms-assets-show-highend-f55xocn.shtml

Norway and the Northern Lights Video Blogs.

I produced 3 video blogs during my trip to Norway to shoot the northern lights. These blogs are now on youtube for you to watch. In the first video I take a look at some of the equipment that I took to Norway for the trip. I also look at how I like to lay everything out before I pack it and give some insight into some of the accessories that I like to take.

The second video looks back at the first week of the trip. You will see examples of the weather we had to deal with as well as some information on how some of the time lapse sequences of the aurora were shot.

The third video is about shooting a sunrise with 3 different cameras. The Sony a6300, FDR-AX3000 Action Cam and the PXW-FS5.
Packing for the shoot.

At the bottom of the page you’ll find a quick cut of a small selection of some of the Aurora footage shot on this trip.

Review of the first week in Norway.

Shooting a sunrise with 3 different cameras.

Quick sample of some of the Aurora footage:

Norway here I come!

Today I leave for my annual Northern Lights expeditions. So, I am off to the very north of Norway to shoot in the cold, long nights of the arctic winter. Currently sunrise is at 11am and sunset at about 12:30. You get golden hour all day and then a very long night (fully dark from about 3:30pm). If the weather gods are kind we will get clear skies and lots of opportunities to photograph and video the Northern Lights.

Over the next 3 weeks I will be releasing a number of video blogs about this adventure. They won’t be every day as I won’t always have internet access and the picture quality of the blogs may not be the best. But what I hope to cover are some of the practical aspects of a project like this. The first blog is about the equipment I’m taking, why I’ve chosen it and how I like to check what I’m packing.

There will be videos on shooting time-lapse, tips for shooting in the cold and more about the gear I’m using.

Here’s the first video: Packing.

 

The great S-Log2 or S-Log3 debate.

I’ve written about this many times before, but still it comes up again and again. Which is better? Which should I use? I hear all kinds of crazy comments and a lot of incorrect information, so first of all lets dispel a few myths:

S-Log2 captures more dynamic range than S-Log3, it goes to a higher level on the waveform.

S-Log2 and S-Log3 both currently record exactly the same dynamic range as this is limited by the sensors that Sony are using. The S-log3 curve could be used in a future camera to capture up to 16 stops, but that camera does not exist at the time of writing. As the S-Log3 curve is designed to go beyond 14 stops, stop No. 14 is recorded at a lower level to allow space for up to 2 more stops.  S-Log2 is a 14 stop maximum curve, so the peak level is much higher. In Sonys current camera range the limit is 14 stops whether it’s S-Log2 or S-Log3. The chart that Sony provide showing both S-Log2 and S-Log3 is a little confusing as it shows the entire gamma curve rather than what the camera can actually “see”. In their current implementations both curves stop at +6 stops over middle grey, both capture the same dynamic range, there is no difference.

S-Log2 is brighter than S-Log3 so it must be capturing highlights better.

No, not really, see above. Playback and on screen brightness comes from the levels chosen to record something at and is dependant on the shape and range of the gamma curve. But the actual captured range is dependant on what the sensor can cope with. As we are not changing the sensor, the captured dynamic range, brightness range and shadow range does not change between S-Log2 and S-log3, both of which take the entire sensor range (they just store that same range using slightly different levels). After applying a LUT or other conversion to your normal viewing gamma both S-Log2 and S-log3 will have the same brightness, same highlight and same shadow range.

S-Log3 has noisy shadows.

No, not really. Shadows appear noisy with S-Log3 as the shadow part of the curve is stored using higher code values compared to S-Log2. So when you view S-Log3 uncorrected the shadows are raised and stretched on your conventional monitor and this gives the impression of a noisy picture. In reality once you restore the levels to normal there is no additional noise. See this article for a full explanation.

S-log-levels The great S-Log2 or S-Log3 debate.
Chart showing S-Log2 and S-Log3 plotted against f-stops and code values. Note how little data there is for each of the darker stops, the best data is above middle grey. Note that current sensors only go to +6 stops over middle grey so S-Log2 and S-Log record to different peak levels.

S-Log3 is newer than S-Log2 so it must be better.

Newer, perhaps not. Better, no not really. S-Log3 is based on the industry standard Cineon log gamma curve. This curve was developed in the late 1980’s to allow the digitising of film using 10 bit data. So S-Log3 matches a curve designed to work with negative film and is capable of storing more than the 14 stops that the current cameras sensors can see. In effect it is an old log gamma curve. As it is a curve designed for more than 14 stops, when used in a 14 stop camera some of the available recording data is empty and wasted.

S-Log2 was specifically designed by Sony to work with an electronic sensor with 14 stops of dynamic range and is optimised to match the performance characteristics of video sensors. By using a 14 stop curve with a 14 stop camera almost every bit of available data is utilised, there is no wastage.

BUT THERE ARE SOME OTHER FACTORS WE NEED TO CONSIDER.

S-Log2 and S-Gamut:

As well as the gamma curve we also have different Gamuts or color ranges. S-Log2 was originally designed for the F65 camera. The F65 sensor can capture a huge color range beyond the range that most conventional video sensors can see. So as well as S-Log2 Sony introduced S-Gamut which was matched to the very wide color range of the F65 sensor. S-Log2 is designed to be used with S-Gamut. But many of the cameras we use, like the FS7, F5, FS5 cannot see this color range (Sony’s F55 can). In addition this very large color range can be a little tricky to deal with in post production. Add to this the fact that S-Log2 is quite different to the quite common Cineon gamma curve and as a result behaves differently in post. The end result was that there were a number of complaints and comments that Sony’s S-log2 material was difficult to grade.

S-Log3 and S-Gamut3.

Because some people were struggling a bit with S-Gamut and S-Log2 in post production (Resolve and many of the other tools we have today were not as well developed 4 years ago), Sony introduced S-Gamut3 and S-log3 as well as a further Gamut called S–Gamut3.cine. S-Log3 was based on Cineon as that’s what people were familiar with. Arri’s Log-C is also based on Cineon as are many other log curves. This makes it a more “familiar” grading experience for many colorists. In addition Sony created a modified version of the super large S-Gamut to make it easier to grade.  S-Gamut3 is just as big as S-Gamut but some tweaks inside make it easier to grade (fewer color shifts). At the same time Sony realised that most users were producing content for TV, the web or digital cinema that had little use for the huge color range of S-Gamut/S-Gamut3.  So S-Gamut3.cine was developed as a smaller, more manageable version of S-Gamut3 and it incorporated a few tweaks to the color science to provide colors closer to those used by other manufacturers. S-Gamut3.cine is also a better match for cameras with sensors that cannot see the full S-Gamut range (like the FS5, FS7, F5, A7).

The end result is that in general most people prefer or find it easier to grade S-Log3/S-Gamut3.cine material than S-Log2/S-Gamut. Plus you can often use LUT’s designed for Log-C or Cineon with S-log3 material (this isn’t optimum, but it can work).

Gamuts-1024x632 The great S-Log2 or S-Log3 debate.
SGamuts Compared.

Getting the data from camera to post.

In terms of getting the data from your cameras sensor in to post production S-Log2 is the better choice. It is optimised for the way an electronic sensor works. S-log3 is essentially a curve designed for negative film applications, not video and no matter how you look at it, these are electronic video cameras. However if you are recording 10 bit or greater you have a lot of data whichever curve you use, so in practice it will be rare to see any difference in the final result.

So use the curve you find easiest to work with. It is true that S-Log 3 allocates a little more data to the shadows and less to the highlights than S-Log2, but don’t confuse data and code values with more range. S-Log3 has a few extra code values in it’s darkest stops, S-log2 has a few extra in the bright stops, but the dynamic range, highlight and shadow handling is governed by the sensor not the gamma curve. Overall S-Log3 has fewer code values than S-Log2, S-Log2  makes better use of the data available, but with 10 bit this really isn’t going to make a huge difference.

8 Bit Recording.

But if you are only recording with an 8 bit codec you are already at a disadvantage. When recording 8 bit you really need to maximise the way what little data you have is used. For that reason I will always recommend that S-Log2 is used when recording 8 bit on a camera like the FS5 in UHD or A7s or similar (FS5 is 10 bit in HD). By using S-Log2 you are using as many of the limited code values available as you can. This doesn’t mean you can’t use S-log3, it just wouldn’t be my choice.

The end result should be the same.

At the end of the day, if you were to use matching LUTs, S-log2 and S-log3 material should look more or less exactly the same after grading or application of the LUT, no matter what the scene you are shooting. If they do look significantly different then you are doing something wrong. So your choice of curve, other than for 8 bit recordings will most likely come down to ease of use rather than anything else.

If your camera doesn’t have LUT’s then S-Log2 can be easier to work with as it is more contrasty. This makes it a bit easier to focus and also makes it easier to gauge exposure. If your camera has LUT’s and you use them, then you may decide to use S-Log3 simply because you should find it a little easier to work with in post. Either way both curves capture the same range of picture information and both should give more or less the same end result.

There may be some very, very subtle differences due to the small differences in data distribution, but often these will be hard to really see in the final image.

Video Tutorials for the FS5. Picture Profiles and Raw Recording.

I was recently asked by Sony to produce some videos to help users get the most from the PXW-FS5. The videos and articles can now be found on Sony’s website by following the links below. Part 1 covers the camera setup including using Picture Profiles to change the way the images look. Part 2 covers the special effects modes including S&Q, super-slow-motion, clear image zoom and the variable ND filter. Part 3 looks at the raw option for the FS5.

PXW-FS5 Shooting Tips Part 1. Camera Setup and Picture Settings.

PXW-FS5 Shooting Tips Part 2. Slow and Quick Motion, Variable ND, Clear Image Zoom.

PXW-FS5 Recording Raw and using the Raw output option (Atomos Shogun Flame and Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q used as examples).

Notes on Timecode and Timecode Sync for cinematographers, part 2.

In the first part of this 2 part article we saw how at some frame rates timecode will drift relative to a real time clock (Click Here for part 1). As well as drifting relative to real time due to the way timecode can only count the actual whole frames recorded,  the internal clocks that govern the timecode generators in many devices may drift slightly over time.

For single camera operation this drift is rarely significant but as soon as you start using multiple cameras or recording sound separately to the camera, even very small differences of just a frame or two between each device can cause problems. A one frame error is enough to cause a visible lip sync error, by two frames the sync error is pretty obvious to most people.

So, very often we need to synchronise the timecode across multiple devices so that the audio timecode matches the camera timecode or multiple cameras all have the same timecode so that it’s easy to re-align everything in post production. Most professional video cameras will have a timecode in or timecode out connector and the simplest way to sync two cameras is to feed the timecode from one cameras timecode out to the other cameras timecode in. For this to work both cameras must be set to “Free Run” timecode.

BUT YOU ALSO NEED GENLOCK OR SYNC LOCK

This is the part that often gets overlooked. If you read the first part you should understand that when a video camera is recording the timecode is generated by counting the number of frames recorded. As a result the precise frame rate of the camera will determine how many frames are recorded in any given time period and as a result the timecode for that clip. When you press the record button to start a recording the cameras timecode will match any external timecode fed to the camera. But from that point forward until the end of the recording the timecode just counts the frames recorded and will ignore any external timecode.

So the only way to ensure 100% accurate timecode sync between multiple cameras or between a camera and some other external timecode source is by providing not only a common timecode source but also a sync source that is locked to the timecode. By feeding the camera sync that is locked to the timecode into the cameras genlock input the cameras frame rate will be locked to the master frame rate so you will not get any timecode drift.

It’s amazing how many people overlook the fact that a cameras timecode generator counts frames while recording, so if the cameras frame rate is a tiny bit off, even with an external timecode source it will drift. It’s only by synchronising the camera through sync and genlock that you can be sure to eliminate any timecode drift.

SYNC SOUND:

If you are recording sound remotely from the camera you need to keep the camera and audio recorders timecode in sync. The timecode in a camera is dependant on the actual frames recorded while the timecode on an audio recorder is often nothing more than a data or audio track that records the timecode signal. It is rarely locked to the recorders sampling or recording rate. Because of this the correct way to link the timecode in this scenario is from the camera to the recorder.

If you do it the other way around (which for some reason appears to be the most common way) you cannot be sure that you won’t get timecode drift unless the audio recorder is also sending sync to the cameras genlock input. Normally a small amount of drift will go un-noticed on shorter shots. The cameras timecode will re-sync with the external timecode when you stop recording, so the beginning of each shot will have the correct timecode. As a result you will normally get away with feeding timecode only from an audio recorder.  But on longer takes, say shooting a music event it can become a significant issue as the camera and recorder drift apart over longer takes.

23.98fps.

As you should have learnt from part one, 23.98fps timecode can be particularly difficult to deal with as the timecode in a camera shooting at 23.98fps will always drift by 3.6 seconds an hour relative to real time. So be very, very careful if shooting 23.98fps but using an audio recorder that uses a real time clock. There is no way to satisfactorily sync a real time clock with a camera shooting 23.98fps. Over the course of a 1 minute clip you will see the timecode drift by over 1 frame. If you wish to do sync sound at 23.98fps you need to ensure your audio recorder supports either 23.98fps timecode or at a push Non Drop Frame 29.97fps timecode. You can only sync 23.98fps tmecode with 23.98fps timecode, but a free running, Non Drop Frame 29.97fps recorder should stay closer in sync than a real time clock.

If your audio recorder only has a real time clock I strongly suggest shooting at 24fps rather than 23.98fps where you can. 24fps is a whole number so 24fps timecode does not drift by 3.6 seconds per hour compared to real time. So any sync issues should be much reduced at 24fps compared to 23.98fps. If shooting 29.97fps (often mistakenly referred to as 30fps/60i) then you should use Drop Frame Timecode when working with recorders with a real time clock.

WHAT IF THE CAMERA DOESN’T HAVE TC IN?

There are a few pro cameras that don’t have a dedicated timecode in or timecode out port. The very popular Sony PXW-FS7 does not have timecode in and can’t be genlocked unless you add the optional extension unit to the camera. For cameras such as these, if you need to record sync sound on a separate recorder one option is to record the timecode output from the audio recorder as an audio signal on one of the cameras audio tracks. Timecode recorded on an audio track like this will rarely line up perfectly with the cameras own internal timecode so it should never be used as the main timecode for the recorded video. But there are plenty of software tools that will allow you to read this timecode in post production so that you can use it to line up your audio recordings with the video recording. This isn’t an ideal solution, but it’s better than relying on two different clocks, one in the camera, one in the recorder possibly running at quite different rates.

MULTICAMERA SHOOTS.

If you have multiple cameras or audio recorders it may be possible to loop the time code (and hopefully sync too) from camera to camera, so that every device is connected. Another option is to use a single master timecode and sync source and hard wire every camera to that. The problem with either of these is that if the venue is large you need a lot of cable. Sometimes it simply isn’t possible to use cables to connect everything together so instead of cables we connect the cameras wirelessly.

WIRELESS.

Wireless timecode connections normally work OK. If you momentarily loose the wireless timecode link the cameras timecode clock will just keep counting the frames recorded without issue. But as we have already seen, for true drift free timecode lock we also need to synchronise the camera via genlock. Sending genlock wirelessly is not normally a good idea. Any interruption of the sync signal will cause the cameras frame rate to jitter and that’s really bad. In practice it is quite common to link the timecode of several devices wirelessly without sync. Again for shot takes this is often perfectly OK. The lack of sync however can be an issue on longer takes. A good example of this would be a music concert where it really is vital that all the cameras and recorders run in sync.

Companies such as Ambient have wireless timecode and sync devices where each of the sync boxes (lockit box) has it’s own very high precision, temperature compensated sync clock.  All the boxes then sync to one master device, should the wireless signal drop out the internal sync clocks will continue to provide both a genlock sync pulse and timecode that is so precise that you should not see any timecode or sync drift over several days.

If you missed part 1 you can find it by clicking here.