Category Archives: cinematography

Are LUT’s Killing Creativity And Eroding Skills?

I see this all the time “which LUT should I use to get this look” or “I like that, which LUT did you use”. Don’t get me wrong, I use LUT’s and they are a very useful tool, but the now almost default reversion to adding a LUT to log and raw material is killing creativity.

In my distant past I worked in and helped run  a very well known post production facilities company. There were two high end editing and grading suites and many of the clients came to us because we could work to the highest standards of the day and from the clients description create the look they wanted with  the controls on the equipment we had. This was a digibeta tape to tape facility that also had a Matrox Digisuite and some other tools, but nothing like what can be done with the free version of DaVinci Resolve today.

But the thing is we didn’t have LUT’s. We had knobs, dials and switches. We had to understand how to use the tools that we had to get to where the client wanted to be. As a result every project would have a unique look.

Today the software available to us is incredibly powerful and a tiny fraction of the cost of the gear we had back then. What you can do in post today is almost limitless. Cameras are better than ever, so there is no excuse for not being able to create all kinds of different looks across your projects or even within a single project to create different moods for different scenes. But sadly that’s not what is happening.

You have to ask why? Why does every YouTube short look like every other one? A big part is automated workflows, for example FCPX that automatically applies a default LUT to log footage. Another is the belief that LUT’s are how you grade, and then everyone using the same few LUT’s on everything they shoot.

This creates two issues.

1: Everything looks the same – BORING!!!!

2: People are not learning how to grade and don’t understand how to work with colour and contrast – because it’s easier to “slap on a LUT”.

How many of the “slap on a LUT’ clan realise that LUT’s are camera and exposure specific, how many realise that LUT’s can introduce banding and other image artefacts into footage that might otherwise be pristine?

If LUT’s didn’t exist people would have to learn how to grade. And when I say “grade” I don’t mean a few tweaks to the contrast, brightness and colour wheels. I mean taking individual hues and tones and changing them in isolation. For example separating skin tones from the rest of the scene so they can be made to look one way while the rest of the scene is treated differently. People would need to learn how to create colour contrast as well as brightness contrast. How to make highlights roll off in a pleasing way, all those things that go into creating great looking images from log or raw footage.

Then, perhaps, because people are doing their own grading they would start to better understand colour, gamma, contrast etc, etc. Most importantly because the look created will be their look, from scratch, it would be unique. Different projects from different people would actually look different again instead of each being a clone of someone else’s work.

LUT’s are a useful tool, especially on set for an approximation of how something could look. But in post production they restrict creativity and many people have no idea of how to grade and how they can manipulate their material.

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Temporal Aliasing – Beware!

As camera resolutions increase and the amount of detail and texture that we can record increases we need to be mindful more and more of temporal aliasing. 

Temporal aliasing occurs when the differences between the frames in a video sequence create undesirable sequences of patterns that move from one frame to the next, often appearing to travel in the opposite direction to any camera movement. The classic example of this is the wagon wheels going backwards effect often seen in old cowboy movies. The cameras shutter captures the spokes of the wheels in a different position in each frame but the timing of the shutter relative to the position of the spokes means that the wheels appear to go backwards rather than forwards. This was almost impossible to prevent with film cameras that were stuck with a 180 degree shutter as there was no way to blur the motion of the spokes so that they were contiguous from one frame to the next. A 360 degree shutter would have prevented this problem in most cases. But it’s also reasonable to note that at 24fps a 360 degree shutter would have introduced an excessive amount of motion blur elsewhere.

Another form of temporal aliasing that often occurs is when you have rapidly moving grass, crops, reeds or fine branches. Let me try to explain:

You are shooting a field of wheat, the stalks are very small in the frame, almost too small to discern individually. As the stalks of wheat move left, perhaps blown by the wind, each stalk will be captured in each frame a little more to the left, perhaps by just a few pixels. But in the video they appear to be going the other way. This is  because every stalk looks the same as all the others and in the following captured frame,  the original stalk may have moved  say 6 pixels to the left. But now there is also a different stalk just 2 pixels to the right of where the original was. Because both stalks look the same it appears that the stalk has moved right instead of left. As the wind speed and the movement of the stalks changes they may appear to move randomly left or right or a combination of both. The image looks very odd, often a jumbled mess, as perhaps the tops of the stalks appear to move one way while lower parts appear to go the other.

There is a great example of temporal aliasing here in this clip on Pond5 https://www.pond5.com/stock-footage/item/58471251-wagon-wheel-effect-train-tracks-optical-illusion-perception

Notice in the pond 5 clip how it’s not only the railway sleepers that appear to move in the wrong direction or at the wrong speed but notice how the stones between the sleepers appear to look like some kind of boiling noise.

Like the old movie wagon wheels one thing that makes this worse is the use of too fast a shutter speed. The more you freeze the motion of the offending objects or textures in each frame the higher the risk of temporal aliasing with moving textures or patterns. Often a slower shutter speed will introduce enough motion blur that the motion looks normal again. You may need to experiment with different shutter speeds to find the sweet spot where the temporal aliasing goes away or is minimised.  If shooting at 50fps or faster try a 360 degree 1/50th shutter as by the time you get to a 1/50th shutter motion is already starting to be as crisp as it needs to be for most types of shots unless you are intending to do some for of frame by frame motion analysis.

How We Judge Exposure Looking At an Image And The Importance Of ViewFinder Contrast.

This came out of a discussion about viewfinder brightness where the compliant was that the viewfinder on the FX9 was too bright when compared side by side with another monitor. It got me into really thinking about how we judge exposure when purely looking at a monitor or viewfinder image.

To start with I think it’s important to thing understand a couple of things:

1: Our perception of how bright a light source is depends on the ambient light levels. A candle in a dark room looks really bright, but outside on a sunny day it is not perceived as being so bright. But of course we all know that the light being emitted by that candle is exactly the same in both situations.

2: Between the middle grey of a grey card and the white of a white card there are about 2.5 stops. Faces and skin tones fall roughly half way between middle grey and white. Taking that a step further between what most people will perceive as black, something like a black card, black shirt and a white card there are around 5 to 6 stops and faces will always be roughly 3/4 of the way up that brightness range at somewhere around about 4 stops above black . It doesn’t matter whether that’s outside on a dazzlingly bright day in the desert in the middle East or on a dull overcast winters day in the UK, those relative levels never change.

Now think about this:

If you look at a picture on a screen and the face is significantly brighter than middle grey and much closer to white than middle grey what will you think? To most it will almost certainly appear over exposed because we know that in the real world a face sits roughly 3/4 of the way up the relative brightness range and roughly half way between middle gray and white.

What about if the face is much darker than white and close to middle grey? Then it will generally look under exposed as relative to black, white and middle grey the face is too dark.

The key point here is that we make these exposure judgments based on where faces and other similar things are relative to black and white. We don’t know the actual intensity of the white, but we do know how bright a face should be relative to white and black.

This is why it’s possible to make an accurate exposure assessment using a 100 Nit monitor or a 1000 Nit daylight viewable monitor. Provided the contrast range of the monitor is correct and black looks black, middle grey is in the middle and white looks white then skin tones will be 3/4 of the way up from black and 1/4 down from white when the image is correctly exposed.

But here’s the rub: If you put the 100 Nit monitor next to the 1000 Nit monitor and look at both at the same time, the two will look very, very different. Indoors in a dim room the 1000 Nit monitor will be dazzlingly bright, meanwhile outside on a sunny day the 100 Nit monitor will be barely viewable. So which is right?

The answer is they both are. Indoors, with controlled light levels or when covered with a hood or loupe then the 100 Nit monitor might be preferable. In a grading suite with controlled lighting you would normally use a monitor with white at 100 nits. But outside on a sunny day with no shade or hood the 1000 Nit monitor might be preferable because the 100 nit monitor will be too dim to be of any use.

Think of this another way: Take both monitors into a dark room and take a photo of each monitor with your phone.  The phone’s camera will adjust it’s exposure so both will look the same and the end result will be two photos where the screens will look the same. Our eyes have iris’s just like a cameras and do exactly the same thing, adjust so that the brightness is with the range our eyes can deal with. So the actual brightness is only of concern relative to the ambient light levels.

This presents a challenge to designers of viewfinders that can be used both with or without a loupe or shade such as the LCD viewfinder on the FX9 that which be used both with the loupe/magnifier and without it. How bright should you make it? Not so bright it’s dazzling when using the loupe but bright enough to be useful on a sunny day without the loupe.

The actual brightness isn’t critical (beyond whether it’s bright enough to be seen or not) provided the perceived contrast is right.

When setting up a monitor or viewfinder it’s the adjustment of the black level and black pedestal which alters the contrast of the image (the control of which is confusingly called the brightness control). This “brightness” control is the critical one because if the brightness adjustment raises the blacks by too much then you make the shadows and mids brighter relative to white and less contrasty, so you will tend to expose lower in an attempt to have good contrast and a normal looking mid range. Exposing brighter makes the mids look excessively bright relative to where white is and the black screen surround is.

If the brightness is set too low it pulls the blacks and mids down then you will tend to over expose in an attempt to see details and textures in the shadows and to make the mids normal.

It’s all about the monitor or viewfinders contrast and where everything stits between the darkest and brightest parts pf the image. The peak brightness (equally confusingly set by the contrast control) is largely irrelevant because our perception of how bright this is depends entirely on the ambient light level, just don’t over drive the display.

We don’t look at a VF and think – “Ah that face is 100 nits”.  We think – “that face is 3/4 of the way up between black and white” because that’s exactly how we see faces in all kinds of light conditions – relative levels – not specific brightness.

So far I have been discussing SDR (standard dynamic range) viewfinders. Thankfully I have yet to see an HDR viewfinder because an HDR viewfinder could actually make judging exposure more difficult as “white” such as a white card isn’t very bright in the world of HDR and an HDR viewfinder would have a far greater contrast range than just the 5 or 6 stops of an SDR finder. The viewfinders peak brightness could well be 10 times or more brighter than the white of a white card. So that complicates things as first you need to judge and asses where white is within a very big brightness range. But I guess I’ll cross that bridge when it comes along.

What’s So Magical About Full Frame – Or Is It all Just ANOTHER INTERNET MYTH?

FIRST THINGS FIRST:
The only way to change the perspective of a shot is to change the position of the camera relative to the subject or scene.  Just put a 1.5x wider lens on a s35camera and you have exactly the same angle of view as a Full Frame camera. It is an internet myth that Full Frame changes the perspective or the appearance of the image in a way that cannot be exactly replicated with other sensor or frame sizes. The only thing that changes perspective is how far you are from the subject. It’s one of those laws of physics and optics that can’t be broken. The only way to see more or less around an object is by changing your physical position.

The only thing changing the focal length or sensor size changes is magnification and you can change the magnification either by changing sensor size or focal length and the effect is exactly the same either way. So in terms of perspective, angle of view or field of view an 18mm s35 setup will produce an identical image to a 27mm FF setup. The only difference may be in DoF depending on the aperture where  f4 on FF will provide the same DoF as f2.8 on s35. If both lenses are f4 then the FF image will have a shallower DoF.

Again though physics play a part here as if you want to get that shallower DoF from a FF camera then the lens FF lens will normally need to have the same aperture as the s35 lens. To do that the elements in the FF lens need to be bigger to gather twice as much light so that it can put the same amount of light as the s35 lens across the twice as large surface area of the FF sensor.  So generally you will pay more for a comparable FF like for like aperture lens as a s35 lens. Or you simply won’t be able to get an equivalent in FF because the optical design becomes too complex, too big, too heavy or too costly.
This in particular is a big issue for parfocal zooms. At FF and larger imager sizes they can be fast or have a big zoom range, but to do both is very, very hard and typically requires some very exotic glass. You won’t see anything like the affordable super 35mm Fujinon MK’s in full frame, certainly not at anywhere near the same price. This is why for decades 2/3″ sensors and 16mm film before that, ruled the roost for TV news as lenses with big zoom ranges and large fast apertures were relatively affordable.
Perhaps one of the commonest complaints I see today with larger sensors is “why can’t I find an affordable fast, parfocal zoom with more than a 4x zoom range”. Such lenses do exist, for s35 you have lenses like the $22K Canon CN7 17-120mm  T2.9, which is pretty big and pretty heavy. For Full Frame the nearest equivalent is the more expensive $40K Fujinon Premista 28-100 t2.9. which is a really big lens weighing in at almost 4kg. But look at the numbers: Both will give a very similar AoV on their respective sensors at the wide end but the much cheaper Canon has a greatly extended zoom range and will get a tighter shot than the Premista at the long end. Yes, the DoF will be shallower with the Premista, but you are paying almost double, it is a significantly heavier lens and it has a much reduced zoom ratio. So you may need both the $40K Premista 28-100 and the $40K Premista 80-250 to cover everything the Canon does (and a bit more). So as you can see, getting that extra shallow DoF may be very costly. And it’s not so much about the sensor, but more about the lens.
The History of large formats:
It is worth considering that back in the 50’s and 60’s we had VistaVision, a horizontal 35mm format the equivalent of 35mm FF, plus 65mm and a number of other larger than s35 formats. All in an effort to get better image quality.
VistaVision (The closet equivalent to 35mm Full Frame).
VistaVision didn’t last long, about 7 or 8 years because better quality film stocks meant that similar image quality could be obtained from regular s35mm film and shooting VistaVision was difficult due to the very shallow DoF and focus challenges, plus it was twice the cost of regular 35mm film. It did make a brief comeback in the 70’s for shooting special effects sequences where very high resolutions were needed. VistaVision was superseded by Cinemascope which uses 2x Anamorphic lenses and conventional vertical super 35mm film and Cinemascope was subsequently largely replaced by 35mm Panavision (the two being virtually the same thing and often used interchangeably).
65mm formats.
 At around the same time there were various 65mm (with 70mm projection) formats including Super Panavision, Ultra Panavision and Todd-AO These too struggled and very few films were made using 65mm film after the end of the 60’s. There was a brief resurgence in the 80’s and again recently there have been a few films, but production difficulties and cost has meant they tend to be niche productions.
Historically there have been many attempts to establish mainstream  larger than s35 formats. But by and large audiences couldn’t tell the difference and even if they did they wouldn’t pay extra for them. Obviously today the cost implication is tiny compared to the extra cost of 65mm film or VistaVision. But the bottom line remains that normally the audience won’t actually be able to see any difference, because in reality there isn’t one, other than perhaps a marginal resolution increase. But it is harder to shoot FF than s35. Comparable lenses are more expensive, lens choices more limited, focus is more challenging at longer focal lengths or large apertures. If you get carried away with too large an aperture you get miniaturisation and cardboarding effects if you are not careful (these can occur with s35 too).
Can The Audience Tell – Does The Audience Care?
Cinema audiences have not been complaining that the DoF isn’t shallow enough, or that the resolution isn’t high enough (Arri’s success has proved that resolution is a minor image quality factor). But they are noticing focus issues, especially in 4K theaters.
 So while FF and the other larger format are here to stay. Full Frame is not the be-all and end-all. Many, many people believe that FF has some kind of magic that makes the images different to smaller formats because they “read it on the internet so it must be true”.  I think sometimes some things read on the internet create a placebo effect where when you read it enough times you will actually become convinced that the images are different, even when in fact they are not. Once they realise that actually it isn’t different, I’m quite sure many will return to s35 because that does seem to be the sweet spot where DoF and focus is manageable and IQ is plenty good enough. Only time will tell, but history suggest s35 isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Today’s modern cameras give us the choice to shoot either FF or s35. Either can result in an identical image, it’s only a matter of aperture and focal length. So pick the one that you feel most comfortable with for you production. FF is nice, but it isn’t magic.

Really it’s all about the lens.

The really important thing is your lens choice. I believe that what most people put down as “the full frame effect” is nothing to do with the sensor size but the qualities of the lenses they are using. Full frame stills cameras have been around for a long time and as a result there is a huge range of very high quality glass to choose from (as well as cheaper budget lenses). In the photography world APS-C which is similar to super 35mm movie film has always been considered a lower cost or budget option and many of the lenses designed for APS-C have been built down to a price rather than up in quality. This makes a difference to the way the images may look. So often Full Frame lenses may offer better quality or a more pleasing look, just because the glass is better.

I recently shot a project using Sony’s Venice camera over 2 different shoots. For the shoot we used Full Frame and the Sigma Cine Primes. The images we got looked amazing. But then the second shoot where we needed at times to use higher frame rates we shot using super 35 with a mix of the Fujinon MK zooms and Sony G-Master lenses. Again the images looked amazing and the client and the end audience really can’t tell the footage from the first shoot with the footage from the second shoot.

Downsampling from 6K.

One very real benefit shooting 6K full frame does bring, with both the FX9 and Sony Venice (or any other 6K FF camera) is that when you shoot at 6K and downsample to 4K you will have a higher resolution image with better colour and in most cases lower noise than if you started at 4K. This is because the bayer sensors that all the current large sensor camera use don’t resolve 4K when shooting at 4K. To get 4K you need to start with 6K.

Struggling With Blue LED Lighting? Try Turning On The adaptive Matrix.

It’s a common problem. You are shooting a performance or event where LED lighting has been used to create dramatic coloured lighting effects. The intense blue from many types of LED stage lights can easily overload the sensor and instead of looking like a nice lighting effect the blue light becomes an ugly splodge of intense blue that spoils the footage.

Well there is a tool hidden away in the paint settings of many recent Sony cameras that can help. It’s called “adaptive matrix”.

When adaptive matrix is enabled, when the camera sees intense blue light such as the light from a blue LED light, the matrix adapts to this and reduces the saturation of the blue colour channel in the problem areas of the image. This can greatly improve the way such lights and lighting look. But be aware that if trying to shoot objects with very bright blue colours, perhaps even a bright blue sky, if you have the adaptive matrix turned on it may desaturate them. Because of this the adaptive matrix is normally turned off by default.

If you want to turn it on, it’s normally found in the cameras paint and matrix settings and it’s simply a case of setting adaptive matrix to on. I recommend that when you don’t actually need it you turn it back off again.

Most of Sony’s broadcast quality cameras produced in the last 5 years have the adaptive matrix function, that includes the FS7, FX9, Z280, Z450, Z750, F5/F55 and many others.

Guess The Lens! A little bit of fun and an interesting test.

Last week I was at O-Video in Bucharest preparing for a workshop the following day. They are a full service dealer. We had an FX9 for the workshop and they had some very nice lenses. So with their help I decided to do a very quick comparison of the lenses we had. I was actually very surprised by the results. At the end of the day I definitely had a favourite lens. But I’m not going to tell you which one yet.

The 5 lenses we tested were: Rokinon Xeen, Cooke Panchro 50mm, Leitz (lecia) Thalia, Zeiss Supreme Radiance and the Sony 28-135mm zoom that can be purchased as part of a kit with the FX9.

I included a strong backlight in the shot to see how the different lenses dealt with flare from off-axis lights. 2 of the lenses produced very pronounced flare, so for those lenses you will see two frame grabs. One with the flare and one with the back light flagged off.

I used S-Cinetone on the FX9 and set the aperture to f2.8 for all of the lenses except the Sony 28-135mm. For that lens I added 6dB of gain to normalise the exposure, you should be able to figure out which of the examples is the Sony zoom.

One of the lenses was an odd focal length compared to all the others. Some of you might be able to work out which one that is, but again I’m not going to tell you just yet.

Anyway, enjoy playing guess the lens. This isn’t intended to be an in depth test. But it’s interesting to compare lenses when you have access to them.  I’ll reveal which lens is which in a couple of weeks in the comments. You can click on each image to enlarge it.

Big thanks to everyone at O-Video Bucharest for making this happen.

Lens1-flare Guess The Lens! A little bit of fun and an interesting test.
Lens 1 with flare from backlight.
lens1-no-flare Guess The Lens! A little bit of fun and an interesting test.
Lens 1 with backlight flagged to reduce the flare.
lens2 Guess The Lens! A little bit of fun and an interesting test.
Lens 2
lens-3 Guess The Lens! A little bit of fun and an interesting test.
Lens 3
lens-4-no-flare Guess The Lens! A little bit of fun and an interesting test.
Lens 4
lens-5-flare Guess The Lens! A little bit of fun and an interesting test.
Lens 5 with flare from backlight
lens-5-No-flare Guess The Lens! A little bit of fun and an interesting test.
Lens 5 with backlight masked to kill the flare.

The “E” in “E-Mount” stands for Eighteen.

A completely useless bit of trivia for you is that the “E” in E-mount stands for eighteen. 18mm is the E-mount flange back distance. That’s the distance between the sensor and the face of the lens mount. The fact the e-mount is only 18mm while most other DSLR systems have a flange back distance of around 40mm means thare are 20mm or more in hand that can be used for adapters to go between the camera body and 3rd party lenses with different mounts.

Here’s a little table of some common flange back distances:

MOUNT FLANGE BACK SPARE/Difference
e-mount 18mm
Sony FZ (F3/F5/F55) 19mm 1mm
Canon EF 44mm 26mm
Nikon F Mount 46.5mm 28.5mm
PL 52mm 34mm
Arri LPL 44mm 26mm
Sony A, Minolta 44.5mm 26.5mm
M42 45.46mm 27.46mm

Can You Shoot Anamorphic with the PXW-FX9?

The simple answer as to whether you can shoot anamorphic on the FX9 or not, is no, you can’t. The FX9 certainly to start with, will not have an anamorphic mode and it’s unknown whether it ever will. I certainly wouldn’t count on it ever getting one (but who knows, perhaps if we keep asking for it we will get it).

But just because a camera doesn’t have a dedicated anamorphic mode it doesn’t mean you can’t shoot anamorphic. The main thing you won’t have is de-squeeze. So the image will be distorted and stretched in the viewfinder. But most external monitors now have anamorphic de-squeeze so this is not a huge deal and easy enough to work around.

1.3x or 2x Anamorphic?

With a 16:9 or 17:9 camera you can use 1.3x anamorphic lenses to get a 2:39 final image. So the FX9, like most 16:9 cameras will be suitable for use with 1.3x anamorphic lenses out of the box.

But for the full anamorphic effect you really want to shoot with 2x  anamorphic lenses. A 2x anamorphic lens will give your footage a much more interesting look than a 1.3x anamorphic. But if you want to reproduce the classic 2:39 aspect ratio normally associated with anamorphic lenses and 35mm film then you need a 4:3 sensor rather than a 16:9 one – or do you?

Anamorphic on the PMW-F5 and F55.

It’s worth looking at shooting 2x Anamorphic on the Sony F5 and F55 cameras. These cameras have 17:9 sensors, so they are not ideal for 2x Anamorphic. However the cameras do have a dedicated Anamorphic mode. When shooting with a 2x Anamorphic lens because the 17:9 F55 sensor, like most super 35mm sensors, is not tall enough, after de-squeezing you will end up with a very narrow 3.55:1 aspect ratio. To avoid this very narrow final aspect ratio, once you have de-squeezed the image you need to crop  the sides of the image by around 0.7x and then expand the cropped image to fill the frame. This not only reduces the resolution of the final output but also the usable field of view. But even with the resolution reduction as a result of the crop and zoom it was still argued that because the F55 starts from a 4K sensor that this was roughly the equivalent of Arri’s open gate 3.4K. However the loss of field of view still presents a problem for many productions.

What if I have Full Frame 16:9?

The FX9 has a 6K full frame sensor and a full frame sensor is bigger, not just wider but most importantly it’s taller than s35mm. Tall enough for use with a 2x s35 anamorphic lens! The FX9 sensor is approx 34mm wide and 19mm tall in FF6K mode.

In comparison the Arri  35mm 4:3 open gate sensor is area is 28mm x 18.1mm and we know this works very well with 2x Anamorphic lenses as this mimics the size of a full size 35mm cine film frame. The important bit here is the height – 18.1mm with the Arri open gate and 18.8mm for the FX9 in Full Frame Scan Mode.

FX9-Image-circle-frame-lines1 Can You Shoot Anamorphic with the PXW-FX9?
Sensor sizes and Anamorphic coverage.

Crunching the numbers.

If you do the maths – Start with the FX9 in FF mode and use a s35mm 2x anamorphic lens. 

Because the image is 6K subsampled to 4K the resulting recording will have 4K resolution.

But you will need to crop the sides of the final recording by roughly 30% to remove the left/right vignette caused by using an anamorphic lens designed for 35mm movie film (the exact amount of crop will depend on the lens). This then results in a 2.8K ish resolution image depending on how much you need to crop.

4K Bayer doesn’t won’t give 4K resolution.

That doesn’t seem very good until you consider that a 4K 4:3 bayer sensor would only yield about 2.8K resolution anyway.

Arri’s s35mm cameras are open gate 3.2K bayer sensors so will result in an even lower resolution image, perhaps around 2.2K. Do remember that the original Arri ALEV sensor was designed when 2K was the norm for the cinema and HD TV was still new. The Arri super 35 cameras were for a long time the gold standard for Anamorphic because their sensor size and shape matches the size and shape of a full size 35mm movie film frame. But now cameras like Sony’s Venice that can shoot both 6K and 4K 4:3 and 6:5 are starting now taking over.

The FX9 in Full Frame scan mode will produce a great looking image with a 2x anamorphic lens without losing any of the field of view. The horizontal resolution won’t be 4K due to the left and right edge crop required, but the horizontal resolution should be higher than you would get from a 4K 16:9 sensor or a 3.2K 4:3 sensor. Unlike using a 16:9 4K sensor where both the horizontal and vertical resolution are compromised the FX9’s vertical resolution will be 4K and that’s important.

What about Netflix?

While Netflix normally insist on a minimum of a sensor with 4K of pixels horizontally for capture, they are permitting sensors with lower horizontal pixel counts to be used for anamorphic capture. Because the increased sensor height needed for 2x anamorphic means that there are more pixels vertically. The total usable pixel count when using the Arri LF with a typical 35mm 2x anamorphic lens is 3148 x 2636 pixels. Thats a total of  8 megapixels which is similar to the 8 megapixel total pixel count of a 4K 16:9 sensor with a spherical lens.  The argument is that the total captured picture information is similar for both, so both should be, and are indeed allowed. The Arri format does lead to a final aspect ratio slightly wider than 2:39.

FX9-Image-circle-frame-lines2 Can You Shoot Anamorphic with the PXW-FX9?
Alexa LF v FX9 and super 35mm 2x anamorphic.

 

So could the FX9 get Netflix approval for 2x Anamorphic?

The FX9’s sensor has is 3168 pixel tall when shooting FF 16:9  as it’s pixel pitch is finer than the Arri LF sensor.  When working with a 2x anamorphic super 35mm lens the image circle from the lens will cover around 4K x 3K of pixels, a total of 12 megapixels on the sensor when it’s operating in the 6K Full Frame scan mode. But then the FX9 will internally down scale this to that vignetted 4K recording that needs to be cropped.

6K down to 4K means that the 4K covered by the lens becomes roughly 2.7K. But then the 3.1K from the Arri when debayered will more than likely be even less than this, perhaps only 2.1K

But whether Netflix will accept the in camera down conversion is a very big question. The maths indicates that the resolution of the final output of the FX9 would be greater than that of the LF, even taking the necessary crop into account. But this would need to be tested and verified in practice. If the math is right, I see no reason why the FX9 won’t be able to meet Netflix’s minimum requirements for 2x anamorphic production. If this is a workflow you wish to pursue I would recommend taking the 10 bit 4:2:2 HDMI out to a ProRes recorder and record using the best codec you can until the FX9 gains the ability to output raw. Meeting the Netflix standard is speculation on my part, perhaps it never will get accepted for anamorphic, but to answer the original question –

 – Can you shoot anamorphic with the FX9 – Absolutely, yes you can and the end result should be pretty good. But you’ll have to put up with a distorted image with the supplied viewfinder (for now at least).

Venice to get even higher frame rates in V5 firmware.

VENICE-copy Venice to get even higher frame rates in V5 firmware.

Last night I attended the official opening of Sony’s new Digital Media Production center in LA. This is a very nice facility where Sony can show end users how to get the most from full end to end digital production, from camera to display. And a most impressive display it is as the facility has a huge permanent 26ft HDR C-Led equipped cinema.

One of the key announcements made at the event was details of what will be the 5th major firmware update for the Venice cameras. Due January 2020 version 5 will extend the cameras high frame rate capabilities as well as adding or improving on a number of existing options:

·       HFR Capabilities – Up to 90fps at 6K 2.39:1 and 72fps at 6K 17:9.

·       Apple ProRes 4444 – Record HD videos in the high picture quality on SxS PRO+ cards, without Sony’s AXS-R7 recorder. This is especially effective for HD VFX workflow.

·       180 Degree Rotation Monitor Out– Flip and flop images via viewfinder and SDI.

·       High Resolution Magnification via HD Monitor Out – Existing advanced viewfinder technology for clearer magnification is now extended to HD Monitor Out.

·       Improved User Marker Settings – Menu updates for easier selection of frame lines on viewfinder.

90fps in 6K means that a full 3x slow down will be possible for 6K 24fps projects. In addition to the above Sony now have a new IDT for Venice for ACES. so now VENICE has officially joined The F65, F55 and F55 in earning the ACES logo, meeting the specifications laid out in the ACES Product Partner Logo Program. I will post more details of this and how to get hold of the IDT over the weekend.

Do I need to worry about 8K?

This is a question that gets asked a lot. And if you are thinking about buying a new camera it has to be one the you need to think about. But in reality I don’t think 8K is a concern for most of us.

I recently had a conversation with a representative of a well known TV manufacturer. We discussed 8K and 8K TV’s. An interesting conclusion to the conversation was that this particular TV manufacturer wasn’t really expecting their to be a lot of 8K content anytime soon. The reason for selling 8K TV’s is the obvious one – In the consumers eyes. 8K is a bigger number than 4K, so it must mean that it is better. It’s any easy sell for the TV manufacturers, even though it’s arguable that most viewers will never be able to tell the difference between an 8K TV and a 4K one (lets face it most struggle to tell the difference between 4K and HD).

Instead of expecting 8K content this particular TV manufacturer will be focussing on high quality internal upscaling of 4K content to deliver an enhanced viewing experience.

It’s also been shown time and time again that contrast and Dynamic Range trump resolution for most viewers. This was one of the key reasons why it took a very long time for electronic film production to really get to the point where it could match film. A big part of the increase in DR for video cameras came from the move from the traditional 2/3″ video sensor to much bigger super 35mm sensors with bigger pixels. Big pixels are one of the keys to good dynamic range and the laws of physics that govern this are not likely to change any time soon.

This is part of the reason why Arri have stuck with the same sensor for so long. They know that reducing the pixel size to fit more into the same space will make it hard to maintain the excellent DR their cameras are known for. This is in part why Arri have chosen to increase the sensor size by combining sensors. It’s at least in part why Red and Sony have chosen to increase the size of their sensors beyond super 35mm as they increase resolution. The pixels on the Venice sensor are around the same size as most 4K s35 cameras. 6K was chosen as the maximum resolution because that allows this same pixel size to be used, no DR compromise, but it necessitates a full frame sensor and the use of high quality full frame lenses.

So, if we want 8K with great DR it forces us to use ever bigger sensors. Yes, you will get a super shallow DoF and this may be seen as an advantage for some productions. But what’s the point of a move to higher and higher resolutions if more and more of the image is out of focus due to a very shallow DoF? Getting good, pin sharp focus with ever bigger sensors is going to be a challenge unless we also dramatically increase light levels. This goes against the modern trend for lower illumination levels. Only last week I was shooting a short film with a Venice and it was a struggle to balance the amount of the subject that was in focus with light levels, especially at longer focal lengths. I don’t like shots of people where one eye is in focus but the other clearly not, it looks odd, which eye should you choose as the in-focus eye?

And what about real world textures? How many of the things that we shoot really contain details and textures beyond 4K? And do we really want to see every pore, wrinkle and blemish on our actors faces or sets? too much resolution on a big screen creates a form of hyper reality. We start to see things we would never ever normally see as the image and the textures become magnified and expanded. this might be great for a science documentary but is distracting for a romantic drama.

If resolution really, really was king then every town would have an IMAX theater and we would all be shooting IMAX. 

Before 8K becomes normal and mainstream I believe HDR will be the next step. Consumers can see the benefits of HDR much more readily than 8K. Right now 4K is not really the norm, HD is. There is a large amount of 4K acquisition, but it’s not mainstream. The amount of HDR content being produced is still small. So first we need to see 4K become normal. When we get to the point that whenever a client rings the automatic assumption is that it’s a 4K shoot, so we won’t even bother to ask, that’s when we can consider 4K to be normal, but that’s not the case for most of us just yet. Following on from that the next step (IMHO) will be where for every project the final output will be 4K HDR. I see that as being at least a couple of years away yet.

After all that, then we might see a push for more 8K. At some point in the not too distant future 8K TV’s will be no more expensive than 4K ones. But I also believe that in-TV upscaling will be normal and possibly the preferred mode due to bandwidth restrictions. less compressed 4K upscaled to 8K may well look just as good if not better than an 8K signal that needs more compression.

8K may not become “normal” for a very long time. We have been able to easily shoot 4K for 6 years or more, but it’s only just becoming normal and Arri still have a tremendous following that choose to shoot at less than 4K for artistic reasons. The majority of Cinemas with their big screens are still only 2K, but audiences rarely complain of a lack of resolution. More and more content is being viewed on small phone or tablet screens where 4K is often wasted. It’s a story of diminishing returns, HD to 4K is a much bigger visual step than 4K to 8K and we still have to factor in how we maintain great DR.

So for the next few years at least, for the majority of us, I don’t believe 8K is actually desirable. many struggle with 4K workflows and the extra data and processing power needed compared to HD. An 8K frame is 4 times the size of a 4K frame. Some will argue that shooting in 8K has many benefits. This can be true if you main goal is resolution but in reality it’s only really very post production intensive projects where extensive re-framing, re-touching etc is needed that will benefit from shooting in 8K right now. It’s hard to get accurate numbers, but the majority of Hollywood movies still use a 2K digital intermediate and only around 20% of cinemas can actually project at more than 2K.

So in conclusion, in my humble opinion at least. 8K is more about the sales pitch than actual practical use and application. So people will use it – just because they can and it sounds impressive. But for most of us right now it simply isn’t necessary and it may well be a step too far.