Category Archives: PMW-F55

DaVinci Resolve, ACES and the “Sony Raw” input transform.

A quick heads up for users of Resolve with Sony Raw and X-OCN. Don’t make the same mistake I have been making. For some time I have been unhappy with the way the Sony raw looked in DaVinci Resolve and ACES prior to grading. Apparently there used to be a small problem with the raw input transform that could lead to a red/pink hue getting added to the footage. This problem was fixed some time ago. You should now not use the the “Sony Raw” input transform, if you do, it will tint your Raw or X-OCN files slightly pink/red. Instead you should select “no transform”. With no transform selected my images look so much nicer and match Sony’s own Raw Viewer so much better. Thanks to Nick Shaw of Antler Post for helping me out on this and all on the CML list.

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How can 16 bit X-OCN deliver smaller files than 10 bit XAVC-I?

Sony’s X-OCN (XOriginal Camera Negative) is a new type of codec from Sony. Currently it is only available via the R7 recorder which can be attached to a Sony PMW-F5, F55 or the new Venice cinema camera.

It is a truly remarkable codec that brings the kind of flexibility normally only available with 16 bit linear raw files but with a files size that is smaller than many conventional high end video formats.

Currently there are two variations of X-OCN.

X-OCN ST is the standard version and then X-OCN LT is the “light” version. Both are 16 bit and both contain 16 bit data based directly on what comes off the cameras sensor. The LT version is barely distinguishable for a 16 bit linear raw recording and the ST version “visually lossless”. Having that sensor data in post production allows you to manipulate the footage over a far greater range than is possible with tradition video files. Traditional video files will already have some form of gamma curve as well as a colour space and white balance baked in. This limits the scope of how far the material can be adjusted and reduces the amount of picture information you have (relative to what comes directly off the sensor) .

Furthermore most traditional video files are 10 bit with a maximum of 1024 code values or levels within the recording. There are some 12 bit codecs but these are still quite rare in video cameras. X-OCN is 16 bit which means that you can have up to 65,536 code values or levels within the recording. That’s a colossal increase in tonal values over traditional recording codecs.

But the thing is that X-OCN LT files are a similar size to Sony’s own XAVC-I (class 480) codec, which is already highly efficient. X-OCN LT is around half the size of the popular 10 bit Apple ProRes HQ codec but offers comparable quality. Even the high quality ST version of X-OCN is smaller than ProRes HQ. So you can have image quality and data levels comparable to Sony’s 16 bit linear raw but in a lightweight, easy to handle 16 bit file that’s smaller than the most commonly used 10 bit version of ProRes.

But how is this even possible? Surely such an amazing 16 bit file should be bigger!

The key to all of this is that the data contained within an X-OCN file is based on the sensors output rather than traditional video.  The cameras that produce the X-OCN material all use bayer sensors. In a traditional video workflow the data from a bayer sensor is first converted from the luminance values that the sensor produces into a YCbCr or RGB signal.

So if the camera has a 4096×2160 bayer sensor in a traditional workflow this pixel level data gets converted to 4096×2160 of Green plus 4096×2160 of Red, plus 4096×2160 of Green (or the same of Y, Cb and Cr). In total you end up with 26 million data points which then need to be compressed using a video codec.

Bayer-to-RGB How can 16 bit X-OCN deliver smaller files than 10 bit XAVC-I?However if we bypass the conversion to a video signal and just store the data that comes directly from the sensor we only need to record a single set of 4096×2160 data points – 8.8 million. This means we only need to store 1/3rd as much data as in a traditional video workflow and it is this huge data saving that is the main reason why it is possible for X-OCN to be smaller than traditional video files while retaining amazing image quality. It’s simply a far more efficient way of recording the data from a bayer camera.

Of course this does mean that the edit or playback computer has to do some extra work because as well as decoding the X-OCN file it has to be converted to a video file, but Sony developed X-OCN to be easy to work with – which it is. Even a modest modern workstation will have no problem working with X-OCN. But the fact that you have that sensor data in the grading suite means you have an amazing degree of flexibility. You can even adjust the way the file is decoded to tailor whether you want more highlight or shadow information in the video file that will created after the X-OCN is decoded.

Why isn’t 16 bit much bigger than 10 bit? Normally a 16 bit file will be bigger than a 10 bit file. But with a video image there are often areas of information that are very similar. Video compression algorithms take advantage of this and instead of recording a value for every pixel will record a single value that represents all of the similar pixels. When you go from 10 bit to 16 bit, while yes, you do have more bits of data to record a greater percentage of the code values will be the same or similar and as a result the codec becomes more efficient. So the files size does increase a bit, but not as much as you might expect.

So, X-OCN, out of the gate, only needs to store 1/3rd of the data points of a similar traditional RGB or YCbCr codec. Increasing the bit depth from the typical 10 bit bit depth of a regular codec to the 16 bits of X-OCN does then increase the amount of data needed to record it. But the use of a clever algorithm to minimise the data needed for those 16 bits means that the end result is a 16 bit file only a bit bigger than XAVC-I but still smaller than ProRes HQ even at it’s highest quality level.

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.

Using LUT’s for exposure – choosing the right LUT.

If using a LUT to judge the exposure of a camera shooting log or raw it’s really important that you fully understand how that LUT works.

When a LUT is created it will expect a specific input range and convert that input range to a very specific output range. If you change the input range then the output will range will be different and it may not be correct. As an example a LUT designed and created for use with S-Log2 should not be used with S-Log3 material as the the higher middle grey level used by S-Log3 would mean that the mid range of the LUT’s output would be much brighter than it should be.

Another consideration comes when you start offsetting your exposure levels, perhaps to achieve a brighter log exposure so that after grading the footage will have less noise.

Lets look at a version of Sony’s 709(800) LUT designed to be used with S-Log3 for a moment. This LUT expects middle grey to come in at 41% and it will output middle grey at 43%. It will expect a white card to be at 61% and it will output that same shade of white at a little over 85%. Anything on the S-Log3 side brighter than 61% (white) is considered a highlight and the LUT will compress the highlight range (almost 4 stops) into the output range between 85% and 109% resulting in flat looking highlights. This is all perfectly fine if you expose at the levels suggested by Sony. But what happens if you do expose brighter and try to use the same LUT either in camera or in post production?

Well if you expose 1.5 stops brighter on the log side middle grey becomes around 54% and white becomes around 74%. Skin tones which sit half way between middle grey and white will be around 64% on the LUT’s input. That’s going to cause a problem! The LUT considers anything brighter than 61% on it’s input to be a highlight and it will compresses anything brighter than 61%. As a result on the output of your LUT your skin tones will not only be bright, but they will be compressed and flat looking. This makes them hard to grade. This is why if you are shooting a bit brighter it is much, much easier to grade your footage if your LUT’s have offsets to allow for this over exposure.

If the camera has an EI mode (like the FS7, F5, F55 etc) the EI mode offsets the LUT’s input so you don’t see this problem in camera but there are other problems you can encounter if you are not careful like unintentional over exposure when using the Sony LC709 series of LUTs.

Sony’s  709(800) LUT closely matches the gamma of most normal monitors and viewfinders, so 709(800) will deliver the correct contrast ie. contrast that matches the scene you are shooting plus it will give conventional TV brightness levels when viewed on standard monitors or viewfinders.

If you use any of the LC709 LUT’s you will have a miss-match between the LUT’s gamma and the monitors gamma so the images will show lower contrast and the levels will be lower than conventional TV levels when exposed correctly. LC709 stands for low contrast gamma with 709 color primaries, it is not 709 gamma!

Sony’s LC709 Type A LUT is very popular as it mimics the way an Arri Alexa might look. That’s fine but you also need to be aware that the correct exposure levels for this non-standard LC gamma are middle grey at around 41% and white at 70%.

An easy trap to fall into is to set the camera to a low EI to gain a brighter log exposure and then to use one of the LC709 LUT’s and try to eyeball the exposure. Because the LC709 LUT’s are darker and flatter it’s harder to eyeball the exposure and often people will expose them as you would regular 709. This then results in a double over exposure. Bright because of the intentional use of the lower EI but even brighter because the LUT has been exposed at or close to conventional 709 brightness. If you were to mistakenly expose the LC709TypeA LUT with skin tones at 70%, white at 90% etc then that will add almost 2 stops to the log exposure on top of any EI offset.

Above middle grey with 709(800) a 1 stop exposure change results in an a 20% change in brightness, with LC709TypeA the same exposure change only gives a just over 10% change, as a result over or under exposure is much less obvious and harder to measure or judge by eye with LC709. The cameras default zebra settings for example have a 10% window. So with LC709 you could easily be a whole stop out, while with 709(800) only half a stop.

Personally when shooting I don’t really care too much about how the image looks in terms of brightness and contrast. I’m more interested in using the built in LUT’s to ensure my exposure is where I want it to be. So for exposure assessment I prefer to use the LUT that is going to show the biggest change when my exposure is not where it should be. For the “look” I will feed a separate monitor and apply any stylised looks there. To understand how my highlights and shadows, above and below the LUT’s range are being captured I use the Hi/Low Key function.

If you are someone that creates your own LUT’s an important consideration is to ensure that if you are shooting test shots, then grading these test shots to produce a LUT it’s really, really important that the test shots are very accurately exposed.

You have 2 choices here. You can either expose at the levels recommended by Sony and then use EI to add any offsets or you can offset the exposure in camera and not use EI but instead rely on the offset that will end up in the LUT. What is never a good idea is to add an EI offset to a LUT that was also offset.

Why are Sony’s ISO’s different between standard gammas and log?

With Sony’s log capable cameras (and most other manufacturers) when you switch between the standard gamma curves and log gamma there is a change in the cameras ISO rating. For example the FS7 is rated at 800 ISO in rec709 but rated at 2000 ISO in log. Why does this change occur and how does it effect the pictures you shoot?

As 709 etc has a limited DR (between around 6 and 10 stops depending on the knee settings) while the sensor itself has a 14 stop range, you only need to take a small part of the sensors full range to produce that smaller range 709 or hypergamma image. That gives the camera manufacturer some freedom to pick the sweetest part of the sensors range. his also gives some leeway as to where you place the base ISO.

I suspect Sony chose 800 ISO for the FS7 and F5 etc as that’s the sensors sweet spot, I certainly don’t think it was an accidental choice.

What is ISO on an electronic camera? ISO is the equivalent sensitivity rating. It isn’t a measure of the cameras actual sensitivity, it is the ISO rating you need to enter into a light meter if you were using an external light meter to get the correct exposure settings. It is the equivalent sensitivity. Remember we can’t change the sensor in these cameras so we can’t actually change the cameras real sensitivity, all we can do is use different amounts of gain or signal amplification to make the pictures brighter or darker.

When you go switch the camera to log you have no choice other than to take everything the sensor offers. It’s a 14 stop sensor and if you want to record 14 stops, then you have to take 100% of the sensors output. The camera manufacturer then chooses what they believe is the best exposure mid point point where they feel there is an acceptable compromise between noise, highlight and lowlight response. From that the manufacture will get an ISO equivalent exposure rating.

If you have an F5, FS7 or other Sony log camera, look at what happens when you switch from rec709 to S-Log2 but you keep your exposure constant.

Middle grey stays more or less where it is, the highlights come down. White will drop from 90% to around 73%. But the ISO rating given by the camera increases from 800ISO to 2000ISO. This increased ISO number implies that the sensor became more sensitive – This is not the case and a little missleading. If you set the camera up to display gain in dB and switch between rec709 (std gamma) and S-Log the camera stays at 0dB, this should be telling you that there is no change to the cameras gain, no change to it’s sensitivity. Yet the ISO rating changes – why?

The only reason the ISO number increases is to force us to underexpose the sensor by 1.3 stops (relative to standard gammas such as rec709 and almost every other gamma) so we can squeeze a bit more out of the highlights. If you were using an external light meter to set your exposure if you change the ISO setting on the light meter from 800 ISO to 2000 ISO  the light meter will tell you to close the aperture by 1.3 stops. So that’s what we do on the camera, we close the aperture down a bit to gain some extra highlight range.

But all this comes at the expense of the shadows and mid range. Because you are putting less light on the sensor if you use 2000 ISO as your base setting the shadows and mids are now not as good as they would be  in 709 or with the other standard gammas.

This is part of the reason why I recommend that you shoot with log between 1 and 2 stops brighter than the base levels given by Sony. If you shoot 1 stop brighter that is the equivalent to shooting at 1000 ISO and this is closer to the 800 ISO that Sony rate the camera at in standard gamma.  Shooting that bit brighter gives you a much better mid range that grades much better.

 

Version 9 Firmware for the Sony PMW-F5 and PMW-F55 Released.

Looks like I will have a busy day today upgrading cameras. As well as the re-release of Version 4 for the PXW-FS5, Sony have also released version 9 for the PMW-F5 and PMW-F55 cameras.

Version 9 adds some additional high speed frame rates when recording with the R7 recorder. It also adds extra parallel recording functions when using the CBK-WA100 Wireless Adapter and interestingly also adds Long GoP recording (XAVC-L) when shooting at 29.97fps and 59.94fps (sadly no 24,25 or 50fps Long GoP).

The new firmware can be downloaded from here:

PMW-F5

https://www.sony.co.uk/pro/support/software/SET_BPE-SS-1038/210

PMW-F55

https://www.sony.co.uk/pro/support/software/SET_BPE-SS-1039/200

FROM SONY: IMPORTANT NOTE:

 

Please install Version 9 ONLY if your F5 or F55 camera has been successfully updated to Firmware Version 8 or higher. Otherwise, it is very important to note that for the F5 and F55 cameras with the serial numbers range listed in the Release Notes document, the user cannot perform the Upgrade to Version 9 and should contact your local Sony Service agent.

NEW FEATURES:

1) Frame rates for 4K and high frame rate recordings added.
72, 75, 90, 96, and 100 FPS have been added to the available values in “Frame Rate” when the AXS-R7 is attached to the PMW-F55.

2) Compatible with the “Parallel Rec” mode with CBK-WA100 attached.
The “Parallel Rec” mode enables synchronization with the same file name between the XAVC Proxy recording by using the wireless adapter  CBK-WA100.

3) XAVC HD Long added (when the system frequency is set to 29.97 or 59.94).

Want to shoot direct to HDR with the PXW-FS7, PMW-F5 and F55?

Sony will be releasing an update for the firmware in the Sony PXW-FS5 in the next few days. This update amongst other things will allow users of the FS5 to shoot to HDR directly using the Hybrid Log Gamma HDR gamma curve and Rec2020 color. By doing this you  eliminate the need to grade your footage and could plug the camera directly in to a compatible HDR TV (the TV must support HLG) and see an HDR image directly on the screen.

But what about FS7 and F5/F55 owners? Well, for most HDR productions I still believe the best workflow is to shoot in S-Log3 and then to grade the footage to HDR. However there may be times when you need that direct HDR output. So for the FS7, F5 and F55 I have created a set of Hybrid Log Gamma LUT’s that you can use to bake in HLG and Rec2020 while you shoot. This gives you the same capabilities as the FS5 (with the exception of the ability to add HLG metadata to the HDMI).

For a video explanation of the process please follow the link to my new Patreon page where you will find the video and the downloadable LUT’s.

Why do I always shoot at 800 EI (FS7 and F5)?

This is a question that comes up time and time again. I’ve been using the F5 and FS7 for almost 5 years. What I’ve discovered in that time is that the one thing that people notice more than anything from these cameras is noise if you get your exposure wrong. In addition it’s much harder to grade a noisy image than a clean one.
Lets take a look at a few key things about how we expose and how the F5/FS7 works (note the same principle applies to most log based cameras, the FS5 also benefits from being exposed brighter than the suggested base settings).
What in the image is important? What will your audience notice first? Mid-range, shadows or highlights?
I would suggest that most audiences first look at the mid range – faces, skin tones, building walls, plants etc. Next they will notice noise and grain or perhaps poor, muddy or murky shadows. The last thing they will notice is a few very brightly highlights such as specular reflections that might be clipped.
The old notion of protecting the highlights comes from traditional gamma curves with a knee or highlight roll off where everything brighter than a piece of white paper (90% white) is compressed into a very small recording range. As a result when shooting with conventional gamma curves ALL of the brighter parts of the image are compromised to some degree, typically showing a lack of contrast and texture, often showing some weird monotone colors. Log is not like that, there is no highlight roll off, so those brighter than white highlights are not compromised in the same way.
 
In the standard gammas at 0dB the PXW-FS7, like the PMW-F5 is rated at 800 ISO. This gives a good balance between noise and sensitivity. Footage shoot at 0dB/800ISO with the standard gammas or Hypergammas generally looks nice and clean with no obvious noise problems. However when we switch to log the native ISO rating of the cameras becomes 2000 ISO, so to expose “correctly” we need to stop the aperture down by 1.3 stops. This means that compared to 709 and HG1 to HG4, the sensor is being under exposed by 1.3 stops. Less light on the sensor will mean more noise in the final image. 1.3 stops is the equivalent of 9dB. Imagine how Rec709 looks if it is under exposed by 1.3 stops or has to have +9dB of gain added in. Well – thats what log at 2000 ISO will look like.
 
However log has lots of spare headroom and no highlight compression. So we can choose to expose brighter than the base ISO because pushing that white piece of paper brighter in exposure does not cause it to become compressed.
If you open the aperture back up by 1.3 stops you get back to where you would be with 709 in terms of noise and grain. This would be “rating” the camera at 800 ISO or using 800 EI. Rating the camera at 800EI you still have 4.7 stops of over exposure range, so the only things that will be clipped will in most cases be specular reflections or extreme highlights. There is no TV or monitor in existence that can show these properly, so no matter what you do, they will never be true to life. So don’t worry if you have some clipped highlights, ignore them. Bringing your exposure down to protect these is going to compromise the mid range and they will never look great anyway.
 
You should also be extremely cautious about ever using an EI higher that 2000. The camera is not becoming more sensitive, people are often misslead by high EI’s into thinking somehow they are capturing more than they really are. If you were to shoot at 4000 EI you will end up with footage 15dB noisier than if you were shooting the same scene using 709 at 800 ISO. That’s a lot of extra noise and you won’t necessarily appreciate just how noisy the footage will be while shooting looking at a small monitor or viewfinder.
 
I’ve been shooting with the F5 and then the FS7 for almost 5 years and I’ve never found a situation where I going to an EI higher than 800 would have resulted in a better end result. At the same time I’ve seen a lot of 2000 EI footage where noise in the mid range has been an issue, one particular example springs to mind of a high end car shoot where 2000 EI was used but the gloss and shine of the car bodywork is spoilt because it’s noisy, especially the darker coloured cars.
 
Of course this is just my opinion, based on my own experience, others may differ and the best thing you can do is test for yourself.

Auto Knee when shooting with Rec-709.

Like many cameras the Sony PXW-FS7, PMW-F5 and F55 use an automatic knee circuit to help the camera handle strong highlights or overexposure when shooting using standard gamma curves such as Rec-709 (STD gamma 5). On some ENG cameras there is a very similar function  called DCC (Dynamic Contrast Compensation) which is often selected via the Camera/Bars switch.

On the FS7, F5/F55 and many others the Auto Knee is on by default out of the factory. It can be turned on and off in the cameras paint settings. In most normal shooting situations, if you are correctly exposed the auto knee does a good job of bringing bright highlights down out of clipping.  The auto knee threshold is at around 90% brightness. Expose with objects brighter than 90% in your scene and the auto knee starts to kick in.

The correct exposure for white, such as a 90% reflectivity white card or white piece of paper in Rec-709 is 90%. Skin tones, plants, walls, roads and in fact most objects will normally be below white or below 90%. However direct light sources, such as the sky or direct reflections such as shiny car body work will be brighter than white. So the knee should only ever effect objects brighter than white if you are exposed correctly.  So for most situations it should not effect skin tones and the majority of the scene, just the bright highlights.

The auto knee detects highlight levels above 90% and tries to keep the highlight range below clipping by adding contrast compression to the highlights. The amount of compression depends on how strong the highlights are. As a result the auto knee effect will vary with exposure. If you have a scene with only a few highlights there will be some knee compression and it’s effect will only be seen above approx 90%. If you then open the aperture or have a lot of highlights the auto knee will increase the highlight compression to compensate. If the highlight range becomes very large then the knee will not only increase the amount of compression but also lower the knee point so more and more of the upper exposure range is effected by the knee. In extreme cases the knee point may get as low as 70-80% and this then starts to effect skin tones.

To prevent rapid fluctuations of the contrast in the highlight range the auto knee has a slight delay. This can result in a vicious circle where you open the iris a bit to help brighten the shot. The shot gets brighter. Then a couple of seconds later you look at the shot again and because the knee has now adjusted the highlights after it’s delay period it looks different to how it looked at the moment you made the initial adjustment. So you adjust again…. then the knee adjusts again and so on. Sometimes this lag can make it tricky to get your highlights to look exactly how you want.

Another common auto knee effect is to see the brighter parts of an entire image change as a result of a change in only a small part of the scene. A typical example would be an interview with a window in the background. As the highlight level in the bright window changes, perhaps as the sun comes and goes from behind passing clouds, the knee tries to compensate and all of the highlights in the scene go up and down in brightness whether they are over exposed or not. This looks very strange and can ruin an otherwise good looking shot.

If you are shooting in a studio against a white background the auto knee makes it impossible to get a brilliantly bright uniformly clipped white background. You increase your exposure to make the white background extra bright and because that white is now above 90% the auto knee treats it as a highlight and tries to control it’s brightness. The more you open the aperture the more the knee pulls down the white background, it never reaches clipping. Eventually you get to the point where the knee starts to effect the skin tones but your white backdrop still isn’t clipped. The image doesn’t look great.

In these cases the best thing to do is to turn off the Auto Knee. If you go into the paint settings you will find the knee settings. In most cases leave the knee on (except perhaps for the white studio example), but turn OFF the auto knee function. The fixed level knee will still give you a good highlight range but eliminate the pumping or other variable knee effects. Note that the knee options have no effect if using a Hypergamma or log. They only come into paly with standard gamma.

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