Category Archives: PXW

Mac Driver For Sony Alpha and PXW-FS5 firmware updates. USB Firmware driver for High Sierra.

If like me you use a Mac computer and are using the High Sierra OS then if you want to upgrade your camera you will need this supplemental driver from Sony:

https://support.d-imaging.sony.co.jp/mac/driver/1013/en/index.html

This is for any Sony camera that is upgraded via a direct USB connection between the computer and the camera, so that includes cameras like the A7s, A7r, A6300 and the rest of the Sony Alpha series. It is also for many of the PXW video cameras including the PXW-FS5. You don’t need it for cameras like the PMW-F55 or PXW-FS7 where the update is done by placing the upgrade file on an SD card.

Without this driver the upgrade software will install and all appears to be working OK. Except you can’t get a good USB connection between the camera and the mac computer and the upgrade will fail.

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Venice Look LUT’s For 14 stop cameras A7, FS5, FS7, F5, F55 etc.

Hello all. So after numerous problems for some people trying to download the official Sony s709 LUT for Venice, I decided to create my own Venice Look LUT’s. These LUT’s have been created using image matching techniques plus some small tweaks and adjustments to make the LUT’s work well with the 14 stop cameras.

Venice is a 15 stop camera with a new sensor and as a result the official s709 LUT’s are not quite right for the current 14 stop cameras like the FS5, PMW-F55, FS7 and even the A7 series. So the LUT that I have created is slightly different to allow for this.

The end result is a LUT that gets you really close to the way Venice looks. It won’t magically turn your FS5 into a Venice, there is something very, very nice about the way Venice handles the extremes of it’s dynamic range, plus Venice has Sony’s best colour filters (similar to the F55 and F65). So Venice will always be that one very nice step up. But these LUT’s should get you close to the default Venice 709 look. This LUT should NOT be used with Venice as it this LUT is restricted to 14 stops.

Of course do remember that the default look and indeed the official s709 LUT was designed as a first pass look. An instant viewing output for a DIT or for on set viewing. It is not really meant to be the final finished look. It would be normal to grade the Venice material, perhaps from scratch rather than using the s709 LUT for the final output. But, s709 is what comes out of the cameras SDI connectors if you use the default LUT/Look. This is what this LUT set mimics, with some tweaks for the lower cost cameras.

This is one of the largest and most comprehensive LUT sets I have ever created. There are versions designed specifically for grading in Resolve or other grading suites. The bulk of the LUT’s are designed to be used with S-Log3 and SGamut3.cine. There are monitoring versions with offsets for use in monitors such as the Atomos range. I have created a set with offsets for both the Zacuto and Small HD viewfinders and monitors and finally I have also created sets of LUT’s for use with S-Log2 so users of the original A7s or those that wish to shoot with S-Log2 on an 8 bit camera are not left out.

The LUT’s work best with the PMW-F55 as this has the closest native color to the Venice camera, but I think they work really well on the rest of the Sony range.

If you find the LUT’S useful, please consider buying me a beer or a coffee using the “Buy Now” button below. There are different drink options depending on what you feel is fair, it takes time to prepare these and there are costs associated with hosting the files. I’m not paid to run this website and every little bit helps and is greatly appreciated.

If you don’t wish to buy me a coffee, that’s cool. But please don’t host the files elsewhere. Feel free to link back here and share the link, but please don’t distribute these anywhere else.

Here’s the link to the zip file containing the my Venice Look LUT set:

Click Here to download Alister’s Venice Look LUTs V2


Type



pixel Venice Look LUT's For 14 stop cameras A7, FS5, FS7, F5, F55 etc.

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Sony Venice LUT.

Sony’s new Rec-709 style LUT for the Venice camera is now available. This Lut was designed to work with the Venice camera to provide a new film like look with beautiful highlight roll-off.  In it’s current form it only works with S-Log3/S-Gamut3.cine material, although you could use the excellent LUTCalc app to create different versions.

Although designed for Venice the LUT works really well with footage from the FS5, FS7, F5 and F55 etc.

You can download the base LUT from here until the end of July. https://dmpce.cimediacloud.com/mediaboxes/8374a677e6224da2a170bd841f64302d

Why is the white balance limited to 3 presets when using S-Log2, S-Log3 or raw?

This seems to be a source of frustration for many people shooting  raw or using S-Log2 or S-Log3 on a Sony camera. When shooting log and raw you should also be using a matching S-Gamut colour gamut if you want to get the best from the camera and this ties you into one of 3 preset white balances.

With a PXW-FS7, PMW-F5 or F55 it is possible to use custom mode to select a different colour space to mix with S-Log2 or S-Log3 and then have a variable white balance. With the Alpha cameras, PXW cameras such as the FS5 you can choose any Gamut you want in the picture profiles, but I don’t recommend this. For a start, if you don’t use one of the S-Gamuts you will be limited to Rec-709 Gamut, so you won’t be recording  the cameras full colour range. Also in custom mode there are some other things like noise reduction that you really don’t want when shooting S-log2/3 (it can cause banding).

So why is the S-Gamut white balance fixed to the 3 presets for daylight, fluorescent and tungsten? The main reason is to ensure you get the cameras full dynamic range in each colour. White balance is a gain function, it adjusts the gain of the red, green and blue channels so that white objects appear white under differing light sources. So if the light source lacks blue light – making the pictures look excessively warm – you add extra gain to the blue channel to compensate.

But the problem with this is that gain affects dynamic range. When shooting log (or raw) the camera needs to operate the sensor at the optimum gain level to squeeze the highest possible dynamic range from the it. Changing the gain in just one colour channel to shift the white balance could result in a reduction of dynamic range in the channel. This could manifest itself as colours in one channel that clip sooner than the others. This can be really hard to deal with in post production and can show up as things like bright clouds with a colour cast that isn’t in the rest of the picture.

Another potential issue is that because of the way silicon sensors work the blue channel is almost always noisier than the red and green. So you want to keep the gain in the blue channel as low as possible to prevent the pictures getting too noisy. This is particularly important when shooting log as you won’t see your end result until after the images have been graded. So manually shifting the gain of the blue channel in camera to correct the white balance could lead to footage that ends up noisier than you would expect.

So – Sony chose to fix the white balance to 3 carefully tuned presets designed to avoid this situation and maximise the dynamic range. After all, when shooting log or raw it is expected that the footage will be graded anyway, so the white balance will normally be adjusted as part of the post production process.

There are some people that advocate adjusting the FS5’s white balance via the picture profile settings, personally I don’t recommend this or feel that it’s necessary. But yes, you can do this, but just keep a very close eye on your highlights and if you can use monitor with RGB parade to make sure you have equal recording levels for your whites without one colour channel clipping ahead of the others. Also apply a LUT in the monitor that is close to your desired output so that you can keep an eye on the noise levels.

In summary – the white balance is preset to ensure you don’t encounter problems later on. You should be able to fully adjust and fine tune your white balance in post production to a far greater degree than is possible in camera anyway, so don’t worry if the WB is a touch off when shooting.

The only exception to this is the new Sony Venice. Venice has enough dynamic range and enough internal processing power to allow you to make a wide range of white balance adjustments in camera. Hopefully we will see some of this flexibility trickle down to the next generations of lower cost Sony digital cinema cameras.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

36B7978-1024x576 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The PXW-X90 is very small, so carrying it around on the snow scooters was easy.
AJC03977-1024x683 The Sony PXW-Z90 - a compact 4K camcorder with auto focus at it's best!
The rear of the hand grip of the PXW-Z90.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 


 

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-Log3 clips the highlights sooner.

On most of Sony’s current cameras 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 and in fact the new Venice camera records over 15 stops.  But as all of Sony’s other cameras sensors can only see 14 stops and the S-Log3 curve is designed to go beyond 14 stops, stop No. 14 is not recorded all the way at the top of the recording range.  S-Log2 is a 14 stop maximum curve, so the peak level is recorded right at the top of the recording range. There is no space held in reserve for anything beyond 14 stops.

In Sonys current camera range (other than Venice) 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 or code values). 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 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 most of 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. So S-Log2 makes better use of the data you have available to you,

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 and Venice 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 behaves differently to other curves in post. The end result was that in the early days of S-Log2 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 (unless you have a Sony Venice which only has S-Log3). S-Log2 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.

Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).

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The Sony PXW-Z150 4K camcorder.

Although it’s been on the market for a while now I have not yet had a chance to write a proper review of the PXW-Z150. I’ve played with it a few times and I’ve felt it offers good value (approx £3k/$4K). As it’s starting to gain some traction amongst corporate producers and those looking for a straight forward 4K camera with lot’s of bang for the buck I though it’s time to share my thoughts.

Cameras like the Z150 are often overlooked these days as they don’t have the “cool” factor that comes with the large sensor Super 35mm cameras that are all the rage, cameras like the PXW-FS5 or FS7.

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Left side of the PXW-Z150

But not everyone wants shallow depth of field all of the time. In addition many people want zoom lenses that can zoom in to get a tight shot and zoom back out smoothly without a focus shift. If you add portability and ease of use into the mix then there is no Super 35mm camera that offers all of these. Want a big par focal zoom range – the lens gets big, heavy and very expensive.

This is where a one piece camera with a fixed zoom lens comes into it’s own. For a fraction of the the price of any of the 10 times or more par-focal S35m zoom lenses you can get a fully functioning camcorder. The PXW-Z150 has a 12x optical zoom that can be boosted up to 24x in HD (more on that later).

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Right side of the PXW-Z150

So lets take a closer look at the Z150.

From the outside the PXW-Z150 resembles many other handycam style cameras and is almost identical to the HXR-NX100. But this is from the PXW product line, I’m lead to believe that stands for “Professional XAVC Writer”. So this means it will have the XAVC codec. It’s also an XDCAM camcorder and in this case that means it also includes the MPEG2 HD codec. In addition in case you haven’t spotted it there is also a big “4K” symbol on the side.

CODECS AND RECORD FORMATS

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The PXW-Z150’s lens hood with built in shutter style lens cap.

So the camera can record UHD (3840 x 2160, the 4K standard for TV) at up to 30fps using Sony’s XAVC-L codec. This is the long GoP version of XAVC and comes in 60 and 100Mb/s versions in the Z150.  It is worth considering that this codec does require a pretty good computer to work with it in post production, ideally a minimum of a 4 core i7 processor with 16GB of main ram plus a good NVIDIA or AMD graphics card with 2GB of dedicated video ram. In UHD XAVC-L is limited to 8 bit 4:2:0, this still produces a great looking image but is not considered good enough for main stream UHD broadcast.

The image below is a UHD frame grab from the Z150. Click on the image to see larger versions including the full 3840×2160 image. The grab is a jpeg so may have some compression artefacts not in the original frame.

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UHD frame grab from the PXW-Z150. Click on the image to see a larger version or to view the full UHD frame.

If you are not shooting in UHD then you have lots of options. Again we have XAVC-L now at 25, 35 and 50Mb/s and up to 60fp. 35Mb/s and 50Mb/s XAVC-L is normally considered broadcast quality at 25/30fps. In HD XAVC-L is 10 bit 4:2:2.

As well as XAVC-L you also have two more 8 bit HD codecs, MPEG2HD and AVCHD. There are two versions of MPEG2HD, the regular HD version which is 4:2:0 at 35Mb/s as found in the older EX1 and EX3 camcorders as well as the 50Mb/s HD422 4:2:2 broadcast quality version as found in the PMW-200 and most of Sony broadcast camcorders. These older MPEG2 “XDCAM” codecs are still incredibly popular and accepted almost everywhere for broadcast HD. They are really easy to use and even though they are 8 bit still give great looking pictures. Finally if you just need something compact there is AVCHD, although frankly why you would want to use AVCHD when you have so many better options available I’m not sure. Perhaps those running older or consumer based edit software will benefit from the inclusion of AVCHD.

RECORDING MEDIA.

In order to be able to record all the different formats available you must use SDXC cards. These are readily available and low cost. Please remember though that SD cards are consumer media. It is normally very reliable (probably more reliable than tape used to be) but card failures can occur and a duff card could result in the loss of everything on the card. Fortunately Sony have considered this and the camera features two card slots.

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The PXW-Z150 has two slots for SDXC cards.

The two card slots can be configured in a number of ways. To record long events you can use relay record where once the first card is full the camera will automatically switch to the second card. For security you can use simultaneous record where you record to both slots at the same time. This means you are creating an instant backup, so the failure of a single card should not be a drama. As a further option you can control the recording function of each card slot separately. You can use the record button on the hand grip to control one slot and the record button on the carry handle to control the other to give 2 independent recordings.

A further recording function is the ability to record a proxy file alongside the main recording. The proxy file can be used in a number of ways. One way is to provide an easier to handle 720p HD file for use as an edit proxy when shooting in UHD. Another is as a small compact file that can be uploaded to the internet via the cameras built in ftp  function, perhaps for a breaking news story or remote editing and preview. As this is a proper video camera there are none of the overheating problems or limited record time issues that effect many DSLR type cameras.

One word of advice: Buy your cards from a reputable source. There is a lot of fake media out there that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. The fake cards are often unreliable, so do make sure you only buy good quality genuine media from one of the main brands such as Transcend, Lexar, SanDisk etc.

1″ TYPE SENSOR.

The sensor that feeds all these different codecs is a “1 inch type” Exmor RS back illuminated CMOS sensor with 14.2 million effective pixels. What does all that mean?

“1 Inch Type” means the sensor size is bigger than the sensor on a 2/3″ broadcast camera but smaller than APS-C, Micro 4/3rds or Super 35mm (see this for more info on imperial type sensor sizes). So the depth of field will be deeper (more in focus) than a camera like Sony’s PXW-FS5 with it’s Super 35mm sensor, but shallower than most typical 2/3″ ENG broadcast shoulder cameras and other traditional handycams with 1/2″ or 1/3″ sensors.

Exmor RS is Sony’s latest generation of back illuminated sensor technology that gives better low light performance with small pixels compared to traditional front illuminated sensors. In addition RS stands for “Rear Stacked”. The stacking technology allows for a faster sensor readout among other things and this significantly reduces image skew and rolling shutter artefacts compared to the previous generation of these sensors. The faster readout also means that every pixel is used when shooting at up to 120 fps in HD using the cameras super slow motion function (note that this is 120fps interlace XAVC-L), so less aliasing and moire.

While RS does not eliminate rolling shutter artefacts from what I can see the Z150 offers a big improvement over cameras like the PXW-X70 and the A7S. You have to pan very fast before rolling shutter becomes a problem and in normal use skew and jello should not cause any significant problems.

12X OPTICAL ZOOM LENS.

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PXW-Z150’s 12x “G” series optical zoom lens.

Light is fed to the sensor by a 12x optical zoom lens. On the side of the camera there is a big and bold “18X“. That’s there because this camera also has Sony’s clever “Clear Image Zoom” technology. In the past if you mentioned a digital zoom it used to make people cringe as it normally meant a drop in picture quality. But Clear Image Zoom really is very clever.

First of all remember that in HD you have a UHD sensor, so you can crop into this by 2 times with virtually no loss in image quality anyway. So in HD you have an additional 2x zoom on top of the optical zoom giving a combined total of 24x. In UHD the camera uses a database of textures to determine the best way to process the image. This allows for a virtually transparent extra 1.5x electronic zoom on top of the optical one. This gives you the 18x zoom range indicated on the camera body. In use, the clear image zoom function works seamlessly with the optical zoom. So as you zoom in or out the electronic zoom takes over where the optical one finishes.

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PXW-Z100 full Wide.
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PXW-Z100 12 x optical zoom (click on image to see higher resolution versions)
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PXW-Z150 Full 18x zoom, 12x optical plus clear image zoom (click on the image to view higher resolution versions).

There is the very slightest of bumps in the zoom at the changeover point from optical to digital which I don’t think most audiences would spot. After shooting so much recently with Super 35mm cameras I really had forgotten just how much quicker it can be to shoot with a good par-focal zoom with a high zoom ratio (par focal – focus remains constant through the zoom range). The lens is reasonably wide at the equivalent of 29mm  going all the way optically to a 348mm in full frame 35mm terms. The only downside really to the zoom is that the widest aperture ramps from f2.8 to f4.5 as you zoom in. This is one of the penalties you pay for having a larger sensor.

Another slight peculiarity of the aperture is that the minimum is f11. Most lenses go down to f16 or smaller, but this is limited to f11. I suspect this may be to prevent something called diffraction limiting. When light travels though a very small aperture it can become slightly defocussed. When you have very small pixels (like when you cram 4K’s worth of pixels onto a smallish sensor) this slight defocussing has a big impact and can lead to soft and blurry looking pictures. I suspect that Sony may be limiting the smallest aperture to f11 to prevent this and help ensure sharp pictures at all times. If you have too much light then don’t worry as you have a 4 way ND filter system where you can choose between clear, 1/4, 1/16th and 1/64 ND.

DSC06728-300x200 Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).
The zoom rocker.

The lens has three control rings. One for aperture, one for zoom and one for focus. Unfortunately none of these have any markings as they are all electronic controls with no direct connection to the mechanics of the lens. Fortunately though the lens is quite responsive. The iris ring works well with almost no lag. The zoom ring is the weakest link as you can turn the zoom ring faster than the lens can zoom and this can result in some lag as you wait for the zoom to catch up. The zoom speed range is pretty good, using the rocker on the hand grip you can go from a very slow creeping zoom to a respectable 2.5 seconds (approx)  from fully wide to 12x.

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There are 3 control rings on the PXW-Z150’s zoom lens.

The focus ring is big and chunky, easy to find and easy to grip. While you can’t crash focus with it the manual focus, it is nice and responsive and doesn’t exhibit any nasty overshoots or other surprises. So manual focussing is nice and easy.  This is assisted by a good viewfinder peaking and a focus magnification system  that helps you determine the sharpest parts of the image with ease. One observation though is that if you leave the peaking on the default “White” setting it can make some scenes appear over exposed as white sparkles appear across areas of fine detail. For this reason I normally use the Red or Blue peaking colors.

INPUT AND OUTPUT CONNECTIONS

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The PXW-Z150’s built in stereo microphone.

For audio there is a built in stereo mic on the front of the handle that is adequate for background and ambient sound recording. You then have the usual 2x XLR connectors with switchable phantom power on the front of the hand grip plus Sony’s MI Shoe on the top. Using the MI Shoe you can connect Sony’s UWP-D radio microphones directly to the camera via a low cost mounting adapter (SMAD-P3) eliminating the need for wires or batteries in the microphone receiver. It’s a very neat system.

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Video output options on the PXW-Z150

To output your pictures you have an HDSDI connector on the rear of the camera for HD plus an HDMI port that can deliver UHD.  There is also a legacy standard definition composite video output, this is one of the few Sony professional cameras to still have this built in. There is of course also a headphone socket on the rear panel of the camera just above the DC in socket.

POWER AND BUILD QUALITY.

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The PXW-Z150 runs off NPF-F type batteries.

The PXW-Z150 runs off readily available and incredibly common  Sony NP-F series batteries. It’s a low power camera so a single battery lasts for ages. I got about 3.5 hours from one of the smaller F770 batteries. An F970 would give at least half a working day, so two of those is all that most people would need.

Build Quality:

When I first picked the camera up it felt good. Like most modern cameras it’s constructed from a mix of plastics and alloy. The plastics appear to be of good quality and it seems to be well constructed. Perhaps not quite as high quality as the PXW-FS5 or FS7 but this is a much cheaper camera.

DSC06738-e1470743903861 Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).
Audio switches and controls on the PXW-Z150

Buttons and switches:

There are very few switches on this camera. Just the on/off switch and switches for the audio inputs. But there are plenty of buttons including 6 user assignable buttons. For exposure control you have push buttons that select the gain, white balance and shutter settings and work in conjunction with a small up/down rocker button on the front left of the body. The rocker is used to scroll though the selections available for each of these. In practice this works quite well except that once you select one of these functions, lets say the gain, it remains selected and the rocker switch active unless you press a different function. If you press gain again to try to deselect it, gain will switch to auto and you have to press it again to go back to manual. It’s a minor thing but did result in me ending up accidentally going to auto gain or shutter when I didn’t mean to. I’m sure if you were to use the camera regularly you would soon get used to this.

Iris(aperture) is switched between auto and manual via a dedicated button as is focus. Autofocus works surprisingly well even in low light. It’s not fast but hunting is minimal once it’s focussed and it was able to track moving objects quite well.

While a one inch sensor is bigger than 2/3″ or 1/2″ it’s still significantly smaller than the Super 35mm sensors that are all the range. The Z150 has a lot of pixels squeezed onto quite a small space, so don’t expect amazing low light performance, it’s not that kind of camera. However it’s low light performance is very good for this class of compact all-in-one UHD/4K camera. For all but the most critical applications you can add 12dB of gain without any major dramas to boost the low light performance. +24dB isn’t horrendous if you really have to push the camera and the top limit of +33dB is impressive but rather noisy. In low light the lens works best when it’s wide and at f2.8. Zoom in and it drops down to f4.5 and that does drop your brightness by over a stop or the equivalent of a little over 6dB of gain (1 f-stop = 6dB = Double/half the ISO).

So picture quality… that’s a pretty important factor.

Single small sensor cameras have come a long way in recent years and the Z150 is no exception. The picture quality is pretty good for a budget camera. The smallish sensor with it’s tightly packed and very small pixels does impose some limitations on just how good it can be, especially in dynamic range and sensitivity but it does produce a nice picture for what it is.

Colours are vibrant, noise levels are low and dynamic range perfectly useable. I estimate about 10 stops of dynamic range so it’s not in the same league as the super 35mm cameras, but respectable none the less. Noise levels are low enough that you can afford to slightly under expose the camera and tweak the pictures a little in post production if you need to. This can be useful if you notice the camera is struggling with bright highlights.  I used the cameras built in Histogram to help judge exposure and found that if I had bright highlights such as the bright clouds in the sky as seen in the frame grabs here, that the best results were achieved when ensuring the highlights were below the grey 100% line on the histogram. If you expose the highlights all the way to the far right of the histogram (109%) the highlight areas are flattened by the cameras knee and they can look a bit odd. I felt  it was best to expose just a little lower as this gives better looking highlights (about half to one stop). If using auto exposure, including a -0.5 to -1 EV offset to the auto exposure (in the camera menu) has the same effect. Chromatic aberration is very low, probably being hidden by in camera processing. and the sharpening/detail correction well balanced. The PXW-Z150 creates good looking images for a single smaller chip sensor out of the box.

But as well as the standard look the camera does include 6 picture profiles which can be found towards the bottom of the camera menu. Each profile gives a quite different look.

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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 1 (standard camera settings)
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 1 (standard camera settings)
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 2, DSLR Look.
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 2, DSLR look.
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 3 Rec-709 with Pro Color.
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 3, Rec-709 with Pro Color.
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 4, Rec709.
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 4, Rec709.
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PXW-Z150, Picture Profile 5, Cinematone 1, Negative Film.
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PXW-Z150, Picture Profile 5, Cinematone 1, Negative Film.
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PXW-Z150, Picture Profile 6, Cinematone 2, Print Film.
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PXW-Z150, Picture Profile 6, Cinematone 2, Print Film.

As you can see each of these looks is quite different (The Z150 also has several different scene settings that can be used for shooting in full auto under differing lighting conditions, these change the way the camera works out the auto exposure levels).

The dynamic range is no different in each profile. PP2, the DSLR look adds contrast by crushing the mid range and blacks, it’s also highly saturated to give stronger colors, particularly reds. The red flower in the frame grab was not that red.

Picture Profile 3 mixes Rec709 gamma with Sony’s “Pro” color matrix. I like the Pro color settings as it gives true to life colors and it grades quite well if you want to make tweaks in post production.

Picture Profile 4 is Rec709 (ITU709) gamma and color. To me the colors are not as accurate as they could be. The flower looks a little too “electric” compared to the real life color.

The Cinematone Gammas in picture profiles 5 and 6 flatten the image a little and bring up the shadows. This can help a little if you wish to tweak or adjust the images in post production. The Cinematone gammas are not the same as the Cinegammas found in the higher dynamic range cameras like the FS5 or A7.

Personally I did not like the colors associated with the Cinematone color settings. But one of the great things about the Picture Profiles is you can mix and match the various gamma curves and color matrix settings to create your own looks and styles. The “Pro” color matrix offers some very accurate colors and I quite like the look that you get when you combine Cinematone 2 gamma with the Pro color matrix. If you find the colors a little flat you can boost the saturation level a bit, I found that setting the saturation to +15 gave a great look straight from the camera. Don’t be afraid to go into the Picture Profile settings and experiment with different combinations of Gamma curve and Color matrix. Just don’t turn up the Saturation too high, I would not recommend going above +20.

DSC06743-300x200 Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).
The Z150’s only menu controls are on the top of the handle.

One small annoyance I found with the PXW-Z150 was that the only menu button is up on the top of the hand grip. As I like to fiddle around with the Picture Profile settings I did find it a little awkward to access the menu controls on the very top of the camera, especially if it was at shoulder height or above on a tripod. You can’t see them up there!

Like most modern cameras the PXW-Z150 has a full set of WiFi features including the ability to transfer files wirelessly via ftp to a remote server, to stream live or control the camera from a tablet or mobile phone. A future firmware update will add Sony’s QoS (Quality Of Service) streaming error correction that promises much improved image quality over poor network connections when streaming to a Sony QoS server. To remotely control the camera you need to install Content Browser Mobile on your Android or iOS device.

SUPER SLOW MOTION

One more trick that the PXW-Z150 has is the ability to shoot continuously at up to 120fps (100fps when the camera is set to 50i area). The image is full HD but more highly compressed than the regular HD recordings, plus it’s interlaced, not progressive. In addition the inevitable faster shutter speeds mean that you do need plenty of light to get the very best results. I could definitely see a small drop in image quality when shooting at 100 or 120 fps, but the footage is perfectly useable and it is great to be able to slow down motion by 4 or 5 times. You do need to be a little careful if using the interlaced footage within a progressive production as very fast moving objects that travel through the frame may exhibit the combing artefact common in regular interlace material when show progressively. To get the full 5x slow down the camera needs to be set to 60i area to allow the selection of 120fps.

Summary:

The PXW-Z150 is a compact jack of all trades camera that’s easy to work with, has a great zoom range and delivers a respectable looking image. The largeish 1″ sensor gives a greater degree of control over the depth of field than you will have with a camera with a 1/2″ or 1/3″ sensor. But it’s isn’t going to give you that super shallow film look unless you are using longer focal lengths.

I think the Z150 will find a home in many corporate and industrial production applications. The ability to shoot in 4K gives the flexibility to crop int the image to re-frame shots for HD productions. And the price is good too, you get a lot of camera for the money.

Why It’s Helpful To Over Expose S-Log, Especially If You Only Have 8 Bit Recording.

This is something that keeps coming up in my workshops. It’s very important if shooting with S-Log2 or S-Log3 not to under expose and in most cases it can be highly beneficial to over expose a bit. Especially if you are using a camera like the A7s or FS5 in 4K when you only have 8 bit data.

S-log-levels Why It's Helpful To Over Expose S-Log, Especially If You Only Have 8 Bit Recording.

Take a look at this chart. It plots the S-Log2 and S-Log3 gamma curves on a log scale of f-stops against the amount of 10 bit or code values used to record each stop. The center line of the chart is middle grey. Both S-log2 and S-log3 provide 8 stops below middle grey and 6 stops above. Take a look at the darkest stop, the one that is -7 to -8 and look at how much data is allocated to that stop. With 10 bit recording you have according to this chart about 10 code values for S-Log2 and about 20 for S-Log3. That’s if you have 10 bit, and it’s not a lot of data. Admittedly there isn’t going to be a great deal of scene information in that darkest stop, deep in the shadows and the noise. But there’s part of the issue, the noise. If you have under exposed and you take this in to post and have to stretch out the shadows, the noise in these darkest shadows is going to look pretty coarse because it hasn’t been recorded with many shades/steps so stretching it out will make even “rougher” for want of a better term. If you are recording with 8 bit the problems is even worse. With 8 bit, S-Log2 will only have around 2 or 3 code values for that bottom stop, in effect the noise will have two values – black or +1 stop. Imagine how nasty that will look if you need to raise or stretch you blacks because you are under exposed, it will become very blocky and grainy.

The solution is to over expose a bit. By over exposing your footage by a stop when you go in to post production you will in most cases be bringing your levels down. So instead of stretching the noise out and making it worse you will be shrinking it down and reducing the negative impact it has on it’s image. Because cameras like the FS5, A7s etc have 14 stops of dynamic range this small bit of over exposure is going to make very little difference to your highlights in the vast majority of situations. Any slight over exposure you may have will likely look quite natural anyway, after all our own eyesight does also over expose, we don’t have unlimited dynamic range. On top of that the display technology does not exist to show a 14 stop range shot in it’s entirety and with natural contrast.

Sony A7s or AX100, perhaps the PXW-X70?

DSC_0034-300x168 Sony A7s or AX100, perhaps the PXW-X70?
Schneider Xenon 50mm FF lens on the Sony A7s

As an owner of both the A7s and AX100 and as someone that has shot with the PXW-X70, if I had to choose one which would it be? That’s tough because although they really are very different cameras they both have strengths that are nice to have. The A7s produces a prettier picture and can be used run and gun, with limitations. I use the kit 28-70mm f3.5-f5.6 and it works well, good auto focus, smooth aperture changes etc. BUT and it is a very big BUT you need a really good set of ND’s or a strong ND fader to use it outdoors due to the extreme sensitivity. Add to that the minimal 3x zoom and it’s pretty restrictive as to what you can shoot without switching lenses and fiddling around. Sure you can add something like the new Tamron 16-300mm f3.5-f6.3 but the autofocus tends to hunt a lot more, manual focus is fiddly and you still need to mess around with ND’s. I think you need to be a fairly competent cameraman and need to be very careful over lens choices etc to use the A7s for run and gun successfully. Plus don’t forget the cost of all the extra lenses, filters etc adds up and makes the kit bulkier.

DSC09308-300x199 Sony A7s or AX100, perhaps the PXW-X70?
The new Sony PXW-X70 XDCAM camcorder, the pro version of the AX100.

The AX100 (or PXW-X70) on the other hand really is a grab and go camera. Easy to use, great zoom range, built in ND’s. It’s quick and easy to use and may get you shots that you will miss with the A7s. But the pictures are not as pretty, primarily they lack the dynamic range of the A7s. But they are very easy to use, so well suited to those that are full auto shooters or rely heavily on auto functions to keep life simple. The X70 has much better ergonomics than the AX100 but is a bit more expensive. Both are very compact packages and as you don’t need to buy extra lenses or filters work out substantially cheaper than an A7s kit with a set of lenses to cover the same focal lengths at reasonable apertures.

Anyway, if I had to give up one of mine (A7s or AX100), for me it would be the AX100 that would go. I would be prepared to sacrifice the ease of use of the AX100 for the better images from the A7s. But I normally shoot manually anyway. I’m used to swapping lenses, working with ND filters etc. If you not used to shooting manually then the AX100 may be the better choice. Great images are of course important, but the best camera to own is a camera you will use. It’s all very well having fancy pictures and the ability to swap lenses etc. But if fiddling around means you don’t use it very often, then there is no point in having it. You would be better off with a camera that you will be comfortable with, that you will use regularly.

The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!

DSC09308-1024x681 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
The new Sony PXW-X70 XDCAM camcorder.

Initial Thoughts.

As the owner of a Sony AX100, which is a really great little 4K and HD camcorder I wasn’t really all that excited when I saw the first prototype of the X70 at Broadcast Asia back in June. You see in the past Sony have done this many times, taken a high end consumer camcorder, updated the firmware, added a handle and then sold it for a higher price as a pro camcorder.  In the past, there has in reality been little difference between the cheaper consumer model and the more expensive pro version.

DSC09310-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
The handgrip on the Sony PXW-X70

The PXW-X70 is different. This is much more than an AX100 with new firmware. For a start the body of the camera is quite different. The right hand side of the X70 is quite different to the AX100. It has a much fatter hand grip. This makes the camera much easier to hold comfortably for long periods. It also makes space for a full size HDSDI output and a full size HDMI output. But the differences don’t stop there.

On the top of the hand grip there is a large assignable button that is normally set to act as a control for the focus magnification function. This button falls immediately under your index finger when your shooting. In front of this is a new larger and easier to use zoom rocker and then in front of that is another assignable button, this one set as a one push auto iris button – very nice!

DSC09313-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
The back of the handgrip and the small joystick.

At the back of the handle there is a small joystick that ends up under your thumb (just where it needs to be). This joystick can be used to navigate through the cameras menu system. So, without taking your hand out of the hand grip you can check focus, zoom in and out, set your exposure and go through the menu system. If only it was this easy on all of Sony’s cameras! Ergonomically this camera is really good, especially when you consider how small it is.

The camera has a nice 12x stabilised, optical zoom lens, behind which sits a 1 inch 20 megapixel sensor. In video mode about 14 million pixels are used, so even in 4K (there will be a paid 4K upgrade option next year) there are more pixels than needed for full resolution. Rather than let this extra resolution go to waste you can activate Sony’s “clear image zoom” function that works seamlessly with the optical zoom to give you a 24x zoom range in HD.

Guard-detail-300x168 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
Frame grab from PXW-X70. Click on the image to see the full size frame.

The clear image zoom really is remarkably transparent. If you look hard enough at the image, on a big screen, when it’s zoomed all the way in you can just about discern a very slight softness to the image, but frankly I don’t think this is any worse than the softness you might see from a compact optical 24x zoom. It certainly doesn’t look electronic and unless you have side by side, with and without test clips I don’t think you would know that the clear image zoom has been used.

If 24x is not enough there is also a further digital extender, controlled by a button on the right side of the lens that doubles the digital zoom. This you can see, the image is a little degraded at 48x, but it’s not terrible, might be handy for a breaking news story where you can’t get close to the subject.

DSC09318-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
The left side of the PXW-X70

As well as the optical stabiliser in the lens the camera also has a switchable electronic stabiliser. The active steadyshot is very effective at smoothing out even the shakiest of hands. But it does tend to hang on or grab hold of the image a bit. So when you do deliberately move the camera it tends to try to stabilise the scene until it can no longer correct for the cameras movement at which point the scene is suddenly released and starts to move. If your using a tripod you definitely want to just use the standard steadyshot and not the active mode.

DSC09326-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
Dual SD card slots on the PXw-X70

The pictures are recorded using either XAVC, AVCHD or standard definition DV to SD cards. For XAVC you must use SDXC cards, but these are cheap and readily available these days. There are two card slots and you can choose between relay record where the camera will switch from slot A to slot B once A is full, or you can make two simultaneous recordings on both cards at the same time. This gives an instant backup if you need it.

XAVC HD RECORDING:

The XAVC HD recordings are 10 bit 422 long GoP at 50Mb/s, 35Mb/s or 25Mb/s. The quality of the 50Mb/s recordings is amazing with no compression artefacts that I can see (there must be some, I just can’t see them). Even the 25Mb/s recordings look really good. You can shoot at up to 60fps in 60i mode and 50fps in 50i mode. In 60i mode you also have 24fps.

Train-arrivibg-detail-1024x576 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
Frame grab form the PXW-X70, click on the image to see full size.

Considering this is a highly compact, single chip camera the images it produces are really very good. They don’t have that typical small sensor camera look. The pictures are remarkably noise free at 0db and largely free of artefacts. I tend to find that small handycams often suffer from what I would describe as “busy” pictures. Pictures where  perhaps there is a lot of added sharpening or where the pixels are read in special ways to make a sharp picture. This makes edges slightly flickery and gives the pictures a tell tale small sensor look. The X70 with it’s big sensor and abundance of pixels just doesn’t have this “busy” look.

Train-Station-1024x576 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
Train sitting in station. Frame grab from PXW-X70

The pictures really look like they come from a pro camera. Occasionally very fine, high contrast details like white text on a black background can look a little busy, but this is very minor. Dynamic range is quite respectable, it’s not as good as a PMW-300, but not too bad for a compact handycam (I estimate about 10 to 11 stops of DR).

One thing I did find with this camera is that because there is so little noise and the codec is so good, you could quite comfortably shoot about a stop darker than you would normally and then just bring the image up a bit in post. Shooting a little darker helps the camera handle bright highlights and then in post you can just bring up the shadows and mid tones with a simple colour correction to give a nice exposure. I wish I had realised this when I shot the demo video. I would have exposed a little on the dark side and then tweaked the shots in post. There’s so little noise at 0db and so few artefacts that the image holds up to this really well. If your using auto exposure you can set an exposure offset to allow for this in the menu.

DSC09336-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
PXW-X70 without the top handle fitted.

The X70 is pretty sensitive and 9db of gain is quite useable, so shooting indoors in a typical home or at a wedding venue without extra lights should be no problem. Ramp it up to +33db and it see’s better in the dark than I do, but there is a fair bit of noise at +33db.

As well as being generally rather sensitive the PXW-X70 also has a nightshot mode that bypasses the cameras IR filter and includes a switchable infra-red light, so you can shoot in total darkness if you want.

To see what you are shooting there is a 3.5″ LCD panel. This panel is higher resolution than the one on the AX100 and gives a sharp and pretty accurate image. On the back of the camera there is a small OLED viewfinder. This little OLED is pretty good. It has great contrast and is pretty sharp for a small finder. It’s a great feature on bright sunny days when the LCD can become harder to see.

CRISP, SHARP IMAGES:

The HD images are crisp and sharp without any obvious sharpening, almost certainly a result of having a 4K ready sensor. The lack of obvious detail correction helps give the pictures a pleasing, more filmic look. The camera has picture profiles so if you want you can soften or sharpen the images if you choose. As well as detail and aperture controls there are also controls for gamma (standard, still, Cinematone1, Cinematone2, ITU709) and color. The color controls are similar to those on the FS700 where you can adjust the saturation as well as R, G, B, C, M, Y and K brightness. In addition there is a choice of 6 different preset color modes plus black and white.

DSC09315-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
PXW-X70 auto/manual switch.

The camera can be controlled either fully automatically or fully manual as well as various in between modes. There is a switch on the back of the camera to switch between auto and manual. In manual you can control the iris, shutter and gain by pressing one of three buttons along the bottom edge of the camera and the using a small wheel just below the lens to set what you have selected. In practice this actually works quite well. There is another button for white balance control on the side of the camera with the usual presets plus auto white balance. Just under the Manual/Auto switch there is a selector for the built in ND filters. I recently purchased a A7s DSLR type camera and I had forgotten what a fiddle it can be to use a camera that doesn’t have built in ND’s. So it’s really good to see proper ND filters on the PXW-X70 as they really help you manage your depth of field.

On the lens there is a single large control ring that can be used to focus the lens or to act as a manual zoom ring. The focus is responsive and although I don’t normally like round and round servo focus rings this one wasn’t too bad.

DSC09330-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
The zoom/focus ring on the PXW-X70.

There really is so much to this camera that it would take a small book to go through all the features. For example there’s the touch screen LCD that can be used for touch to focus or touch to expose where you just touch the part of the screen you want to expose or focus on. There’s a full set of exposure and focus aids including peaking, histogram, zebras etc.

On the top of the camera you have Sony’s new MI shoe (Multi-Interface) for connecting accessories like the supplied handle with XLR audio inputs. The supplied detachable handle is really well made and very secure when attached. One small note is that by default when you attach the handle to the MI-shoe the camera switches to XLR audio automatically by default. So if you don’t actually have a mic connected to the handle you won’t have any audio as the internal mic gets shut off. You have to go in to the audio section of the menu to enable the internal mic if you want to use the handle but want to use the built in mic.

If you want to do time-lapse or slow stuff down the camera has S&Q motion that goes from 1fps to 60fps at 1920×1080.

The camera has WiFi and NFC and allows remote control via Content Browser Mobile and simply touching an NFC enabled phone or tablet against the side of the camera will pair the camera with the phone or tablet. In the future following a firmware update you will be able to use the camera to stream your content live via U-stream.

Finally – build quality. It’s really well made. It feels nice and solid, it feels like it will really last. Don’t tell Sony, but I dropped the camera from waist hight while I was using it. It survived, no problem at all.

DSC093181-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
Sony’s new baby XDCAM camcorder, the PXW-X70.

In conclusion: This is a nice little camera. It’s very easy to operate. The picture quality is very good for such a compact camera, the only thing that lets it down just a bit is the highlight handling. But the camera is so clean that you can afford to expose a little lower to compensate for this. Since shooting the demo video I have been playing with the picture profiles to help with the highlight exposure and I found that bringing up the black gamma really helps as it lifts the mid range allowing you to expose slightly lower.

The large sensor, combined with the switchable built in ND filters gives you much greater control over the depth of field than normally possible with a compact handycam.

I think you have to remember that this is a small camera. It isn’t a PXW-X180 and it never will be, but if your budget is tight and you want an easy to use compact camera this could be the one for you. I think it would be a good fit as a “B” camera or for use in lower budget corporate productions. In addition the PXW-X70 would be a good camera to give to PA’s and producers or to hand off to inexperienced shooters for fly-on-the-wall productions.