Category Archives: Review

New Atomos Shogun 7 with Dolby Vision Out and 15 stop screen.

So this landed in my inbox today. Atomos are releasing what on paper at least is a truly remarkable new recorder and monitor, the Shogun 7.

For some time now the Atomos Inferno has been my go-to monitor. It’s just so flexible and the HDR screen is wonderful. But the new Shogun 7 looks to be quite a big upgrade.

image New Atomos Shogun 7 with Dolby Vision Out and 15 stop screen.

The screen is claimed to be able to display an astounding 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and 15+ stops of dynamic range. That means you will be able to shoot in log with almost any camera and see the log output 1:1. No need to artificially reduce the display range, no more flat looking log or raw, just a real look at what you are actually shooting.

I’m off to NAB at the weekend and I will be helping out on the Atomos booth, so I will be able to take a good look at the Shogun 7. If it comes anywhere near to the specs in the press release it will be a must-have piece of kit whether you shoot on an FS5 or Venice!

Here’s the the press release:

Melbourne, Vic – 4 April, 2019:

The new Atomos Shogun 7 is the ultimate 7-inch HDR monitor, recorder and switcher. Precision-engineered for the film and video professional, it uses the very latest video technologies available. Shogun 7 features a truly ground-breaking HDR screen – the best of any production monitor in the world. See perfection on the all-new 1500nit daylight-viewable, 1920×1200 panel with an astounding 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio and 15+ stops of dynamic range displayed. Shogun 7 will truly revolutionize the on-camera monitoring game.

Bringing the real world to your monitor

With Shogun 7 blacks and colors are rich and deep. Images appear to ‘pop’ with added dimensionality and detail. The incredible Atomos screen uses a unique combination of advanced LED and LCD technologies which together offer deeper, better blacks than rival OLED screens, but with the much higher brightness and vivid color performance of top-end LCDs. Objects appear more lifelike than ever, with complex textures and gradations beautifully revealed. In short, Shogun 7 offers the most detailed window into your image, truly changing the way you create visually.

The Best HDR just got better

A new 360 zone backlight is combined with this new screen technology and controlled by the Dynamic AtomHDR engine to show millions of shades of brightness and color, yielding jaw-dropping results. It allows Shogun 7 to display 15+ stops of real dynamic range on-screen. The panel is also incredibly accurate, with ultra-wide color and 105% of DCI-P3 covered. For the first time you can enjoy on-screen the same dynamic range, palette of colors and shades that your camera sensor sees. 

On-set HDR redefined with real-time Dolby Vision HDR output

Atomos and Dolby have teamed up to create Dolby Vision HDR “live” – the ultimate tool to see HDR live on-set and carry your creative intent from the camera through into HDR post production. Dolby have optimised their amazing target display HDR processing algorithm and which Atomos have running inside the Shogun 7. It brings real-time automatic frame-by-frame analysis of the Log or RAW video and processes it for optimal HDR viewing on a Dolby Vision-capable TV or monitor over HDMI. Connect Shogun 7 to the Dolby Vision TV and magically, automatically, AtomOS 10 analyses the image, queries the TV, and applies the right color and brightness profiles for the maximum HDR experience on the display. Enjoy complete confidence that your camera’s HDR image is optimally set up and looks just the way you wanted it. It is an invaluable HDR on-set reference check for the DP, director, creatives and clients – making it a completely flexible master recording and production station.

“We set out to design the most incredibly high contrast and detailed display possible, and when it came off the production line the Shogun 7 exceeded even our expectations. This is why we call it a screen with “Unbelievable HDR”. With multi-camera switching, we know that this will be the most powerful tool we’ve ever made for our customers to tell their stories“, said Jeromy Young, CEO of Atomos.

blobid1_1554376631889 New Atomos Shogun 7 with Dolby Vision Out and 15 stop screen.

Ultimate recording

Shogun 7 records the best possible images up to 5.7kp30, 4kp120 or 2kp240 slow motion from compatible cameras, in RAW/Log or HLG/PQ over SDI/HDMI. Footage is stored directly to reliable AtomX SSDmini or approved off-the-shelf SATA SSD drives. There are recording options for Apple ProRes RAW and ProRes, Avid DNx and Adobe CinemaDNG RAW codecs. Shogun 7 has four SDI inputs plus a HDMI 2.0 input, with both 12G-SDI and HDMI 2.0 outputs. It can record ProRes RAW in up to 5.7kp30, 4kp120 DCI/UHD and 2kp240 DCI/HD, depending on the camera’s capabilities. 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes or DNxHR recording is available up to 4Kp60 or 2Kp240. The four SDI inputs enable the connection of most Quad Link, Dual Link or Single Link SDI cinema cameras. With Shogun 7 every pixel is perfectly preserved with data rates of up to 1.8Gb/s.

Monitor and record professional XLR audio

Shogun 7 eliminates the need for a separate audio recorder. Add 48V stereo mics via an optional balanced XLR breakout cable. Select Mic or Line input levels, plus record up to 12 channels of 24/96 digital audio from HDMI or SDI. You can monitor the selected stereo track via the 3.5mm headphone jack. There are dedicated audio meters, gain controls and adjustments for frame delay.

AtomOS 10, touchscreen control and refined body

Atomos continues to refine the elegant and intuitive AtomOS operating system. Shogun 7 features the latest version of the AtomOS 10 touchscreen interface, first seen on the award-winning Ninja V. Icons and colors are designed to ensure that the operator can concentrate on the image when they need to. The completely new body of Shogun 7 has a sleek Ninja V like exterior with ARRI anti-rotation mounting points on the top and bottom of the unit to ensure secure mounting. 

AtomOS 10 on Shogun 7 has the full range of monitoring tools that users have come to expect from Atomos, including Waveform, Vectorscope, False Color, Zebras, RGB parade, Focus peaking, Pixel-to-pixel magnification, Audio level meters and Blue only for noise analysis. 

Portable multi-cam live switching and recording for Shogun 7 and Sumo 19

Shogun 7 is also the ultimate portable touch-screen controlled multi-camera switcher with asynchronous quad-ISO recording. Switch up to four 1080p60 SDI streams, record each plus the program output as a separate ISO, then deliver ready-for-edit recordings with marked cut-points in XML metadata straight to your NLE. The current Sumo19 HDR production monitor-recorder will also gain the same functionality in a free firmware update. Sumo19 and Shogun 7 are the ideal devices to streamline your multi-camera live productions. 

Enjoy the freedom of asynchronous switching, plus use genlock in and out to connect to existing AV infrastructure. Once the recording is over, just import the xml file into your NLE and the timeline populates with all the edits in place. XLR audio from a separate mixer or audio board is recorded within each ISO, alongside two embedded channels of digital audio from the original source. The program stream always records the analog audio feed as well as a second track that switches between the digital audio inputs to match the switched feed. This amazing functionality makes Shogun 7 and Sumo19 the most flexible in-the-field switcher-recorder-monitors available.

Shogun 7 will be available in June 2019 priced at $US 1499/ €1499 plus local taxes from authorized Atomos dealers.

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Shooting Anamorphic with the Fujinon MK’s and SLR Magic 65 Anamorphot.

There is something very special about the way anamorphic images look, something that’s not easy to replicate in post production. Sure you can shoot in 16:9 or 17:9 and crop down to the typical 2.35:1 aspect ratio and sure you can add some extra anamorphic style flares in post. But what is much more difficult to replicate is all the other distortions and the oval bokeh that are typical of an anamorphic lens.

Anamorphic lenses work by distorting the captured image. Squeezing or compressing it horizontally, stretching it vertically. The amount of squeeze that you will want to use will depend on the aspect ratio of the sensor or film frame. With full frame 35mm cameras or cameras with a 4:3 aspect ratio sensor or gate you would normally use an anamorphic lens that squeezes the image by 2 times. Most anamorphic cinema lenses are 2x anamorphic, that is the image is squeezed 2x horizontally. You can use these on cameras with a 16:9 or 17:9 super35mm sensor, but because a Super35 sensor already has a wide aspect ratio a 2x squeeze is much more than you need for that typical cinema style final aspect ratios of 2.39:1.

For most Super35mm cameras it is normally better to use a lens with a 1.33x squeeze. 1.33x squeeze on Super35 results in a final aspect ratio close to the classic cinema aspect ratio of 2.39:1.

Traditionally anamorphic lenses have been very expensive. The complex shape of the anamorphic lens elements are much harder to make than a normal spherical lens. However another option is to use an anamorphic adapter on the front of an existing lens to turn it into an anamorphic lens. SLR Magic who specialise in niche lenses and adapters have had a 50mm diameter 1.33x anamorphic adapter available for some time. I’ve used this with the FS7 and other cameras in the past, but the 50mm diameter of the adapter limits the range of lenses it can be used with (There is also a 50mm 2x anamorphot for full frame 4:3 aspect ratio sensors from SLR Magic).

Now SLR Magic have a new larger 65mm adapter. The 1.33-65 Anamorphot has a much larger lens element, so it can be used with a much wider range of lenses. In addition it has a calibrated focus scale on it’s focus ring. One thing to be aware of with adapters like these is that you have to focus both the adapter and the lens you are using it on. For simple shoots this isn’t too much of a problem. But if you are moving the camera a lot or the subject is moving around a lot, trying to focus both lenses together can be a challenge.

DSC_0103 Shooting Anamorphic with the Fujinon MK's and SLR Magic 65 Anamorphot.
The SLR Magic 1.33-65 Anamorphot anamorphic adapter.

Enter the PD Movie Dual Channel follow focus.

The PD Movie Dual follow focus is a motorised follow focus system that can control 2 focus motors at the same time. You can get both wired and wireless versions depending on your needs and budget. For the anamorphic shoot I had the wired version (I do personally own a single channel PD Movie wireless follow focus). Setup is quick and easy, you simply attach the motors to your rods, position the gears so they engage with the gear rings on the lens and the anamorphot and press a button to calibrate each motor. It takes just a few moments and then you are ready to go. Now when you turn the PD Movie focus control wheel both the taking lens and the anamorphot focus together.

I used the anamorphot on both the Fujinon MK18-55mm and the MK50-135mm. It works well with both lenses but you can’t use focal lengths wider than around 35mm without the adapter some causing vignetting. So on the 18-55 you can only really use around 35 to 55mm. I would note that the adapter does act a little like a wide angle converter, so even at 35mm the field of view is pretty wide. I certainly didn’t feel that I was only ever shooting at long focal lenghts.

DSC_0099 Shooting Anamorphic with the Fujinon MK's and SLR Magic 65 Anamorphot.
The full rig. PMW-F5 with R5 raw recorder. Fujinon MK 18-55 lens, SLR Magic Anamorphot and PD Movie dual focus system.

Like a lot of lens adapters there are some things to consider. You are putting a lot of extra glass in front of you main lens, so it will need some support. SLR magic do a nice support bracket for 15mm rods and this is actually essential as it stops the adapter from rotating and keeps it correctly oriented so that your anamorphic squeeze remains horizontal at all times. Also if you try to use too large an aperture the adapter will soften the image. I found that it worked best between f8 and f11, but it was possible to shoot at f5.6. If you go wider than this, away from the very center of the frame you get quite a lot of softening image softening. This might work for some projects where you really want to draw the viewer to the center of the frame or if you want a very stylised look, but it didn’t suit this particular project.

The out of focus bokeh has a distinct anamorphic shape, look and feel. As you pull focus the shape of the bokeh changes horizontally, this is one of the key things that makes anamorphic content look different to spherical. As the adapter only squeezes by 1.33 this is as pronounced as it would be if you shot with a 2x anamorphic. Of course the other thing most people notice about anamorphic images is lens flares that streak horizontally across the image. Intense light sources just off frame would produce blue/purple streaks across the image. If you introduce very small point light sources into the shot you will get a similar horizontal flare. If flares are your thing it works best if you have a very dark background. Overall the lens didn’t flare excessively, so my shots are not full of flares like a JJ Abrams movie. But when it did flare the effect is very pleasing. Watch the video linked above and judge for yourself.

Monitoring and De-Squeeze.

When you shoot anamorphic you normally record the horizontally squashed image and then in post production you de-squeeze the image by compressing it vertically. Squashing the image vertically results in a letterbox, wide screen style image and it’s called “De-Squeeze”. You can shoot anamorphic without de-sqeezing the image provided you don’t mind looking at images that are horizontally squashed in your viewfinder or on your monitor. But these days you have plenty of monitors and viewfinders that can “de-squeeze” the anamorphic image so that you can view it with the correct aspect ratio. The Glass Hub film was shot using a Sony PMW-F5 recording to the R5 raw recorder. The PMW-F5 has the ability to de-squeeze the image for the viewfinder built in. But I also used an Atomos Shogun Inferno to monitor as I was going to be producing HDR versions of the film. The Shogun Inferno has both 2x and 1.33x de-squeeze built in so I was able to take the distorted S-Log3 output from the camera and convert it to a HDR PQ image and de-squeeze it all at the same time in the Inferno. This made monitoring really easy and effective.

I used DaVinci Resolve for the post production. In the past I might have done my editing in Adobe Premiere and the grading in Resolve. But Resolve is now a very capable edit package, so I completed the project entirely in Resolve. I used the ACES colour managed workflow as ACES means I don’t need to worry about LUT’s and in addition ACES adds a really nice film like highlight roll off to the output. If you have never tried a colour managed workflow for log or raw material you really should!

The SLR Magic 65-1.33 paired with the Fujinon MK lenses provides a relatively low cost entry into the world of anamorphic shooting. You can shoot anywhere from around 30-35mm to 135mm. The PD Movie dual motor focus system means that there is no need to try to use both hands to focus both the anamorphot and the lens together. The anamorphot + lens behave much more like a quality dedicated anamorphic zoom lens, but at a fraction of the cost. While I wouldn’t use it to shoot everything the Anamorphot is a really useful tool for those times you want something different.

Atomos Ninja V, the arctic and the Northern Lights.

I’m sitting here in the UK, Its February and it almost 20c (68f). Very nice indeed for the UK this time of year. Just a couple of weeks ago I was in Northern Norway, up above the arctic circle running one of my annual Northern Lights adventure tours. The weather there was very different. At no time did the temperature get above -15c(5f) and for most of the trip it was around -24c(-11f) both during the day and during the night.

Now, you might consider me a sadist when I say this, but for my Northern Lights trips I normally want it to be -20c or colder. The reason being that when it’s very cold like this we normally get beautifully clear skies. And we need clear skies to see the Aurora.

DSC_0249 Atomos Ninja V, the arctic and the Northern Lights.
Everyone all wrapped up for the hour long ride by snow scooter and sledge to the cabins that we stay at.

After many years of taking a full size video camera up to Norway I decided to go light this year and just take my trusty A7S and A6300 cameras. We get around on snow scooters and on sledges towed behind the snow scooters. This can make lugging around a larger camera tricky and there are times when you just can’t take a big camera. But in order to get the very best from these cameras I also decided to take an Atomos Ninja V.

DSC_0253 Atomos Ninja V, the arctic and the Northern Lights.
Out and about on the snow scooter. It really is a very beautiful place in the winter.

The Ninja V is the first of a new generation of recorders and monitors from Atomos. It’s much smaller than the Shogun range of recorders making it a better size and weight match for smaller cameras and DSLR’s. It has a very, very nice 5″ screen with a maximum brightness of 1000 Nits. The 1000 Nit output and Atomos’s clever way of driving it means it can display both SDR and HDR images depending on how it is set up. A key difference between the Shogun and the Ninja devices is that the Shoguns have both SDI inputs and HDMI inputs while the Ninja only has an HDMI input. But if your using this with a DSLR than only has an HDMI output, as I was, the lack of SDI connectors is not a problem.

DSC_0281 Atomos Ninja V, the arctic and the Northern Lights.
Shooting a sunset with the Ninja V on my A6300. We were way up on the Finnmarksvidda when this image was taken, absolutely in the middle of nowhere and it was -27c!

The build quality of the Ninja V is really good. Most of the body is made of aluminium. The rear part where the slots for the SSD and battery are is made from plastic, but it appears to be a good high quality and tough plastic. A new feature is an “AtomX” expansion port tucked inside the battery compartment. The expansion port allow different modules to be attached to the Ninja V to add functionality such a video over IP (ethernet) using the Newtek NDI protocol for live streaming or to turn the Ninja V into an IP connected monitor. There is also an AtomX sync module that allows you to wirelessly synchronise timecode and control multiple Ninja V”s on a single network and to use Bluetooth remote control. You can find out more about the AtomX modules here https://www.atomos.com/AtomX

Anyway – back to Norway. We were very lucky with the weather, and with the Northern Lights. On the first night at the cabins we stay at the Aurora put on a pretty good display. I was shooting with my Sony A7S with a Sigma Art 20mm f1.4 lens. I was shooting a mix of time-lapse, in which case I simply record the raw frames in the camera on it’s internal SD cards as well as real time video.

DSC09536-small Atomos Ninja V, the arctic and the Northern Lights.
The Aurora put on a great display for us on several nights.

The Northern Lights are only rarely very bright. Most of the time they are fairly dim. So I was using the Sigma lens wide open, shooting at 24fps and with the shutter at 1/24th. The adjusting the cameras ISO to get a nice bright image. At times this did mean I was using some very high ISO’s with a lot of gain. Shooting like this is going to put a lot of strain on any codec. But the Long GOP XAVC-S codec used in the A7S is going to be very hard pushed to not introduce a lot of additional artefacts. In addition my older original A7S can only record HD internally.

By using the Ninja V I was able to record video of the Northern Lights in 4K using the ProRes codec. I used ProRes HQ and ProResHQ uses much less compression than XAVC-S. So even though both the internal recordings and the external recordings are limited to 8 bit (due to the cameras HDMI output limitations rather than any limitation of the Ninja) the ProRes recordings are far more robust and will noise reduce in post much better than the XAVC-S.

DSC_0278-crop Atomos Ninja V, the arctic and the Northern Lights.
Just to prove it really was -27c!!

When you’re working outside for extended periods and it’s -27c(-17f) it’s tough on the gear and tough on you. When shooting the Aurora my camera are outside all night, exposed to the cold. Typical problems include frost and ice on the front element of the lens. The moisture from your own body can easily freeze onto the lens if you stand close to the camera. If you look at the lens to check it for frost and breath out you will leave it coated in ice.

Wires and cables that are soft and flexible in normal temperatures become as stiff as steel rods and can crack and fracture if you try to bend them. All batteries will loose some of their capacity. Very small batteries are worst affected. Larger batteries tend to fair a bit better, but there is a tremendous difference between the way most cheap budget batteries behave in the cold to good quality brand name batteries. For this reason I power my complete setup from a single PAG PAGLink V-Mount battery. The PAGlink batteries are great for all sorts of different applications, but for these trips a big benefit is that a small plug type charger can be used to charge many PAGlink batteries by stacking the batteries together. Then to power multiple devices I use the clip-on PAG Power hub plate to provide 5V for the camera battery adapters that I use, 12V for the lens heaters I use and another 12V feed for the Ninja V.

DSC_0311 Atomos Ninja V, the arctic and the Northern Lights.
This is what the kit looks like when you bring it into the warm after many hours out in the cold. The thing with the yellow strap on the lens is a lens heater to prevent frost from building up on the lens. The lens is a sigma 20mm f1.4, the camera is an A7S and the recorder is the Atomos Ninja V.

After more than a few minutes outside the camera kit itself will have become extremely cold. If you then take that kit inside into a nice warm cabin the warm moist air in the cabin will condense onto the cold camera body. Because the camera body will be extremely cold this will then freeze. Before you know it the camera kit is covered in ice. What you can’t see is that it’s likely that there will also be some ice and moisture inside the camera. It can take hours to warm the camera back up again and get it dried out properly. Bagging the camera before you take it indoors can help, but taking the camera in and out many times over the coarse of a shoot like this can cause a lot of damage. So I prefer to leave all the camera kit outside for the duration of the trip.

DSC_0314 Atomos Ninja V, the arctic and the Northern Lights.
Another view of the frozen Ninja V after a night shooting the Aurora. Don’t worry, the screen isn’t damaged, that’s just frost and ice on the screens surface.

This means that when you come to fire it up you are often trying to switch on an absolutely frozen camera. In the past I have had problems with cold recorders that wouldn’t start up. But I’m pleased to report that the Ninja V always came to life no matter how cold it was. Whenever I pressed the record button it went into record. Operating the touch screen in the cold was not an issue. In fact using touch screen gloves, the Ninja was really easy to use. Pressing small fiddly buttons isn’t easy, even with thin gloves, but the touch screen turned out really easy to work with.

A big change on the Ninja V over previous models is the operating system. The new operating system looks really good and is quite logically laid out. Gone is the old AtomHDR slider that changes the brightness of the screen when in HDR. This is replaced with dedicated viewing modes for Native, 709, PQ HDR and HLG HDR and viewing via a LUT. I prefer the new fixed HDR modes over the Atom HDR slider modes as it eliminates the uncertainty that can sometimes creep in when you use a slider to change the brightness of the display. In my case, when shooting during the day using S-Log2 I would simply select S-Log2 as the source and then use PQ to display an HDR image on the screen. At night when shooting the Aurora I used Rec-709.

DSC_0283 Atomos Ninja V, the arctic and the Northern Lights.
You can see how the normal size 2.5″ SSD sticks out a bit from the side of the Ninja V. The SSDMini’s don’t stick out in the same way. Also note that even though I am shooting using S-Log2 on the A6300 the Ninja V is showing a nice contrasty image thanks to the PQ HDR display option.

The Ninja V can take the same size 2.5″ SSD caddies as the current Shogun recorders. So I was able to use the SSD’s that I already own. However to keep the size of the recorder down it has been designed around a new slightly shorty SSD form factor called SSDMini. When you use a standard size 2.5″ SSD it does stick out from the side of the recorder by about 25mm. If you use an SSDMini it doesn’t stick out at all. SSDMini’s are currently being manufactured by Angelbird and Sony. They have the same sata connector as regular 2.5″ SSD’s and the SSDMini’s can also be used on the larger Atomos Shoguns.

DSC_0286 Atomos Ninja V, the arctic and the Northern Lights.
A basic lightweight but effective setup. Atomos Ninja V, Sony A6300, Miller Compass 15 head and Solo tripod.

By the time we were ready to leave Norway we had seen the Northern Lights on 3 different nights. By day we had seen some beautiful sunrises as well as other optical effects like sun dogs caused by the light from the sun being refracted by ice crystals in the air. The Atomos Ninja V had impressed me hugely. It just worked perfectly despite the extreme cold. It allowed me to record at higher quality than would have been possible without it and turned out to be easy to operate. What more can you want really?

Fancy joining me on one of these trips? Follow the link to find out more: http://www.xdcam-user.com/northern-lights-expeditions-to-norway/

Out and about with the PXW-Z280.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.

Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.

Sorry for the lack of post recently, but I’ve been busy on various overseas shoots using the Sony Venice camera. I’ll be writing these up in due course.

My 2 favourite and most used lenses are my Fujinon MK zooms . I use the MK18-55 and MK50-135 on both my PMW-F5 and on my FS5. I’ve also used them on a Sony Venice. They are really great lenses. But one thing that I’ve always felt would make them a bit better is a power zoom.

Enter the Hedén VLC system.

AJC04868-1024x683 Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.
Heden servo motor to turn a non servo zoom into a power zoom. In this case on a Fujinon MK18-55 lens.

For starters the Hedén VLC system allows you to turn a non motorised zoom lens into a power zoom lens, but the Heden VLC system is more than just a zoom motor and control box. It can be expanded with a second motor to not only motorize the zoom but also provide an electronic focus control (although as yet I have not tried this).

Never heard of Hedén before? Well if you work in higher end features and productions you will probably have come across them before as they are a highly regarded Swedish manufacturer of electronic follow focus and zoom systems used in high end Cinematography. For me though, until now their products have been beyond my reach. One of their standard follow focus motors costs around £1.6K/$2K. However the motors and components used in the VLC systems are much cheaper, yet still meet Hedén’s exacting standards.  A complete VLC zoom system, including motor, costs around $2,100 USD. It’s still not a “cheap” item, but the system is of very high quality and surprisingly flexible, so it is something that should last many years and work with not just todays cameras and lenses but also whatever comes next.

The VLC system comprises several components. A control box, a motor or motors along with various attachment brackets for the motors depending on your application and a set of cables.

AJC04872-1024x683 Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.
Heden VLC control box.

The first time I played with the system it was an early development unit on my FS5. On the FS5 the system is controlled using the Lanc control functions built into the cameras existing handgrip. The cable from the hand grip that normally plugs directly into the camera body is plugged into a breakout cable from the VLC control box and then another connection from the control box plugs into the FS5. This way the handgrip controls the FS5 as normal, but now the zoom rocker on the handgrip also smoothly and accurately controls the Hedén zoom motor. All the hand grips other functions continue to operate as usual.

AJC04881-1024x683 Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.
The Hedén VM35 servo motor for the VLC zoom and focus system.

The motor used by the VLC system is a very high quality compact servo motor and gearbox with digital position and speed feedback. So the controller knows exactly how fast the motor is turning and where it is in it’s operating cycle. The first time you use the system it needs to be calibrated for the lens you are using. This is done quickly and simply, just by pressing the small CAL button on the controller. Once pressed the motor quickly runs back and forwards to find the lenses end stops.

AJC04892-1024x683 Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.
The CAL button used to calibrate the Hedén VLC zoom system.

A very nice feature is that when the motor isn’t being driven it can be turned quite easily. This means that unlike some other similar systems you don’t have to mechanically or physically disengage the motor from the lenses pitch gears to perform a manual zoom. In fact, the motor acts as a soft damping system and helps make manual zooms smoother.

My only gripe about the VLC system is the size of the control box. On a camera as small as the FS5 the control box is quite a big lump to add.

AJC04878-1024x683 Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.
The Hedén VLC system mounted on an FS5 and Fujinon MK lens.

AJC04866-1024x683 Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.
I have the Hedén VLC control box mounted on the rear of the FS5’s handle using the 3M Dual Lock provided with the kit.

For power I run it from a Dynacore BP-U type battery that has a D-Tap output. There is no on/off switch, so you turn it off by unplugging it, but the system doesn’t use much power and I barely noticed any difference in the life of the camera battery when using it this way.

The control box has controls for the motor speed, torque and direction. These controls allow you to fine tune the way the motor operates, so if you want you can have a fast snappy zoom, or if you prefer you can have a slower zoom. The control buttons are mounted below a soft waterproof membrane to protect the unit from dust and moisture. There is also a small LED display that shows the torque and speed settings. When zooming in or out this also shows the requested zoom speed. All the cables are connected to the box using very high quality Lemo connectors.

AJC04874-1024x683 Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.
The Hedén VLC control box mounted on an FS5

I found that the FS5 zoom rocker with it’s limited travel seemed to work best for me when the motor was set to quite a slow speed. The motor has lots of torque, so it should have no problem driving lenses with quite stiff zoom rings. However I probably wouldn’t try to use it with a DSLR zoom. I dabbled with producing a zoom motor for DSLR zooms some years back, but found it very difficult. Most DSLR zooms are quite stiff, often have tight spots as well as only limited travel. This makes it very difficult to get a very smooth motion. Feel free to try it with whatever lenses it is that you have, but I think you will need to test the functionality with each photo zoom lens to see how it copes. For proper video and cinemas lenses with smooth zoom rings the VLC system should work very well.

With the Fujinon MK lenses the motor can be attached to the barrel of the lens via a dedicated bracket. There is also a bracket for two motors for those that want to motorize not only the zoom but also the focus.

vm35-60 Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.
Dual motor bracket for the Fujinon MK lenses allows both a zoom and focus motor to be attached.

The benefit of having the motor on the lens is that it’s always in the right place and you don’t need rails etc. The downside is that if you have more than one lens you need to either, swap the motor and brackets each time you change lens, have multiple brackets or if you have really deep pockets a motor and bracket for every lens. Swapping the motor from bracket to bracket is very quick and easy, just loosen the thumbscrew and the motor slides out. So I would recommend having a bracket on each lens and simply swapping the motor over. The other alternative is to use one of the Hedén rail brackets to attach the motor to 15mm rails, then when you swap lenses the motor stays attached to the rails and it’s just a case of lining the motor up with the pitch gear on the lens.

vm35-40-1024x684 Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.
Rod mount for attaching a single Hedén VLC system motor to a 15mm rod.

 

Not long after starting to use the system on my FS5 I was informed that there was an update for the system that could work with any 3rd party Lanc Controller. So I decided to give this a try on my PMW-F5. To make this work you need an additional aftermarket Lanc zoom controller. These are readily available and there are lots of choices.

AJC04889-1024x683 Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.
The Hedén VLC zoom system mounted on my PMW-F5 and Fujinon MK lens. It’s much easier to find a place for the control box on larger cameras like the F5/F55 and FS7.

The Manfrotto controller I used allowed me to operate the zoom from from the pan bar of my tripod. Great for studio or ENG type applications. The only thing you don’t get with an F5 and a Lanc controller is control over record start and stop as the F5 itself doesn’t support Lanc control. So you still have to press the record button on the camera. But this isn’t a big deal and having the ability to zoom from the pan bar is great for so many applications.

AJC04888-1024x683 Hedén VLC Zoom and Focus Control.
Manfrotto Lanc controller mounted to the tripod pan bar.

Overall I am very impressed with the system. The degree of control you have over the lens is quite remarkable, it’s just as good as the control you get with a high end ENG zoom.  It’s very easy to setup and allows you to perform silky smooth zooms with ease. If you want smooth, slow starts to the zoom or extremely slow zooms, both are easily achieved with the Hedén VLC system.

I probably wouldn’t use it for every shoot, especially with the FS5 as the control box is a little bulky. With the F5 or FS7 and other larger cameras this is much less of a concern, so I will probably use it more often with these cameras. I also want to explore using it with Lanc controller that I can use with handgrips when handheld (perhaps using the Vocas Arri rosette kit for remote attachment of the FS5 hand grip).

The biggest strength of this system for me though, is that it isn’t actually lens or camera specific. You can use it with just about any lens and camera. So as you add more lenses to your collection, or if you change camera, you will still be able to use the VLC system just by making sure you have the right motor bracket. The 15mm rod bracket should work with just about any lens. This means that it’s a system that should last you a very long time.

Miller CX18 Tripod Head and Sprinter Legs.

My all time favourite tripod has to be my Miller Compass head on my Miller Solo Legs. This has proven to be an excellent all round tripod that is both light weight and extremely portable.

But for my recent Venice shoot I needed something a little bit more substantial so I decided to give the new Miller CX18 head on a set of Miller Sprinter II two stage carbon fibre legs.

20180420_155347-e1526234607109-576x1024 Miller CX18 Tripod Head and Sprinter Legs.
Miller CX16 Tripod with a Sony Venice.

The CX18 head is not radically different to any other tripod head. But it is a great, silky smooth tripod head. It uses the same type of fluid damping mechanism as my Compass head with 5+0 steps of silky smooth pan and tilt damping selected by click stop rings on the head. One thing that does differentiate the CX range from previous Miller heads is the range of the counterbalance system. My Compass head only has 4 counterbalance settings for a range of payloads from 2Kg to 9kg (4lbs to 20lbs). The new CX18 head has 16 levels of counterbalance and covers a payload range from 0 to 16kg (35lbs). So it can handle a greater payload range with finer more precise steps.

20180420_155421-1-1024x576 Miller CX18 Tripod Head and Sprinter Legs.
Miller CX18 head showing the 16 step counter balance control, 8 steps on the big ring plus a +1 step control switch.

The counterbalance steps are selected via a main counterbalance selector ring which as 8 steps and the a secondary control adds an extra half step, giving a total of 16 steps. So even when swapping lenses on the camera between primes and zooms it would only take seconds to find the right counterbalance level.

The camera plate on the CX18 is a side mount plate, so you just angle it into the recess on the top of the tripod and it snaps down into place. No need to have to line up a sliding plate. This makes it much faster to release and reattach the camera if you are in a hurry.

Talking of being in a hurry. The Sprinter II legs feature lower leg release catches that are operated by levers that are attached to the lower leg clamp by a rod. This means that you don’t have to bend down to the bottom of the tripod leg to release the catch. Instead the large release catches for both stages of the tripod legs starts off up by the tripod bowl making them easy to grab and release when you are in a hurry. This is a really nice feature for new shooters.

20180420_160747-e1526234840980-576x1024 Miller CX18 Tripod Head and Sprinter Legs.
The Sprinter II tripod. Note how the leg lock catches are never lower than the top of the first stage.

The 100mm bowl sprinter legs are very stable with very minimal twist or flex at the bowl even when extended to a good height. the mid level spreader makes them really easy to use on uneven ground.

So if you are looking for a tripod with a pretty decent payload that doesn’t weigh a ton but remains nice and stable do take a close look at the CX18 head and Sprinter II legs. Miller’s tripod heads really are some of the smoothest tripod heads out there. My Solo is 5 years old now and just as smooth as it was the day it arrived.

The CX18 worked well with the Venice camera, although to be honest a fully loaded Venice is a pretty big lump to put on this size of tripod. However the CX18 took it in it’s stride and helped me get some silky smooth pans and tilts in some pretty windy conditions.

Sigma FF High Speed Primes.

The main lenses I used for my recent Sony Venice shoot in Arizona were the  Sigma Full Frame High Speed primes in PL mount.

These are really really nice lenses!

20180418_110628-1024x576 Sigma FF High Speed Primes.
Sigma Full Frame fast prime lens set.

As they cover a full frame sensor such as the one in Sony’s Venice high end digital cinematography camera these are pretty future proof lenses. They are all fast lenses with most of them opening up to T1.5. At T1.5 you have a 20, 24, 35, 50 and 85mm lenses and at T2.0 you can go as wide as 14mm and as long as 135mm.

They are of all metal construction, the build quality is absolutely first class. As soon as you pick one up it just exudes quality. They are not light weight lenses, coming in at between 1kg and 1.3kg in PL mount form, but that weight gives you the confidence that these are lenses that will last. Lenses that will stand up to daily professional use on a film or documentary shoot.  They are dust and moisture sealed, which is probably just as well as on this shoot there was a lot of blowing sand and dust. Our on set photographer was having problems with sand and grit in his lenses by the end of the shoot, but the Sigmas just shrugged it off.

The focus and aperture markings are very clear and easy to read they even glow in the dark! The focus ring rotates through a full 180 degrees and both the focus and aperture rings have standard 0.8 pitch teeth for follow focus controls etc. The gear rings are all the same distance from the mount so there is no need to move the follow focus when changing lenses.

20180418_110645-1024x576 Sigma FF High Speed Primes.
Sigma 85mm Full Frame High Speed prime.

The lenses are available with PL, E mount or EF mounts. The set I had were fitted with PL. The mounts are not user interchangeable, but you can have the mount swapped by Sigma if you do find that you need to change it for some reason.

I shot several scenes with the 20mm lens using the Venice’s full frame 6K x 4K mode. Examining these images in post production reveals that the 20mm is really sharp right out into the corners. I also shot with the lenses wide open in some pretty dark places and even wide open they stay tack sharp. Take a look at the image below, it’s really sharp. If you click on the image you can enlarge it to view it at close to the original 6K resolution.

Horseshoe-bend_1.1.6-1024x576 Sigma FF High Speed Primes.
Frame grab from Venice. Horseshoe bend, Page Arizona. Sigma 20mm FF prime. Click on the image to enlarge.

Shooting night scenes with the 135mm wide open also gave beautiful results. When shooting with a shallow DoF all the lenses have a very pleasing bokeh. This is perhaps in part thanks to the use in all of the lenses of a 9 blade, rounded diaphragm aperture system.

When changing focus mid shot breathing is minimal and the focus ring is silky smooth. A really nice touch is the use of a damper at the focus stops so there is no noise if you hit the end stops.

Vegas-night2_1.1.2-1024x576 Sigma FF High Speed Primes.
Frame Grab from Venice, 2500 ISO, Sigma 24mm. Click on the image to expand.

During the shoot I used the 20,24,35,50,85 and 135mm lenses and they all performed really well. Looking at the footage in the grading suite it looks sharp and there are no nasty distortions. I did notice a touch of barrel distortion with the 24mm but this is to be expected with a wide lens on a full frame sensor. All the lenses matched really well, the colour remaining constant throughout the whole range. The look from the lenses was very neutral. Lens flare was extremely well controlled and I didn’t notice my blacks becoming washed out in high contrast situations. When shooting into the sun or at a direct light source any flare that I did see was normally quite pleasing.

The shot below was obtained shooting towards the sun when it was very low in the sky, yet the lens behaved flawlessly retaining deep blacks and a very high contrast image.

horse-riding_1.1.14-1024x576 Sigma FF High Speed Primes.
Frame grab from Venice with Sigma 135mm FF lens shooting into the sun in a very high contrast scenario. Click on the image to enlarge.

These lenses helped me capture some truly beautiful images with the Venice camera. I’ve long been a fan of Sigmas more recent lens designs. I have several of the Sigma Art Lenses and these have always performed exceptionally well. These prime lenses take things one step further putting world class optics into housings designed for manual control and the rigours of professional film and video productions. They are very competitively priced, especially when you consider that these are full frame lenses. I really hope to be able to use them again on future shoots. They really are top notch lenses and the images I captured with them look gorgeous.

 

Sony Venice – A close look at the dynamic range and noise.

With Sony Venice X-OCN files to download!

I have been working with Sony’s colour science guru Pablo at the Digital Motion Picture Center at Pinewood, looking at the outer limits of what Sony’s Venice camera can do. A large part of the reason for this is that Pablo is developing some really nice LUT’s for use on dailies or even as a grade starting point (Pablo tells me the LUT’s are finished but he is waiting for approvals and feedback from Japan).

As part of this process we have shot test footage with the Venice camera for ourselves and also looked long and hard at test shots done by other cinematographers. Last week we were able to preview a beta version of the cameras dual ISO modes. This beta firmware allowed us to shoot tests at both 500 ISO and 2500 ISO and the results of both are equally impressive.

I can’t share any of the test footage shot at 2500 ISO at this stage. The firmware is still in it’s early stages and the final version may well perform a little differently (probably better). But I can share some of the footage shot at 500 ISO.

Please remember what we were exploring was the extreme ends of the exposure range. So our little test set was set up with some challenges for the camera rather than trying to make a pretty picture.

We have deep, deep shadows on the right behind the couch and we also have strong highlights coming off the guitar, the film can on the shelves and from the practical lamp in the background. The reds of the cushion on the couch look very different with most Rec-709 cameras as the colors are outside the Rec-709 gamut.

Another aspect of the test was to check the exposure rating. For this I used my Sekonic lightmeter to measure both the incident light and the light reflected by the Kodak grey card. My light meter gave me T4 at 1/48th for 500 ISO and this turned out to be pretty much spot on with what the scopes told us. So straight away we were able to establish that the 500 ISO exposure rating appears to be correct. We also found that when we stopped down by 2.3 stops we got the correct exposure at 2500 ISO, so that too appears to be correctly rated.

Once the base exposure was established we shot at 2 stops over and 2 stops under, so from T2 down to T8 using a Sony 35mm PL prime. We used the XOCN-ST codec as we felt this will be the most widely used codec.  When looking at the files do remember that the 16 bit XOCN-ST files are smaller than 10 bit ProResHQ. So these are files that are very easy to manage. There is the option to go up in quality to Sony’s linear raw codec or down to X-OCN LT. XOCN-ST sits in the middle and offers a nice balance between file size and image quality, it being very hard to find any visual difference between this and the larger raw files.

The files I’m providing here are single X-OCN frames. They have not been adjusted in any way, they are just as shot (including being perhaps a touch out of focus). You can view them using the latest version of Sony’s raw viewer software or the latest version of DaVinci Resolve. For the best quality preview, at this time I recommend using Sony’s Raw Viewer to view the clips.

Click here to download these Venice Samples

If you find these files useful please consider buying me a coffee or beer.


Type



pixel Sony Venice - A close look at the dynamic range and noise.

So what do the files look like? First I recommend you download and play with them for yourself. Anything I do has to have a LUT,  grade or other process applied so that the linear data can be viewed on a normal computer screen. So it’s better to take a look at the original files and see what you can do with them rather than just accepting my word. The images here were create in DaVinci Resolve using ACES. ACES adds a film type highlight roll-off and uses film type levels, so the images look a touch dark as there were a lot of low light level areas in the test shots.

Venice at T4 The base exposure for the test.

Venice-base-T4_1.1.1-1024x540 Sony Venice - A close look at the dynamic range and noise.
Venice at T4 (From ACES). This was the “base” exposure for this test. Click on the image to enlarge.

Venice at T8 – 2 Stops under exposed (As exposed).

Venice-T8-uncor_1.4.1-1024x540 Sony Venice - A close look at the dynamic range and noise.
Venice at T8 (2 stops under). Click on the image to enlarge.

Venice at T8 – 2 Stops under exposed (Brightness corrected to match base exposure).

Venice-T8-norm_1.4.2-1024x540 Sony Venice - A close look at the dynamic range and noise.
Venice at T8 (2 stops under). Brightness match to base exposure via metadata shift. Click on the image to enlarge.

Venice at T5.6 – 1 stop under exposed (brightness corrected to match base exposure).

Venice-T5.6-norm_1.5.1-1024x540 Sony Venice - A close look at the dynamic range and noise.
Venice at T5.6 (1 stops under). Brightness match to base exposure via metadata shift. Click on the image to enlarge.

Venice at T4 The base exposure for the test.

Venice-base-T4_1.1.1-1024x540 Sony Venice - A close look at the dynamic range and noise.
Venice at T4 (From ACES). This was the “base” exposure for this test. Click on the image to enlarge.

Venice at T2.8 – 1 stop over exposed (brightness adjusted to match base exposure).

Venice-t2.8-norm_1.2.1-1-1024x540 Sony Venice - A close look at the dynamic range and noise.
Venice at T2.8 (1 stops over). Brightness match to base exposure via metadata shift. Click on the image to enlarge.

Venice at T2.0 – 2 stops over exposed (brightness adjusted to match base exposure).

Venice-T2-norm_1.3.2-1024x540 Sony Venice - A close look at the dynamic range and noise.
Venice at T2 (2 stops over). Brightness match to base exposure via metadata shift. Click on the image to enlarge.

Venice at T2.0 – 2 stops over exposed (as shot).

Venice-T2-uncor_1.3.1-1024x540 Sony Venice - A close look at the dynamic range and noise.
Venice at T2.0, 2 stops over, as shot. Click on the image to enlarge.

NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS:

I shouldn’t rush these tests! I should have set the focus at T2, not at T4. Focus is on the chart, not the dummy head. It would have been better if the eyes and chart were at the same distance.

It’s amazing how similar all the shots across this 5 stop range look. Just by adjusting the metadata ISO rating in Resolve I was able to get a near perfect match. There is more noise in the under exposed images and less in the over exposed images, that’s expected. But even the 2 under images are still pretty nice.

NOISE:

What noise there is, is very fine in structure. Noise is pretty even across each of the R, G and B channels so there won’t be a big noise change if skewing the white balance towards blue as can happen with some other cameras where the blur channel is noisier than red or green. Even at T8 and 2 stops under the noise is not unacceptable. A touch of post production NR would clean this up nicely. So shooting at 500 ISO base and rating the camera at 2000 EI would be useable if needed, or perhaps to deliberately add some grain. However instead of shooting at 500 ISO / 2000 EI you might be better off using the upper 2500 base ISO instead for low light shoots because that will give a nice sensitivity increase with no change to the dynamic range and only a touch (and it really is just a touch) more noise.

If shooting something super bright or with lot and lots of very important highlights  I would not be concerned about rating the camera at 1000EI.  For most projects I would probably rate the camera at 500EI. If the scene is generally dark I may choose 400EI just to be a touch cleaner. With such a clean image and so much dynamic range you really can pick and choose how you wish to rate the camera.

Venice has more dynamic range than an F55 and maybe a bit more than the F65. Most of the extra dynamic range is in the shadows. There is an amazing amount of picture information that can be pulled out of the darker parts of the images. The very low noise floor is a big help here. In the example below I have taken the base exposure sample and brought the metadata ISO up to 2000 ISO. Then I have used a luma curve to pull up the shadows still further. If you look at the shelves on the left, even in the deep shadow areas it’s possible to see the grain effect on the dark wood panels. In addition you can see both the white and black text on the back of the grey book on the bottom shelf. Yes, there is some noise but my meter put these areas at -6 stops, so being able to pull out so much detail from these areas is really impressive.

Venice-deep-shadows_1.1.2-1024x540 Sony Venice - A close look at the dynamic range and noise.
An amazing amount of information still exists in even the darkest shadow areas. This image adjusted up significantly from base exposure (at least +4 stops).

In the highlights the way the camera reaches it’s upper limit is very pleasing, it does seem to have a tiny roll off just before it clips and this looks really nice. If you look at the light bulbs in this test, at the base exposure, if you bring the highlights down in post you can see that not all of the bulb is completely over exposed they are only over exposed where the element is. Also the highlights reflecting off the guitar and film can on the shelf look very “real” and don’t have that hard clipped look that specular highlights on other cameras can sometimes have.

Another thing that is very nice is the colour tracking. As you go up and down in exposure there are no obvious colour shifts. It’s one of the things that really helps make it so easy to make all 5 exposures look the same.

The start up time of the Venice camera is very impressive at around 6 to 8 seconds. It’s up and running very quickly. The one stop steps in the ND filter system are fantastic. The camera is very simple to use and the menu seems logically laid out. It’s surprisingly small, it’s not much bigger than a PMW-F55, just a little taller and a little longer. Battery consumption is lower than most of the competition, the camera appears to consume around 50w which is half the power consumption of a lot of the competition. It can be run of either 12v or 24v. So all in all it can be rigged as a very compact camera with a standard V-Lock battery on the back.

Looking forward to shooting more with Venice in the very near future.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The wide end of the PXW-X90’s zoom range.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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2018 was yet another great year for my Aurora tours. This picture taken on January 20th.

 


 

Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.

So here it finally is. Sony’s latest digital cinema camera and finally it has a name rather than a number and it’s called Venice.

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Sony Venice Digital Cinema Camera.

I was lucky enough to be involved with Venice during the filming of the UK promo film, so I have had a little bit of a chance to play with one, seen it in action in the hands of an experienced DP (Ed Wild B.S.C.) and I have copies of the footage from it (I did the BTS film). So I have a pretty good idea of what we are dealing with…… and it’s good, it’s very, very good.

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On-set with Sony’s Venice.

For a long time I have been saying that what we need is better pixels, not more pixels and that’s precisely what Sony have delivered in Venice. The newly developed sensor is a full frame sensor, 36mm x 24mm with 6K’s worth of horizontal pixels. This means that if you use the camera as a super 35mm camera you have 4K (and for the demo films the pre production cameras used only worked at 4K, the equivalent of 35mm 4 perf. 6K will come a little later). Venice will be able to do a huge range of resolutions and aspect ratios including Anamorphic.

Why only 6K? Well it’s down to pixel size. Bigger pixels can capture more light and they can also store more electrons before they overload. This means you get a bigger dynamic range than would typically be possible with smaller pixels. The extra light capturing capability can be used in one of 2 ways, to increase sensitivity or to decrease noise. It appears that the engineers behind Venice went for the latter, lower noise.

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There’s a Sony Venice digital cinema camera buried under there somewhere.

A lot of research was done for this camera. Engineers from Japan met with many ASC and BSC cinematographers. They talked to post houses and colourists to find out what was really needed. I know that Claudio Miranda A.S.C. played an important part in the development process, he also shot the US demo film. The end result is a pretty sensitive camera (500 ISO) with very low noise and over 15 stops of dynamic range. Yes – that’s right over 15 stops without resorting to double exposures or any other tricks!!

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Left side of the Sony Venice cinema camera.

While the sensor isn’t a global shutter sensor it does have an extremely fast readout rate. This extra fast readout means that jello and other rolling shutter artefacts are minimised to the point where it behaves much more like a global shutter sensor.  Generally speaking, the extra memory circuits needed to get a global shutter either add noise, reduce sensitivity or reduce dynamic range. So it’s not a huge surprise to see the fast read out approach. There was quite a bit of filming done with a rather lovely Lamborghini Uraco, both hand held inside the car and mounted on the front of the car. Looking at the rushes there is no sign of any noticeable rolling shutter artefacts, even the trees flashing past in the background are still nice and vertical.

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Viewfinder overlays are now outside of the visible image area.

A lot of the car shooting took place at dusk and an interesting thing that came out of the UK demo reel shoot was how well it performed in low light. The 500 ISO rating is deceptive, because the camera produces so little noise you can rate the camera at a higher ISO and still get good results. Most current cinema cameras don’t produce the best results unless you rate them lower than their base ISO’s. Venice is different, the base ISO is very low noise and very high dynamic range. There appears to be little need to rate it lower for even less noise, although you could if you wish. I asked Ed Wild about this and he was really pleased with Venice’s ISO rating commenting that he often had to rate cameras from other manufacturers lower than the base ISO while he felt Venice at 500 ISO worked really well and that he would even consider rating it higher if needed.

Having a low base ISO means there is less need to use large amounts of ND on outdoor shoots. But talking of ND filters one of the great features of Venice is an 8 stage, behind the lens glass ND filter system. This allows you to choose just the right amount of ND for the light levels you have with no loss of quality. During the pre-shoot test and prep day at Pinewood each stage of the ND was carefully tested for colour shifts and accuracy, no problems were found.

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Sony Venice has 2 internal ND filter wheels giving 8 ND levels.

The lens mount on a Venice camera can be changed. It’s not a quick release mount as on the F55 or F5 cameras. It’s normally a PL mount. But the PL mount can be removed and the camera changed to a Sony E-Mount. 6 bolts remove the PL mount and a locking E mount similar to the one on the FS7 II is on the cameras body. This opens up the possibility of using a huge range of lenses, practically anything in fact as it’s easy to adapt from E-Mount to other mounts such as Canon EF for example. For the UK demo reel XTAL Anamorphics from MovieTec were used. Ultra Primes were used for the US promo film.

VENICE A Truly Modular Camera.

Not only can the lens mount be changed but the entire front part of the camera can be changed by removing just 4 screws. Venice is built as a modular camera and the front part of the camera that contains the sensor and ND filters is a removable module (no need for lab conditions or clean rooms to remove the module). This means that in the future Sony could release new sensor options for Venice. Maybe a higher resolution sensor, a monochrome sensor or a high speed sensor. Removing the front sensor module from the camera allows easy access to the cameras internal near silent fan so that it can be cleaned or replaced should that become necessary. All of the cameras electronics are in sealed compartments for dust and moisture protection and rubber seals are installed around any openings such as the SxS card access door. In addition if you do use the AXS-R7 recorder to record Raw/X-OCN this too is weather sealed.

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There are 2 SXS card slots on the camera body.

Venice records to SxS cards and with the AXS-R7 attached to AXS cards. You can record XAVC, ProRes HD, ProRes Proxy, as well as Raw/X-OCN. The XAVC recording option allows you to record direct to compact but high quality ready to go files or to record lower resolution proxy files.  X-OCN gives a 16 bit linear workflow with raw type performance but without massive files. There is very little difference between X-OCN and Sony 16 bit linear raw and different versions of X-OCN work at different bit rates so you can pick and choose the right balance of image quality against file size for each project.

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Plenty of output options on the Sony Venice camera including 4 x HDSDI/4K SDI and an additional dedicated monitor output.

For Venice Sony have developed new colour science that is designed to emulate film. Looking at the rushes from the camera it really looked nice without any grading. The images contain lots of lush colours. You could see amazing subtle tonal information in the leaves and trees in the shots. Skin tone highlights roll of in a particularly pleasing way.

One of the biggest criticisms of the PMW-F55 and F5 cameras when they were launched was that they were too complex to drive. The F55 menu system is very large containing many, many pages of settings and adjustments. This is a cinema camera without a lot of the fancy modes that cameras like the F5 or F55 have so the menus are simpler straight away. A lot of time was spent trialling different menu structures to determine the easiest and friendliest structure. At the press event during the hands on session most people found it quite easy to navigate around the menus. But really the way the side panel and the quick menu is set up means you won’t need to dive into the main menu very often.

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Sony Venice right side.

The camera body is a bit bigger than an F55/F5 and a lot smaller and lighter than an F65. On the right side of the camera there is the main LCD display, which is very similar to the one on the F55/F5 with 6 hot keys around it and a rotary menu dial. This is actually quite similar to the F55’s new Quick Menu system and easy to master.  All the key functions and setup options are just a couple of button presses away. This is the main display and where most of the cameras settings can be changed. It’s on the right side so the AC or DIT can get at it and see it easily. Pressing the user button turns 5 of the 6 buttons around the LCD into user assignable buttons (the 6th button is used to set the assignable functions).

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The right side main LCD display and option buttons.

On the left side of the camera there is a small information display that shows the frame rate, shutter speed, ND, ISO and white balance.

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The left side information display.

The white balance of the camera can be dialled in manually unlike the F55 you are no longer tied to 3 presets. You can now dial in the white balance you want down to 1 kelvin increments. Once you have set your white balance you can include your new custom setting in the preset list for quick recall at any time.

The camera can run off either 12V or 24V and it has an internal 24V inverter so that when using a 12V power source such as a V-Mount battery you still get 24V out of the industry standard 24V lemo connectors.

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The Sony Venice PL mount is secured to the cameras body with 6 bolts. When removed there is a locking E-Mount.

Venice is a modular camera system with various upgrade options. The base camera comes as a 4K super 35mm camera. the 6K option, anamorphic options (6K full frame and 4K 35mm) and other options will be available as option licences. These licences can be purchased as weekly, monthly or permanent options depending on your needs.

What about the picture? I spent a couple of days looking at footage from this camera both in my own grading suite and at Sony’s Pinewood facility during the production of the BTS film. I also saw it projected at the press day and it looks good. One problem today is that there are so many very good and very capable cameras that it’s tough to really pinpoint things that make one stand out as better than another. What I have found to be very pleasing from Venice is the skin tones. Sony have introduced new colour science and colour management for Venice and I think it looks really good. Even before grading, just looking at the clips on a monitor with S-Log3 gamma the pictures have a wonderful rich look. It’s worth noting that the cameras used for both the US and EU launch films were hand made pre-production units and the engineers are still learning how to fully exploit the new sensors in these cameras. So we can only expect them to get better between now and when they become available to buy.

Will I be getting one? Probably not. This is a wonderful camera and I would love to own one, but Venice will be more expensive than the F55 and probably not the best investment for me at least. However I fully intend to get my grubby fingers on one as soon as possible to learn all of it’s in’s and out’s as I hope to use a Venice for some short films I have planned. This is a serious Alexa or Red alternative It has image quality to rival or better almost any other digital cinema camera, but that does come at a price, although it’s no more expensive than any other comparable camera.

The estimated price for the base camera is expected to be around €37,000. Full frame and anamorphic options will be payable options, with the full-frame option costing a approx €4,000 and the anamorphic costing a approx €6,000.  it should be available from around February 2018.