Category Archives: Review

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.

AJC05782-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
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.

20170817_173653-1024x576 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
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.

20170817_144204-1024x576 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
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!!

AJC05784-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
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.

AJC05801-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
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.

ND-filter-1024x448 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
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.

AJC05794-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
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.

AJC05796-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
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.

20170817_144216-1024x576 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
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).

AJC05789-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
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.

AJC05786-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
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.

AJC05799-1024x683 Sony Venice. Full Frame Digital Cinema Camera.
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.

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The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.

Having done a fair bit of shooting with the new and very nice Fujinon MK 18-55mm E-Mount lens I decided to take a much closer look at the Fujinon Cabrio XK6x20 20 to 120mm T3.5 lens with the servo hand grip.

AJC05580-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The Fujinon XK6X20 20 to 120mm lens on my PMW-F5. The lens was loaned to me by Fujinon at my request as I wanted to test it for myself.

The price of this lens is very competitive and it can now be found as low as £11K/$16K. Lets not try to pretend that good quality PL mount zooms are cheap, but this is a great price for what is very high quality glass. The 20 to 120mm zoom range is nice and of course it’s truly parfocal there is a back focus adjuster along with macro function.

AJC05581-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The XK6X20 viewed from the top.

Like the other similar ENG style PL zooms this lens is quite heavy. The front element of the lens is huge and I’m sure a lot of the weight comes from this big lump of glass. One of the nice things about this lenses baby brother the MK 18-55, is that the 18-55 is really very light, which is great on the smaller cameras like the FS5 or FS7.

AJC05591-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The XK6X20 and it huge front element on the left and the smaller and lighter MK18-55 on the right.

The 20-120mm Cabrio exudes quality. The build quality of the lens is wonderful, the witness marks are crisp and well engraved, the servo zoom is silky smooth. The large servo module acts as a handgrip just like traditional ENG lenses and it really comfortable to hold and use this way. But if you don’t need it it can be easily removed leaving the bare bones lens body and saving a little bit of weight. There are the usual 0.8 mod pitch gears on each of the focus zoom and iris rings. Focus ring travel is huge at about 200 degrees and due to the physical size of the lens this is as much as I’d ever want. Even towards infinity there is still a nice range of travel so focussing accurately on distant objects is easy.

But what about the image quality, how does the lens perform in real world situations?

To find out I used it for a shoot in Norway. The shoot was for TV manufacturer Philips. We wanted to obtain some high quality 4K HDR footage to show off the capabilities of a new 4K OLED Ambilight TV. Unfortunately the weather conditions on the shoot were pretty grim most of the time and this made it all the more challenging. But I’m pleased to say that both lenses performed very well despite snow, ice and cold.

AJC05587-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
You can see the size difference here – XK6X20 on the left and MK18-55 on the right.

One of the great things about having both the high end Cabrio 20-120mm and the budget friendly 18-55mm for the shoot was that the overall look of the images from the FS5 and F5 was the same. Often mixing lenses from different manufacturers results in different looking images giving the colourist more work to do in post. Fujinon now have a range of lenses to suit most budgets from the high end Cabrio 19-90mm T2.9 down through the Cabrio 20-120 T3.5 to the MK 18-55 T2.9.

So what do the images from these lenses look like? I’m afraid I can’t show any of the footage from the Philips shoot yet, I should be able to show it later in the year. Below are a couple of frame grabs to give you an idea of the kind of images you can get. We didn’t shoot the same shots with the F5/XK6x20 and FS5/MK18-55 at the same time, I was the only cinematographer. So I don’t have a side by side comparison from the shoot, but the different scenes shot with each lens/camera combo match really well.

sami1-1024x540 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Sami woman feeding reindeer shot with the XK6X20 in Norway. Click on the image for a hi res version.
sami2-1024x540 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Wide of Sami woman feeding reindeer shot with the XK6X20 in Norway. Click on the image for a hi res version.
trmso1-1024x540 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Annika Summerson filmed in Tromso with the Fujinon XK6X20.
Tromso2-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Boats in the harbour on a cold but bright morning (the only one we had).
social-1024x540 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Icicles on the window. Shot with the Fujinon XK6X20 with my PMW-F5.

TESTING BOTH LENSES:

In order to better directly compare the two lenses I shot some test shots. The XK6x20 on my F5 and the MK18-55 on my FS7. Both cameras were set to the same settings and hypergamma 3 with the cinema matrix used. The images you will see below have not been touched, this is how they looked straight from the camera. If you click on the picture you should get a link to the full frame 4K image, but do remember this are Jpegs.

AJC05593-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Testing the Fujinon MK18-55 and XK6X20 with my PMW-F5 and PXW-FS7.

I tried to get the same shots with both combinations but you will see some small variations. I apologise for that. To give as fair a comparison as possible I did most of the shots at 20mm and 55mm, but then in addition shot at 18mm on the MK18-55 and 120mm on the XK6X20 so you can see the additional range each lens offers.

First test was of a neighbours Cherry tree in blossom.

FS7-Blossom-55mm2-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The FS7 with XF 18-55mm at 55mm. Click on the image for the full size 4K frame.
F5-20-120-55-blossom-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with XK20X6 at approx 55mm (sorry about the different framing). Click on the image for the size 4K full frame.
FS7-18-55-20mm-blossom2-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The FS7 with XF 18-55mm at approx 20mm. Click on the image for the full size 4K frame.
F5-20-120-20-blossom-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with XK20X6 at 20mm. Click on the image for the size 4K full frame.
F5-20-120-120-blossom-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with the Cabrio XK6X20 at 120mm showing the extra reach of the 20-120mm zoom.

The next test was a simple setup shot of a couple of beer bottles on a table with strong sunlight from above and behind to create deep contrast. I wanted to see if either lens showed signs of loosing shadow detail due to the very large, very bright table top introducing flare into the shadows.

FS7-18-55-20-Beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PXW-FS7 with XF18-55mm at approx 20mm, high contrast scene.
F5-20-120-20-beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with XK20X6 at 20mm. High Contrast scene. Click on the image for the size 4K full frame.
FS7-18-55-55-beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PXW-FS7 with XF18-55mm at 55mm, high contrast scene.
F5-20-120-55-beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with XK20X6 at approx 55mm. High contrast scene. Click on the image for the size 4K full frame.
FS7-18-55-18-beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The FS7 with the XF18-55 at 18mm showing the extra “width” that 18mm gives over 20mm.

My conclusion with the above shots is that there is remarkably little difference between these two lenses. Both perform extremely well. I think the XK6X20 might be marginally sharper at the wide end than the 18-55mm, either that or the slightly better viewfinder of the F5 is allowing me to focus more precisely. In addition I think the bokeh of the more expensive Cabrio is marginally smoother than the 18-55, but again it’s a tiny difference (not as big as the difference in white balance of the two cameras).

Finally a shot of my ugly mug just so you can take a look at some skin tones.

FS7-18-55-me-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PXW-FS7 with Fujinon XF 18-55 at approx 30mm. Click on the image for full size 4K frame.
F5-20-120-me-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with Fujinon Cabrio XK6X20 at approx 30mm. Click on the image for the full size frame.

Again very little difference between these lenses which is a good thing. Both perform very well, both produce pleasing images. Sure the XK6X20 20-120mm is more than twice the price of the MK18-55 but then it does offer twice the zoom range and it’s very hard to make fast parfocal lenses with big zoom ranges for large sensors. There will be a companion MK50-135mm lens coming later in the year, so with both the MK lenses you will be able to get the full range of the XK6X20 and a bit more, provided you don’t mind swapping lenses. It’s a tough choice if you have an E-mount Sony camera, which to get? For E-Mount I think the pair of MK lenses will be the way to go. If you have a PL mount camera the XK6X20 has to be a very serious contender. It’s a great all-round cinema zoom lens and a realistic price. Whichever way you do go you won’t be disappointed, these are proper cinema lenses.