Category Archives: Review

The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What’s it like to work with?

F55-shoot-in-singapore-225x300 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
Alister shooting with the f55 in Singapore.

I was lucky enough to go out and play with an F55 while in Singapore. There was no pressure, nothing specific to shoot, just play time. This meant I could try different frame rates, different frame sizes, basically I could experiment. I also had the use of one of the lovely (but very heavy) Fujinon Cabrio 19-90mm PL mount servo zooms. The F55 was configured with the LCD EVF (my choice, I could have used the OLED) R5 recorder and a couple of Olivine batteries. The camera was one of Sony’s early pre production models, so while most things did work there were some modes and functions that couldn’t be used together that will be available on the production cameras. Most of the time I shot at 25p recording 1920×1080 XAVC HD with S-Log2 in camera and 4K raw in the RAW.  I did also shoot quite a bit of 4K XAVC at 25p and 4K raw at 50p.

The cameras menu system is well laid out and clear and easy to use. It’s different to the menu system used on the F3 and EX cameras, it’s actually much closer to the menu system used by the F65. The cameras key functions, things like ISO, shutter speed and white balanced are controlled using the 6 hot keys arranged around the camera function LCD on the left of the camera (Sony refer to these buttons as “switches” in the manual which is a little confusing). So much of the time there is no need to go in to the main menu. One thing I did miss was a dedicated white balance switch. There is a hot key button that allows you to choose between presets for tungsten, daylight or your own numerical colour temperature (just dial in the temp you want). But to do a white balance with a grey card, you have to go in to the menu and set the white balance from within the menu. Maybe on the production cameras you will be able to assign this to one of the assignable buttons. Of course with raw your not really changing the white balance in the traditional sense. What your changing is the white balance of the monitoring output and the white balance settings attached to the raw clips metadata.

DSC02691-300x199 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
Sony PMW-F55

The camera is simple to operate once you have it in the record mode you want. But the multitude of modes, frame sizes, frame rates, compressed, codecs and raw, EI or non-EI will I’m sure confuse some people. Currently the camera has to be in some quite specific modes in order to be able to make use of the R5 recorder for raw recording. If the camera is in the wrong mode the R5 doesn’t even come online. But this is a pre production camera with early firmware so I’m sure the range of modes that can be used together will increase. As it wasn’t possible to shoot 4K XAVC S-Log internally and 4K raw on the R5 at the same time, for most of the filming I did I shot internally in HD using XAVC and S-Log2 while recording 4K raw on the R5. I did also take some time to shoot similar shots in 4K XAVC to compare to the raw footage.

DSC02681-300x199 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
Sony DVF-EL100 EVF.

In the viewfinder you get the usual comprehensive information about the camera setup including the remaining record time on both the SxS cards and AXS card in the R5. The nice thing about the R5 is that it really does become a part of the camera and is controlled fully by the camera unlike many off-board recorders where you have to setup the recorder separately from the camera. The R5 has no buttons or switches on it’s exterior, just a couple of status LED’s, it’s all controlled from the F55’s menu.

VIEWING YOUR FOOTAGE.

F55-raw-viewer-1024x640 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
Sony F55 Raw Viewer (same as F65 viewer)

For viewing and managing the raw footage Sony have a clip viewer application (which will be supplied with the camera or for free download) which is essentially the same as the F65 raw viewer. There are Mac and PC versions. Being realistic your going to need a fast computer with USB3 to be able to use this properly. I’ve just upgraded to a new Retina MacBook pro in anticipation of the arrival of my own F5. Transferring 250GB of raw data from the AXS card to a 2.5″ USB3 hard drive took about an hour. Thats not even real time. 250GB is about 30 mins of footage, some of which was 50p.

F55-raw-no-grade-bike-300x158 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
Un graded raw shot of a bike in Singapore

Of course 2.5″ hard drives are not the fastest of drives so I’m sure I will be able to speed this transfer process up, probably to just a little faster than real time. But even so, be prepared for a slower workflow when working with 4K raw than perhaps your used to right now with conventional HD cameras. The Raw Viewer software allows you to view and playback clips using different gamma curves and lookup tables, as well as applying a number of image adjustments and corrections. You can also use it to convert the raw files to DPX files, either with or without adjustments such as a gamma curve, so right out of the box you should be able to work with the material.

F55-raw-with-grade-bike-300x158 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
The same bike shot as above but after a quick grade.

BlackMagic already have the raw and XAVC codecs working within a soon to be released versions of Resolve (including the free Resolve Lite), this software will be released well before the cameras becomes available. There are also working plug-ins for Adobe Premiere Pro from Rovi that should be finalised before the cameras ship with other NLE’s like Edius and FCP-X promising support in the very near future. For Avid MC, there will be Sony Plug-Ins for both XAVC and RAW at the start of Feb. For FCP-X, Apple has a plan to support XAVC (both 4K & HD) soon (I don’t have an exact timescale I’m afraid) with a plug-in developed by Sony. Sony Vegas, will support XAVC at the start of Feb as well.

I’m looking at building a dedicated Linux based workstation for working with the F5/F55 4K material. I plan to use the HD internal recordings as proxies for the edit on my Macbook or iMac and then do the 4K finishing using Resolve running on a Linux machine with plenty of graphics processing grunt. It’s much cheaper to build a Linux workstation than a MacPro, in addition it’s much easier to add additional graphics cards to get more GPU cores. These days it’s the number and power of the GPU (Graphics Processor) rather than the normal CPU that counts.

F55-Cabrio-300x199 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
PMW-F55 with Fujinon Cabrio, Genus Elite Matte Box.

Getting back to the shoot. The Fujinon Cabrio lens interfaces directly with the camera, so power is supplied to the lens for the servo zoom. Annoyingly the record button on the lens didn’t work, so I had to press the REC button on the camera body. I suspect this is just a camera firmware issue (UPDATE: According to Fuji this is a limitation of the Cooke i/Arri LDS lens connection protocols, in the future it may be possible to use either an adapted protocol or a cable between the lenses 20 pin connector and the cameras remote port). It behaves much like a traditional ENG lens, but it is a massive lump of glass making the camera extremely front heavy. I had a slight problem one morning coming from a nice air conditioned hotel out into the humidity of Singapore. The lens fogged up, as would any lens in those circumstances, as the front element is so big, it did take a very long time to get to the ambient temperature before I could use it. One small feature that is very nice is that the lens markings have been applied using glow-in-the-dark paint, rather like a watch face. So when shooting in the dark at night you could still easily see your focus markings. I wish camera manufacturers would do this with the camera button markings etc. The images produced by the Cabrio 19-90 are really very good. Lens flare is very well controlled, the images are sharp and free from any obvious defects. The bokeh is also very nice considering it is a relatively compact high ratio zoom lens. The Cabrio lens really makes the F55/F5 well suited to run and gun shooting. Stop the F55 down by an additional 2.5 stops and you’ll have approximately the same DoF on the F55 as you would have on a 2/3″ ENG camera. With such sensitive cameras as the F5/F55 this should be easy enough to do in most shooting situations.

F55-Merli-no-grade-300x158 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
Shot of the Merlion before grading, so this is what the 16 bit raw clips look like.

The F55’s native ISO of 1250 meant I didn’t need to use any additional gain shooting around Singapore’s Marina Bay area at night. This is a well lit area, but even so the low light performance is impressive. Noise and grain at 1250 ISO is very hard to see, it’s a really, really clean camera. At higher ISO’s you do start to see noise and grain, but thanks to the 4K sensor this has a very fine film like look. I checked out the noise on the F5 at 20,000 ISO and it’s really not that bad, in fact during the workshop someone turned the camera to 20,000 ISO and most people looking at the monitor didn’t realise.

F55-Merli-with-grade-300x158 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
The Merlion after a quick grade.

In S-Log2 the camera has an EI mode that keeps the recording ISO at 1250 but then adds gain to the monitor and viewing LUT’s as well as the clips metadata. I deliberately over exposed a number of S-Log2 shots to see how they would grade. The results were very impressive, not quite as forgiving as raw, but very good with lots of information preserved in the highlights. One concern I have with the F5 is that it may actually be a little bit too sensitive. The F5 we had in Singapore in S-Log2 was rated at 2500 ISO, that’s really sensitive and I do have a fear that I’m going to have to use a lot of external ND filtration in addition to the cameras internal ND’s when I want a shallow depth of field.

The camera really didn’t take long to get used to. I think new users will need to read through the manual to look at the various recording options, monitoring and look up table settings. For example the camera has to be in the correct base mode (EI or Custom) before you can setup the 4K raw recordings. But beyond that it is a very logical and straight forward camera to use.

F55-DVF-L350-LCD-300x188 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
Looking into the DVF-L350 LCD EVF.

Shooting in 4K has it’s challenges. Focus is ultra critical, especially if you are shooting in 4K so that post production can crop into the image for re-framing. I found that I was using the focus-mag button on the viewfinder for every shot, checking and double checking focus. I was using the 3.5″ LCD EVF for the shoot but I did try the OLED too. When your viewfinder is “only” HD or maybe not even HD you are going to need to magnify the image to see that critical 4K focus.

F55-DVF-EL100-300x173 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?As well as focus-mag you also have the usual peaking modes and settings (which can be assigned to the assignable buttons). But I really found that for 4k, while very useful, peaking alone was not enough to be 100% certain that your focus is spot on with any of the viewfinders, not even the OLED. I’m not saying that the viewfinders are sub standard, just that you really need a much bigger screen than 7″ to see 4K focus without zooming in to the image.

DSC02684-300x199 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
The DVF-L700 7″ LCD monitor/viewfinder.

While the DVF-EL100 OLED EVF is rather nice the small size of it’s panel (0.7″) does mean that some of the sharpness advantage it has over the 3.5″ LCD DVF-L350 is lost. The bigger screen of the 3.5″ LCD is easier to see than the very small OLED. In addition the flip up monocular of the 3.5″ LCD does make it more versatile. For ENG type shoots, run and gun or documentary shoots, I think the 3.5″ finder is the better choice. If you shoot drama then you can use the higher resolution OLED EVF and then add a larger monitor/viewfinder as well. The F5/F55 has to separate HDSDI busses. The main bus can be used to output clean video while the sub bus can be used to feed video with camera data overlays added for external viewfinders etc. There are two HDSDI connections on each bus.

F55-clark-quay-no-grad-300x158 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
Shot of Clark Quay before grading the raw file.

I really enjoyed shooting with the F55. It was easy to use and the key camera controls are well placed. With the right shoulder mount (including the Sony one)  it will be reasonably well balanced with most prime lenses (I only had a generic base plate for the matte box rails). I do think that with many heavier lenses, rather than use the relatively light NP-FL75 batteries you will be better off with larger and heavier batteries to get better balance. One FL75 ran the camera for around 2 hours so a 150Wh battery would run it for about 4 hours.

F55-clark-quay-graded-300x158 The PMW-F55 with the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 PL servo zoom. What's it like to work with?
Shot of Clark Quay after applying a Hypergamma LUT.

The NP-FL75’s do charge very fast indeed, taking about 90 mins to fully charge from flat. You don’t have to use the new Sony batts. Any standard V mount battery will work. I’m going to be testing some of the new LiTH 150Wh batteries that are the same size as a typical 95Wh battery when I get my F5.

My next shoot with an F5 will be at the end of January when I will be taking one up to Arctic Norway to shoot the next part of my on-going Northern Lights film project. I’ll be shooting interviews with the local Sami people about the folklore and traditions that surround the Aurora as well as the Aurora itself. It will be interesting to see if I can shoot the Aurora in real time 4K using the F5’s 20,000 ISO rating. It should be possible as I managed with the F3 last year. I’ll be posting some sample clips from my Singapore shoot very soon (once I work out the best way to distribute a gig or more of material).

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Samyang 24mm and 35mm T1.5 Cine Lenses. Cine lenses for those on a budget.

DSC06476-300x199 Samyang 24mm and 35mm T1.5 Cine Lenses. Cine lenses for those on a budget.
Samyang 24mmT1.5 Cine Lens.

I’ve had one of Samyang’s 14mm f2.8 photo lenses for some time and it really is a fantastic lens. It’s one of my favourites for shooting the Northern Lights as it nice and wide and pretty fast for such a wide lens. In addition it stays nice and sharp even when wide open. When I heard that Samyang were bringing out a range of budget cine lenses with integrated 0.8 mod pitch gears it was music to my ears as I have been looking for some decent cine lenses for a long time, but didn’t want to fork out a small fortune on expensive PL glass.

DSC06470-300x199 Samyang 24mm and 35mm T1.5 Cine Lenses. Cine lenses for those on a budget.
Samyang 35mmT1.5 Cine Lens

Up to now, for my own projects, I have been using a mix of Nikon fit and Canon fit DSLR lenses. Mostly Sigma Nikon fit lenses as these focus the “right” way and have manual aperture rings. For my larger budget commercial projects I then hire in PL glass to suit the project.

The Samyang’s arrived nicely packed in decent looking boxes and each lens comes with a soft carry pouch. There’s the usual petal shaped lens hood and lens caps. The lenses I chose have the Canon EF-S mount, but you can also get them with a Nikon mount. Because they have proper manual iris rings there is no problem using these lenses on cameras like the Sony PMW-F3 where you don’t have electronic iris control.

DSC06475-300x199 Samyang 24mm and 35mm T1.5 Cine Lenses. Cine lenses for those on a budget.
The 24mm Samyang on my F3

Out of the box the lenses really look the part. The black finish is very nice and there is an attractive red metal ring around the camera body giving them a quite classy look. One thing though is that there is a lot of plastic in these lenses. The lens mount is metal and it appears that the core of the lens body is metal, but it appears to be shrouded in plastic. Certainly the iris and focus rings are plastic and front shroud around the lens is plastic, but it does appear to be a good quality plastic. The large amount of plastic does make the lenses feel cheaper than a decent PL mount lens but it’s no worse than the plastic Sony PL mount lenses that cost 8 times as much and you do have to remember that these lenses are really well priced, really, really well priced.

DSC06469-300x199 Samyang 24mm and 35mm T1.5 Cine Lenses. Cine lenses for those on a budget.
F3 and 24mm Samyang

The 0.8 mod pitch gears are nice and proud from the lens body and I had no issues using them with my Genus follow focus controls. There is no click stop on the iris ring as there would be on a conventional DSLR lenses and the movement of the iris ring is very smooth and has just the right amount of resistance for smooth aperture changes during a shot. The iris scale, marked in T-Stops is clear and easy to read and the travel reasonable. You don’t get as much travel as many PL mount lenses, but there is plenty of travel and getting an accurate exposure is easy. Having T-stops is great as you can change lenses and your exposure will remain constant because T-stops are the lenses  f-stop plus any other light losses in the lens, making exposure more accurate and consistent from lens to lens.

35mm-lens-tree-300x168 Samyang 24mm and 35mm T1.5 Cine Lenses. Cine lenses for those on a budget.
Frame grab from the 35mm lens. Click to enlarge.

The focus rings on both the 24mm and 35mm lenses rotate through about 160 degrees. This is a lot compared to most other modern DSLR lenses. My Sigma 20mm f1.8 lens only rotates about 90 degrees and my 24-70mm lens only rotates about 45 degrees. This extra throw on the focus ring really helps with accurate and precise focus and makes these lenses a pleasure to use. The focus scale is in both feet and m. I do find the brown “ft” scale a little hard to see, especially in low light, but this is a minor complaint.

24mm-leaves1-300x168 Samyang 24mm and 35mm T1.5 Cine Lenses. Cine lenses for those on a budget.
Super shallow DoF from the 35mm T1.5 Samyang. Click to enlarge.

So overall these lenses are really nice to use compared to most other DSLR lenses, in fact I would say they are pretty close to many much more expensive PL lenses. But handling is one thing, what about the image quality? Well I wasn’t disappointed. Both lenses perform very well. Edge to edge sharpness is very good, contrast is very good, these lenses produce lovely crisp images with very good neutral colour. I didn’t test them with charts. Instead I used them (and am continuing to use them) on a range of shoots in Hong Kong and the UK and compared them with some of my other lenses out in the field. Image wise the 24mm produces an image very similar to my 20mm Sigma, if anything I feel the Samyang is the sharper of the two, even when wide open.

The 35mm Samyang performs at least as well as my favourite 35mm f1.8 Nikkor. My only small concerns are that the 24mm softens a little at T1.5 (the 35mm also softens a little but not quite as bad) and that both lenses do suffer from a bit more lens flare in some situations than my Nikkor’s. I suspect the coatings used on the Samyang’s may not be quite as good as those on the Nikkor’s but by using a deeper lens hood, matte box or flag to stop strong light sources from shining directly into the lens this flare can easily be controlled or eliminated. If you have a strong light source coming into the lens slightly off axis the lens flare exhibits itself as a slight raising of black levels and as a result a reduction in contrast. Most lenses suffer from some flare and this isn’t a deal breaker provided you are aware of it.

24mm-lens-sharp-300x168 Samyang 24mm and 35mm T1.5 Cine Lenses. Cine lenses for those on a budget.
Lots of crisp detail from the 35mm, even on a dull day.

I really like these lenses. Not just because they are cheap, but because they perform very well and they really handle like baby PL mount lenses. I think you have to see them to believe them because the images are really very sharp. I’d much rather use these than most conventional DSLR lenses on my video cameras. The Samyang 24mm T1.5 is an excellent wide angle lens for video applications. The 35mm is a great “standard” lens and will probably be my “go-to” lens for most shoots. The field of view you get from a 35mm lens on a Super 35mm video camera is very close to our own human field of view, so your shots look very natural and true to life. At T1.5 these are fast lenses so achieving a very shallow depth of field is easy. I probably wouldn’t use the 24mm at T1.5 unless I really needed to, but at T2 the image starts to sharpen up nicely. As well as the 24mm and 35mm lenses Samyang have 8mm T3.8 and a 14mm T3.1mm cine lenses and an 85mm T1.5 lens will be coming at the end of the year. All they really need is to add a 50mm to create a really complete lens set.

Initially I approached Samyang UK and asked for the loan of the 24mm and 35mm lenses for review. After using them I decided to buy them, so now I’m the happy owner of the Samyang 24mm and 35mm Cine lens. All I need to do now is sell of some of my other Canon and Nikon lenses so that I can get the 8, 14 and 85mm Samyang Cine lenses. They also do an interesting 24mm tilt-shift lens!

These are the current prices:
8mm VDSLR Canon / Nikon – £279
14mm VDSLR Canon / Nikon – £329
24mm VDSLR Canon / Nikon – £529
35mm VDSLR Canon / Nikon – £419
85mm VDSLR Canon / Nikon – £299  

Zunow SWV-E11-16, 11 to 16mm E-Mount Lens Review.

Zunow-11-16-300x237 Zunow SWV-E11-16, 11 to 16mm E-Mount Lens Review.
Zunow SWV-E11 E Mount Cine Lens.

Before I went to Arizona to shoot the monsoon thunderstorms and Grand Canyon I felt that I would need a nice fast wide angle lens to help capture some of the panoramas and vistas that I would see. A little while ago my friends at Alphatron told me about an E-Mount wide angle lens that was soon to be launched. So after a couple of phone calls I managed to secure the loan of one of the SWV-E11-16 cine style E-Mount lenses. Even before opening the box I knew this was something a bit special as the box was pretty heavy, no lightweight plastic lens in this box. On opening the box I was not disappointed. Inside was a very solid looking cine style lens with substantial gears on the focus, zoom and iris rings. This isn’t really a zoom lens, more of a variable focal length lens. The difference between the field of view at 11mm and 16mm isn’t all that great, but it does allow you to vary the framing.

zunow-night-300x210 Zunow SWV-E11-16, 11 to 16mm E-Mount Lens Review.
The Zunow ultra wide lens on my FS700 shooting lightning at night.

As this is an E-Mount lens, not only does it work on the FS100 and FS700 but it also fits on any other E-mount camera such as my NEX5N.

This isn’t a lightweight lens, it is a substantial, beautifully constructed lens that is a real pleasure to use. Compared to a typical DSLR lens the focus ring has a much greater travel which makes accurate focus much easier to achieve. The 0.8 mod gear rings allow the use of standard follow focus systems so no need to use add-on adapters. I can’t stress enough how nice this lens feels to use. But the feel of a lens is only a small part of the story, of course it’s the image performance that is what’s really important and again the Zunow does not disappoint.

DSC04355-300x199 Zunow SWV-E11-16, 11 to 16mm E-Mount Lens Review.
Photo taken with the Zunow lens on my NEX5N. Click on the image to enlarge.

I used it in various light conditions from bright desert sun to after dark. The wide f2.8 aperture makes this quite a fast lens considering it’s wide field of view. Most ultra wide lenses tend not to be as fast as this. When set to 11mm there is some noticeable barrel distortion which is really surprising and it’s not particularly objectionable as you zoom in to 16mm this distortion decreases to very low levels. This is one sharp lens. The images from this lens, both stills and HD video show huge amounts of crisp clear details.

Zunow-grab-tucson-300x168 Zunow SWV-E11-16, 11 to 16mm E-Mount Lens Review.
Frame grab from the FS700 and Zunow lens.

The best performance was from f4, but even fully open a f2.8 the centre of the image remains sharp and with good contrast. There is some slight softening in the corners at very wide apertures but this is not severe and I felt that the lens was perfectly useable even at f2.8 unlike some other wide angle lenses I have used. Colour fringing and chromatic aberrations are well controlled and I didn’t observe anything objectionable.

I really liked using this lens. It has the feel of a high end PL mount lens and performance to match. It looks the part and looks like it will last a very long time. I was very sad to have to hand it back after the shoot. The European distributor, Alphatron, tell me that as well as this E-Mount lens, Zunow are planning on producing PL mount versions as well as  additional similar lenses of different focal lengths.