I wouldn’t normally write about something like this, a fire in a factory in Japan. But this particular factory was one of the worlds main sources of professional analog to digital converter chips used in all sorts of pro and high end audio gear as well as TCXO (temperature controlled crystal oscillators) used to control micro processors, timing circuits and many other devices. The audio chips, many of which were unique AKM designs convert things like the analog audio from a microphone into the digital signal that a modern camcorder or audio recorder then records.
The massive fire at the AKM factory burned for 84 hours and destroyed the factory at the end of October. It’s anticipated that it will take at least 6 months to get the factory running again. So far everyone is staying fairly tight lipped about the fire and it’s knock on effects and it’s not known who exactly depends on the AKM chips. But they are world leaders in this field and if you do use their audio chips it’s not simply a case of buying another chip from somewhere else as this would require the redesign of many circuit boards or other components.
Only time will tell whether this is really significant or not, but there are a lot of murmurs suggesting it could be a big problem for a lot of manufacturers of pro audio and video equipment.
One thing that has always worried me when travelling with my PXW-FS5 has been the fact that there is no protection for the LCD screen when in transit. There would be nothing worse than arriving for an importat shoot and finding the delicate LCD screen cracked or smashed.
No cover is supplied by Sony and I haven’t seen a proper cover for the LCD anywhere. So I decided to make my own. This is a simple plastic cover that snaps over the LCD screen when not in use. It helps protect it from scratches and other damage while you travelling, when the camera is in your camera bag or if you have to ship the camera anywhere. The prototype in these pictures was 3D printed on my home 3D printer and it works really well. There are small lugs that clip over the back of the LCD panel and when fitted it cannot slide off
If you want one for yourself you can order them from my Shapeways store. Shapeways will professionally print them to order in a range of colours from a strong plastic material. The Shapeways prints are of far higher quality than can be achieved with most consumer 3D printers and the finish will be smooth and professional looking (unlike my prototype).
The version 2 firmware is now available for download – ahead of schedule – from Sony. There is no need to send the camera in to Sony to perform the upgrade. You can do it yourself and it doesn’t take long.
Version 2 is a major update for Venice and it adds all kinds of new features including things like S&Q motion, the dual base ISO mode and the ability to load user LUT’s into the camera. Another key feature is that Version 2 enables the use of the E-Mount lens mount. This really opens up the camera, especially for full frame as the range of lenses that you can now use with Venice is vast, everything from high end cinema lenses to low cost DSLR lenses.
Some of the new features added in V2:
1.Added imager modes, 6K 17:9, 6K 1.85:1 and 4K 6:5
2.Added ISO2500 high sensitivity (Dual Base ISO)
3.E-mount lens support
4.Variable Frame rate (Select FPS)
5.Apple ProRes HD support
6.Simultaneous recording formats
7.User 3D LUT support
8.EI applied in S-Log3 output and recording
9.Surround view in 4K 17:9, 3.8K 16:9 and 4K 4:3 imager modes
10.High Quality Viewfinder focus magnification
11.Auto White Balance
13.VF False color
14.Camera remote control via Ethernet
15.Inside button operation for Playback
16.Eliminated restrictions on 6K 3:2 imager mode playback function
Before you perform the update I recommend watching this video which will take you through all the necessary steps.
I have just revisited a post I did some years ago about the correct way to expose Hypergammas and Cinegammas. I’ve revised some of it and updated some other bits. Hopefully the revisions make it a little easier to understand why the brightness levels should be a little different and I’ve provided some suggested settings for zebra levels. You will find the revised guide here: Guide To Hypergamma and Cinegamma Exposure.
First: If there is something you wish to know about please try the search box to search this web site. You should find a search box on the left of every page when using a normal web browser. If you are using a mobile web browser then the search box will appear towards the bottom of each page, you may need to scroll down to find it, but it’s there.
A great function that allows you to check the extreme ends of your log exposure in the CineEI mode is the Hi/Low Key function. It has to be assigned to a button before you can use it, but it provides a very fast way to check what is really going on in your highlights and shadows. You’ll find all you need to know about High and Low key here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As well as several Sony Venice cameras on the Sony booth, Sony will be holding a special IBC screening of the Venice demo films projected in HDR using Dolby Vision in the main big screen auditorium of the RAI at 2.30pm on Friday. Ed Wild the DP of the UK film will also be there to answer any questions. If you are interested in Sony Venice this should not be missed.
That may seem like quite a sensational headline – beware exposing to the right with log – but let me explain.
First of all, I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t expose to the right, all I am saying is beware – understand the implications.
First of all what is normally meant by exposing to the right? Well it’s a term that comes from the world of photography where you would use the cameras histogram to measure the exposure levels. Exposing to the right would normally mean setting the shutter speed and aperture so that the levels shown on the histogram are as far to the right as you can get them without going beyond the right side of the histogram. This would ensure a nice bright exposure with lots of light falling on the sensor, something that is normally highly desirable as you get a nice low noise picture once you have adjusted and processed it in your photo editing software.
You can expose to the right with a video camera too. However when shooting with Rec-709 or conventional gammas this can often result in nasty looking highlights thanks to the default knee settings, so it’s not normally a good idea for 709 and standard gammas.
With log or raw as there is no highlight roll off you can expose to the right and it should give you a nice bright exposure… or will it?????
The problem with exposing to the right is that you are exposing for the highlights in the scene. If shooting a low contrast or low dynamic range scene this isn’t going to cause any problems as exposing to the right will mean that everything in the scene is nice and bright.
But if shooting a high dynamic range scene, say an outdoor scene with bright clouds in the sky but large areas of shadow, the exposure will be optimised for the highlights. The mid range and shadows may end up too dark. On a sunny day if shooting a person with their back to the sun the sky could easily be 6 or 7 stops brighter than the skin tones. If you expose for the sky/highlights the skin tones will be 1 or 2 stops darker than the basic exposure level recommended for most log curves.
(S-log2/3 has 14 stops. At the base exposure you have 6 stops above middle grey and 8 below. Skin tones are normally between 1 and 2 stops above middle grey. So if the sky/highlights are 6 stops above the skin tones, then exposing for the highlights will put the skin tones where middle grey should be, which is 1 stop under exposed and 2 stops below where I would normally like to see skin tones when shooting with log or raw).
The first thing a viewer will notice when they look at a scene with faces or people will be the skin tones. If these have been under exposed they will be grainy and less than ideal. The viewer will notice noise and grain and poor shadows long before they look at the brightest highlights. Shooting log and protecting the highlights or exposing to the right will often compromise the all important mid tones because you are exposing for the highlights, not the midrange. In addition exposing for highlights with a high dynamic range scene can often push the shadows down in level and they will end up noisy and grainy. The biggest issue with exposing to the right is that it’s extremely difficult to estimate how many stops there are between your mid tones and the highlights, so you never know quite where your mid tones are falling.
(Midtones – generally a white piece of paper or a 90% reflectivity white card would be considered to be the top end of the mid tones. Go down about 2.5 stops from white and you hit middle grey (18% grey card). This range between middle grey and white is where skin tones, plants, most animals etc will be and it probably the most important part of most images).
An important consideration with log and raw is that there is no highlight roll off. Standard gammas (with the default knee found on almost every camera) , cinegammas, hypergammas etc all roll off the highlights. That is to say that as you approach the peak recording level the contrast is reduced as the highlights are squeezed together to try to extend the dynamic range. This reduction in contrast means that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to recover any nice, useable picture information out of anything close to the peak recording level. As a result with conventional gammas we tend to avoid over exposure at all costs as it looks nasty. This highlight roll off is one of the things that gives video the video look.
Log and raw don’t have this same kind of highlight roll off. The image gets brighter and brighter until it clips. With log the stop immediately below clipping contains just as much picture information as any other stop brighter than middle grey. With linear raw the stop just below clipping has more information than any other stop. As a result in post production there is a very large amount of data that can be pulled out of these highlights, even if they are a little clipped! So don’t worry about a few clipped highlights when shooting log. The other thing to remember is there is no TV or monitor that can show these highlights as they really are, so they will never look perfect anyway.
Another thing that happens when exposing to the right is that grading becomes harder than it needs to be. Because the separation between the mid tones and highlights will vary greatly depending on things like whether you are shooting into or away from the sun, when you expose to the right you mid tone brightness will be up and down all over the place. So in post production as well as adding the look that you want to your footage, you are also going to have to spend a lot of time matching the mid range exposure to balance skin tones etc from shot to shot.
Rather than exposing to the right what I recommend is exposing for the mid range. After all this is the important part of the image. To do this you need to use a diffuse reflective shade. The most commonly used shades are a 90% white card and/or an 18% reflectivity grey card – middle grey. Get the mid range right and in most cases the highlights will take care of themselves. Getting the mid range right might mean exposing the mid range brighter than the recommended levels. But it’s the mid range we need to measure, not the highlights, this is the important part of the image.
90% white is an incredibly important level in the world of film and video. A typical piece of office paper reflects about 92-94% of the light falling on it. Office paper often uses brighteners and special chemicals to make it look bright and white. This white is the brightest diffuse surface you will likely ever see. Anything brighter than this is normally going to be an actual source of light. The sky perhaps or a direct bounced reflection off a shiny, reflective surface such as the bodywork of a car. So anything brighter than 90% white would normally be considered to be a highlight and to us humans, highlights are visually less important than the mid range. This is why the knee on most video cameras kicks in at around 90%. Anything brighter than 90% is a highlight so the knee only effects highlights and leaves the all important mid range alone.
Middle grey is also very important because it’s a shade of grey that to most people looks to be half way between black and white. Skin tones fall roughly half way between middle grey and white. In addition if you average all the brightness levels within a typical scene the end result is typically very close to middle grey. Light meters are calibrated to middle grey. The relationship between middle grey and white is fixed. White reflects 90%, middle grey 18%, no matter how bright the actual light source. So whether you are indoors, outside. Whether it’s sunny or overcast, white and middle grey will always be close to 2.5 stops apart. They are extremely useful fixed reference levels.
There are many ways to measure the brightness of a white or grey card. My preferred method is with a waveform display. But you could also use zebras (use a narrow zebra window if you can). You can also use false colour. Unfortunately it’s very difficult to use a histogram to measure the brightness of a specific target. The histogram is a great measuring tool for photography, but less than ideal for video. If you can’t get a white/grey card out in front of the camera you could consider using a light meter. It’s also worth noting that skin tones sit just a little over half way between middle grey and white, so if you have no other reference you could simply place your skin tones a touch brighter than half way between the values you are targetting for middle grey and white.
Just to be clear: I do still recommend exposing Sony’s S-log2, S-log3 and raw between 1 and 2 stops brighter than the Sony base levels. But the key take-away is that it’s the mid range you need to measure and expose at this level. Exposing to the right using a histogram or waveform and just looking at the peaks and brightest parts of the image does not tell you what is happening in he mid range. Measure the mid range, not the peak brightness.
I know many of my readers are planning on travelling to the US and the path of totality to shoot the solar eclipse on the 21st of August.
A couple of words of caution.
First, make sure you never view the sun directly or through an optical viewing device such as a DSLR camera, telescope or lens without covering the lens with a dedicated solar viewing filter.
DON’T try to use sun glasses, welding goggles or conventional ND filters.
Most regular photo ND filters only cut the visible spectrum. Many will pass IR (Infra Red) without much attenuation. When shooting or looking at the sun it’s not just the brightness but also the IR that can damage your eyes or the sensor as this is where most of the heat energy is. So a 16 stop ND might well reduce the brightness of the sun to a useable level for a video camera but may not reduce the damaging IR and heat. This could lead to damage to the cameras own ND filters or the sensor itself.
To look at the sun with your eye’s you MUST use a proper solar filter or solar viewing glasses. This will normally be a silvered reflective filter or film. The silver reflective coating reflects away the harmful and damaging infra red as well as reducing the brightness. If the filters you are using are of the film type, check for pin holes in the film before using them.
On a video camera it is much safer to use IRND filters rather than conventional ND filters if you can or add a good quality IR cut filter in front of the ND filters. Don’t skimp on the filters you use.
Make sure you have enough ND for the camera to use an aperture wider than f11. If you are having to stop down to f11 or f16 you will not be getting the sharpest possible image due to diffraction effects. On cameras with smaller sensors such as 2/3″ or 1/2″ you really want to have the aperture more open than f8 for the best results, so that means you’ll typically need 16 stops of ND!!
Try to avoid screw on filters. Once the moon completely covers the sun you will want to quickly remove the heavy ND filters. Then once the sun comes out from behind the moon you will need to replace the filters very quickly. So use something that allows you to do this quickly and easily. A mattebox with slide in filter trays or magnetically attached filters are a good way to do this.
If shooting with a very long lens to get the sun to fill the frame you will be surprised by how fast the sun will move through the frame. So you will need a really good fluid head to allow you to slowly track the sun without jarring or bumping the shot.
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.