In some regards this is now already old news. I’m under NDA so there are limits as to what I can, or what I should write. Hopefully I won’t get into too much trouble if I point out that there are already a lot of rumours circulating right now that a new camera called the FX3 might be about to be launched. The official line is that there is going to be an announcement on the 23rd of February, just a week from now. So why not just chill out for a one week as then you will be able to get the full facts about whatever it is that’s going to be added to the Cinema Line.
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.
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.