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What do I think of the new FX3?

Screenshot-2021-02-24-at-09.28.59-448x500 What do I think of the new FX3?
Sony’s new ILME FX3

What do I think about the new Sony FX3. It’s certainly an interesting camera because it seems to be a bit confused about what it is.
It’s isn’t a mirrorless stills camera like the A7SIII, but it’s very, very like the A7SIII.
It isn’t a cut down FX6 or FX9, it’s very different to them.


So what is it and who is it for? Personally I see the FX3 as a great B camera option to pair with an FX6 or FX9. The FX3’s flat top and additional 1/4″ mounting points on the top and sides will making rigging it in more unusual situations much easier. It’s a camera I would use to rig in cars like a giant Go-Pro, perfect for any Top Gear or motoring shoots. It’s a camera I would use on a gimbal, it’s a camera you could sling from a drone. 

In most cases it would not replace any camera I currently have, but instead compliment it. It could be a good option for FX9 owners in particular as it would give them 4K 120fps as well as a second camera when needed.

The FX3 is not much more than an A7SIII in a different housing, with the EVF removed, new mounting points added and an removable handle with XLR connectors. There are some changes to some of the button positions and these make it easier to use when shooting video providing direct access to ISO,  IRIS and White Balance. The flat top makes it easier to mount in different ways and the built in 1/4″ mounting threads make it easier to mount accessories such as monitors. 

Really the FX3 is an alternative version of the A7SIII biased more towards video than photos. It doesn’t replace the A7S, just gives potential owners the ability to choose between the two different form factors depending on individual preferences.

For more information why not watch this recording of my Facebook live stream on the FX3.


Thoughts on the FX6

I’ve written a review of the FX6 that you can read here.

https://sonycine.com/articles/the-new-sony-fx6—the-definitive-review-by-alister-chapman/

But I thought I would also write more of an opinion piece here. What do I really think about the FX6 and also where does it fit in the grand scheme of things.

Sony_FX6_side_44062_02-Mid-1024x994 Thoughts on the FX6
Sony FX6 4K Camcorder

 

First off, it is a brilliant little camcorder. But it has to be. There is huge pressure from ever better mirrorless cameras and ever better larger cameras. Red’s Komodo is similarly priced and offers an interesting option if you are a film maker that doesn’t mind adding your own viewfinder etc..

Sony really have packed an amazing set of features into the FX6, S-Cinetone, LUT’s, CineEI all make it a very, very interesting camera for film makers and corporate video producers alike. But the FX6 hasn’t been aimed at broadcasters, the lack of interlace recording and the lack of a streaming function make it less desirable for news and current affairs. That’s more of the realm of the FX9.

The FX6 is likely to be a huge success. I know I will be getting one. It will be fantastic for my trips overseas where size and weight are important, and I can’t wait to try to shoot the Northern Lights with it. The low light performance is indeed very impressive but this could become a problem area for it.

When you have a camera with a base ISO of 12,800 I think there will be an expectation that you won’t need to light, that it will produce brilliant pictures no matter how dark it is. But you have to remember that one of the keys to getting good results in any light level is not the amount of light but the amount of contrast. You will still need to think about how you add or control the light in your scenes and it will be all too easy to blame the camera when you don’t get great looking pictures on a pitch dark night shoot with no light to add some contrast.

I also think that the gap between 800 ISO and 12,800 ISO is too big. At 12,800 ISO there is so little light that something called Photon Shot Noise becomes an issue. It can make the mid range noisier than you would like it to be, even when you are correctly exposed. And ND filters won’t help as they reduce the light hitting the sensor and the relative photon shot noise increases. But if you do want to shoot in very dark conditions, then the FX6 performance is indeed impressive.

When I had the pre-production FX6 I took it up to the Lake District, shot interiors at home and spent a couple of days examining the images with charts and test scenes. What I learnt was that it is a very easy camera to work with. Changing settings via the touch screen is quick and simple. The single menu button that first brings up what are referred to as status pages on the FX9 and then with a long push brings up the main menus is brilliant. One button for both. No fumbling around going from the status button to the menu button as on the FX9. The auto focus works brilliantly, and I love having a waveform display with the zebra levels clearly indicated on it. It makes judging exposure easy and reliable. Set the zebras to 61% and if you toggle the s709 LUT on and off you can check the brightness of a white card when looking at the S-Log3 or skin tones when looking at the s709.

waveform-s709-lines_1.2.1-1024x576 Thoughts on the FX6

Going back to the Auto Focus for a moment – Yes, it does work in S&Q and even when shooting UHD 100 or 120fps. BUT I did find it less responsive and slower to respond when shooting at 120fps, it definitely didn’t seem as good as when shooting at normal frame rates. And there are actually a few limitations, AF only works when the shooting frame rate is a direct multiple of the base frame rate.

it also has some other oddities, like the field of view when shooting 17:9  4K DCI is narrower than when shooting ordinary 16:9 UHD because of the way the scan modes work. If you want to output raw the FOV is narrower than when recording UHD internally.

I’m really looking forward to using it on gimbals, lighter weight sliders etc. For those on a tight budget having a lighter camera means you can also save money on your support gear compared to a heavier camera. I think I’m going to enjoy shooting with the FX6 and I’m sure many others will enjoy it to.

And that’s the thing. It’s an easy camera to use, it delivers a beautiful image with very little effort. This is one of it’s big strengths and why I believe it will convert a lot of mirrorless DSLR shooters over to a “proper” video camera. It brings the ease of a built in variable ND filter, LUT’s and other great exposure tools for shooting log, good battery life and pro audio all together in an easy to use package at a good price. At the same time it isn’t so big that you need huge pro tripods and expensive heavy duty support equipment.

It will also appeal to users of Sony’s Venice digital cinema camera to get into places you simply can’t get the bulk of a Venice or as a crash camera for high risk shots. The pictures match close enough that it won’t stand out in a finished production as an obviously different camera.

One issue is the lack of audio inputs when the top handle is removed. This does seem to be an oversight. Gimbal users will find it frustrating I’m sure. Time to break out the external audio recorders, at least the built in scratch mic will help with audio sync. Maybe someone will figure out a way to get audio into the camera body via the connector that the top handle plugs into. The other alternative is to take the video out of the FX6 to an external recorder that also has an audio input such as many of the Atomos recorders.

So where does this leave the FX9? The FX9 is a great camera. It is worth remembering that the FX6 really is Full Frame only (unless you are happy shooting HD in it’s super 35mm mode). So users of normal 35mm PL lenses or APSC lenses will be better off with the FX9 with it’s greater choice of scan modes including 6K FF, 5K crop FF and 4K s35. In the next firmware update the FX9 will also get a 2K s16 center scan mode and it will be able to use the Sony B4 lens adapter with 2/3″ ENG zoom lenses. I still love shooting with my super 35mm Fujinon MK’s on the FX9, it’s a great combination. The FX9 also has no issues with interlace, so news shooters that still need 1080i will want the FX9 and not the FX6. I have every intention of getting an FX6 but I have no plans on parting with my FX9. Because the images from the two cameras look virtually identical they will compliment each other nicely (anyone want to buy my FS5??). 

And that for me is the thing: Two cameras for two different types of shoots, but both look the same, so I can just use whichever is the most appropriate for the job without any concern. 


Sony FX6 Launch

Sony will launch a new small 4K handheld camcorder – the FX6 on Tuesday the 17th of November.

Sony_FX6_side_44062_02-Mid-1024x994 Sony FX6 Launch
Sony FX6 4K Camcorder

To find out more about this new and very exciting camcorder you can watch the launch event via Instagram. After the launch event I am hosting a Q and A on Instagram. I’ve been lucky enough to have shot with the camera and have extensively tested it, so tune in to the Q&A to learn more. There is a lot to like and I am certain this camcorder will prove to be extremely popular. The Instagram session will be here: https://www.instagram.com/sonyprofilmmaking/

Then on Wednesday the 18th I will be presenting a webinar on the FX6 for Visual Impact in the UK at 11.00 GMT: https://www.visuals.co.uk/events/events.php?event=eid1748059180-892

 

 

 

Then once the initial launch dust settles I will bring you more information about this exciting new camera including tutorials and guides.

PXW-FS5 II Secret Sauce and Venice Colour Science.

At NAB 2018 a very hot topic is the launch of the FS5 II. The FS5 II is an update on the existing FS5 that includes the FS Raw output option and the HFR option as standard. So out of the box this means that this camera will be a great match to an Atomos Inferno to take advantage of the new Apple ProRes Raw codec.

Just like the FS5 the FS5 II can shoot using a range of different gamma curves including Rec-709, HLG, S-Log2  and S-Log3. So  for those more involved projects where image control is paramount you can shoot in log (or raw)  then take the footage into your favourite grading software and create whatever look you wish. You can tweak and tune your skin tones, play with the highlight roll off and create that Hollywood blockbuster look – with both the FS5 and the FS5 II. There is no change to this other than the addition of FS-Raw as standard on the FS5 II.

The big change, is to the cameras default colour science.

FS5II-1-1024x564 PXW-FS5 II Secret Sauce and Venice Colour Science.
New color science from the Sony PXW-FS5 II

Ever since I started shooting on Sony cameras, which was a very long time ago, they have always looked a certain way. If you point a Sony camera at a Rec-709 test chart you will find that the colours are actually quite accurate, the color patches on the chart lining up with the target boxes on a vector scope. All Sony cameras look this way so that if you use several different cameras on the same project they should at least look very similar, even if one of those cameras is a few years old.  But this look and standard was establish many years ago when camera and TV technology was nowhere near as advanced as it is today.

in addition, sometimes accurate isn’t pretty. Television display technology has come a long way in recent years. Digital broadcasting combined with good quality LCD and OLED displays now mean that we are able to see a wider range of colours and a larger dynamic range. Viewers expectations are changing, we all want prettier images.

When Sony launched the high end Venice digital cinema camera a bold step was taken, which was to break away from the standard Sony look and instead develop a new, modern, “pretty” look. A lot of research was done with both cinematographers and viewers trying to figure out what makes a pretty picture. Over several months I’ve watched Pablo, Sony’s colourist at the Digital Motion Picture Center at Pinewood studios develop new LUT’s with this new look for the Venice camera. It hasn’t been easy, but it looks really nice and is quite a departure from that standard Sony look.

The FS5 II includes many aspects of this new look. It isn’t just a change to the colours it is also a change to the default gamma curve that introduces a silky smooth highlight roll off that extends the dynamic range well beyond that normally possible with a conventional Rec-709 gamma curve. A lot of time was spent looking at how this new gamma behaves when shooting people and faces. In particular those troublesome highlights that you get on a nose or cheek that’s catching the light. You know – those pesky highlights that just don’t normally look nice on a video camera.

So as well as rolling off the brightness of these highlights in a smooth way, the color also subtly washes out to prevent the highlight color bloom that can be a video give away. This isn’t easy to do. Any colorist will tell you that getting bright skin tone highlights to look nice is tough. You bring down the brightness and it looks wrong because you loose too much contrast. De-saturate too much and it looks wrong as it just becomes a white blob. Finding the right balance of extended dynamic range with good contrast, plus a pleasing roll-off without a complete white-out is difficult enough to do in a grading suite where you can tweak and tune the settings for each shot. Coming up with a profile that will work over a vast range of shooting scenarios with no adjustment is even tougher. But it looks to me as though the engineers at Sony have really done a very nice job in the FS5 II.

Going forwards from here I would expect to see, or at least like to see, most of Sony’s future cameras have this new colour science. But this is a big step for Sony to break away from decades of one look and every camera looking more or less the same.  But do remember this change is primarily to the default, “standard” gamma look. It does not effect the FS5 II’s log or raw recordings. There is also going to have to be a set of LUT’s to go with this new color science so that those shooting with with a mix of the baked in look and S-log or raw can make all the footage match. In addition users of other S-Log cameras will want to be able to make their cameras match. I see no reason why this won’t be possible via a LUT or set of LUT’s, within the limitations of each cameras sensor technology.

There has been a lot of people that seem unhappy with the FS5 II. I think many people want a Sony Venice for the price of an FS5. Let’s be realistic, that isn’t going to happen. 10 bit recording in UHD would be nice, but that would need higher bit rates to avoid motion artefacts which would then need faster and more expensive media. If you want higher image quality in UHD or 4K DCI do consider an Atomos recorder and the new ProRes Raw codec. The files are barely any bigger than ProRes HQ, but offer 12 bit quality.

Given that the price of the FS5 II is going to be pretty much the same or maybe even a little lower than the regular FS5 (before you even add any options), I am not sure why so many people are complaining. The FS5-II takes a great little camera, makes it even better and costs even less.

 

New compact XDCAM camcorder in development.

At last weeks Broadcast Asia trade show in Singapore, Sony revealed that they are working on a new highly compact XDCAM camcorder. They showed a prototype camera that was under a glass cover (which was a working unit).

Very few details are available at this time. The camera shown appears to be based on either the Sony AX100 4K camcorder or the similar CX900 HD camcorder. These both use a 1″, 20MP CMOS sensor that produces really rather good images (although it does suffer from a fair bit of skew/rolling shutter) and have 8 bit XAVC-S recording to SDXC or SDHC cards in 4K and HD in the AX100 and HD only in the CX900. This new camcorder will be able to record using 10 bit 422 XAVC long GoP, probably at 50Mb/s like the new PXW-X180. Whether it will also be able to record the XDCAM Mpeg2 codec is less clear, personally I suspect not.

This camera follows on from the Sony tradition of taking a top end compact consumer model, tweaking the recording codecs, adding a few more pro style features and adding an XLR input. So it’s no surprise to see this really. Given the great images from the CX900 and AX100 I would imagine that this new camcorder will pack quite a punch for such a small unit. The AX100/CX900 have a 12x optical zoom with image stabilisation and the ability to digitally increase the zoom range to 18x in 4K(AX100) and 24x in HD with very little loss of image quality.

EDIT: I Note that 1: There are no 4K badges on the camera body as the AX100 has. 2: The zoom range is noted as 24x on the camera body. This makes me suspect that this camera will be HD only.

Here are some pictures of the unit shown in Singapore.

IMG_1919-1024x768 New compact XDCAM camcorder in development.

IMG_1922-1024x768 New compact XDCAM camcorder in development.
New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. Left side

IMG_1925-1024x768 New compact XDCAM camcorder in development.
New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. Right rear with SDI connector.

IMG_1926-1024x768 New compact XDCAM camcorder in development.
New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. Right Side.

IMG_1927-1024x768 New compact XDCAM camcorder in development.
New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. Top of the handle.

IMG_1931-1024x768 New compact XDCAM camcorder in development.
New, as yet un-named compact XDCAM camcorder. From the rear. Note that this unit actually works!

 

 

 

 

Hello from NAB land.

Hi all. I’ve been a little “off-the-air” the last few days while shooting a bunch of video blogs for Sony from NAB. Now that’s out of the way I’m going to get a bit of time to check out the show. If you want to learn about the basics of shooting in 3D, why not drop by the Manfrotto booth today at 4pm where I will be giving a brief into talk.

Some of the things that I have seen so fat that have caught my eye are of course the sexy Sony FS100 35mm camcorder, the teeny tiny NX3D1E 3D camcorder, again from Sony. looking at XDCAM HD422 there is a Sony Jukebox machine that can store and retrieve large numbers of XDCAM discs, the new PDW-U2 which is much like the U1 (which will still be sold) but accepts the new 4 layer write only discs plus the new 100Gb 3 layer discs. In addition the read speed is about 2.4x faster than the U1, so a big performance boost there.

There are a couple of new PL mount lenses for the F3, a 1.5 x ultra wide zoom (11-16mm I think)  plus a prototype of the monster 18-252 servo zoom with auto iris: Make no mistake.. this is a BIG lens…. I also guess it won’t come cheap, but it would be an amazing lens to have. Talking of the F3, most of the F3’s here have a beta of the S-Log firmware.  Sony have a working pre-production XDCAM 3D camcorder (PMW-TD300), like the one shown at IBC this looks like a twin lens PMW-350, I’ll try and grab some photos today.

Of course the really big Sony news is the F65. An 8k camcorder recording onto SR Memory. It records 16bit raw form which you can derive 4k, 2k and HD images plus “higher resolution” images. All of this at up to 120fps. When you watch the 4k film shot with the F65 in the theatre on the sony booth, at first you wonder what the fuss is about, the picture look gorgeous but they don’t leap out as being 4k. It’s not until you start looking at deeper into the image that you really start to see the incredible subtle detail and textures captured in the image, very nice indeed.

Of course it’s all very well having all these wonderful cameras but you also need a way to record the material. Sony have a range of SR Master records, the R1, R3 and R4. I’m not completely clued up on the differences between them, but they are capable of recording using the HDCAM SR codecs on to solid state memory sticks about the size of a small mobile phone. While these are excellent devices, they are a little overshadowed (for me at least) by the Convergent Design Gemini which can record 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 uncompressed on to low cost SSD’s. There is also the new BlackMagic designs recorder with a target price of just $345 USD for an uncompressed recorder. Wow.. how times are changing. More tomorrow, hopefully with pictures!

Sony FS-100 Super 35mm NXCAM Camcorder Announced.

fs100-4-1024x455 Sony FS-100 Super 35mm NXCAM Camcorder Announced.
Sony FS100 fitted with PL mount lens.

Well the rumours have been circulating for some time and prototypes have been seen at various trade shows, but the full details have been sparse to say the least. Well here it is, it’s called the FS-100 and it’s a quite radical design from the Sony Shinegawa factory. The Super 35mm NXCAM shares the same sensor as the new PMW-F3, so the images will be excellent, but the design of the camera body itself could not be more different. If you don’t like it…  well you can blame me and several other DoP’s that were invited to attend brainstorming sessions with the Sony engineers. In the photo below you can see the white board from one of those sessions and you can see where we (me and the other DoP’s) discussed ideas like a modular design with removable handles and how we hold handycam cameras.Whiteboard-2 Sony FS-100 Super 35mm NXCAM Camcorder Announced.

The end result is this rather quirky but in my opinion, really quite clever and versatile design. The top viewfinder allows you to use the camera cradled in your hands in front of you, either using just the LCD panel or the monocular viewfinder. When your doing interviews you can twist it so that it is visible from either side of the camera, excellent for those interviews where you are both camera operator and interviewer. It allows you to alternate the sight lines from left to right of the camera for more varied interviews. It’s also useful for shooting in cramped locations such as in the front of a car as you can hold the camera sideways in front of you to shoot… I mean film…. the driver and still see what your getting.

fs-100-top-210x300 Sony FS-100 Super 35mm NXCAM Camcorder Announced.
Top view of FS100 body

Unlike most traditional camcorders the camera can be stripped down to just the sensor/recorder body. You can remove the top handle, mic holder and hand grip. In addition it has a multitude of tripod mounting holes on the top, bottom and even one side. On the base of the camera there are 6x 1/4″ threaded holes and wait for it… 2x 3/8″ holes. Hooray!! On the top there are a further 3x 1/4″ holes and there is even one on the side, revealed when you detach the removable hand grip. This is going to be fantastic for use on cars as a 35mm minicam or crash-cam. It will make getting all those different car chase angles so easy as a few small suction mounts will allow you to mount the stripped down camera just about anywhere. I can see the FS-100 becoming a “must-have” B camera to compliment my F3. The 1/4″ thread on the side of the camera means you can mount it on it’s side for portrait style shooting for digital signage or to get the maximum resolution when shooting people for chroma key.

While the camera does come with a detachable handgrip, there is no zoom rocker like the F3. That’s because the camera is primarily aimed at those using DSLR lenses which don’t have servo zooms, although PL mount adapters are available. The front end of the camera has Sony’s E mount for interchangeable lenses. It will come with the rather nice (if a little slow) 18-200mm f3.5-f6.3 optically stabilised zoom lens and the auto focus and auto iris do work! As well as Sony’s own G series lenses for the NEX cameras you can get adapters for Sony A mount and most other lenses. Do consider that if you are planning on using heavy PL lenses that the E mount is not designed for such high loads, so an additional lens support system should be used.

fs-100-rear-300x210 Sony FS-100 Super 35mm NXCAM Camcorder Announced.
Rear view Fs100

On the input and output front the FS-100 has most of the connectors you would expect to find on an NXCAM camcorder, with one notable exception… HDSDi. There is no HDSDi, but don’t panic! The camera does have HDMI and the quality available from HDMI is every bit as good as HDSDi. No word as to whether it’s 8 bit or 10 bit though. Sony are well aware that the one thing missing from HDMI is normally timecode, but even that has been addressed and it will be possible to export timecode in the HDMI stream, although at the moment we need to wait for the HDMI recorders to update them to accept timecode via HDMI. There are 2 XLR connectors for audio in. One on the right side and one on the rear, there is also the usual mini-D component out and RCA/Phono audio and composite video outputs.

fs100-1-300x210 Sony FS-100 Super 35mm NXCAM Camcorder Announced.
Sony FS100 35mm NXCAM

When you start to delve into the cameras frame rates and recording modes things get really interesting as the FS100 will record full 1920×1080 at 60P and 50P. Even the F3 can’t do this internally (you can output 50/60P to an external recorder). As well as all the usual frame rates like 23.98, 60/50i, 30/25P you can also shoot full resolution slo-mo at up to 60fps using S&Q motion. It’s not quite as flexible as the F3 as you will find that you only have a choice of frame rates (for example 1,2,3,6,12,25,50fps) and won’t have the ability to dial in any frame rate you want, but all frame rates will be full 1920×1080. As with the other NXCAM camcorders all these lovely modes will be recorded on to SD cards or Memory Sticks using the AVC HD codec (mpeg 4), in addition you can add the Sony FMU128 (128Gb Flash Memory Unit) for dual recording giving peace of mind with one off events.

Once your footage is on your cards the cleverness of this camera continues as you don’t need a laptop to backup your data. Simply plug in a USB drive or even a Blu-ray burner), direct to the cameras USB port and you can backup direct from the camera to the drive. Your footage will contain GPS data about when and where you shot it, which for me will be a great bonus with my severe weather footage as I can never remember exactly where I was during a storm chase!

All in all this is looking like one hell of a camcorder. The street price is estimated to be below $6000 USD, so you do have to ask the question.. why buy an F3 when this is half the price? In my view they are two quite different cameras for different applications. The F3 has the ability to output full 10 bit 4:4:4 for extremely high quality recording possibilities. It also has built in ND filters and will have S-Log and 3D dual camera control. For multi-camera shoots the F3 has Genlock and timecode in/out. There will also be some nice servo zooms for the F3 some time later this year or early next year. The F3 is a camera that would not at all be out of place as a B camera on a big budget production. The FS-100 will I’m sure also find a place on big budget productions, perhaps as a crash-cam or mini cam. But overall I think it will be most at home on more run and gun style shoots where auto iris and maybe even autofocus are beneficial. I really do think that the FS100 will replace many of the DSLR’s out there currently being used for video as a lot of thought has gone in to the ergonomics.

These are very interesting times. It’s now possible to shoot a movie, with quality good enough for mainstream theatrical release on cameras costing little more than a high end home video camcorder of just a few years ago. I doubt most cinema goers would realise that a camera like the F3 or FS100 was used, especially if it’s recorded to a NanoFlash, KiPro or even the new Convergent Design Gemini. However we must not forget that content is king, not the technology that makes it possible.

Sunrise Over The Hudson

Well, I’m now in New York preparing to introduce some of our potential dealers to the Genus Hurricane Rig. I’m going to be spending some time with the guys at ZGC and Abel Cine showing them how the 3D rig works and what it can do before heading down to LA for ShowBiz Expo later in the week. Our hotel overlooks the Hudson river and Manhattan so I could not resist the opportunity to shoot the sunrise this morning. Apart from anything else I’m jet lagged so was up at 4am!! The video was shot with my trusty EX3 at 1 frame every second, sped up to x400 in FCP. I used the TLCS controls to limit the maximum gain to +6db and to introduce shuttering when the iris gets to f11. This helps deal with the huge changes in light levels. Now I know where the sun appears I might re do this later in the week, centered on the sun. Hope you like it.