I recently did a 90 minute long livestream Q&A in association with Visual Impact. Lots of topics covered from AF to S-Cinetone. Topics covered:
S-Cinetone, Differences between the FX6 and FX9, interlace output, AF zones and touch screen, using it in low temperatures, the LCD screen, 3rd party lenses and AF, differences between FS5/FS7 etc, Dynamic range, image quality, raw output, tuning the AF, Eye AF, Scan modes and crops, SD cards and recording media, changing the custom mode look using LUTs, Adjusting the knee to make the FX6 broadcast safe, High base ISO and noise, Scene files and Base looks, clear image zoom, base ISO levels, firmware updates.
Here are the guide videos I produced for Sony about the FX9. These videos cover most of the key features of the camera whether that’s shooting using S-Cinetone or S-log3 and Cine EI, farme rates and scan modes. Each video includes instructions on how to use the different modes as well as some guidance on things to watch out for. Some of the videos were produced with version 1 firmware so there are now some changes to the base modes, previously you had Custom Mode and Cine EI, now you have SDR – HDR – CineEI where SDR mode is the same as what was previously called custom mode. Also don’t miss the two videos linked at the end which cover most of the new features added in the version 2 firmware.
As there is no Glastonbury Festival this year the organisers and production company have been releasing some videos from last year. This video was shot mostly with Venice using Cooke 1.8x anamorphics. The non Venice material is from an FS5. It’s a behind the scenes look at the activities and performances around the Glastonbury Big Top and the Theater and Circus fields.
I couldn’t not post this. It’s a beautiful example just how nice the Sony Venice camera can look. Shot by DP Khalid Mohtaseb for Turkish Airlines and shown during the Superbowl in the USA. I don’t need to say any more, just take a look at the video.
One of the great features of the PXW-FX9 is the ability to connect a phone or tablet to the camera via WiFi so that you can view a near live feed from the camera (there’s about a 5 to 6 frame delay).
To do this you need to install the latest version of the free Sony Content Browser Mobile application on your phone. Then you would normally connect the phone to the cameras WiFi by placing the FX9 into Access Point Mode and use either NFC to establish the connection if your phone has it, or by manually connecting your phone’s WiFi to the camera.
However for many people this does not always provide a stable connection with frequent drop outs and disconnects. Fortunately there is a another way to connect the camera and phone and this seems much more stable.
First put the cameras WiFi into “Station Mode” instead of “Access Point” mode. Then setup your phone to act as a WiFi Hotspot. Now you can connect the camera to the phone by performing a network search on the camera. Once the camera finds the phones WiFi hotspot you connect the camera to the phone.
Once the connection from the camera to the phone has been established you should open Content Browser Mobile and it should find the FX9. If it doesn’t find it straight away swipe down with your finger to refresh the connection list. Then select the camera to connect to it.
Once connected this way you will have all the same options that you would have if connected the other way around (using Access Point mode). But the connection tends to be much, much more stable. In addition you can also now use the cameras ftp functions to upload files from the camera via your phones cellular data connection to remote servers.
If you want to create a bigger network then consider buying one of the many small battery powered WifI routers or a dedicated 4G MiFi hotspot and connect everything to that. Content Browser Mobile should be able to find any camera connected to the same network. Plus if you use a WiFi router you can connect several phones to the same camera.
There are already a few setup and staged video samples from the new Sony PXW-FX9 circulating on the web. These are great. But how will it perform and what will the pictures look like for an unscripted, unprepared shoot? How well will the autofocus work out in the street, by day and by night? How does the S-Cinetone gamma and colour in custom mode compare with S-Log3 and the s709 Venice LUT compare?
To answer these questions I took a pre-production FX9 into the nearby town of Windsor with a couple of cheap Sony E-Mount lenses. The lenses were the Sony 50mm f1.8 which costs around $350 USD and the 28-70mm f3.5-f5.6 zoom that costs about $400 USD and is often bundled as a kit lens with some of the A7 series cameras.
To find out how good the auto focus really is I decided to shoot entirely using auto focus with the AF set to face priority. The only shot in the video where AF was not used is the 120fps slow-mo shot of the swans at 0:53 as AF does not work at 120fps.
Within the video there are examples of both S-Cinetone and S-Log3 plus the s709 LUT. So you know which is which I have indicated this is the video. I needed to do this as the two cut together really well. There is no grading as such. The S-Cinetone content is exactly as it came from the camera. The CineEI S-Log3 material was shot at the indicated base ISO and EI, there was no exposure offset. In post production all I did was add the s709 LUT, that’s it, no other corrections.
The video was shot using the Full Frame 6K scan, recording to UHD XAVC-I.
For exposure I used the cameras built in waveform display. When in CineEI I also used the Viewfinder Gamma Display assist function. Viewfinder Gamma assist gives the viewfinder the same look as the 709(800) LUT. What’s great about this is that it works in all modes and at all frame rates. So even when I switched to 2K Full Frame scan and 120fps the look of the image in the viewfinder remained the same and this allowed me to get a great exposure match for the slow motion footage to the normal speed footage.
There are some great examples of the way the autofocus works throughout the video. In particular the shot at 0:18 where the face priority mode follows the first two girls that are walking towards the camera, then as they exit the frame switches to the two ladies following behind without any hunting. I could not have done that any better myself. Another great example is at 1:11 where the focus tracks the couple walking towards the camera and once they exit the shot the focus smoothly transitions to the background. One of the nice things about the AF system is you can adjust the speed at which the camera re-focusses and in this case I had slowed it down a bit to give it a more “human” feel.
Even in low light the AF works superbly well. At 1:33 I started on the glass of the ornate arch above the railway station and panned down as two people are walking towards me. The camera took this completely in it’s stride doing a lovely job of shifting the focus from the arch to the two men. Again, I really don’t think I could have done this any better myself.
Also, I am still really impressed by how little noise there is from this camera. Even in the high ISO mode the camera remains clean and the images look great. The low noise levels help the camera to resolve colour and details right down into the deepest shadows. Observe how at 2:06 you can clearly see the different hues of the red roses against the red leather of the car door, even though this is a very dark shot.
The reduction in noise and increase in real sensitivity also helps the super slow motion. Compared to an FS7 I think the 120fps footage from the FX9 looks much better. It seems to be less coarse and less grainy. There is still some aliasing which is unavoidable if you scan the sensor at a lower resolution, but it all looks much better controlled than similar material from an FS7.
And when there is more light the camera handles this very well too. At 1:07 you can see how well S-Cinetone deals with a very high contrast scene. There are lots of details in the shadows and even though the highlights on the boats are clipped, the way the camera reaches the end of it’s range is very nice and it doesn’t look nasty, it just looks very bright, which it was.
For me the big take-away from this simple shoot was just how easy it is to get good looking images. There was no grading, no messing around trying to get nice skintones. The focus is precise and it doesn’t hunt. The low noise and high sensitivity means you can get good looking shots in most situations. I’m really looking forward to getting my own FX9 as it’s going to make life just that little bit easier for many of my more adventurous shoots.
Over the years I’ve met many well known high end cinematographers. Most of them are really no different to you or I. Most of them are passionate about their craft and almost always willing to chat about ideas or techniques. But one thing that at first surprised me was how many of these high end movie makers cut their teeth shooting documentaries. I guess I had imagined them to have all been film school graduates that shot nothing but drama, but no, a very large percentage started out in the world of documentary production.
Documentary production is full of challenges. Location shooting, interviews, beauty shots, challenging lighting etc. But one of the big things with documentary production is that you very often don’t have a choice about what, where or when you shoot. You are faced with a scene or location needed for the story and you have to make it look good. So you have to think about how best to approach it, how to frame it, light it or how to use the available light in the best way.
A lot of todays aspiring film makers like to hone their skills by shooting beautiful people in beautiful locations when the light is at it’s best. These short beauty films very often do come out looking very nice. But, if you have a pretty girl, a pretty scene, and good light then really there is no excuse for it not to look good and the problem is you don’t learn much through doing this.
When you are shooting a typical TV documentary you will be faced with all kinds of locations, all kinds of people and the challenge is to make it all look good, no matter what your presented with. Having to take sometimes ugly scenes and make them look good you learn how to be creative. You have to think about camera angles, perhaps to hide something or to emphasise something important to the story the programme tells. And, like a feature film it is normally also story telling, most documentaries have a story with a beginning middle and end.
If you can master the art of documentary production it will give you a great set of skills that will serve you well elsewhere. If you move on from documentaries to drama, then when the director asks you to shoot a scene that takes place in a specific location you may well have already done something similar in a documentary so you may already have some ideas about how to light it, what focal lengths to use. Plus now you will probably have a more time to light and a much more control over the scene, so it should actually be easier.
In an ideal world I guess the best way to learn how to shoot movies is…. to shoot movies. But very often it’s hard to get the people, locations and good script that you need. So very often aspiring film makers will fall back on shooting 90 second vignettes of pretty people in pretty places as it’s easy and simple to do.
But instead I would suggest that you would be much better off shooting a documentary. Perhaps about something that happened near where you live or an issue you are interested in.
Go out and shoot documentaries in less than perfect locations with all the challenges they present. I bet the resulting videos won’t look nearly as perfectly pretty as all those slow-mo pretty girl on a beach/forest/field of flowers videos. But it will teach you how to deal with different types locations, people, lighting, weather and many of the other things that can be challenges when shooting features. It will make you a better camera operator. Making something that’s already pretty look pretty – that’s easy. Making what would otherwise be an un-interesting living room, factory or city street look interesting, that’s a much tougher challenge that will help bring out the creativity in you.
Just over a week ago I was in Cape Town with a few hours to spare before my flight home and access to a Sony Venice. So what could I do other than go out and shoot. Here is some of the footage with a quick grade applied – in HDR.
The workflow: I shoot X-OCN ST at 25p and 50p on the Venice camera. 25p was requested by Visual Impact South Africa, the owners of this camera as this is the most common frame rate used in productions they are involved with. The material was backed up to a small portable USB3 raid unit so I could bring it home. Then it was graded using DaVinci Resolve and it’s ACES colour managed workflow with the output set to Rec2100 ST2084. I used a Shogun Inferno and both an LCD HDR Sony Bravia TV and an OLED HDR Philips TV to get a feel for how the images would look on both LCD and OLED technologies.
The file was exported as a UHD ProRes file so that the file direct from Resolve could be uploaded to YouTube. Because I used a colour managed workflow Resolve adds the correct HDR flags to the clip when you render the timeline out. As a result YouTube knows the file is HDR and if you view with a computer or SDR TV YouTube applies it’s default HDR10 to Rec709 LUT and you see the video in SDR. Watch with a direct connection to YouTube with an HDR TV (for example using a browser or YouTube player built in to the TV) and you will get the HDR version. This is probably the simplest way to reliably get HDR clips to play properly on YouTube (which currently does not accept HEVC files).
So here’s the clip.
IMPORTANT: The clip is HDR10, designed to be watched directly on an HDR TV using the TV’s built in web browser or YouTube player application.
Those watching on a normal computer, SDR TV or any other non HDR device will see the HDR clip with YouTube’s SDR/Rec709 LUT applied, so it isn’t exactly optimum for SDR. The YouTube HDR to SDR LUT causes some slightly odd colours in some of the clips. If you can, watch the clip directly on YouTube with an HDR TV.
Today I leave for my annual Northern Lights expeditions. So, I am off to the very north of Norway to shoot in the cold, long nights of the arctic winter. Currently sunrise is at 11am and sunset at about 12:30. You get golden hour all day and then a very long night (fully dark from about 3:30pm). If the weather gods are kind we will get clear skies and lots of opportunities to photograph and video the Northern Lights.
Over the next 3 weeks I will be releasing a number of video blogs about this adventure. They won’t be every day as I won’t always have internet access and the picture quality of the blogs may not be the best. But what I hope to cover are some of the practical aspects of a project like this. The first blog is about the equipment I’m taking, why I’ve chosen it and how I like to check what I’m packing.
There will be videos on shooting time-lapse, tips for shooting in the cold and more about the gear I’m using.
I have been loaned a set of 4 Stella lights to test. I have the Stella 1000, 2000, 5000 Pro and 7000 Pro to play with and test. I’m going to take a quick look at the 1000/2000 now and will write up the 5000/7000 in a later article. These lamps are made by Californian company Light & Motion (www.lightandmotion.com) and I have to admit that this is a new brand to me. The portable lighting market is full of many different lights from different manufacturers, so it’s a tough market to stand out in. However these lights really do stand out from the crowd for many different reasons.
Build Quality: If you are going to stick a light on the top of a news camera it had better be tough. It’s going to get bumped, bashed, knocked and generally have a tough life. The Stella lamps are all beautifully made. The bodies are made from a very robust feeling plastic material while the lamp surround is made out of anodised aluminium that acts as a heatsink to keep the lamps cool. They have been built to withstand being dropped onto concrete from 1m multiple times without breaking and while I haven’t actually tested this, I do believe that they would survive this and the rigours of life on top of an ENG camera.
Power: The lamps have built in high capacity batteries. You don’t need to buy batteries or run the lamps of the cameras batteries. The internal battery in the Stella 1000 will run it for an hour on full power and around 7 hours at low power. The brighter 2000 will give about 50 mins at full power and 6 hours on low power. If you want longer run times you can attach an adapter to run the lamp from an external power source. Re-charging is fast at a little under 2 hours from flat and you can pack these in the hold of an aircraft as the battery is installed internally and under the current restrictions for Li-Ion batts on aircraft.
Control: The lamps have a built in dimmer that allows you to select one of 6 different brightness levels. Being LED units there is no color temperature change as you dim the lamps. The dimmer control can be locked in the off position to prevent accidental operation, plus the lamps have a thermal cutoff to prevent damage if left on by mistake when covered or perhaps packed in your luggage. There are 3 LED’s that indicate the batter state and dimming level.
High Quality Light: Instead of the more common LED panel design with an array of a large number of small LED’s the Stella’s feature a single high power Chip 5000K LED. This gives a beam angle of 120 degrees and the light is very uniform across this entire spread. The lamp heads are designed to take modifier lenses that can be used to reduce the beam spread to 50 degrees and 25 degrees if you need more of a spot light. I used the 25 degree fresnel adapter to turn the Stella 1000 to a mini spot light and it was very effective.
The quality of the light from these lamps is very good. The have a CRI of 90 as well as a TLCI of 90. They are also flicker free so suitable for shooting at high frame rate. In use I found the lamps gave great skin tone rendition and I didn’t see any of the green cast that is often common with lower quality LED lamps.
These are surprisingly bright lamps. The Stella 1000 is 1000 lumens and surprise, surprise, the Stella 2000 is 2000 lumens. That’s one heck of a lot of light from such a small and compact unit. Everyone that I have shown these lights to has been impressed by the intensity of the light output. The Stella 1000 is similar to a 75W tungsten lamp and the 2000 close to a 200W tungsten lamp. As the Stella’s are daylight balanced if you are using them as a fill light when shooting into the sun there is no need to gel them as you would with a tungsten light. Add to that the ability to use a clip on fresnel lens to narrow the beam angle and you are approaching the performance of 300W gelled tungsten fresnel fixture but with a compact battery operated lamp. I would consider the Stella 2000 as a replacement for an Arri 300 fresnel in many applications.
Waterproof! The Stella 1000 and 2000 are waterproof! Not just shower and splash proof, but completely waterproof. They can be operated underwater at depths of up to 100m with needing to buy any extra seals or fit any bungs or plugs. I know that when I shooting in adverse weather conditions this will be a big deal as normally the camera will have a nice fitted cover, but the top light is almost always left exposed to the elements. Now I don’t need to worry.
Light and Motion have a wide range of accessories for these lamps including all kinds of different mounts and handles. As well as the usual barn doors there are some clever light modifiers including the clip on 25 degree fresnel lens, a clip on 50 degree lens, a clip on diffuser, gel holder and glo bulb.
So far I have been really impressed by what these small lamps can do. They may not have variable color temperature, but the consistency and quality of the light they produce is amazing. The companies tag line is “Beyond Bright” and I’m inclined to agree.
I’ve also been loaned the Stella 5000 Pro and 7000 Pro to test. I’ll be writing about these beauties in the coming weeks!
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.