I first came across the new Sony FR7 PTZ camera (Pan, Tilt and Zoom) at IBC in Amsterdam in September and at first I was a little confused by it. PTZ cameras are not new and this is a fairly big unit, so who would actually want one and what would they use it for, especially given the shorter zoom ranges possible because of the use of a large sensor. But now I am convinced that the FR7 will be a big hit – what’s changed my mind?
For those that haven’t seen it yet the FR7 is in essence a Sony FX6 camera that has been adapted and modified to fit in a remotely controlled pan and tilt head. You really do get all of the FX6’s features and performance including onboard recording to SD and CFExpress type A cards, S-Cinetone, S-Log3 and CineEI, raw output, built in variable ND filter and Sony great autofocus etc etc. But in a form factor that allows you to operate the camera remotely via either an optional control panel with a joystick or via any device with a web browser.
Remote PTZ (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) cameras get used a lot in shows like Big Brother, Love Island, First Date etc but until now, generally the image quality hasn’t been as good as most mainstream broadcast cameras. This means that when you cut between the PTZ camera and other main cameras the difference is often quite obvious. So, straight away there is the obvious use of the FR7 for these types of shows, so that the image quality will be as good as any of the other cameras being used. It may mean that more PTZ cameras will be used as quality is no longer going to be an issue.
PTZ cameras also get used a lot in wildlife productions. A PTZ camera can be placed close to an animals nest or placed closer to a feeding area without disturbing the animals natural behaviour as a camera operator might. PTZ cameras can be used to film animals that may be dangerous to a camera operator or left somewhere remote for days, weeks or even months on end. Again, often the quality of these cameras is noticably different to the main cameras used and more often than not the small sensors in most PTZ cameras don’t do well in low light. The ability to use the FR7’s high sensitivity mode and shoot S-Log3 at 12,800 ISO with a fast lens will really open up a lot of new possibilities for wildlife film makers. Because you can fit just about any reasonably sized lens to the FR7 it opens up the possibility of fitting one with an image intensifier for extreme low light work. In addition the built in variable ND filter will be a great help for wildlife film makers working in variable and changing lighting conditions. The FR7 is controlled over an ethernet connection, so with a simple 4G router and a connection to the internet the camera could be controlled from the comfort of a warm studio anywhere in the world.
But what about other applications? Would a freelance camera operator like me benefit from one? Well I think the answer may be yes.
The Ultimate “B” Camera?
For 2 camera shoots such as interviews the FR7 can be used as a second camera and you have the ability to control it from the main camera position. This would be so much easier than having to walk over to the second camera to make a simple adjustment or reframe it. Instead of being a simple locked off shot that never ever changes your B camera can be moved and adjusted more frequently to add more variety to your shots. Program in some preset positions and you can confidently reframe your shot at the single press of a button. Creating presets is quick and easy.
Placing it where you can’t normally put a camera.
And what about getting shots from places or angles that aren’t normally possible? If you shoot conferences, events or performances, being able to place the camera on the front of the stage or in front of the podium opens up a lot of new possibilities. The FR7 won’t obstruct the audiences view in the same way that a camera on a tripod with an operator will and it’s far less distracting. I’m going to be shooting some live performances with one very soon and it will allow me to get the camera into locations around the performances where you just can’t normally get a shot. You can hang it from a ceiling or a lighting truss for overhead shots. You can even mount it on a jib. Once you start thinking about all the places you can place one, places that are unsafe for a camera operator or just simply inaccessible it does start to become an interesting proposition.
Time-lapse and trick shots.
You can also use it for time-lapse or other shots where you need to repeat the same move over and over. By setting up preset positions for the start and end points and then adjusting the speed of the move you can perform extremely slow moves all the way to very fast moves from point to point and each time the move is the same. Like the FX6 the FR7 has a built in intervalometer (interval record), so shooting time-lapse is easy. You can also make it speed ramp the moves if you need to.
The big deal about the FR7 is that while PTZ cameras are not new, they have never offered the image performance possible from a large sensor camera. Because the images from the FR7 closely match the rest of the Sony cinema line it opens up more possible uses. And the cost isn’t prohibitive, it’s not that much more than a normal FX6. Its limiting factor is the range of power zoom lenses that are currently available. The 28-135mm power zoom will be the lens that most will use with it and while this is going to be very useable for many things it isn’t a vast zoom range compared to the zooms typically fitted to PTZ cameras with very small sensors. You can use the cameras clear image zoom function to extend the zoom range by up to 1.5x in 4K if you need to. If you need a longer focal lengths then I believe it is possible to use the Sony 70-200mm with the 2x extender, but this isn’t a power zoom. Hopefully we will see more E-Mount power zoom lenses coming in the future for this very interesting camera.
Come back in about a month to find out how I get on shooting a live performance with the FR7. I’m really looking forward to putting it through its paces as I’m strongly considering getting one for myself – thinks – Northern Lights remotely controlled from home??????