This is a very good question that came up in one of the F5/F55/FX9 facebook groups that I follow. The answers are also mostly relevant to users of the FX6, FX3 and the A7SIII.
There were two parts to it: Is the FX9’s raw out as good as the raw from the F5/F55 and then – do I really need raw.
In terms of image quality I don’t think there is any appreciable difference, going between the raw from an FX9 and the raw from an F5/F55 is a sideways step.
The F5/F55 with either Sony Raw or X-OCN offer great 16 bit linear raw in a Sony MXF package. The files are reasonably compact, especially if you are using the R7 and X-OCN. There are some compatibility issues however and you can’t use the Sony Raw/X-OCN in FCP-X and the implementation in Premier Pro is poor.
The 16 bit out from the FX9/XDCA-FX9 gets converted to 12 bit log raw by the Atomos recorders, currently the only recording options – but in reality you would be extremely hard pushed to really see any difference between 16 bit linear raw and 12 bit log raw from this level of camera.
Recording the 12 bit log raw as ProRes Raw means that you are tied to just FCP-X, Premiere Pro (poor implementation again) and Scratch. The quality of the images that can be stored in the 2 different raw formats is little different, 16 bit linear has more code values but distributed very inefficiently. 12 bit log raw has significantly fewer code values but the distribution is far more efficient. AXS media is very expensive, SSD’s are cheap. AXS card readers are expensive, SSD adapters are cheap. So there are cost implications.
Personally I feel the reduced noise levels from the FX9 makes footage from the FX9 more malleable than footage from the F5/F55 and if you are shooting in FF6K there is more detail in the recordings, even though they are downsampled to 4K raw. But the FF6K will have more rolling shutter compared to an F55/F5.
Working with Sony Raw/X-OCN in Resolve is delightfully easy, especially if you use ACES and it’s a proper grading package. If you want to work with ProResRaw in Resolve you will need to use Apple Compressor or FCP-X to create a demosaiced log file, which even if you use ProRes444 or XQ not the same as working from the original raw file. For me that’s the biggest let down. If I could take ProResRaw direct into Resolve I’d be very happy. But it is still perfectly possible to get great footage from ProResRaw by transcoding if you need to.
As to whether you need raw, only you can answer that fr yourself. There are many factors to consider. What’s your workflow, how are you delivering the content. Will the small benefit from shooting raw actually be visible to your clients?
Are you capturing great content – in which case raw may give you a little more, or are you capturing less than ideal material – in which case raw isn’t going to be a get out of jail card. Raw of any flavour works best when it’s properly exposed and captured well.
I would suggest anyone trying to figure out whether they need raw or not to start by to grading the XAVC-I from the FX9 and see how far you can push that, then compare it to the raw. I think may be surprised by how little difference there is, XAVC-I S-Log3 is highly gradable and if you can’t get the look you want from the XAVC-I raw isn’t going to be significantly different. It’s not that there is anything wrong with raw, not at all. But it does get rather over sold as a miracle format that will transform what you can do. It won’t perform those miracles, but if everything else has been done to the highest possible standards then raw does offer the very best that you can get from these cameras.
As a middle ground also consider non raw ProRes. Again the difference between that and XAVC-I is small, but it may be that whoever is doing the post production finds it easier to work with. And the best bit is there are no compatibility issues, it works everywhere.
But really my best recommendation is to test each workflow for yourself and draw your own conclusions. I think you will find the differences between each much smaller than you might assume. So then you will need to decide which works for you based on cost/effort/end result.
Sometimes best isn’t always best! Especially if you can get to where you need to be more easily as an easy workflow gives you more time to spend on making it look the way you want rather than fussing with conversions or poor grading software.
This is a question that comes up a lot. Especially from those migrating to a camera with a CineEI mode from a camera without one. It perhaps isn’t obvious why you would want to use a shooting mode that has no way of adding gain to the recordings.
If using the CineEI mode shooting S-log3 at the base ISO, with no offsets or anything else then there is very little difference between what you record in Custom mode at the base ISO and CineEI at the base EI.
But we have to think about what the CineEI mode is all about. It’s all about image quality. You would normally chose to shoot S-Log3 when you want to get the highest possible quality image and CineEI is all about quality.
The CineEI mode allows you to view via your footage via a LUT so that you can get an appreciation of how the footage will look after grading. Also when monitoring and exposing via the LUT because the dynamic range of the LUT is narrower, your exposure will be more accurate and consistent because bad exposure looks more obviously bad. This makes grading easier. One of the keys to easy grading is consistent footage, footage where the exposure is shifting or the colours changing (don’t use ATW with Log!!) can be very hard to grade.
Then once you are comfortable exposing via a LUT you can start to think about using EI offsets to make the LUT brighter or darker. When the LUT is darker you open the aperture or reduce the ND to return the LUT to a normal looking image and vice versa with a brighter LUT. This then changes the brightness of the S-log3 recordings and you use this offsetting process to shift the highlight/shadow range as well as noise levels to suit the types of scenes you are shooting. Using a low EI (which makes the LUT darker) plus correct LUT exposure (the darker LUT will make you open the aperture to compensate) will result in a brighter recording which will improve the shadow details and textures that are recorded and thus can be seen in the shadow areas. At the same time however that brighter exposure will reduce the highlight range by a similar amount to the increase in the shadow range. And no matter what the offset, you always record at the cameras full dynamic range.
I think what people misunderstand about CineEI is that it’s there to allow you to get the best possible, highly controlled images from the camera. Getting the best out of any camera requires appropriate and sufficient light levels. CineEI is not designed or intended to be a replacement for adding gain or shooting at high recording ISOs where the images will be already compromised by noise and lowered dynamic range.
CineEI exists so that when you have enough light to really make the camera perform well you can make those decisions over noise v highlights v shadows to get the absolute best “negative” with consistent and accurate exposure to take into post production. It is also the only possible way you can shoot when using raw as raw recordings are straight from the sensor and never have extra gain added in camera.
Getting that noise/shadow/highlight balance exactly right, along with good exposure is far more important than the use of external recorders or fatter codecs. You will only ever really benefit fully from higher quality codecs if what you are recording is as good as it can be to start with. The limits as to what you can do in post production are tied to image noise no matter what codec or recording format you use. So get that bit right and everything else gets much easier and the end result much better. And that’s what CineEI gives you great control over.
When using CineEI or S-Log3 in general you need to stop thinking “video camera – slap in a load if gain if its dark” and think “film camera – if its too dark I need more light”. The whole point of using log is to get the best possible image quality, not shooting with insufficient light and a load of gain and noise. It requires a different approach and completely different way of thinking, much more in line with the way someone shooting on film would work.
What surprises me is the eagerness to adopt shutter angles and ISO ratings for electronic video cameras because they sound cool but less desire to adopt a film style approach to exposure based on getting the very best from the sensor. In reality a video sensor is the equivalent of a single sensitivity film stock. When a camera has dual ISO then it is like having a camera that takes two different film stocks. Adding gain or raising the ISO away from the base sensitivity in custom mode is a big compromise that can never be undone. It adds noise and decreases the dynamic range. Sometimes it is necessary, but don’t confuse that necessity with getting the very best that you can from the camera.
I often hear people saying that XAVC-I isn’t good enough or that you MUST use ProRes or some other codec. My own experience is that XAVC-I is actually a really good codec and recording to ProRes only ever makes the very tiniest (if any) difference to the finished production.
I’ve been using XAVC-I for over 8 years and it really worked very well for me. I’ve also tested and compared it against ProRes many times and I know the differences are very small, so I am always confident that when using XAVC-I that I will get a great result. But I decided to make this video to show just how close they are.
It was shot with a Sony FX6 using internal XAVC-I (class 300) on an SD card alongside an external recording using ProResHQ on a Shogun 7. I deliberately chose to use Cine EI and S-Log3 at the cameras high base ISO of 12,800 as noise will stress any codec that little bit harder and adding a LUT adds another layer of complexity that might show up any issues all just to make the test that little bit tougher. The slightly higher noise level of the high base ISO also allows you to see how each codec handles noise more easily.
A sample clip of each codec was place in the timeline (DaVinci Resolve) and a caption added. This was then rendered out, ProRes HQ rendered using ProRes HQ and the XAVC-I files rendered to XAVC-I. So for most of the examples seen the XAVC-I files have been copied and re-encoded 5 times plus the encoding to the file uploaded to YouTube, plus YouTubes own encoding, a pretty tough test.
Because in most workflows I don’t believe many people will use XAVC-I in post production as an intermediate codec I also repeated the tests with the XAVC-I rendered to ProResHQ 5 times over as this is probably more representative of a typical real world workflow. These examples are shown at the end of the video. Of course the YouTube compression will restrict your ability to see some of the differences between the two codecs. But, this is how many people will be distributing their content. Even if not via YouTube, via other highly compressed means, so it’s not an unfair test and reflects many real world applications.
Where the s709 LUT has been added it was added AFTER each further copy of the clip, so this is really a “worst case scenario”. Overall in the end the ProRes HQ and XAVC-I are remarkably similar in performance. In the 300% blow up you can see differences between the XAVC-I that is 6 generations old compared to the 6th generation ProRes HQ if you look very carefully at the noise. But the differences are very, very hard to spot and going 6 generations of XAVC-I is not realistic. It was designed a s a camera codec. In the same test where the XAVC was rendered to ProRes HQ for each post production generation any difference is incredibly hard to find even when magnified 300%. I am not claiming that XAVC-I Class 300 is as good as ProRes HQ. But I think it is worth considering what you need when shooting. Do you really want to have to use an external recorder, do you really want to have to deal with files that are 3 to 4 times larger. Do you want to have to remember to switch recording methods between slow motion and normal speeds? For most productions I very much doubt that the end viewer would ever be able to tell the difference between material shot using XAVC-I class 300 and ProResHQ. And that audience certainly isn’t going to feel they are watching a substandard image, and that’s what counts.
There is so much emphasis placed on using “better” codecs that I think some people are starting to believe that XAVC-I is unusable or going to limit what they can do. This isn’t the case. It is a pretty good codec and frankly if you can’t get a great looking image when using XAVC then a better codec is unlikely to change that.
How much can I fit on a SD card, CFExpress card, SxS or XQD card is a question that comes up regularly. So I have prepared a table of the typical record times for most of the different XAVC-I and XAVC-L codecs and frame rates . Originally drawn up for the FX6 this table applies equally to any other Sony camcorder that uses the same codecs, including the PXW-FX9, PMW-F5 and F55 as well as the FS7 and many others. Do note that the times given are approximate and do not include proxies. Not every frame rate and codec is included but you should be able to figure out the approximate record time for most cards, codecs and frame rates using this table.
Here’s a new LUT for you, inspired by a the look of the Netfix show “the Queen’s Gambit. I’ve called the LUT “Chess”. It’s designed for use with S-Log3 and SGamut3.cine and I think it works really well with most Sony S-Log3 capable cameras including the FX6, FX9, FS7, FS5, F5 and F55 etc. As well as Sony’s video cameras it will also work with the A7SIII and other Sony Alpha cameras.
In the download you will find 2 LUTs. The 65x version is for post production and grading, the 33x version is for use as a camera LUT. While I have aimed to replicate much of the look of the TV series it must be noted that grading is only a small part of the look. Set design, the colour of the sets and costume also play a significant roll.
If you find this LUT useful please consider buying me a cocktail or other beverage. Thank you! It does take a while to develop these LUT’s and contributions are a good incentive for me to create more!
Timed to coincide with the release of the ILME-FX6 camcorder Sony have updated both Catalyst Browse and Catalyst Prepare. These new and long awaited versions add support for the FX6’s rotation metadata and clip flag metadata as well as numerous bug fixes. It should be noted that for the correct operation that a GPU that supports OpenGL is required. Also while the new versions support MacOS Catalina there is no official support for Big Sur. Catalyst Browse is free while Catalyst Prepare is not free. Prepare can perform more complex batch processing of files, checksum and file verification, per-clip adjustments as well as other additional features.
Maybe it’s just because I’m getting old, but I do like to have a label to remind me of what I have assigned to the assignable buttons on my cameras.
There are lot’s of ways you can make a label from a post-it-note to camera tape. But I recently got a new label printer from Dymo and with the right tape it will print white text on clear tape. The printers are around $40 so they are not too expensive. If you’re anything like me once you get one you will find yourself labelling everything, so a worthwhile investment.
For the labels on my FX9 I used the smallest “8” point text size and you will need to trim the labels down with a sharp pair of scissors. They need to be very small to fit in the gaps between the buttons. I found a pair of tweezers really helps to hold the label while you cut it and peel of the backing. Then you can use the tweezers to place your swanky new label exactly where you want it.
I think they look pretty good and are worth the effort. The printer I used is a Dymo Label Manager 160 and the tape is a Office Depot white on clear 12mm plastic tape. There are lots of colour choices if you don’t want clear tape. Looking at the pictures of the camera I now realise I should have taken a bit more time to get the labels straight! Fortunately you can peel them off without leaving any nasty residue or damaging the paint.
So there is no IBC show this year and instead Sony are doing various online sessions with the latest news as well as guides to some of the most recent products and firmware.
Today’s news is of new branding for Sony most recent digital cinema cameras, Vence and the PXW-FX9. These cameras are now members of what Sony are calling “Cinema Line” and in addition there are pictures of a smaller camera not surprisingly called the FX6 that looks like – well – what you would expect an FS5 replacement to look like.
In the past Sony’s digital cinematography cameras were denoted by their “Cinealta” badges. But to some extent this became somewhat confused as all sorts of cameras like the Sony EX1 and Venice were classed as Cinealta. So what exactly is the new Cinema Line?
To quote from the Sony Press Release:
“At Sony, we celebrate and have the deepest respect for filmmakers, cinematographers, and storytellers. With Cinema Line, we’re tapping into our DNA from both the film industry and digital imaging prosumer market and combining it to develop new creative tools. This line of products will enable creators to push their creative boundaries further and capture the emotion in each and every frame.” says Claus Pfeifer, Head of Connected Content Acquisition, Media Solutions, Sony Professional Europe.
So, I’m not really sure! My guess is it’s a set of products, not just cameras aimed at what we now tend to call Cinematography rather than broadcast television or industrial video applications. Of course there is a huge amount of cross-over between all these different genres these days, so I’m sure the Cinema Line products will be used all over the place.
My main hope from this is a more unified look from any cameras in the Cinema Line. My big hope is that the FX6 will have S-Cinetone and that when you shoot S-Log3 with the FX6 that it will look like the S-log3 from the FX9 or Venice. This will make grading and post production easier where you mix and match cameras.
What about the FX6?
I don’t have any more solid information than you right now. We can expect it to be Full Frame, to shoot 10 bit 4:2:2 4K using S-Log3 and to probably have a raw output. As the FS5 is based on the A7S hardware with an F5 sensor it wouldn’t surprise me if the FX6 was based on the A7SIII hardware with the FX9 sensor perhaps. So it might have 4K at 120fps. From the pictures it appears to only have 2 channels of audio and the cover for the card slots (there must be 2 as there is a slot select switch) doesn’t look big enough for two XQD or CF Express Type B, so I would guess that like the A7SIII it’s SD cards or perhaps CF Express Type A. Another thing I notice in the pictures is a lack of an AF/MF focus switch and in particular no menu navigation controls, so I will guess the LCD is a touch screen and it will rely on this for a lot of function control and menu navigation. But this is just speculation, so don’t hold me to any of it!!!
UPDATE 29th Sept 2020. The issues have now been resolved so it is now safe to update.
27th Aug 2020 If you are a mac user and especially of you use it to edit footage from a Sony camera I recommend that you do not upgrade the operating system to OSX 10.15.6, Pro Video Codecs to 2.1.2 or upgrade FCP-X to version 10.4.9 at this time.
At the moment there is clearly an issue with footage from the FX9 after these updates. It is not clear whether this is due to the new Pro Video Codecs package 2.1.2 that is comes as part of the update to OSX 10.15.6 or whether it is just related to the FCP-X 10.4.9 update. Some users are reporting that some FX9 MXF files can not be previewed in Finder after updating as well as not being visible in FCP-X.
While so far it I have only seen reports that footage from the FX9 is affected, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Venice material is also affected.
I would suggest waiting for a few weeks after the release of any update before updating and never do an update half way through an important project.
UPDATE: Sony know about the issue and are working with Apple to resolve it. It only seems to affect some FX9 footage and possibly some Venice footage. It appears as the culprit is the Pro Video Codecs update, but this is yet to be confirmed. I would still suggest waiting before upgrading even if you are using a different camera.
So Sony have just launched the A7S III. And very impressive it is. Amazing low light performance, great dynamic range and lots of nice 10 bit codecs. You can even get a 16 bit raw output if you want. I can’t wait to get one. But I really don’t see the A7S III as a threat to or replacement of my FX9 or any other 4K professional video camera.
All the same discussions took place when the original A7S was launched. Sony F5 owners looked at the A7S and said – heck how can that little camera shoot full frame 4K while my camera can’t even shoot s35 4K. Why can the A7S have AF when my F3/F5 doesn’t. How can a camera that produces such beautiful images only cost 1/5th of what my F5 costs. But here we are 6 years on and the A7S and A7S II didn’t replace any of the bigger cameras and when the FS5 was launched people snapped up the FS5, often to replace an A7.
I don’t ever want to go back to having to carry and use a big box of different ND filters for different light levels. I find the small LCD screen on the back of a DSLR to be of very limited use and while the A7S III does have a very good EVF it’s placement makes it hard to use it on a tripod or in anything other than a simple hand hold with the camera up against your face.
If you want to shoot log then you really want built in LUTs. There are the battery and power questions. How do you power the camera and accessories without needing two or more power systems or a rig to take a big external battery and a bunch of adapters? Then there’s having buttons and switches for all the frequently accessed functions. I could go on but you only have to look at the many franken-rigs that end up built around DSLR type cameras just to make them usable to see the problems. Almost always the first purchase to go with a DSLR is a cage. Why do you need a cage? Because you know your going to have to bolt a ton of stuff to that once small, portable camera to turn it into a professional video making tool.
Sure, I will almost certainly get an A7S III and it will be a great camera to compliment my FX9. And yes, there may even be some projects where I only take the A7S III, just as there have been shoots where I have used just my A7S. But it won’t ever replace my FX9, they are two very different tools, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
The image quality gap between traditional large professional video cameras and handheld stills type cameras will continue to get smaller and smaller as electronics continue to be further miniaturised, that is inevitable, but the cameras form factor will still be important.
The small cars of today often have all the same bells and whistles as a large luxury car of 10 years ago. Let’s say you’ve gone on vacation (remember those?) and it’s a road trip. You get to the car rental office and you have a choice between a large, spacious, stable, less stressed car or a small car that has to work a bit harder to get you to the same place. Both will get you there, but which do you choose? There might be some instances where the small car is preferrable, perhaps you will be in a lot of narrow city streets a lot. But for most road trips I suspect most people will opt for the big comfy cruiser most of the time.
For me the A7S III will be that nippy little car, a camera that I can pop in a pocket to grab beautiful images where I can’t use a bigger camera. But for my main workhorse I don’t want fiddly, I don’t want a ton of accessories hanging off it just to make it workable. I want the luxury cruiser that will just take it all in it’s stride and get on with the job and right now that’s my FX9.
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.