Over the last few days Sony have been busy releasing new drivers and new software to support not just Venice 2 but also the AXS-R7 and newer AXS-R1 SxS card readers on Apples M1 macs as well as Windows 11.
In addition Sony have released a new AXSM utility tool with new drivers for the AR1/AR3 to support the latest cards and formats as well as support for Apple M1 silicon and Windows 11. This is an essential update if you are using these new readers or Venice 2. This can be downloaded from here: https://www.sonycreativesoftware.com/axsmdrive#download
This is another common question on many user groups. It comes up time and time again. But really there is no one clear cut answer. In a perfect world we would never need to add any noise reduction, but we don’t live and shoot in a perfect world. Often a camera might be a little noisy or you may be shooting with a lot less light than you would really like, so in camera NR might need to be considered.
You need to consider carefully whether you should use in camera NR or not. There will be some cases where you want in camera NR and other times when you don’t.
Post Production NR. An important consideration is that adding post production NR on top of in-camera NR is never the best route to go down. NR on top of NR will often produce ugly blocky artefacts. If you ever want to add NR in post production it is almost always better not to also add in camera NR. Post production NR has many advantages as you can more precisely control the type and amount you add depending on what the shot needs. When using proper grading software such as DaVinci Resolve you can use power windows or masks to only add NR to the parts of the image that need it.
Before someone else points it out I will add here that it is almost always impossible to turn off all in camera NR. There will almost certainly be some NR added at the sensor that you can not turn off. In addition most recording codecs will apply some noise reduction to avoid wasting data recording the noise, again this can’t be turned off. Generally higher bit rate, less compressed codecs apply less NR. What I am talking about here is the additional NR that can be set to differing levels within the cameras settings that is in addition to the NR that occurs at the sensor or in the codec.
Almost every NR process, as well as reducing the visibility of noise will introduce other image artefacts. Most NR process work by taking an average value for groups of pixels or an average value for the same pixel over a number of frames. This averaging tends to not only reduce the noise but also reduce fine details and textures. Faces and skin tones may appear smoothed and unnatural if excessively noise reduced. Smooth surfaces such as walls or the sky may get broken up into subtle bands or steps. Sometimes these artefacts won’t be seen in the cameras viewfinder or on a small screen and only become apparent on a bigger TV or monitor. Often the banding artefacts seen on walls etc are a result of excessive NR rather than a poor codec etc (although the two are often related as a weak codec may have to add a lot of NR to a noisy shot keep the bit rate down).
If you are shooting log then any minor artefacts in the log footage from in camera noise reduction may be magnified when you start grading and boosting the contrast. So, generally speaking when shooting log it is always best to avoid adding in camera NR. The easiest way to avoid noise when shooting with log is to expose a bit brighter so that in the grade you are never adding gain. Take gain away in post production to compensate for a brighter exposure and you take away much of the noise – without giving up those fine textures and details that make skin tones look great. If shooting log, really the only reason an image will be noisy is because it hasn’t been exposed bright enough. Even scenes that are meant to look dark need to be exposed well. Scenes with large dark areas need good contrast between at least some brighter parts so that the dark areas appear to be very dark compared to the bright highlights. Without any highlights it’s always tempting to bring up the shadows to give some point of reference. Add a highlight such as a light fixture or a lit face or object and there is no need to then bring up the shadows, they can remain dark, contrast is king when it comes to dark and night scenes.
If, however you are shooting for “direct to air” or content that won’t be graded and needs to look as good as possible directly from the camera then a small amount of in camera NR can be beneficial. But you should test the cameras different levels to see how much difference each level makes while also observing what happens to subtle textures and fine details. There is no free lunch here. The more NR you use the more fine details and textures you will lose and generally the difference in the amount of noise that is removed between the mid and high setting is quite small. Personally I tend to avoid using high and stick to low or medium levels. As always good exposure is the best way to avoid noise. Keep your gain and ISO levels low, add light if necessary or use a faster lens, this is much more effective than cranking up the NR.
There is a bug in some versions of DaVinci Resolve 17 that can cause frames in some XAVC files to be rendered in the wrong order. This results in renders where the resulting video appears to stutter or the motion may jump backwards for a frame or two. This has now been fixed in version 17.3.2 so all user of XAVC and DaVinci Resolve are urged to upgrade to at least version 17.3.2.
Sadly this is not an uncommon problem. Suddenly and seemingly for no apparent reason the SDI output on your camera stops working. And this isn’t a new problem either, SDI ports have been failing ever since they were first introduced. This issue affect all types of SDI ports. But it is more likely with higher speed SDI ports such as 6G or 12G as they operate at higher frequencies and as a result the components used are more easily damaged as it is harder to protect them without degrading the high frequency performance.
Probably the most common cause of an SDI port failure is the use of the now near ubiquitous D-Tap cable to power accessories connected to the camera. The D-Tap connector is sadly shockingly crudely designed. Not only is it possible to plug in many of the cheaper ones the wrong way around but with a standard D-Tap plug there is no mechanism to ensure that the negative or “ground” connection of the D-Tap cable makes or breaks before the live connection. There is a however a special but much more expensive D-Tap connector available that includes electronic protection against this very issue – see: https://lentequip.com/products/safetap
Imagine for a moment you are using a monitor that’s connected to your cameras SDI port. You are powering the monitor via the D-Tap on the cameras battery as you always do and everything is working just fine. Then the battery has to be changed. To change the battery you have to unplug the D-Tap cable and as you pull the D-Tap out, the ground connection disconnects fractionally before the live connection. During that moment there is still positive power going to the monitor but because the ground on the D-Tap is now disconnected the only ground route back to the battery becomes via the SDI cable through the camera. For a fraction of a second the SDI cable becomes the power cable and that power surge blows the SDI driver chip.
After you have completed the battery swap, you turn everything back on and at first all appears good, but now you can’t get the SDI output to work. There’s no smoke, no burning smells, no obvious damage as it all happened in a tiny fraction of a second. The only symptom is a dead SDI.
And it’s not only D-Tap cables that can cause problems. A lot of the cheap DC barrel connectors have a center positive terminal that can connect before the outer barrel makes a good connection. There are many connectors where the positive can make before the negative.
It can also happen when powering the camera and monitor (or other SDI connected devices like a video transmitter) via separate mains adapters. The power outputs of most of the small, modern, generally plastic bodied switch mode type power adapters and chargers are not connected to ground. They have a positive and negative terminal that “floats” above ground at some unknown voltage. Each power supplies negative rail may be at a completely different voltage compared to ground. So again an SDI cable connected between two devices, powered by different power supplies will act as the ground between them and power may briefly flow down the SDI cable as the SDI cables ground brings both power supply negative rails to the same common voltage. Failures this way are less common, but do still occur.
For these reasons you should always connect all your power supplies, power cables and especially D-Tap or other DC power cables first. Then while everything remains switched off connect the SDI cables. Only when everything is connected should you turn anything on. If unplugging or re-plugging a monitor (or anything else for that matter) turn everything off first. Do not connect or disconnect anything while any of the equipment is on. Although to be honest the greatest risk is at the time you connect or disconnect any power cables such as when swapping a battery where you are using the D-Tap to power any accessories. So if changing batteries, switch EVERYTHING off first, then disconnect your SDI cables before disconnecting the D-Tap or other power cables next.
(NOTE: It’s been brought to my attention that Red recommend that after connecting the power, but before connecting any SDI cables you should turn on any monitors etc. If the monitor comes on OK, this is evidence that the power is correctly connected. There is certainly some merit to this. However this only indicates that there is some power to the monitor, it does not ensure that the ground connection is 100% OK or that the ground voltages at the camera and monitor are the same. By all means power the monitor up to check it has power, then I still recommend that you turn it off again before connecting the SDI).
The reason Arri talk about shielded power cables is because most shielded power cables use connectors such as Lemo or Hirose where the body of the connector is grounded to the cable shield. This helps ensure that when plugging the power cable in it is the ground connection that is made first and the power connection after. Then when unplugging the power breaks first and ground after. When using properly constructed shielded power cables with Lemo or Hirose connectors it is much less likely that these issues will occur (but not impossible).
Is this an SD fault? No, not really. The fault lies in the choice of power cables that allow the power to make before the ground or the ground to break before the power breaks. Or the fault is with power supplies that have poor or no ground connection. Additionally you can put it down to user error. I know I’m guilty of rushing to change a battery and pulling a D-Tap connector without first disconnecting the SDI on many occasions, but so far I’ve mostly gotten away with it (I have blown an SDI on one of my Convergent Design Odysseys).
If you are working with an assistant or as part of a larger crew do make sure that everyone on set knows not to plug or unplug power cables or SDI cables without checking that it’s OK to do so. How many of us have set up a camera, powered it up, got a picture in the viewfinder and then plugged an SDI cable between the camera and a monitor that doesn’t have a power connection yet or already on and plugged in to some other power supply? Don’t do it! Plug and unplug in the right order – ALL power cables and power supplies first, check power is going to the camera, check power is going to the monitor, then turn it all off first, finally plug in the SDI.
Scroll down to where it says “Stunning Cinematic Colour” and there you will find a video called “Orlaith” that shows both LUT’s applied to the same footage.
Orlaith is a gaelic name and it is pronounced “orla”. It is the name of a mythical golden princess. The short film was shot on a teeny-tiny budget in a single evening with an FX3 and FX6 using S-Log3 and SGamut3.cine. Then the LUTs were applied directly to the footage with no further grading.
Can you tell which is genuine and which is fake? It would appear that a number of fake BP-U batteries are starting to show up on ebay and other less reputable places. The battery on the left won’t charge on a genuine Sony charger, this tells me it is not a real Sony battery.
If you look at the labels on the batteries the quality of the printing on the fake battery on the left is not as fine as on the genuine battery, in particular the ® as well as the box around the level indicator LED’s is not as crisply and finely printed.
The sellers are clever. These are not so cheap as to raise suspicion, they just seem very competitively priced. These batteries might be a little bit cheaper, but how safe are they and how long will they last? I have to say this would have fooled me and I have a lot of sympathy for others that have been tricked into buying these. But if the manufacturer can’t sell these by legitimate means under their own brand name I really do have to question their quality and safety.
I wish to update and present the facts that I have regarding potential issues with mainly older 3rd party PB-U batteries. This isn’t here as a scare story, I’m not trying to sensationalise this, just present the facts that I have to hopefully clarify the current situation.
In 2019 I became aware that it was suddenly becoming very hard to buy 3rd party BP-U batteries. Dealers didn’t have any and you couldn’t find them anywhere. Talking to a couple of manufacturers I was informed that they had been told to stop making BP-U batteries.
Then I learnt from Sony that they had been getting an unusually large number of their more recent cameras in for repair, cameras that had suddenly and inexplicably stopped working. They traced this to design issues in some 3rd party batteries that resulted in power flowing through the batteries data pins, damaging beyond repair the cameras motherboard. It was not a case of a battery being inserted incorrectly, it was an issue with the circuitry in the battery.
As a result of this Sony took action in 2019 to prevent the manufacture of 3rd party BP-U batteries and that’s why you could no longer get them.
Since then however it would appear that the manufacture of 3rd party batteries is once again in full swing. In addition I’ve noticed that some older models have been discontinued, often with new versions replacing them, perhaps a “B” version or a model number numerically higher than before.
From this I must assume that whatever the issue was, it has now been resolved and that the 3rd party BP-U batteries on sale today should be perfectly safe to use with our cameras. I would have no hesitation in today buying a brand new BP-U battery from any of the reputable brands.
I have nothing to gain here. This is not a campaign to make you all buy Sony batteries. Even though Sony do make a very fine battery, I too use 3rd party batteries as I need the D-Tap port found only on 3rd party batteries.
But clearly there was a very real battery issue. I’m led to understand that the cost to repair these damaged cameras was over $1K. While not every user of these batteries ends up with a dead camera, I think you have to ask yourself – is it worth using batteries made in 2019 or earlier? I won’t list the batteries that I know to have problems because the list may be incomplete. Just because a battery is not on the list it would not be a guarantee that it’s safe. However if any 3rd party battery manufacturer is reading this and has the confidence to provide me with a list of batteries that they will guarantee are safe, I will gladly publish that (January 2022 and not one manufacture has provided any information).
Clearly not everyone ends up with a dead camera, perhaps the majority have no issue, but enough did that Sony had to take action and it appears that the manufacturers responded by checking and adjusting their designs if necessary.
So my advice is: Don’t use 3rd party batteries made prior to 2020.
If you do, then make absolutely sure the camera is completely powered down when inserting or removing the battery.
I believe that any BP-U battery made in 2020 or later should be safe to use. So please think about replacing any old batteries with new ones, or perhaps contact your battery supplier and ask if what you have is safe. However you should be aware that since 2019 Sony’s own BP-U battery chargers will no longer charge 3rd party batteries.
The information I have presented here is correct to the best of my knowledge and I hope you will use it to make your own decision about which batteries to use.
Sony have today released version 4 firmware for the Z280 and Z190. This is a nice update for these cameras as it adds the ability to stream directly to platforms such as YouTube or Facebook using the RTMP or RTMPS protocol. There is no longer any need to go via an intermediate convertor such as OBS.
In addition the looks used in th HDR modes are adjusted to bring them into line with the latest cameras with HLG Natural and HDR Live.
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.