Today Sony launched Venice II. Perhaps not one of the very best kept secrets with many leaks in the last few weeks, but finally we officially know that it’s called Venice II and it has an 8K (8.6K maximum) sensor recording 16 bit linear X-OCN or ProRes to 2 built in AXS card slots.
The full information about the new camera is here. https://pro.sony/en_GB/products/digital-cinema-cameras/venice2
Venice II is in essence the original Venice camera and the AXS-R7 all built into a single unit. But to achieve this the ability to use SxS cards has been dropped, Venice II only works with AXS cards. The XAVC-I codec is also gone. The new camera is only marginally longer than the original Venice camera body.
As well as X-OCN (the equivalent of a compressed raw recording) Venice II can also record 4K ProRes HQ and 4K ProRes 444. Because the sensor is an 8.6K sensor that 4K 444 will be “real” 444 with a real Red, Green and Blue sample at every position in the image. This will be a great format for those not wishing to use X-OCN. But why not use X-OCN? the files are very compact and full of 16 bit goodness. I find X-OCN just as easy to work with as ProRes.
One thing that Venice II can’t do is record proxies. Apparently user feedback is that these are rarely used. I guess in a film style workflow where you have an on set DIT station it’s easy for proxies to be created on set. Or you can create proxies in most edit applications when you ingest the main files, but I do wonder if proxies are something some people will miss if they only have X-OCN files to work from.
There has been a lot of speculation that the sensor used in Venice II is the same as the sensor in the Sony A1 mirrorless camera, after all the pixel count is exactly the same. We already know that the A1 sensor is a very nice and very capable sensor. So IF it were to be the same sensor but paired with significantly more and better processing power and an appropriate feature set for digital cinema production it would not be anything to complain about. But it is unlikely that it is the very same sensor. It might be based on the A1 sensor (and the original Venice sensor is widely speculated to be based on the A9 sensor) but one thing you don’t want on these sensors are the phase detection sites used for autofocus.
When you expand these very high quality images on to very big screens, even the smallest of image imperfections can become an issue. The phase detection pixels and the wires that interconnect them can form a very, very faint fixed pattern within the image. In a still photograph you would probably never see this. In a highly compressed image, compression artefacts might hide it (although both the FX6 and FX9 exhibit some fixed pattern noise that might in part be caused by the AF sites). But on a giant screen, with a moving image this faint fixed pattern may be perceptible to audiences and that just isn’t acceptable for a flagship cinema camera. So, I am led to believe that the sensors used in both the original Venice and Venice II do not have any AF phase detection pixels or wire interconnects. Which means these can not the very same sensors as found in the A1 or A9. They are most likely specifically made for Venice.
Also most stills camera based sensors are only able to be read at 12 bit when used for video, again perhaps a key difference is that when used with the cooling system in the Venice cameras these sensors can be read at 16 bit at video frame rates rather than 12 or 14 bits.
The processing hardware in Venice II has been significantly upgraded from the original Venice. This was necessary to support the data throughput need to shoot at 8.6K and 60fps as well as the higher resolution SDI outputs and much improved LUT processing. Venice II can also be painted live on set via both wiFi and Ethernet. So the very similar exterior appearances do in fact hide the fact that this really is a completely new camera.
I am not going to repeat all the information in the press releases or on the Sony website here. But what I will say is I like what I see. Integrating the R7 into the Venice II body makes the overall package smaller. There are no interconnections to go wrong. The increase in dynamic range to 16 stops, largely thanks to a lower noise floor is very welcome. There was nothing wrong with the original Venice, but this new sensor is just that bit better.
The default dynamic range split gives the same +6 stops as most of Sony’s current cameras but goes down to -10 stops. But with the very low noise floor that this sensor has rating the camera higher than the rated 800 base ISO to gain a bit of extra headroom shouldn’t be an issue. Sample footage from Venice II shows that the way the highlights do reach their limits is very nice.
The LUT processing has been improved and now you can have 3D LUTs in 4K on SDI’s 1&2 which are 12G and in HD at the same time on SDI’s 3&4 which are 3G – as well as on the monitor out and in the VF. This is actually quite a significant upgrade, the original Vence is a little bit lacking in the way it handles LUTs. The ART look system is retained if you want even higher quality previews than that possible with 33x LUTs. There is also built in ACES support with a new RRT, this makes the camera extremely easy to use for ACES workflows and the 16 bit linear X-OCN is a great fit for ACES.
It retains the ability to remove the sensor head so it can be used on the end of an extension cable. Venice II can use either the original 6K Venice sensor or the new 8K sensor, however a new extension cable which won’t be available until until some time in 2023 is needed before the head can be separated, so Venice 1 will still have a place for some considerable time to come.
Moving the dual ISO from 500/2500 to 800/3200 brings Venice II’s lower base ISO up to the same level as the majority of other Cinema cameras. I know that some found 500 ISO slightly odd to work with. This will just make it easier to work alongside other similarly rated cameras.
Another interesting consideration is that you can shoot at 5.8K pixels with a Super 35mm sized scan. This means that the 4K Super 35mm material will have greater resolution than the original Venice or many other S35 cameras that only use 4K of pixels at S35. There is a lot of very beautiful super 35mm cine glass available and being able to shoot using classic cinema glass and get a nice uplift in the image resolution is going to be really nice. Additionally there will be some productions where the shallower DoF of Full Frame may not be desirable or where the 8.6K files are too big and unnecessary. I can see Venice II being a very nice option for those wishing to shoot Super 35.
But where does this leave existing Venice owners?
For a start the price of Venice 1 is not going to change. Sony are not dropping the cost. This new Venice is an upgrade over the original and more expensive (but the price does include the high frame rate options). Although my suspicion is that Venice II will not be significantly more expensive that the cost of the current Venice + R7 + HFR licence. Sony want this camera to sell well, so they won’t want to make it significantly more as then many would just stick with Venice 1. The original remains a highly capable camera that produces beautiful images and if you don’t need 8.6K the reasons to upgrade are fewer. The basic colour science of both cameras remains the same, so there is no reason why both can’t be used together on the same projects. Venice 1 can work with lower cost SxS cards and XAVC-I if you need very small files and a very simple workflow, Venice II pushes you to a AXS card based workflow and AXS cards are very expensive.
If you have productions that need the Rialto system and the ability to un-dock the sensor, then this isn’t going to be available for Venice II for some time. So original Venice cameras will still be needed for Rialto applications (it will be 2023 before Rialto for Venice II becomes available).
Of course it always hurts when a new camera comes out, but I don’t think existing Venice owners should be too concerned. If customers really felt they needed 8.6K then they would have already likely been lost to a Red camera and the Red ecosystem. But at least now that there is an 8K Venice option that might help keep the original Venice viable for second unit, Rialto (for now at least) or secondary roles within productions shooting primarily in 8K.
I like everything I see about Venice II, but it doesn’t make Venice 1 any less of a camera.