I’ve been aware of this production, shot entirely with the Sony FX3 for some time. But I wanted to wait and see some footage before passing any comments. Well, the first trailer is out now and it looks great.
But really that shouldn’t be a surprise. The Sony FX3 is a small camera that delivers a very high quality image. It shoots S-Log3 offering 4K files with in excess of 14 stops of dynamic range. I wrote about the rise of small digital cinema cameras last year (The Rise Of The Small Cinema Camera). You don’t have to go that far back and films were being shot with digital cinema cameras with similar DR at 2.8K. And of course lens choice, lighting, composition, set design, post production etc are also key to great images. And when you have a decent budget there is no reason why any of these should be inferior just because you are using a smaller camera. At this stage however we are only seeing highly compressed trailers online. It will be interesting to see how it looks on an IMAX screen, but I suspect it will look fine.
I do find it an interesting choice to choose to shoot the entire film with the FX3. I doubt it would have been for budget reasons, the cost of the camera is a teeny tiny part of the budget on a feature like this ($80 million?) and lets face it an FX6 doesn’t cost much more and a Venice would have been easily affordable. The small size of the FX3 does bring some benefits, in the BTS film below you can see it being used on small lightweight gimbals (DJI RS3 I think) as well as small camera cranes. These can get into smaller spaces than bulkier gimbals and jibs, I expect this allowed for a very fluid shooting style. But at the same time you can see that they used wireless monitoring and a wireless follow focus. I also expect there would have been some kind of timecode feed as well as wireless audio. It can be difficult to find places to mount all this stuff with a small camera. In addition, with the FX3 the HDMI output has some limitations if you still want to see an image on the built in LCD and generally SDI is preferable over HDMI. Perhaps if I had been asked to shoot this I might have used a mix of the FX3 and the FX6. Or perhaps even a Venice and then used the FX3 where portability and flexibility was paramount. But the fact remains that it appears that a very good looking film has been shot entirely with the FX3 and audiences are unlikely to realise that the film they are watching was shot with such a relatively cheap camera.
It really is a great time to be a film maker. The majority of the cameras on the market today are perfectly capable of being used to shoot a movie. I’ve been working on a another blockbuster feature that used the FX3 alongside a Venice 2 and again the production is confident the audience won’t notice. So, really it’s up to you to develop your own skills, lighting, composition, framing and – story telling – those are the things you need to focus because you can’t blame the camera anymore.
Sony have just released new firmware for the Sony FX3 and FX30 cameras that adds the ability to shoot 24P DCI 4K and in addition adds 1.3x and 2x desqueeze for the LCD screen and HDMI output.
For the FX3 this is firmware version 3.00 and for the FX30 it is version 2.00.
This new firmware also makes some changes to the way the sensor in the FX3 is readout, eliminating the crop that used to occur when shooting using 4K DCI.
I have had a beta copy of the firmware for a few weeks, but unfortunately it came at a time when I have been extremely busy working on some special shooting techniques for a Warner Brothers feature film as well as running Venice workshops across the Middle East. So I didn’t really get as much time as I would have liked to play with it.
What I can say is it is a very welcome update. The 24P 4K DCI mode is a special fixed recoding mode that uses the XAVC-SI codec and the anamorphic desqueeze is found under the monitor options. There are only 1.3x and 2x desqueeze options, so it’s only going to work correctly with lenses designed for these squeeze ratios. Because the sensor and shooting scan modes remain fixed to 16:9 or 17:9, if you use anything with more squeeze than 1.3x you will end up with an extremely wide final aspect ratio compared to the normal 2.39:1 unless you crop a lot off the sides of the image. Some might like this, but for me it really does seem to be a bit of a waste having an ultra wide aspect ratio with screens and displays that are designed for 16:9.
As well as the above the update includes support for Sony’s new “Creators App” which will replace the Imaging Edge app. In addition you can assign the ability to switch between the normal movie shooting mode and the S&Q mode to one of the custom keys.
DO NOTE FOR THE FX30 that if the camera is on Version 1.02 or earlier that you will first need to update to version 1.05 before doing the version 2 update.
I’ll try to upload some anamorphic footage shot with my FX30 very soon. The older Sirui 1.35x anamorphic lenses are a great match for the FX30’s super35 sized sensor. The cameras 6K down sampled to 4K means that the footage is packed with texture and detail and the 1.3x squeeze gives a 2.39:1 final aspect ratio without needed additional cropping or re-sizing (although if you use the 4K DCI mode you will need to make a very small side crop if you want 2.39:1).
What do the zebras measure when shooting S-Log3 using the CineEI modes in the FX3 and FX30?
The convention for zebras with the majority of cameras is that zebras are a viewfinder applied measurement. As such they almost always measure the “viewfinder” image. As the LCD on the FX series cameras is in effect the viewfinder, the zebras measure what you see on that screen. So, when you have a LUT on, the zebras measure the LUT, not the S-Log3.
Common ways to use the zebras include measuring skin tones, which for the default s709 LUT will be somewhere in the region of 60% depending on the face brightness. You could also use the LUT’s to measure the brightness of a white card or white piece of paper which should be around around 81% for a proper white card or 83% for white paper.
You could also use Zebras to indicate when you are close to clipping Depending on the LUT that you are using the peak LUT output will typically be at 100%, so a common usage would be to have Zebra 2 (which measures from the zebra point and everything above) set to a touch below 100 to act as a clipping indicator. BUT it must also be remembered that depending on the Exposure Index in most cases the LUT will have a lower highlight range than the S-Log3 recordings. So, when your highlights hit 100% on the LUT there may still be available headroom in the S-Log3 recordings. If you end up backing off your exposure every time the LUT clips you may be missing out on the full recording range and un-necessarily bringing the mids and shadows down. So, my preference is to measure the exposure of a white card or skin tones and to get the mid range and shadows right, rather than obsessing over small amounts clipping.
The s709 LUT does fit the full highlight range of the S-Log3 into it’s output. But as there is only a tiny difference between +5 and +6 stops (approx 1.5%) it is very difficult to determine what is clipped and what is 1 stop below clipping. +4 stops above middle grey is output at 93% and +6 above middle grey is at 98% so it becomes very difficult to see what is really going on in the highlights via the LUT when the top 2 stops are crammed into just 5% of the recording range. Zebra 2 set to 95% (for example) would appear over 1.5 stops below clipping, even if set to 97% zebras will show almost a full stop below clip.
It is one of the frustrations of the FX3/FX30 that there is no way to monitor via the LUT and measure the S-Log3 at the same time.
For some reason many people now believe that the only way you can shoot with S-Log3 is by “over exposing” and very often by as much as almost 2 stops (1.7 stops is often quoted).
When Sony introduced the original A7S, the FS5, F5, F55 and FS7 shooting S-Log3 with these cameras was a little tricky because the sensors were quite noisy when used at the relatively high base ISO’s of these cameras. When exposed according to Sony’s recommendation of 41% for middle grey and 61% for a white card the end result would be fairly noisy unless you added a good amount of post production noise reduction. As a result of this I typically recommended exposing these particular cameras between 1 and 2 stops brighter than the base level. If using the F5 or FS7 I would normally use 800EI which would lead to an exposure +1.3 stops brighter than base. This worked well with these cameras to help control the noise, but did mean a 1.3 stop loss of highlight range. In other examples I used to recommend exposing a white card at white at 70% which would equate to an exposure a touch over 1 stop brighter than the base level.
With the introduction of the original Venice camera and then the FX9 we got a new generation of much lower noise sensors with dual base ISO’s. It soon became clear to me that these new cameras didn’t normally need to be exposed more brightly than the Sony recommended levels when using their low base ISO’s and even at their high base ISO’s you can typically get perfectly acceptable results without shooting brighter, although sometimes a small amount of over exposure or a touch of noise reduction in pots might be beneficial. No longer needing to expose more brightly brought with it a useful increase in the usable highlight range, something the earlier cameras could struggle with.
Then the A7S3, FX6 and FX3 came along and again at the lower of their base ISO’s I don’t feel it is necessary to shoot extra bright. However at the 12,800 high base ISO there is a fair bit more noise. So I will typically shoot between 1 and 2 stops brighter at the high base ISO to help deal with the extra noise. On the FX6 and FX3 this normally means using between 6400 and 3200 EI depending on the scene being shot.
Even though I and many others no longer advocate the use of extra bright exposures at the lower base ISO’s with these newer cameras it really does surprise me how many people believe it is still necessary to shoot up to 2 stops over. It’s really important to understand that shooting S-Log3 up to 2 stops over isn’t normal. It was just a way to get around the noise in the previous cameras and in most cases it is not necessary with the newer cameras.
Not having to shoot brighter means that you can now use the Viewfinder Display Gamma Assist function in the A7S3, A1 or the FX9 (for those times you can’t use a LUT) to judge your exposure with confidence that if it looks right, it most likely will be right. It also means that there is no longer any need to worry about offset LUT’s or trying to correct exposure in post before applying a LUT.
Of course, you can still expose brighter if you wish. Exposing brighter may still be beneficial in scenes with very large shadow areas or if you will be doing a lot of effects work. Or perhaps simply want an ultra low noise end result. But you shouldn’t be terrified of image noise. A little bit of noise is after all perfectly normal.
And one last thing: I don’t like the use of the term “over exposing” to describe shooting a bit brighter to help eliminate noise. If you have deliberately chosen to use a low EI value to obtain a brighter exposure or have decided to expose 1 stop brighter because you feel this will get you the end result you desire this is not (in my opinion) “over exposure”. Over exposure generally means an exposure that is too bright, perhaps a mistake. But when you deliberately shoot a bit brighter because this gets you to where you want to be this isn’t a mistake and it isn’t excessive, it is in fact the correct exposure choice.
These are mainly stability releases that fix some minor bugs, but if you have an FX3 on the original version 1 firmware then this version adds the CineEI mode and LUTs. It is a major update that is well worth having.
Before attempting to update the camera you should insert a fully charged battery
The FX3 is updated via a computer application. While there is a Mac application it is a complete pain in the rear end to get it to work and I would urge you to find a windows PC to do the update, it is far simpler and far more likely to be successful. The good news is that once you have updated to version 2.02 future updates can be done by uploading the update file to an SD card and initiating the update from the camera like the FX30.
The FX30 is updated by placing the downloaded BODYDATA.DAT file on to an SD card that was previously formatted in the camera. Then place the card in the camera and go down to the SETUP – SETUP OPTION – VERSION page of the menu. Here you should see the cameras current firmware version plus a “SOFTWARE UPDATE” button. Press (select) the software update button.
On the next page it will say “Update ?” and show the old firmware version and the new firmware version. Then just below this is a box where it says “Please follow these precautions until the very end”.
What isn’t clear at this step is that you need to scroll down inside that box and read the full list of precautions before the camera will allow you to do the update.
Scroll down until you get to “This update may take several minutes, device automatically reboots when complete”. If you don’t scroll down and just press the “Execute” button you get a large popup telling you to “Follow the precautions to the very end” and pressing “OK” simply takes you will go back to the previous page. So do make sure you scroll down through the full list of precautions before you press execute. Once the update starts the screen will go blank, the only clue that the update is happening will be the slow flash of the media LED on the back of the camera. The update takes about 10 minutes to complete and the camera will reboot when it’s done.
I’ve just return from the arctic cabins that I use for my Northern Lights Aurora tours following a great trip where the group got to see the Aurora on 3 nights. In this video there is footage from two nights, the 13th and 14th of January.
I recommend watching the video direct on YouTube and on a nice big screen in 4K if you can.
Most of it is real time video, not the time-lapse that is so often used to shoot the Aurora. The Sony FX3 (like the A7S3) is sensitive enough to video a bright Aurora with a fast lens without needing to use time lapse. On the FX3 I used a Sony 24mm f1.4 GM lens, this is a great lens for astro photography as stars are very sharp even in the corners of the frame. The Aurora isn’t something that is ever dazzlingly bright, so you do need to use a long shutter opening. So, often I am shooting with a 1/15th or 1/12th shutter. I have been using the CineEI mode at 12,800 ISO and also using the S-Log3 flexible ISO mode to shoot at 25600 ISO. This isn’t something I would normally do – add gain while shooting S-Log3, but in this particular case it is working well as the Aurora will never exceed the dynamic range of the camera, but the footage does need extensive noise reduction in post production (I use the NR tools built into DaVinci Resolve).
I also shot time lapse with my FX30 using a DJI RS2 gimbal. On the FX30 I had a Sigma 20mm f1.4 with a metabones speedbooster. I shot using S&Q motion at 8 frames per second, this gives only a slight speed up and a more natural motion that time lapse shot at longer intervals. By shooting at 8 frames per second I can use a 1/4 of second shutter and this combined with the FX30’s high base ISO of 2500 (for S-Log3) produces a good result even with quite dim Auroras.
By shooting with S-Log3 you can still grade the footage and this is a quick way to get a time-lapse sequence without having to process thousands of still frames. It also needs only a fraction of the storage space.
In a few days I will be heading off to the north of Norway for my annual trip to shoot the Northern Lights. This year I really do hope to stream the Aurora live.
I’ve tried to livestream the Aurora before, but not really been successful. We go to a very remote location to get away from city lights and light pollution. But that means the cellphone connection isn’t great. And then I have had issues with getting the streaming hardware to work correctly in the extreme cold, it’s often well below -20c. I really want to stream the output of my FX3 rather than shooting the back of the camera with a phone as I have done before. Hopefully I will actually succeed this time. There have been some major updates to the software on my Xperia Pro phone and now the HDMI input app includes rtmp streaming direct from the app, so now I can stream from the FX3 via HDMI and the Xperia Pro more easily than before.
The next big unknown is when will the Aurora be visible. To see the Aurora I need clear skies and then the Aurora has to actually be present. There is no guarantee that it will be visible and I certainly can’t predict exactly when. So – I can’t tell you when I will be live. Most likely it will be sometime between January 12th and January 22nd, after 16:00 GMT and before 02:00 GMT. I may be live many times on different nights.
I will also be on facebook and this would be a good way to keep updated as I will try to post on facebook prior to going live on YouTube.
As well as the FX3 I’m taking an FX30 and it will be interesting to see how this performs trying to shoot the Aurora. Main lenses for the Aurora will be the Sony 24mm f1.4 GM, 20mm f1.8 G but I will also have a Sigma 20mm f1.4 with metabones speedbooster for the FX30.
When you have millions of pixels on a video sensor it isn’t surprising to find that every now and then one or two might go out of spec and show up in your footage as a white dot. These “hot” pixels are most commonly seen when using high ISO’s or the upper of the cameras two base ISO’s. Hot pixels are not uncommon and they are not something to worry about.
Thankfully the issue is easily resolved by going to the cameras main menu and – Setup Menu – Setup Option – Pixel Mapping. Then cap the lens or cap the camera body and run the pixel mapping. It only takes around 30 seconds and it should eliminate any white, black or coloured sensor pixel issues. The camera will ask you to do this periodically anyway and you should do it regularly, especially after flying anywhere with the camera.
Sensor pixels can be damaged by energetic particles that come from cosmic events. So a hot pixel can appear at any time and without warning. They are not something to worry about, it is normal to get some bad pixels from time to time over the life of a camera. When you travel by air there is less of the atmosphere to protect your camera from these particles, so there is a higher than normal likelihood of one going out of spec. Polar air routes are the worst as the earths magnetic field tends to funnel these particles towards the north and south poles. So, whenever you fly with your camera it is a good idea to run Pixel Mapping (or APR if you have an FX6, FX9 etc) before you start shooting.
It’s Black Friday, so here is my Black Friday offer – a new free LUT.
Solitude is a new free LUT for any Sony camera that shoots using S-Log3 and SGamut3.cine. This is the second in a series of 3 free LUTs that I am releasing between now and Christmas. The first was Elixir which gives a rich film like look. Solitude is closely related to Elixir but gives a cooler more metalic look. I believe it is suitable for gritty drama or anything needing a cooler less warm look. To see my free LUT collection and to download any of my free LUTs including both Elixir and Solitude follow this link – https://www.xdcam-user.com/picture-settings-and-luts/alisters-free-luts/
Sony released a minor update for the FX3 and FX30 cameras but almost immediately withdrew the firmware. If you have already downloaded the update package I recommend you do not install it. There may be a bug in the firmware. Sony are investigating to understand whether there is a bug or something else causing an issues that some users have reported. So for now, don’t do the FX30 version 1.01 or the FX3 version 2.01 update, wait until Sony have had a chance to look into the situation. It remains safe to continue to update version 1 FX3 cameras to Version 2.00, it is only FX3 version 2.01 and FX30 version 1.01 that is affected.
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