I was lucky enough to have been involved with a couple of the Sony Burano demo films as technical consultant and in addition I have now shot with it myself a few times. You will find the main film I helped to shoot, shot with a pre-production Burano and mostly Cooke SP3 lenses here: https://alphauniverse-mea.com/burano/.
So I though I would take a look at what it is and who it’s for. Everything written here is based on my experience with a pre-production camera, so there may be some small differences in the final release cameras.
What is Burano?
Sony’s Burano camera is a digital cinematography camera with an 8.6K sensor. It records to 3 different codecs, 16 bit X-OCN, and 10 bit XAVC-H and XAVC-I. It’s smaller than a Sony Venice and bigger than a Sony FX6. Overall, it is a similar size to the Sony FX9 and just a touch heavier. It has a PL lens mount and behind the PL mount there is a locking Sony E-Mount. It is expected to have a list price of 25,000 Euros.
The 8.6K sensor more than likely shares the same DNA as the sensor in the 8.6K Venice camera, but it is not the same sensor as Burano includes phase detection autofocus pixels and has a little more rolling shutter than Venice. Perhaps the Burano sensor is the same sensor as used in the Sony A1 camera. It’s no secret that the Venice 8.6K sensor and the Sony A1 sensor are very closely related. The autofocus in Burano is assisted by a dedicated AI processor.
Burano has one of Sony’s very handy variable ND filters that smoothly goes from ¼ ND to 1/128th ND (2 to 6 stops). There is also a clear position where a clear optical flat replaces the ND.
Variable ND AND IBIS!
A first in Burano is the combination of both a variable ND filter and IBIS (In Body Stabilisation). The in body stabilisation is capable of working in conjunction with almost any lens attached to the camera including PL lenses.
Burano records to readily available CFExpress Type B cards, it is recommended that VPG400 cards are used but I have been able to use other fast cards not certified to the VPG400 standard (400MB/S sustained write speed). This represents a tremendous cost saving over the ultra expensive AXS cards required for Venice and while more expensive than SD cards, CFExpress cards are not crazy money. I successfully shot using 512GB Sabrent and Integral cards that cost around £150 ($200) each (the camera flashed up an unsupported media message, but I was able to record at all frame rates and resolutions including 4K 120fps and 8.6K 30fps X-OCN). The officially recommended cards are Sony’s VPG400 “tough” cards along with other brands of VPG400 cards, but these are more expensive.
It is supplied with a good quality touchscreen LCD that can be used “as-is” or with a loupe attached to it. The optics in the loupe are pretty good and it uses a mirror to fold the optical path making it less long than the Loupe found on the FX9. BUT this mirror is in my opinion a very odd choice, more on that later. The LCD screen can be mounted to its mounting hardware in quite a few different ways allowing the camera to be adapted to many different shooting styles, again more details on this later.
V-Mount and 14 volts.
The camera has a V-Mount for V-Mount batteries as well as a 4 pin XLR input. No silly voltages here, it’s all industry standard 12v-16v. But one small omission is a complete lack of any DC out connectors on the camera body other than a USB-C port.
The bottom and top of the camera are completely flat, so it is very easy to add various base plates and I am sure there will be plenty of 3rd party cheese plate options etc. At IBC there were options from Vocas, Chrosziel and Tilta and I know there are accessories from Wooden Camera and Bright Tangerine in the pipelines.
WHAT CAN IT RECORD?
8.6K Full Frame X-OCN-LT (and 8K XAVC-H + 4K & HD XAVC-I)
Burano has a few different scan sizes. The largest is an 8.6K scan of the full frame sensor at up to 30fps and this can be recorded to 16 X-OCN-LT or to the new H265 based XAVC-H codec. X-OCN is Sony’s raw codec, it takes everything the sensor captures, compresses it and records it in a very computer friendly 16 bit file.
This is the same codec as used by the Venice cameras. On a Venice there are 3 versions, XT (eXtended quality) ST (Standard Quality) and LT (Light). Even though LT is the smallest version of X-OCN the quality remains exceptionally good and I’ve used X-OCN-LT when shooting with the Venice cameras many times because my experience is that for most types of production the difference between LT and XT is so small that LT is more than enough. Shooting at 8.6K and 30fps it is around 1.5Gb/s so you will get around 30 minutes on a 512GB card.
XAVC-H is only for 8K recording. There are three versions of XAVC-H, all are 10 bit 4:2:2 and based on H265. XAVC-H-I-HQ is I frame only and goes up to 1200Mbps offering very high quality recordings. XAVC-H-I-SQ is the standard quality version going up to 800Mbps. Even at this bit rate the image quality remains very high, but if I wanted to shoot S-Log3 and grade, I would prefer XAVC-H-I-HQ. Shooting at XAVC-H-I-HQ you will get a little over an hour of 8K 30fps footage on a 512GB card when using the 8.6K scan mode.
In addition there is a long GoP version, however the Long GoP version only supports 16:9. XAVC-H-L has a maximum bit rate of 520Mbps and actually the image quality is exceptionally good, comparable to the XAVC-H-I-HQ. But this codec need a lot of processing power in post production so may not be suitable for complex productions or anything where you have layers of clips.
Full Frame Scan – 6K recording. Full Frame crop 6K
The next smaller scan size in what Sony rather confusingly calls Full Frame crop 6K. Unlike most other cameras the “6K” refers to the size of the recorded file, not the sensor scan. Sony haven’t publicly stated the number of pixels used, but according to my calculations it appears to be an 8K scan and the crop from Full Frame is very, very small. Only about 1.07x, less than 10%. The scan is then downsampled to 6K for recording.
For me this is a really nice option. The file sizes are half the size of the 8.6K scans, but because this is a downsample from the bayer sensor there is very little, if any, resolution loss (8K bayer resolves around 6K). I’m going to guess that this downsample to 6K is necessary to make recording X-OCN to CFExpress cards at 60 fps reliable. Recording X-OCN LT using the 6K scan mode at 30fps you will get around an hour of footage on a 512GB card.
From the FF Crop 6K mode you can also record in 4K or HD using the XAVC-I codec.
Going smaller, there is a Super35 mm 5.8K scan, recorded at either 5.8K with X-OCN or 4K or HD with XAVC-I. The image quality is not compromised in any way at any of the scan sizes, so there are no extra aliasing issues, no loss of dynamic range, no extra noise. So, this means that Burano is an excellent Super 35mm camera. At 5.8K using X-OCN LT at 30fps you will get a touch over 1 hour on a 512GB card.
In a future firmware update we are promised a 4:3 scan mode. 4:3 scan is the normally used aspect ration for classic super 35mm 2x anamorphic lenses. In addition we will get extra de-squeeze modes including 1.5x and 1.8x.
4K Scan and 120fps.
To shoot at more than 60fps we need to go down to a 4K scan. This is quite a small part of the sensor, the crop is around 2.15x from Full frame. The good side is the image quality is no different to any of the other scan modes (other than resolution). The down side is you will need some pretty wide lenses for wide shots. But, for wild life shooters this will allow you to get closer to the action when shooting at up to 120fps.
As you can see from the table above, XAVC-H is only available for the FF 8.6K scan mode. Once you drop down to the FF Crop 6K scan mode you can use XAVC-I to record in DCI 4K, UHD or HD.
It’s exceptionally good. And this is the thing, despite some of the cameras limitations and oddities (more on them later) Burano produces a beautiful image. The 16 bit X-OCN gives incredible post production flexibility and this is the codec you are going to want to use if you really want to get the best out of the camera. The subtleties the camera captures when shooting faces are sublime. The colour range is staggering and the linearity, the way colours don’t change or shift with brightness allows you to capture vast amounts of colour information from the deepest shadows to the brightest highlights.
The performance when shooting with XAVC-H is also very good, but you do loose some of the wonderful grading flexibility of the X-OCN.
When shooting at 8.6K with X-OCN-LT the images are almost indistinguishable from the images from a Venice 2, perhaps the only giveaway being slightly more rolling shutter from Burano than Venice 2.
Burano’s sensor is a dual base ISO sensor, the base ISO’s are 800 and 3200 (the same as the 8.6K Venice 2). There is very little difference between the noise at each ISO and what noise there is very fine, almost film like. I actually like seeing the noise from Burano, it adds a subtle texture to the images that looks very nice.
Cameras like Sony’s FX6 already produce very good images, so, other than perhaps resolution, what is different about Burano’s images that makes me prefer it over the others? Frankly not a vast amount, we are already seeing the FX3 and FX6 being used on feature films, so we know they are very good. But what Burano has over the FX6 (like Venice) is an image that for me is more organic. It looks less electronic, less processed and there is a subtle richness to the colours not there in the FX3 or FX6. It is not a night and day difference, but it is a difference that makes me want to shoot with a Burano or Venice whenever I can. I suspect some of this comes from shooting at 8.6K or 5.8K and then down sampling to 4K, the extra resolution really helps with fine textures, colour resolution is greatly improved over a 4K sensor and the noise has a fineness to it that is very organic.
One thing I discovered when using Burano to shoot X-OCN is that there are some output limitations. The camera has 2 SDI outputs, the top one is 12G and the lower one is 3G plus a 4K capable HDMI output. But when shooting using X-OCN these outputs are limited. You can’t have both SDI and HDMI at the same time and there is no way to get a 4K SDI output when shooting X-OCN. You can have 4K HDMI, but if you output 4K HDMI, you can’t have a LUT on the HDMI. In addition, if you are using the other codecs and want a LUT you can only get a LUT on the output when outputting HD. I was really surprised by these limitations.
This isn’t a cheap camera and the FX6 can output 4K and a LUT no matter how it’s setup. I had hoped that the FX9 was going to be the last camera with these sorts of restrictions, but alas no, Burano has them too. It’s very disappointing. But, I also acknowledge that not many people actually monitor on set at 4K (although 4K on a big monitor does make it much easier to see focus issues) and seeing as you have extremely high quality 16 bit internal recordings there isn’t really the need to output at 4K for an external recorder.
Better news is that even though there is no dedicated anamorphic scan mode the camera does support 2x and 1.3x monitoring De-Squeeze (with 1.5x and 1.8x to come in later firmware updates). But this is limited to when using the X-OCN codec. For anamorphic, until the 4:3 scan mode gets added via a later firmware update you should use the 8.6K FF scan modes wherever possible as this will be the correct height for super 35mm anamorphic lenses.
Even though you do need to do some cropping in post production, shooting 2x Anamorphic with a sensor that is nearly 5K tall and after cropping will be around 6K wide is absolutely fine for any type of delivery.
Cache Record, Interval Record and S&Q
Like most of Sony’s professional cameras Burano has cache record giving up to 30 seconds of pre-record cache and an interval record function. The cache can be combined with the S&Q mode (slow and quick) for slow motion and at 120fps is still a very decent 10 seconds (immediately I start thinking about shooting lightning and thunderstorms at 120fps using the cache).
And for those that don’t want to shoot X-OCN (raw) or S-Log3 Burano does have a full custom mode with S-Cinetone and Rec-709 gamma, pretty much the same as the FX6.
It’s a box. An almost square box, no weird curves or odd shapes. Overall the camera body seems well laid out. The flat top and bottom makes mounting base plates and top plates easy. There is a V-Mount on the back, so no silly power adapters needed. On the right side of the camera there are 2 SDI connectors and HDMI connector plus connectors for genlock and timecode. You also have 2 full size XLR inputs. But there are a couple of omissions.
There is no DC power output other than a USB-C port. On a cinema camera you normally want a power output for accessories such as a follow focus or perhaps 3rd party monitor. But Burano has no power output. This means most will need to either use batteries with D-Taps or some sort of power module between the battery and camera. For the filming I’ve done with Burano I used a power breakout module between the battery and v-mount as this is a little bit safer than using D-Taps on a battery that you have to reconnect every time the battery has to be changed.
As an option you can buy an arm (Sony GPVR100) with a handgrip that is very similar to the arm used on the FX9. But the new arm includes a small lever that releases the arms pivot making it quick and easy to adjust the angle of the arm. This is a very big improvement over previous Sony arms. The new arm is also compatible with the FX6, but not the FX9.
Top Handle and LCD Mounting.
The camera is supplied with a very solid all metal top handle that bolts onto either the front or rear of the top of the camera. The handle then has a 15mm rod running through it for the viewfinder mounting system.
This IS an improvement over previous similar mounting systems as now the main support bar for the viewfinder is compatible with the Nato standard rather than Sony’s unique square rod or worse still the round rods that were in the FS7. But I do feel that the viewfinder mounting and ergonomics do let the camera down a bit, especially at the target price of 25K. There are certainly some odd design decisions.
The LCD itself has two mounting points, one on it’s rear and one on the end. It attaches to a swivel joint and then the swivel attaches to the Nato rail. The swivel joint has a fixed level of tension, it’s pretty stiff, so won’t droop or sag, even with the eyepiece attached.
The combination of 2 different mounting points on the LCD screen and two different ways the swivel can be attached to the Nato rail allows you to mount the LCD on either side of the camera, either parallel with the camera body or sticking out at 90 degrees from the body.
So far, so good.
By mounting the LCD on the right side of the camera it can be used by an assistant or AC much like the assistants control panel on a Venice. When you press the large “Home” button you get what Sony call the “Big 6” controls for frame rate, ISO, white balance, ND filter, shutter speed and monitoring.
When the Big 6 are being displayed the overlays on the SDI and HDMI are reduced to minimise clutter on an external monitor. Around the screen there are 6 buttons, one for each of the big 6 oryou can touch the screen to change the settings.
I expect most users of Burano will have the LCD screen mounted on the left side of the camera. If you attach the LCD parallel with the camera body you can then attach the high quality magnifier. This incorporates a mirror to keep the viewfinder assembly nice and compact. The housing is metal and the optics are high quality which is great. But why does it have a mirror?
You see – the LCD is a touch screen and I am sure there will be many times when you will want to use the magnifier/loupe as the screen is totally shaded from the sun so you see the correct contrast and you can see focus more easily. But with the LCD screen parallel with the camera body, when you flip the screen up, if the camera is on your shoulder, you can’t see the LCD making it impossible to use the touch functions or menus.
I know a lot of people don’t like the FX9 loupe because it’s long and plastic. But at least you could flip that up and see the screen. This one doesn’t make any sense. And what’s worse is that when you attach the viewfinder magnifier the buttons for the “Big 6” functions are inside the magnifier housing so can’t be used! Instead you’ll need to use the thumbstick which is on the far side of the LCD, hidden by the loupe assembly and tricky to get at. None of this makes any sense.
Which is such a shame, because on the LCD screen the information overlays are no longer over the image, they are around the edge of the screen and the screen itself is of reasonable quality. When used with the loupe it is a nice viewfinder and I am sure many will want to use it this way. I suspect we will see some 3rd party adapters to eliminate the mirror and then all these issues go away. One note is that the overlays are only around the edge of the image on the LCD screen. If outputting to an external monitor the overlays are over the main image (I believe there will be a later firmware update to allow the output of a monitoring image with the overlays around the outside of the image via the HDMI at some point).
Another oddity is that it isn’t easy to get more than 2 channels of audio into the camera. I have become used to having my external mics on channels 1 and 2 and then using the cameras internal mic on channel 3 and 4 as a backup. But with only 2 analog XLRs you only have 2 inputs! The camera does have a small scratch mic on the operators side, but there is no other microphone built in to the camera. There is a way to get more than 2 channels of audio in and it and it involves the use of the top handle from the FX9. On the top of the Burano camera there is a little cover and under the cover there is the same connector as there is on the top of the FX9. And, Burano can take the FX9 top handle instead of the suppled handle. This then gives you the ability to use the MI Shoe on the FX9’s handle to feed 2 more channels of audio into the camera. The FX9 handle can be purchased from a Sony dealer as a spare part. But I have to say, when you are spending 25K on a camera this is a bit disappointing. Please Sony, make a small breakout box.
Variable ND and IBIS.
Burano has Sony’s Full Frame variable ND filter system. This is so easy to use and a great feature. There is a clear position and then when the ND filter comes in the minimum ND is 2 stops going all the way to 8 stops. There is a rotary dial on the left side of the camera for variable ND, or you can set the ND filter to work in 1 stop steps which can then be controlled via the Big 6 home menu or the plus and minus buttons. The variable ND can also be controlled automatically by the cameras auto exposure system which is an interesting option particularly when shooting with PL lenses. In addition when using a Sony E-Mount lens and the variable ND is engaged you can use the “Bokeh Control” function that ties the ND filter and the lenses iris together to maintain a constant image brightness. By turning the iris control you can alter the depth of field and Bokeh while the brightness stays the same.
One of the big surprises though is the addition of IBIS in body stabilisation because for a long time Sony said that having both together wasn’t possible. IBIS works with any lens, including unstabilised PL lenses. What’s more it’s really good. There are a couple of different levels of stabilisation including an off setting. When shooting in Full Frame you are limited to the Low setting – which works very well at removing low levels of camera shake, its great for steadying up a handheld shot. When using a PL (or other non Sony E-Mount lens) you must set the focal length of the lens manually to get the best results.
When shooting using the s35 5.8K scan mode and XAVC-I or XAVC-H there is a high setting for PL and other non Sony lenses as well as an active setting for Sony E-mount lenses. This does introduce a small additional crop into the image but is very good at taking out a lot of camera shake. These modes only work when recording XAVC-H or XAVC-I, the high and active modes don’t work with X-OCN. However active mode does tend to “grab” a little bit, taking out a lot of shake and wobble until it can’t take any more out and then suddenly the image jerks a bit and then grabs a new stable position. I myself am not a big fan of the active mode, but its handy to have it in reserve for those times you are really struggling to get a stable shot, perhaps from a helicopter or boat.
One small issue with adding IBIS to a digital cinema camera is that because the sensor can move there could be small image shifts when the camera is used locked off, shut down and then restarted.
AS well as IBIS Burano has gyro sensors and the gyro data is recorded as metadata to allow footage to be stabilised in post production. To use the Gyro data IBIS should be turned off or you should use the PL Hi or E-Mount Active modes.
Autofocus with AI processing.
Burano has autofocus. It has Sony’s excellent fast hybrid autofocus system and we all know how good that is. It even has a new AI based processing chip to assist with the object tracking and human detection. The autofocus can be driven using the LCD touch screen, simply touch where you want the camera to focus and it will then track that object. It can be set to recognise “Humans” and will prioritise Humans over anything else in the shot, focussing on the profile of a human, even if they are not facing the camera and then when they turn towards the camear it will focus on the persons face or eyes. It works exceptionally well. It is also highly programmable with the usual settings for responsiveness and focus speed that we see in cameras like the FX6 and FX3.
I think it will be quite interesting to see whether high end film makers will, or will not, use autofocus. Burano gives Venice image quality but with the ability to use AF if you want. It might end up used on very big features for action scenes or other shots where focus is particularly challenging. It will be great for use on gimbals and stabilisers. The projects I have been involved have used gimbals and drones. Burano balances really easily, much more easily than a Venice on most drones and gimbals. And for drone work it is so much lighter than a Venice or most other 8K digital cinema cameras. I’ve even managed to get it balanced on a DJI RS3 (using the Cooke SP3 lenses).
So, who is it for?
Burano seems to me to be the Sony F55 replacement that so many have been looking for since the F55 was discontinued. But it’s more than that. We have seen that it is possible to shoot a big budget feature film with the Sony FX3, so there really is no reason why you can’t use Burano on very high end features. Burano isn’t that much heavier than a Sony Rialto, so I can see some productions that might have had a Rialto on set swapping the Rialto for a Burano – with Burano there is no umbilical cable to worry about.
It will be a great camera for documentary production where you want Venice image quality but without the expense or weight. Although it is worth noting that it is bigger and heavier than an FX6, so it won’t suit every production.
Wildlife productions will likely be very happy to get a camera that can deliver both 8K resolution for re-framing as well as offering different crop modes for when tighter shots are needed. The ability to switch near instantly between the different crop modes will be highly beneficial as will the speed at which the camera turns on.
A key Burano strength is its ability to shoot over sampled super 35. I think we will see a resurgence in the use of Super 35 especially for productions that need zoom lenses. There are far more lens options for Super 35 than full frame. Super 35mm lenses have been around for a very long time so there is a wealth of lenses to choose from. So, for anyone that needs a really good s35 camera Burano will be a great option. And compared to other cameras that shoot at s35, as well as the oversampling there is the dual ISO performance, Burano is great in low light. The base ISO’s are the same as Venice 2, 800 ISO at low base and 3200 ISO at high base. Even at high base the noise is minimal and quite pretty looking.
Burano will be a lower cost, high quality option for anyone that needs to deliver in 8K (as long as you don’t need to go above 30fps). Although I don’t think there are many actually doing this right now and it will be some time before 8K delivery becomes common (if it ever does). I’ve had to deliver a couple of 8K productions but they are the exception, most of what I deliver is 4K.
I think Burano will have a very broad appeal. It is perhaps a bit on the expensive side for a lot of those that currently use the FX6, and let’s face it, the FX6 does produce really nice pictures. I think it only has limited appeal for TV News, but for those shooting docs it will be a really nice choice.
But what about some of the negatives I have pointed out?
Well, I really wish they weren’t there and they are frustrating. But none of them are show stoppers. I really want the flexibility to shoot from 8K full frame to super 35, to record with 16 bit X-OCN at up to 120fps. I want the colour response and dynamic range. I love the idea of IBIS with PL lenses and autofocus with Sony lenses. I can live with only a HD SDI output when shooting full frame X-OCN, after all I don’t need to record externally when the internal X-OCN is so good. I’ll figure out how to get around the strange LCD/Loupe situation, I’m sure there will be some 3rd party solutions.
I can perhaps live with only 2 channels of audio (unless I add the FX9 top handle). So, overall I am really am excited about doing more with Burano. It fills the gap that was left when the F5 and F55 were discontinued and will be a great option for a lot of productions looking to bridge that gap between the FX9 and Venice. For many people, myself included Venice is out of my price range, Venice is a camera I rent when I need it. Burano offers most of the same image quality but at a much more affordable price, especially when media costs are factored in (the AXS cards for needed for the 8K Venice are around £4K each). Burano’s FF Crop 6K scan modes are going to be perfect for documentary productions allowing you to benefit from the near full frame 8K scan to 6K recording, it’s oversampled while halving the file size compared to recording at 8K.
When can you get one? Originally it was going to be available very early 2024, but in the last few days this has been put back to Spring 2024 – It’s going to be a long wait, but I think well worth the wait.
For the launch videos I helped shoot: https://alphauniverse-mea.com/burano/
More information can be found here: https://pro.sony/en_GB/cinematography/cinematography-events/cinealta-burano