We’re a video production company, so it’s not uncommon for us to get excited about a new camera, but this time it’s different. When we saw the new Sony F55 Digital Cinema Camera at the NAB conference a few weeks ago, it was love at first sight.
We knew this camera was special, powerful, and pretty freaking amazing. But you don’t have to take our word for it, we sat down and geeked out with Michael Kramer, Research and Development Manager at Keslow Camera, the premiere motion picture digital cinema and film camera rental house.
What is 4K? The chief feature that has us excited about the F55 is that it is a 4K camera. Kramer broke down what that means, explaining that currently most broadcasts and Blu-rays offer a resoluion of 1080p; the F55 is a 4K, which equals 4096 x 2160 pixels. While 1080p is perfectly suitable for home entertainment, the industry is transitioning to digital cinema. “Manufacturers [are] striving to achieve resolutions that equal those of motion picture films,” explains Kramer, “If you went to a movie and were looking at a 1080p image compared to a 4K scan you would probably walk out and wait for the DVD release.”
Here’s a graphic to help illustrate the difference:
Will the inclusion of 4K alter one’s workflow in post production? There are a lot of differing opinions on 4K and post. With the current level of sophistication in post production technology some feel 4K acquisition isn’t really necessary yet, and, until the software can keep up, it could make some aspects of workflow more time consuming. Kramer asserts that “VFX driven films will certainly push for the 4K acquisition. Dialogue driven features, probably not so much.” It’s too soon to say, says Kramer, “Until we have more 4K content and more 4K consumer displays available, lower resolution acquisition will remain the choice.”
What’s the big difference with the Sony F55? Compared to other manufacturers such as Arri, RED, Canon etc, the Sony F55’s largest point of difference is its sensor, the Bayer pattern sensor. “Sony is the only manufacturer to position the Bayer pattern in a diagonal configuration, allowing for more green photo sites to be in the image area.” Green photo sites are responsible for luminance, so, Kramer explains, “Sony is able to achieve a very impressive low light sensitivity, unmatched, in my opinion, to any other manufacturer.” However, when it comes to build quality, Kramer feels the F55 is lacking, “It has the feel of a prosumer camcorder compared to an Arri Alexa, for example.” Meanwhile, the F55 feature sets are comparable to other manufacturers.
To upgrade, or not to upgrade, that is the question? At SolidLine we currently work with a Sony F3. We’re excited about the technological advances with the F55, but asked Kramer what he sees as the pros and cons of upgrading. Here is what he said:
Future-proof–With manufacturers increasing their product line to include 4K consumer displays the F55 will be the leader in the market for some time
More versatile than a F3 camera
High-speed SxS Pro+ memory card recording--allows the choice of 8-bit mPEG-2 HD422 ta 50 mbps, 10-bit XAVC 2K/HD at 100 mbps, SR Codec 10-bit MPEG4 SStP at 220/440/880 mbps and XAVC 4K/QFHD at 300 mbps.
Higher color gammut Global shutter–Completely eliminates motion skew and other distortions common with the more traditional “rolling shutter.”
Bugs–It’s common for new cameras to come with a few bugs and features not yet fixed or enabled. However, new firmwares are released quickly to either remove bugs or improve stability.
High data rate and transcoded times–Not your workflows’ best friend.
So where do we go from here?–The trend recently has been to lighten the budget for the lighting department. So, for Kramer, the biggest feature/improvement with the F55 is regarding the sensitivity in low light. “Our clients are lighting much differently than with the earlier digital cameras.” Explains Kramer, “Fortunately, the cameras are getting more sensitive and have a much larger ISO range, but they still want more.” A higher resolution is great, but needs to be balanced with a higher ISO sensitivity.
At SolidLine, we’re excited to see where the advancements of the F55 and further 4K acquisitions will lead. Until then, we’re going to keep doing what we do best: producing excellent videos and geeking out about all of the amazing technological twists and turns of our industry.
Thank you to Michael Kramer and the always helpful and pioneering Keslow Camera. Keslow Camera houses the industry’s finest technicians and continues to design and inspire unique high-quality accessories, unmatched by its peers.