After months of carefully orchestrated suspense, Sony have finally revealed #TheNewF. The announcement sees two new cameras join the line-up: the PMW-F55 and PMW-F5. These cameras bridge the gap between the PMW-F3 and the F65, while Sony are also bringing several new feature updates to the existing range to extend the capabilities of the F65 and FS700.
The key driver behind the new releases and announcements is 4K. Sony have been talking about working beyond HD, but the reality so far has been that their 4K offerings have been well beyond the reach of many, or simply “4K capable” without any real functionality. While it’s exciting to talk about and look at the new toys, it’s also important to understand some of the technical innovations that have seen Sony draw on their established codec and sensor heritage to deliver what looks to be their strongest camera lineup for many years.
The innovations for the new cameras are from the ground up in terms of form, function and codec. The PMW-F55 and PMW-F5 cameras have the same modular design and the same sensor specs, but there are key differences in what the cameras offer in their feature set.
Sony have clearly looked at the market and listened to people about what they want (and, in all honesty, what other cameras are offering). The new F-series cameras offer a fantastic modular design with the functionality and scalability of the camera built-in – not just in the physical camera body itself, but also the recording media and codec.
Both cameras use the same chassis, and both have an F-series lens mount that’ll let you use the Prime and zoom lenses that came to market with the PMW-F3. As with the F3, the camera will come with a FZ to PL mount adaptor designed to work with Arri or Cooke Primes. From a distance, without seeing the model number or accessing the features, the only way to tell these cameras apart is from the lens mount collar – the F55 has a siiver collar and the F5 has a black collar.
Key differences: The F55 and the F5
For the PMW-F55 and PMW-F5, Sony have developed a new Super 35mm 4K sensor with a resolution of 4096×2160. While both cameras have this sensor, there are a few key differences in how they utilise it.
The F55 sits under the F65 in Sony’s lineup, and sports the highly regarded CineAlta badge. It borrows a lot of technological innovations from Sony’s flagship Cinema camera, it has a Super 35 4K CMOS sensor and, most importantly, a new global shutter technology that means vastly decreased artifacting and addresses the CMOS rolling shutter issue. It’s also got the same wide colour gamut as the F65.
The Key difference is that the PMW-F55 offers internal 4K recording to SxS Pro + cards at up to 60fps and 2K/HD at up 180fps in Sony’s new XAVC 422 10-bit 80Mbps codec. The camera also offers a 4K output via 4 x 3G-SDI at 60fps, or HDMI 1.4a at 30fps.
The F55 also has the ability to simultaneously record XAVC 4K files and HD MPEG files to the same SxS Pro + card. As well as enabling you to have an instant back-up copy, it means you can use the MPEG version of your footage as a hi-res proxy for on-set work, then send the XAVC version off to post facilities to be cut and finished – all without an external recorder.
As mentioned, the design of the cameras is identical, but the F5 in its base form is mostly limited to HD and (although there is a token offering of 2K with the new XAVC codec). This isn’t a negative point on the camera at all, as for the first time you’ll be able to deliver a number of Sony’s established HD formats from one camera. This includes broadcast friendly 50Mps XDCAM 422, HDCam SR 422 / 444 (at up to 30fps) and also high frame rates of up to 120fps in HD/2K using the XAVC 422 codec.
As part of the modular design of the new camera body, Sony have also announced a dockable 4K RAW recorder, the AXS-R5. Seamlessly fitting onto the back of the camera thanks to a proprietary locking mechanism, the unit uses a new card media called AXS, which is designed to be a low cost way to record RAW.
The new F-series cameras record the same RAW output as the Sony F65, which has a data rate of 1.2Gbps or roughly 5Mb a frame, and the new AXS has been announced at a capacity of 512GB, which roughly translates to one hour of footage at 30fps. To accompany the card, Sony have also announced a standalone USB 3.0 card reader, the AXS-CR1, allowing card contents to quickly be copied / backed up and sent back to the camera for further recording.
Both the PMW-F55 and PMW-F5 can output 4k RAW to the R5 at high frame rates, but only the F55 can output 2K RAW at up to 240fps – the F5 can only achieve 120fps at 2K RAW.
In keeping with their new, modular philosophy, Sony are offering a choice of three viewfinders. One of the most exciting announcements in this round of releases is the DVF-EL100, first professional OLED viewfinder. A 0.7″, 1280×720 unit, this should be a key part of any f55 kit. (There is also a more cost-effective 3.5″ flip up LCD viewfinder, the DVF-L350, that delivers a 960×640 image). For a more studio style setup, Sony have announced the DVF-L700, which is a 7″ 1920×1080 LCD colour monitor that mounts directly on to the camera body. These new viewfinders work with the F5, F55 and F65.
The final element of the modular design is a new version of Sony’s BP batteries. Not only do they perfectly compliment the form factor of the camera, they also provide a higher capacity and charge faster than existing sony BPGL V-Lock batteries, but the new cameras’ V-Lock mounts mean they will accept older batteries (though they won’t look as nice!).
The NEX-FS700 and the F65
Sony’s “4K ready” FS700 is about to become 4K capable, thanks to support for Sony’s new 4K recorder, the AXS-R5. We’re yet to see it physically mounted on the camera, but it will use a new V-mount plate that attaches to the R5 to allow it to receive power and inputs from the FS700. The F65 itself is getting a firmware upgrade that’ll allow you to take advantage of its massive sensor to capture and de-mosaic 6K and 8K footage. Now a real killer feature of this is that footage which has already been shot in 4K RAW can be unlocked to the full 8K resolution, which is great news for anyone with an who’s already an F65 user.
Sony have also announced a 4K monitor, the 30″ PVM-X300. Although it’s not the OLED we’d all hoped for, it’s going to provide a cost-effective way to view 4K material at 4096×2160 resolution. The IPS LCD will provide a wide viewing angle, while incorporating Sony’s Trimaster technology architecture to achieve fantastic colour and pick quality. An idle companion to the new F-series cameras, it will support 4K at 24p and 3840×2160 at 24, 25 and 30p. It will have 4 x 3G-SDI and a HDMI 1.4a that is designed to work natively with the f55, allowing you to connect the camera via a single HDMI cable to view 4K – perfect for onset work.
Sony are also making a direct SxS 4K player available that will allow you to play back XAVC 4K material directly from the SXS Pro + card, and control it from the monitor’s control panel. Full details of this are still to be announced, but it’s an option that will be available after launch of the monitor in spring 2013.
So what does this mean for your 4K workflow?
Well, you’re about to get far more options. That R5 4K recorder means that you’ll no longer have to shell out for a top of the line camera to get access to full 4K imagery, and the ability to record native 4K footage from a PMW-F5 or PMW-F55 to optimised media alongside an MPEG proxy will be helpful for on-set teams who don’t have the time or the bandwidth to work with 4K and need instant proxies, or anyone who’s going to be shooting 50Mbps for TV one day and working on high-end film production the next.
Sony’s SxS Pro + and AXS cards are going to be able to handle the high bitrates you need for an effective 4K workflow (4k at 60fps 4:2:2 is around 600Mbps), and the new monitor provides a simple way to monitor at full resolution – the information we have so far suggests its basically a plug-and-play accessory.