Sony’s 4K Bombshell: F5, F55 and Prime Family

Posted in Equipment, Video by Nathan Lee Bush on November 1, 2012

While residents in the New York Region were stumbling (or kayaking) out of their dwellings after the semi-apocalyptic Sandy on Tuesday, Sony gifted area filmmakers with a bit of solace as they tried to ignore that tree branch through the window and the water sloshing in the basement.

Even a storm closing the NYSE two days running for the first time since 1888 wasn’t enough to stop Sony from announcing a dizzying array of digital cinema goodies to update and extend its already formidable offerings. From two new 4k premium CineAlta bodies to PL prime lenses to the long-awaited solution unleashing 4K FS700 output to the first global shutter on a digital camera(!!!), there’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started…

Sony F5

The Sony F5 looks to be a placed as a complement to the F3, not a complete replacement. Pricing is unspecified but I speculate it assuming the pricing of the F3 at launch, probably stacked to against the C300, with the F3 taking a step in the direction of FS700 pricing, where it will still be differentiated by its S-Log and chroma sampling rates for users not in need of high framerates.

The F5 is an impressive top-to-bottom revamp addressing the F3’s few shortcomings, adding modularity, raw horsepower robust build and generous new internal and external codecs. Sporting a RED-style modular system and an Alexa style interface, the camera has borrowed some of the strongest elements of these two rivals. It also promises tons of pro recording options on-board, though with the caveat that many marquee features will arrive with firmware upgrades at unspecified future dates.

The newly designed Super 35 sensor is capable of quite a lot natively out of the box. Upon release, it will record a C300ish 8 bit MPEG-2 HD with 4:2:2 color at 50Mbps internally to SxS media, which will fit comfortably into existing broadcast workflows. But promised firmware updates will support an impressive cadre of internal recording formats, like 10-bit, 100 Mbps XAVC HD 2K at 4:2:2 at up to 120fps with no loss in resolution or line skipping, as well as Hollywood-grade SR codec, 10-bit recording up to 440 Mbps with 4:4:4 color.

But it’s when Sony’s coming AXS-R5 (recording to proprietary SSD media called AXSM) is affixed to the body (no cables needed), that the full potential of the sensor is unleashed, allowing 4K or derived 2K, 16-bit RAW recording with 14 stops of dynamic range. 16-bit RAW records more tonal range than the eye can perceive and 64 times the tonal information of a 10-bit image. We’re in EPIC territory here at somewhere around half the price (notably, RED CEO Jim Jannard posted a few days in advance of the announcement about a substantial price drop for EPICs and its peripherals is on the way). As the Blackmagic Cinema Camera has shown in early tests, RAW, with its enormous dynamic range potential, can make the critical difference in finishing flexibility.

Removing the PL mount adapter reveals an FZ mount, which also allows compatibility through adapters to a huge range of other mounts, including Canon EF, Canon FD, Nikon DX, Nikon G and Leica M.

In a nice flourish, simultaneous recording to the AXS-R5 and SxS cards allows synced capture of 4K/2K RAW + XAVC 2K*/HD and 4K/2K RAW + MPEG-2 HD422 combinations. And Sony continues to lead the way with high framerate options, with the AXS-R5 recorder allowing for 120 fps in 2K RAW.

Sony F55

First, the marquee feature, as the F5’s big brother represents a milestone in motion picture technology, offering the first global shutter on a digital cinema camera. This means a complete elimination of the skewing inherent in rolling shutters. For the first time in recent memory, the “jello effect” will not be at the back of the DP’s mind when planning a shot.

The F55 also steps up the high speed pressure, offering a mind-boggling 240fps in 2K 16-bit RAW with the AXS-R5 recorder.

It also borrows the color filter array technology from the F65, which Sony claims offers a color gamut beyond film.

Accessories and Lenses

Sony fleshed out out its peripheral ecosystem solutions with a line of affordable, 4K PL primes and accessories to round out the system, like rigs, monitors and EVFs, and media.

The understated T2.0 CineAlta lenses come in 20, 25, 35, 50, 85 and 135 mm with all but the last the same size, allowing for quick swapping. The focus rings rotate 240° and the iris has nine blades for super-smooth bokeh.

A new line of monitoring options include the DVF-EL100 .7 inch OLED viewfinder with 720p resolution, DVF-L3503.5-inch* LCD viewfinder with 960 x 540 resolution and DVF-L700 7-inch LCD viewfinder.

And for those seeking a complete top-to-bottom Sony getup, it is also planning a custom, industry standard rig suited especially to these cameras.

FS700 4K

The promised update to the FS700 to allow RAW 4K recording at up to 60fps has been announced with the HXR-IFR5 interface connecting via 3G HD SDI to the AXS-R5 recorder. The unit is due next Spring.

Sony on the Warpath

With Sony’s last four cinema cameras outputting in 4K or 4K ready, Sony is clearly betting that a future-proof workflow incorporates this standard of tomorrow in today’s HD world. With its pricing strategy, offering RED-like features without the attendant luxury prices, Sony continues its aggressive bid to offer more for less, bringing these once near-mythical standards to broader and broader segments of the film community.

The highly modular and accessory-supported system now feels like a full-fledged Camera Department solution requiring minimal third party modding, a huge advantage for DPs and productions looking for an all-in-one package.

With announcements measured in months rather than years in our hyperdrive technological age, its’ a matter of time until we see Canon and RED’s retort. I’ll wait until price and release dates firm up, but for the moment, Sony has a compelling bid for the finest overall cinema camera system around.

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  1. […] days after Sony’s 4K bomb dropped, with the F5 and F55, RED CEO Jim Jannard announced an across-the-board price cut on the […]

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