25th September 2014
The Prokit team were recently at the IBC Show in Amsterdam checking out the latest kit. In the world of cameras, here's what caught our eye the most...
Talk of the show was the new Sony FS7, a Super35mm 4K/UHD model that wedges itself between the existing FS700 and F5 cameras. It records to XQD cards in the XAVC format and will be able to output 4K raw via an optional adapter. The E-mount is easily adaptable so it will be easy to put on Canon, PL mount and, Nikon lenses.
The key feature of the FS7 – aside from internal UHD recording- is the ergonomic design of the body and handgrip. We tried it out and it worked very well indeed: It felt balanced on the shoulder, the extendable handgrip lets you keep your arm at a more comfortable lower level than most ENG style cameras and the viewfinder was right in the eye-line.
It seems that Sony have listened to the industry’s demand for more ergonomic camera bodies and in the FS7 they have created an attractive, affordable 4K capable model that few competitors can match in their current line ups.
Continuing the XAVC theme, Sony have more or less replaced the PMW-150 and PMW-200 with two new “PXW” models. The PXW-200 uses a ½” sensor and new 17x Zoom lens, making it the step up from PMW-200 as the XAVC codec will allow 12 bit imagery at high framerates. It has two 1/3” sensor sibling, the PMW-160 and PMW-180 which are – as you may have guessed – the XAVC step up from the PMW-150 with a new 25x optical zoom. The PXW-160 and 180 are essentially the same camera, with the 180 adding some wireless capability ie "remote control via a smartphone or tablet computer using a Wi-Fi connection, and recorded video files can be transferred from the camcorder to smartphone in MP4 format".
Sony’s PXW-X70 was also on display. This is a low cost XAVC recording camera with a curious quirk: A 1” sensor. This size of sensor ought to bring its depth of field more in with Super 16mm, and at only £1980 + vat it looks to use like an ideal entry level handheld or second camera.
Sony's introduction of the XAVC recording codec into the PMW-300 was also on display. You might ask: Why not implement XAVC in the PMW-200/100 in the same way as they have in the 300, ie a firmware update, negating the need for new models? Well, put simply, the hardware/processing power on the 200 and 100 wouldn't be able to handle the extra bitdepth, bitrate and chroma-subsampling so therefore new models were required.
How will XAVC affect the competition and market in general?
It is no exaggeration to assume that Sony's decision to roll out XAVC into affordable, handheld models is likely to act as the catalyst for a proliferation of affordable 4K solutions over the next few years from all manufacturers. With XAVC, we have a format not only capable of increased spacial resolution (2K, 4K), but also increased bitdepth, bitrate and chroma subsampling. Why are these things good? Well, increasing bitdepth allows for a greater number of colours to be represented, ultimately reducing the risk of colour banding in images with highly graduated tonal elements. Increasing bitrate beyond 24mbps or even 50mbps reduces the likelihood of compression artefacts in highly detailed images - and makes it more likely that your camera will be "broadcast legal". Pushing the chroma subsampling rate from 4:2:0 to 4:2:2 allows for more information on the green/luminosity channel and will result cleaner, easier chroma-key work on greenscreen. On top of all of that, XAVC is capable of high speed recording, giving camerapeople, DPs and directors a creative freedom not previously possible on models in this price range.
So, that's the practical side of this new format. But there's something else at work here: Sony are effectively saying that 2K/4K/high bitdepth/high bitrate/high framrate capability is no longer just the preserve of camcorders over £10K. They are laying down a roadmap that doesn't say "this recording codec for this market, and that recording codec for that market". Instead, Sony are effectively harmonising their pro-camcorder range with this XAVC implementation as standard: The differentiating factor between the models becoming physical (ergonomics, sensor side, lens mount, media etc) rather than internal bitrate and bitdepths.
It's a decision and direction that will no doubt be examined closely (with concern and envy) by other manufacturers with similar products and customer bases. If XAVC was the pebble, then the FS7 is the rock...and the next few years will reveal the breadth of the - very much 4K - avalanche.
Some people have – perhaps unkindly – concluded that the Blackmagic URSA appears to be the Production Camera sensor with an iPad stuck to the side. Well, we’ll let you come to your own conclusion regarding its appearance, but what we learnt at IBC was that the URSA has a whole lot more processing going on behind it than its diminutive 4K predecessor. This extra signal processing ought to improve the noise levels at higher ISOs. We saw some URSA footage and it was very impressive.
The I/O Industries 2K Flare has been a popular point-of-view 2/3” sensor camcorder for the last couple of years, so it was only natural that the company would go towards a 4K solution. Behold the Flare 4K, complete with Super 35mm sensor. At the show it was displayed with 4K recording options such as the Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q and the AJA KiPro Quad.
Although the Flare 4K is quite a bit larger than its 2K sibling, its small form-factor (relative to other 4K systems) opens up many shooting possibilities where perhaps a larger 4K camera would be impractical. Moreover the appetite in the stereoscopic 3D world for an ultra-compact 4K solution has never quite been satisfied: Epic and F55 are still a bit big, and the SI2K (and other minicam solutions) aren’t high resolution enough. Could this be the 4K Stereoscopic game-changer?
Interesting times lay ahead. In further IBC round-up blogs we'll be looking at new monitors from Small HD and Marshall, as well as out new exclusive Orca Bag range, new LED heads, along with Arri and Shape grip.
(Today's blog by Stuart Dennis)