Thanks to the good folks over at LSV and Sony, I was able to spend an hour or two with the new Sony F55 CineAlta 4K digital cinema camera. Of course the big draw of this camera is it’s ability to shoot 4K raw (with the AXS-R5 recorder), its global shutter, and the ultra-wide color gamut of its big brother the F65.
I wanted to get some test footage of both the Sony RAW and XAVC flavors of 4K and drop them in Resolve and push them around a bit, to see how they held up in grading. This is not a really exhaustive test, as we only had the camera for about three hours, and it was beta firmware. It’s more of a first look and general idea of what you’d get out of the shipping model.
The shot we chose was to really test the dynamic range of the camera, (Sony claims 14 stops). So we went out in the harsh afternoon sun of Singapore. We stood under a shaded awning with the full sun on a bright white building behind us (I believe that was 8 stops or so brighter than us).
One surprise is that the Sony RAW files seem to be (comparatively) very easy on the processor. It cuts like butter! On my 2012 MacBook Pro I was able to playback half-res Sony 4K on Resolve in realtime with my gpu bar totally green. I can only get realtime playback on quarter-res on RED files, and can only hit about 10fps on ArriRaw. So this seems like a great thing for DIT’s delivering quick dailies without expensive GPU’s and processor cards like Red Rockets to be needed. However you do pay the price in camera, as you need Sony’s AXSM memory cards and the AXS-R5 recorder to play in the RAW realm. DIT’s should note that you will also need to buy ANOTHER card reader, in this case the AXS-CR1 for yet another proprietary media card format.
You can also record internally to the SxS slots in Sony’s compressed XAVC codec. XAVC encoding, takes much less space on your drives of course, however you really pay the price in processing power needed to encode and decode the h.264 based 4K material. Just playing back with one node results in a pokey 10fps on my MacBook Pro. The codec in 4K is 4:2:2 10bit , which is nice in and of itself, but really pales in comparison to the Sony RAW. The RAW is just so much more versatile and dynamic to color with it’s hard to go back!
For future proofing, it’s great that Sony records in an ultra-wide color gamut. Once we enter the brave new ACES world it should really make a difference. That will probably be my next test, is trying a complete end to end ACES workflow, as this camera has the gamut to spare, and it will be interesting to see how it reacts to different output transforms.