I was lucky enough to recently have the chance to do some hands on testing of the prototypes of the Sony F5 and F55 cameras as well as the R5 dockable RAW Recorder. There has been such a rush of great new cameras over the last few years and I had started to think I wasn’t going to get really excited about a new camera again, but Sony have hit it out of the ballpark with these ones.
The F5 and F55 use slightly different 4k image sensors. The F55 matches the colour gamut of Sony’s top of the range F65 and completely eliminates the rolling shutter effect otherwise known as “jello-cam” that affects almost all CMOS sensors to some extent. We did some simple tests by waving the two cameras around and there is a subtle rolling shutter effect visible on the F5 and it’s not present on the F55.
They both have the choice of recording in Sony’s new XAVC, a sophisticated variant of h.264 that uses 10 bit colour depth and 4:2:2 colour sampling with the F5 going up to 2k resolution in XAVC and the F55 recording in full 4k to the internal cards in XAVC.
Both cameras can work with the R5 dockable recorder in the 4k 16 bit RAW format common with the top end F65. The R5 docks quite seamlessly to the camera body with no cables required.
To put that all into perspective, per colour channel the XAVC records 4 times the amount of colour and brightness information as a standard 8 bit recording.
The 16 bit RAW records a staggering 64 times as many colour and brightness variations as 10 bit.
That’s 64 times as much information as a Cineon film scan… and that’s per channel and per pixel at full 4k resolution. This equates to a vast amount of latitude for processing and great subtlety of colour tones.
In processing the test footage, I really felt like I had all of the quality and responsiveness of doing things in camera but with consistency and freedom of doing them in post. I felt that it fully delivers on the promise of RAW recording.
If you want to know more detail on the myriad of configuration and recording options, John Fauer ASC at Film & Digital Times has an great, 96 page booklet on the cameras that is a free download, so I won’t go over all of that info here.
With very limited time to test the cameras, I decided to do a simple series of exposure tests, to see how it performed and how it was to use.
Look Up Tables
The first thing people will notice when they start looking at the F5 and F55 footage in Sony’s excellent RAW Viewer application or with the SLog2-Rec709 LUT’s in colour grading is that they tend to look a a bit video-ish or a bit too “punchy” for want of a better word.
So with the normally exposed footage I’ve started developing a LUT that has a gentler, more film-like look and I feel it’s already a much better starting point for grading.
One thing about shooting RAW is that many of these decisions that used to be made in camera are now completely controlled in post.
I’ll post updates here so if you want to be kept up to date as this LUT progresses, you’re welcome to subscribe in the sidebar to the right.
While they lack glamour, I find that exposure tests are a very practical tool for getting to know a camera and forming a workable understanding of how it performs.
Looking at the uncorrected over & under images, gives a good idea of what to expect if you’re lighting part of a scene or frame a certain amount over or under.
Inspired by the way Kodak have always done exposure tests, I then try to correct them back to normal. This gives me an idea of how much exposure latitude (correctable range) there is, as opposed to dynamic range (the range from the darkest to lightest things that can be captured in the same shot).
For these tests I set exposure by taking incident light readings from in front of the subject’s face, pointed directly at the camera for a balanced reading. In a reflected reading the highlight side of his face is an extra stop over.
This footage has been processed with the standard REC-709 LUT.
Personally, I find those results to be quite remarkable and beyond what I would expect from any other camera I’ve tested – including film. To be 4 stops over exposed and have it not only useable, but really quite normal is astonishing. As someone remarked at the launch, “if you’re 4 stops overexposed and haven’t noticed… you’ve got bigger problems than whether it will correct back!”
These are impressive cameras on paper but even the prototypes exceeded my expectations, so I’m looking forward to seeing the production models in the next couple of months.
Thanks to Ella Gibbins and Jason Wynan on my camera team, Nick Buchner and Anthony Kable from Sony for making the cameras available and all the crew at Lemac for putting a very functional shooting kit together in virtually no time.
I’ve converted each shot of the RAW exposure tests to a single 10-Bit S-Log2 DPX frame that you’re welcome to download. You’ll see that they don’t have quite the latitude of the original RAW images, but closer to the correct exposure they respond very nicely. We ask for a valid email address to make sure only genuine downloaders are using our bandwidth on these big files. Enjoy!