Sony dropped the F bomb: announces F5, F55 4K cameras

October 30th, 2012 Jump to Comment Section 2

This is a guest post by Nino Leitner. Read on for a full in depth look at Sony’s new cinema line of cameras.

Introduction

After teasing us for ages, Sony today announced what has already been all over town:

The Sony F5 & F55 cameras were just announced, alongside an entire range of workflow infrastructure that goes along with. It is one of the most massive announcements of new cameras to date, with Sony showing of a lot of “F” squarely aimed at challenging Red with their Epic, Canon with their C300/C500 and even Arri with their Alexa. Sony is truly flexing their muscles and showing off what they do best, providing entire production pipelines to go along with their cameras.

There’s a completely new codec, a 4K 30 inch monitor, new and faster SxS cards for high frame rate acquisition of this new codec (XAVC, see below), an all-new lineup of their prime lenses, even new batteries. Insane!

But let’s start with the most important bit …

Sony F5 & F55
The two cameras feature the same exact body and 4K sensor, with the only visible difference being the silver ring around the mount of the F55. The F5 is positioned as a direct competitor to the C500, with 1080p/2K internal recording at up to 120fps. I have to add that both the F5 and the F55 seem to ship with “only” up to 60fps 1080p at the beginning, but with a “planned free upgrade” they will be able to shoot 120fps in XAVC 2k/HD on board (F5/F55), and 120fps raw with the optional AXS-R5 outboard recorder. The F55 will be able to record up to 180fps internally in XAVC 2K/HD, and 240fps 2K raw with the AXS-R5. Confusing!

Here are Sony’s details on the F5 frame rates:

High speed shooting at up to 120 fps in 2K
From stunts and explosions to the fall of a single raindrop, high-speed shooting is a powerful storytelling tool.

  • 60 fps out of the box (XAVC HD).
  • 120 fps with a planned upgrade (XAVC 2K/HD). Unique to this process, there is no line skipping or sensor windowing. So there’s no crop factor, no loss in angle of view.
  • 120 fps 2K RAW, with the optional AXS-R5 outboard recorder and a planned upgrade, achieves high frame rates while retaining exceptional, 16-bit image quality. This not only exceeds 12-bit RAW with 16 times as many Red, Green and Blue gradations. By design, it exceeds the capabilities of human vision!

F55 frame rates:

High speed shooting at up to 240 fps in 2K
From stunts and explosions to the fall of a single raindrop, high-speed shooting is a powerful storytelling tool.

  • 60 fps out of the box (XAVC HD at launch; XAVC 4K, QFHD and 2K with a planned upgrade)
  • 180 fps with a planned upgrade (XAVC 2K/HD). Unique to this process, there is no line skipping or sensor windowing. So there’s no crop factor, no loss in angle of view.
  • 240 fps 2K RAW, with the optional AXS-R5 outboard recorder and a planned upgrade, achieves the highest frame rates most productions will need, while retaining exceptional, 16-bit image quality. This not only exceeds 12-bit RAW with 16 times as many Red, Green and Blue gradations. By design, it exceeds the capabilities of human vision!

The Sony AXS-R5 raw recorder
(rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) for 4K raw with the F5

Only the F55 will be able to record 4K internally, also in the new XAVC codec. The F5 needs the external recorder for 4K acquisition – just like a C500. With the biggest difference being that Canon doesn’t do their own recorder, meaning that you have to get a third-party solution like the upcoming KiPro Quad or the Gemini 444 recorder with its promised 4k upgrade. The downside? Cables running from the camera to the recorder, and that’s the main problem I have with external recorders. Sony’s new AXS-R5 recorder (how do they come up with these names, seriously??) just sticks on the back of the F5/F55 without any fuss – very neat solution indeed!

The F5 ONLY outputs 4K in raw … there seems to be no possibility to the 4K XAVC codec out of the F5. For the output, both cameras feature 4 SDI-ports.

Sony says both the F5 and F55 have a 14 stop exposure latitude. If this holds true it will on par or even beat Canon, very impressive. And in 16 bit colour depth.

The native mount is the FZ mount like on the F3, but with an included PL adapter.

Global Shutter in the F55

Sony has impressively pulled off something that we have been waiting for years since the first CMOS sensors were introduced: they managed to build a global electronic shutter for their F55, meaning that this camera will know no rolling shutter artifacts like we have them on all other CMOS based cameras to a certain degree. That means it is possible to use this cameras much more easily for fast movement and action shoots. No more skewed buildings, trucks and so on! This is a massive development and hopefully it will find its way into all new cameras sooner or later. It was probably the only still remaining downside of CMOS sensors compared to traditional CCD sensors.

Codec

That brings us to one of the most interesting innovations: Sony has a new codec build into the F5 and F55 (after a planned upgrade, they say – which seems to mean that it’s not finished when the cameras initially ship), XAVC HD/2K (F5/F55) and XAVC 4K (QFHD) (F55 only), which are a great combination of efficiency and quality. Both are 4:2:2 10bit, with the HD variety at 100Mbps and the 4K variety at 300Mbps.
Efficient codecs are extremely important and getting more important all the time with higher resolutions – simply because raw footage is really hard to stomach especially with high resolutions. It’s something that everybody asks for but also something that hardly anyone can actually handle in post production. The 2.5K raw image out of a blackmagic cinema camera, for instance, takes up 256GB in little over 30 minutes. Imagine how much data you will create with in 4k raw. It’s something not even Hollywood TV series shoot at, they mainly use the ProRes option that the Arri Alexa offers, rather than the raw recording that’s also possible. I recently shot footage for the NBC series Grimm on the C300 in Vienna (to be aired in the coming episodes) – talking about “overkill” with raw footage!!So the XAVC codec is very promising and that’s Sony really showing its strengths over Canon – Canon only recently got into the cinema game, and I am a big fan and owner of a C300, as I have stated many times before, but they don’t have the capacity for codec development as companies like Sony or Panasonic do. Actually, the 50Mbps 4:2:2 codec used in the C300 is great, but my guess is that it’s under license from Sony’s XDCAM HD codec. Sony on the other hand seemingly put quite a bit development effort into the XAVC codec and it FINALLY replaces the 4:2:0 XDCAM EX codec which was great when it was first released with the EX1/3 – but it was totally underpowered for the Sony F3, which is a camera that can deliver SO much more, but only with external recording. I expect Sony to bury that codec now with XAVC coming.

It’s a bit surprising that the codec is scheduled to be released as a free upgrade after the cameras’ scheduled release date in January/February 2012 … so I think development is still happening as we speak. I expect them to release all these free upgrades regarding this codec (which also seems to include the internal 4K recording capability for the F55) right at NAB 2013, because it neatly takes place in April. That should give them enough time and that’s probably what they are aiming for (thanks for that added thought, Johnnie!).

To find out more about Sony’s new SxS cards, the AXSM SSD’s, new Sony PL lenses and the camera’s ergonomics please read the rest of Nino Leitner’s guest post on his blog here: LINK

Pricing & Availability

Pricing has yet to be announced, but rumor has it that the F5 will be around $18K, with the F55 kicking in at a whopping $50K. The external raw recorder AXS-R5 might be around $10K which will also allow for 4K recording on Sony’s FS700

The cameras will arrive in February 2013. Accurate pricing will be announced soon.

Nino Leitner says the F5 will allow the use of third party 4K recorders via HD-SDI.

You can pre-order this bank account sweeper at B&H: LINK

And we also have another discount pre-order code for Europe, but the final pricing is not official there yet, so you can only make a deposit for pre-order:
CODE: 311212C5DF55 (gives you 500€ off, for what it’s worth)
Insert at checkout when pre-ordering the Sony F5 or Sony F55 at A.F. Marcotec.

Click here to download the full press release from Sony as a PDF.

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