T.Stops Blog

First Look: Sony F55 4K Digital Cinema Camera

In this installment of Tstops, I had the fortunate luck to have a few hours with a pre production Sony F55.

For an indepth look at its features, please watch this video. Its long, but very detailed.

The F55, the latest in Sony’s lineup of 4K Digital cinema cameras, is quite the interesting piece of kit.  In the brief time I had with it, with my friend and industry insider Ned Soltz and I only got to gloss over it features and functions.  That said I can give my preliminary thoughts.

What the F55 offers is a major refinement of their digital cinema line.  The increase of features from the former F3 and F35, their 1080p s35 digital cinema cameras, is most notably, 4k recording and a small light weight form factor.

The F55 also utilizing the latest Sony technology derived from the flagship F65.   The use of 16bit ultra wide color gamut, and the end to end 16 bit architecture that enables its capture is a significant benchmark of performance at its approximately $34,900 price tag. That architecture, the powerful computer inside the F55, is fed by a 8k global shutter CMOS sensor based on the one found in the F65 ( a first for this price range).  This means no jello, no wobble, and proper flash reproduction.

Sadly, as of now, there is a limited ability to view, edit and grade the footage.  So unfortunately  i cant really show anything.  Perhaps soon, when the mainstream editing and grading suites become compatible with the  new XAVC codec, we can show our sample footage.

The model we reviewed was an engineering sample, so much of it did not function, and much of its ergonomics are not quite done yet.

The basics are this:

-4k on borad in a 600mbps Intra Frame H264 based 10 bit codec.   It will record in sLog2, which is an aggressive sLog curve that maintains all the information in the signal. It will also record a 1080P down res in the same codec.

-The 4K RAW recorder attaches to the back as seen above, and will record 4k RAW in a 3:1 compression to a proprietary 512gig card.

-The PL mount is interchangeable with other forth coming mounts.  Electronic EF mount is on the way.

-The connectivity is top notch, as it has up to 4 SDI outs likely LUT selectable as per need.  It will also out put 4K across the four SDI ports to a capture device if necessary  Some thing like a Gemini, or a KiPro Quad.

-It runs only on Vmount batteries as its battery plate is built into the body.   An AB->Vmount adapter will enable  AB batteries to be used.

-Eventually Mpeg2 XDcam and HDCAMSR will be enabled.

-Eventually High Frame Rates up to 240 FPS will be enabled as well in 4K. ( SUPER COOL)

-Global Shutter.  THIS IS AWESOME.  No more wobble, skew, flash banding, or jello.   Flicker will no longer be a scrolling bar.   This makes the lives of VFX and post compositing artists so much easier.

-16bit Color.  This is a big deal. This is wide gamut color that is a full 16bits.  This means it will handle mixed light well, saturated colors, and subtleties with high precision. Similar to the flagship Sony Camera, the F65.

Ergonomics:
The camera is well balanced and light weight, though its ergonomics are where its negatives come in.  The Control panel is on the operators side, which at first seems not so important, but most AC’s prefer to be on the camera Dumb side to stay out of the oprators line of sight.   This means when changes need to be made, the AC will have to walk over to the “smart” side, and make the changes, or if the camera is on an operators shoulder, it will have to be dismounted for any changes.  Another issue, is that its deep menu system is only viewable on the view finder, so again, without a view finder the camera can be severely limited in its function, in addition this is where Ergonomic issue number 2 comes up.  The View finder connection, is not only proprietary, but sticks out of the side of the camera just asking to be hit. Those of you that remember the HVX200 component Video cable connector, that 20 pin flat connector with the locking clips, the F55’s is very similar. Also its lock is not a secure stable lock, it has lots of play. Again this is a pre production model so hopefully there will be improvements in its build.  I hear that the connector will be angled back so that it sticks out less, and will be less likely to take a hit.

The build is good, but like the F3 it has a thin material feel.   Where as its main competition, the ARRI Alexa, RED Epic-X etc… are built with a substantial metal exterior that has a solid, resistance to the touch. The F55 feels airy, and it does have some plastic components. The latches that lock the modules are plastic for example, and rattle.   Another example, its modularity, like the 4K recorder, which quickly releases, uses a simple latch system, that while fast and simple, just does not feel solid.  Epic Modules, bolt on with four screws, and once attached mind as well be welded.  I can understand the reasoning, light weight.  Personally, I prefer strength the of Magnesium/Aluminum construction and its associated weight, as it gives me a sense that if it were rented out, dropped, the camera would survive.  The F55, has a creaky build.  When you hold it you will understand.  Then again, this is a pre production build so I cant really have a real opinion about it, not till I see a final model.

Image:

Based on what i’ve seen, its dynamic range is deep, and the ability to hold highlights is formidable. Feels just like an Alexa.  The brightest parts of the image just hold forever it seems.   If you have used an F3, if feels like that, just with an additional stop.

We viewed in Log so i cant really discuss the color or its rendition, as a Log image is far to flat to make those judgements, and since my software cant view the footage, I can’t really delve into it in post either.

Any camera nowadays, though will produce a phenomenal image.  I expect it will be wonderful. Especially in RAW, and specifically for the fact that it records 16BIT color data.

Media:

It uses new SXS-PRO+ cards to record the XAVC, and all other flavors of on board recording.   The Cards necessary for the RAW recording are quite the good deal.  512gig cards run about $2,000 each.  The equivalent card from RED costs about $3900.  Just for some reference, a 512 GIG Phantom High speed Cinemag, costs about $60,000. YES. $60,000.

The transfer stations SXS and RAWMAG are both USB3 only. This is inconvenient as not everyone has a Retina Mac.  I was forced to offload the 512 gig card with USB2 speeds.  If you do have USB3, it will be lightning fast.

Conclusion:
This is a welcome addition to the world of Digital Cinema.   Its skill set is unique right now, and direly needed.  It has some apparent flaws, but it also has some significant conveniences.  Onboard high quality recording, small size, high dynamic range and global shutter.  I think many people will find it to be the right camera for them.

Thanks for reading!
Coming up next, An Examination of: Fujinon Cabrio 19-90 T2.9   –  “Le Petit Monstre” aka the Little Monster!
Follow me on Twitter @timurcivan

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6 Comments on "First Look: Sony F55 4K Digital Cinema Camera"

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Very awesome review Timur, thanks for writing that!

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Hi:

Very good review.

One question though, is not possible Uncompressed Raw with no compression?

Thanks,
Cesar Rubio.
http://dna-rubio-s3d.com/

i believe you can. The four SDI ports on the back can output uncompressed LOG 4K. However, the compressed RAW is actually better than uncompressed linear.

thanks for share.

SONY the best video and audio equipment. they have excellent optics and get good video and photo

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