First Look: Sony F5
Future proofing. That’s the new buzz word surrounding video cameras today. And Sony’s newest entrants in the super 35 format, the F55 and F5, were on display today in Denver at a workshop put together by Peak Media.
Future proofing is, I think, a realization by the manufacturers that today’s video practitioners are burning out on trying to make sense and keep up with the dizzying number of technological developments evolving in today’s professional video camera market. And they’re running out of money and patience.
With that in mind, I took a closer look at the Sony F55 and F5. The F5 replaces the F3 and the F55 slots in just below the F65 at the high end of the spectrum. As my clientele will mostly be aimed at using the F5, I’m going to concentrate on it. The F55 seems lovely but I don’t work in a 4K workflow at the moment, and I don’t anticipate doing so at any time in the imminent future. I should also point out that this isn’t a hands on observation, but just a review based on a look see with some of my own personal interpolations and extrapolations thrown into the mix.
As a DP and an owner/operator, I must confess that I was one of the first buyers of a Canon c300. And likewise, I think I was also one of the first sellers of the c300. The reason for selling was simple: I wasn’t convinced the camera was, well, future-proofed. It did many things very nicely and can be used to create some amazing images. It also has some major user drawbacks, and I think technically it was somewhat challenged by the time it hit the streets. Spooked by the overheated 35 mm video market, I bailed.
That brings me to the F5. Sony claims it performed extensive interviews with a wide variety of DPs, production folks and engineers in order to eliminate the flaws of its predecessors and so it could create a 35mm based video camera for the future. My first impression is that their research paid dividends. The camera seems to eliminate a lot of the clunky and well known shortcomings of the F3, while incorporating a number of technical advances, new codecs, and the capability of recording up to a 4K image. In doing this, though, Sony digs a huge pothole and rewards their client base of early adopters and faithful users of the F3 by letting them drive into it at 60 miles an hour. For those who bought an F3, if you knew it only had a serviceable life span of two years, would you still have purchased it? Hmmmmmmm.
Back to the camera. Let’s get the tech specs out of the way first. The F5 has a 4K sensor (4,096 x 2,160), can record MPEG2 422 8-bit at the usual 1080 and 720 frame rates; 10 bit HD-XAVC ; HD-SR; and 10 bit 2K XAVC. XAVC is I believe, a new Sony codec that is an H.264 MPEG4 format in an MXF wrapper that also contains audio, natch, and metadata. It’s all somewhat mind numbing and Sony includes recording format and data rate charts in its materials that upon closer inspection the mathematics involved will likely send you to the nearest tequila bar in search of some much needed agave enhanced assistance.
The camera is still box like in shape, but this time Sony wisely decided to make a viewfinder that can actually be used to frame and focus an image. This replaces the F3 viewfinder which I believe was used mostly to determine if the camera was powered on or off. The viewfinder also is found in its customary position on the left side of the camera, seemingly a novelty in the super 35 category. And the new viewfinders come in two flavors, a .7” OLED version or a beefier 3.5” LCD viewfinder that also has a flip up device which allows direct monitoring of the LCD screen. Think EX-3 on steroids. For a mere $4500, you can be further separated from the contents of your wallet by buying a 7 inch full HD resolution monitor. And as with most camera purchases these days, all of the viewfinders are sold separately from the camera body. It seems like buying a car without a steering wheel, but that’s the times we find ourselves in at the moment.
The body of the camera itself retains a familiar shape but has, to put it graciously, borrowed heavily from its much pricier Alexa counterpart. Replacing the underutilized LCD pullout screen is a handsome digital screen that could be at home in a late model Beemer. I didn’t run it through its paces but it seems like you can easily access most of the functions and settings right there. Very convenient.
The F5 has a Sony FZ mount and comes with a PL to FZ mount adapter, because one can never have too many adapters or additional bits of kit that we can forever look for when we truly need it now. There are also additional after market adapters that will allow you to mount everything from a Canon EF lens to your trusty 2/3 inch wide angle ENG lens. That last configuration will cost you two and a half stops of light and an unknown cropping factor, but it’s certainly versatile.
The camera is built for primes, but it’ll accept the mondo pricy Fujinon Cabrio zoom lenses and also the Sony 18-252 mm zoom lens originally introduced with the F3 as well as a 11-16 mm zoom. There are also some deals to be had on packages of the Sony PL primes which are now beefier and sturdier. And also much heavier. In their specs Sony perhaps subtly tries to camouflage this fact by listing the weight in kilograms. So the 20 mm prime listing at 2.3 kg weighs a sobering five pounds. Ouch.
And in an interesting aside, the F5 has a black lens ring, and the F55 has a silver lens ring. Thus, you can always tell them apart, even at a distance.
The F5 is also liberated from the limits of the internally recorded and again, EX-3 like, 4:2:0 at 35 mbps configuration and can now record full 4:2:2 at 50 mbps., the baseline standards for most cable and broadcast programs today. No longer do you need to find a rail rig to attach a nanoFlash or KiPro in order to record at an acceptable rate. There’s a new version of the SxS cards as well as a new card reader, of course, so that you can shell out even more money getting to the finish line. In a nice move to previous users, the camera is backward compatible to the old SxS Pro cards and the old card reader. The file transfer speeds are a bit slower, but at least you can save some dollars initially. Sony has also made an onboard raw recorder available, the AXS-R5, but I’ll leave it to another day,
Finally, Sony has provided a wealth of outputs including hd-sdi, sdi and HDMI. There are also hirose connections to allow powering wireless devices and the like, as well as a four pin input for AC adapters. It’s a solid configuration and should take care of even the most complex recording and monitoring needs. There’s also two XLR inputs for audio, suitably equipped with mic and line switches, as well as 48 volt options.
I’m told there’s an optional shoulder pad with rails for using the camera in an ENG type configuration, but it wasn’t available for the preview so I have no comment to make about it. If it works, though, it’s a great upgrade over both the previous F3 and the current Canon c300 handheld and shoulder rigged options.
At first glance, the Sony F5 seems to be a quantitative improvement over its predecessor the F3, and throws down the gauntlet to Canon’s c300. It moves the bar up to 4K RAW recording, while fitting in a number of other frame rate and data rate configurations and will now internally record the basic 4:2:2 at 50 mbps required by most content providers. I don’t know how efficient the optional shoulder rig is, but the fact that Sony is thinking about it is a positive move in the right direction. Without actually using the camera, I’d say it’s going to be a major force in the rapidly developing 35 mm imager movement.
And if you managed to stay with me until the end, I’ll provide a cost saving tip. Sony is currently offering its new content browser for free. In the future it’ll cost twenty bucks to those folks who haven’t purchased a camera. This will basically replace the XDCam browser and adds a wealth of new features. It can be found at: www.sonycreativesoftware.com/contentbrowser