Digital cinematography 2014: 4K vs. supersampled HD, C500 and F55

Extended 5-2-2014

I write this with quite a bit of frustration having had a "hands on 4K" by BandPro in Munich. Randy Weddick from BandPro gave a talk about 4K, we had a short "hands on" and most of all we watched a bit of 4K footage on a high class Sony Prosumer 4K TV.

First, some footage shot on Hawaii with the F65. Disappointing. In 25p aerials looked not better than any recent BBC Natural History HDCam SR acquired footage you can see on Bluray. We clearly need MUCH higher framerates for filming with helicopters flying that fast. Rest of the footage looked better, but far from jaw dropping.

Next footage from Greece by a German cinematographer was definitely the sharpest (he had used Digiprimes with the HD35), but his colour correction for my taste was hard to bear - totally oversaturated high key Sony colours.

Then, Randy Weddicks short film beautifully shot on the F55. But it just did not look sharp and it had sort of greyish skin tones. A Canon C300 properly used would probably have looked better IMO.

Take home message: To use a 4K sensor with bayer pattern like in the F55 gives you nothing near good 4K. Nothing near that. The Q67 pattern on the F65 with a 8K sensor (although Sonys math on that may be a bit dodgy) looked marginally better.

My reference blurays on my 1080p Panasonic Plasma to my eye look better than all this Sony 4K. Scenes from Baraka, The Dark Knight, Inception shot on 65mm, scanned at 8K/4K in full RGB, and downconverted on HD look gorgeous even in Blurays 4:2:0... how come?

I had 9 hours of colours colour correction recently - of my C300 footage of 6 months of shooting and it looked just super sharp with superb colour. It is true super-sampled HD with full RGB, and only an 8bit codec compared to the RAW 4K stuff we saw. To have supersampled HD in 12bit from a C500 should be mindblowing. We´d need a 12K Sensor with RGB pattern to get excellent 4K.

Here is what Rodriego Prieto said on shooting 12bit HD instead of 4K with the C500. I really like the shots from the film, although the shining water would probably look better with an Arri.

Canon Collaborations: The EOS C500 Configured by the Crew of Human Voice from Canon Pro on Vimeo.

I am seriously contemplating to shoot like that and in 50p for my next project and 100p in the long run until 4K delivers. It doesn´t look like the F55 is for me.


Original article

In search of the timemachine - Sony F55

March 2013. We live in exciting times. We live in frustrating times. Exciting because digital cinematography finally looks great. Frustrating, because the camera of one´s dreams is always just around the corner but not yet here. Or because camera manufacturers just missed it again. Closely, but they missed. And the close miss is the most painful one (as with my Canon C300).

At least I don´t miss film. I shot on 16mm for more than 15 years. I don´t miss the optical viewfinder. A lot has changed.

In summer 2006 I bought my first professional video camera, the Panasonic HDX900. It was a solid camera and never let me down. The image quality was good, with nicer colors and a more filmic look than the Sony counterpart, although the resolution was still far from what can be brought to a Full HD screen today. But the HDX900 had the true revolution of digital cinematography right out of the box. It´s called "prerecord" or "loop". I call it the TIME MACHINE. The film transcending, life changing time machine: Up to seven seconds after a decisive moment has happened, I press the cable release and capture that moment. Suddenly, the content quality of shots exploded. Interesting behavior could be captured with high probability and much more relaxed - prohibitively expensive or improbable on film.

The second most welcomed feature were the greyfilters. With film, I was always changing mags between 50 and 250 and 500 ASA to get into the right direction. And then - if time permitted - I put expensive but mediocre grey filters in front of my good lenses to finetune the aperture.

The HDX900 was also the first camera to bring the prices for HD production down to a reasonable level. It cost 23 000.- net including a lousy black and white viewfinder. The Sony 750 was still double that price and shortly after Sony´s HDCam was almost banned for HD broadcast whereas Panasonic´s DVCPro was official codec of the summer games in London 2012.

I hated the Arri Alexa right from the beginning and felt much of the concept was not worthy of the Nr. 1 film camera manufacturer. For a digital camera, the Alexa is too heavy, too bulky, too expensive, and for the price too short lived for small companies like mine. Why on earth no grey filters? Are you kidding me? Why on earth did they embrace the ENG style shoulder pad/base plate system with that horrible adapter plate which brings an extra kilogramm to the system? Why a 52mm focal flange PL mount instead of a 18mm focal flange mount like the IMS mount manufactured by P+S since years? And why NO TIME MACHINE?

The Alexa ironically did kill fllm though. Initially I was not impressed with the footage and image quality. But the first film which made me not think about digital and realize only at the end that this is not film was shot with the Alexa ("Wickie auf grosser Fahrt", a German 3D production, shot in 4:4:4. Watched it on bluray recently).

In march 2012 I bought the Canon C300. The final verdict remains to be written on this camera. I plan to use it till August this year. There is a lot I hate about the C300 but I have to acknowledge this: Canon got the most out of their fine new sensor, with Canon log, and within a proven 8bit codec. The camera is the lightest one in this class which is essential for my work in high mountains. The battery life and low power consumption is incredible. Low light performance is already legendary. And, it has the three second TIME MACHINE!

Sony´s announcement of the F55 got me excited. Quite a surprise because I have hated Sony for their creation of a lot of unnecessary short lived formats and their strategy to charge the full money for every little evolution they offer. But the F55 on paper fulfills most of my demands on the camera feature wishlist:

- 4K for my nature archive, for future use and a gorgeous 65mm look even on HD.

- 4K RAW 16bit linear is nonsense as a working format. RED has fooled many people with their highly compressed "RAW" and other camera manufacturers now profit from it because the handling of data is transfered to postproduction. RAW should be transferred to log IN CAMERA, not in postproduction. This is a very efficient, codec independent compression analogue to the way we see. High end cameras like the F35 have been doing this for years: Take 14bit RAW, transform it to log and then code in 12/10bit. Film telecines have done 10bit 4:2:2 log as a standard procedure with a lot of freedom in grading even with 16mm. The log transformation should be the duty of the camera to create an easy to handle digital negative. A reasonable compression after would be welcomed by most documentary productions. So Sony´s new codec with 300MBit/s at 4K 25p 4:2:2 10bit combined with S-log looks perfect on paper! Internal recording on cards.

- Small, lightweight.

- A small box with modules to add.

- Supposedely good electronic viewfinder in HD.

- Mount with 18mm focal flange. BIG DEAL for me.Thank you, Sony! Future proof for a new generation of better, much smaller and lighter and cheaper lenses. PL adapter provided if needed.

So far so good. BUT WHERE IS THE TIME MACHINE? - I hear them say: "But you can always delete the unwanted clips easily". Nonsense. Animals or people do not behave in a way so that this could be a clever strategy. It makes productions more expensive to shuffle through hours of empty footage. I hear them say: "The camera will be too expensive". But they have already charged good money for prerec and other extras in the past and I at least had the choice to decide if I need that extra. We always hear that computing power is not expensive anymore. The Weisscam did a loop of about 10000 images years ago and I don´t think this is what made that camera so expensive.

It will be really hard to buy a digital videocamera without TIME MACHINE in 2013. I know it is something I really should not do. I hope PANASONIC or CANON and finally SONY agree with me and deliver what I need.