First impressions shooting with Sony F65 cameras

by Affonso Beato, ASC, ABC

         In January 2012,  I was preparing a film camera package to take down to Brazil to shoot a feature called O TEMPO E O VENTO directed by Jayme Monjardim and produced by Rita Buzzar,  when the Head of Technology Division of TV Globo Network  at Rio de Janeiro called me to shoot some scenes of Carnival with the new then Sony F65 Digital cameras.

          At that time, I heard that Curtiss Clark, ASC, a friend colleague Director of Photography and Chairman of Technology Committee of the ASC, was shooting with the F65s. I called him and he promptly invited me for an screening of his short THE ARRIVAL at Sony Color Works in Culver City, CA.

Facing this kind invitation I grabbed the available literature on the new camera capabilities, like its 8K sensor delivering 4K 16bit RAW images. Also I read about the ACES (Academy Cinema Encoding System) workflow, now a SMPTE standard and the highest level pipeline to maintain the original quality of the images that F65 cameras deliver. All this literature could not impress me enough compared with the emotion that I had seeing Curtis' images projected in a 4K DI suite at Color Works.

It was an immense Uaaaauuuuu!

I felt immediately in love with his results.

I had the privilege to have Grant Janssen, Executive Director Technology of Color Works playing Curtis short film on a Baselight Station stopping here and there and Curtis showing me the 14 stops Dynamic Range and capability of the camera to hold an incredible amount of information on sub illuminated areas without producing any digital noise.

On this operation, occasionally I've asked them to zoom in, sometimes 200% and uaau again - no noise!!!! And when some noise did showed up it looked like film grain....

       Arriving in Rio for the Carnival shooting I met two Japanese Sony Engineers Yutaka Okahashi and Yukinori Gengintani, whom came with the cameras that were loaned to TV Globo for two weeks experimentation.

At that time another wonderful piece was incorporated on the F65s - a Mechanical Shutter. We did test this device during 15 days with lots of fast cameras movements on Carnival and Soccer matches and couldn't get any rolling shutter problems. This effect, very common in cine digital cameras is gone in the F65s; the F65s behave as film cameras.

For the feature film, I used the ISO 800 native sensor sensibility all the time, as per the engineers’ recommendation. At the begin I start using a spot meter and checking the results on the monitor's waveform. Perhaps by the end of the first week I abandoned the meter and the waveform and exposing by eye using two calibrated Panasonic monitors. Later, the camera operators got familiar with my settings and would present pretty close initial f stops that I would check from the video tent, with minor adjustments. Digital white clipping on monitor's screen was absent in most of our exposure. Also the camera's internal ND filters placed in a rotary disk, we're very practical, avoiding interference on the lens definition and speeding up the exposure settings.

I always used the S Gamut Color Space and S Log 2 set ups coming from the SDI output of the cameras to monitor the operations. The monitors were calibrated and would have a deLog LUT to make the images more linear. Sometimes, I would toggle this option to check the more flat image from the S Log 2. All these settings and exposure were after checked by the end of the day with our colorist Vica.

The F65s have an incredible Dynamic Range (14 stops), but it's 16bit digital processing, give us a much richer color information which makes a big difference on this case. Our visual impression is that it has 16 stops instead, case that was checked recently when I brought 20 min of different shots to be tested on Sony Color Works ACES workflow.

The ACES workflow, contains the original information of the camera sensor and loads all F65 RAW files into an 16bit OpenEXR file for each frame, it's the only way to hold all the 8K sensor capability until the Digital Master. The results are incredible, with a true film look and with the handicap of been already in 4K resolution DI without the expensive costs of scan film in 4K.

In a wish list, the location sound mixer would like to have less noise coming from the mechanical rotary shutter and the operators to have a better protection for the shutter mode buttons that could be pressed by mistake. These minor problems were solved on location, using Velcro and foam core.

With DP Rodrigo Graciosa, I elaborated a initial F65 checklist that will be available in this link soon.

I hope the information presented would be helpful to you.

If would like to follow up please write your questions and/or notes on the blog section (coming soon) or email me to starting with F65 on the Subject line.

In the middle of TV Globo's F65 experimentation,  Sony Japan did ask us to shoot many scenes in 4K RAW at 60p frames. These material was later edited and presented at 2012 NAB Show with great success.

We shot Carnival's scenes with all kind of Cook S4 Prime and Angenieux Optima Zooms. We used steady cam and long lenses operation.

On a helicopter shot operation at night, using an Optima f 2.8 Zoom I needed to rate the exposure at ISO 1600 and got extraordinary results with no digital noise.

Due the high demand of shots to have great shots of Carnival operation, TV Globo's Center of Post Production designed a workflow to dump and backup the Raw Data coming from the Memory Cards and at same time store the same material on  XDCAM Disks to be used in the offline editorial.

After this exhaustive and successful experience with the cameras, I decided to propose the director and producer to use the digital path to shoot our feature film O TEMPO E O VENTO (aka THE TIME AND THE WIND).

The proposition took in account the fact that it would save lots of money, due the remote and difficult already chosen locations to shoot the film and the logistic burden to take film to be processed on far away film laboratories.

My proposition was accepted and we got two F65s, a set of Zeiss Master Primes and an Angenieux Optima Zoom 24-270mm.

Immediately I started to design a workflow that would give the pleasure of fast feedback monitoring the quality of our material.

For that I counted with the collaboration of a fellow DP Rodrigo Graciosa and a friend Colorist Vica Nabuco.

There are different ways to define a workflow. To achieve good offline images we decided to extract our images from the memory cards with the PC4 reader instead of get them from the SDI output from the cameras. From the SDI we took our video assist recording for on set operations.

Every lunch break and by the end of the production day, we would send the cards used in both cameras to be checked and downloaded and back up in a storage system and hard drives. After that, the material would be logged and the cards would be back to be formatted on camera.

By the end of every shooting day, I would visit our on location color correction room, to discuss with Vica about the looks of scenes that were shot, providing the editorial with good images and stating my look intentions to the online colorist in case I wouldn't be present on the DI. We decided also to keep the data storage and color correction equipment in a hotel room, instead of on set, to protect both from the constant change in temperature, dust and travel car oscillations  presented by our locations.

The F65 produce in every shot a clip with an elaborated Time Code.

Because often we were shooting with two cameras simultaneously, we developed a procedure to identify every fresh loaded memory card with a "roll number" to avoid confusion in the conform stage.

I would recommend everyone to study carefully this stage of the workflow, to avoid loosing track of the edited clips chosen on the EDL.

A graphical workflow is available on this link.

On the field the F65s were very portable and reliable and easy to set up.

Since the first operations, we could count with a great support of Sony Engineers in Japan.

They were on location on Rio's Carnival and remotely by email and/or phone on any of doubts. On Carnival we were dealing with a software version that didn't have even frame ratios for the cameras viewfinder.  From then on, they did produce other updates that would include our needs to shoot our feature film. The new updates were sent via email, loaded in a SD memory card and ingested in the camera.

Notes and recommendations from the field:

photo Mineiro