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Sony launches new 4K CineAlta cameras

Back in May I wrote an article about the rise in prominence of cameras with a single large sensors. The classic 3-chip 2/3 in camera and its smaller variants are now joined by a large range of single chip cameras largely based on the Bayer color filter array (but not all).

With film reaching end of life television genres like drama, which were once shot on 35mm film, are moving to video cameras. The DoPs are used to film-style shooting. That means many things but specifically, capture of a wide dynamic range for later grading in post, and shallow depth of field—not easy to achieve with small sensors. Cameras like the Panavision Genesis and later the Red One showed that video could look as good as film. What really started the revolution was the release of the Canon 5D, originally at the request of news agencies. A stills photographer could shoot video with the same camera body and using the same lens. Independent shooters figured they too could use this low cost camera to shoot film-style.

Since then the manufacturers have released a wide range of cameras to add to the classic 3-chip design. Sony met this demand with cameras like the PMW-F3 XDCAM with a super 35mm sensor and a PL lens mount, and the F35 high-end digital cinema camera. The F65 was launched in 2011 with a 4K RAW workflow and a new SRMemory solid-state recording media.


Since that launch, 4K has come to the fore, both for cinematography and with NHK’s Super Hivision project for television. 4K has two variants, multiples of 1080 HD and 2K digital cinema, with 3840 x 2160 resolution for television and the wider aspect 4096 x 2160 for film applications. For the broadcaster yet to migrate to HD this may seem one step too far, but already the CE guys are talking 4K, wait until CES in January! 4K looks set to take off in a way that stereo 3D has not captured the home market. As displays get larger, HD is only just good enough, and 4K promises a much better resolution on the larger screen. No free lunch though, four times the pixels is four times the data. For distribution to the viewer, this is where the HEVC codec comes in, with the promise of twice the compression efficiency of AVC.


It is not only spatial resolution that looks set to increase, frame rates are increasing with high frame rate (HFR) cinema and video — from 48 fps all the way up to 120 fps for Super HiVision.

Looking a Sony’s camera line-up, there was a big gap between the F3 and the F65, one more suited to the indie, the other to rental houses and feature films. And there is 4K waiting in the wings.

October 30, Sony announced two new cameras to fit that gap, the PWM-F5 and -F55. These cameras feature super 35mm 4K CMOS imagers and recording up to 240fps (F55).

4K, that means more data. Sony’s approach has been to develop support for AVC-Intra coding. Earlier Sony cameras have used MPEG-2 4:2:2 long GOP (XDCAM) and MPEG-4 simple studio profile (SStP), or RAW. AVC-I is known so far for Panasonic’s implementation of a 100Mb/s HD codec to replace DVCPRO100 (AVC Intra, SMPTE RP 2027) and later extensions under the AVC Ultra banner.

XAVC Codec

Sony’s AVC codec is called XAVC. It is based on the H.264/MPEG Pt 10 standard and uses level 5.2 for support of 4K resolution and HFR. Support from major NLE vendors is expected in the very near future, so hopefully when the cameras are available for purchase you will also be able to edit the footage. 

The F5 and F55 are very modular cameras, supporting MPEG-2, MEPG-4 SStP, XAVC (AVC-I) and RAW. The models differ in how the codecs are supported, with the F55 supporting internal 4K recording. To support the higher bit rates of 4K and RAW, Sony have introduced a new solid-state memory format, the AXS card, sitting between SxS and SRMedia.

It will be possible to record HD proxies to an SxS card and simultaneous 4K RAW to the AXS card. For details of all the combinations of these multi-codec cameras, please check out the Sony web site.

For the owner-operator Sony is launching a family of matched PL mount prime lenses to use with the cameras.

The cameras have a whole bunch of innovative features, like a new Lithium iron phosphate battery technology (Olivine), OLED viewfinder, RAW file viewers and more, again check out your national Sony web site.

Expect to see the cameras by the end of the year. Prices are yet to be set.

So from the GoPro Hero to Sony F65, if you want to shoot 4K, there is a camera for every pocket. But why shoot 4K? Well it’s all about oversampling. HD pictures look better on SD that SD pictures. Similarly 4K looks better on HD than HD pictures. Plus the 4K flies can future proof your productions for when 4K in the home is commonplace.