Sony F65 3D: Pushing the Limits of Digital Cinema Acquisition
Hey folks, Sean here. I’ve just come back from Los Angeles where I was prepping for a new project. We’re shooting with Sony’s new F65 camera, and apparently we’re the first to be using it in 3D. Radiant Images is providing the cameras and Light Iron is providing the DMT gear for the show (both are great companies, check 'em out), and I'll be serving at the data management technician. The F65 is a 20 million photosite camera (significantly more than the 8.8 million photosites that most 4K cameras have) that boasts some impressive sensor specs . This translates into full 4K on the green channel, and double the photosites on the red and blue channels. The end results are some truly breathtaking images. The image is true 4K, and that true 4K is particularly noticeable in wide shots. Sony’s really nailed it with the high-resolution, wide color gamut sensor on this camera.
Such an enormous amount of resolution comes at a price, and that’s on the back end. The file sizes of the Sony F65 are some of the largest we’ve seen yet, particularly compared to the RED Epic and ARRI Alexa (even larger than the files from an Alexa in a CODEX recording setup). One hour of footage at 23.98 in F65RAW-SQ (standard quality) will run you 1 terabyte of memory. Sony provides media with their new SRMemory cards in 256gb, 512gb and, yes, full 1tb cards.
Physically speaking, putting the F65 in a stereo arrangement was no easy task – the Sony F65 is a large, heavy camera, not one that you would immediately think of when discussing 3D shooting. Truth be told it’s physical form doesn’t really make it the ideal camera for 3D, but there are other considerations (namely its excellent image quality) that provide very worthwhile reasons to use it in 3D. For the stereo rig, our team decided to go with the CC3D rig. Its versatility is part of the reason it was chosen, and much to its credit it can handle the large F65 with grace. The motors are strong and handle the pitch, roll, IA, and all other adjustments smoothly despite the cameras size and weight. The rig is definitely not small, clocking it at about 100lbs with both cameras, accessories, and the 3D rig itself. It remains to be seen how well it performs in the field, but if the tests are any indication, the answer should be 'surprisingly well.'
Dealing with media seems to be the biggest sticking point with the Sony F65. The card readers for the Sony F65 come in two flavors – the SRPC-4 card reader (the most common option) or the SRPC-5. Sony’s SRPC interface is web-only, and the entire design of the readers and the interface leave a lot to be desired. The SRPC-4 has a PCI-e slot to house one of the two interface options – either eSata or 10GigE. The eSata connection is relatively simple, but given the file sizes, it’s not an ideal connection for transferring such massive amounts of data. The 10GigE connection is much more appropriate, but during the course of our testing, the limitations of that connection became apparent. Firstly the method by which you’ve got to connect 10GigE is convoluted and long – and it would be worth it if the transfer speeds were ultra-fast. The problem is that performance of 10GigE over OSX is less than stellar, and we found that while the spec indicates it can transfer data up to 500mb/s, in reality we were getting about 170mb/s. We're currently trying to determine what in the chain of hardware might explain why the speeds were so much lower than spec, but given the volatility of 10GigE as a connection type, it's not entirely unexpected. Considering the complication of the setup, and the poor functionality of the SRPC-4, the entire data transfer process is currently the weakest part of the F65's ecosystem.
Given that we were going to shoot in 3D with the Sony F65, we needed a data management solution that was far beyond what most places are currently equipped to handle. Who could provide a system with the horsepower to handle such a heavy workflow? Light Iron Digital stepped up to the plate and provided us with a stellar solution. We received a custom-equpped LightIron Outpost system, which is as close as you can get to a lab on wheels. Dual 12-core Mac Pros stuffed with RAM, 15TB internal RAID and a suite of software tools, all linked up to one of Maxx Digital’s 16-bay 48TB RAID arrays. All of these tools are packed into Light Iron’s custom made Outpost cart, which results in a true turnkey system – it shows up, you plug it in, and go.
Light Iron’s Outpost engineer Chris Armstrong guided us through the workflow for the Sony F65 3D. Being the first to put the F65 into a 3D arrangement meant that there were a lot of elements to the workflow that were still up in the air. Application support for the Sony F65 is still spotty, so we knew there would be challenges in that area. Thankfully Light Iron works closely with a company called Colorfront. They have a piece of software called Colorfront On-Set Dailies, a very well-rounded tool that allows you to take footage that’s been shot and sync sound, do image corrections, make stereo corrections, and output all of that into multiple formats simultaneously. At the time of testing there were still some small issues with the F65 support in Colorfront, as was expected, but they were working diligently at providing new builds for us that will take full advantage of what the F65 has to offer.
We were able to export Avid DNxHD’s for editorial and various flavors of h.264 for dailies (with up to 40fps of output, although we saw less than that due to some small bugs) making the combination of Light Iron’s Outpost system and Colorfront On-Set Dailies a powerful and versatile solution. Data backup, QC, dailies and editorial prep services – all in a single box. That's industry standard in most cases, but when you're dealing with 1tb/hour of footage, the fact that all of this is possible is remarkable.
Principal photography starts in about a week, so I’ll be posting some follow-ups regarding the F65 in action, and some of the challenges presented by breaking new ground with Sony’s flagship camera.