Sony F65 3D: A Week Into Production
Hi folks. So we’ve been shooting a little over a week now with the Sony F65 3D, and we’re really getting to dig in and see how Sony’s flagship camera performs in an admittedly difficult environment. I’m going to try and break this down in two ways: how we’re seeing the cameras perform, and what that translates into regarding the data management of the files generated.
The F65 itself, as a single camera, has been working magnificently. It’s a well thought out, well designed camera, and all of its basic functions have performed flawlessly. Putting it into a 3D arrangement, however, seems to take it beyond its original design parameters. It does not seem like the kind of camera that was designed for 3D from the ground up. By attempting to shoot with two F65’s in stereo we’re starting to see the odd technical hiccup, which is to be expected, but so far nothing truly critical. It should be said, that some of the issues we’ve seen may not be the camera itself, but how the camera interacts with the 3rd party devices. We’ve seen some minor issues with the F65 and the Ambient Lockit connection, and it’s brought to light certain issues in terms of functionality with the F65 3D. Cameras like RED’s Epic have a hard genlock confirmation visible onscreen, something the F65 currently doesn’t have, likely for reasons stated above, as this was not designed as 3D camera from the get-go. A hard genlock confirmation would be very useful, and it’s perhaps something that’s currently in Sony’s development pipeline.
Then we get to the issue of weight. So far this has been the biggest drawback to the entire scenario. The odd shape and weight of the F65 3D arrangement has proven challenging over the course of the shoot. The F65 in 3D takes anywhere from two to four crewmembers to move at any given time, and the entire rig required custom carrying arms that were fabricated by our key grip. The camera, when working on a peewee dolly, tends to perform well, but proves more challenging when placed on a remote head. The combination of weight and the odd shape of the 3D arrangement lend themselves to a difficult balancing operation. This, in turn, means our crane and remote head operators have to spend more of their time fighting the camera than they’d otherwise like to have happening. Thankfully our excellent team has come through with some fantastic shots, but comparatively speaking, the challenges of using the F65 in a remote head / technocrane situation have definitely proven to be more challenging than with the RED Epic. The constant pressure of time in a documentary shooting environment, in a foreign country no less, tends to really show the strengths and weaknesses of particular pieces of gear when put into a clutch situation.
So after our on-set crew finishes capturing some incredible shots with the F65, what follows? Massive data loads, that’s what! The Sony F65 has some of the largest data loads I’ve seen yet on a per-camera basis, and shooting in 3D means double that for everything. So how does it all work?
Due to the rather significant size of the F65 files, Light Iron has prepared their Outpost cart with the intent to maximize available connection bandwidth. Since the F65 reader, the SR-PC4, connects over 10GigE, the notion of connecting two readers to a single Mac Pro and then having those funnel into different disk arrays would push the limits of the connectivity bandwidth available on one machine. What Light Iron’s done is split that load up across two Mac Pros which results in a decidedly faster, more efficient transfer system. Each tower is assigned an eye (left or right), and then deals exclusively with that eye for the duration of the shoot.
Sony’s 512 gig SRMemory cards, when full, take about 30 minutes or so to transfer – essentially real-time. That being said, when you’re doing two backups from the source, in 3D, the resultant download time is still close to an hour, something that really can’t be overcome with the current connection limitations in the SR-PC4 reader. Why Sony didn’t decide to go with something more standardized, like a SAS connection, is beyond me. The 10GigE performance we’ve seen on Mac is thoroughly lackluster, with speeds topping out at about 250mb/s, a far cry from the 500mb/s that the spec says it can achieve. PC performance with 10GigE is supposedly much better, but due to the film industry’s reliance on ProRes codecs, the switch to fully PC download stations isn’t quite on the horizon just yet, although the winds of change can certainly be felt.
The volume of data generated by the Sony F65 is truly massive, with relatively simple days clocking in excess of 1TB per day, and more complicated days resulting in as much as 3+ TB of material. This all requires a great deal of storage to be available on-set – our main drive system is a 48TB RAID array, and it’s filling up very quickly. Secondary backups happen to an internal RAID, and we do a third backup to LTO-5 tape.
Processing footage from the F65 is again done on a per-eye basis, with one eye being processed separately from the other, and then combined into 3D in Avid. Light Iron initially provided Colorfront’s On Set Dailies (OSD), but there were some optimization issues that hadn’t yet been resolved regarding the Sony F65, so we switched to Colorfront’s Express Dailies (ExD) software. ExD is a much simpler piece of software, currently without 3D support, but since we were approaching the transfer and processing on a per-eye basis, this wasn’t a major concern. ExD allows me to sync the sound with the image, input slate information, tag print takes, and correct for the reversed image in the left camera due to the mirror in the 3D rig. All of this is handled through a very simple, although slightly odd, control interface. ExD is very keyboard-centric which makes for a very fast, efficient workflow. And Colorfront’s ability to squeeze raw performance out of GPU’s is unparalleled, as we’re getting 32fps of render speed – on EACH eye. Very impressive stuff.
ExD has proven itself to be quite reliable so far, allowing for me to quickly sync up sound to the image using timecode and to export Avid DNx115 files for editorial, and h264’s for iPad dailies. The ability to tag print takes directly in ExD has proven very useful, as you can choose to render only the print takes, something that we’re doing for the dailies. We render out just the print takes in h264 and then using Light Iron Server and Light Iron Todailies we’re able to provide key crew members with dailies, often in the same day they were shot.
The way Light Iron’s Todailies app works has been majorly appreciated by the key crew, since it’s very rare to have dailies on IMAX productions (they often only get weeklies, if that). Its functionality is very simple – Light Iron Server runs on your main data transfer machine, and you create users for everyone who’s going to view dailies. Then, the intended user simply has to buy the Todailies app off of Apple’s App Store on their iPad, login using credentials that I’ve provided, and whatever dailies I’ve loaded onto the server for that day are automatically downloaded onto their iPads. It’s particularly convenient because the operation simply requires that they be on the same network as the server for the downloads to commence. So anytime a key crew who’s got a Todailies account connects onto the Wi-Fi that we’re all sharing, they can pull down the dailies without ever having to come and plug in their iPad. It’s a smart way to make use of a consumer electronics device that many have, and it’s a major step up from the world of DVD dailies.
The Avid DNxHD files from each eye are then combined in Avid to create stereo clips – something that is surprisingly fast and simple to accomplish thanks to Avid MC6’s robust 3D support. From that point on everything is ready for QC passes and for editorial!
That’s all! I hope you've found these blog posts informative. Thanks for reading!