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ISSN 1740-682X Sony F23 Sony F23 A Showreel magazine supplement Summer 2007 Full test of the Sony F23 Full test of the Sony F23 Talking to Michael Mann’s Talking to Michael Mann’s team about the camera team about the camera Shooting to HDCAM SR Shooting to HDCAM SR Sony 4K projectors Sony 4K projectors in the cinema in the cinema & 4K projection & 4K projection

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Page 1: SSony F23ony F23 - Visual Impact France...ISSN 1740-682X SSony F23ony F23 A Showreel magazine supplement † Summer 2007 FFull test of the Sony F23 ull test of the Sony F23 TTalking

ISSN 1740-682X

Sony F23Sony F23A Showreel magazine supplement •• Summer 2007

Full test of the Sony F23 Full test of the Sony F23

Talking to Michael Mann’sTalking to Michael Mann’steam about the camerateam about the camera

Shooting to HDCAM SRShooting to HDCAM SR

Sony 4K projectors Sony 4K projectors in the cinema in the cinema

& 4K projection & 4K projection

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contents

summer 2007 | showreel supplement 3

5 Sony goes cinema Star Wars guru Fred Meyers reports on his fi rst tests of the Sony F23,

checking out a preproduction model for suitability on the Wachowski Brothers’ upcoming VFX fl ick, Speed Racer.

11 The thoroughbred Showreel cinematography editor Geoff Boyle tests the F23 on a

commerical for Rolex watches. 20 A Mann’s camera Director Michael Mann has been a pioneer in digital cinematography.

Randy Wedick reports on his use of the F23 in the USA.

24 The senior format Ex-BBC R&D and now camera cosultant Alan Roberts details the

differences between HDCAM and HDCAM SR, explaining where the latter formats comes into its own.

28 Spider Man at large Scott Lehane reports on the Sony SXRD 4K projector tests at the

Guildford Odeon and assesses the likely market for 4K. 32 4K in the USA Scott Lehane profi les the impact that 4K production and projection is

starting to have in Hollywood and the USA generally.

Main image ©Geoff Boyle

PublisherDenise Haskew

[email protected]

EditorSteve Parker

[email protected]

AdvertisingVince Matthews

[email protected]

Technical editorClive Collier

[email protected]

ContributorsGeoff Boyle, Scott Lehane

Alan Roberts, Randy Wedick

Showreel Publishing Ltd49 Westbourne Gardens

Hove BN3 5PN United Kingdom

Tel: +44 1273 227048

Fax: +44 1273 227047

Skype: showreelmagazine

www.showreel.org

Sony F23Sony F23

Copyright 2007 Showreel Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be cop-ied or reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by means electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or other-wise without the prior permission of the pub-lishers. While every care has been taken in the compilation of this publication, the publishers can-not accept responsibility for any inaccuracies, or for any other loss, direct or inconsequential, arising in connection with information in this publication. The views herein are not necessarily those of the publishers. Acceptance of advertisements does not imply recommendation by the publishers.

& 4K projection

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S ony’s top-of-the-range F23 is not just a replacement for its existing F950. Both its styling (on-board HDCAM SR recorder that can be top- or back-mounted) and

its spec (full 1080p24 4:4:4 recording) telegraph that this camera is firmly targeted at the major motion picture market. Although the production model wouldn’t be arriving in the country until shortly before NAB in mid-April, a few weeks earlier a single preproduction model was discreetly fl own into Los Angeles under cover of night and delivered to BandPro in Burbank. From there it was handed to Fred Meyers, perhaps best known as HD camera supervisor on Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith. His mission was to test the camera alongside other digital cinema cameras, as well as fi lm, to help the producers of a forthcoming motion picture determine which camera they should use for acquisition.

Since then, Showreel has tested the F23 itself (see next article), but Fred’s initial reaction to the camera gives an insight into where it actually sits in comparison to other cameras on the market; for Fred was testing it against both fi lm and other digital cinema cameras in a shoot-off to decide which camera would be used on the Wachowski Brothers’ (The Matrix, V for Vendetta) next movie, Speed Racer.

I caught up with Fred shortly afterwards. “The test was presented to me like this,” he said. “The production company had a project and they were keen to find a look that could leverage some of the characteristics of digital capture. These included low noise, saturated colours and increased depth

of field. The film is going to have an intentionally layered look, created by live action in the foreground and layers of photorealistic CG in the background, using a look that goes back to old animation and rostrum techniques. Therefore, there was a specific look in mind, so testing digital cameras was suggested. We also put film material through the same process, as both a control, so that the results of the test could be judged in context, and also to test the quality of the digital cameras, because staying with film hadn’t been ruled out.

The opposition“Early on, we’d discussed which digital cameras to test. They wanted to check out 4K cameras, they wanted to check out 2K and HD cameras; they wanted to check out cameras that used 35mm-equivalent large sensors, and they wanted to check out 2/3in HD sensors. They also wanted to check out high-speed cameras, and both datacentric and videocentric systems. I fielded this big list and I said, ‘well, here’s what I know about these cameras and here’s what doing a test with them would entail – and what completing a fairly big budget, effects-heavy, high expectation project would entail’.

“As it turned out, a couple of the cameras just fell out because they were considered similar to others – or at least there was an assumption that they would offer similar performance. So there were a few cameras that we tested only at the kind of chart/techie level; then, on the main test day, the digital cameras that were available were the Sony F23 and the Arri D-20, alongside a couple of fi lm stocks.

“Prior to that, there was also a Viper involved, but some of the rejection decisions had to do with how much time and resources the directors and studio were able to put into the test. Decisions were made that were non-technical in terms of throwing a few cameras away on the actual day. I’ve always been keen on looking at all the potential cameras, but at the same time, I know some trade-offs have to made in terms of good quality versus resources expended. For example, the 4K path with the Dalsa Origin and the transition the company is now making to the next generation was certainly of interest, but it ended up bowing out. There were PL-mount possibilities too, such as the Panavision Genesis, but for this project they were looking for increased depth of fi eld. You can see the depth of fi eld you are going to get with 35mm fi lm, and you can see what you are going to get with a D-20, so we didn’t necessarily have to see a Genesis as well to test that characteristic. Clearly, not all large format cameras are the same, and not all 2/3in chip cameras are the same, but some decisions were made on a kind of expediency.

“They wanted a wide depth of fi eld and this is something the smaller 2/3in sensors offer. There’s an interesting thought process whereby, aesthetically, the narrower depth of fi eld offered by large format cameras has been considered the Holy Grail for digital cameras, with the wider depth of fi eld offered by 2/3in chip cameras being considered a fl aw. However, for some people, the opposite is true. You can easily run into a situation where it’s actually a disadvantage in post to have

Prior to the release of the F23, a single preproduction model was brought into the US to be tested by Star Wars veteran

Fred Meyers. Steve Parker talks to him about his conclusions.

fred meyers on the f23

summer 2007 | showreel supplement 5

Sony goes cinema

www.ortus.tv

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Sony and we could get curve data from the camera so that all the evaluations would be done in linear scene intensity space, which is a great – it’s fl oating point, greater than 16-bit, and it really shows you exactly what the sensor captured. Sony and Arri were very up-front with what the actual responses were from the cameras, so it allowed us right there on the set to get the information out of the camera as we were shooting and take it out to linear intensity space so that we could test the quality of the extractions from the green screen, or we could test the ability to colour correct or blow up the image. What that meant was that we were able to put a curve in the cameras that showed what gamma encoding and/or log encoding was able to do, and then make comparisons on how well they performed.

“So the F23 is kind of a departure for Sony, because common thinking by camera manufacturers on video origination is that it’s not as precise and controlled as it may be in the fi lm world, with scanners and fi lm stocks – you know you’ll never be able to fi gure out how somebody tweaked a camera and exactly decode all that. Well, this proved not to be the case with the F23 – we could perfectly decode it and there wasn’t any magic mystery about the response from the camera. Same with the D-20. But the F23 is really a new generation of camera, and it’s making better use of the sensors

they employ. They have new IT sensors, very different from what the previous cameras had. And the interface between the sensors and the processing in the camera is different. What I saw from the pre-production model was a clearly improved dynamic range; the result was a quieter picture. It was much smoother than previous models, whose noise characteristics had raised eyebrows in some circles.

“So it’s a smoother response and the ability to expose the full dynamic range of the sensor – because of the architecture of the camera and how the curves come to play – has been refi ned. Cameras have always gone through generational changes, and things have improved steadily. But you can certainly see that the F23 is a step forward. It bases itself in some of the same technologies, but when you look at the images coming out you can see that there are improvements and it’s all

for the good. I felt that, whereas in the past, with the F950 or the F900, I had to go to great lengths to adjust

reduced depth of fi eld, particularly when you are creating heavily layered composites. With the techniques now available, you can throw things

out of focus very accurately in post, or create a look that wouldn’t be possible if you started with limited depth of fi eld. It’s a different spin and certainly one that I fi nd intriguing. You can see new thinking and new techniques evolving out of digital cinematography, and wider depth of fi eld is where the

future lies. “With the two digital

cameras and the fi lm cameras we tested frame rates and over/undercranking; plus, post and VFX wanted to explore the response characteristics of the cameras, as this would be very helpful for the look they would get in post. For both the charting and actual scenes we were shooting, we used some hero Zeiss lenses on all the cameras – Master

Primes for the PL-mounts and DigiPrimes for the 2/3in cameras.

“There was a fork in methodology that presented itself. Some of the vendors

are looking at very fi lmcentric pipelines that use log encoding, which is currently used in fi lm post. While that is a well established

workfl ow, it isn’t necessarily the best for digital source material. As many post houses are now realising, it’s good to remove the encoding that’s used in-camera. Whether you are talking about a log response curve or a log curve that’s built into a fi lm scan, that’s some form of encoding, in the same way that gamma encoding, which is common with video systems, is used to get the sensor response down to a manageable amount of data. So what I suggested they do is look at what is capable now with some of these cameras using gamma encoding, because it has an advantage in some areas of the workfl ow in that it doesn’t require very sophisticated viewing tools. It’s more of what you see is what you get. With either log or gamma encoding, if you have the information about how that encoding took place you can de-encode it, linearize it (put it into fl oating point colour space) very easily. So the guys in post were all over that. Everything up to the point where it would have gone to a fi lm-out was going to be happening in high dynamic range imagery. So this meant we could talk to Arri or

Sony F23 camera with back-mounted SR

mag, camcorder style.

summer 2007 | showreel supplement

sony cinema supplement

6 summer 2007 | showreel supplement

Sony F23 with SR mag top-mounted, fi lm camera style.

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fred meyers on the f23

summer 2007 | showreel supplement 9

swung quite a way, if not all the way, in that direction. The F23 is clearly going towards fi lm styling, with multiple ways to mount the magazine and handles and buttons on appropriate sides of the camera for operators and assistants, unlike the F950.

“There are enough tracks for audio production, although I would anticipate this project not having the recorder on the camera for most of its application. But there is a big advantage for editorial to sync the sound. I highly recommend recording the sound with the image, whether it’s to the on-board recorder or remote recorded to a studio deck or disk systems. In the rigs I put together we had audio everywhere. It’s digital audio and the format is capable of 12 channels of 24-bit, so there’s no reason not to use it.

“Comparing the two digital cameras, the D-20 had the reduced depth of fi eld of the 35mm camera, and this was immediately apparent. But the D-20 has a single-chip

Bayer pattern sensor,

whereas the F23 has a three-chip CCD prism system. What was apparent was that the new prism and alignment of the three chips in the F23 was improved from what we’ve seen before. Whereas the Sony didn’t come top in all resolution measurements, taken in all, the F23 did edge out the D-20, and that was apparent right there on the set.

Dynamic range“In terms of other qualitative tests – resolution and dynamic range chart tests, for instance – these have to be viewed in terms of the gamma encoding they wanted to use (in other words ‘optimised’, not textbook gamma encoding, not REC709, but a modified gamma curve that captures the entire range of the sensor). Given how that was implemented in the D-20 versus the F23, the Sony did a better job, where the dynamic range was noticeably better. The chip design also meant that the sensitivity of

the F23 was

noticeably greater than the D-20, so to get an apple to apple comparison you have to throw quite a bit more light to get the equivalent output from the D-20.

The ability to control and get the response out of the camera, and by control I mean what you can access remotely by setting the camera up and by loading curves into it and getting it to do what you want it to do, there was a fair amount of work to do with the F900 and F950. Working with these cameras for Lucasfi lm involved either using custom control software and/or custom curves for the camera. That required a fair amount of work outside of Sony, but control also involved internal readjustment of setting in the camera, such as gain structures. I’m not saying that some users might not want to add some of that customisation to the F23, but it seemed like it was already much closer to the best it is capable of. The F900 and F950 are good performers, but you have to spend a lot of time with them to get the best out of them. With the F23, it’s going to be a good performer without you having to do quite as much.

“What I enjoyed about the test was that before we even got to the stage where we shot with the talent and directors, it was great to get Arri, Sony and others together, with nobody trying to hide anything from each other. They were also a bit more open to trying to do best practice with their cameras. Most manufacturers have recommendations on how their cameras should be used. You get people in certain camps – you know, ‘you should be using a certain Filmstream mode’ or this or that. But the people who turned up to the tests didn’t feel compelled to stick with the company line on how they should be set up. They were more fl exible. So that made it a really enjoyable test.”

So what was the fi nal result of the tests? Well, even though the camera was a preproduction model, the F23 won out on the Speed Racer tests over both fi lm and the other digital cameras. So the camera had bagged its fi rst big budget feature even before it had been released.

the camera or individual cameras to squeeze the most out of them, it was easier to get more out of this camera, and that was a good thing. I think they’ve fi gured out how some people were actually rating or adjusting the cameras, so maybe they were a little more sensitive to that and they hit the mark with a little less pain. In the fi rst days of the F900, many customers were saying, ‘sensitivity, sensitivity’, so they might have set the camera up from the factory with sensitivity, which may have been at the expense of the dynamic range.

“Typical of Sony, they’ve got a preproduction model that is working very well. I think it was good for them to see what we were able to do with the pre-production model. For some aspects of shooting, the production wanted a camcorder, but the bulk of the material was studio work, where there’s no real advantage to having the camcorder. The fact that the F23 could operate either as a camcorder or by remote recording in an engineering tent was something the production immediately gravitated towards.

“I suggested to the production that they make their own independent decision and look at what

the ramifications are of a datacentric

workflow, as opposed to or in conjunction with a tape-based workflow. I’m fully aware of what compressed and uncompressed is, but at the same time I’m also aware of what actually ends up on the screen. As it turns out, if you’re shooting a lot of process screen, the compression used by SR is not really being stretched at all, and you’d be pretty hard pressed to see any difference between an uncompressed foreground element and a compressed one recorded on SR. That said, there are many things that are expedited by having a file-based workflow on set. So there may be other factors that drive the decision on how they complete the project. So we did make some evaluations on test material of compressed versus uncompressed, but the result was that there was nothing lost at all when going with SR. And, of course, the F23 can record to tape or disk, or both.

“We shot both inside and out, actors, animals and children. We

docked and undocked it, and I think it should satisfy many people in that it looks more like a fi lm

camera than a video

camera. You can mount the SR unit on top, like a fi lm camera, or on the back like a video camera. It certainly gets cluttered up like a fi lm camera, with all the peripherals, whether it’s focus rangefi nding, auxiliary monitors, jib arms, cranes. We got to see pretty quickly how the widgets and accessory adaptation come to play. I have a sense that people are going to look at it and say, ‘this as a motion picture camera’.

“I feel Sony listened to what the fi lm camera guys were asking for and

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8 summer 2007 | showreel supplement

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summer 2007 | showreel supplement 11

I first sort of saw the Sony F23 at NAB in 2006. I was going to meet some people at another equipment manufacturer who just happened to have their stand opposite Sony.

It being Sunday, the show was closed to all but exhibitors. I guess that Sony felt safe having a staff briefi ng about this new piece of kit in the middle of their stand, as nobody else was going to be there… well, not quite nobody.

I mean, I’m a DP. I’m interested in cameras and when I happen to see something that looks like a mini Genesis (they hate me saying that), I’m bound to wander over and take a look! The amazing thing was that everybody seemed to think that I had a right to be there and ignored me; it was only when someone took the trouble to read my name badge and cried, “Ah! Geoff Boyle, CML!” that I was very politely asked to leave.

Once the show opened, they were showing this ‘Next Generation’ camera to selected people behind closed

doors. Everyone who saw it was impressed and thought that Sony was defi nitely heading in the right direction – and they were equally impressed with the fi rst pictures shown.

Fast forward a year and I’m a ‘guest DP’ on the BandPro stand. I’m surrounded by monitors showing tests that had been shot with the new F23, and there is even a camera there for me to play with. What I saw there made me want to play with and test the camera as soon as possible.

Thanks to Graham Hawkins of 24-7, I didn’t have long to wait, as he arranged for me to get hold of one at their Camden facility. As Steve and Denise from Showreel were spending that day with Rodney Charters of 24 fame, I suggested they join me.

I’d set up my usual latitude tests with two lighting set-ups: fi rst, light the chart so that I get a reading of T2 at ISO 320, and then expose at half stop intervals until I get to T22. Then, I light to T22 and open up at

half stop intervals to T2. This gives us an exposure range from ‘correct’ to seven stops under and over, at half stop intervals. The subject of the test is the DSC Labs VFX chart.

First impressions were remarkable. Rodney and I kept playing with the iris on the camera, watching the range (which was holding well) and how smoothly it all went over or under.

The shootAfter this very positive start, it was time to fi nd a suitable job to really test it, as it’s only on a real job in the fi eld that unexpected gremlins appear to bite you! Happily, almost immediately I got a call from Gary Birch asking if I wanted to shoot a Rolex commercial he was directing for IMG. Oh, and it wasn’t a fi lm job, they wanted to shoot it digitally. They wanted to use the only HD camera they were aware of that would do high speed. Guys! I have an offer you can’t refuse – well, how can you refuse to shoot what is

Showreel cinematography editor Geoff Boyle got his hands on the F23 the moment it arrived in the UK.

First, to test its latitude, and then on a full-blown shoot.

The thoroughbred

geoff ’s test

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geoff ’s test

summer 2007 | showreel supplement 13

had to struggle with the limitations imposed on us by other disciplines. No longer will my AC have to possess X-ray vision to read the displays or make tweak and adjustments, as they are no longer behind my head on the left side of the camera – well, they are still there too if I want, God Forbid! – because all the vital displays are duplicated on a removable panel that mounts on the right side of the camera. This enables the AC to adjust all the things he normally needs to deal with without having to bother me!

This brings me to the next area where Sony has been listening: viewfi nders and monitoring. I’ll say more about the actual viewfi nder later, but as far as what monitoring is available, they have gone to town. There are two viewfi nder connections,

arguably the best watch in the world with anything other than the best digital camera in the world at the time?

Once again Graham at 24-7 came to the rescue with a package of equipment for us. I’d love to have used Zeiss DigiPrimes and DigiZooms on the job, but we needed longer focal lengths than are currently available from Zeiss, so we went with Canon fi lm-style HD lenses.

We shot in a private show jump training area in Germany for two days, and the equipment functioned faultlessly. I do now have a few small issues, but I’ll go in to the whole shoot in detail in just a minute.

On returning to the UK, the HDCAM SR tapes were dubbed to DVCPRO HD 100 for offl ine editing at IMG on their Final Cut Pro system. The conform and grade has yet to be done.

The reaction to the offl ine images has been outstanding, with everyone commenting on how well the camera held both the bright skies and the subtle details in the rider’s black outfi t. The weather varied from extremely clear and hard sunlight to very overcast. In the overcast I used Arri-Max 18KW HMIs to try and recreate the look of sunshine, and it appears to have worked well. As far as I can tell, and I’ll only know for certain when we on-line, at no point have we lost detail in any highlights or shadows. This is quite remarkable, as my recce pictures shot from inside the stables looking out had very dark shadows and blown highlights. Now, I’d always thought that the Canon 350D in RAW mode had terrifi c contrast handling, but here were the pictures from the F23 making it look like a cheap contrasty bit of tat!

The cameraOK, now for the details of the camera and what was good and bad with it. This is a camera that has been designed from the start to be operated in the same way that a fi lm camera is used in drama for TV and features. I have to start with that statement because everything else around started as something else and was converted either from an ENG camera or from a regular TV camera. This is a really important start! For far too long we’ve

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geoff ’s test

summer 2007 | showreel supplement 15

for other applications, such as a fi lm fi nish. This is the same thinking behind the provision of the different gammas: there are settings that are appropriate for direct use on TV without further tweaking, as well as settings that are designed to get the most data on to tape to let you manipulate the picture during post.

Operating modesThis brings me to the two basic modes that the camera has: what they are actually called and what the various initials mean has been given a variety of meanings by different people, so here’s my attempt. You can operate it in ‘film mode’ or ‘TV engineering mode’. In the first setting, the range of adjustment options is very limited – basically, the speed you shoot and the shutter angle. However, it is also set in wide gamut and log mode, so that you record everything that the camera is capable of putting out. You can manipulate this later. As I’ve said many times, I think that this is the only sane way to work!

It costs far too much to have cast and crew standing around while engineers or DITs tweak the camera to provide a better picture. For me, the reason for the engineering position, where gammas can be altered, knees tweaked and matrices messed with, is that these are legacy requirements for TV production – the kind of production where multiple cameras are used and there is little or no post work, and everything has to go to tape looking the way they think they want it to, and also within TV’s legal limits. Now, while I accept that there is a place for this kind of approach, I don’t believe it’s in this camera. Sony makes other cameras that are perfect for this approach, so why contaminate this one! If you do have an uncontrollable urge to mess with a really great picture, then the menus will be familiar to anyone who has used any high-end Sony camera.

The camera will also load personal gamma curves. These are similar to those used in the F900, but incompatible. There is a new version

of CVP gamma fi le editing software available for download. I’ve used the gamma curves a lot in the past – mainly trying to get a log output out of the F900, so I shouldn’t need them anything like as much with the F23, as this is standard. I do, however, like being able to carry my personal ‘look’ from camera to camera, always bearing in mind that these fi les still only adjust the upper and more accessible parts of the camera set-up. I know, you’re asking, ‘what does that matter?’ Well, if the company that you’re renting a camera from has gone deep down in to the engineering menus, they can alter the basic set-up of the camera. This means that when you load your ‘look’ fi le, the parameters that it alters are not the parameters that you set it up to alter on a ‘standard’ set-up camera. I still want these memory settings to remember every level of setting, so that if you transport them from one camera to another the effect is totally predictable, which it isn’t at the moment. I know I’m being picky,

so both the operator and the AC can have their own; there are two monitoring outputs, and these are hugely variable. All monitoring can be done in either log space – my preferred recording format – or in Rec 709, the HD standard. This fl exibility means that people who need to see everything that is being shot and can interpret a fl at desaturated picture can have that, and those who need their hands held can have the contrasty saturated image. You can also decide

who sees what on every feed, so frame lines and menu options can be seen or not depending on how you set it up. You can also switch to an SD-out, so that for framing and action reference or Steadicam/crane work you can use existing SD monitoring kit.

The HDCAM SR recorder mounts on the top or rear of the camera and when seen next to an Arricam ST it looks very familiar. Of course, it has also been designed from the ground up to work with all the standard Arri fi lm

accessories. The recorder runs from 1fps to 60 fps (when I was shooting, in 4:4:4 up to 30fps and 4:2:2 for the rest of the range, but by the time you read this, it should have been updated to 4:4:4 over the entire range).

The lens mount is much stronger than on the F900, so back focus should hold better. The prism block has been redesigned to let in a wider spectrum of light, limiting it where necessary to conform to TV standards such as Rec 709, but allowing it all to be available

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but I’m trying to get out all the little things that niggle me about the camera, because it’s just so bloody good I have to jump around to fi nd the dodgy bits.

Speaking of which: fans. The camera generates quite a lot of heat, as all that power it consumes has to go somewhere! It has a number of fans and they make a hell of a racket, but they’re very sensibly designed to turn off when you start shooting. If you’re shooting mute or burying the camera in the ground, then I’d suggest a small journey in to the menus and alter the setting from Auto to Flat Out. I’m nervous about the air these fans suck in. I think additional fi ltering may make sense and that cleaning these fi lters should be a basic maintenance job.

The three assignable buttons on the camera side allow you to automate regular operations. Buttons one and two normally control the fi lter wheels, and I have button three set to switch monitoring from Log to Rec 709. I got quite upset when I knocked the fi lter button during a take and had a fi lter cycle through the changes. I was swearing at Sony until someone pointed out the big and obvious (to most people) lock switch that is just below the buttons! But it would still be a good idea to have an electronic lock that came in to play when you hit record.

I was going to rant about the viewfi nder, but that really wouldn’t be fair as it is currently the best viewfi nder

that I’ve used. The problem is that, like all HD viewfi nders, it doesn’t display full-res images (1280x 960 in this case). The optics are truly dreadful, and are the one point where I feel I have a legitimate complaint about the camera. If I’m paying this much for a camera, I want a viewfi nder that is built like a brick shithouse. It should have high quality glass optics that are easily adjustable, and can which be re-set to a given adjustment quickly and easily. Just look at the viewfi nder on a 435 or Arricam and you’ll see what I mean. If the Arri viewfi nders are the brick shithouse of the viewfi nder world, then the F23 is the ripped-up pages of The Sun! No, not even Kleenex!

The eyepiece of the viewfi nder clips on and off, and you can swing the LCD out like a domestic Handycam. Now, that wasn’t meant to be a derogatory comment, as I often use a clipped-on small LCD monitor for operating, and this is bloody convenient. I mentioned earlier that there were two viewfi nder outputs, and I can see this being really useful, with the AC being able to use the other one to anticipate focus pulls.

I know that I’ve picked at some small details that I don’t like, but that’s only because there is absolutely nothing major to comment on. It does the job it was designed to really well – better than any other camera available.

This is a spectacularly good camera, and will be my camera of choice when shooting digitally until someone inevitably betters it. But bear in mind that it’s taken fi ve years for anyone to better the Viper, so maybe this will have as long a run at the top. There have been some comments, all from the US, that it will be unsuccessful because of its 2/3in imager and B4 mount; that they should have made it with a 35mm-size chip. Well, they did. It’s called the Genesis and you can get it from Panavision.

As for the arguments that you can’t get the shallow depth of fi eld that we’ve become used to with 35mm, well I just think that if you’re saying that you should learn more about your job and optics. The only exception is if you shoot everything on 35mm at T1.3, in which case you are most defi nitely right!

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Since 1990, Geoff has shot almost entirely commercials. A short he shot, About A Girl, won a BAFTA in 2001. He shot special effects on Enemy at the Gates, won the SMPTE Eastman Gold medal in 2000. In 2006 he shot Mutant Chronicles digitally. He started the CML. It now has over 3,000 members in 148 countries.

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S upplying production equipment to the broadcast industry for the past 20 years, Visual Impact has

created a reputation for customer care and supplying new and used equipment at competitive prices, with a range that now includes Sonyʼs flagship F23 camera. To support its growing client base, Visual Impact has invested heavily in people, equipment and facilities to provide true international support. Positioning these valuable assets strategically across the globe, Visual Impact now have a workforce of 130 employees based out of 24 branches in 9 countries, covering the UK, Europe and South Africa. In addition to sales, its range of services includes a Hire and Specialist Drama Rental Company, along with a manufacturerʼs accredited Service Group.

The reason for Visual Impactʼs continued success is the ability

to combine specialist market and product knowledge with unique sales tools to help customers achieve key business goals. This rare skill, together with a close working relationship with manufacturers such as Sony, ensures customers receive a number of key benefits:

FlexibilityVisual Impact can mix and match new, used and hire equipment along with creative finance packages to deliver a solution tailored to individuals needs. We recognise that listening and questioning are vital skills in creating the right solution to match clientsʼ requirements.

ResponsivenessWith a large stock holding and 24 branches across the globe, Visual Impact delivers the fastest response in the industry to sales, hire or service enquiries. Direct

links into major manufactures also ensure its customers have access to the latest promotional information and technical expertise.

Peace of MindWith a truly international service network, Visual Impact can ensure minimum downtime, whether you are shooting in the UK, Europe or South Africa. A manufacturerʼs accredited service group with over 20 yearsʼ experience in the broadcast industry underpins this impressive geographical coverage.

Access to latest Technology & Industry TrendsDue to its strategic partnerships with manufacturers, Visual Impact has exclusive access to the latest technology roadmaps, new product details and market intelligence. Giving its customers the very latest information to help them make the right choice for their needs.

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Visual Impact

Win a Sony XDCAM EX cameraThe XDCAM EX camera shares the form factor of the Z1 and V1 HDV cameras, but sports higher level features found in Sony’s XDCAM HD range. It achieves its small size and light weight by recording to SxS fl ash memory cards, which can be plugged straight into your laptop’s PCMIA slot.

To enter the draw to win a brand new EX camera, simply log on to

www.visuals.co.uk/sonyexcompetition

and follow the instructions.

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B ryan Carroll has worked with director Michael Mann as, among other things, associate producer on Collateral and co-producer on Miami Vice. Michael has

been one of the handful of high-profile directors to fully embrace digital filmmaking early, using the Sony F950 and Grass Valley Viper extensively on Collateral, and shooting Miami Vice on the Panavision Genesis. It’s little surprise then that, on the release of the Sony F23, he was extremely keen to get a look at it.

“The idea for using this camera goes way back seven years, to when we used Sony F900s on Ali,” explains

Carroll, who acted as associate editor on the biopic. “Then, on Collateral, we wanted 4:4:4 10-bit, which meant using F950s and Vipers and recording to HDCAM SR. After we’d fi nished Collateral, we wanted to take to the next step.

“We’re talking now about October of 2004. Michael and I took a trip to Sony in Tokyo and told them about our dream camera. We wanted the mobility of the F900, but with 4:4:4 10-bit recording. We wanted the 2/3in imager size, because that’s what we like – the deep focus.

“During the shoot for Miami Vice, we spoke with Rick Harding from Sony,

and he talked to us about the F23 for the fi rst time. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. Over the years, we have spoken with Sony a lot, and so they offered us the opportunity to test the F23 on a Nike commercial that Michael was directing.”

Ergonomics“Before testing the dynamic range and the resolution and all the technical stuff, I really wanted to see how it worked in a film sense. The film grammar. When we worked with the F900, there was a film sense to the camera. There was an operator, the 1st AC pulled focus for him, the 2nd AC made camera reports,

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A Mann’s camera

f23 with michael mann

summer 2007 | showreel supplement 21

logged the timecode from the window on the side of the camera, made notes about what lens was being used, etc. We were still cabled to a DIT (digital imaging technician) for quality control, but the camera crew was in one place and ran the camera.

“With the F950 and the Viper, the 2nd AC had to sit by the DIT to log timecode, and it disrupted the established fl ow of things. There’s a rhythm to the set that’s been established over the years with fi lm. Although it’s new technology and it’s HD, we wanted to make sure that the camera crew’s jobs remained the same. So part of the big test for me on the Nike commercial was not just seeing how it performed from a technical perspective, but whether I could just drop this camera into the crew’s existing way of working. Our DIT’s job was to look at the image critically and see if it was cool, but the camera department controlled the focus, iris, frame rate changes, the fi lter wheel, and it just settled in there like it was a fi lm camera.

“I ended up really appreciating what Sony had done, ergonomically. Sony

allowed the creative team to choose the right workfl ow for their project. The decision is put into creative hands; it’s the directors decision as to whether you paint on set, or you can push it into Sony Log and do all of the work later. We prefer to work in the video space and control the look of the image on set, but if another director wants to work in the Sony Log space and grade the image at a later date, it allows them to work that way too.

For seven years, I’ve been working on various workfl ows with all the different fi lm replacement cameras, but with the F23, there’s a choice of workfl ows: you can shoot in log or in a more 709 friendly space, such as Hyper Gamma 3, which we used. The camera is back with the camera department; they took responsibility for it, instead of saying, ‘that’s not my job it’s the DIT’s job’. Something I’ve never seen before was that the guys in the camera crew actually wanted to learn how to operate some of the functions, such as the motorized fi lter wheel and NDs, as well as how to change the frame rates, etc – just like if it was an Arri 435 and they had to get to

know that camera on set. The camera department were far more, ‘oh wow, this is great. This is our camera’.”

Image quality“The 13 stops of dynamic range on this camera is truly amazing. We shot with those really high stadium lights shooting down on us, and it held all detail in the white uniforms of the football players. The project was multi-format: HD, 35mm fi lm, Iconix. We were truly able to intercut the F23 footage with the Kodak 5229. Having the control to be able to work like that was key.

“What I established on Ali seven years ago was that the cameras have changed, but the fi lm grammar stays the same. When you put the fi rst tape in the A camera, that tape is ‘roll A1’. The adaptation has come full circle. We treated it like they were basically loading a roll of negative in there.

“The footage goes off to a lab at the end of the day, whether it’s a fi lm lab or a digital lab. Notes from the script supervisor and the camera reports travel with that footage to editorial. Everything gets delivered on an HDCAM SR tape. Respecting what

Left: Michael Mann used a combination of Viper and F950 on Collateral, moving on to the Panavision Genesis for Miami Vice (above). He has recently shot a Nike commercial on the Sony F23.

Michael Mann has been one of the pioneers of digital fi lmmaking,recently shooting Miami Vice entirely digitally. Randy Wedick talks

to some of the team involved in making the switch to the F23.

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the camera dept does, that’s the most impressive part of the camera. Your camera crew does a lot more than just load fi lm. We’re putting the camera back where it belongs, back into the hands of the camera department.

“Thanks to Sony US, Clairmont and Band Pro working with us, we were able to carry out a full test, and it was one of the smoothest tests we’ve ever done. You could have walked on to the set and never known that it wasn’t a fi lm camera: the set ran the same way it’s run for decades. No way am I ditching the DIT. I really believe in having a DIT out there. But the camera crew now runs as a whole crew; its no longer split up.

“This camera – I can’t really compare it to any other medium. We had only a couple of days, but just from what I saw from it, I felt that we could go anywhere with this thing. It is truly a 13 stop camera. We didn’t even begin to scratch the surface with it. It is a true digital cinema camera, not HD, not fi lm. When you fi rst see the multiple frame rates and the ramping, you think, ‘wow’, but then the more you use the camera, the more you think, of course it does this, and of course it does that, because it’s so much like fi lm now.”

The DIT’s viewNick Thedorakis was the DIT on Miami Vice, as well as Michael Mann’s Nike commercial. “My first experience with the F23 was in a closed door whisper suite at NAB 2006,” he recalls. “It was an earlier version of the camera, but I was struck by the appearance of it. I got to get my hands on it for the first time at the Band Pro ‘One World in HD’ event and I realized that they had started to actually listen to people in the film world. There’s no denying they had some problems with the body style of the previous generation of cameras. Working with them, it just didn’t feel like a film set for directors and DPs. They didn’t have the industrial design and feel of a film camera. And aesthetics do matter.

“Also, those cameras had to have fi bre backs and downconverters and SDI backs, which made them longer and longer, especially with big batteries on the end. If you were serious about VFX and a fi lm-out, you had to run to an outboard recorder, which meant

you were tethered. And in the words of one of the directors I recently shot a camera test for, ‘an untethered movie is undeniably easier’. If, during the middle of a shot, the tether broke, because the actors decided to improvise, you haven’t just lost video, you’ve lost the whole shot. Now, of course, you can argue that this should never happen, but sometimes these things just do.

“Then the F23 came along. I was impressed by how much they got right. The assistant panel is genius – the way the character generator routes the outputs. You can view the menus on set without anyone else viewing them. The built in downconverter; the standard power outputs already there. It’s the closest thing to an out-of-the-box fi lm camera that the 2/3in RGB world has to offer.

“It’s as simple or as complex as you want it to be. That’s something I really do value. It’s something that only Sony brings to the table. It’s modular. They’re not thinking, ‘this is how you use the camera’. They’re giving you all the tools for any shooting situation imaginable. For example, the downconverted video can go down the paintbox remote cable for viewing. You may never use it, but you might want to, so they give you the ability.

“I recently wrapped a JJ Abrams feature where we used the F23. In my opinion, there’s no testing that’s as good as fi eld testing. Putting the camera on the set is the best way to fi gure it out. I’ve seen lab tests that show one thing, and when you get on set, those tests don’t hold up in the fi eld. We shot in every conceivable condition, in a helicopter nose mount, handheld running fl at-out for long distances, beyond the rigours of normal fi lmmaking. It’s a highly intensive physical show – nearly 100 per cent handheld. We got our cameras from Pace and they have a very nice on-board battery mount that made power more or less effortless through the entire movie.

“As far as build quality is concerned, I will say this: in the intensive run we had on this shoot, we never had to use our backup F23 once, and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from that. It’s as solid as any fi lm camera.”

“The whole point of this new

position – the DIT or whatever you want to call it, the digital imaging supervisor; the whole point of this job is to conceal the technical bit, to get it out of the way, so people can get on with the job of storytelling and not be too concerned with numbers. By routeing the character generator, you can show the menus on only the screens that need it, instead of someone yelling at you to ‘get the f&$@ menus off of my monitor!’ When you attach a paintbox, your manipulations can be almost undetectable.

“When shooting tests for the JJ Abrams movie we had a variety of cameras set up shooting a skyline at night. On the F23, the sky had its own colour, and there was clear separation between unlit buildings and unlit clouds at night. There came a point when JJ leaned over and said, ‘this camera sees way more than I do.’

“In terms of setting up the camera and paint settings, I shot a variety of gammas on this show. Lots of people believe that there is one gamma that is right for everything, but I have a different philosophy. Every gamma curve is a tool. For certain scenes with high dynamic range, I’d use the Sony Log. For other scenes, I’d use the Hyper Gamma 3 and 4. It’s like using subtle variations, and optimising the image for the scene.

“The most beautiful thing about the F23 is that every time you use it, you’re going to come up with 10 or 20 times where you say, ‘well that was smart’. After using it for a while, on the Michael Mann Nike commercial and other projects, I began to realize, ‘wow, they’ve actually been listening to user feedback.’ They’ve observed the way a shoot actually works and seen how an AC works with a DP and how they work with the director. They’ve made it so that the DIT can work transparently in that environment and do his job without interrupting or holding up the process of shooting. The camera can be set up in Cine Mode to be used by a novice, or can be fl own in Custom Mode, where you have a great wealth of controls that no other camera on the market has. To me, there is no option that is not welcome, as long as it can be turned off.”

Randy Wedick is senior technical support, digital cinema products at BandPro and even prior to that, a long-time Showreel contributor.

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T raditionally, the advantage that film has had over digital cameras is the capture range, or latitude. Film’s capture range is anywhere between 12 and 16 stops,

depending on the stock. Some people say you can get 20 stops out of some stocks, but to do that you’re pushing very hard in the processing and in the telecine. A digital camera, even a very good one, straight out of the box, will only do seven stops. That’s all you can get out of it – or rather get into it.

Let me loose on the controls on the top-end cameras and I can stretch that to 12 stops. That’s because the cameras don’t clip at peak white. There is more exposure available – they don’t use the whole sensitivity range of the sensor. If you do things to the transfer curves, you can claim all that back. And if the noise level is good enough, you can do things at the bottom end as well, to drag stuff out of the dark

and the murk and raise it to 12 stops – which is as good as a middling fi lm.

HDCAM cameras such as the 790P, 750P and the F900R will go to 11-12 stops because they have two, even three, stops of overexposure capability. So normal peak white doesn’t correspond to where the sensor itself limits. If you manipulate the controls you can reclaim all of that and bring it back into the curving range, so you can see details in the highlights, such as street lights. But with the F900R and the 790P, the latest cameras, Sony has played a clever trick. They’ve improved the noise of the head amplifi ers, so the noise level of the camera has gone down around 4dB. But then they’ve turned the gain down by about 4dB as well. So they’ve got around 8dB noise improvement, which is wonderful, but this is at the expense of about one stop of headroom. So the camera’s overexposure range can be as low as

1.3 stops now – not the 2.5 stops we got with the 700, 750 and the F900/3. So it’s great if you use it that way round. You get really, really good shadow details. The problem now is that you’re limited by the HDCAM performance, because it’s only 8-bit. So there’s a 54dB noise fl oor that you’re recording. But the front end of the cameras can do 62, 63, 64db. So with the F900R and the 790P, the cameras are now much better than the recorder. Their front ends are a match for HDCAM SR (of which more later). So, in a sense, Sony is making its cameras too good! What this means in practice is that you can go to +12dB and you’re still fi ne.

ResolutionSony’s approach to their camcorders all along is that the cameras should have the same resolution natively as the broadcast format. So all of their cameras have 1920x1080 sensors.

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The senior formatAlan Roberts outlines the strengths and limitations

of the HDCAM format and explains why HDCAM SR was invented and the advantages it delivers.

Sony SRW-5500 HDCAM SR deck: a

format designed to take the unprocessed

RGB image directly from the sensors via

dual-link HD-SDI.

hdcam sr

summer 2007 | showreel supplement 25

More than that, they’ve also got the half-pixel precision offset (pixel-shifting), where the green pixel is shifted half a pixel position sideways in order to get another around 40 per cent horizontal resolution. That works fine, so the cameras are delivering internally something like 2500 pixels horizontally by 1080 vertically. And that is lovely. That’s exactly what happens in DigiBeta and all the older broadcast SD cameras. Very nice. The issue is that it goes into HDCAM, and HDCAM as a format is not 1920x1080; it never has been, it never can be. It’s 1440 pixels wide, not 1920, so you only get 1440 pixels worth of resolution. But the cameras deliver that resolution to the compressors very, very nicely, so it fills the 1440 really rather well, depending on how good the lens is, obviously. It’s the chroma performance that’s a bit of a problem, because instead of using the conventional 4:2:2 format, where for every 4 luma pixels of horizontal information we would have two pixels of one colour difference and two of the other, HDCAM uses a 3:1:1 regime, where instead of 1440/720/720,

you’re getting 1440/480/480. There are only 480 pixels of chroma information across the picture with HDCAM, and that’s a problem, because in SD we’ve already got 360 pixels in 4:2:2, so we’re only slightly better in chroma than SD.

This is now being seen as a problem in some areas of production, because the chroma is not sharp. In a lot of productions, a limitation like that isn’t a problem. A lot of drama productions, for instance, don’t really want crisp, bitingly sharp pictures. They’re really quite happy with pictures that are relatively soft. They may go and put a Zeiss DigiPrime on it to raise the contrast levels that the camera can reproduce, but the fact that the camera comes out a little softer than you’d expect is actually an advantage. They like the look. Otherwise, they’d just go and put a diffusion fi lter over the lens anyway. Some of them still do. They put a very expensive Zeiss Prime on it and put a diffusion fi lter over it. I tend to think, what’s the point? It’s a very expensive way of doing things, but that’s their choice.

Apart from drama, another area where HD has really won major support is wildlife, and for that you really need all the resolution you can get. Shooting HDCAM is not ideal, because if you imagine shooting a shot through a tree, with leaves that have gone bright red against a blue sky, the luminance levels between the leaves and the sky tend to be very similar, so you’re relying on the chroma bandwidth to give the defi nition. Pictures like that look soft. On the other hand, there are certain shots where fi lm is distinctly soft compared with HDCAM.

The second issue with HDCAM is that’s it’s 8-bit, not 10-bit, so it has a noise fl oor of around 54dB. You cannot get the pictures quieter than about 54dB. So now that new cameras are being produced that can deliver at least 60dB signal-to-noise ratio, the pictures don’t ever get that quiet. The way round that is to record not onto the HDCAM deck that’s in the camcorder, but to record on to something else, such as HDCAM SR. SR is a 10-bit format, it records full 1920x1080, and can record 4:2:2 from an F900R or

Defi ning tomorrow.Be part of it.

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790P, so you get 1920 pixels of luma and 960 of chroma, as well as 10-bit colour space. That’s what’s happening in quite a lot of dramas now, although there is of course a price penalty.

So a 790P or an F900R with an SR back are performing as well at HD as DigiBeta is at SD. And if you were shooting with the Sony F23, which is a fi lm replacement camera, you would shoot routinely on to HDCAM SR – specifi cally because you’re getting greater chroma bandwidth and better

bit depth. HDCAM SR as a format is quite interesting, because it was built for James Cameron to shoot Aliens of the Deep. What he wanted was to shoot stereo (3D) in high defi nition. So they built a deck that ran at 440Mbit/s and then overcranked it. They overcrancked the deck and then put an extra card in so that it would record two HD cameras simultaneously. Both 1920x1080, both 4:2:2. Some bright spark then realized that if it will do that, it will do 4:4:4 as well, with

lower compression. So that’s what it will do now. But, to get 4:4:4 into the recorder, HD-SDI isn’t good enough. It’s only 1.5Gbit/s. You need 2.5Gbit/s, so the cameras that will deliver that now needed two HD-SDI sockets on the back instead of one. And that’s why all the system cameras, such as the Sony F950 and the 1500s, now have dual HD-SDI, so you can record 4:4:4 on to an SR deck.

In feature fi lm production, an awful lot of post operations are required.

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The SR format was invented to allow

James Cameron to shoot stereo channels

of 4:2:2 HD. It was later modifi ed to allow

4:4:4 RGB recording.

hdcam sr

summer 2007 | showreel supplement 27

Most of those involve chromakeying – the layering of one picture over another. To do that, you really have to identify the edge of one object so you can make a cut around that edge and replace the foreground or the background. Blue or green screen is the usual way to do it. If you’re going to use chromakeying in that way, you really need as much chroma bandwidth and bit depth as you can get. So obviously, 3:1:1 in 8-bit is not a particularly good way to do that. Ideally, you really want the full chroma bandwidth, and you get that with 4:4:4. What this means is that there is no chroma coding and there is no chroma fi ltering; you’re recording strictly the RGB output of the camera. So the camera then is simply recording the RGB output from the sensor directly to the SR recorder, via the dual-link HD-SDI. There’s hardly any processing going on in the camera. So the fi lm replacement cameras, such as the F23, tend to be rather simpler than the electronic video cameras, such as the F900R and the 750P, because the latter have to be all things to all men. They have to have all the controls to do

everything that a camera needs to do. At the top end of the programme

production game are the feature fi lm people. The guys who have “I am a fi lm producer” written on their baseball caps. Traditionally, these guys will not use cheap kit. That’s because they’ve got big budgets; they can afford to use expensive kit. This market comprises the Dalsa Origin, the Panavision Genesis, the Grass Valley Viper, the Arri D-20, and now the Sony F23. ‘F’ 23 because it’s a fi lm replacement camera and ‘23’ signifi es 2/3in chips. And with the dockable SR deck, it looks remarkably like a fi lm camera, and that’s how people are using it.

One of the nice things that fi lm people demand of fi lm replacement cameras is that they don’t record like a TV camera. They have to record log data. So it’s got to be able to produce at least 12-bit linear RGB or 10-bit Log data, so there’s no gamma corrector involved. It means you don’t have to deal with colour balancing in the camera; it means you don’t bother with a matrix. It means you don’t bother with detail enhancement. It’s simply

delivering the data from the sensor straight on to the recording medium.

All the people who are demanding fi lm replacement cameras are coming from fi lm; they’re not coming from electronic cameras. And they want a camera that actually works like it’s shooting fi lm. They don’t give a hoot what the image on the viewfi nder looks like. They don’t really care what’s on the monitor either. The monitor’s only a nicety if you happen to have it. But they trust fi lm. You never see what’s happening on fi lm until you see the rushes. The same is happening with the fi lm replacement cameras: what’s on the monitor isn’t all that relevant, because they know it’s going to work. Of course, you can apply a LUT (look-up table) to the monitor – a colour grade that gives you an idea of what the corrected image will look like once it’s gone through post; but that’s essentially for the money people, not for the DP. It’s also rather nice for make-up and costumes and set designers to see what their work is going to look like. But it doesn’t actually make much difference to production.

Alan Roberts worked 37 years for the BBC in R&D on various aspects of broadcasting and imaging. Latterly, he specialised in colour science and psycho-physics, applying the sciences to the use of cameras to get the best from them. Right at the end, he worked with BBC Production, encouraging the shift from fi lm and SD video into HDTV. He is now doing the same as a freelance consultant. [email protected]

Defi ning tomorrow.Be part of it.

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of Spider-Man 3 in 4K. But the overwhelming majority of fi lms that are released digitally are mastered at 2K. Since Spider-Man, there have only been a handful of 4K releases.

Colin Bell, general manager of the Odeon Guildford, reports that they’ve been able to screen Ocean’s Thirteen, Shrek the Third and Harry Potter in 4K, as well as “a few other digital fi lms that weren’t readily available in the 4K format.”

“Of course, the projector will uprez standard 2K content, but production of 4K needs to be thought about,” he adds. “That’s currently a barrier to widespread 4K distribution. If it’s not produced in 4K, we can’t play it in 4K, but from my understanding Sony has arranged a whole lot more titles year on year, and there will be a lot more to come next year.”

Technicolor recently opened a new 4K digital intermediate facility on Sony’s Culver City lot. The company’s fi rst big 4K project was Spider-Man 3. Technicolor also recently restored Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the

Bomb at 4K, and has been arranging special 4K screenings in cities such as LA and Toronto.

Warner Bros Entertainment recently completed a major upgrade, installing HP’s media storage technology to accommodate 4K postproduction and restoration. It also recently announced plans to restore and remaster classic feature fi lms from the vaults at 4K, starting with such fi lms as Blade Runner (which is being remastered at the Technicolor facility), Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke and the Dirty Harry fi lms, Magnum Force and Sudden Impact.

The ability to go into the vault and remaster classics is one key benefi ts of going digital (for the studios at least). In fact, according to Buckle, it’s the studios who have the most to gain from digital cinema. “We’ve done lots of cost-benefi t analyses. For the exhibitor, there really is no benefi t in going digital,” says Buckle. “You might see a little incremental income through the ability show library content or a bit of alternative content here and there, but there’s not enough alternative content

to really push the technology at the moment, and I don’t think there will be for many years.

“The big benefi t is the savings of digital fi lm prints against analogue fi lm prints,” he continues, “so the studios are going to be paying for this. They’ll pick up the lion’s share of the benefi ts, and they’ll be paying the lion’s share of the costs.”

With piracy reaching rampant proportions worldwide, another huge benefi t for the studios is security. Bell reports that, “it is a tamper-proof system to the degree that without the right key, on the right day, at the right time, and the right authorization, it is a completely safe environment, and that’s one of the key drivers for digital. That’s the good thing about all things digital: everything is whole lot more secure.

“People at the fi lm studios are very concerned about the security of fi lm content, so there are standards of security set up for the digital systems that are meant to protect the content, and it’s our job to make sure that these systems are put in place and

4k in guildford

summer 2007 | showreel supplement 29

F or the past few months, Odeon, the UK’s largest cinema chain, has been conducting beta tests at theatres throughout the country, testing various pieces of

digital equipment in an effort to assess the commercial benefits and cost of ownership issues associated with digital presentation gear.

As part of the tests, in May, Odeon Guildford, in Surrey, installed three Sony SXRD 4K projectors to assess the viability of 4K theatrical distribution of feature fi lms. Odeon’s digital development manager, Gerald Buckle,

explains that the SXRD trials are part of larger beta tests and fi eld trials that also include 2K systems installed at what the company is calling ‘Digiplexes’, such as Odeon Hatfi eld and Odeon Surrey Quays (London) – all-digital, fully networked, DCI-compliant multiplexes.

“The purpose of this is to really determine the key benefi ts of going digital, and hopefully we can identify enough value in doing that to roll out the concept at all our sites,” explains Buckle. “In the Guildford test, we really wanted to look at the 4K offering specifi cally. We wanted to see if there

was any consumer value in showing 4K as opposed to 2K or fi lm.”

Odeon Guildford is also equipped with a 2K projector as well as several 35mm fi lm projectors. The tests are expected to run to the end of the year. “We’re still looking at the consumer reaction to 4K,” says Buckle. “One of the issues we face at the moment is not having enough content to show at 4K. Clearly that’s got to change before we start investing in 4K projectors.”

The 4K theatres opened 1 May, with the highly publicized premiere

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28 summer 2007 | showreel supplement

Spider Man at largeScott Lehane covers the test of the Sony SXRD

projectors at Guildford Odeon, where Spider Man 3 was projected digitally in 4K for the audience.

Defi ning tomorrow.Be part of it.

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4k in guildford

summer 2007 | showreel supplement 31

someone on call who’s either based here, or can get here very quickly.”

Of course with any such technical trials, there are bound to be glitches. Buckle explains that one small issue they’ve run into was with KDM security keys, which didn’t take into account the fact that Odeon Guildford has multiple screens.

“A lot of the little problems are caused by third-parties not really understanding what’s required to support the digital systems. And I think a lot of people have been familiar with a system where there’s just a single screen equipped digitally,” he explains. “Sometimes, when we swap a fi lm from one screen to another, the fi lm will play on one server, but it won’t play on the other. So we’ve been talking to the guys who provide the keys to keep the content secure. It’s these little issues that you don’t realize until you start doing these things in the real world.”

In terms of the customer’s experience, Bell noted that, with four times the resolution of HD, audiences are able to sit in the front few rows of

the theatre without noticing the pixels. He adds that it’s still early to gauge any precise audience feedback, but that anecdotal evidence suggests, “there are certainly people who are making the conscious choice to come to Guildford from way beyond our normal drive-time radius. It’s still in the minority and some of that is about educating people about what digital is in a manner which, obviously, doesn’t degrade our present, perfectly fi ne, fi lm product.”

Pricing of digitalOf course, theatre owners will have to walk a fine line in their marketing of digital, to avoid undermining their real bread-winners – the traditional film theatres. For Buckle, that’s a key concern, especially if they try to distinguish 4K theatres from 2K theatres by charging a premium for the 4K screening. “You’re just turning your customers off and you’re confusing your marketing message early. But it’s an interesting debate to have. From a consumer perspective, digital is supposed to make things cheaper.”

He explains that he envisions a mix

of 2K and 4K auditoriums with little distinction between them (in the minds of audiences at least). “In some markets in Europe there’s been a shift toward charging a price premium for digital,” he says. “We’ve taken a slightly different approach. We’re assuming once you go digital, you won’t have that option. I think there’s a certain nervousness in some markets for the cinema operators to put prices up any further.

“Generally, the exhibition community has been quite aggressive on taking price increases, particularly in the UK market. And there’s always a sensitivity on the consumer side to price increases,” he says. “I would probably fi nd it quite diffi cult to justify a price premium.”

Ultimately, it will depend on whether the public-at-large jumps onto the bandwagon, seeing 4K (or digital in general) as something special.

“Spider-Man was an interesting case in point – there were certain scenes in the movie were you could actually see the detail that is afforded by 4K resolution, although it’s not every fi lm where you can do that,” he adds.are conforming with the specs and

outlines,” adds Buckle. “Once we’re following these standards we’re

confi dent we can keep the content secure.”

Buckle explains that the company

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30 summer 2007 | showreel supplement

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Sony recently launched of two new exhibition-specifi c additions to its 4K Silicon X-tal Refl ective Display (SXRD) line-up, offering 18,000 and 10,000 ANSI-lumen projection.

Demonstrated as a prototype in 2006, during 4K screenings of The Da Vinci Code, the 18,000-lumen model, SRX-R220, began shipping in July. Designed for digital projection in a commercial cinema, the projector is capable of displaying 2K and 4K content on screens up to 20m wide.

The SRX-R210 is the second new addition to the cinema exhibition-specifi c range. Based on the same chassis as the SRX-R220, this new projector accommodates a wide range of screens through a choice of lamp bulbs to achieve optimum performance of 14 foot-Lamberts on screens up to 14m wide using a 2KW lamp bulb and screens up to 17m wide using a 3KW lamp bulb. The SRX-R210 began shipping in August.

The new SRX-R220 and SRX-R210 models

incorporate many design elements of Sony’s fi rst-generation projectors, the SRX-R110CE and SRX-R105CE, and add several new features such as single Xenon lamp operation, keystone masking for standard and curved screens as well as an integrated secure enclosure for the playback system.

The projector housing is designed to meet FIPS 140/2 security requirements and features built-in rack space for Sony’s LMT-100 Media Block and attached RAID, or for a compatible server from another manufacturer.

The Sony Media Block contains all the components required to ingest, decode and play digital content. It features 16 audio channels.

Specifi c functions include: JPEG2000 decoding; security key management; extraction of audio and visual images from MXF fi les; alpha channel insertion for subtitles, and image watermarking. Users control the device through the Sony LSM-100 Screen Management Software system.

Second generation 4K projectors launched

has been taking delivery of fi lms on hard drives, along with advertising content that comes in on DVD.

Odeon was one of the fi rst in Europe to use a satellite network to deliver content to its theatres (which is typically used for the HD delivery of alternative content such as sporting events or concerts). But Buckle explains that satellite is still impractical for delivery of feature fi lms. We’ve got a lot of experience with the technical issues and the costs associated with using satellite delivery,” he says. “I think there’s a substantial way to go before we get into the regular delivery by satellite of fi lm content.”

In terms of the reliability of the SXRD systems, Bell reports that they’ve never missed a screening. “There has been some teething, but nothing beyond the norm of what happens when you put such kit in a new environment for the fi rst time. I guess it’s not only a trial from Odeon’s point of view, but also from Sony’s.

“Sony has been very good at supporting our guys through all of this,” he adds. “They make sure that if anything were to go wrong, there’s

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4k projectors in the USA

summer 2007 | showreel supplement 33

enjoy a good visual without getting a headache.”

At present, the primary delivery mechanism is hard drives, although there have been numerous tests with satellite and even IP delivery in recent years. The systems generally sell for under $100,000 and, according to Stucker, “there’ll probably always be some level of premium to be paid for 4K, but it’s not that large a delta compared to 2K.”

In terms of training projectionists, Stucker explained that, “ordinarily we provide a couple of days of operational training. It’s certainly different from fi lm projection. But with all the DLP systems having been in the fi eld for a couple years already, a lot of folks are becoming familiar with digital in general with experience being gained by just about everyone in the market.”

Theatre owners are viewing 4K as a ‘premium’ experience – something a little more upscale, compared to the theatres of yesteryear. US theatre chain, Landmark Theatres, recently opened its new LA fl agship theatre, The Landmark, which features a

12-theatre auditoria, three of which are outfi tted with Sony’s SXRD 4K projectors. The facility features ‘Living Room Auditoria’, with love seats, ottomans and sofas, as well as gourmet, health-conscious and speciality concessions and a wine lounge – all designed to elevate the movie-going experience.

“There were customers who attended several different fi lms in these auditoria simply because they said the experience was unlike any they had ever previously had in a theatre,” says Landmark Theatres’ chief operating offi cer Ted Mundorff.

The Landmark is using Sony’s earlier R110 model of the SXRD. “The picture quality was pristine and unwavering. Filmmakers and distributors will undoubtedly be thrilled to have this as an alternative to fi lm,” says Todd Wagner, co-owner, Landmark Theatres. The company has plans to roll out similar 4K theatres in Denver and Baltimore, starting this fall.

Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Muvico Entertainment is in the process of building a new 18-screen

entertainment complex in the Chicago suburb of Rosemount. Scheduled to open later this summer, the company describes it as “the initial step in converting the chain’s 12 theatres (228 screens) across the United States to digital technology.”

The company plans to roll out SXRD in three additional locations by 2008. Muvico is using a combination of the 10,000-lumen SRX-R210, and the 18,000-lumen SRX-R220 models, as well as Sony’s LMT-100 media block systems.

“We carefully evaluate anything that we feel can strengthen the fi nal presentation we make to our patrons, and the quality and performance of the SXRD technology really impressed us,” says Mike Whalen, president of Muvico. “Not only is this the highest resolution available, but this type of technology opens up so many new opportunities for displaying alternative content in our theatres, such as live concerts and sporting events. It gives us a solid foundation in converting our chain to digital. We believe installing digital projectors with 4K resolution

The new 4K Landmark Theater in Hollywood.

W hen the DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) Spec was released in 2005, it was intended to overcome one the biggest hurdles digital cinema

faced – namely cost – by giving manufacturers a common specification to build to. Built around the JPEG2000 wavelet-based compression scheme, the spec encompasses both 2K and 4K, backward- and forward-compatible file formats for the theatrical distribution of feature films.

The advantage of digital cinema is that the picture quality at a small-town theatre in Nebraska will be identical to that in London or Los Angeles, and it will look the same after hundreds of showings as it did on the opening night. It also saves the studios a fortune on fi lm prints (which can cost them over $1,000 each just to insure),

not to mention shipping costs. Armed with a common spec,

2K digital cinema has seen explosive growth worldwide, while 4K has been a bit more problematic due to costs, availability of 4K content and technical issues. To date, Sony’s SXRD (silicon x-tal crystal refl ective display) projectors have been sold predominantly into post-production applications, but that’s starting to change, with theatre owners starting to make their fi rst forays into 4K digital cinema.

“The whole idea behind D-Cinema was to make a distinction between what people could get in their home theatre and what they would see on a movie theatre screen,” says Andrew Stucker, director of Sony Electronics’ digital cinema group. “2K does a nice job, but it’s only a nominal increase over what people get in their homes

right now.” Stucker estimated that there

are probably about a dozen SXRD projectors installed in post-production houses in the US. “Frankly, there hasn’t been a lot of need for 4K projection in post houses yet because there hasn’t been a lot of 4K DI work. But that’s starting to change. Warner Bros and Sony Pictures are getting into routine distribution of 4K, and over the next year we’ll see technology being applied that will bring the cost down for 4K. That’s really the showstopper right now for most of the studios – the premium they have to pay for 4K rendering. But that’s going to start coming down.”

Sony is now into its second generation of projectors – the R200 series. The R210 is a 10,000-lumen model while the R220 delivers 18,000 lumens. The R210 began shipping in July, with the R220 scheduled to ship in late September or early October. In post applications, the SXRD is typically paired with a high-end uncompressed server, such as an SGI or Keisoku Giken, to deliver DI-quality images to the projector. For theatrical distribution, Sony offers the LMT-100 media block – a DCI-compliant JPEG2000 server to drive the projectors.

“It’s four times the resolution, so pixels go away. You no longer have the eye strain in the fi rst 3-5 rows,” says Stucker. “That’s one of the undeniable benefi ts that comes in with the construction of new theatres with stadium-style seating; people are sitting closer to the screens than they ever have before, and they’re still able to

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4K in the USAAs with many things, the roll-out of technology in the

UK is preceded by events in the USA. Scott Lehanelooks at the experience with 4K projection Stateside.

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will redefi ne the movie-going and live event experience by providing our guests with picture quality never seen before on the big screen.”

The new venue will showcase what the company is calling its ‘Premier Concept’, with reserved seating, oversized love seats, complimentary valet parking and popcorn, and access to a full-service restaurant and bar.

“Premier guests can enjoy beer, wine or a cocktail as they view the latest blockbuster movie or live event in a truly sophisticated environment on 4K digital projection,” Whalen says. “For parents, the entertainment venue will offer an exclusive on-site children’s playroom that will be supervised by teachers and assistants. This in turn will provide spontaneity to movie-going parents who want to relax and enjoy a fi lm or live event hassle-free without a frantic – and often unsuccessful – ‘last-minute’ search for an at-home babysitter.”

Meanwhile, sales of 2K

DLP projectors have surpassed expectations, and become quite common. Christie recently reported that it has installed over 3,000 Digital Cinema systems worldwide, and is on target to surpass 4,000 installations by year’s end. Some 2,600 of those are in the US, but the company reports that “installations outside of North America have begun to accelerate.”

To keep up with a surging demand (some 400 DLP Cinema units per month) the company has increased its manufacturing capacity by over 400 per cent in the past year.

“There’s no question that right now 2K is the dominant distribution format, but with costs coming down for 4K DI and post, and the fact that 4K camera manufacturers such as Dalsa and Red are starting to supply acquisition systems for 4K originated movies, within the next 24 months there’s going to be a terrifi c expansion of 4K fi lms,” says Stucker. “4K originated

movies are on their way. Originating in 4K and distributing in 4K is a tremendous combination.”

With Red reporting over 3,500 of its 4K Red One cameras on order, there may soon a fl ood of 4K content to fi ll the void. “The ASC (Amercian Society of Cinematographers) is probably the strongest supporter of 4K in the industry, because they see this as a way to get back to the level of art that Hollywood used to be able to afford with 65mm,” Stucker explains. “Costs being what they are, movies have now been relegated to 35mm 3-perf. 4K origination systems allow them to get back up to that higher level of artistry.”

“The reason we started the digital cinema division is Sony’s commitment to 4K across the board, so the projector, for us, is the fi rst step,” says Stucker, pointing out that Sony is in the early development stages of its own 4K camera.

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34 summer 2007 | showreel supplement

Scott Lehane is a Toronto-based journalist and documentary fi lm producer. He can be reached at:[email protected]

The SXRD in action.

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