Sony PXW-FS5 in Focus
It’s been over a month now since the purchase of my FS5. In the meantime, I spent hours on testing the camera and I had the possibility to film a number of commercial productions with it.
Every day, I read a number of posts on forums and it seems that the same topics appear over and over again. So I thought it might be a good moment to clear up a few things about this camera:
Bugs that will hopefully be addressed in the next firmware update:
(scheduled end of February 2016)
- Due to the temporal internal noise reduction that enables us to use Cine1 even at ISO 6400, ripped edges and “noise lines” that make the image fall apart may occur with the camera in motion, especially in UHD mode.
Possible Workaround: Avoid filming scenarios with a higher gain than +9 dB.
- When using the kit lens (Sony SELP18105G), zooming in or out using the zoom rocker of the smart grip may knock the image out of focus. Note that the SELP18105 is “electronically parfocal” (meaning even though it is not optically parfocal we can use the old ENG practice of zooming in, setting focus and then zooming out again because the lens automatically adjusts for focus differences at the individual zoom stages).
Possible workaround: Use the zoom controls on the lens.
- Internal recording capabilities: The camera uses the XAVC-L codec in all modes. This is a inter-frame / Long GOP codec. By the nature of this codec (and in contrast to any intra-frame codec), not every single frame is encoded individually. This means it will put more stress on our editing workstation than any intra-frame codec.
XAVC-L in HD (1920 x 1080) is recorded with a bitrate of 50 mbps, 4:2:2 color subsampling and 10-bit color depth.
XAVC-L in UHD (3840 x 2160) is recorded with a bitrate of 100 mbps, 4:2:0 color subsampling and 8-bit color depth.
Possible workaround: Use an external recorder connected either to the HDMI or SDI output.
- HDMI output: The HDMI output delivers an image at any resolution mode of the camera (meaning up to 3840 x 2160) with a color subsampling of 4:2:2 but only at a color depth of 8-bit. This is resolution-independent (meaning it’s the same 8 bits at HD or UHD), most probably a hardware restriction and thus most probably won’t be fixed in any firmware update. Don’t take my word for it though, in case I’m wrong and Sony offers us 10-bit HDMI out (like the cheapo GH4s and XC10s have) via a firmware update, I’d be the last one to complain.
Possible workaround: Use the SDI output to get 2 bits of additional color depth.
- SDI output: The 3G SDI output delivers an image up to HD (1920 x 1080) with a color subsampling of 4:2:2 and a color depth of 10-bit. In case we want to record or monitor externally while in UHD mode the SDI output will still only deliver the image at 1920 x 1080.
A future firmware update should give the FS5 the possibility to output (linear 12-bit) FS-RAW which can be recorded via an external recorder (like the Atomos Shogun or the Convergent Design Odyssey7Q+).
- UHD monitoring choice: Only when recording in UHD mode, due to the FS5 interal processing limitations we can choose to either
monitor the image on the built-in EVF / LCD and record internally
monitor the image externally (via HDMI or SDI) and record both internally and to an external recorder – in this case, the built-in EVF / LCD will only display useful HUD-data like the histogram, time information etc. but no actual image.
Sony promised that the camera will be able to output both internally and externally when outputting FS-RAW.
- Will a Shogun or Odyssey 7Q+ enhance the image quality?
From my experience, yes. Even though the color depth is limited to 8 bits in UHD, the image looks way better than the internal recording, thanks to less compression artifacts and higher color subsampling. I am using the Atomos Shogun which accepts both the SDI signal (via BNC) and the HDMI signal (both up to 60P). It already “talks” FS-RAW, so once the option arrives, I am also ready for that.
Apart from that we also get on-screen waveform monitoring, additional audio inputs and a really great screen.
- Battery issues: Up front, I need to say that we’re best off with original Sony batteries. The company tries to protect their own battery market by finding ways to block out third party manufacturers – it’s a lot of money in that market segment, so I can’t blame them.
Many of the third party batteries (compatible with the FS7!) I tried cause strange problems: Either we’re unable to format the SDXC cards as long as the percentage of a freshly charged battery isn’t shown on the FS5 display, or the camera resets the internal clock and timecode when powering it on after inserting a third party battery. Out of my experience, this doesn’t happen every time (very random), but it happens frequently.
Now I’m that kind of guy that doesn’t like to collect batteries but rather power all my peripherals (like headlight, audio receiver and even the Shogun) from a single battery.
Sony offers the BP-U60T that comes with an additional Hirose output for such a task, but unfortunately, that type of battery is out of stock and new ones are expected to ship in late March 2016.
The only working third party battery that I could find on the market was the Hawk-Woods BP-75UX which also offers two (!) additional D-Tap outputs. The same company also builds D-Tap to single or dual Hirose adapters. Absolutely great!
- Issues with Final Cut Pro X: While I also have Adobe Premiere on my main workstation for compatibility reasons, my personal choice for editing is FCPX. While we can discuss days and nights about which NLE is the best I know I’m way faster there.But two problems exist at the moment (as of beginning of February 2016):- The luma values of the FS5 UHD clips is interpreted wrongly, so directly importing the clips into FCPX will result in a strange luma shift.- With HD clips imported directly from the camera, random frames “block up” during playback. Unfortunately, this also affects the render engine, so even if the rendered timeline plays back without any problems, certain “blocky” frames may creep into our final render. Needless to say, every final render should be checked for errors, but spotting those single, random “blocked up” frames requires a lot of concentration.
By the way, this is no FS5-specific issue. I have seen this issue with other more “recent” Long GOP codecs as well, like the one the Canon XC10 is using.
Apple is aware of the problem and they’re currently working on it – I hope a fix doesn’t take them too long.
Possible workaround: Batch-transcode the clips directly to PRORES before edit. One of the quick and reliable solutions to both of the problems mentioned is Convergent Media EditReady. I use it every day.
- S-Log 2 / 3 in UHD mode: Recording S-Log 2 or 3 internally will most probably give you banding, and there is no way to avoid that. I am afraid it originates more in the heavy image compression than in the lack of 10 bit color depth, even blue sky banding didn’t show up when using the Shogun external recorder: