When I bought my Sony PMW-F55 from Rule.com I knew it was going to be an amazing camera. I was looking at replacing my Red One MX digital cinema camera and needed a similar style large sensor camera that would compliment my Sony PDW-F800. I needed a digital cinema/broadcast television camera hybrid.
My Red One MX was a decent camera, but I was not using it enough in the broadcast and documentary world. The Red didn’t work correctly all the time and without warning. Many clients did not always want only the Red raw .R3D files because the turnaround time was extensive. My broadcast clients wanted a camera that could record a format on-board that was friendly with their current workflow. That format is XDCAM 422 (or MPEG2 422).
The F55 has a new format that looks great and plays well with most NLEs, XAVC. In addition to shooting MPEG2 on board, I can shoot XAVC in many resolutions and framerates right to SxS cards.
I needed an all-in-one camera system that shot broadcast friendly formats, was future proof to shoot 4k, could shoot raw and also could shoot high frame rates (HFR). With the new and planned free firmware updates, the Sony F55 solved all these issues.
Also, the fact that the F55 is very sensitive in low light, has a global shutter, uses SxS cards on board, has a modular form factor, accepts the Optitek F to Canon EF adapters and even has a soon-to-be-released F to B4 Sony branded lens adapter, I was sold.
I got rid of my (sometimes finicky) “broadcast style” Red One MX and upgraded to the rock-solid F55 and I am very happy I did. I almost went with the cheaper F5 and might have if I knew at the time that the v2.0 firmware would also unlock HFR on that model. But I am happy with the F55 and so far, it has proven to be a workhorse, just like the F800.
I have added a Sony shoulder mount, Bebob 190 v-mount batteries, a Sony OLED viewfinder and a Sony R5 recorder, so the cost has jumped quite a bit, but my clients are very happy with the turnkey solutions I can provide with this very versatile rig.
Recently, I updated the firmware to version 2.0 and this unlocked a ton of new features. Most important to me was the ability to record glorious 240 frame per second video in 2k resolution. I have a soft spot for silky smooth slow motion, as many of you know and I’ve been waiting patiently for this update for quite some time. When the firmware finally went live, I immediately applied it without any problems. The update is very easy to do at home, just follow the .pdf instructions included with the firmware file you download from Sony. I have had zero issues with the new update and in fact, it changed the camera so much, I joke around with people that the camera is now a Sony F56!
I took the freshly updated F55 camera into a heavy thunderstorm yesterday. The skies were dark and ominous. I had a $3 umbrella, a single Sony 512GB SSD installed in the R5 recorder, a Canon 24-70mm f2.8 mk2 lens and my trusty Vinten Vision 100 tripod. The SSD gave me just over 200 minutes of 2k raw 240 fps recording time at a 29.97fps timebase. I wanted to test out the HFR in a dark and dreary wooded area to examine how much sensitivity is lost when shooting higher speed. Many of you understand that when shooting high speed, a lot of light is needed for exposure. And if underexposed, the video gets super noisy, even in raw. Trying to save it in post is impossible.
I shot for about an hour under the shelter of the umbrella with the camera in 2k raw 240fps at native ISO 1250. I had the Canon 24-70mm lens wide open at f2.8 during the entire shoot. The camera was screaming for more light, but I wanted to really tax the sensor and see if I could make acceptable pictures in the looming darkness. These shots were PURPOSELY underexposed to examine grain and noise in this test. This was worse case scenario and really pushed the limits of the F55.
The theme of the test video I shot (at the top of this page) was drops of water falling from leaves and branches in the forest. And, my love of ripples in water captured in slow motion and my fondness for foley in post audio was also demonstrated! Check it out.
Speaking of post, my workflow with the Sony raw files was a bit tricky. I tried for hours to export the slow motion 29.97fps .MXF files using Sony’s free Raw Viewer software. This program is similar to Red’s CINE-X application and allows you to do a grade and then batch all the file to a workable editing format. I use ProRes 422 and Final Cut Pro on a current generation Mac Book Pro Retina laptop. I tried to export the clips, but each time I ended up with a black image the length of the video file.
My quick fix was to use the F55 camera’s built in LUTs and the R5 raw recorder’s AUX BNC video output. I hooked up a KiPro drive to the AUX out, hit play on the camera and recorded the video at 1080 30p in ProRes 422 (HQ). It took a long time to play and record all that high speed footage! This actually works quite well and could be used in a pinch to get HFR footage instantly to a client. No computer or raw processing needed.
I searched online and found nobody talking about the “black only when exporting from Sony’s Raw Viewer” issue in any forum or blog. After experimenting in all flavors and codecs in the application, I tried adjusting the “Configuration” menu at the top of the screen. I set the “OpenCL Device” from my MBP’s “GeForce GT 650M” graphics card to “Unused”. I got the export to ProRes to work perfectly. If you are having this same problem, this may be the solution until either NVIDIA, Apple or Sony fixes the problem. Or perhaps my config is screwed up, I do not know. Please leave a comment below if you know more about this.
I was finally able to test out a few clips and stretch the blacks out a bit to examine the noise in the image. There was a lot of noise was in the clips, but as you will see, they are way underexposed! I’m really not that surprised because it was very dark in the location during the storm while I was shooting. The grain is “filmic and organic” in my opinion, but noise is noise. That being said, this was a torture test. More experimentation at proper exposure is needed for sure. I’m sure it will look amazing, but nice to know I could shoot HFR in almost no light if necessary. Keep an eye on my blog.
I was very impressed by the look of the slow motion footage. No image artifacts (moiré or aliasing) like found on cheaper camera systems like the Sony FS700 with the new firmware and recorder. Also, the dynamic range and latitude (even in this under exposed test) was excellent. I guess you would expect this from such an expensive camera.
I will include a few raw .mxf clips straight off the Sony SSD for you to check out at the bottom of this blog post. I will also include a few ProRes 422 (HQ) exported clips graded and ungraded using Raw Viewer. To download these, right click on the “download” button and save file as… if a direct click does not work for you.
NOTE: These are for reference only. Please follow instructions given by Sony for upgrade and future releases of firmware. I am not responsible if your gear gets screwed up if you decide to update your stuff.
Sony F55 Video Downloads:
NOTE: These files are for test purposes only. Please do not repost any of this content. To download, right click and save file as…
If you want an account to share your work using DROPBOX like I do, please click here. You get 2GB free!