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March 2, 2011

Sony Releases Details of New NXCAMs, Upgrades the F3 to a 'Mini ALEXA,' and Previews 8K (!) Camera

When Sony announced the details of their NEX-VG10 camcorder, I said they were bringing a knife to a gunfight. Times have changed. Sony presented in Japan today a number of their next generation of indie/documentary-friendly cameras, and it's clear that this time around Sony is bringing a gun to a gunfight. A bunch of guns, as it were. Their just-shipping F3 is already being called a "mini ALEXA" by some, and is going for RED's jugular (don't let anyone tell you different). Sony also has several more cameras on the way, and they're setting their sites on the post-HDSLR market.

The unnamed cheaper-than-an-F3 NXCAM will retail for less than $7,000, shares the same APS-C sensor as the F3, and just might eat the Panasonic AF100's lunch. It's a modular design somewhat reminiscent of RED's lego-like approach, with removable handles and handgrips; some are comparing it to a Hasselblad in form factor. There's a media embargo until March 23 -- presumably Sony wants to save something for NAB -- so pictures of the camera in the wild are unavailable at present. So, what's the difference between the $7k NXCAM and the $13k F3, if they've got the same sensor? I'm assuming that the NXCAM will be based around an 8-bit, compressed workflow, whereas serious F3 shooters will bypass its 8-bit SxS recording and utilize the HD-SDI output for 4:2:2, or even 4:4:4, recording (more on that in a second). In addition to the NXCAM being based around Sony's E-mount lenses (as opposed to the pro PL mount on the F3), the half-priced brother will probably lack the F3's extensive imaging controls and outputs. Frame rates are reportedly the same 1080p 60p / 50p / 30p / 25p/ 24p with a AVC/H.264 codec.

Sony also teased also a new "Compact Size Camcorder," which -- get this -- ships with 96GB of internal memory (good for 8 hours of continuous recording), is water and dust resistant, has XLR inputs (via an adapter), and is priced at under $3,500. With a very small footprint, this camera will probably be best suited to documentary and field work. Finally, the third camera Sony teased was a compact 3D camcorder, with 1080 60i/50i/24p specs and a 3.5" glasses-less 3D LCD. One should assume small image sensors will be at the heart of both of these cameras, given their price. Sony will reportedly unveil two more 3D camcorders at NAB, where they'll also give these cameras official names and specs.

PMW-F3 Firmware Upgrade

Sony also released details of the paid firmware upgrade for the F3. The CBK-RGB01 upgrade for the F3 will allow for 4:4:4 uncompressed output over 3G-SDI (the next-generation of HD-SDI) or dual-link HD-SDI, four pre-loaded look up tables (LUTs), five custom LUTs, and most importantly an S-LOG workflow (more on this in the days to come -- essentially it's more of a RAW workflow, which Sony is claiming improves dynamic range by a staggering 800%). All of these new features come at a price: $3,300. While that seems like a lot of money to pay for a firmware upgrade, anyone interested in those features is going to be working on well-budgeted projects. Hell, a 4:4:4 recorder like the Cinedeck costs $10k alone. While it'd be nice to have the upgraded features enabled by default, Sony is being smart by allowing shooters to get in the door for a lower price, with hopes of future upgrades. Sort of like RED's "obsolescence obsolete" upgradability. This upgrade justifies the F3 being called a "mini ALEXA" -- the total price for the body and firmware will be $17k, keeping mind the ALEXA is $75k.

Here's a random recent video shot on the F3:

Almost a year ago at FreshDV Matt Jeppsen guessed that, in the battle to capture the post-DSLR large sensor camcorder market, Sony might get the cheese. With the Panasonic AF100 out in the wild and RED's plans pretty well known, in my mind the one X-factor in the post-DSLR videocamera market is Canon. Will they come out with a Super35-sized descendant of their XL1? If Canon doesn't have anything to show at next month's NAB, 2011 could very well be the year of Sony.

8K Camera

Somehow I missed this when first posting about Sony's presentation. Sony also previewed their next-gen cinema camera, and it's beyond 4K: it has a Super35-sized 8K CMOS sensor with a 8768 x 2324 resolution (20 Megapixels) with 16-bit RAW output. Strange: unless they're using some super non-square pixels, that's a 3.77:1 aspect ratio. It will record to Sony's upcoming SR-R1 1TB RAID 5 memory card (PDF link; pictured at left). The mystery cam will shoot at up to 120 FPS, and will probably cost three billion dollars. It makes a lot of sense, given Sony already has 4K projectors installed at many theaters. Eat your heart out, RED...

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26 Comments

As discussed more in-depth at:
http://facebook.com/nxcam
http://facebook.com/pmwf3

The Super 35mm sensor is not APS-C, as this blog posting asserts. And the $3,300 firmware update is getting suspicious love here, as elsewhere. I've rarely seen anti-consumer behavior like that given such a shrug, even from the so-called "professional" assumption that someone else (always) will pay for it. The firmware update pricing, and even the NXCAM 35 product pricing, is an insult and will prevent wide-spread adoption by the independent filmmaker community, who are more vital than old-skool shoulder-cam union-style vets doing weddings and corporate training videos. Supply-and-demand curves are pointing toward a blossoming of tenfold more independent filmmakers with high quality standards, and Sony just doesn't get it. Meanwhile, the old vets are scared silly of teenagers besting their talents.

March 2, 2011

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The F3 sensor is 23.6 X 13.3 mm. APS-C is 25.1 × 16.7 mm. The widescreen variant of Super35 is 21.5 x 18.6 mm. No, they're not "the same," but for all intents and purposes they are. Super35 and APS-C lenses cover the Sony sensor, and that's what matters.

After that first point, you lost me.

March 3, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
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Yeah I don't understand that nitpicking - the 7D sensor is 22.3mm x 14.9mm, and APS-C as a standard ranges in size because Nikon's APS-C is bigger than Canon's.

March 3, 2011

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Joe

I tink dood is saying that it's insulting to the cash-strapped indie community to come out with a camera that will charge for firmware upgrades. Correct me if I'm wrong..... dood?

March 3, 2011

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Dood is saying

Do you expect them to give it away for free? That would be like saying that when something new comes out you can trade your old stuff in and pay nothing for the new stuff. They would go out of business because no one would ever have to buy a new camera. If you don't like that they charge for a newer feature set that cost them a lot to make then don't buy it. As for me, I would love to have 4:4:4 but most people can't edit that anyways so I'll take 4:2:2 and not complain at all.

March 3, 2011

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Paul

Most old vets are not worried about teenagers besting them at all. I see it all the time, the old vets look at the new tech, they teach themselves to use it, and then they continue to work, using whichever tech they need to get the job done.

The people who have stuff to lose at the people who're only mediocre, at any level, as they're not good enough to fend off the cheaper hot new kid on the block.

March 3, 2011

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I think it's funny that RED got a lot of crap for all of their firmware upgrades (free of course). They supposedly released an incomplete camera and then fixed issues along the way.

The difference with RED is that they've always enabled 4K, or 4.5K now, right of the box along with their RAW compressed format.

Yet, everyone congratulates Sony for planning to release a $3300 firmware upgrade 6 months after the camera is on the market even though it should have already included all those features in the first place - and for a lower price. S-Log is not the same as RAW no matter how much they say it is - it's better than Rec-709 but it's just not nearly as powerful as RAW. It's really just a curves adjustment.

Also, let's not forget that Arri is doing the same thing with their Alexa, they are just now, after six months, releasing a firmware upgrade for their camera that allows more than 1080p and RAW out of the camera. But that camera isn't even competition for the indie market and there are only two expensive recorders in the world that can properly do Alexa's RAW.

So for almost $17,000 without a lens you can buy the F3 at 1080p 35mbit S-Log, or for the same price, possibly cheaper, get a fully working RED Epic-S - that includes out of the box a real 4K, RAW, and even allows more highlight protection using their HDRx. To make the F3 even start competing with a RED you've got to add in the few thousand it will cost to get an external recorder. If you got a Ninja, that's around $18,000 - body only. A FULLY rigged Epic-S will likely cost less than or close to that price - but can you really compare the two?

Maybe you don't need RAW or 4K, but just because you don't need it doesn't mean a camera that does 1080p only is a better value.

March 3, 2011

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Joe

Joe, I've been working on a post on this very topic. The $12k (proposed) price of the EPIC-S is very deceptive. We won't know until they announce package prices; hopefully the F3 will but a bit of downward pressure on RED.

March 3, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
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I can't wait to read it. It's definitely deceptive in that it will probably only include the body and a recording option - along with the remote on the back of the device.

It definitely will put pressure on RED to actually start releasing these cameras in volume by summer and to make sure their price stays competitive.

I'm really just trying to say that the camera is expensive in relation to its specifications. I'm sure Sony, being the huge organization that they are, know that it's better for them to try to recoup R&D costs in the first go since they already have a huge install base of people who use and like Sony video products. They can afford to add a few thousand dollars to their product because at the moment there isn't a camera really competing with them. I just feel like Sony held back tremendously and it wouldn't have been out of the question for them to have released a far more capable camera for a similar price. At LEAST a better in camera codec. I mean come on, you really shouldn't have to purchase a separate 3rd party product to get better than 35Mb in a $13,000 camera body. Wouldn't you agree?

March 3, 2011

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Joe

I'm also interested to see what Canon is planing on doing with their video camera line. We call know they are pumping out DSLR cameras and are winning that race. But what of their XL1. I would be a much more obvious choice for people than the AF100 because of the lens everyone has already invested in.

Everyone talking about how much these cameras cost to buy. Real indie productions are renting cameras. Do you think anyone that was on set of Winters Bone owned a RED? I do really doubt it. That $3k upgrade is costs that go to the rental house.

March 3, 2011

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Well a lot of them aren't, and that's the dialogue we are trying to have. Let's say I am a small production company with a few friends and we produce some commercials, and some shorts and features together over a 2-3 year period.

Let's put it into perspective - Winter's Bone was a 24 Day shoot and their estimated budget was $2 million. A small RED MX package is close to $1000 - and then let's say they manage to get a deal on lenses and the rest of the package and it's $2000 a day to rent. That's $50,0000 over the course of their shoot, and out of their $2 million budget, it is only 2.5%. Pennies - obviously. On bigger productions camera and film have always been a small part.

Now I take my friends and I and we manage to pitch in and purchase a RED MX at around $35,000 for a complete package and lenses. A complete shooting camera. Or one of us might have saved up a lot of money over a long period and they can buy it themselves. Either way, we own a RED now. Now we're going to shoot 3 features over a 3 year period and we can manage to secure only $10,000 per film because we have such limited resources. Say it's going to take us 15 days to shoot each film at the same rental cost as Winter's Bone. If we rented the camera - that's $30,0000. 3 times our TOTAL budget. For ONE movie. After the 3rd movie, we're at $90,000 - in the end we saved around $60,000 because we decided to purchase the camera. This allowed us to make 3 features in 3 years instead of 1 feature over 4-6 years. And that's what it would come down to if we needed $40,000 to make the movie instead of $10,000.

These are real cameras (the F3 and the RED) and in the long run at micro-budget levels we will end up saving a tremendous amount of money by purchasing instead of renting. If we can scrape together the funds we might even be able to buy the camera with our first feature instead of renting - and from then on we own it outright without having to spend more of our own money. It's these types of people who will be buying cameras, and at the outset - another $3,000 could be a lot of money for a couple features that should have already been included in the camera.

Say I shot 25 commercials a year. That's $50,000 in RED MX camera rentals. Do you really want to pass that cost on to smaller clients who will go find someone else who can do it cheaper? At $35,000 for the whole package, we saved $15,000. And now in year two - we OWN the camera. We can either lower our prices or increase our profit margins.

If you're at a lower level than that you're probably using a DSLR because those rental prices might be more than your whole budget. Those are not the target of these cameras either.

It's really the people in the middle - the micro budget people and the commercial shooters who want a real camera with real features - and to whom $3000 might be too much money at the moment. Especially if they were someone who owned a production company that worked for the Discovery Channel or someone similar. Discovery requires 50Mb codecs as does the BBC. Now if I needed a good low light camera, and I wanted S-Log and I NEED 50Mb, we're looking at a camera (the F3) that is now at least $4000 more expensive than it should have been in the first place.

March 3, 2011

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Joe

I guess what you're saying is:
* rental prices are high in relation to buying prices
* therefore, if you use the camera more than just a little bit, buying is cheaper

makes sense

March 3, 2011

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Joe, I've been making the same calculations myself. I do think, however, if someone is outright buying an F3 they should plan on using it on more than just a no-budget feature. Put it to work with music videos, commercials, PSAs, web videos... any sort of paying gig that will defray the cost of the camera. Yes, it's a $17k camera if you want S-Log workflow. But keep in mind that up until now, Sony's cheapest Super35 camera with S-log was, what, $200k? Hell, the EX-1 and EX-3 were some of the first in this camera class to give people 4:2:2 10-bit out. The F3 does that stock, and for many that will be plenty.

After all, Sony still wants to sell the SRW-9000PL and other high-end cameras. If people can't afford $13k, they'll get the $7K NXCAM or a Canon 5D Mark III (presumably). This is still a drastic price reduction for Sony -- whether it's more or less than what RED will be charging remains to be seen.

March 3, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
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Right, that's true, they've had S-Log in the high end for awhile but never in the lower end. It's too bad the EX1 and EX3 are priced where they are, because I feel like if the situation was different and there wasn't an EX3 at around $8K, that Sony would have probably released the F3 at a slightly lower price to compensate for their being no camera in the lower mid-range.

March 3, 2011

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Joe

nice to see this dslr thing is sprawling a real revolution

but I think it's time for canon to come up with something new: where's digic V? where are your big sensor camcorders? where's your RED killer? we're all waiting...

March 3, 2011

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Wow. I just regained my faith in Sony.

The lower end NXCAM will be a blessing for the low budget filmmaker. With a Sony E to Nikon Mount adaptor, I can use all my Nikon primes, and if the camera has a good HD-SDI (Hell, with a decent HDMI) I can pack on an Atamos Ninja and grab some very lovely footage.

This does beat having to buy a RED body and pay double the initial cost in parts to get a "real working rig." No hate to RED, but I can manage with uncompressed 1080p. It's not like my computer will exactly agree with 4-5K footage anyways.

For the Indie Filmmaker on a budget, things just got very interesting...again.

March 3, 2011

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seeing that the VG10 has even more moire and aliasing than a 7D, I'd be a bit more cautious...
http://translate.google.com/translate?js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout...

March 3, 2011

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The VG10 is a totally different class of sensor, though there are reports trickling out that the F3 does suffer from some (comparatively minor) aliasing.

March 3, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

ok then

still, that "8K sensor with (very probably) rectangular pixels" sounds a lot like a "people like to read 8K" kind of thing, so I'll keep some of my doubts

which in any case matters very little, as I'm well below this pricing bracket anyway...

March 3, 2011

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I wonder, if Sony used the same chip in the VG-10 as the NEX series. Apparently, the NEX series is pretty good aside from the whole interlaced video shenanigans.

Do you think the NEX chip (assuming it wasnt the same as the VG-10) could be used in a 2-3 grande HD camcorder and work?

March 4, 2011

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Love your site bro, come here all the time and often link to your stuff at my site, but i gotta say, i drives me crazy that you're so hypercritical of red and quick to jump on sony's badwagon. Why is this?

March 3, 2011

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I don't know. In theory, I like RED -- it's a startup, and compared to Sony/Panasonic/Canon they're the little guy, so I would expect to be somewhat of a RED fanboy. I guess it just comes down to what I see with my own two eyes on screen, instead of what's on a spec sheet or what's said on REDUSER. It's a bit more complicated than this, and I'm working on a Sony vs. RED post right now, so more to come...

March 3, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
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It's a single-chip CMOS sensor, so it's probably 8K simply for the reason that after de-bayering, it resolves a true 4K.

March 3, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
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In the US when the first firmware upgrade for the EX1came out, Sony wanted you to send the camera to them and they charged you for the upgrade. However for some reason in Sony's European websites you could get the same firmware for download and for free. So the same might happen with the F3.
Also, Charging for the firmware upgrades of the F3 camera will encourage geeks to hack the camera. That, in a way could be beneficial for Sony because its a free working force to develop future Sony technologies

March 8, 2011

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Mauricio

This is significantly different than the EX1 firmware update situation, but I wonder if someone will find a way to hack it...

March 8, 2011

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Why would someone prefer and pay more for the Sony EX3 over the Canon XF 305 which has one more nd filter and a longer 18x zoom and takes SD cards? The Sony is a bit smaller and perhaps easier to move around with and the eye piece is nice as well. Is there something major I am missing?
Also, should I consider saving $4K and looking at the Panasonic HPX170P2HD????

November 15, 2011

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