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.
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...