As you likely already know, Sony has made some pretty major announcements recently, which we've been hard at work following, though pricing details are currently still under-wraps (likely because of a major price cut by RED). We do know that the F55 will be capable of on board 4K compressed shooting and 4K RAW with an external recorder, while that recorder will also enable 4K RAW capabilities with the on board 2K-capable F5, and bring a 2K RAW recording option to the FS700. Plus, further RAW resolution abilities are down the road for the F65, to be activated in conjunction with an upcoming firmware update. As far as handling some of this media goes, Sony has developed new AXSM media cards (for use in the external recorder module) as well as new XAVC codec technology for 4K shooting (among other things) -- a lot to take in all told, we know. With all these details (and X's, and A's) flying around, it can be tough to see the importance of each one. Rest assured, though, that this new codec marks an important new step for Sony and its shooters. Read on to find out why, with some discussion of the F65's future as well.
The element that ties these new cameras and recording capabilities together -- via the SxS PRO+ card slots native to both the F5 and F55, as well as the AXSM (512GB) card-accepting AXS-R5 RAW recorder -- is XAVC, a robust and flexible format. According to Sony, the development of this codec highlights the company's "commitment to bringing high quality content to the consumer market," because the "quality of HDTV programming originated in 4K is simply stunning and will allow both broadcasters and the production community to build a future-proof catalogue of high-end content, now." Let's see, now: future-proofing, and at 4K? -- this sort of terminology may ring a few bells for some of us, but that doesn't mean Sony isn't correct about this.
XAVC will support everything from 4K to proxy resolutions (with "1080 50/60P infrastructure capability") and both intra-frame and long GOP compression schemes. It is built upon MPEG-4 AVC/h.264 level 5.2, which Sony says is "the highest picture resolution and frame rate video compression codec based on industry standards." The format will also be capable of 12-bit, 10-bit, and 8-bit color depths and 4:4:4, 4:2:2, and 4:2:0 color-sampling resolutions. The MXF wrapping container is supported, for those worried about that. While XAVC has the potential to do all of this, Sony says that it will be up to "each manufacturer [to] decide which profile and operating point of XAVC they will implement in their products."
Here are the industry leaders and developers already planning to support, implement, and/or contribute to the XAVC format and its workflow (via Sony):
- Non-Linear Editors: Adobe CS6 with Rovi Total Code Plug-in installed, Avid, Final Cut Pro X, Grass Valley, Quantel, Rovi, and Sony Vegas Pro 12
- On-set dailies: Assimilate, Codex, Colorfront, FilmLight, MTI Film, and YoYotta
- Color Grading: Assimilate, FilmLight, and Quantel
- Software codec: Rovi MainConcept SDK
- Codec board: Matrox
The SxS cards we're all used to can be used to shoot XAVC in 2K up to 30 fps -- beyond this, the new SxS PRO+ cards are necessary. The bottom line for some of us at this point may simply be that the XAVC format allows on board 2K shooting for the F5 at twice the bit rate even of Sony's newly-50Mbps MPEG-2 HD recording mode (which itself has come a little late to the party). Or, the bottom line may be that XAVC offers a smaller-footprint alternative to the less-compressed and higher bit rate-capable SR codec (a more storage intensive HD-res-only option), which will apparently be migrating from the tape-based HDCAM-SR system to the fully-tapeless digital realm.
The other major update for Sony regarding XAVC here is that it's being developed as an open format, not entirely unlike CinemaDNG (though note, the latter is uncompressed). Sony says this allows for "a license program for other manufacturers in the broadcast and production industry to develop their own high quality and high frame rate products." This could prove to be really major, because in a way it brings a future-proof and modular, evolution-capable mindset to the format itself. The software can become more advanced parallel to new hardware, as long as updated standards are accepted and support is offered for farther down the workflow pipeline -- and ideally, later development of the codec would not rely on any single given company, though there are no guarantees.
Some of us may be wondering, how exactly do XAVC and the AXS-R5 affect the F65s already out working in the field? While details regarding this matter are scarce (and Sony hasn't included much material regarding it, considering all the data included in recent press releases), Studio Daily has mentioned that Sony should have a firmware update ready for next year's NAB that "will enable 8K x 4K, 6K x 3K, and 8K x 2K" recording abilities for the F65's much-lauded 8K sensor. If you're wondering what application shooting in 8K x 2K would have (and it would be understandable to wonder such a thing), Sony is apparently working with Zeiss on anamorphic options that would be revolutionary in the digital realm. The company stated at an October press conference: "This anamorphic experience is not stretching or diluting information. It's really taking full advantage of the 8K sensor in the F65."
While it's possible that the XAVC codec could find its way to the F65, none of the publicized materials suggest the AXS-R5 recorder is 8K-capable. The question is, do existing recorder options (like the SR-R4) for the F65 already have the innate ability to record full-res, which would then be enabled when this firmware (perhaps along with some related updates) is released, like waking some sleeping giant? The matter may require some additional research, because we've always known the F65 would achieve greater powers down the line, we just didn't necessarily know it would work backwards, too -- and Sony has also stated that "from the F65 RAW we will be able to get a minimum of 6K, even with RAW recorded today," and that there are "many exciting updates for the F65 Digital Motion Picture camera, including 6K and 8K de-mosaic by way of updating our SDK!"
My understanding of what this means is, in the future, greater resolution from legacy F65 footage can be obtained by retroactively re-de-mosaic-ing that old footage with a new algorithm -- an ability likely to-be bundled with the major firmware upgrade. So... will we be hearing another announcement for another recorder, this time for the F65, when the full firmware update specs come out? Maybe not, but we can only guess, because again, details are thin at the moment. However, if Sony has already been implementing the forward-looking mentality demonstrated by what they've most recently announced, it's not outrageous to assume the AXS-R5 may be compatible with the F65 to some capacity in the future -- though we think this is more unlikely than not. The aforementioned 8K-enabling firmware update will come at some cost, also as of yet undisclosed.
In the meantime, here's a video demonstrating, among other things, the very high native dynamic range of the F65, also via Cinescopophilia:
Do you guys think Sony's really stepping up to the plate with all this new tech? Do you think with all these details working together, that Sony could carve out an even more significant professional (and prosumer) marketshare?