Some of you may have noticed something very, very interesting about the body designs of Sony's upcoming F5 / F55 Cinealta cameras (they are, after all, nearly identical). These newcomers display something that the still rather-young F65, and for that matter, pretty much any other Sony cinema camera before now, has never featured (yes, aside from being shoulder-mount-friendly) -- true modularity. Since its big announcement last week, Sony posted a video featuring Cinematography Product Specialist Richard Lewis demonstrating the level of modularity and extensibility built into the New F series -- read on to check it out.
Before I go further, I'm going to just come out and say what everybody (or, at least, what I) thought right away upon seeing photos of the New Fs: they look like the RED. In fact, it's almost as though an EPIC-style body cross-pollinated with the outer-skin look (or at least side panel) of Alexa and resulted in something somehow familiar, yet quite new for Sony at the same time. Of course I'm not saying, "hey look, Sony ripped off RED's design!" (and please do not pull that quote out of context :) -- but what I am definitely saying is, it's clear these companies are taking some major cues from each other (even playing off each other's PR moves).
Perhaps it would be more fair to say the F5 and F55 act like the RED more than they resemble it, but I won't split hairs. The fact is, Jim and his RED team did several things it could have taken centuries for a conventional digital cinema behemoth to pull off, including setting precedents in modularity, not to mention price-point and sensor upgrading -- the latter of which, prior to RED's gesture, was (and to me, in a happy way, almost still is) inconceivable, and which has yet to be matched by any other manufacturer. Other industry leaders acknowledged the trends set by RED in their own various ways (though namely, uhm, yeah: RAW), though the Alexa, the upcoming Aaton Penelope Delta, and even Sony's own F65 all retain more of a classic full-bodied-camera type of design. Sony, though, is not to be outdone, out-matched, or undercut in price -- nor can I believe I get to say that, or that we mere mortals get to watch these awesome manufacturing titans try to out-under-bid each other -- it's simply an amazing time in which we live.
All that said, I won't hold you up any longer from seeing just how Sony has learned from RED's advancements, and perhaps, some of their perceived ergonomic oversights as well -- not to mention how they've incorporated their own undeniable experience in quality camera design.
First impressions: well, I am pretty impressed. I do think it's interesting that Sony has built the ability to live monitor off the F55 in 4K -- this is huge -- but apparently only supplied HD-SDI playback from the R5 RAW recorder. Of course, for quick-and-dirty 'rec-review' type of double-checking takes, the HD-SDI out will surely be fine -- it's just that if you're going to monitor in 4K, why not always be able to monitor in 4K? Either way this is an advantage over the EPIC, so this may just be me being picky -- which isn't so bad of me though, because everything else I see here is looking great. 'Classic' SxS cards still fit in the new SxS Pro+ slots, and the options Sony's providing for on board proxy recording are no joke -- which is an advantage over RED if we're still comparing -- then again, RED of course has on board RAW and Sony forces opting for the R5 for full-res shooting. This isn't new to RAW shooting, so in this regard I'd call the competition pretty evenly matched (that is, given we still don't have pricing info on the Sony cameras). As far as other perks-for-price go, we musn't forget the F55's global shutter, because adding that to the list may seriously tip the scale towards Sony in the specs game (the one that translates to more filmic imagery).
And will you just look at that glorious, simple extensibility? From the size of the core camera body, it's looking ready to be built up into anything from a hand-held run-and-gun rig to a full-on slug-and-chug cinema set-up. I think the serious difference in body -- if not necessarily in size, weight, shape, or general idea -- is Sony's inclusion of the more Alexa-esque physical controls. I'm positive the numerous options available on the side panel will save some time over navigating RED's touch-screen-only sub-menus (not to mention the saved cost of the mandatory RED LCD), though we'll probably have to wait for reports from some First ACs out there in judging the value in convenience truly offered by the individual button and overall panel placement. The card readers seem to offer a streamlined and elegant off-loading system, though I'm wondering if there's something a bit beefier down the line. I'm thinking multi-slot readers for serious off-site work, maybe with an even greater speed transfer protocol than USB 3.0. Something of this magnitude could also theoretically use some help from external hardware acceleration à la REDROCKET, though of course, all this is to be seen -- but can't a guy dream?
As for all my postering about the ergonomic comparability between the EPIC and the F5 / F55, perhaps I'm over-stating it. Maybe there's only so-many ways to design a modular-centric 'brain.' Either way, I'd definitely say Sony has caught on to a few things here, not to imply that their technology has ever been lacking when the company really gets down to task. One can certainly not fault them for diving into serious design for the proven modular mindset, and moving forward, I'm excited to see what other sorts of items can be added to the camera package aside from the core modules demonstrated here.
How do you guys feel the modularity (yes, I just like saying it) of the F5/F55 system will compare to the SCARLET or EPIC -- which seems to have more going for it out-of-the-box, given what we know? Do you think I'm completely off in my body comparison of the New Fs to RED? (If you think so, let us know! I can take a beating!)