Sony has released digital cinema cameras at a dizzying rate the last few years, and all of them have pretty dense feature sets that aren't exactly the simplest to just pick up and shoot.
That's not to say they are difficult cameras to use, but whenever something new comes out, there's going to be a learning curve. This is about more than just menus and feature sets, this is about understanding a particular camera and how it fits into not only your workflow, but also how it stacks up against other cameras in general.
That's why a few years ago Sony came up with the DMPC (Digital Motion Picture Center) in Culver City, CA on the Sony Pictures lot (they've also got a similar spot at Pinewood Studios in the UK). This video is a bit outdated in terms of showing off the place (they've got a much better setup now), but it gives a great rundown of what the DMPC is all about:
Essentially the goal is for the camera-making side of Sony to join forces with the movie and TV side right on the lot, and teach people how to use all of their newest cinema cameras. Dan Perry, Keith Vidger, and Jo Chiaramonte gave me a great tour of the place, which included a presentation explaining some of the goals of the space, and how the industry has been rapidly changing and moving into 4K acquisition. While they obviously want Sony productions to use Sony cameras, they've let the shows themselves test in their studio to actually see the differences versus other cameras like the ARRI ALEXA.
For example, The Goldbergs is shot right on the studio lot, and while they were more comfortable shooting on the ALEXA in the beginning, they eventually moved to 4K acquisition with the Sony F55 thanks, in part, to demonstrations and support from the DMPC.
The DMPC has also been a space to recommend features or changes with current and future cameras. The folks at the DMPC have a close relationship with Sony in Japan, and they've been able to provide feedback about how people are actually using the cameras. The shoulder rig for the F55 came out of this feedback, and a number of other changes have been made to the cameras thanks to suggestions from users visiting the DMPC. Sony Japan frequently visits the space, and while it's impossible to design a camera to fit the needs of everyone, they do listen to all suggestions to see how the cameras are being used and what can be improved.
At Stage 7 on the Sony lot, the DMPC consists of two studio sets with a Fisher dolly, as well as a 4K projection room with quite a few seats for both reviewing footage, as well as going over menu settings and how they affect the image. In the back of that room is essentially a DI suite, so the image can be manipulated in a number of different ways and compared either against itself, other Sony cameras, or even cameras from competitors. At times they've also been showing off 4K HDR vs. Standard displays, so you can see the massive difference there is with High Dynamic Range images.
One of the more interesting parts of this entire setup is that while there is around $700,000 worth of Sony gear, there is actually over $1 million worth of third-party gear that's been loaned to the DMPC, including lighting, dollies, and much more. So it's not just a place to see Sony gear, but you can see a number of items that Sony doesn't make, and how they can work to make your experience better with the cameras.
Besides technical demonstrations like a live 4K broadcast internally, the DMPC is constantly running events and classes that are free of charge and let you learn all about specific cameras and workflows. If you're in the area, this is a great opportunity to get some hands-on time with Sony cameras.
Anyone Can Do Their Own Tests
One of the biggest advantages of this place for most of us regular folks, and one of the reasons I wanted to write this post, is that you don't just have to be working for a big show to get some time in their studio space. Anyone can ask the support team a question, and if you've got a specific project that might be using Sony cameras, and you want to see some tests, the space is free to use as long as it's open. You just simply talk to them ahead of time, and you can use either of their sets to see what a particular Sony camera can do.
If you happen to be on the fence about two different Sony cameras — or even cameras from a competitor — this is a perfect place to test all sorts of exposure and color variables.
While they'd like to have spaces in all of the major markets, at the moment they have locations in Culver City, CA and at Pinewood Studios in the UK. If you're anywhere near either of these locations, it's a great place to learn about Sony cameras in a relaxed environment, and it's also a terrific place to do tests of your own. To see when they're having events, head on over to the DMPC site.