PTZ cameras were never really cinema friendly. Sony hopes its full-frame sensor will change all of that.
While the PTZ format has been relegated to security, live events, and sometimes for creative projects, the pan, tilt, and zoom cameras, from which the name is derived, seem to be an underutilized tool in the filmmaking landscape.
Sony happened to agree and has now released the ILME-FR7, the world’s first PTZ camera with a full-frame sensor. At least as of Sept. 6, 2022. While we don’t usually cover PTZ cameras, what Sony has released made us change our minds a bit.
But who is this camera for? Is your local Public Storage going to buy a bunch of these so you can watch your stuff being stolen with a razor-thin depth of field? Let’s dive deep to find out!
Old Camera, New Disguise
The Sony FR7, as we’re calling it for short, is the latest addition to Sony’s cinema line. With it, it’s bringing a back-illuminated 35mm full-frame CMOS image sensor with about 10.3 effective megapixels. Sony also stated an expanded ISO of up to 409,600 and has measured about 15+ stops of dynamic range when recording in S-Log3. There’s also a built-in electronically controlled variable ND filter.
As with the new Sony FX3 update, creatives will also get S-Cinetone and the new Cine EI mode. If you’re still working with older formats, the FR7 will still shoot the original S-Log3 gamma, wide S-Gamut3, and S-Gamut3.Cine color spaces.
Creatives can record internally in XAVC (with metadata) or externally in RAW via SDI and compatible recorders. Speaking of ports, the camera comes with HDMI Type A and 12G-SDI connectors, as well as Timecode In, Genlock, a 5-pin XLR audio in port, and an optical output for long transmission. The FR7 also comes with dual media slots from CFexpress Type A and SDXC memory cards.
There’s also an E-mount for all your favorite Sony lenses, and creatives can also shoot up to 120fps 4K and 240 fps FHD.
If you feel like Sony just slapped an FX3 on some PTZ motors, we had the same thought. But you have some interesting options for composition and connectivity.
Pan, Tilt, Zoom in Full Frame
There’s now a dedicated web application for creatives to control pan, tilt, zoom, focus, record, playback, and camera settings from either a tablet or computer web browser. At the same time, stakeholders or other creatives can monitor the footage, either from a single source or from multiple cameras at once.
Much like a traditional camera, you can mount the Sony FR7 on a tripod. However, you can also stick it to the ceiling, small nooks and crannies, or even onto moving vehicles.
Because zooming will be handled by E-mount lenses, creatives will also get Sony’s hybrid autofocus, which has eye autofocus and real-time tracking.
When moving the camera around, filmmakers will have variable pan and tilt speeds from 0.02 degrees per second to 60 degrees per second. This ranges from -170° to +170° for the panning and -30° to +195° when tilting.
If you're worried about doing everything manually, the FR7 can store up to 100 camera position presets, which can be recalled from the web application or the optional RM-IP500 remote controller.
So, Who’s This For?
Honestly, we don't know. The FR7 isn’t something for your everyday filmmaker. With what Sony put into this camera, it’s a bit overkill for security purposes. Also, because it has a full-frame sensor, even Sony’s 600mm telephoto lens won’t have the reach you’d usually expect with the usual 1-inch sensor that PTZ cameras have. This makes the FR7 a hard sell for sporting events that really need the reach.
I think this new camera is Sony pulling a niche technology format into new creative spaces by bridging the gap between PTZ and its cinema standard.
Think of dangerous stunt work, for example. A PTZ camera would allow operators to stay away from dangerous sequences or explosions and give them a lot more freedom for composition. What about car commercials? The FR7 could replace rigs that are 10 times the price. Even live music events would get an extra cinematic punch in their coverage.
For Sony, it seems that any footage should be “cinematic” footage.
Or maybe there’s some rich billionaire who just wants to keep an eye on his property in full-frame RAW.
All we know is that this push from Sony gives us a lot to think about in terms of what a camera could be. But the question we should be asking is... should they? From my humble perspective, that’s a big, fat yes. The more we evolve camera technology, the more tools filmmakers will have.
What project would you want to use this camera on? Let us know what you think in the comments!