Here at Mission Digital, we aim to be at the cutting edge of new advances in the industry. We’re passionate about new technology, from the simple additions that make our DIT and Video Playback rigs shine, all the way up to the complex hardware that we rely on to provide our services to clients worldwide.
But nothing gets us quite as excited as the release of a new camera, and with Sony unveiling its latest offering to the market last month, we wouldn’t wait to jump on board and be a part of this momentous occasion.
Technical Director Tom Mitchell was part of a select crowd invited to Sony’s UK headquarters at Pinewood to have an early look at the Venice, and then assisted with the three-day shoot that launched the camera here in Europe.
Sitting down with Tom after the event, we asked him about his first impressions of the new camera, and what it might mean for productions looking to use it. Here are his thoughts:
“Sony has learnt a lot of lessons with this camera. Although they have a long history of making digital cameras, I think we can all agree that when it comes to their cinema camera range, they’ve always appeared to have one foot in broadcast territory and one in the film world.
Venice, however is a true thoroughbred in the digital film camera race. Accessible to all, it no longer feels as though one needs to be an engineer to decipher it, as with previous models.
Sony have taken time to do their research properly, talking to camera crews at great length, and it shows:
- Venice’s menu system is quick to access from the assistant side of the camera, with a smaller menu accessible on the operator side too
- The camera has power out points in order to power a wide range of accessories
- Quick buttons that are easy to spot in the dark
- Thought has been given to reinforcing the RAW recorder and battery plate on the back of the camera, meaning if is handled from the back to pan and tilt, it will be solid and will not work if it’s loose. The design of this is durable, and has moved away from the plastic feel of previous models.
- Built-in 8 step ND filters remove the need to deal with IR filters – it’s also very quick to switch them
- Venice has a large format range, with an excellent selection of lens mounting options
Sony have put time and effort into making the Venice easy to service, meaning the unit doesn’t have to be shipped back to the supplier to do simple maintenance such as changing the fan. Impressively, its sensor can also be changed without the need to return it to the supplier. The sensor is built into its own self-contained module, with the tuned OLPF and NDs in the same package. Thus, changing sensor won’t affect its back focus.
And it’s good news for DITs too! Venice’s large number of BNC outputs are each individually configurable with their own LUT, allowing you to receive your log feed whilst providing the DOP and Focus Assist with their own individual feed.
But what about the bit that really matters? The image we see at the end of the process? The picture?
After having had a play with some test material, and footage from both the US and EU shoot, my first impressions are very positive – it looks great. Very filmic, and I really like the way it deals with skin tones.
Sony has dedicated a lot of time and effort to researching the dye that covers the photo sites, which translates to the Venice boasting arguably the largest capture colour space of all cameras currently on the market. Having viewed this in both HDR and in REC 2020 (the new standard for TV and film) I can confirm that it really demonstrates its true colours. Even on deliberately underexposed shots, I was surprised by the level of detail apparent in the shadows. I feel confident that the Venice will produce rich and beautiful pictures that any feature or high-end Netflix/Amazon drama has come to demand.
Unfortunately, as excellent as the Venice appears at first glance, as with all cameras it’s not completely infallible. It has a 500ISO native sensitivity sensor – an interesting choice. There will be cinematographers who are happy about this, as it gives greater control over lighting in many ways, but I would argue that opting for a more sensitive range at least to begin with would give you a more flexible camera. It’s always possible to ND down a camera if there is too much light, but when you don’t have a big budget behind you, lights can prove costly.
The second potential deal breaker is the limited high framerate features, making it less attractive to the smaller camera house that requires maximum flexibility from their cameras. This is especially the case for for short-form work, which tends to require cameras capable of 120 FPS+. At this stage, even the GoPro and the iPhone can do better.
However, even after highlighting these potential issues, I would not be so quick to judge. Sony they have opted for a changeable sensor for good reason, most likely because they plan to make another. I also have it on good information that the limitation on FPS is not in the camera but in the sensor. Perhaps later down the line we will see a resolution to address this. As to when? Who knows!
Venice looks to be priced around the £40K mark; extremely competitive in today’s market. But is this a revolutionary new camera? Truthfully, no. But it is a big statement from Sony. They have created a camera for cinema and for the cinematographer, those who want a tool to help them tell a story and put emotion onto the screen. I honestly think that Sony have succeeded in doing just that.”