“F900 was born out of the Digital Beta platform, the oldest [digital platform] we had,” Willox says, “but we always get knocked for ‘turning over cameras too quickly’ for the high-end market, so now in its sixth year we decided to redo it. We came out in a new chassis that’s lighter, a little bit more ergonomic to work with things like Steadicam and remote heads” and the F900 offers new features like the cache memory and slow shutter boards.
“HDCAM doesn’t support variable frame rate, but it will support some of the camera effects we were using in the 60i space like slow shutter board, which allows the accumulation of frames into a buffer and then put it to tape,” Willox says. “The cache system does the same thing – records :08 in the video cache, then dumps it to tape.” These upgrades will benefit the nature-documentary producers who wait all day in the wild for a good shot.
The new F900R is designed to accrue more desirable new features than its predecessor could.
“We had all that on D-Betacam and IMX and the 60i cameras but we could not retrofit it to the F900,” he says. “The I/Os have been updated to digital. We didn’t have a one-board 3/2 pulldown process when we invented the 900, so that’s been retrofitted.
The price of the F900R remains the same at just under $80K, but the capabilities of the camera, and some of the boards that we’ve developed, will replace the $6,000 and $7,000 accessories you used to have to buy to have a full operating system,” Willox says.
“We wanted backwards-compatibility for files created on the original 900, so the DSP has been re-engineered to accommodate that. Instead of going to a 14-bit A to D we stayed at 12. We added a couple of stages of gamma. Sony France had been working on some custom looks for the F900 - that’s been imported to the new camera. Call it ‘hyper gamma,’ it’s a gamma table that will allow a more filmic emulation and really push the dynamic range of that system.”
Hollywood embracing HD
Willox says the sitcom market was first to embrace shooting HD, then “the specialty cable channels – nets like Showtime produce virtually everything digitally. SciFi produces Andromeda and Battlestar Galactica in HD, having good success with that. “It’s nice to see HDCAM spreading a little bit and as we provide more flexibility with HDCAM SR, we’ll migrate to the longer form dramas and major motion pictures.”
Panavision’s Genesis camera (built by Sony) has been successful in its first year. Practical special effects shots require multiple angles – seven or eight cameras, Willox says, and in such cases HDCAM shines. “We’re eagerly awaiting Superman Returns to see how that’s going to look, and by all accounts, so far, so good.”
Flyboys was shot on Genesis, as was Adam Sandler’s Click.
From Sony’s perspective, the Hollywood “high-end” market, though important as tastemakers, is pretty small at 50 to 60 cameras a year. For now, Sony is comfortable partnering with a rental house like Panavision to oversee service duties on big feature shoots.
“The movie Ultraviolet, out now, is a combination of SRW-1s and F950s and it’s got a very, very interesting look,” Willox says. “It’s the first time I’ve read reviews of a digitally shot movie that most of the reviewers had no idea – it’s getting to the point that it’s not making that much of a press difference anymore.”
Bob Ott, Sony’s VP of optical and networking products, is in charge of the roll out of the XDCAM HD camera line – which started shipping in mid-March.
“We introduced the PDW-F330, the bare-bones camera, at IBC [last September] and then we introduced the F350 about two months ago,” says Ott. The two XDCAM HD models both offer true 24p recording in SD or HD, interval recording, and slow shutter.
The PDW-F350 enables variable frame rate recording ranging from four frames per second to 60 fps in one-frame increments. Ott is careful to point out that early film terms like “over-cranking” don’t exactly fit in Sony’s brave new lexicon. Sony’s XDCAMs, which are optical, require you to stop the camera before changing speeds. “There’s no crank on the camera!” adds Willox.
A key aspect, both for ENG and field production, Ott says, is that the “proxy allows you to store one hour of video on one gig of storage. Instead of loading up a hard drive with a day’s shooting, I can start editing a scene to see how it flows and, if I’m happy with it, I can take the EDL from that proxy and just bump it into my high-res NLE. The high-res NLE only downloads the requested information based on the EDL. You can take your garden-variety Apple or VAIO laptop and literally start editing multiple scenes and not tie up every bit of hard drive space. Plus, the CPU doesn’t get taxed to death in order to show you the video. Especially if you have multiple people working on scenes from a compositing aspect they can actually work within the proxy to get an idea of how the thing would lay out. And you can have multiple people looking at stuff without tying up bandwidth. I can FTP a file from LA to New York - if I’m doing commercials, anything – if I store one gig for an hour I can send a proxy cut of a commercial as an email attachment.”
Ott appreciates the way proxy video ingests at “20 to 40 times normal speed” thereby freeing the creators from waiting for realtime ingest. “I fully believe it actually allows the artist to be an artist.”
He adds, “It works in tandem with the SRW – we not only make a camcorder, we make a deck. So someone who’s on location shooting can be doing everything in SRW and have a little HD SDI pipe that goes over to an S70 deck and put it on an optical disc in high def, so you have kind of a safety copy, and you have a proxy copy that can be used immediately.”
Willox says, “You’re on a set and your main camera’s an SRW-1 and you’re double-recording on the Blu-ray, all your continuity and script people are going to be happy, you have an approval copy to send back to LA from location – you get a copy that’s digital daily quality and all the IT-friendly stuff to move around.”
“And the insurance guys are happy,” Ott adds. “You don’t have to touch your master tapes.”