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An Introduction to the Sony PXW-FS7

As with all my blog posts, I’m happy to introduce you to yet another camera that’s being called “The Next Big Thing!” I’ve talked at length about the Panasonic GH4, the Sony a7s, and other it cameras that seemed to stir up buzz this past year. 2014 was a great year for new technology to find its way to lower price point cameras, and the culmination of that may be the new Sony FS7. The FS7 was touted as being designed by Sony from “listening,” and I can’t argue with that. Professionals have been asking for an ergonomic, easy to use, high frame rate, 4K camera with built-in ND filters and all the bells and whistles one would come to expect from a professional camera. A large chip, easily adaptable mount – and a high quality internal codec. This list seems long and perhaps unattainable for a sub $10K camera, but all of those features have been delivered and met in the FS7. First and foremost, some specs. The Sony FS7 has a s35 sized sensor, that seems to be almost identical to that of the Sony F5. In my book, this may be the best selling point of the camera. With this sensor, the FS7 is able to not only record UHD 4k to 2 different flavors of XAVC, but it can also shoot up to 180fps in HD. For low light, the sensor has a base ISO of 2000 – with some built-in ND filters to help you out. Standard XLR inputs, and even a nice arri style rosette for the very comfortable and easy to use side handle. This camera will most be compared to the wildly successful Canon C300 – but truth be told, the FS7’s got it beat in features. SLOG3 is available, as well as the highly gradable and precise Cine EI mode. This camera fits in line much closer to the F55 and F5 than it’s namesake, the FS700. Unlike the FS700, the FS7 does not have a 3G SDI output on its standard body. Instead, a rear add-on unit is required to pass RAW out to something like the Odyssey 7Q. While this is sort of a bummer, the rear RAW unit also provides the ability to record ProRes directly to the cards internally – though XAVC is a very high bitrate codec itself. After using the FS7 for a few weeks, all I can really say is that it more or less works as advertised. All the promises Sony made are delivered, and the camera works great. It’s comfortable, but could stand to use an additional shoulder pad to add some comfort. The battery times are very long, and the buttons on the camera are familiar and easy to find. The big credit most users gave to the Canon C300 was it’s ease of use, and good image. The FS7 meets that, and goes beyond. High frame rates are going to be the next big camera battleground in the next 5 years, and Canon’s 60FPS at 720p isn’t holding a candle to the FS7’s 60FPS at 4k, or 180FPS in HD. I’ve run into a few small issues when adapting Canon lenses with the metabones speed boosters and smart adapters – but they are usable. Metabones released a firmware update for the speed booster ultra that seems to have helped it out – though operation still seems sluggish. These are nitpicking details, however. If you’re curious about image quality, you can find plenty of beautiful examples all over the net as the camera is finding it’s way to shooters. And keep in mind, the image quality will be near identical to the Sony F5! Here’s a really great video from vimeo user Joe Simon Films showcasing some of the FS7 abilities. https://vimeo.com/112027631 And here is a beautiful spot shot on the F5 from vimeo user Overseasfilms.com – pretty amazing that this image can now be captured by a camera that costs around 8 grand! https://vimeo.com/85711136 Check out this review from Anticipate Media: http://vimeo.com/anticipatemedia/review/113330848/9d76c28504. We have the FS7 here at Rule to buy or rent, so be sure to come check it out. -Alex Enman, Engineer, enman@rule.com

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Kino Flo Celeb 200 & Celeb 400 LEDs

Kino Flo introduced its first LED light, the Celeb 200, in September 2012, followed by the Celeb 400 in April 2014.  Rule Boston Camera proudly welcomes these two new lights to our inventory!  We love Kino Flo’s products for their light, robust housing, ease of use, and cool, silent, consistent operation.  Kino Flo has incorporated the quality and convenience we have come to expect into their new LED line, and once again dazzled us with beautifully soft, even light and reliable design. The Celebs differ from their fluorescent cousins by offering even more convenience – no external ballast, no head or harness cables, and no bulbs!  One provided AC cable is all you need to brighten up the set (these lights are also capable of running off 24V DC power).  The built-in ballast controls power as well as Kelvin temperature and dimming, while an LED display reads its current values.  The single panel of LEDs has a range of 2700 Kelvin to 5500 Kelvin.  There are five preset Kelvin temperatures (2700, 3200, 4000, 5000, 5500) that correspond to colored buttons on the ballast, or you can save your preferred temperatures to these buttons.  Temperature can be precisely dialed in by turning the knob on the right of the ballast.  Change the temperature by values of 100 degrees, or press the knob for fine values – depending on what end of the Kelvin spectrum you are in, the temperature increases by 10, 15, or 25 degrees.  There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the differences in increments, but there are plenty of options along the spectrum to choose from.  To dim the light, from a range of 0 to 100, simply press the Kelvin/Dim button and turn the knob.  Dimming can be changed from coarse (values of 4) to fine (values of 0.4) by pressing in the knob.  The Lock/Reset button will prevent your settings from accidentally being changed, or factory reset the Kelvin temperature presets. The Celeb provides mounting flexibility – both the 200 and 400 come with the center ball mount we all know and love, giving the light a full 360-degree range of motion.  The 200 has a baby receiver, while the 400 has a baby receiver inside a junior pin.  Rule has a wide selection of C-stands and combo stands to choose from.  Both fixtures have molded corners with holes to mount the light with rope, and two handles on the back for safety chains and easy transport. The Celebs come with a gel frame and 90 degree honeycomb eggcrate louver.  Both mount to the fixture with spring-loaded clamps in the molded corners.  I’ve found the spring-loaded mount to be especially convenient.  The fluorescent lights have Velcro mounts that clasp into the eggcrate and often break.  The spring-loaded mount is easier, quicker, and more secure. The Celebs are an energy, cost, and time efficient light appropriate for all of your lighting needs.  Both Celebs boast flicker free operation and consistent color temperature while dimming.  The 200 draws 1 amp, while producing more lumens than a 750W fixture.  The 400 draws 1.8 amps, while producing more lumens than a 1K fixture.   Kino Flo’s fluorescents feature cool operation, but these LED fixtures emit practically no heat!  This means you can pick it up and adjust it without gloves, you don’t need to worry about burning your gels, and you can place it right into the flight case after striking it off. Stop by or call us at Rule to add these versatile lights to your arsenal! Celeb 200 Specs: 24” x 14” x 5” 14 pounds Metal alloy body Baby receiver 95 CRI Draws 1 amp DMX capability Celeb 400 Specs: 45” x 14” x 5” 26 pounds Metal alloy body Baby receiver in junior pin 95 CRI Draws 1.8 amps DMX capability -Grace Deacon, QC Tech, deacon@rule.com

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The Sony a7s: Full Frame, Low Light Monster

Once again, here we are with me talking about a new small camera that everyone in the indie shooting world seems to be going bananas over! Similarly to when the GH4 launched (of which you can read my latest blog post by clicking here) — there has been an extreme amount of chatter about this new Sony camera. Is it worth the hype? Upon launch, it was touted as the end-all-be-all of DSLR cameras (yes, I know it’s not technically a DSLR!), and a direct competitor to Panasonic’s GH4. Both cameras are mirrorless, seem to have more than a few nods to video users, and come in at a fairly affordable price point. After those features, however, the similarities stop. The two cameras are very different animals — both with their own strange strengths and weaknesses. Family Tree The a7s succeeds two other cameras in the Sony lineup that, at a glance, seem the same. The a7, and a7r. The design of these cameras comes from almost a rangefinder idea — a small, street photographers secret weapon. And for stills, no one was going to argue the quality. I’m sure even Fuji was taking notice. When it came to video, however, the quality and feature set wasn’t anything to write home about. While the a7r matched that of the 5dIII in most instances, Canon had already bundled up the market years ago. The a7s, though, has built upon this small form factor and has pushed the video feature set to its ends. It continues with the full-frame-sized sensor, but in this case it seems to be an entirely new chip. Low Light While I’m not in love with the form factor of this tiny camera (I’ve got big, dumb hands), the image quality is staggering. Particularly, with its low-light capabilities. The color and detail data it is able to pull from near total darkness at ISO’s of 20,000 and even 50,000 is unlike any camera I’ve ever seen, in any market or price range. This isn’t just a low-light camera, it’s a night-vision camera. Take a look at this great test from James Miller — that blue sky you see is actually a night sky. Those green bushes? Dark splotches to the human eye. SLOG 2 & Grading Now, we aren’t all nature photographers who need to see into the dead of night all the time — so upon getting the camera in my hands, my first tests were tried and true charts. I was overjoyed to see SLOG 2 and S-Gammut profiles included in the kit. This camera is cheaper than a 5dIII, but it’s now including a log profile that was at one time a paid upgrade to the F3 camera?! Count me in! I set up my chart, brought my middle grey down to 35%, and threw on my SLOG2 luts. You know, the ones I’ve been using for the past 4 years! And wouldn’t you know, it looked… terrible. What?! What happened? Why were my shadows so grainy and noisy? I thought this was a low-light monster! I couldn’t understand it. After some more research and testing, I figured it out. SLOG 2 on the a7s rates the native ISO of the sensor at 3200 ISO – as opposed to say 2000 on the fs700 and f5, or 1250 on the f55. As this is a different sensor, it is handling its color science differently. I found that it is so light sensitive, the sensor prefers to be fed LOTS of light – to the point of seemingly over-exposing the image. I found that middle grey likes to live around 75%, rather than 35%. As the camera only provides zebras and a meter internally for exposure help, it’s perhaps easiest to set your zebra level to 95% or 100%, and ride the high end until right before clipping. Bringing the color and gamma down works like a charm, and in no time I had the chart performance I had expected: So perhaps this isn’t the same old same old SLOG 2 I had assumed – but once I figured out the optimal settings, I was very impressed. The dynamic range on this camera is very high, around 14 actual usable stops. That gets into high-end cinema camera territory. 4K Recording & XAVC-S The last major feature of the a7s is the 4K external recording option. Now, first off, the a7s is using a brand new “consumer” version of the very popular XAVC codec. Internally, this high bitrate and smart compression is very malleable, especially for being at its base an h.264 MP4 file. It sports a very fiddly micro-HDMI port through which it will send 4K, 4:2:2 uncompressed video. The only thing headed to market soon that will handle this in a portable way will be the new Atomos Shogun – delivery date is still TBA. I find time and time again that users can get hung up on external recording solutions. One should always push their internal codecs as far as they can to see where the line in the sand is going to be drawn, and I find XAVC-S and SLOG 2 to be a 1-2 punch when it comes to color grading. Here is a very pretty video from vimeo user Florian Knab — check out how even the 120fps 720p looks great in a web delivery situation. Final Thoughts With SLOG 2, XAVC-S, a full-frame sensor, frightening low-light sensitivity, and an easily adaptable E-Mount – I think the a7s is a great addition to the indie market. I wish it were able to record 4K internally and high-speed above 60fps at 1080 like its mirrorless GH4 counterpart – but even without these features, it’s a pretty fantastic little camera. If you’d like to learn a bit more about the a7s, my post workflow, and other ways to get the most out of it, be sure to check out my Learning Lab here at Rule Boston Camera on 9/24 at 10am.  If you can’t make it in person, you’ll find it on our Learning Lab Vimeo Channel afterwards. -Alex Enman, Engineer, enman@rule.com