Two years ago, Digital Brew decided to step up their game by purchasing the Sony F55 camera. Previously shooting on DSLR’s, Digital Brew did not anticipate the scale of transition that came with investing in the new equipment, but knew they’d be getting a quality product that produces quality content. Let’s see what Emmy award winning Director of Photography, F55 owner and Digital Brew’s President, Michael Cardwell has to say about the Sony F55.
Q. What led you to purchase the camera?
We simply wanted to upgrade our cameras and we knew we wanted a 4K camera. The DSLR’s were cool when they first came out, but you have to record audio on a separate device and we wanted a legitimate broadcast camera. We have high quality ideas and we wanted our equipment and our content to reflect that.
We considered the Red along with the F55. Ultimately we decided on the F55 after speaking with some other DPs and hearing the issues many of them have experienced with the Red.
Q. What’s the reputation of the camera within the industry?
It doesn’t have the reputation like the Red or the Alexa have. There have been several shows and movies that have been shot on the F55 like The Black List, Big Bang Theory and A Million Ways to Die in the West to name a few. When I told someone the other day that I was renting a lens for that camera, they said “Oh you have that camera? Not many people have that camera.” Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing...
Q. How do you use the camera?
We use the camera on all of our projects because we want that high level of quality on everything we touch. We use the high frame rates a lot, but it’s pretty noisy and grainy. That was disappointing because we shoot a lot of sports and action content. Applying Red Giant’s Denoiser II in post production will take care of the noise, but it’s another step we didn’t know we had to take.
It works really well ergonomically. We have a small shoulder rig (Movcam) that works really well with it. All of our lenses are compact and that actually helps a lot more than you’d think for travelling purposes. All of the buttons on the camera are easily accessible. The Sony DFV-L350 LCD Viewfinder is good quality for the cost. The only problem is the connection from viewfinder to camera is not protected and could be broken off easily.
Q. What’s your favorite thing about the camera?
What’s nice about shooting in 4K is that you can scale up the image in editing. We don’t output in 4K, we output in 1080p, so if we captured a medium shot of someone from the waist up, we can push in to a close up because it’s still less than 1080p on the resolution. That way we can get 2 or 3 different compositions from a single shot. It’s almost like we’re shooting with two or three cameras, which is pretty cool.
The client is much more impressed when we show up with the F55. When we’d show up with the DSLR’s people would say “You’re going to shoot my movie on that?” Glad we don’t have to answer that question anymore.
From the F55, the images are much more crisp. The PL mount lenses are much nicer than the EF lenses. The camera has many color profiles and baked in settings, but we choose to shoot everything in SLog3 so we can do all of our color in post. The F55 has a 14 stop dynamic range. That’s a lot more than we were used to. The DSLR’s have a fraction of that. I also like how SLog3 allows you to fix your mistakes and work with the colors in a way you can’t with the DSLRs or even the C100.
The F55 really shines outside. You can have someone in the shade and the background would not be completely blown out. If you’re exposing for someone in the shade on a DSLR the background would be white.
You don’t have to get the lighting perfect to have it look really nice. Some DPs are saying that they brought a lot of lights to the shoot, but didn’t actually need them because the camera performs so well with minimal lighting. Especially in low light situations.
Q. What’s your least favorite thing about the camera?
Trying to figure out the baked in color settings. The camera has preset color profiles, and we went to websites who had the exact same color settings, but on our footage skin tones looked very purple and magenta. After dozens of tests we finally settled on SLog3 and now we don’t have that problem.
Shooting on 4K is also tougher for the computers because it creates much larger files. For example, on the C100 two hours of 1080p footage is 32GB. One hour of 4K footage is 128GB. It slows the computers down in post and burns through cards quick. Also a 128GB SxS PRO+ memory card is over $1,000. A 32GB SD card is $50.
It was a big transition. Especially with post production workflow and color correction. After a lot of mistakes and hard lessons, we finally have it dialed in and our productions are out of this world.
Q. What tricks have you learned about the camera?
Working with SLog3 in post production can be a long and tedious process. We started with the Sony Raw Viewer, but the functionality of it was horrible, so we quickly abandoned that. After looking online we discovered many people we using Davinci Resolve. We colored a few projects with Resolve, but there were too many extra steps which made it difficult to meet our deadlines.
The trick that we learned to get a quick starting point for color correction was to simply use brightness and contrast and fast color corrector filters. We compared this image to the Sony Raw Viewer image and you couldn’t tell the difference.
Q. Was it worth it?
Yeah, it was definitely worth it. Having a higher quality camera gives us higher quality work. When you have higher quality work, that’s when you get higher quality clients. We actually got a couple of jobs just because we have that camera.
To conclude, the camera does 4K and it does it well. We don’t know what the future is for 4K. People eventually will have 4K TV’s, but it’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. The value for us for using 4K is there’s more pixels, more detail, we can rezoom and frame our shots. Better work gets better clients! That’s the name of the game.
About Digital Brew
Digital Brew is a full service video production and animation agency. Digital Brew services clients in all aspects of production including concept and scripting, preproduction, shooting, hiring crews, editing, color correction, sound design and motion graphics. Digital Brew’s client base is very diverse. They have done work with gun companies, make up companies, non profits and Hollywood film companies. What separates Digital Brew from most other video production companies is their design and motion graphics. They also shoot all of their videos on the Sony F55, a 4K camera used in such shows as the Blacklist and Big Bang Theory.