Jordan Westhoff

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Behind the Scenes: Shooting Sony 4K RAW

Recently, as part of the MPS Shootout we just finished, my shootout team and I had a great opportunity to shoot with some interesting Sony hardware since our main objective was to shoot and compare the RAW cinema capabilities of the Arri D-21 and the Sony NEX-FS700.

Natively, the Sony FS700 can’t shoot 4K. However, with a gracious software update from SONY that was implemented and installed by the RIT SoFA cage, the feature is unlocked. While the sensor and the camera on board hardware can handle the capture of 4K, the camera itself has no reliable method to record it. Without any hardware upgrade, the Sony FS700 only employs an SD card slot, which is not fast enough, nor high enough capacity to begin to think about recording 4K content. Hence, enter the Sony AXS-R5 +  HXR-IFR5 4K bundle. The school didn’t have these units available, but with a grant we were able to rent the equipment for a night in order to conduct our tests.

The most expensive hard drive toaster you ever will buy (for now until…8K?)

It was actually a pretty difficult feat getting our paws on this particular setup. The physical recording unit, the AXS-R5 is built and engineered for Sony’s PMW-F5 and Cine-Alta F55 cameras – not natively meant for the NEX-FS line. SONY solved this problem by engineering an “interface” unit – the HXR-IFR5. This unit takes in the 4K signal over an SDI cable and then pushes the signal to the recorder to be saved. Overall, the two units together cost just over $10,500 and that doesn’t include mounting, storage or other accessories. For our test, we used a single 512gb SSD, also manufactured by SONY, and it really did the trick! As a result of the difficulty in acquiring the devices, we couldn’t shoot for all of our test days but a small rental company out of Tennessee, pulled through for us! Enter LensRentals.com! With the unit acquired, I could then proceed to unbox it and start recording!

Initial Vanguard package containing our SONY gear.

Initial Vanguard package containing our SONY gear.

All of our SONY gear nestled inside of its shipping case.

All of our SONY gear nestled inside of its shipping case.

All unboxed and joined together - just need a camera!

All unboxed and joined together – just need a camera!

 

After the unit was unboxed, we were able to test it our in an actual scene! We proceeded to setup SOFA’s Studio B for our tests which gave us plenty of space to work, as well as plenty of lights, tables, and surfaces to set up our gear and mount our wall test targets. We shot a variety of scenes, mostly charts, but also we got a couple more shots featuring aesthetic objects as well for style.

Studio B setup for 4K RAW

Studio B setup for 4K RAW

 

This was our go-to setup. The camera (SONY FS700) was linked to the onboard SD media and the 4K unit via SDI which was also being monitored via the onboard signal feed. Since our 4K and HD were the same aspect ratio, the framing did not change, which meant we could safely use the Panasonic HD monitor to see what the camera was seeing from the DIT station. On set we had an Apple MacBook Pro to monitor files once they were recorded and ingested. All in all, the setup was far less complicated than some other setups, like the ARRI D-21 setup which was a spaghetti nightmare.

S.Two recording setup for the Arri D-21

S.Two recording setup for the Arri D-21

Mostly, all of our testing went well. We were able to gather all of the shots we wanted and several others. One snag did occur though, and I think that it is best described by the beautifully composed SnapChat that one of my partners, Carly Cerquone, sent to detail the issue.

Yup, that's right. We made the ol' rookie mistake.

Yup, that’s right. We made the ol’ rookie mistake.

In the end though, the project was a ton of fun and myself and the entire team learned a whole lot about the process of shooting and working with 4K. It is significantly different (and far more time consuming) than any other workflow currently around and you can find all of our findings and video information at the Shootout page on my blog here as well. Thanks for reading! As one final note, we decided to engineer our own dolly for pure creativity’s sake to capture the opening scene of the MPS SHOOTOUT Video – here was our super innovative approach. Below are some other photos from on set as well.

Carly and David, rocking the homemade dolly

Carly and David, rocking the homemade dolly

Carly, David and Matt lighting the scene

Carly, David and Matt lighting the scene

Matt lighting while some old B-Roll transfers

Matt lighting while some old B-Roll transfers

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SB 2014

Hey all,

As I’m sure you all know, it’s spring break time in America! However, now that RIT is on the semester system, this is no longer the eat and sleep break that I’ve grown accustomed to, but another opportunity to catch up on mountains of homework!

Sony FS700

A good friend of mine, Carly P. Cerquone, DP’ing the Sony FS700 for high frame rate shooting.

That being said, I’m actually embroiled in some pretty cool projects at the moment! Of these, most are Motion Picture Science related – we are in the middle of our third-year shoot out, initial thesis proposals and a host of other projects and labs. I promise to post lots more updates as we continue through; we’ve only just wrapped up our first day of shooting! As with all of my other projects, I will post them when they are completed as well! I’m progressing through a lot of new code, 4K RAW cinema, some thesis builds in the computer department and others, so look for updates over the next couple of days!