Sony launched the world’s first digital cinema camera, the HDW-F900, back in 1999. Since then, the company’s CineAlta series of cinema cameras have kept up with the changing times. In the television content-based industry, the PMW-F55 is a benchmark, and its ratio of utilization surpasses all other cameras. However, particularly in the world of feature films (theatrically released movies), it is feeling the pressure of the ARRI ALEXA, AMIRA and RED cameras, which are highly acclaimed for their cinematic look. Aiming for a camera that would perform well on a film set, the company spent the past few years conducting various forms of research and development. This autumn, 18 years after the launch of the F900 and 5 years following the F55, the company finally announced a full-frame cinema camera with an eye on the current movie market.
Its name is “VENICE”
This camera is Sony’s first professional camera, and the first to be given a name rather than a model number; it is a camera that encapsulates the many years that Sony spent on R&D as well as Sony’s message to the movie industry.
We spoke with the person in charge of developing the VENICE, and asked him to tell us more about designing the camera and the camera’s potential.
Sony Imaging Products & Solutions Inc.
Professional Products & Solutions
Design and Marketing Department
– How did you come up with the name VENICE?
OKAHASHI: It comes from Venice Beach in Los Angeles. We named it after the area central to movie production, hoping it would be used on the West Coast. A name that our customers would recognize. We also had in mind the famous Venice Boulevard, which runs from Sony Pictures Entertainment in Culver City all the way to Hollywood.
– The reason behind the upgrade method based on the licensing deal
OKAHASHI: Following our product launch in February 2018, we are planning to launch version 2 of Firmware in August 2018, and we are aiming for the beginning of 2019 for version 3. Regarding full-frame and anamorphic support, the additional options will be sold under license. The main reason for this is there is only a limited number/sets of full-frame lenses on the market. If you want to rent an anamorphic lens in Japan, there are only about 20 sets available. With this situation, we will sell the add-ons to a licensee so this will be the first investment for customers who want to shoot with the same angle as the F55. In future, when anamorphic and full-frame lenses are more popular in the market, we can create three types of contract: weekly, monthly, or permanent. Then the users can choose accordingly. They can activate it using an SD card and register online. Of course it’s to be expected that there will be many permanent contracts in Europe and America, but rather than offer something that customers won’t all be using because of the higher price, we thought it would be better to offer add-on options that you can pay for as you need them.
– To own or to rent?
OKAHASHI: This depends on the market. In Europe and America, which we think will be the biggest markets for VENICE, we will go with the rental-based model. In Japan, it is often the case that post production film departments own the cameras, so they will probably follow the ownership model.
– Menu navigation & evolution of the interface
OKAHASHI: Regarding the placement of the buttons and the menu, we received feedback from many of our customers regarding the F55. When it comes to VENICE’s menu, we prepared a simulation system to determine what movements would lead to a smooth operating system. This resulted from listening to what our customers had to say. Up to this point, the control panel was on the inside (on the camera operator’s side) on the F55, and we moved it to the outside (the camera assistant’s side), making it easier for a second operator to control the camera’s operations. Furthermore, we added wireless control in addition to ethernet and an on/off button, which the F55 didn’t offer, and now you can control it remotely.
– What was the most important aspect of designing the VENICE?
OKAHASHI: Image quality is of course a given, but our primary goal was to develop a user-friendly camera. We put all our energy into creating a camera that would be easy to use on set; one that would be intuitive and stress-free. One concept we had in mind during development was that it would be a reliable partner for creativity. We wanted a camera that wouldn’t be confusing to users. We didn’t want them to have to think about it during shooting; the only thing they would need to focus on is their creative process. Our user interface, the housing design, etc. all reflect this approach. Claudio MIRANDA, the DP of “THE DIG”, our product launch demo video, discusses for example how mobile the camera was during shooting. He was impressed with how quickly a camera of this class was ready to shoot after first turning it on.
– About the demo video: “THE DIG”
OKAHASHI: For this video, we turned to the cinematographer Claudio MIRANDA, who was the Director of Photography on “Oblivion,” directed by Joseph KOSINSKI. MIRANDA has also won the Academy Award. MIRANDA shot “Oblivion” with our F65, and just 2-3 years ago he came all the way to our Atsugi Technology Center and gave us lots of advice. There was of course that meeting, but we also really wanted him to work on our first demo video for VENICE. Fortunately, he very kindly agreed. For the most part, MIRANDA uses ARRI Master Anamorphic lenses, but he tried lots of different lenses during the screen test prior to the actual shoot, but in the end, he chose VENICE. For the aerial shots alone, he used the Fujinon HK zoom lens. However, the video is Cinemascope size, so the aerial scenes are all cropped vertically. The actual shooting took place over a period of 4 days and was shot in downtown LA and in the outlying city of Lancaster in the beginning of August this year. Taylor KITSCH and Lily COLLINS star in the video. The camera itself had its limitations during shooting, so it’s not the final version as far as image quality when you are including the look. The shooting data was recorded using X-OCN, post-production color grading was Technicolor PostWorks NY, and we used Baselight. The Colorist, Mike SOWA, had high praise for the skin tones recorded with VENICE.
– What was the motivation for entering the cinema market with the VENICE?
OKAHASHI: VENICE was designed for full-frame and anamorphic shooting, lens mount convertibility, and its appeal for the many customers who want to enhance their creativity. Of course, there is also the previously mentioned ease of use, as well as the evolution of the newly developed sensor mount. Furthermore, it doesn’t use RAW data, which takes up a lot of space; it uses X-OCN, a self-developed recording format that we started using for the PMW-F55 a year ago. This time, we decided that because we were already working with this file format and management, it would have its advantages for many users when shooting at 24 megapixels.
On location for “THE DIG,” the built-in optics for the 8-position ND filter (8 stops: 0.3-2.4) received high praise for its ability to improve efficiency on set. Changing the ND filter has been a critical matter for camera assistants until now. The ability to respond quickly to a DP’s sudden request and rapidly change the ND filter has made working on-set virtually stress-free. The on-set crew were delighted working with a camera like this for the first time.