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The NAB Interviews With Shawn Lam: The Sony NEX-FS700

An in-depth interview on Sony's new 4K-capable large-sensor camcorder that generated tremendous buzz at NAB 2012 in Las Vegas this week.

Iris Control

Shawn: Let's talk a bit about iris control, specifically when it comes to alpha lenses using the LA-EA1 or the LA-EA2. I know with the LA-EA1 as it is, when we change iris it goes full wide open, then back down. That's the way the lens snaps in and out for the iris. What advancements have you made?

Juan: In the case of the LA-EA1, there's no improvement, because that is the design of the system. So the system is designed for still image cameras, and it wants to snap fully open and then snap closed to make sure that the lens is stopped to the actual aperture that you selected. On the other hand, on the LA-EA2 where we have a microprocessor and more capability, then we're able to control the iris very smoothly, so it in essence is changing one-third of a stop up and down. Of course we have the indication and the viewfinder, and it gets recorded as data in the metafile, in the metadata on the video files.

Shawn: So the iris changes will then be smooth on the LA-EA2?

Juan: It will be relatively smooth because it's jumping at one-third of a stop up or down. It's not flashing. It is like other cameras. Other cameras that are double the price of this do that, so it's just the nature of the lens itself. On the case of the E-mount lenses, then it's fully smooth, because these are designed for motion.

4K Image Sensor

Shawn: What can you tell me about the sensor? On the FS100, it's the same Super-35 sensor, but it's a 1080p resolution. On here you're getting 4K off of it. What's changed? What differences will we notice, and what won't we notice?

Juan: Yes. Well, something that is really important is that this sensor is Super 35mm size, so this means that it can be covered by virtually any lens. So cine lenses are only made to cover the gate size on a film camera, and it will not cover a full-frame camera. So if you have a camera that has a so-called full-frame sensor, it will not be covered at all by any of those lenses. Sony is the largest image sensor manufacturer in the world, so we make upwards of 300 million image sensors. And part of the technology is getting light into the photosite, and we achieved that by reducing the amount of material that the light has to go through to reach the sensitive part. And the other one is converting as much light as possible into an electrical charge that is proportional to that brightness landing on that particular photo sensor. And all of this is technology, but it's maybe 20 percent magic. You cannot learn this in any book, so...

Shawn: Will we experience an increase in noise from the FS700?

Juan: So you would expect that because the FS100 has just under four million pixels and this camera has 11.6 megapixels—so the size of the photo sensor is about one-fourth the size of the FS100, but both cameras have exactly the same sensitivity. So this camera is rated ISO 640 to 20,000, and it is possible then to shoot with the camera in very low light. Again, I refer you to the reel that we're showing in N101, but Andy Young shot at night in a bonfire, and there's no noise. We're looking at it on a 20-feet screen, a 4K projector, and it looks extraordinary. So what better proof? If you're going to see artifacts, you would see them there.

Shawn: And at the end of the day that's what it comes down to, is the video is low-noise, and that's really the proof.

Juan: So even though the camera is recording HD, having a 4K sensor that is actually being read as 4K--because there are other 4K sensors that are read at HD resolution--allows us to capture finer detail and image texture, and it's possible to have a sharper image in the good sense of the word, so meaning that you have fine detail with having to apply electronic enhancement to try to make the image artificially sharper, which is one of the reasons why sometimes electronic images don't look like film.

Back-of-Camera I/O

Sony NEX-FS700

Shawn: That's right. All right. Now let's move to the back of the camera. One of my favorite features on here is the dual HD-SDI out and HDMI out. And when I say "dual," I mean both of them are live and active at all times. As a streaming media producer, I find that when I'm doing a live switch on the FS100 I'm limited by the amount of connectivity, so I want to have two outputs, one for the camera operator on their monitor, perhaps the HDMI output, and one to the video switcher. That would be the HD-SDI out. What comes out of the HD-SDI out? What other outputs are there on there?

Juan: Well, obviously we listened to a lot of people.  And on this camera we implemented 3G HD-SDI. Eventually this will serve also as a high-speed data port, and it will output the 4K signal to an optional Sony recorder when that becomes available. This is also a 3G HD-SDI, so this camera can crank continuously at 1080/60p, so it is possible to get 1920 by 1080, 1080/60p out the spigot, 4:2:2, eight-bit, uncompressed, beautiful performance. And it can output all the progressive modes as either native progressive or segmented progressive frame or with pulldown, so it gives you every option under the sun. And it has embedded timecode and audio.

Shawn: Is that different from what's available currently on the FS100?

Juan: The FS100 doesn't have 3G SDI, but it's very different also in terms of the HDMI. So the HDMI on the FS700, it has pulldown to make it smoother and nicer when you're watching it, but we also added native progressive because there are some recorders that don't have the capability to do pulldown extraction, and so we've added native progressive out of the HDMI. Of course Sony also added timecode and pulldown markers in case you are recording a pulldown signal.

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