New CineAlta Camera Slated to Ship in Spring 2007

Journalists from 31 countries gathered last week at a Marriott hotel near the Burbank Airport with one thing on their minds: seeing and touching the new Sony F23 HD camera. Slated for delivery in Spring 2007, the still-unpriced F23 is intended to sit at the apex of Sony’s pyramid of HD camera solutions. The “F” stands for Sony’s CineAlta 24P capabilities and the 23 is for the new camera’s 2/3-inch CCD imagers. [See previous coverage here.]
Amnon Band, president/founder of BandPro Film & Digital, described his company’s commitment to the development of electronic cinematography based on the 1080 60P format. (BandPro targets high-end users and has tied itself closely to Sony's camera development.) He pointed out that the current high-end Sony HD camera, the F900 series, hasn’t been replaced for six years. “This is extremely unusual in camera history,” said Band. “Sony’s technical superiority is a clear advantage. Whoever controls the recording format controls the direction of the industry. We must have good high-definition cameras or the movement [toward electronic cinematography] will stop.”
BandPro HDVS market-development manager Jeff Cree noted that the new F23 joins a wide range of digital cameras for filmmakers to choose from, including the Sony F950, Panasonic’s VariCam, Panavision’s Genesis, Thomson’s Viper, the Arriflex D20, the Dalsa Origin and, soon, Red’s Red One.
“The days of the supermarket of cameras in the high end are over,” Band said, emphasizing that his company goes to extremes to replace cameras gone bad on location. “You can do that in the mid-range, but in the high end you have to passionately believe in what you sell. Shooting with the Sony CineAlta requires rigorous training, and that’s what we do.”
Sony Electronics director of marketing, content creation group Rob Willox laid out the Sony F23's specs:
  • 4:4:4 1920×1980 RGB imaging
  • Three 2.2 megabit 2/3-inch progressive CCD imagers
  • 14-bit A/D conversion
  • Support for 1080/23.98p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 50p, 59.94p, 50i and 59.94i formats
  • Support for multi-frame rate and SR motion, with 4:2:2 Capture at up to 60 fps and 4:4:4 Capture at up to 30 fps
Especially attractive is the F23’s capability of under-cranking and over-cranking-up until now, an advantage held by the Panasonic VariCam. Band also emphasized the new camera’s rugged design and much improved ergonomics.
“The F23 is based on the HDC-F950, but is a complete redesign,” said Willox. “The camera is much more ergonomic, much more friendly to work with. It was built based on many meetings with the members of the ASC, camera operators and many others in the industry. We hope the F23 will be accepted as a worthy successor to the F950.”
Cree stressed what the F23 is not. “It’s not a baby Genesis,” he said, referring to the digital cinematography camera that marries Sony technology and Panavision film know-how. “This is a totally new camera with an all-new body design. It features different imager technology, new and different image processing and a B4 mount instead of a PL mount.” He also stressed the flexibility of the F23, saying that it is balanced for a range of configurations, including vertical, and is convertible to a two-piece system and docked transport.
Cree ran down the design criteria for the F23, which required that it include “film-like conventions” with improved dynamic range, be a cable-free 4:4:4 system, offer advanced video processing, be off-speed capable and be available at a “reasonable cost point.” Cree also highlighted the camera’s weight (32 pounds with the lens and viewfinder) and said back-focus issues occasionally experienced with the F950 have been resolved. The camera is a 12-volt system, in the neighborhood of 80 watts, with two-channel audio. Feedback from the prototype F23 at NAB resulted in several improvements, including an increased viewfinder-to-lens clearance to improve visibility; mounting that has been standardized to better fit existing accessories and a simplified menu control and navigation system.
“The F23 and the HCD-F950R will be at the top of Sony’s pyramid, aimed at motion pictures and episodic TV,” Cree said. “BandPro has been the leader in this area. XDCAM is aimed at indie production and cable TV, and HDV for government, religious, industrial/corporate, event and prosumer applications.”
It’s impossible to talk about advances in HD production without pointing to the increased availability of good lenses for high definition-so executives from Zeiss were also on-hand to describe the latest developments in HD lenses. Zeiss's VP and general manager of the camera lens division, Dr. Winifred Scherle, spoke about the six-year relationship between BandPro and Zeiss and showed a photo of the world’s largest telephoto lens, the ApoSonnar T 4/1700. New Zeiss HD lenses for 2007 include the DigiZoom 17-112, for delivery in May 2007; two DigiDiopters +1 and +2, for delivery in January 2007; the DigiMutar 1.4x, for delivery in April 2007; and two more DigiPrimes.
Sony and BandPro executives declined to put a dollar figure on the new F23, but Band gave some hints, stressing that the price of the camera package will be determined by rental prices. “We’re ready to sign on the dotted line for 50 cameras,” he said. “It is a bit premature, but we feel comfortable with an initial order of 50. Part of our strategy is figuring out the rental prices, and that depends on the market. We probably want to be under the Genesis yet above the regular CineAlta-right about where the Viper is.” (He later placed that figure as somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000.)
Willox also noted that Sony had to protect the investment made by owner/operators. “We can’t cut into the business for people invested in the F900s,” he said. “We’ll find a price [for the F23] commensurate with its capabilities.”
Willox also announced that Sony intends to build an entire pipeline of affordable 4K equipment for production, post and exhibition, although there was no hard time frame. This big news was somewhat downplayed by Willox, who called it “a design goal.”
“We’re going down the path to change imager technology, to take a quantum leap in signal processing,” he said. “There is no time frame, and nothing will be shown at NAB ’07. We expect that you’ll first see something in late 2008 or early 2009.”