New XAVC-Intra Codec Will Write Internally to SxS Pro+ Cards, External Raw Recording Uses New AXSM Media

Sony today announced two new CineAlta 4K motion picture cameras, the F5 and the F55, filling the gap in its CineAlta line-up between the $14,000 F3 and the high-end (around $85,000) F65. Both cameras use a new type of Super 35mm Sony CMOS imager with a resolution of 4096×2160, and Sony rates them at 14 stops of exposure latitude. With firmware updates due next year, the F55 will shoot 2K raw at up to 240fps. The F5 will max out at 180fps for HD footage and 120fps for 2K raw.

Sony's announcement also included some details on the firmware future of the F65. We have more details, as well as additional news here about related prime lenses.

The new cameras will be supported by significant new workflow options. The new XAVC-Intra codec will support internal 10-bit 4:2:2 recording, while the AXSM Access Memory System will enable 16-bit linear 2K and 4K raw recording. XAVC footage will be recorded internally to new high-speed SxS Pro+ cards that come in 64 GB and 128 GB capacities, while external recording will take place via an optional integrated recording module (the AXS-R5) that docks on the back of the F5 and F55, between the camera block and the battery, so that no cables are required.
"AXSM media is not an SSD," said Juan Martinez, senior product manager at Sony Electronics' Professional Solutions of America, referring to the new memory type that will hold raw recordings. "It has the same type of safety mechanisms as SR memory, so it is possible to record data in the case of a malfunction. It's very robust."
The F5 and F55 will also let shooters record using the broadcast-friendly 50 Mbps 4:2:2 XDCAM codec or Sony's 220 Mbps 4:2:2 SR codec. Sony officials said a 440 Mbps RGB version of the codec will be supported in the future.
When it comes to frame rates, there's more good news in the near future. With free firmware updates, the F5 will record 2K raw at up to 120fps (and HD-resolution XAVC at up to 180fps), while the F55 will top out at a blistering 240fps for 2K raw. "We are targeting early to mid 2013 for the updates, depending on engineering," Sony's Peter Crithary told us. "We are making our best effort to have them ready as early as possible." 2K and UltraHD recording for the F55 and 2K recording for the F5 will also be enabled through firmware upgrades.
What's the Difference?
The main difference between the two cameras, Sony's Peter Crithary told us, is that while both cameras can record 2K and 4K raw to an external recorder, only the F55 can record 4K internally to SxS cards. Crithary also noted that the F55 uses the same color-filter array as the F65 — meaning it can capture, for example, deep shades of violet that live outside DCI color space — while the F5 has a more conventional color triangle. And only the F55 boasts a new electronic global shutter designed to eliminate rolling-shutter and flash-band artifacts. But the cameras look identical, save for the lens locking ring, which is silver on the F55 and black on the F5.
The cameras both use Sony's native FZ mount, but a PL-mount adapter comes standard, and Sony announced a new line of prime T2.0 PL lenses that will be available in three-lens and six-lens kits. A shoulder rig is also available.
Codecs and Workflow
The new AVC-based algorithms are enabled through the use of a brand-new new codec that's implemented in hardware. "It's every [AVC/H.264] tool in the book," said Sony Electronics CTO of Broadcast and Production Systems Hugo Gaggioni. "In that chip, we have both XAVC and MPEG-2 encoders and decoders. Depending on the application, profile level 5.2 allows us to cover all the formats and frame rates. It's a very important technological breakthrough that will appear in many devices across our portfolio."
Gaggioni did warn that XAVC 4K is "computationally intense," meaning the equivalent of an HP Z820 workstation packing 16 cores of processing power will be needed to hit real-time performance benchmarks. "An xw8600 workstation can also handle it, but for demanding post-production applications, you need a beefier machine."
One example of how Sony has sought to "future-proof" the cameras is the F55's "combination recording" mode that allows recording of 50 Mbps 4:2:2 XDCAM internally to SxS cards while simultaneously writing 4K raw to an AXSM card in the R5 recorder. You can think of the 50 Mbps XDCAM as a proxy file to support a 4K finish and delivery. But even if you're still finishing and delivering in HD, that 4K file becomes an archival master that you can return to in the future when high-res workflows really are part of your world.
And here's one less headache: because the SxS Pro+ cards use the cross-platform exFAT file system, the new AXS-CR1 card reader (first shown at IBC) will self-mount in both Windows and OS X — no drivers are required. And, because it supports USB 3.0, it should be reasonably speedy.
Viewing and Playback
Shooters will need a way to view raw files, and Sony said that the cross-platform raw playback software it developed for the F65 is being adapted to support the F55 and F5. For live monitoring of 4K imagery, the F55 can be connected to Sony's PVM-X300 30-inch LCD monitor or to a consumer 4K TV (really 3860 pixels horizontally) like Sony's new 84-inch behemoth.
While shooting, DPs can select from a new series of viewfinders, including the 0.7-inch 1280p DVF-EL100 OLED viewfinder (pictured at right, above), the 3.5-inch DVF-L350, or the 7-inch 1920×1080 DVF-L700 LCD.
The cameras have a removable XLR audio input module (see image, above). Capabilities will be expanded through firmware upgrades — v1 will have two-channel analog audio, while v1.1 firmware will support digital four-channel AES audio.
Power Up
The cameras will use the BP-FL75 Olivine battery and BC-L90 quick charger (right). Sony says the new battery charges twice as fast as older batteries and supports 150 consecutive minutes of shooting. The F5 and F55 are still compatible with the existing BP-GL95A, GL65A, L80S, and L60S batteries, which use the BC-L70 and L160 chargers.
Pricing and Availability
Wondering how much all this will cost? So are we. Sony says both cameras are slated to ship in February 2013, with pricing to be announced. That gives them some time to figure out what the market will bear, but it's clear that Sony's prices will be determined in large part by what the competition is doing. Consider that the F55 is aimed pretty squarely at the same market as the Red Epic and the Canon C500, while the F5 is targeting the Red Scarlet and the Canon 1DX, to get an idea where the prices are likely to fall.
Viewfinders are "a la carte" options, so you'll be able to pick your own, and the price of the AXS-R5 recording unit is another wildcard. There may be other ways to record raw from these cameras, but the camera-controlled R5, which fits so neatly between the camera body and the battery, will certainly be the most elegant solution.