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First impressions of the F55

One of the most anticipated cameras of recent years, the F55 is being used on its first batch of productions. Here’s how it’s going down with Cinematographers

First impressions of the F55

It’s a very well thought out camera. I love the modularity of it and the image is exceptional – it’s detailed and sensitive with a lovely noise structure,

Philip Bloom, Filmmaker

The first productions to be shot with the F55 are now being made by a wide assortment of filmmakers in a variety of genres. Initial reactions to the modular 4K camera have been very encouraging indeed, with both the image quality and usability singled out for praise.

Cinematographer and hugely influential blogger Philip Bloom got his hands on the F55 back in April and immediately set about making a short film designed to put the camera through its paces.

“It’s a surrealistic short film set in a disused tunnel, which really pushed the camera’s sensitivity and is a challenging first use of the camera,” he says.

It appears it was a challenge the F55 was able to rise to, as an especially enthusiastic Bloom explained: “It’s a very well thought out camera with a great OLED viewfinder and form factor. I love the modularity of it and the image is exceptional – it’s detailed and sensitive with a lovely noise structure.”

Standout features

Philip Bloom's short film shot on the F55

Its standout features, according to Bloom, are its “size, cost, modularity, terrific codec, sensitivity and power consumption.”

Rather than shooting raw, Bloom opted to capture 4K images using Sony’s newly developed and super-efficient XAVC codec. The codec is designed to operate in HD, 4K and high frame rates.

“The XAVC codec is stunning; it’s a terrific compressed codec and much more than a proxy,” says Bloom.

Austrian Filmmaker and another much admired blogger Nino Leitner has also had a chance to shoot with the F55, having already made a pop promo and three TV documentaries using the camera so far.

“Sony really did their homework with ergonomics on the F55, it’s one of the few Super 35mm digital cameras that sits on your shoulder and is beautifully balanced without added accessories,” he says.

Sony really did their homework with ergonomics on the F55, it’s one of the few Super 35mm digital cameras that sits on your shoulder and is beautifully balanced without added accessories,

Nino Leitner, Filmmaker

“The image quality is superb, high ISOs are amazingly clean and I love the versatility of the XAVC codec, both in 1080p and 4K.”

“The XAVC codec is what we needed – the problem with some of the other 4K cameras is the codecs are sometimes either not there or not really up-to-date for 4K,” says Leitner. “XAVC will become for 4K what XDCAM HD is for 1080p; a de facto standard.”

During the shooting of the pop promo, “DEJA – Struck By the Light”, Leitner had an opportunity to see the F55’s global shutter in action: “One of the absolute killer features is the global shutter,” he says.

“We shot in a club and used many of the stage lights they had there. With other CMOS based cameras it would be impossible to use strobe lights, which are flashing in a very rapid succession, because of the rolling shutter. With the F55, it was no problem at all, it looked beautiful, even shot in high speed at 60fps in 1080p.”

Modular design

Lucy from Paris, shot by Josellin Billot on the F55

One of the key features of the F55 that stood out for Bloom is the camera’s modular design. This enables different components to be attached to the body – a range of viewfinders including a 0.7” HD OLED viewfinder, a completely new battery system and an external 4K RAW recorder (the AXS-R5), for example – all of which slot onto the camera body without a single unwieldy cable in sight.

“This is incredible – modular and without cables is so exciting,” sums up Bloom. Comparing the tidy, efficient and flexible set up of the F55 to his experience of using external recorders on other cameras to date, Bloom says: “I hated external recorders due to the clunky nature of them – additional power, cables. Horrible. This is the best system I have come across by far.”

Leitner pretty much echoes Bloom’s points when he says: “The cable-free modular system of the F55 is what was needed. I usually hate using external boxes for recording externally on cameras, because of all the wiring and power supply problems you run into. The modular system of the F55 is really well thought-out; it keeps its nice form factor and ergonomics even if you add the RAW recorder and batteries at the back. It’s no hassle and how it should be.”  

I think it has a great picture; it’s very sharp, with beautiful colours and a good dynamic range,

Josselin Billot, Cinematographer

Meanwhile, Paris-based Cinematographer Josellin Billot has made the first two in a series of films called “Lucy From Paris” using the F55, as a means of testing the camera. Billot is similarly impressed with the camera’s modular design: “It’s very cool and convenient on set, avoiding multiple cables and the risk of unexpected disconnections. It provides real timesaving in terms of installation and mounting of the camera. It’s nice Sony made an effort in this direction, because in recent years the configurations of this type of camera has become real hell; heavy and not ergonomic.”

Like Bloom and Leitner, Billot is also impressed by the F55’s image quality: “For a feature film, short film or TV series, I think it has a great picture; it’s very sharp, with beautiful colours and a good dynamic range. It could also have real success in the advertising world because the F55 perfectly shows all the values of products, with beautiful reflections and all the incredible small details. The image has a pretty incredible accuracy and can reproduce a multitude of colours and details.”

Hidden camera shoot

The F55 for me is the finest camera I’ve ever had the chance to use. I think it’s set the benchmark for all other cameras to meet,

Jon Richards, Director

Well-respected multi-cam Television Director Jon Richards, whose credits include “Top Gear”, “The Incredible Mr. Goodwin”, “The Real Hustle” and “15 Kids and Counting”, is another to have already got his hands on the F55. He’s been putting it through its paces in a forthcoming hidden camera production for C4, which is set to TX later this year.

Suffice to say he’s a big admirer of the camera: “The F55 for me is the finest camera I’ve ever had the chance to use. I can see it being my go-to camera for the next five years as it does everything I need it to do and will fulfil everything I need it to. I think the F55 has set the benchmark for all other cameras to meet.”

Lucy from Paris, shot by Josellin Billot on the F55

Richards says he’s been “blown away by it. It’s a light hoover – it’s so sensitive, so beautiful looking. It has that beautiful look the F3 gives but way more sensitivity. It’s also able to shoot in low light.”

Talking about the suitability of opting for the F55 for a hidden camera shoot, with camera positions squeezed into necessarily small spaces, Richards says:

“The great thing about the F55 is its practicality – it’s a relatively small box that can go into small, controlled, contained spaces. A year ago I would have used an F3 setup but they are a foot longer with all the peripherals on the back, whereas this is a much more compact setup.”

Dig the new breed

The F55 ticks a lot of boxes and performed fantastically in what were some really challenging environments,

Steve Lawes, Cinematographer

Another early user of the F55, Cinematographer Steve Lawes (whose credits include “Sherlock”, “Hunted” and “Julius Caesar”) shot the first European F55 film, “Dig”, which has since became something of an internet phenomenon, having amassed over 70,000 views and counting on production company Fried Pixel’s vimeo channel.

“The F55 ticks a lot of boxes and performed fantastically in what were some really challenging environments,” says Lawes. “We wanted to push the camera on its first shoot, and the F55 stepped up to the mark and delivered high quality images that really brought the story to life.”

Dig, shot on the F55

“With indoor and outdoor scenes and various lighting conditions, the F55’s high dynamic range and Super 35mm 4K sensor gave us plenty of colour and detail in the images,” continued Lawes. “We graded in 4K off the raw files. It was amazing to see how much more detail was in the image, both at the top and bottom end – no information was left out at either end. Shooting on 4K not only future-proofs our content but also produces a great downscaled image at HD and 2K resolutions.”

“The colour gamut and look of the camera is very similar to the F65, so a combination of the F65 and the F55 would work very well for a feature production,” he adds.

“Dig” Director Martin Scanlan was similarly enthused by the F55’s capabilities: “There was a lot of buzz around the camera before it launched and having the chance to shoot the first European film on the F55 was really exciting. I think we really pushed the camera hard. The image is always the most important gauge for filmmakers and, with the F55, the images have a natural aesthetic to them that’s very cinematic.”