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Sony PMW-F55 CineAlta 4K Digital Cinema Camera Review

by on May 16, 2016
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Overview

Sony has long been the undisputed leader in many categories of 4K products, particularly in the area of digital cinema. The company's line of SXRD 4K projectors along with their XBR 4K Ultra HDTVs have set the bar in the industry. Of course as 4K has continued its rise in popularity, Sony has seen more competition but the PMW-F55 CineAlta 4K digital cinema camera has yet to be surpassed and remains the pinnacle of 4K digital production cameras.

The old adage could not be more true with the F55, "you get what you pay for". The F55 is the best money can buy, but it's quite the investment. From a functionality standpoint, the F55 is a cinematographers dream. It shoots in native 4K resolution, has an incredible 14 stops of dynamic range with high sensitivity and low noise, it's capable of capturing RAW 4K and 2K footage and features a global shutter. The Super 35mm image sensor in the F55 is at the top of its class and produces pristine image quality.

Sony has created the F55 to be the perfect foundation for a versatile, modular system ideal for any cinematographer with the budget. If you can afford it, the F55 is currently the best 4K camera money can buy.

The Good

The quality of the F55 starts with its 8.9MP Super 35mm CMOS Image Sensor. It is capable of producing true 4K (4096×2160) DCI-standard cinema images by taking advantage of its 8.9 effective megapixels.

A necessity for most cinematographers, the F55 allows for the use of a variety of professional lenses. The F55 features a native FZ-mount but has a standard PL-mount adaptor making the camera compatible with many lenses professional cinematographers may already have on hand. The native FZ-mount is also compatible with an array of still lens adapters, most notably Canon's standard EF-mount. Additionally, there are some native FZ lenses worth taking a look at such as Sony's own SCL-Z18X140 autofocus servo zoom lens.

A similar and equally important feature is the ability for cinematographers to use their favorite lenses without any major distinction between other cameras when it comes to angle of view. This is because the sensor on the F55 is able to approximate the size of a traditional two perforation, Super 35mm motion picture film.

The F55 features a high-speed SxS PRO+ memory card recording that allows for different recording rates. The F55 is capable of shooting 8-bit MPEG-2 HD422 at 50 Mbps, 10-bit XAVC 2K/HD at 100 Mbps, SR Codec 10-bit MPEG4 SstP at 220/440/880 Mbps and XAVC 4K/QFHD at 300 Mbps. The F55 also supports real-time 4K output through its four 3G-SDI outputs as long as you have a compatible monitor.

Many cinematographers are drawn to the F55 because of its electronic global shutter. Unlike traditional CMOS sensors, which have rolling shutters, the global shutter on the F55 completely eliminates motion skew and other issues with rolling shutters.

F55 3

Check the Price of the Sony PMW-F55 CineAlta 4K Digital Cinema Camera on Amazon:

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The Bad

Any negatives we could mention about the F55 would be nitpicking as the camera excels in every area which matters to a vast majority of cinematographers. That said, the price is easily the only thing holding this camera back from being a more main stream professional 4K camera.

For indie filmmakers and smaller production houses, cameras like the C500 make more sense. While the image quality of the F55 is second to none, the difference between it and other 4K production cameras may not be worth the premium price tag.

Final Thoughts

The modular design of the F55 along with is phenomenal image quality make it a near perfect professional 4K camera. Its intuitive interface allows users to customize settings to fit specific workflows and the support for a variety of professional lenses results in a camera with little to no trade offs when switching to the F55.

The F55 is a major investment, but the footage produced is equal to what you will pay for the F55. This camera continues to sit atop the growing number of professional 4K digital production cameras available and certainly gets our highest recommendation.

It is worth noting Sony released the F56 prior to the F55, and most professional still agree the F56 is superior in a number of ways. However, it is rare to find a place to purchase the F56, which is primarily only available to rent. If you are part of a feature film project with a Hollywood budget, the F55 is more than enough to get the job done but you might want to check out the F56.

Specs
  • Sensor: Super 35mm CMOS with global shutter
  • Pixels: Total (11.6 MP) Effective (8.9 MP)
  • Video Resolution: 4096 x 2160 pixels (4k resolution)
  • Dynamic Range: 14 stops
  • Video Recording Format: MPEG-2 Long GOP, HD 422 mode: CBR, 50 Mbps max, MPEG-2 [email protected]
  • Audio Recording Format Linear PCM (2 ch, 24-bit, 48-kHz)
  • Shutter Speed 1/24s to 1/6,000s
  • Memory Cards SxS (x2, ExpressCard 34 slots), SD card slot (x1)
  • Audio Input: XLR-type 3-pin with Line/Mic/Mic +48V/AES/EBU selectable (x2, female), Output: phono jack (CH-1, CH-2), Headphone: Stereo mini jack (x1), Speaker: monaural
  • Wi-Fi USB host, type-A (x1)
  • Lens Mount FZ-mount, PL-mount (with supplied adapter)
  • Weight: 4.88 lb (2.2 kg) (body only)
Accessories

The most notable accessory available for the F55 is the AXS-R5 recorder. This optional bolt on recording unit allows the F55 to capture 16-bit RAW footage in both 4K and 2K resolution at frame rates up to 240fps in 2K. The AXS-R5 recorder is sold separately and docks on the rear of the PMW-F55.

In addition to the AXS-R5 recorder, the F55 allows for a variety of optional viewfinders. DVF-EL100 is a 0.7" OLED viewfinder with 1280 x 720 resolution. DVF-L350 is a 3.5" LCD viewfinder with 960 x 540 resolution, and the eyepiece flips up for direct monitoring. DVF-L700 is a 7" LCD viewfinder with 1920 x 1080 resolution for monitoring Full HD pixel-for-pixel.

As mentioned above, the F55 is highly modular and comes with a PL-mount adapter making it compatible with the majority of professional lenses already in the wild. The native FZ-mount is highly integrated with Sony's own FZ lenses, but it is also compatible with most other lens adapters making the F55 one of the most versatile cameras available.

Another notable accessory is the optional Sony shoulder rig, which features standard rosettes on both sides which is great for quick and easy attachment of third-party hand grips along with other accessories.

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Highlights

One of the highlights of the F55 is its intuitive one-touch interface, which was designed by Sony with a significant amount of input from professional cinematographers. Rather than being forced to dig through menus, the one-touch interface allows you to have direct access to important shooting options such as frame rate, shutter speed, color temperature, ISO sensitivity and gamma. The buttons are assignable which allows you to customize the setup to fix your exact needs.

Another impressive feature of the F55 is the ability to out real-time 4K footage to a compatible monitor. The F55 uses its four 3G-SDI outputs to support this feature.

The F55 also has support for other popular connections such as HDMI, USB, DC input, a removable XLR audio module and a removable time code/genlock module.

Running out of battery is among the most frustrating things that can happen while shooting. The F55 uses Sony's BP-FL75 battery pack, which features Olivine Lithium Iron Phosphate instead of conventional Lithium Ion cathodes resulting in a tremendous increase in charge-discharge cycles compared to other batteries.

Check the Price of the Sony PMW-F55 CineAlta 4K Digital Cinema Camera on Amazon:

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Overall Performance

As can be expected, shooting 4K footage on the F55 is a smooth experience. The 8.9 effective megapixels (11.6 total MP) from the Sony 4K CMOS sensor is capable of capturing a gorgeous 4K 4096 x 2160 DCI-standard cinema image, which can be recorded on-board using Sony's newly developed SxS PRO+ memory cards.

With the optional AXS-R5 "Bolt-on" Recorder, covered in the Accessories section above, the F55 is capable of recording 16-bit RAW 4K and 2K resolution footage. The AXS-R5 also allows for simultaneous RAW + on-board SxS recording.

By in large, digital sensors are an improvement over traditional motion picture film in many ways. Primarily, digital sensors are capable of shooting much higher resolution footage and low light image quality is far superior. However, with close to 14.3 stops of dynamic range, traditional film continues to maintain an advantage over most digital sensors in this area.

The F55 is one of the few exceptions. The exposure latitude for the F55 is rated at 14 stops of dynamic range resulting in true film quality renderings of highlights and shadows while retaining other advantages of a digital sensors. For example, the F55 features and exceptional color gamut that is wider than traditional film.

The F55 takes the best aspects of both worlds and the result is astounding image quality with depth and detail that would appeal to even the most particular cinematographer.

F55 2

Pricing

The F55 is currently available for $28,990.00 on B&H but may vary slightly from other retailers.

Check the Price of the Sony PMW-F55 CineAlta 4K Digital Cinema Camera on Amazon:

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Positives
  • Best in class image quality
  • Wider color gamut compared to film
  • SxS Pro+ media cards
  • One-touch interface
  • Long battery life (Olivine Lithium Iron Phosphate)
Negatives
  • Premium price tag
  • Slight learning curve
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Bottom Line
 

For professionals with the budget, the F55 is the camera to get. Even for the premium price, you will get what you pay for with the F55. Currently, you will be hard pressed to get better 4K footage out of any other 4K digital production camera available.

Check the Price of the Sony PMW-F55 CineAlta 4K Digital Cinema Camera on Amazon:

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