We first saw the SRW-9000 back in April at NAB. It made a real impression in our booth and had us all excited about a shoulder mounted HDCAM SR camcorder. Sony promised the camera would be out in December ’09, and they delivered. Abel will have the SRW-9000 available for both sale and rental within days. There are a number of reasons to be excited about this camera. It has the same proven chipset as the F23, and it records to the visually lossless HDCAM SR format. It shoots in 720p at up to 60 FPS, and 1080P at up to 60FPS as well. It records in 4:2:2: and 4:4:4 modes, offering the ultimate in quality for broadcast and Digital Cinema – and all of these features come in a shoulder-mounted form factor.
The big news today, though, is that Sony has upped the ante on the SRW-9000. They have announced that the SRW-9000 can be upgraded in the future. The 2/3″ block can be switched with a 35mm size sensor, the same as found in the F35. Sony will perform the upgrades to switch the sensor and add a PL mount. This is a serious option for owner-operators and rental houses everywhere. Additionally, they will offer an option to switch out the HDCAM SR tape-record mechanism for an SR Memory recorder. The memory recorder will record in HDCAM SR compression (Mpeg4 Simple Studio Profile) to extremely high-speed and large capacity memory cards. This technology is still in the works but promises to be the recording media of future Sony cameras. Lastly, they have announced a new deck, the SRW-5800/2, and an upgrade to their SRW-5800 deck, which will enable MXF file download in the Simple Studio Profile (SStP). This means that HDCAM SR video can be downloaded off a tape as data files. These are the first steps in making HDCAM SR a full data format. Needless to say this is a serious announcement that lays out Sony’s longer term vision.
Lucky for us, Jesse and I got our hands on the SRW-9000 and did some testing. We spent an afternoon with it, shot some charts and walked out to the water to get some footage. Here is a quick overview of what we found.
The camera is very much a mix of the F900 and F23. The form factor is similar to the F900R, with a shoulder pad on the bottom and fairly narrow body. When on your shoulder the viewfinder sits in the right spot with minimal adjustment. When using an ENG style lens, I was able to operate it just like any other 2/3″ ENG style camera. All the hardware in the SRW-9000 makes it slightly heavier than the F900R, but owners of the original F900 will find it to be similar.
Operation of the camera is more similar to a F23. The side panel has an LCD that is used for quick navigation of different menu items. Frame rate, format, shutter and gain can all be controlled from here. Around the panel are eight different users buttons that can be assigned to a variety of different functions. What is notably different from an ENG style is the lack of the standard switches for white balance, black balance, gain, shutter, etc. These are all set on the side panel and with the users switches, so users can decide where to program the features they use most.
The camera outputs are all located at the rear of the camera. There are several different outputs for both uncompressed and down converted signals. The standard genlock, remote, and timecode connections can also be found here. The camera has only two XLR audio inputs, which may seem strange, but with an optional SDI input board the camera is able to record audio from embedded channels – up to 12 at once.
The SR recorder is built into the camera, but in many ways remains a separate unit. Timecode and audio are displayed on the VTR panel, which can be moved around if needed. The VTR can be controlled from this panel and audio inputs selected, however the camera is able to communicate with it to set format and start/stop recording.
The menu of this camera is very similar to that of the F900, F800, and even the PDW-700. Sony has standardized the menu structure, which makes it easier for us camera nerds. With a simple button press, the full menu is accessed and the usual settings can be adjusted.
Sony is offering up a series of boards that greatly expand the function of the camera. Here is a quick layout of the function of each.
HKSR-9001 – HD-SDI Expansion Board This provides Dual Link output and an auxiliary HD-SDI input. This enables 4:4:4 output and 50/59.94p frame rate output. Additionally the auxiliary input enables the extra audio channel recording in conjunction with a third party audio embedding device.
HKSR-9002 – Picture Cache Board This enables picture cache recording and overcrank/undercranking effects from 1-60 fps. This also enables speed ramping effects in camera.
HKSR-9003 – 4:4:4 RGB Board This enables 4:4:4 RGB recording in both SQ (440 Mbps) and HQ (880 Mbps) modes. This also enabled S-Log gamma recording for matching with log-encoded material in the Digital intermediate process.
The SRW-9000 includes the various gamma modes included in the F23 and F35 including the various Hypergamma modes and SLog gamma, as well as the capability of loading custom gamma curves generated with CVP file editor. Like the F23 and F35, the SRW-9000 can utilize curves enabling an extended dynamic range of 800%.
The SLog mode (approximate curve shown above) fits the entire dynamic range of the sensor into a format optimized for a 10 bit post work flow. SLog is quite convenient for projects destined for film as the shape of the curve works well in a Cineon log space-based color correction.
The SRW9000 will initially be available with on-board HDCAM SR tape-based recording, in either SQ (440Mb/s) or HQ (880Mb/s) modes. A future option will be an on board solid state recording, also using the SR codec. The SR codec has proven itself over the past few years as a very high quality recording option.
See this blog entry for a brief overview of my compression testing. Expect a more thorough examination of HDCAM SR in all its current flavors in the not-too-distant future. For now, suffice it to say that HDCAM SR in HQ mode is functionally equivalent to uncompressed recording for virtually all purposes.
With the announcement of the SR Memory recording, Sony has now presented a road map for SR recording that encompasses future higher resolution production while maintaining backwards compatibility with the existing SR infrastructure.
In addition to the camera details, Sony has also announced an upgrade to the SRW-5800 HDCAM SR VTR. The SRW-5800/2 lays the groundwork for the future SR codec data-based post production workflow by enabling the export of MPEG4 SStP (the native SR codec) encoded MXF files over gigabit ethernet.
With the addition of the HKSR-5804 card, the VTR can record any arbitrary data including TIFF or DPX files as well other project data. Clearly Sony is imagining a future where SR tape is the universal archival medium for data-based projects. Given the need for long-term archival and the advantages of a format that natively understands (most of) the data it records, this is a welcome vision.