The Sony Venice has been out for over a year now and, thanks to regular firmware updates, has matured into a camera that’s already gained a lot of headway into the world of drama and commercial shoots. The studio equipment hire company Shoot Blue have just acquired one for rental, and in partnership with Camberwell Studios, I’ve been asked to put the camera through it’s paces. There are several very good reviews out there that compare the Venice to it’s rivals – instead we wanted to put the camera test on a real shoot, to see what it’s like to work with, what are its quirks and features.
The body of the camera has a very robust feel, it’s clear they’ve been built to last. The camera’s size is, for me, perfect for a camera of this type – that you’d use on film, TV drama and commercial sets. Its size falls somewhere between an Alexa mini and a standard Alexa.
I’m a big fan of the Alexa mini and mini LF – their size means they can be used in a lot of creative ways, but as a main A camera, I prefer to use a camera that has all the buttons right there where you need them, with all the inputs and outputs you need, without having to rig up additional parts. The Venice makes perfect sense as an A cam.
On its own, the camera is fairly compact for a 6k full frame camera. But to record in full 6k, the camera need Sony’s AXS-R7 raw recorder attached to the back – much like the F55. I am impressed by how seamlessly this becomes part of the camera, and I like where Sony has gone with the design here. It means you can strip back the camera to quite a small form factor if you don’t need raw for your shoot. With the raw unit attached, it integrates so well with the design of the camera, you almost wouldn’t know it’s a separate part. This goes for the software integration too, which has been improved over the way the F55 integrated with the raw recorder. On the Venice, attach it and go. There is nothing to setup on the raw recorder – new options in the cameras own menu become un-greyed out and are ready to setup. Very simple to set up.
Overall, I really like the form factor of the camera – everything is just where you need it.
The camera has an industry standard PL mount with contacts that support the Cooke/i technology, so lens data can be recorded alongside your footage. Behind the PL mount actually lies a Sony E mount – but this isn’t like it is on Sony’s venerable FS7 and FS5 cameras. The PL mount is secured on with 6 bolts, so it really is a part of the camera. While most shoots the Venice will go on will use Cine style PL lenses, it’s useful to know that there is an E mount back there. The E mount has a very short flange distance, which means almost any lens can be used on it with the right adapter.
The viewfinder design is quite intuitive and well thought out. On the viewfinder itself are buttons for focus magnification and even a button and jog wheel to access the menu, placed in easy to reach places. A lot of cameras seem to have buttons where they’ll fit, so it’s nice to be able to put your eye up to a viewfinder and instinctively find the buttons you need. The viewfinder mount is also very easy to use and it’s just effortless to get it where you need it.
The picture from the viewfinder is as you’d expect for a camera of this level. It’s a full HD, OLED display – clear, bright, and sharp. I like that the camera information is placed around the image and not over it, which always obscures the picture. I wish Sony would do this with their other camera line ups. It’s refreshing to frame up an image and not have the camera information in the way, yet still have the info available in your periphery if you need it.
Inputs and Outputs
As you’d expect from a camera designed to be a primary A camera, it has a smorgasbord of video outputs – and they’re also exceptionally configurable. You can also send different amounts of camera information to different outputs, so you can configure your video outputs to your set-up on set.
For video outputs you are spoilt for choice, you have:
- 4 x SDI outputs, which can be used as 12g, 3g of 1.5g connections, for use at different resolutions.
- 1 x HDMI output – up to 4k
- 1 x Monitor out – a HD only 1.5g SDI output
- 1 x VF output – a dedicated HD output via lemo cable, for the camera’s viewfinder
Monitor out and VF out are always HD, that leaves you with 5 other outputs for monitors on set. I noticed that while you can put a LUT on HD outputs, you can’t put a LUT on any 4k output – so if your video village is monitoring with a 4k monitor, it would need to be one that you can load in a LUT. The camera also has a variety of power outputs on the body, 12v and 24v, very useful for powering all manner of accessories. One nice touch I thought Shoot Blue had added to this specific Venice, was the addition of a wooden camera D-box, which adds a power strip on the top of the camera. It’s so well designed you’d almost think it’s part of the camera, and it adds a whole array of extra power ports, which would be very useful for rigging up wireless focus, video taps, monitors and so on.
On right hand side of the camera, is the main menu screen. It is set-up on the right so the AC has quick access to it. The Venice has an almost identical menu screen to the F55 – only it’s on the opposite side of the camera, for easy access for an AC, which shows the kinds of production Sony are aiming this at. Sony really borrowed a lot from Arri in this menu design – and that’s no bad thing. The menu is very clear, and it doesn’t take too long to setup the camera the way you need.
As the camera is so configurable, there is a lot you can change, and I’ll go into a deep dive on the menus later on. But as a primary display, the menu has all the main things you’d need or want to change, right at your fingertips. It’s odd to me that Sony’s high-end cameras have this much easier to navigate menu, yet their more wide spread workhorse cameras, such as the FS7 and the ever popular A7s mirrorless cameras, which have rather unintuitive menus.
The Venice also has a small 2nd screen on the operator side. It’s a simple thing, but I found this very useful, as you can see and change a few main settings without looking at the viewfinder or peering around the other side of the camera. Settings such as frame rate, shutter angle, white balance, exposure index, and ND filters are at your fingertips.
The ND filters themselves deserve a mention – the Venice has an 8-step technical ND filter, more steps than I’ve seen on any camera. I know the FS5ii and FS7ii have a built in vari-ND system – which I think is great for documentary work, but for the kind of work the Venice will do, I think knowing exactly what step of ND you are using, is more useful.
Having 8 steps of ND is fantastic to work with. With other cameras you often find you need something in between two ND filters, and either have to change the iris away from the setting you wanted to shoot at (which changes the depth of field characteristics), or use ‘poor mans ND’ and change your shutter setting a little (which affects the aesthetic of your motion blur). Having a choice of 8 ND’s really helps keep the look of your footage and your exposure much more consistent throughout a shoot.
For the kind of shoots the Venice will be working on, sound will often be recorded separately. But it’s worth noting the camera does have a 5-pin audio input, which does have support for line, mic and mic +48v, so getting audio into the camera is fairly straight forward affair.
The camera, in a similar manner to the Panasonic Varicam, has a dual base ISO system. When shooting in a low light situation, you can change the base ISO, and a different set of circuitry drives the sensor, and produces cleaner results. The standard base is 500 ISO, and the high base is 2500. When it comes to low light capability, the camera really impressed me, especially since it’s a 6k – The higher resolution a sensor is, the more light is spread out thinner between the pixels, so generally higher resolution mean poorer low light sensitively – but this is a real sweet spot – 6k resolution, and still great in low light.
Media and Codecs
The Venice body itself uses SxS pro + cards, and the raw recorder uses AXSM cards. Internally the camera can only record up to 4k – only the raw recorder itself can record the full 6k. But, when recording on just the camera, you can still record from the full 6k sensor area, and it will downscale to 4k to record in the camera. This means you end up with very sharp and clean footage, as it’s come from a 6k area, and also means you are getting 4k footage from a full frame sensor – so you retain the full frame look.
If you are using lenses which aren’t full frame – and a lot of cine lenses aren’t, as the industry standard for cine cameras has really been the S35 size sensor / film size, for a long time – then you can select to record from just the 4k sensor area. The sensor in the Venice is tall enough to allow for 3:2 aspect ratio – which is designed for anamorphic lenses, just as the Alexa FF and C700 FF are.
When recording on just the SxS cards, you can also record ProRes proxies to the same card, and you can also burn in a LUT for these proxies too – this is a very useful feature, allowing you to give your editor easy to work with HD files that cut be edited on a laptop, saving the 4k footage for reconnecting to the edit later on when the footage goes to the colourist. When recording on the RAW recorder, you can still record to the SxS cards too, so you can have a similar proxy workflow. Here’s a quick summary of the Cameras recording modes;
- Records to SxS+ cards in XAVC codec
- Records up to 4k in resolution to the SxS cards in XAVC codec, from the full 6k sensor area
- Can also record HD prores or HD MPEG proxies (with or without a lut burnt in) on the same card
With AXSR7 Raw recorder
- Records to AXS cards in XOCN codec (Sonys compressed raw format)
- Records up to 6k resolution in – which is Sony’s type of compressed raw. There are 3 levels of compression – XT, ST, LT – XT being the least compressed, so you can choose what suits the type of project
To give you an idea of record times, here’s what we know
- 256gb SxS pro+ card – recording 4k, 25fps in XAVC c480 codec = 77 mins of record time
- 512gb AXS card – recording 6k, 25fps in X-OCN XT codec = 28 minutes of record time
A quick word on card workflow – when working with the AXS cards, and using SxS at the same time (for proxies or 4k), you’ll naturally get different run times on each type of card. I highly recommend keeping the reels in sync, and when the smallest card fills up (AXS cards usually), change the SxS at the same time. Keeping the reels in sync will really make life easier for post, when connecting the proxies to the raw.
The Venice we were testing had firmware V3, so its maximum frame rates were limited. We mostly shot in 6k at 25fps, and when we wanted slow motion we’d select the 4k sensor area, which allowed us to shoot up to 60fps. V4 and V5 of the firmware have been announced, and will unlock up to 90fps in 6k.
So what’s the image like?
The colours and highlight roll off have a very organic quality to them. The default Venice look that Sony have worked on, has a lot of similarities to how the Alexa renders colour – highlights are desaturated which emulates film. The look is kind to skin, and overall has a very natural look. Extremes of colour, especially on the edges of the spectrum, are handled very well.
What surprised me most, is how good the internal 4k recordings are compared to the raw. The raw is a 16 bit image, the internal 4k only 10bit – perhaps it’s starting with a 6k image and downscaling, but the end result is a fantastic – sharp without feeling digital, with a natural organic way of rendering colour. Contrary to popular belief, raw doesn’t give you more dynamic range – Slog3 and raw have the same dynamic range. The difference is the raw will capture much more tonal range and colour information, so will hold up much better to extreme grading.
Other thing to note;
Rolling shutter – It’s worth noting that the sensor on the Venice does have a rolling shutter – so pan fast enough and you may see jello effects, or get rolling shutter effects when using strobes. Very few cameras actually have a global shutter – in fact, there currently isn’t a full frame camera with a native global shutter. The readout of the Venice sensor, to me, feels on par with Arri’s cameras. If you do need a global shutter, you’re best looking to the F55.
Wired LAN control – Something I didn’t get to test, but the Venice has a built in ethernet port which means the camera can be controlled from a laptop. Add a router, and you can configure multiple Venice cameras from the same laptop, which could be very useful on a muti-cam setup.
The AXSM card reader, is absolutely huge. It’s the largest card reader I’ve ever used, almost the size of an old DV cam tape deck. It’s also has quite noisy fans, so you want your data wrangler to working away from the set.
For me, if I wanted to shoot on a full frame sensor, for a high-end production, the Venice offers strong reasons to be top of my list. Compared to its rivals, these are my thoughts;
Red Monstro 8k vv – 8k on a full frame sensor is fantastic, but The Venice is better in low light. If i needed the resolution for a particular production, i’d go for the Monstro. But for 4k and 6k, I think the Venice would be better to work with on set.
Arri Alexa LF – Arri’s look is the gold standard for film-like digital footage. The LF is their large format version of the ever popular Alexa. I love the Alexa look, and their cameras are great to work with, and it would be a tough call for me to choose which I’d use if given the choice. The Venice is a little more compact, and higher in resolution. But there is also the Alexa Mini LF, which makes for a perfectly matched B cam. I’d probably choose the Alexa’s to shoot a drama with, and I’d choose the Venice if I was shooting a single camera car commercial.
C700 FF – Canon’s full frame high end camera. The specs are very similar to the Venice. The lens mount isn’t user changeable (it has to be done by a dealer), so it’s either EF or PL. The C700FF is also very long with the codex recorder on the backup, and the Venice can shoot in higher frame rates (once it gets firmware updates). I’ve yet to use the C700 FF, it looks like great camera, but it would need to deliver a lot to outshine the Venice.
Kinefinity Mavo LF – A relatively new camera from a relatively new manufacturer. I’ve not tested this camera myself, but reliability is key for me on set, so this wouldn’t cross my radar until I’ve heard good reports from people using them reliably on shoots. This seems like a good camera for an operator to own, but isn’t something I’d hire when there are the above cameras and the Venice to choose from.
- Good colour science
- Full frame sensor – Sensor area can be configured for many shooting purposes
- All the professional input and output ports you could ever need
- Dual native ISO’s give impressive low light performance
- Impressive high frame rate capability for 6k (with upcoming firmware)
- Cannot burn in a LUT to 4k internal footage for quick turnaround projects
- Can’t output a LUT on 4k video outputs
The Venice offers quite a formidable package – with Sony continuing to expand it’s features through regular firmware updates, I see this will continue to be a very sought after camera for the next few years.
Peter Ford is a freelance Director of Photography – visit his website here.
Contact Adam at Shoot Blue on 020 8343 1246 for more information about hiring the Sony Venice.