High Dynamic Range, High Frame Rate Set Sony’s 4K Camcorders Apart

Significant technological changes are sweeping through the cinema and broadcast video markets, driven by the ever-increasing consumer demand for high-quality video content and a range of improvements in the delivery and playback of that content.

The HDTV sets that flooded the market in the early 2000s were sold on the promise of more precise, better-looking broadcast television, though at the time that mainly meant sports. As fans crowded around their sets to watch the Super Bowl in 2003 (the first one to be broadcast in HD), they probably didn’t consider that their new high def TV sets were the tipoff to a much larger push in the quest for higher quality video standards and delivery tools.

Sony’s new trio of 4K video cameras, the professional-grade PXW-Z90V and HXR-NX80 and consumer FDR-AX700 allow content-creators to deliver material that meets the demands of these new standards, with the ability to create both HDR video and slow/quick footage that meet the highest standards-both literally and figuratively-of today’s video delivery.


The Bottleneck Of The Set And Its Cables

When those first HDTV sets hit the market, the technology available to capture HDTV was limited and expensive, and it was difficult to get the signals to the viewer. Cable, satellite, and phone companies raced to install the infrastructure that would allow subscribers to watch HDTV footage, and the networks raced to upgrade their gear.

With this increased ability to deliver content, the cable networks and video-on-demand services like Netflix expanded their syndication of motion pictures, and the HDTV experience made those movies seem much closer to the theatrical versions than ever before.

Now we’re living in an era where the streaming services are directly competing with the broadcast networks, and the quality of the programming is so good that the cinema and the broadcast worlds are starting to merge, with creatives swapping between these two areas to share ideas and techniques.

As 4K (and eventually 8K) rollout, another bottleneck has emerged, this time with the standards for the playback of content and how sets reproduce the full range of tonality in the original footage.

HDTVs use a standard for displaying content that’s called Rec. 709, a standard that dates back to the 1990s. Rec. 709 specifies the parameters for the display of video on HDTV set. One limitation of the Rec. 709 standard is that it only provides five stops of dynamic range-or, to put it another way, five gradations from pure-black to pure-white.

Today’s video cameras and cinema cameras though can capture upward of 15 stops of dynamic range, but the limitations of the Rec. 709 standards means that viewers see much less contrast and tonality then is available from the cameras. It also means that the footage captured by a high-dynamic-range-capable camera has to have its tonality remapped to fit into the range of tones provided in Rec. 709. The result is footage that appears flat and low contrast.

Today’s television sets use a different color space, called Rec. 2020 that not only reproduces more colors than Rec. 709, but also can display greater dynamic range than Rec. 709. This enables them to work with and display High Dynamic Range (HDR) footage, which is content that is captured on a camera with a wide dynamic range.

Rec. 2020 is also much closer to the color space motion pictures use for digital projection, which means that playback of a movie on an HDR set more faithfully reproduces the original tonality of that film.

That’s why any trip to an electronics store these days finds the Television section overflowing with a range of sets advertising “HDR” or “High Dynamic Range” capabilities, which can reproduce video with much more vibrancy and contrast than a non-HDR set. Manufacturers and broadcasters alike are rushing to get these into the hands of consumers, as they provide a much better viewing experience.

HDR, HLG and Sony’s 4K Camcorders

Sony’s trio of new camcorders have different form factors, but they share the same powerful sensor, autofocus system, and image quality. One of the most exciting aspects of shooting with any of the PXW-Z90V, HXR-NX80 or FDR-AX700 is that they produce footage in an HDR format called Hybrid Log Gamma.

Hybrid Log Gamma (or HLG) is a recording format that creates HDR video in-camera, with no need to do HDR grading or correction in post-processing. In-camera HLG-based HDR is a boon to productions where footage has to go direct-to-broadcast, or where there is a need for HDR, but no back-end production team to edit in post.

Sony’s three new camcorders can capture HDR 4K footage using HLG, allowing them to create stunning footage with great tonality and excellent contrast. Even better, Sony’s high-end FS7 and FS5 cameras can also record HLG footage, as can Sony’s a7R III mirrorless camera. With HLG support on a wide array of Sony professional imaging equipment, creatives can record and combine footage from the family of cameras and have high-quality High Dynamic Range-ready footage straight out of the body.

That means that the PXW-Z90V, HXR-NX80, and FDR-AX700 can go from unboxing to HDR broadcast with a single setting enabling HLG capture. Combined with Sony’s MCX-500 Live-Producer Control Board, these cameras can be controlled during a live broadcast or live event with a single unit. The MCX-500 acts as a central, portable hub for mixing, managing and distributing video, and can be used for broadcast output, Internet streaming, and on-location recording to its internal SD card.

All three of the cameras also can record in S-Log3/S-Gamut3 as well, allowing for the creation of footage intended to go through color-grading post-production workflows. This enables the cameras to capture full 4K footage with the full dynamic range available from the 1″ stacked Exmor RS® CMOS sensor, and BIONZ Processor and then edit it to bring out the nuances of tone and contrast that are available from this high-tech sensor.

The Slow And The Quick

Sony’s PXW-Z90V, HXR-NX80, and FDR-AX700 all include a Slow & Quick (S&Q) mode, a shorthand way of saying that they can capture slow motion, super slow motion, and video that speeds up the action. While quick motion has its uses-capturing time-lapse-style video, Slow Motion is more useful, and the slow-motion capabilities of the cameras are unmatched in their class.

All three cameras will record up to 120fps Full HD footage. While many cameras limit the recording time in slow motion modes, the PXW-Z90V, HXR-NX80 and FDR-AX700 can record with no time limit at rates up to the highest 120fps.

For even “slower” slow motion, there’s Super Slow Motion, which captures footage at a mind-numbing 960fps, and can record around three seconds (depending on capture rate). At 960fps, these cameras capture around a minute-and-a-half of high-quality footage from a three-second shot.

S&Q triggering can be assigned to a programmable button on the body of each of these cameras, allowing the cameras to toggle between standard-speed and slow/quick capture without having to stop the shoot and dig through menus.

Quality And Versatility

All of the slow-motion and HDR features of the PXW-Z90V, HXR-NX80, and FDR-AX700 wouldn’t amount to much if the cameras weren’t able to produce fantastic video and function in a high-pressure shoot. The trio of Sony cameras are designed to share the same Sony-designed imaging pipeline, and the same layout of controls and features, making them the perfect choice for the demanding video creator.

The 1-inch sensor in the cameras is much larger than that found in most camcorders, giving these 4K siblings increased dynamic range, better low-light performance, and fidelity that’s a level above competing systems. All three share the same Zeiss Vario-Sonnar To 12x optical zoom lens for native 4K shooting flexibility, plus Clear Image Zoom, which results in crystal-clear footage at 18x in 4K and 24x in Full HD.

They also feature industry-leading autofocus capabilities, thanks to the Hybrid AF system, which uses 273-AF points and wide coverage to enable these three cameras to instantly lock onto subjects and track them as they move during a shot. Being able to capture footage without missing the shots lost to bad manual “focus pulling” means the PXW-Z90V, HXR-NX80 and FDR-AX700 can not only increase accuracy (resulting in more usable footage) but reduce production time wasted on re-shoots.

With the bright, high-resolution 2,359K dot OLED viewfinder and 3.5″ touchscreen LCD monitor, camera operators can see incredible detail in their shots, ensuring accurate composition and focusing. Connection options abound on all of the cameras, with the ability to work with a variety of microphones, remote controls, and video transmission systems,

The Best Is Yet To Come

Thanks to the rapid adoption of HDR standards, and the support of those standards in today’s HDR-ready 4K television sets, the video content we all consume is undergoing a revolution in resolution, contrast, tonality and color fidelity.

The Sony PXW-Z90V, HXR-NX80 and FDR-AX700 take full advantage of these modern standards, allowing video creators to work seamlessly in a high-end, high-quality workflow. Shoot with any of the trio of 4K camcorders, and you’ll be sure able to produce content that maximizes the tremendous potential of today’s new standards and is at the forefront of what’s possible in this era of enhanced video production.

See The Sony 4K Camcorders

For more information on Sony’s trio of 4K camcorders, visit the Alpha Universe website.

Sony Videos

These sample videos offer a look at some of the other features and benefits of working with the Sony PXW-790V, HXR-NX80 and FDR-AX700 camcorders. Note: YouTube’s default playback resolution is lower than 1080p, so be sure to change the Quality setting to get the most accurate footage.

Sony Handycam overview

Hybrid Log-Gamma (for HDR capture)

Sony Hybrid AF and HLG

Sample Footage

High Resolution Sensor

Tracking Autofocus