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Header image for article An Exploration of Sony FX9 Firmware v3.0 with Rick Siegel

An Exploration of Sony FX9 Firmware v3.0 with Rick Siegel

Following Sony’s recent release of firmware version 3.0 for their popular PXW-FX9 full frame cinema camera, we thought it would be interesting to continue exploring and documenting some of the new features in this latest free update, as we did with version 2.x in July.

Once again, we’re joined by ever-eager (and ever-gracious) veteran New York-based DP Rick Siegel to put the new firmware through its paces. At the top of our list to check out were the new Super16 sensor recording mode (available when shooting in HD/2K), the ability to “de-squeeze” the viewfinder/LCD image when shooting with anamorphic lenses, and a new realtime tracking autofocus mode that allows you to tap to select an element in the scene and follow it throughout the frame.

 

Super16

A new imager scan mode has been introduced which crops the sensor to the same imaging area as the well-loved Super 16mm film format (12.52mm x 7.41mm, requiring an ~15mm image circle from the lens – always test!). This not only enables the use of classic zoom and prime lenses designed for Super16, but also facilitates using B4-mount lenses designed for 2/3rds-inch sensors (many older ENG-style servo zooms, which often also cover Super16) utilizing Sony’s LA-EB1 adapter or other options. Recording in this mode is limited to FHD 1920x1080 or DCI 2K 2048x1080. We tried an older ZEISS 16mm “Super Speed” lens with this mode and found the combination to balance nicely as well as serve up loads of vintage aesthetic.

Almost more interesting, and useful, is a footnote in the firmware’s release notes stating: “The shooting angle of view can be changed quickly using an assignable button assigned with the Crop Select function.” The practical effect of this, when shooting in HD or 2K resolution, and with a full frame lens, is that the operator can quickly cycle between all sensor modes using one of any of the 10 assignable buttons on the FX9’s body or grip. This allows for a single lens, say a 35mm or 50mm full frame prime, to image increasingly tighter angles of view (“crops”) as one cycles among the different modes.

For example, if a 50mm lens shows a 40° angle of view in full frame mode, it would then show a 28° AoV in S35 4K (equivalent to a 75mm lens on full frame) and a 14° AoV in S16 2K (similar to a 150mm lens on a full frame sensor). Think of it like a built-in tele-extender, or doubler (tripler?) available at the touch of a button (the FFcrop 5K mode is available as well). Note that it’s not possible to switch crop modes while rolling the camera but we think that’s a small price to pay for a feature with such tremendous flexibility. Check out the video below to see this cool feature in action using a PL-mount Sigma 50mm T1.5 FF High-Speed prime:

 

LCD/VF De-Squeeze

As anamorphic lenses come down in price and become more accessible to a wider range of shooters, different levels of support for these unique lenses are becoming more common. A great feature of the 3.0 firmware for FX9 is the ability to “de-squeeze” the image on the camera’s VF/LCD for accurate framing with lenses using 1.3x or classic 2x “squeeze factors.” In the menu, select Monitoring > VF Setting > De-Squeeze. This example was shot with an Orion Series 40mm 2x anamorphic lens from Atlas and Wooden Camera’s E-Mount to PL Mount Pro. Note that the SDI outputs on the camera (and/or RAW, if using the XDCA-FX9) will remain “squeezed” in order to produce a pristine master when used with an external recorder.

"Anamorphic

 

Realtime Tracking AF

Another great feature, perhaps our favorite, is a new type of Realtime Tracking autofocus that allows the operator to register an area of interest by tapping on the VF/LCD and have the camera’s autofocus engine track that subject, or object, as it moves throughout the frame. We could see this being useful in any number of situations, from product announcements and demonstrations to overhead shots in cooking shows, with wildlife, and much more. It’s easier to show this feature in action (and couldn’t be simpler to execute), so check out the video below shot with a Sony FE 24-70mm F2.8 G Master lens:

 

Other Features & Enhancements

In addition to the “headline” features explored above, there are a number of other useful additions that are part of the new release:

  • Support for the S700 camera control protocol via ethernet, which enables the FX9 to be shaded and controlled in a multi-cam environment via Sony RCP-series “paintboxes,” including the RCP-1500/1501/1530, RCP-3100, and RCP-3500/3501. The XDCA-FX9 extension unit with RJ-45 ethernet port is required to enable this functionality. We’re looking forward to testing this important new feature in an upcoming blog, so please stay tuned.
  • When focusing manually with lenses that transmit distance information to the camera, the operator can tap to specify a starting or ending point for a focus pull and see, via a marker, how close or far from the reference point the focus is (Focus > Touch Function in MF > Spot Focus).
  • The Status screens can now be customized by showing or hiding specific pages to make navigating through them quicker and easier. Additionally, more functions in the status screen can now be touch-activated (S&Q Frame Rate, Zebras, Cache Recording Time, Proxy Format and Preset, and User LUT selection).
  • A more standard clip naming format is now available from the TC/Media menu specifying camera ID, reel number, and camera position.
  • When shooting in HDR mode, a new Simple SDR viewfinder display has been added that allows for the same “feeling” when adjusting exposure as in SDR mode (such as when shooting in HDR but without the benefit of an HDR monitor for reference).
  • All metadata from the main image recording is now associated with proxies as well.
  • Files from the camera can now be easily transferred to Sony’s C3 Portal cloud-based service by linking the FX9 to their C3 Portal App, available for both iOS and Android in their respective app stores.
  • A strong password can now be auto-generated by the camera to provide greater security when using the network function (Network > Access Authentication > Generate Password).

We asked Rick to sum up his findings on the new firmware. “As an FX9 owner-operator, I appreciate Sony’s commitment to continuing to add value to our investment in the camera,” he said. “Several features stood out to me during our testing: the viewfinder touchscreen improvements, improvements to autofocus, viewfinder anamorphic de-squeeze, S700 control protocol support, and the new Super16 imager scan mode all add up to a useful and much appreciated update.”

Firmware 3.0 for the PXW-FX9 is available as a free downloaded from Sony.

 

Geoff Smith
Camera Technology Specialist, AbelCine NY

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