Review of the updated for the Sony FS700 Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q …is it any good?

SHOT ON THE CONVERGENT DESIGN 7Q IN 4K & 2K RAW ON PRE-PRODUCTION FIRMWARE

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Four Corners: Postcard from Miami Beach from Philip Bloom: Four Corners on Vimeo.

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Convergent Design loaned me a 7Q to test out with no promise of a review, as I always say. I generally have to say no to gear to review, due to time constraints. With proper work, it’s hard to find time to get round to it. Unless it is something I could use on a proper shoot as opposed to testing for testing’s sake.

I didn’t have a shooting gig in Miami, but it was a documentary workshop and I had free time before it and after it.

The Sony FS700 is an interesting camera. The bigger brother of Sony’s first affordable S35 camcorder, the FS100. It was better as it had a 4K sensor, so it could be upgraded to pump out a 4k and 2K raw via an external recorder in the future. This also meant continuous up to 240fps high speed 2K raw instead of the 8 seconds AVCHD.

It’s still as un-ergonomic and unfriendly as the FS100, but with those added features plus ND, it was certainly a better camera. More money of course!

The firmware update came late last summer. A paid upgrade of around 250 euros, and to make it work you needed the Sony R5 raw module from the F5 and F55 plus the HXR-IRF5 interface unit then a V-Lock to power it all. As you can see below, we had a bazooka on our hands. With the costs of the AXS media (512gb for 1 hour of 4K) the costs mounted up to close to around $10K not including power! That’s a hell of an outlay to get 4K raw. Luckily, I had the R5 and media because of my Sony F55 so I just needed the interface, which was around $2k.

Now the results were pretty good. The 4K looked terrific and although 512gb for 1 hour is a lot, it’s a lot less than the Cinema DNG raw we are seeing at the moment. It’s compressed raw, but it seems lossless. It’s just the size of it!

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When I did a job in Italy, I took the rig to Tuscany to try it out. In the end, I simply couldn’t cope with a camera that long, so I removed the raw 4K set-up. Put a strap on it and wore it like a good old external recorder of old! It worked fine this way. Not ideal of course.

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Convergent Design (CD)  have been making external recorders for quite a few years now. I had their Nanoflash for my EX1 back in the day but hadn’t tried any of their other ones since. I simply hate external recorders. Something to go wrong, and often cumbersome, like the above set up. As long as you can record internally too, I was OK with them, but some cameras like the Nikon D800 wouldn’t. I couldn’t risk that.

The reason why we generally use them is simple. Internal codecs, for the most part, suck. The FS700 uses the 8-bit AVCHD code. 24mb/s 4:2:0. Way under broadcast spec. Fine for web but has a tendency not to like being pushed in post. Many of these cameras, this one included, have uncompressed clean output. Most are still 8 bit, and to be honest that’s the most important reason to go external if you camera can output it and records 8-bit internally.

8 bits have 256 shades of each binary colour for each channel, the Red Green Blue. Together that makes 16,777,216. That’s a fair few colours. This is not a problem if we viewed the footage on an 8 bit display but modern displays are 10 bit. 10 bit is 1024 shades of each binary colour that makes 1.07 billion, That is massive. Now when we view 8 bit footage on 10 bit displays the footage simply can’t cope. Especially with close gradients. Like skies, dark areas. Hence we get banding. The display needs all those variations in shade and they don’t exist. Watch 8 bit on 8 bit displays and it can cope.

The FS100 and FS700 are 8 bit output, as are the DSLRS, as are the C100, 1DC and C300. Few cameras are 10 bit or more. The F3, F5 and F55 from Sony are. When it comes to the latter two, they can also record 10 bit internally. The F55 can do 10 bit 4:2:2 4K internally.

So back onto the 7Q. What makes this special is simply it’s a terrific OLED monitor. It’s unfortunately not full HD, it just over 720P at 1280×800. It’s fine. The size is 7.7″. The FS700 screen is atrocious. You need a monitor or EVF anyway. That is the advantage of the 7Q. We already need a monitor and with this we have a great monitor AND it’s an external recorder.

Initially we were told the FS700 would only do 4K raw through the Sony system. But CD have been working with Sony (and Apple) to get approval. With Apple they were after ProRes HQ. With a firmware update last month, we got both. Not ProRes HQ unfortunately for 4K, just HD. 4K is raw only, and it’s the unwieldy uncompressed Cinema DNG. Well, it can also do DPX for HD, 2K and 4K, but those are even huger files.

So yes, the 7Q is a way better solution for 4K on the FS700 than the Sony system with some caveats. Look at the size difference. Below you can see what I mean.

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A much smaller and more practical rig with the 7Q

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Above is a picture of the media. Both the 7Q and R5 use proprietary media. Both expensive.

512gb SD for the 7Q
512gb SD for the 7Q
512gb for the Sony system
512gb for the Sony system

Now that is a fairly sizeable amount of money and difference. The thing is, it comes down to how much data you can get on each. Remember one is compressed raw the other isn’t. Personally I see zero difference in quality. Some may argue, pixel peepers perhaps. I don’t know anyone who believes that though, who shoots with the Sony system.

SONY R5

4K 24/25/30p on the AXS system is just over 1 hours for 512GB

4K 50p/ 60p on the AXS system is just over 30 minutes for 512gb

For 2K quadruple that

ODYSSEY 7Q

4K 24/25/30p on the 7Q is 24 minutes per 512GB card. 

4k 50p/60p on the 7Q is 12 minutes per 512GB. This needs to be raided. So 2 256GB cards or two 512GB cards (that will give you 24 minutes)

For 2K quadruple that.

Of course ProRes HQ is a tiny compared to that. We don’t have the 4K yet. To give you a guide, the Blackmagic 4K records ProRes HQ and is roughly 480GB for an hour at the 24/25/and 30p. Still a lot but much better than 24 minutes. Still massive though. 120GB for HD ProRes HQ.

These are important factors to add up….as in, the cost adds up. Normally I have around 4-5 hours of media on me for an average shoot. More, if I shoot interviews. Offloading during the day is close to impossible on all but my bigger shoots. So for that on the 7Q, I need around 10 cards of 512GB…that’s a cost of $9600 at today’s prices. Naturally this rules out the camera for documentary work for me when interviews are needed. My F55 with the XAVC internal 10 bit 4:2:2 codec. On a single SxS Pro+ 128GB memory card, the PMW-F55 records up to 50 minutes in 4K/24P or approx. 20 minutes in 4K/60P.Each 128GB card is $1800. That’s around $7000 still…SxS Pro+ cards are overpriced. That’s the same price as the raw AXS cards which hold slightly more (around 10-15 minutes) for the same price and it’s raw. Problem is also the cost of storage and the time to deal with raw. 4K XAVC flies in my MacPro  in Premiere CC and doesn’t bloat my hard drives.

So one last comparison for 5 hours of media on each. Ironically, the compressed codec that isn’t raw costs the most but that’s down to the extortionate price of the SXS Pro+ cards. I am told expect a big drop in price in these. Too late for me. I have 6 cards.

SONY R5 AXS 2.5Tb 5 cards = $9000

7Q SSD(proprietary) 6.6TB 13 cards = $10335

F55 4K XAVC SXS Pro+ 768GB 6 cards  $10800

Now that is eye-opening. Unless I got my calculations wrong. Please tell me if I have. Each G-Tech 8GB Thunderbolt Drive is around $800.  I back up to, or used to, 3 drives. Now it’s more like 1 for the raw and 2 for the ProRes HQ exports. I simple can’t afford or have the space for such a stupid amount of drives. The F55 4K XAVC suddenly starts to be cheaper when you take future hard drive purchases into account.

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That’s the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 shooting 4K simultaneously. Fun to compare!

One of the best features of the 7Q is that it’s not limited to the FS700 like the Sony system is (with the IRF5 module as the R5 works on the F5 and F55). With the FS700 and the 7Q you need to buy a license to run the firmware. It’s currently $795.  It will also, with purchase of a license, let you record Canon raw with the C500 and Arri Raw. You can also rent these licenses if you are just using one of the cameras for a project.

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The build quality of the 7Q is terrific. The power consumption is pretty good too. I use Sony F series NPF batteries. I can’t remember exactly how long I am getting, but it’s around a couple of hours roughly.

The Sony FS700 with its new firmware V3 (and the FS700R) we get S-Log 2. This gives us a greater dynamic range and more options in post. We also get an upped native ISO to 2000. I do find the S-Log a bit noisy even at its native, but you have to have to shoot S-Log 2 for the 7Q to take the raw. Not the case with the R5. Although raw is raw and you have the ability to change the ISO in post. It’s a shame it’s noisy. The 2K raw super slow motion is even worse and always has been internally too when shooting slow motion. Plus the 2K aliases whereas the 4K doesn’t. I recommend overexposing S-Log by about 1.5 stops, especially in raw. Try it out. It’s cleaner.

The F5 and F55 have a similar issue, but nowhere near as bad as this. Sony in fact have a pop in 2K OLPF to alleviate this on those cameras. Not on the FS700 though. It’s expensive. It should be free. If the camera has this issue and this is the fix it should come with. In my opinion!

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200 drinks per second. FS700 2K HFR raw with the 7Q test from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

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There is one more killer feature from the 7Q, and this for me is the biggy. Remember the 7Q outputs 8 bit in HD for ProRes HQ on the Odyssey or any other device like the Atomos Samurai. A real shame it’s not 10 bit. Now if you set the FS700 to output raw which is 12 bit out of the SDI, and the 7Q to the Raw to ProRes HQ, the image is simply incredible. Quite possibly the most amazing HD image I have seen. Interestingly, I haven’t tested this yet. My new business partner, James Miller, who I have just set up a new production house with and has the Blackmagic like I do, says the internal HD is incredibly. Nothing like the very average 4K. I need to test this!

So the ProRes HQ is just stunning, and it’s true 10 bit as it’s come from a 12 bit source NOT an 8 bit source. Also the downsampling to HD is so much better as you can see from the detail shots than what the Sony FS700 does internally. The difference is huge for both. Remember it can only do this as it can output a 4K 12 bit signal.

Here is a comparison video and then some frames to show you what I mean. A massive improvement in detail and the specular highlights that plague the FS line are clearly gone, as you can see on the squirrel light filament. The crops in the frames are 300%, by the way, for the HD shots, and 150% for the 4K to match.

One thing to note there is a slight change in gamma when doing this. CD have assured me this will be fixed shortly. Currently it’s a small price to pay for such a great image.

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Sony FS700/ Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q “real world” resolution/ detail tests from Philip Bloom Reviews & Tutorials on Vimeo.

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So there we go. The 7Q is a stunning piece of kit. So much better than the R5 system from Sony. After all, even with the R5, you need a monitor! There are those issues I have mentioned. Basically, the massive file sizes for 4K…we need ProRes 4K ASAP…we don’t actually need HQ really. 422 is fine and much smaller. Still 10bit 4:2:2. Plus of course, the cost of media. Because we need so much of it, the costs add up to a huge amount. All the similar systems do too…it’s just with the additional file sizes the sting is more painful.

I am sure prices will fall, and with the 4K ProRes (not imminent by the way) the system will be more affordable. The key thing is that this recorder is not limited to one camera. This is pretty much future proof until we need 8K! Plus it’s a damn fine monitor, we all the features a great monitor should have. Scopes, peaking, zoom, LUTs and more!

The FS700 with the 7Q is now a great camera. It won’t replace my F55…that is an incredible camera. But it’s damn fine indeed…especially if you already have one. This device with the camera makes it terrific.

This is a great device. I love it. Now I just need to save up for those SSDs…

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