Any excuse to go to Sony Pictures Studios, formerly Columbia Studios, is a good one. So I was delighted to attend a press conference to get up close and personal with the new Sony VENICE. Once on the lot, we made our way to Stage 7 and Peter Crithary, Marketing and Production Manager with Sony Electronics, began his presentation, along with Claudio Miranda, ASC who shot a short, entitled THE DIG, using the VENICE.
Crithary explained after several conversations with many ASCs and operators working in the film industry, Sony developed the VENICE to be a future-proof, workhorse. One that is upgradeable. Now, where have I heard that before? I’ll come back to that. The camera has all of the specs you’d want to see in a cinema camera from Sony, including a newly designed full frame sensor, a PL Mount that’s removable with a lockable E Mount underneath. During my interview, I was told the E Mount will be forthcoming, but according to Film and Digital Times it will ship with this E Mount. Engineers removed the PL in my video, and indeed there is an E Mount underneath, although, it’s not clear if it was functioning at the time of this video.
The VENICE also includes user-selectable areas of the image sensor allow shooting in Super 35 mm 4 – perf. Future firmware upgrades are planned to allow the camera to handle 36mm wide 6K resolution. It’s a rolling shutter, but Sony says it’s super fast so jello shots are a thing of the past. Indeed, the short THE DIG had many motion shots from inside a car and even aerial footage and no jello. After a short presentation, we were allowed to interview Sony personnel about the camera. At the time, they weren’t saying the price. Odd because it’s a press briefing. They later announced it at the screening of the short, so I had a bit of fun with Joe Schimizzi of Sony who I interviewed about the VENICE.
It’s important to note, THE DIG, was the very best “test” video I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen em all! It was entertaining and included Taylor Kitsch and Lily Collins, and directed by Joseph Kosinski with Claudio Miranda, ASC serving as cinematographer, who for some reason isn’t credited on IMDB, but obviously shot it. It was intriguing, visually beautiful with a stunningly high production value. After the screening, Kosinski and Miranda did a Q&A moderated by Crithary about the attributes of the VENICE.
Sony touts VENICE’s ability to shoot with both Anamorphic and Spherical. Indeed THE DIG had many anamorphic shots. Sony boasts the Full Frame sensor will capture a Full Frame 24mm high anamorphic, S35 18mm high anamorphic, S35+ 20mm high anamorphic.
It was here, Miranda stated they had not been able to use the entire sensor during production. So as awesome as the film was, it wasn’t a full test of the VENICE’s capabilities, at least not the sensor. More tests are forthcoming. The native ISO of the VENICE sensor is 500. Is it just me or does this seem low for a full frame sensor? When I asked what the highest I can go with it before the image degrades, the answer was, “We don’t know”. With the full frame, I was expecting the upper limits to be astronomical, similar to what we might find in an Alpha sensor, and maybe they are, but Sony is not willing to say at this time. Maybe once there is a suitable test of the entire sensor, we’ll get some idea of how high the sky actually is. Miranda did comment his lighting style minimal and he tries to use practicals wherever possible. Which is interesting considering THE DIG was shot in a dimly lit office for much of it. If that’s the case then the ISO must have been ramped for those shots, however, they didn’t say how high they went above the native 500.
Crithary said they built the VENICE to be solid, and indeed it’s a tank, solid metal, roughly nine pounds naked. There’s a great aerial shot in the beginning of the short film, but it was done on the nose of the helicopter. It will take a hefty drone to fly the VENICE fully loaded.
The VENICE includes an impressive array of internal NDs. Two turrets hold three high-quality optical ND filters in each. The first wheel holds a Clear, ND.3 and ND.6 filter. The second wheel has Clear, ND.9 and ND1.8. These permutations deliver 0 to 8 stops of ND. Filters can be dialed in quickly, controlled remotely or directly on the camera. Many times other internal NDs can leave a lot to be desired, (blue cast loss of detail, etc.) and that’s why many DPs opt to go with external NDs. However, Miranda swears by the internal NDs in the VENICE and says they used them extensively on THE DIG.
The interchangeable Sensor Block at least for me beckons more questions than answers. Sony alludes to a forthcoming high-speed sensor resembling something like a Phantom Flex? We’re left to question, but it makes me question the versatility of the current sensor if they want you to expect to replace it for additional features. They say sensor block swapping can be done on set, but that seems dubious if what we know about sensors is correct, (they are delicate). Another manufacturer tried a camera with an upgradeable sensor, and it never actually panned out. We’ll just have to see if Sony comes with new sensors and how interested people are in them. However, if a new sensor comes out, will the internal electronics be able to keep up with the upgraded demands? I guess we’ll have to see.
The biggest issue with the Sony VENICE is the price – $42,000. That’s almost $10k more than the F55. Sure the VENICE is feature rich, and of course, it’s a Sony. However, when you consider many cinema cameras now deliver the same features for less than ten grand, and have native ISOs of 800 and in the case of the EVA1, dual native ISO, well, it makes me question how influential the VENICE might be.
There’s more to tell, so tune into the next episode of the INDIE Shooter podcast, where we’ll break it all down.