New Details Emerge About Sony Electronics' 4K Camera

7:37 PM PST 04/07/2011 by Carolyn Giardina

THR has learned that the unveiling at NAB will be accompanied by a six-minute short written, directed and lensed with the camera by director of photography Curtis Clark.

With the goal of "opening up a whole new photographic canvas," Sony Electronics will unveil a prototype digital cinematography camera capable of handling true 4K and higher-resolution imagery Sunday at the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas.

Accompanying the unveiling will be a six-minute short written, directed and lensed with the camera by director of photography Curtis Clark, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Clark chairs the American Society of Cinematographers' Technology Committee, and his credits include Peter Greenaway's 1982 film The Draughtsman's Contract. He has been offering his perspective to Sony during the camera's development process, and a few weeks ago, he took the camera out for a test drive to shoot a live-action short.

THR this week got a preview of the camera, and the live-action short titled The Arrival, as postproduction was being completed.

The film noir piece was lensed in two days on location in downtown Los Angeles and includes scenes of Broadway at night, Union Station and some stunning photography using ambient light in the iconic Bradbury building.

"It basically opens up the possibility of a whole new photographic canvas," Clark said. "I think this camera is the first major step (toward) having the details you need when you want to capture images that take advantage of spatial resolution to engage the viewer. ... You are able to render shadow details with such clarity and virtually no noise."

The camera is actually capable of recording uncompressed 16-bit 4K raw imagery. Today's digital cinematography cameras -- as well as postproduction processes -- more commonly use 2K resolution. 4K is four times the amount of picture information.

Clark praised not just the resolution but the new camera's wide dynamic range, wide color reproduction and low light sensitivity. The short includes photography of wrought iron railings in the Bradbury building and offers a range of settings and lighting situations, including ambient light from a skylight, dusk and night exteriors.

"We wanted locations that would challenge the wide dynamic range of exposures but that at the same time would be able to resolve fine architectural detail and textures," Clark said.

Sony's vision is being able to shoot, post and project in 4K.

The company launched its 4K theatrical projection system in 2005. Today, roughly 5,700 Sony 4K projectors are installed in the U.S., and Sony reported that it has more than 13,000 commitments worldwide. Meanwhile, Texas Instruments more recently introduced its 4K DLP Cinema chip, which enables its partner projector manufacturers -- Barco, Christie and NEC -- to offer 4K projection.

"With 4K projection now a reality, we want to protect that image information, that color gamut, that dynamic range. We want have all of those components for our creative use -- for narrative filmmaking, for mood, for emotion," Clark said.

National Association of Theatre Owners president John Fithian said: "Obviously 4K provides higher resolution ... but whether that is something that the consumer values and appreciates remains to be seen."

The finished camera is expected to be light enough for use on 3D rigs, Steadicams and other portable configurations.

As to its significance in postproduction, the camera was developed from the ground up to support the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Image Interchange Framework and the Academy Colour Encoding Specification.

Simply put, it's a color management system, developed so that images shot with a digital camera would maintain the widest possible dynamic range -- and in turn the cinematographer's true intent --during postproduction.

Professionals may remember a prior true 4K digital cinematography camera that was on the market for Hollywood cinematographers. However, the camera, from a company called Dalsa, was pricey and perhaps a bit ahead of the curve, and Dalsa abandoned the technology a few years ago.

While 3D has the buzz, there is a camp of industry insiders who have been hoping to see emphasis on 16-bit and 4K cinematography.

At AMPAS' SciTech Awards in February, awards chair Richard Edlund told THR: "The reason that the Academy has not reached out and given an award to a digital camera is because they are 2K cameras. They don't measure up to film, and film is the bar. It seemed to me that the digital camera that comes out being the ubiquitous camera is going to be a 4K camera."

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