Compare and contrast: 4K HDR on test with the F55

Film-maker Christian Kühn collaborated with post production specialists Pirates ‘N Paradise on a unique demonstration of end-to-end 4K HDR workflow – from shooting in X-OCN and RAW with the PMW-F55 CineAlta camera and R7 recorder through to colour grading and display.

In search of the perfect image

Hamburg-based film-maker and cinematographer Christian Kühn captures stunning images for a range of commercial and corporate clients.

An early convert to digital, Christian’s enthusiasm for Sony CineAlta dates back to his first experience of the F65 camera: “I remember being blown away by the lovely images – the monitors in those days just couldn’t keep up!”

More recently, he’s extensively used the F55 on a wide variety of projects. And when the F55 added support for X-OCN, Christian was keen to evaluate how well the new format measured up for sheer picture quality – and 4K HDR workflow flexibility – against the well-known RAW.

To test the new format, Christian partnered the F55 with the R7 camera-mounted recorder that can capture 4K RAW signals at up to 120fps. The R7 also supports X-OCN in both its Standard (ST) and Light (LT) ‘flavours’, allowing cinematographers to make the optimal choice between image quality and file size. “I love the small size and weight of the recorder,” confirms Christian: “Even with the R7 added, the camera still feels nicely balanced on my shoulder.”

Christian painstakingly evaluated the camera/recorder combination in a range of situations and shooting environments. Actress Lydia Richter sat patiently, while Christian rigorously tested the F55’s ability – paired for this experiment with a 25mm T2 prime lens – to compare HDR images captured using both F55 RAW and X-OCN at a wide range of different exposure settings.

Complementing these stringent technical tests, Christian also used the F55/R7 to capture footage on a fashion-focussed commercial project. Working with director Sebastian Egert, Christian shot clothing and shoe models against the atmospheric backdrop of a disused factory location. “We were trying to get as much dynamic range into the picture as possible,” notes Christian, who shot from early in the morning to capture bright sunshine.

A unique showcase

To showcase the results, Düsseldorf/Berlin based post production specialists Pirates ‘N Paradise and Sony hosted a special series of events, attracting over 170 guests including advertising clients and creative agencies.

The packed sessions gave visitors the opportunity to compare HDR images directly with SDR – and to judge the results captured with each of the three formats.

At the event, senior colourists Berkan Ustalar and Rainer Bültert used the facility’s DaVinci system to demonstrate their grading magic on Christian’s footage, enabling guests to critically compare RAW, X-OCN ST and X-OCN LT material side by side.

Guests were able to view content on BRAVIA 4K consumer TVs, offering a ‘real world’ comparison of HDR and SDR content. A Sony VPL-VW5000ES SXRD 4K projector also demonstrated the spectacular results of content graded to take full advantage of the expanded Rec.2020 colour space, shown on a 3.8m screen in an underground presentation area created with help of the project’s managing partners.

“You quickly get acclimatised to the extra dynamics and tonal range of HDR,” notes Christian. It’s a view echoed by Nils Voss and Christian Homburg of Pirates’ N Paradise: “Once you get used to HDR, you really don’t want to go back. You see the same footage in SDR and just think ‘hmm…’”

From the perspective of Pirates’ N Paradise, the post house sees HDR rapidly gaining traction with the TV industry over the next couple of years. “Broadcasters are already looking forward to solutions for transmitting 4K HDR content to consumer displays,” observes Nils. “And in the meantime demand for HDR is being driven strongly by online streaming platforms like Amazon and Netflix.”

And Christian Kühn’s verdict on the formats themselves? A gruelling two-day grading session prior to the event confirmed the cinematographer’s views on X-OCN: “We all looked at the footage a thousand times – and honestly you just can’t see the difference with X-OCN from shooting RAW”.

Where to buy the PMW-F55