FX9 makes news with Mars mission

The United Arab Emirates’ inaugural mission to the Red Planet blasted off successfully in July 2020. Cameraman Paul Mongey covered the historic launch for BBC World News from Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre with his Sony FX9 full-frame camera.

Historic voyage blasts off

On July 20th 2020 the UAE wrote space exploration history with the launch from Japan’s Tanegashima spaceport of the Hope probe. Marking the 50th anniversary of the unification of the UAE, the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) is the Arab world’s first interplanetary voyage. Hope is scheduled to reach its destination in February 2021 where it will orbit the red planet for two years, investigating the Martian atmosphere and weather systems.

To support news coverage of this scientific first, BBC World News commissioned London- and Dubai-based content production company media971 that serves broadcasters and corporate clients with high quality material for TV, online and social platforms.

media971 cofounder and managing partner Paul Mongey worked with the BBC team to compile the network’s report, capturing footage at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) on launch day and beforehand for global transmission.

PXW-FX9 shooting replica of Hope spacecraft

FX9 captures scientific first for the BBC

Paul is a long-time advocate of Sony’s PMW-F55 CineAlta 4K camera that he uses extensively for news, documentaries and corporate projects. However for the BBC’s coverage of the Mars mission, Paul decided his PXW-FX9 6K full-frame camcorder was the perfect choice to cover the historic event.

Prior to launch day, Paul visited the Space Centre with his FX9 to to shoot an interview with EMM Project Director Omran Sharaf. Accommodating production restrictions due to Covid, the pre-shoot also covered B-roll material around the MBRSC site, master control centre, assembly clean room and a replica of the actual Hope spacecraft. This pre-shoot content was then assembed back at media971’s edit suite, with the correspondent filing their voice track from the BBC office in Dubai Media City.

The pre-edited package was supplemented on launch day when Paul returned to MBRSC to cover the socially-distanced press conference along with some 30 other news crews. Live press conference footage captured with the FX9 was sent via cabled connection from the camera’s SDI port to the input of a live streaming encoder. This stream was then transmitted over the air via bonded 4G cellular connections into the BBC’s server at New Broadcasting House in London.

FX9 outside Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC)

Rich colour, straight out of the camera

“With the FX9 I had a great camera to cover this unique story,” confirms Paul. “For me a really big benefit is the camera’s colour science. For news projects like this one I’ll shoot in S Cinetone. That lets me get beautifully rich images right out of the camera without needing to tweak things. It’s a major time saver when you can’t afford to miss news deadlines.”

While most of Paul’s commercial work is shot and delivered in 4K, news clients typically require a package in Full HD. “Even if the end product is HD, by default I’ll shoot everything on the FX9 in 4K. That gives me freedom in the edit to crop digitally if I haven’t had the time to reframe every single shot when I’m in a hurry.”

Close-up of FX9 with viewfinder and Paul Mongey with FX9

Creative step forward for news, documentaries and more

As Paul confirms, the picture quality, versatility and handling of the FX9 have quickly made it the go-to choice for a wide range of media971 commissions. “This really is a fantastic camera. Alongside our broadcast projects we also produce high-end corporate work for clients like Emirates Airlines, Porsche and the British Council. For a recent commercial job I shot on the FX9 in 4K S-log, doing some very basic grading on the proxies that I shared with the client to show the look they were getting.”

Paul charaterises the ergonomics of the FX9 as ‘a step forward’ from his trusted F55 that he’s used for many years to shoot news and documantaries. “It’s lovely, but the F55 by comparison is more of a high-end cine camera – it wasn’t originally designed for one-man operation in a busy news environment. That’s where the FX9 shines for run-and-gun projects, when it’s just you and the journalist with no other supporting crew on the ground.”

Multi-channel audio with total control

For news and corporate work Paul also values the camera’s 4-channel audio recording capabilities:

“I was doing interviews at the space centre with a boom mic going straight into Channel 1 on camera, plus a second external mic going into Channel 2 for ambient sounds. Another thing that’s great about the FX9 for news is the way you also get two further audio channels, with the camera’s internal mics going into Channels 3 and 4.

“If something happens quickly you can switch on the camera and start shooting immediately, even if your external mics are packed away at the bottom of a rucksack. So you’re never going to get caught without some kind of audio – it’s an incredibly useful backup. I also love the way the FX9 gives you complete control over sound, with real level controls to adjust each channel separately instead of having to lug a separate microphone mixer around.”

Exterior of UAE Space Centre with satellite dish

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