CineD recently published an article in which the author disputes Sony’s claim that the FX9, FX6 and FX3 shoot 16-bit RAW video but brings no facts to the table, only unfounded speculation. The very first paragraph proclaims, “In fact, a true 16-Bit sensor readout only belongs to high-end cinema cameras. Yes, that’s one of the things you’re paying for!”
Yet the RED KOMODO, an entry-level cinema camera that sells for just $6,000, shoots 16-bit REDCODE RAW, contradicting the author’s argument that only high-end cinema cameras shoot 16-bit RAW. When confronted with this inconvenient truth, rather than amend his article, the author suggested that RED might also be misleading the public, idiotically replying that “This same logic can be applied to the RED Komodo”. Seriously?
Furthermore, the author states: “In fact, the bit-depth of the RAW file is chosen based on the actual, measured dynamic range of the sensor. If a camera sensor can capture 13.2 stops of dynamic range, for example, it doesn’t make sense to use 16 bits: in this particular situation, 14 bits are more than enough!”
Here, the author asserts that “It doesn’t make sense to use 16 bits”. Again, this could equally apply to the RED KOMODO, which measures less than 13.2 stops dynamic range according to CineD’s own lab tests. According to the author’s own logic, since the RED KOMODO is affordable and has a respectable if not awe-inspiring dynamic range, it must not record 16-bit RAW. Why does CineD not question other manufacturer’s claims as well? Little is he aware of it, but the author is actually on to something: ARRI uses two 14-bit ADCs to derive 16-bit RAW.
In response to a reader who commented that the lack of any evidence made it seem as though CineD had an agenda, the author replied that Sony “refused to provide this information by disclosing the bit-depth used by the Analog-to-Digital Converter when shooting RAW. If the ADC was actually 16-bit, it would have been remarkable for this price range and Sony would have been happy to announce such a high-end feature for this cameras [sic]. Don’t you think so?” First of all, the Sony FX9 costs twice as much as the RED KOMODO, so it is not at all surprising. That Sony did not respond to CineD’s request or that the author cannot fathom how a feature formerly found only in high-end cameras could possibly be implemented in prosumer models is not proof of anything. Sony wouldn’t even confirm or deny whether the a7s III had dual base ISO! And if CineD contacted all the major manufacturers in the world and began asking them for proprietary information, they wouldn’t provide them with it. And can anyone honestly recall the last time a camera manufacturer boasted about ADCs in their marketing?
Finally, the author confuses feelings and assumptions with facts. “Furthermore, a true 16-Bit sensor readout, paired with backside illumination technology, also meant that this new generation of Sony cameras would provide a huge dynamic range and image quality improvement over the old FS7 and FS5 models. Or at least, that’s what we were all expecting.”
Now that’s a sweeping statement! How can the author presume to know the dynamic range everyone was expecting to see out of the Sonys? However much we searched, we couldn’t find any evidence for the author’s bold claim anywhere on the Internet. If anything, reviewers were very impressed with the dynamic range of the Sony cameras. Did the author truly expect cameras costing just a few thousand dollars to surpass ARRI in dynamic range? If the author finds it “very hard to believe that these sensors have a 16-Bit readout”, we find it incredible that CineD would not only publish, but defend, this sort of rubbish.
We saw similar tripe in the online community when some tried to cast doubt on the ability of Panasonic’s S1H to output RAW video over its HDMI port, a technical feat that no rational person questions nowadays:
“So, Panasonic is claiming you can record RAW video with the S1H over HDMI to a Ninja Recorder. But last I checked, HDMI is limited to 4K 4:2:2 video, so wouldn’t you just be getting 4:2:2 video in a 4:4:4 container? Same goes with the Bit depth. The S1H claims to be able to shoot 6K video in 4:2:2 10-bit, but RAW should be at least 12-bit. So wouldn’t the video still be limited to 1,024 steps vs the 4,096 offered by actual 12-bit RAW and above? (we already know that 6K is off the table with the HDMI connection.) So in summary, it seems that Panasonic and Atomos are just giving you 4:2:2, 10-bit video with a massive file size and calling it RAW”.
As it turns out, 5.9K RAW was manifestly not off the table. In fact, 8K is just around the corner.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, the moment Sony announced 16-bit RAW over SDI for the FX9, a handful of drooling Blackmagic trolls were at their keyboards typing baseless lies to the effect that the Ursa Mini Pro G2 also encoded 16-bit linear as 12-bit Log.
To suggest Sony is guilty of lying to the public is also to accuse Atomos of deceptive marketing. The following is from an interview by Nino Leitner of former Atomos CEO Jeromy Young in 2019.
Nino Leitner: So how do you actually… you’re able to record the full 16-bit of the FX9, because we talked to Sony a week ago, they were like, “we’re talking to Atomos, but we’re not sure if there’s a recorder already in the market from them that is actually capable of doing it”.
Jeromy Young: Yeah, so that’s why the important step was at WWDC which we haven’t spoken since then and there was a bit of confusion around where the 8k ProRes RAW files came from for the Mac Pro launch and I was sitting in the front because I was part of that team that recorded those 8k ProRes RAW files and obviously they were focused on their computer a bit more than they were on where the files came from in that presentation. But behind that, we had a press release approved by Apple that we have an 8k module, we call it master control unit, for the back of the Neons. That goes to 8k 60p RAW. Now, that can do the 16-bit. And that obviously is a higher end product. People who understand what 16-bit is probably are more in the film end because it is a pretty heavy workflow even for today’s computers. And we’ll have to do it in that product because of the data rates.
NL: So you can’t use a Shogun 7 to record 16-bit RAW.
JY: No, you can’t. But we may very well be able to work with Sony on a 12-bit or a 14-bit solution which will be better than the 10-bit solution.
NL: They said it’s up to 16 bits so hopefully can do less as well.
JY: That’s right. And that’s what I’d be looking for an affordable workflow and then you can step into a higher cost workflow. And I think it’s a good solution for customers because you don’t always want to have to work in 16-bit.
NL: If you want to record 16-bit RAW from an FX9 – because a lot of people are asking this now, of course – how much would set you that Neon solution back?
JY: The good thing about the Neon is that it’s a modular system. So it’s basically a Ninja on the back and you can put an SDI module, etc., but you have to change that whole unit to go up the data rate but the 4K monitor is still relevant for even an 8k or a 6k input. So the good thing is they can use their Neon that they buy now in whatever size and I’m looking at that unit to probably be around the 5 grand mark. We haven’t announced the price yet just because we’re still mid-development and it’s high data rates. Plus, the disk support is early…
On the occasion of the announcement of the Sony a7s III, CineD founder Johnnie Behiri interviewed Yann Salmon-Legagneur, Director of Product Marketing, Digital Imaging, Sony Europe during which the representative explains Sony’s decision to go with 16-bit RAW.
Johnnie Behiri: Talking about 16-bit RAW, just to let the audience understand that the camera actually – I think it’s the first one in the Sony alpha line that can output 16-bit uncompressed raw signal out of the large HDMI connector that you have. Do you see any third-party manufacturers jumping on this opportunity, because as far as I know, nobody’s really supporting uh, let’s say, in in a modestly priced package. Nobody’s really supporting that kind of 16-bit input.
Yann Salmon-Legagner: You’re right. First of all. you’re right on all points. It’s the first time for Sony to have this 16-bit RAW output and that’s great. Also, as of as of now, as of today, it’s true that there is no third-party manufacturer providing this straightforward compatibility, but we’ll see. Atomos has made release in July about the Ninja V with a potential possibility for that so I would ask you of course and you might know already more than me on that but I would ask you to talk with the Atomos side as well to understand. And the last point that I want to make about this 16-bit is whatever happened in terms of third-party – you know, you have converters from 16 to 10 to 12 or even 14 – it means that we always will be compatible with the highest quality, always be able to be future-proof with the 16-bit as well, so that’s also a reason why we decided to go for 16-bit rather than to a lower rate.