Sony FR7: How a Cinema-Quality PTZ System Can Revolutionize Your Production

Sony FR7: How a Cinema-Quality PTZ System Can Revolutionize Your Production

Pop quiz, hotshot: What happens when you combine Sony’s feature-packed FX6 cine camera with a top-of-the-line, AI-powered PTZ?

Answer: the Sony FR7 Cinema Line PTZ Camera, a full-frame, interchangeable lens camera with superior PTZ performance and functionality.

Sony FR7 Cinema Line PTZ Camera
Sony FR7 Cinema Line PTZ Camera

If you didn’t know the answer offhand, don’t fret. Not only is the FR7 one of the more recent additions to Sony’s celebrated Cinema Line, it’s also the world’s first full-frame interchangeable-lens PTZ camera, meaning it’s new and in a category all its own (which is why it’s not on everyone’s radar—yet).

In this article, we’re going to take a deep dive into the Sony FR7 and determine what makes this one-of-a-kind camera so revolutionary.

PTZ Cameras Explained

For those unfamiliar, a PTZ camera is a robotic video camera that features an array of mechanical components that allow it to pan, tilt, and zoom (hence, the acronym).

PTZ cameras are used in a variety of applications, including sporting events, reality television, video conferencing, and various types of live broadcasting (e.g., house of worship and telemedicine).

Traditionally, PTZ cameras come in a compact form factor and feature image sensors comparable to those found in consumer- and pro-grade camcorders. The size of those image sensors varies greatly across the category, but the most common are 1/2.8", 1/2.5", and 1". PTZ cameras utilize these small sensors to produce an immense optical zoom range of up to 40x.

The ability to zoom optically over vast distances, combined with pan-and-tilt functionality, and the ability to control multiple cameras from a single interface, makes a PTZ system extremely desirable for those in the broadcast world.  

However, despite their convenience and inherent ability to capture a wide variety of static and dynamic shots, conventional PTZ cameras lack the tactile response, low-light performance, dynamic range, depth of field, and creative functionality needed to succeed in the world of cinema.

Until now.

Say Hello to My Little FR7nd

At first glance, the FR7 is something of a paradox: it is novel yet familiar. It is the very first of its kind, although we have seen all of these features before.

That’s because the FR7 is, for all intents and purposes, an FX6 in a PTZ housing. Like the FX6, the FR7 features a back-illuminated full-frame CMOS sensor. The FR7’s 10.3MP sensor is backed by Sony’s powerful BIONZ XR image processor—just like the FX6.

Additional features the FR7 adopted from the FX6 include:

  • Up to UHD 4K120 video

  • 15+ stops of dynamic range

  • Dual-base ISO (Base 1: 800; Base 2: 12,800 to 409,600)

  • 4:2:2 10-bit internal recording

  • 16-bit raw output via SDI/BNC

  • Intra-frame and Long GOP recording (XAVC-I/XAVC-L)

  • S-Log3/S-gamut3.cine

  • S-Cinetone

  • Bokeh Control and Breathing Compensation

  • Variable Electronic ND Filter system (Up to 7 stops of light reduction)

  • Phase Detection Autofocus with 627 focus points (95% coverage sensor of width, 94% coverage of sensor height)

  • Face Detection, Eye Autofocus, and touch focus tracking

  • Sony E-Mount Lens Interchangeability

These features that the FR7 boasts are rarely, if ever, found in a majority of PTZ cameras. With its 15+ stops of dynamic range, 4:2:2 10-Bit internal recording, 16-Bit External, and SLOG 3 gamma curve, users can achieve superb color rendition to a degree that was simply not possible with previous PTZ  cameras

For beautiful skin tones, crisp highlight roll-offs, and film-like colors straight out of the camera, users can switch on S-Cinetone, a picture profile inspired by the renowned Sony VENICE’s color science.

Prior to the FR7, low light was one of the largest shortcomings of PTZ systems across the board; however, with the inclusion of the phenomenal Dual-Base Iso functionality, alongside the ability to add a fast E-mount lens of your choice, you can achieve unparalleled low-light performance.

While there are PTZs on the market that include internal ND Filters, you’d be hard-pressed to find one as advanced as the FR7’s. Not only will the electronic variable ND system seamlessly compensate for change in exposure, but users of the FR7 can create stunning shallow-depth-of-field effects through Bokeh Control; this allows the camera to open/close the iris simultaneously while conversely adding/subtracting ND, effectively retaining exposure yet manipulating the depth of field.

Unlike the vast majority of PTZ cameras that have built-in optics similar to camcorders, the FR7 features an interchangeable-lens system allowing users to attach any E-mount lens of their choosing to the camera. This unlocks an incredible amount of creative control of which PTZs were, quite frankly, completely devoid. On any given shoot, FR7 users can switch between fast prime lenses, macro lenses, full-frame telephoto lenses, cinema lenses, and even servo lenses to provide more traditional PTZ control. With so many different kinds of lenses readily available for use on the FR7, the camera features the inclusion of 15mm rods and a lens support, stabilizing even the heftiest of E-mount lenses while taking the brunt of the load off of the camera’s mount.

I will say, if there's one thing traditional PTZ cameras are better at than the FR7, it's their availability of built-in optical zoom ranges. There really isn’t a full-frame solution that will provide a variable optical zoom of up to 40x like many of the 1" sensor PTZs. To achieve such a feat for a full-frame camera, optically, we're talking about producing a lens that's probably the size of a bus―throw in a servo zoom and it might as well be a spacecraft. However, there are plenty of full-frame telephoto options available that would fit just about any telephoto application and at least, in the world of cinema, the creative control that comes with switching between a variety of lenses greatly outweighs the need to zoom in from 0x to 40x on a whim.

Most PTZs record externally via some sort of SDI or HDMI output, or both in the FR7’s case. While you can record externally up to 16-bit RAW output with the FR7, the camera also features internal memory recording, which is rarely offered in PTZ solutions. Fostering dual slots for both SDXC and CFexpress Type A cards, users can not only record directly to their card of choice but simultaneously output an external feed for recording/monitoring purposes. This flexibility means one can have both a live feed for broadcast and a high-quality internal recording for post-production uses.

Powerful PTZ Performance

Cinematic features aside, the FR7 is still a PTZ camera—and a powerful one, at that. Let’s take a look at some of the FR7’s key PTZ performance metrics and features.

Remote Control

One of the hallmarks of conventional PTZ cameras is remote operation. The FR7 gives users a couple of methods of control:

RM-IP500/1 Professional Remote Controller
RM-IP500/1 Professional Remote Controller

With Sony’s RM-IP500 controller, you can connect up to 100 different FR7s to this unit and control them all. This would require the employment of multiple network switches (up to 10 groups with a maximum of 10 cameras per group) being run into the camera via Lan port.

For an individual FR7, the RM-IP500 can also be directly connected through a VISCA RS-422 connection.

Once connected to the RM-IP500, users will have full control over the camera's pan, tilt, and (with select PZ lenses) zoom functions. While its joystick alone offers full access to the camera's movements, a dedicated zoom rocker, as well as focus dial, reside separately on the controller. A variety of speed knobs spread across the RM-IP500 allow users to manipulate the speed for all of the camera movement parameters quickly, allowing for precision control. Speaking of precision, while the combination of being able to maneuver the camera fluidly and efficiently with a single hand movement is incredibly convenient, human error is still a prevalent factor that can hamper a shot. For those shots that require multiple takes with identical camera movement, the FR7 has preset recall functionality; with the RM-IP500, users can easily adjust and set pan, tilt, zoom, and even focus parameters for up to 100 different recallable presets.

Now, while the RM-IP500 is a great addition to the FR7, providing a tactile and physical connection to the camera, Sony has also created a fantastic web browser controller interface that FR7 owners can access for free. By simply typing the camera's IP into a tablet or computer browser, you can now access all of the same controls that the RM-IP500 offered: pan, tilt, zoom, focus, recall presets, shutter speed, white balance, iris, gain, etc. You can even access camera playback through the web control panel.

Another useful feature that comes along with the web browser is extra monitoring; by inputting the camera’s IP address with "/livestream.html" tacked to the end of it as a link in a web browser, a separate livestream monitor feed of the camera can be viewed from a tablet or a computer. While the web browser cannot connect and control more than one camera or offer physical control sticks or dials like the RM-IP500, it provides a viable and fully fleshed-out control system for the FR7.

The FR7 also includes an IR remote control, similar to one that would typically come with a TV set. While this remote can provide some camera control and functionality, the free web browser option or the RM-IP500 are an exponential upgrade from the IR remote.

Streaming Protocols

Another critical feature of any PTZ camera (and especially those used in livestreaming and broadcast productions), is the quality of its connection. For PTZ cameras, it is imperative that connection to the outside world remains secure, stable, and reliable.

The SR7 features native support for SRT and RTSP streaming protocols. Additionally, users also have the option of using NDI. NDI requires a third-party purchase, but it does give full IP control of the camera through the Lan port. The FR7 is also POE++ compatible, meaning you can power the camera while using NDI. In other words, the FR7 can function entirely off of one ethernet cable.

Who is the FR7 for?

While it possesses the comprehensive cinema qualities of the FX6, the FR7 is also a fleshed-out robotic camera with precision control and functionality. That being the case, the question must be asked: Who is the FR7 for? Is it a cinema camera or a broadcast camera? Should you use it for livestreams or feature films? The correct answer is “yes.” Yes, it’s a cinema camera. Yes, it’s a broadcast camera. Yes, it’s a powerful, multipurpose tool that can be used in a wide range of productions, including livestreams and feature films. In fact, in the right hands, the FR7 can pretty much do anything, from narrative-driven production environments to television studio broadcast settings.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the FR7 can flourish in either scenario.

FR7: Broadcast Camera

Employing one or more FR7s into a live broadcast scenario can not only produce extremely visually appealing program feeds, but dramatically simplify the process of capturing high-quality imagery.

Traditional PTZ cameras leverage their compactness to capture a live event without obstructing the view much in the way a larger camera would. This is at the cost of a smaller sensor, which tends to yield imagery that is poorly lit and lacks depth. You could opt for a larger camera with a better sensor, but it would require a cameraman with superb coordination to capture shots in time without disturbing the audience.

This type of scenario is exactly where the FR7 shines. Its 10.3MP Full-Frame sensor and Dual-Base ISO captures the action in low light effortlessly. Other features, like bokeh control, can be deployed to highlight important subjects tastefully during a performance. Users can even go a step further and connect a fast lens like Sony’s FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens to the interchangeable E-mount system. Not only will it yield a visually appealing program feed, but the FR7 can also streamline the entire process.  

FR7: Cinema Camera

The FR7 can also be used on the cinematic side of production, where it shines just as bright.

First, let’s talk about filming in confined spaces. Conventional cinema cameras and rigs tend to take up a great deal of space, which makes navigating them in confined areas like cars, small rooms, and tight corners incredibly difficult. With its compact form factor, the FR7 is a solid remedy that can be placed or mounted almost anywhere. On top of that, the camera operator can maintain full control of the camera remotely, accommodating shooting in especially tight areas.

Another advantage of using the FR7 for a cinema production is its ability to facilitate identical movements during a reshoot. Thanks to the FR7’s robotic precision, replicating identical movements over multiple takes is significantly easier. While it’s true that an experienced camera operator can navigate a camera with near-identical movements each take, there's no viable way for a person to match the precision of the FR7. In other words, the FR7’s robotic precision yields visuals that would otherwise be impossible to capture.

FR7: Two Worlds, Endless Possibilities

Combining the best of a cinema camera and a PTZ, the Sony FR7 is truly a one-of-a-kind camera. Creatively speaking, the FR7 affords endless possibilities. Its compact body and innumerable mounting options, combined with the many cinema features adopted from the FX6, and its robotic PTZ build, will revolutionize your workflow—be it a high-end cinema production or a live coverage event.

For more information on this groundbreaking camera, check out the FR7’s detailed product page on our website or drop us a line in the Comments section, below. You can also talk live with one of our pro video experts through the B&H Video Chat or come visit us at B&H SuperStore.