PMW-F5 and F55, which to choose, which EVF? OLED or LCD.

One of the most commonly asked questions for me right now is which camera do I choose ¬†out of the PMW-F5 and F55. The price difference isn’t huge, around $10k USD. If you have the budget, if money is not a major concern then the choice is actually quite simple. Buy the PMW-F55. The F55 has a slightly better sensor, it uses a global shutter, so unlike most CMOS cameras there is no problem with image skew or flash banding. This alone is probably worth the $10k USD extra. The other major extra features that the F55 offers is the ability to record compressed 4K footage and it can shoot at up to 240fps while the F5 only manages 120fps. The F5 can only record HD and 2K internally, it can’t record 4K internally. If you want to record 4K with the F5 you have to get the add on R5 raw recorder and shoot 4K raw.

If you are on a tight budget (like me) then choosing between them is a little more complicated. You see I have two options, I can afford either the F5 plus R5 or I can afford the F55 on it’s own. Either way I can shot 4K. With the F55 it would be 4K XAVC compressed recorded internally to the SxS cards. With the F5/R5 I can shoot 4K raw recording to the AXS media. Raw will be better for grading, overexposure and high dynamic range shots will be handled much better than the compressed log recordings that the F55 records internally. It’s a tough decision. I’ve actually ordered an F5/R5 but having shot with an F55 using S-Log2 XAVC I have to admit that I’m questioning that decision. The S-Log2 material is very impressive, it copes very well with a couple of stops of overexposure and grades easily and nicely. The files size is quite reasonable with an hour of footage taking about 100GB. The 4K raw footage on the other hand is 5 times the size with an hour of material taking 512GB. That’s a lot of data.

Right now 4K is only really being used for high end productions and if you are working on a high end production then in my opinion, raw is the way to go, so where does that leave 4K XAVC? Well, consider this. Your working on a big production and for your key scenes you would shoot using raw. But what about some location shots, maybe in a remote place where you only have limited access to recording media or back up and archive systems? This is where you would use 4K XAVC. I’m thinking about some of my storm chasing or Northern Lights expeditions, 4K XAVC would be a great candidate. On some of my storm chasing trips I might shoot 10 hours of material in just a few day. With 4K raw that would be 5TB of data to manage and backup. With XAVC that’s just 1TB which will go on a single 2.5″ USB3 hard drive (or at least a pair of them, one being a backup). Even over USB3 it can take an hour or more to make a single copy of a 512GB AXS card, so backups could be a long and slow process.

One thing the F5 does do better than the F55 is low light performance. In S-log2 the F5’s native ISO is 2500 ISO while the F55 is 1250 ISO. Both are impressive figures, but the 2500 ISO of the F5 for me at least will be a fantastic asset when shooting storms etc where the light levels are low. However the flip side to that is that with so much sensitivity I’m going to need to use a lot of ND for many conventional shoots. I will add that both the F5 and F55 are remarkably noise free. Even at 20,000 ISO the F5 noise is really not all that bad.

Basically though, the F55 is the better camera of the two and as I said at the start, I think you should strive to afford the F55. It’s likely to hold it’s value better than the F5 so is probably a better long term investment. I’m still undecided about my pre-order for the F5, maybe I will ditch the R5 for now and strive to get an F55. I can always add an R5 later, while trying to swap from an F5 to an F55 is going to be harder and more expensive. I have to admit that the one thing that’s really hurting my budget right now is the way the resale value of the F3 has fallen through the floor. It’s all but impossible to sell an F3 right now and I have two of them.

So that’s the camera body what about the viewfinders. There are 3 to choose from. The 3.5″ LCD, the OLED EVF and a DVF-L700 7″ viewfinder. All 3 are very nice. The 7″ is more of an on camera monitor than a viewfinder, so really the choice is between the LCD or the OLED. I know there has been quite a bit of excitement about the OLED, it was only the other day that I first got to try one. To be honest I found it rather underwhelming. I’m not saying that it’s bad, but it really doesn’t seem to be that much better than the LCD. The LCD is using a new 960 x 540 lcd panel (is this another iphone screen?). This is higher resolution than the now familiar EX1/F3 LCD panel and I really struggle to see the pixels with the new 3.5″ LCD. The LCD is sharp and clear and has a 1000:1 contrast ratio, it’s a good viewfinder. It also has the flexibility of being a monocular viewfinder or by flipping up the mirror assembly becoming a small LCD monitor. You can’t do this with the OLED finder. The OLED finder is marginally sharper and does have a higher contrast range with true black blacks. But, for me at least I prefer the flexibility of the 3.5″ over the very small image quality advantage of the OLED finder. If you have the budget then the best solution is probably to have both the OLED and the 7″ LCD. You can use both together by plugging the OLED into the dedicated EVF socket (which sticks straight out from the side of the camera and is vulnerable to damage) and then use the main or sub HDSDI outputs to feed the 7″ LCD. The F5/F55 outputs can be split so you can get a clean output on the Main HDSDI’s and video with camera data overlay on the Sub HDSDI’s. Even if the OLED and the LCD EVF’s were the same price I would still get the LCD for it’s flexibility on location. Someone that does more larger crewed film type shoots may prefer the OLED EVF and then add on an on camera monitor.

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