In the past year and a half or so, I’ve created three projects with three different models of Xperia smartphones. First, with Xperia 1, I made a short film about a ballerina named Madeline. With the launch of the Xperia 1 II, we went to a cattle ranch in Wyoming and created The Wrangler. Then Sony launched the Xperia 5 II, for which we made another ballet film called Twin Palms, set against mid-century modern architecture in Palm Springs, California. And now, with my most recent film EL REY, shot on the Sony FX3 and FX6 cinema cameras, I was pleased to leverage one of my favorite features of the Xperia line of smartphones, the display.
Filmmaker and Sony Artisan Jeff Berlin explains how he utilized the Xperia PRO’s 4K HDR OLED display with the 21:9 CinemaWide aspect ratio and Sony's Creator Mode during the production of the short film, ‘EL REY.’
The Xperia PRO has a 10-bit 4K HDR OLED display in a wide, 21:9 aspect ratio. The phone’s display has what Sony calls Creator Mode, which is inspired by Sony’s professional Master Monitor technology used in leading Hollywood studio productions and post-production houses. Creator Mode brings to the device professional-level color accuracy.
Having shot those three short films with Xperia phones, and knowing full well the very high quality and accurate colors of the Xperia OLED display, when Xperia PRO launched with an integral HDMI port and an External Monitor app that allows the device to be used as an external camera monitor, I was very interested to use this functionality on EL REY, a story about a young boxer who lives in San Diego, California and crosses the border every day to train in Tijuana, Mexico.
Since we were such a small crew, just Adam and I except for our day shooting at the Maywood Boxing Club in Los Angeles, our goal was to also keep our gear simple and minimal. Both the FX3 and FX6 allowed us to maintain a small, unobtrusive footprint at the gym, and on the streets of Tijuana. With the exception of the night of the fight, we shot solely on Sony G Master and Sony Zeiss prime lenses.
The FX3 and FX6 will export a 16-bit RAW file to an Atomos Ninja V or Shogun 7 recorder-monitor, which will record that file as 12-bit ProResRAW. However, recording RAW would also have increased the size and complexity of our build, increased power management demands, and increased post-production workflow complexity – so we decided to not go that route. Adam, our colorist S.P. Arkle and I are all quite impressed, and satisfied with what we achieved recording internally. We think the internal 10-bit, 4:2:2 codec we recorded in looks great.
Even though we were recording internally for EL REY and did not need an external recorder, we still wanted to be able to frame up our shots with a larger monitor, and The Xperia PRO allowed us to do this. I should note also that with the latest firmware update, the Xperia 1 II now also has the external monitor app and with an HDMI to USB-C converter, the Xperia I II will function similarly to the Xperia PRO as an external monitor.
During production of EL REY, the Xperia PRO mounted easily and securely to the cold shoe I affixed to one of the 1⁄4-20 points at the audio top handle.
With the Xperia PRO mounted and fired up, I have the option of various compositional tools, such as various marker lines to help frame for different aspect ratios, like 2.35 and 1.85, and adjustable grid lines like a rule of thirds grid that I sometimes find pretty handy.
We can also adjust screen brightness, check your focus by zooming in and out with a pinch, flip the image 180 degrees if needed, depending upon how you have Xperia mounted and of course, the device is so much more compact than other external monitors, and sports no external batteries. I should note that one full charge lasted the better part of the shooting day, and recharging with a power brick in between setups is very easy.
After putting the Xperia PRO to the test while shooting on location in both Tijuana and Los Angeles, I’m really impressed by this added monitor functionality. It’s really cool to have a large, on-camera display of such high quality, in such a slim and efficient form factor, with useful tools to aid on-set workflow, and have it work so seamlessly with Sony Alpha and FX cameras.