Sony’s Xperia Pro-I just went on sale and at one of its launch press events we ran into famed filmmaker Philip Bloom. As one of the big names in the industry, he has worked as a cinematographer and cameraman for the likes of Lucasfilm, CNN, Sky News and the BBC.
Mr Bloom also keeps a close eye on the smartphone industry and had some very interesting thoughts to share about the Sony Xperia Pro-I and the state of smartphone videography as a whole. You can read the interview below.
Renowned British filmmaker Philip Bloom (Image Credit: Philip Bloom)
How would you describe your experience with the Xperia Pro-I?
I’ve been a big fan of using smartphones for photos and videos – since it was first possible and today there are many phones that do a really impressive job with both. What makes the Xperia Pro-I so special to me is that it’s the first camera on a phone with an image that doesn’t look like a camera on a phone. The image looks much more natural and less over-processed and this is the biggest problem I’ve had with other phones.
Having accurate eye autofocus, 4K 10-bit recording with the ability to go to 4K 120p and the benefits that having a wider pixel pitch on the image are all great and it’s that last feature that’s key. You can have all the functions of the world, but if the image is not right, it is meaningless.
Sony Xperia Pro II
With the advantages of weight and size obvious, what do you think are the main limitations of smartphone (video) cameras compared to their larger counterparts?
Physics is the main limitation. There’s a reason special cameras, even compacts, are as big as they are. The amount of processing required to pump out high-quality video is significant, and phones are thin. So no room for a heat sink, no room for a fan. That thickness is also the thing that limits what sensor and optics you can put in it. I’m very happy that the Xperia Pro-I has a microSD card, as removable media is an important and expected feature in a traditional camera.
Who do you think that handset is for? It probably won’t replace the Alpha 1 in your high profile jobs, so who, or rather what jobs do you think it’s suitable for?
I think they made the phone for me, it’s really nice of them to do that! Just kidding, I’m the target market; someone who makes a lot of videos and stills both professionally and personally. While it’s nowhere near my full-frame mirrorless cameras, it gives me a very high-quality camera that I’ll always have with me. It’s also something I can use in my documentary work when I need an extra fast shot or need to be discreet.
I also think that improving camera functions has become the main reason why many people are upgrading these days, well, my mom might not, but for people who like photography and video, this will be very tempting.
What hardware and software changes would you suggest to make the Pro-I successor an even better professional tool?
There are many things I would like to see, too many to list, but the main ones are the following;
I want to see photo profiles that correspond directly to my Alpha cameras, so it’s easier to clip them together during editing. That means SLog 3, S Cinetone to start with. There must be an opportunity to have more control over your image; the ability to adjust noise reduction, sharpness, contrast and saturation. I would also like to see the option to record all frame rates on the microSD card. Currently, the higher frame rates can only be recorded internally, which is fine because the internal storage is so large, but recording directly to removable media is the way we shoot for speed in media management.
I’d be absolutely happy to sacrifice the super-thick body for better heat dissipation and also to have a large camera bump so the whole sensor can be used as a larger lens. The latter is to have a 35mm main camera instead of 24mm. 24mm is a nice focal length for getting a lot in frame, but a 35mm lens is a more natural focal length for general video and photography.
If you had to compare the quality of the Pro-I to any of the larger cameras you’ve worked with, how far back in time would you have to go? A few years, five years, the early days of digital video cameras?
It’s hard to compare the quality of the image to other cameras I’ve used because of the combination of sensor size, shooting mode, and fixed focal length. It has elements of the RX10 and 100 4K cameras and the ZV-1 with some image characteristics, but with a 10-bit recording codec which is something no Sony compact currently has. It probably looks more like an RX100 VI and VII as they have an F2.8 lens and 24mm at the wide end, making the depth of field characteristics quite similar compared to the F2 of the models with the shorter lenses. So essentially it’s a new image and quality that I haven’t seen before, just with elements of many other Sony cameras from the past few years.
Sony Xperia Pro-I comes with a 1″ type sensor and variable aperture
You’ve obviously kept up with the smartphone industry – do you like the direction it’s headed when it comes to camera development? What would you like to see in the focus in the coming years?
Computer video and photography are amazingly smart and that’s the future, but not yet. We’re seeing improvements every year, but we’re still a few years away from anything that can really emulate what a real camera with a large sensor and optics can do. My main concern is already starting to happen in the photo side where we see AI enhancing the photo to the point where it doesn’t resemble what actually is. This is certainly the case with humans, but the whole “Moon Mode” controversy of the Huawei P30 Pro a few years ago is actually a showcase of where things can easily go and that worries me. Photography and video for me are always about capturing a moment in time, a real moment. Yes, you can manipulate and change things afterwards, but if you have cameras that do these things in real time, the power of the image can easily diminish if it no longer accurately depicts that moment.