Review: If you want to film inside confined spaces such as a car, even television shows often resort to GoPro cameras. But what if you want something rather higher in quality? What are your options then? If this is your dilemna the IO Industries Victorem 4KSDI-Mini could be just what you are looking for.
GoPros: love them or hate them they have become not only a staple of action sports, but they are extensively used in broadcast and feature films too. However despite their ubiquitous use I don’t think that anybody would try and argue that such devices are the pinnacle of picture quality.
With that in mind, what are the alternatives for a camera that can fit into a confined space but won’t compromise on picture quality? Enter the IO Industries Victorem 4KSDI-Mini.
The Victorem 4KSDI-Mini, whilst having rather a mouthful of a name, is a highly compact, tough, camera system that can be mounted in all sorts of areas that you wouldn’t be able to fit most other devices. Think car interiors, discreet wildlife filming, such as birds nests, or even being able to fit it into areas such as within machinery to obtain unusual shots that you couldn't easily obtain with any degree of quality otherwise.
The paper specs and build quality
The 4KSDI-Mini uses a 1” Sony Pregius sensor. Note the name. In most instances of a camera using a Sony sensor it is usually a fair old bet that it will use one of the Exmor range. However the Pregius system is an entirely separate range to Exmor and has certain traits that make a massive difference for a camera such as this.
The first of these traits is that Pregius sensors are all global shutter devices, which as you can imagine is a huge advantage for a camera that is likely to be used in scenarios that involve movement and vibration. Whilst the IMX305 sensor used in the 4GSDI-Mini uses a tiny pixel pitch of 3,45µm, the Pregius sensors are optimised for use in difficult circumstances such as low light. The IMX305 has a claimed dynamic range of 73.6dB, and you’ll see later how this manifests itself in low light scenarios.
The camera body measures 62mm high, 62mm wide, and 42.1mm depth (not including the rear connectors), so it is much bigger than low budget action cameras such as the GoPro, but it crams a lot more connectivity into it that will be of use to higher end productions. It includes a single link 12G/6G/3G/HD-SDI, Dual-Link 3G-SDI, and Quad-Link 3G-SDI via mini-BNC connectors. This allows the camera to output a 10-bit 4:2:2 DCI 4K signal up to 60fps, or 4:4:4 10-bit DCI 4K up to 30fps over a single cable. The camera is capable of outputting a raw signal to an Odyssey 7Q. This capability was not available on the release firmware that we had for testing, but I have been told that the update has now been made available. Currently there is no Atomos compatibility for this function, and we are not aware of any plans at present given how niche this device is. But never say never. The camera also supports Tri-level sync.
The default lens mount for the 4KSDI-Mini is C-Mount, while an active EF-Mount is an option at the point of purchase. However for a camera such as this, which in most circumstances will need to be kept as compact as possible the small size of C-Mount lenses will be ideal.
I was supplied with one Kowa LM12SC 12mm f/1.8 and one Kowa LM6HC f/1.8 6mm ultra wide. Both lenses turned out to be pretty wonderful. The 6mm in particular managing to provide around 108 degrees field of view with virtually zero fish eye distortion!
When you first pick up the 4KSDI-Mini you realise that this is one incredibly solid piece of gear. It's basically a metal brick. One clue as to how sturdy the construction is, is that it is rated to MIL (military) standards. Specifically MIL-STD-810G method 516.6 shock resistance. Now, some manufacturers can take liberties with such standards, but with the 4GSDI-Mini you can be sure it actually does meet that standard because gear such as this is made with military use in mind, and has been physically tested to meet the requirements.
Despite this, the 4KSDI-Mini is a great piece of gear to look at. With an all metal body finished in anodised red it is a very attractive brick.
Setting up the exposure target area for auto exposure
Set-up and powering on
The 4KSDI-Mini is not a stand alone unit. It is really a sensor block in a box. Weighing in at 325g for the body, battery power and monitoring has to be supplied externally. In the case of this review I used a supplied Atomos Shogun Inferno with a Mini-V-Lock battery adaptor. This allowed me to both monitor the output from the camera as well as supplying D-Tap power to it. Lastly a wired remote has to be attached in order to access the set-up functions of the camera.
This need for external wiring is the main drawback of the camera, but it does mean that you can run as much cable length as you need to monitor remotely, or use a wireless transmitter. This is the price of picture quality. That said, the system is set up such that there's no right or wrong way to do things. As long as you can get a monitor attached to it and power delivered, the camera will work. How you set this up yourself is really up to you and your ingenuity.
Power-on for the camera is pretty much instant as soon as you plug in the power cord: there’s no on/off button on the camera itself. The power is indicated by a bright green light next to the socket.
Setting up the camera for the modes that you want is a little tricky. By using the wired remote you bring up the menu on your monitoring screen whereby you can scroll through the different actions. The menu system isn’t exactly the best labelled in the world, with some descriptions being a bit cryptic, so it is as well to spend some time familiarising yourself with its layout in case you need to access a particular function quickly.
Once you have worked out how to do this you find that the camera has some very in-depth settings available, from colour matrix set up, black pedestal, through to log gamma, HLG, Rec.709, recording resolution, frame rate: all the usual suspects. However these menus do not just configure aspects like gamma - they also set up the gain of the camera and shutter speed. And it’s here that you need to be very careful. The settings, including shutter speed, all need to be saved into a profile setting. Then this profile setting needs to be set to be the default when you power the camera on. If you do not do this, the next time that you switch it on you will be back to the settings for whichever profile was set to be the default before hand. In other words, if you change the shutter speed for instance without going through this process, you will lose that setting the next time you switch on. Different profiles for different scenarios can be saved, so you can create a loadable camera profile for your most often used configurations.
The camera can also be set to auto expose shots. If your lens doesn’t cater for this, it can be made to adjust exposure based upon the gain setting and/or shutter speed. There’s also a sub menu that allows you to visually select the portion of your picture that you want the exposure setting to base itself upon.
Hopefully as the camera advances and more firmware updates are made, IO will try to make things a bit more intuitive. However once things are set up you are good to go.
Setting up a LUT. The menus on the 4KSDI-Mini could do with some rephrasing and better design, but it works.
Testing it out
I mostly tested the 4KSDI-Mini via a car mount, since this is one of the obvious types of places that it will be used. I found that I could mount the camera very solidly to a window and leave the Shogun Inferno close by so I could trigger the record function over SDI. Obviously this is a little more fiddly that simply sticking a GoPro onto the windscreen, and for a neat set-up you will need to route wires. But remember the huge increase in quality that you are getting here over a normal POV camera.
I found that sometimes the way that the mini-SDI BNC connections jutted out could have some effect on where the camera was placed. You may need to invest in a right angle mini-SDI cable to maximise the space available at the rear of the device and maybe some right angle adaptors for the power and remote cable as well.
Once you are up and running, your external monitor is your lifeline for both recording and ensuring that the camera is turned on. But other than the starting and stopping of the camera, and ensuring that you are using the correct set-up profile each time you power on, that’s about it. The proof of the pudding here is when you offload the footage to see what you have.
My first reaction to seeing the resulting picture from the 4KSDI-Mini was one of amazement. It is incredibly quiet, with absolutely minimal noise. As you can see from the footage, even with the gain ramped right up for nighttime filming, while the noise is visible, it is still a perfectly usable, if not extremely good, picture.
Unfortunately I couldn’t tell you what the ISO equivalent of the maximum gain setting was due to the settings being labelled as single digit numbers. What I can say is that it was coping very well with the fact that the interior of the car was dark, while bright street lights and car headlights passed by outside. I had balanced the exposure, hopefully not totally crushing the shadows, although I was still concerned that outside lights would burn out into nothing. As it turned out the camera handled such a situation with ease.
The camera can have its electronic detail adjusted, but I left it at the default of zero without any added. The camera has a very natural look as a result, as well as nice, accurate skin tones and colour overall. I realise it’s an incredibly overused phrase, but it has a really organic filmic feel to it. Detail is extremely good, and issues such as aliasing and moire would appear to be minimal to non-existent.
With the time I had to test, I didn't get to try as much log footage as I would have liked, not least because the weather wasn't being very co-operative. However even the results in Rec.709 mode look very natural and filmic.
The IO Industries 4KSDI-Mini is not an inexpensive camera. At £3,899 plus tax It is squarely positioned towards the higher end of production, not to mention that you need to factor in the cost of an external monitor/recorder and battery system into the equation too. For a fully operational system you could be looking at closer to £7k.
But price here isn't too relevant. This is the type of camera that could do very well for rental companies, and for companies that focus on specialised filming, it could well pay for itself. Certainly it could be rigged to work pretty well with a drone system. That it uses a global shutter makes it very well suited to scenarios that involve lots of movement or risk of vibration. If you require quality, the 4KSDI-Mini gives you the sort of picture that is far beyond anything that a GoPro or equivilent can ever hope to achieve.
Could it be used as a crash cam? Compared to GoPro's, which a feature film producer would consider to be disposable, the 4KSDI-Mini is a rather more pricey affair. However it has been designed to take a lot of punishment, so you would have to consider the lens more than the camera in such risky circumstances.
What isn't in doubt, though, is that this is a very high quality camera and will fit into a range of quality production types. I just hope that a firmware update can make the menu system a bit easier to use.
In the UK the IO 4KSDI-Mini is being imported by Quay Cameras.