November 08, 2010

Sony PMW-F3: Budget filmmaking?

Sony's upcoming Super-35mm sensor camera, the PMW-F3, will cost more than twice the price of Panasonic's AF100/AF101, but adds a 4:4:4 option.

The PL-mount camcorder will record to Sony's SxS format, using the XDCAM EX  35Mbps 4:2:0, 8-bit, MPEG-2 Long GoP format. However, it will have HD-SDI and HDMI outputs for recording 4:2:2 50p or 59.94p on to external recorders (while recording to the SxS cards at the same time). Users will also be able to record full 10-bit 4:4:4 video via an HD-SDI dual-link output option to an SR Memory Portable Recorder that should be introduced at NAB in April. The SR Recorder will use a proprietary memory pack, recording the open standard MPEG-4 HDCAM SR format. It will be considerably smaller than the existing SRW-1.

This will mean that the F3 could be used as a B camera for users of Sony's high-end F35 and SRW-9000L cameras (which also use S-35mm sensors and PL mounts), and intercut seamlessly with the SRW-9000L in its optional 4:4:4 mode (where the F3 can record 1080 23.98/25/29.97PsF – it can also record 10-bit 4:2:2 1080 at 50 or 59.94p).


The PMW-F3 is aimed at indie filmmaking, commercials, pop promos and TV production and its "tentative list price" is €14,500 for the PMW-F3L body-only version, rising to €20,700 for the PMW-F3K with three PL lenses. First deliveries are scheduled for January 2011.

"This is very competitive for a true Super 35mm camera," claimed Bill Drummond, Strategic Marketing Manager at Sony Professional Europe. "There is a lot of competition in the 35mm world, but we need to compare this to a similar Super 35mm camcorder with a sensor that has been specifically designed for motion picture capture.

"We have designed the camera to offer ultimate flexibility. Many users have produced movies using XDCAM EX, but yes at the top-end of the market users may choose a higher data-rate, so we have implemented 10-bit 4:2:2 output. The dual-link HD-SDI option offers the ultimate picture quality of 4:4:4 recording onto SR Memory." The SR Memory will be cheaper per GB than SxS.

The PMW-F3K will include three Sony PL-mount prime lenses (35mm, 50mm and 85mm – all T2.0, manual focus with a 95mm filter diameter). Sony also plans to introduce a range of zoom lenses directly compatible with the F3 mount, and will show these at NAB - probably including a video style zoom.

The PL mount will be compatible with a variety of cine lenses such as Cooke, Arri, Fujinon and Zeiss, and there are also hot shoe interfaces for Cooke/i and Arri Lens Data System technology, allowing the camera to capture lens-related metadata.

Sensor sensitivity


The approximately APS-C size Exmor Super 35mm CMOS imager boasts high sensitivity  (ISO 800, F11) and low noise levels (a signal to noise ratio of 63dB in 1920x1080/59.94i mode), as well as wide dynamic range. "The latitude is 460% in standard mode or 800% in S-Log, which is equivalent to about 12 Stops of Dynamic Range," explained Drummond. S-Log and four levels of Hyper Gamma can be selected and will allow users to tailor their images during post-production in the same way they would in a film based workflow, with Look Up Table information recorded onto the SxS cards - making it an ideal format for colour grading.

Although CMOS sensors exhibit rolling shutter effects (such as skew), this is claimed to be "vastly reduced due to the fast refresh time of the CMOS sensor."

Recording formats include 1920x1080 and 1280x720 (35Mbps), plus 1440x1080 (25Mbps HDV), at 23.98/25/29.97p, 50/59.94i and, in DVCAM mode, 25/29.97PsF and 50/59.94i. Frame rates available for slow or fast recording are: 1 to 30 frames per second at 1920x1080p (17 to 30fps in dual-link mode) and 1 to 60fps at 1280x720p (17 to 60fps dual-link).

The F3 has a 3.5-inch 1920x480 pixel LCD Screen, which uses a hybrid design with both transmissive and reflective panels to offer clear viewing in bright sunlight (the same screen as the EX1R). There is also a 0.45-inch 16: 9 viewfinder.

It also has genlock and timecode interfaces for multi-camera use. A 3D system link option, coming in April, will allow users to synchronise timecode, genlock and control functionality with a single cable, locking together left and right cameras to simplify 3D acquisition.

Average power consumption is 24W, so it can record continuously for just under three hours (with dual-link option off) using a BP-U60 battery.

It weighs about 2.4kg (without battery or lenses), and the body measures about 15x19x21cm.

Input/Output: Composite BNC;  Audio output - RCAx2; SDI output - BNC, HD-SDI/SD-SDI selectable; HD-SDI Dual Link Out - BNCx2 4: 2: 2 1080 50/59.94P 10bit output; i.LINK (FireWire IEEE1394); Timecode input - BNC; Timecode output - BNC; Genlock input - BNC; USB - Mini Type-B connector; Headphone output - Stereo mini-jack; 12-volt DC input - 4-pin XLR type (male); Remote - 8-pin; HDMI output.

It records two-channel 16-bit, 48kHz linear PCM uncompressed audio, with two XLR connections. It comes with a stereo microphone (with windscreen).

There will be 2 SxS memory card slots, but an optional MEAD-MS01 or MEAD-SD01 Media Adaptor allows recording to a high-speed Memory Stick or SD memory card. However, these won't have the ability to record slow motion or to salvage files if the card is removed while recording.

Conclusion

It is likely that the F3 will be used to produce some great images, and will almost certainly find itself used for high-end productions, whether as a B camera for movies, or a compact camera on a Steadicam or in confined spaces for commercials, where the ability to record 4:4:4 will be particularly useful.

Certainly, anyone who might want to occasionally record 4:4:4 for movie or effects work should consider this camera. But, for anyone who just wants the 35mm shallow depth of field look, then the price of Panasonic's AF100/AF101 at €4,900 (list) makes it more appealing (especially given the high cost of SxS media compared to SD cards). However, the Sony has a bigger sensor (exact dimensions haven't been released, but it is probably about 30% larger), so it will give even shallower depth of field – similar to a much cheaper, but feature-limited APS-C sensor HD DSLR. For all practical purposes, the more efficient AVCHD codec of the AF101 at 24Mbps will at least match the older MPEG-2 compression at 35Mbps used by the F3.

It might not be the death of the HD DSLR, which will still be the first option for those with lower budgets or stills photographers shooting occasional videos, but between this and the AF101, it should finally put paid to the market for 35mm adaptors for the EX1 and other small camcorders.

Related posts: Panasonic AF100 / AF101 - the movieSony's HD DSLR in a HandycamSony embarks on 35mm camera development and SRMemory lets Sony go beyond HD

By David Fox

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