Sony will soon have five Super 35mm sensor cameras covering all parts of the market from consumer to digital cinematography.
In addition to its existing F35 and the new SRW-9000PL high-end models, and the Handycam NEX-VG10E consumer model (which uses an APS-C sensor from its DSLR cameras), Sony is introducing two more mid-range and lower-end models.
The upcoming PMW-F3 is of particular interest to anyone wanting a compact, relatively inexpensive, camera capable of recording the highest quality video. Although it will cost more than twice the price of Panasonic's AF100/AF101 Micro Four Thirds camera, it can record 4:4:4 pictures with an optional upgrade. This places it more as an alternative to the Red One M-X, which has a marginally smaller sensor but greater resolution.
The new PL-mount camcorder will record as standard 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 recorder.
This will mean that the F3 could be used as a B camera for users of the F35 or SRW-9000PL (which also use S-35mm sensors and PL mounts), and intercut seamlessly with the SRW-9000PL 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 should prove attractive for indie filmmaking, commercials, pop promos or TV production a "tentative list price" has been quoted as €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 zoom lens (or lenses) directly compatible with the F3 mount, and will show it at NAB - probably a video style zoom as the camera has a zoom rocker on the body (which will make it more useful for users that also shoot documentary or news footage).
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.
The approximately APS-C size Exmor Super 35mm CMOS imager (25x14mm) 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 almost 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 ports include: Composite; two RCA audio outs; SDI output - HD-SDI/SD-SDI selectable; HD-SDI Dual Link Out; i.LINK (FireWire IEEE1394); Timecode input and output; Genlock input; USB - Mini Type-B connector; Stereo mini-jack headphone; 4-pin XLR type 12-volt DC input; Remote - 8-pin; and full-size HDMI output.
It records two-channel 16-bit, 48kHz linear PCM uncompressed audio, with two XLR connections, and comes with a stereo microphone (with windscreen).
There will be two 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.
CVP has become the first UK dealer to make a significant investment in the F3, with an order for 100, which "was placed in response to instant demand from hire companies".
It "is one of the most exciting products we’ve seen in recent years, delivering the quality and features that our increasingly discerning customers demand whilst eliminating the inherent ergonomic and image-quality flaws associated with shooting professional content on HD DSLRs," said CVP CEO, Phil Baxter. "Our order for 100 units is a direct reflection of demand and is largely pre-sold already."