Description image

Sony F3 Reportedly Terrific in Low Light, May Bundle Prime Lenses Made by Cooke

02.22.11 @ 11:00AM Tags : , ,

We’ve already seen some beautiful footage from the brand-new Sony F3, and as more users boot up the Super35mm-sized sensor, more details about the camera trickle out. The CineAlta camera is receiving high praise from those who’ve worked with it, and Jem Schofield of the C47 is no exception:

The camera certainly has some quirks — it sticks to the video camera mentality of boosting gain instead of adjusting ISO. In place of selecting a setting like ISO 800, one would instead boost the gain by 6dB — not what photographers (or film-based cinematographers) are used to. While the F3 is supposedly rated at a native ISO 800, DP Timur Civan just took delivery of an F3, and came up with the following chart:

ISO280 – -3dB
ISO400 0dB
ISO580 +3dB
ISO800 +6
ISO1100 +9dB
ISO1600 +12dB
ISO3200 +18dB

On his blog, Timur evaluates the F3′s noise levels, and has this to say about the +18dB setting:

If this was a 5D at 3200 ISO, there would be banding, tons of colored noise polluting the image, absolutely unusable. even straight out of camera 3200 iso on the f3 could easily pass broadcast standards in noise levels. I personally find this iso to be unusable, for most people’s standards, but the image doesn’t fall apart…

According to the colorist at the shoot, the F3 at ISO 1600 looked equivalent in noise to the ARRI ALEXA at ISO 1600; footage is on its way. Others have even suggested the F3 has exposure range greater than 13 stops, which would put it in ARRI ALEXA/RED EPIC territory as well (time will tell). Regardless, Jem chimes in with some good comments over at FreshDV:

With personal hands-on experience, I can say that the real story behind this camera is the sensor and the ports that allow an uncompressed image to come out of them. The difference between the AF100 and F3 is quite significant and DPs are taking notice. The F3 is a big deal for a percentage of the market.

Enough talk; here’s a short film shot on the F3.

The PMW-F3K package comes with three primes — 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm — that are all rated at T2.0. Jem mentions they may be manufactured by Cooke, who makes some of the best cinema primes in the world (used on a ton of movies). However, Philip Bloom thinks the F3 lenses don’t have enough focus rotation and are stingy with barrel markings, though handling issues aside, he likes their look. If they are indeed Cooke primes, they seem like a good deal bundled with the camera; the similar Zeiss CP.2 lenses vary in price, but their $3,900/lens cost is roughly twice that of the Sony’s bundled Cookes (which work out to be $1,850 apiece). On the other hand, Matthew Duclos had this to say:

I haven’t had a chance to formally test these Sony primes but I’ve handled and used the 35mm on an F3 and I believe they will leave a lot to be desired for professionals. Think of it as the kit lens that comes with a DSRL. It gets the job done… But you can do better. I’ll reserve my final judgment for when I can put the Sony PL lenses through their paces and see what they can really do in a proper test environment as well as real work application. Who knows, they may surprise me.

I understand that, seen on the web, the F3 footage looks very similar to that of a 7D or 5D. But while I find my 5D is fine for shooting interviews, it’s quite a bit of trouble on set — by the time you outfit it with enough workaround audio and support gear, you’re definitely out significantly more than the $2500 list price, and then you have aliasing, moire, significant CMOS skew, a lack of good audio inputs, and a non-ideal codec. I wish I could say the Sony eliminates all of these problems, but the Sony’s 35mbit 4:2:0 XDCAM compression leaves something to be desired — while it’s a very clean codec (as seen on the EX1 and EX3), for $13k one would be justified in asking for 4:2:2 compression. On the other hand, the HD-SDI output is 4:2:2 (10 bit), and the camera will reportedly be upgradable to dual-link HD-SDI 4:4:4 in the future (for a price). For now, pair it with a AJA Ki Pro Mini or Nanoflash and your rig is still plenty compact. And Sony’s S-Log is their “digital negative” equivalent of RED’s RAW format (you apply a LUT in post).

While the camera costs a tad more than I would hope — $13k on its own, $19k with the bundled primes — it’s designed for professional use in situations where time is money. And on a set where every minute costs, the Sony should pay for itself over a DSLR. What do you think?

[via FreshDV]


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

Description image 8 COMMENTS

  • I was really skeptical about this until I got to play with one last week. It really has a beautiful look to it and does wonders in the low-light as pointed out. I’m sure people will complain about the lack of 60p(at fullHD) and the limited resolution, but if you’re working in TV this camera is optimized for that workflow and you won’t have to pay for 5K resolution that you’ll never use. The 35mbps XDCAM long-GOP codec is really the only thing that rubs me the wrong way, but the NanoFlash hasn’t failed me yet. And with that new Ninja you posted the other day, offboard recording is about to get real cheap I think.

    • I agree — 5K is great and all, but really only for future-proofing or reframing. To this day, most multimillion-dollar features do their DI at 2K, and if it’s good enough for a $60 million picture, it’s more than adequate for indies.

  • We’ve tested this (briefly) with the Ninja, and it worked fine. We’re looking forward to more extensive tests and posting some of the results.

    Dave Shapton
    Atomos Europe

  • A note about the gain vs. ISO setting — in the F3 user manual, it states:

    “The indication in dB can be changed to that in an ISO value by changing the “Gain Setting” of “Display On/Off” (page 111) of the LCD/VF SET menu.”

    There’s even a little picture of the LCD displaying ISO 6400. So, presumably people have not yet gone this deep in the menus.

  • Interesting camera, but that bald guy needs to get to the point. It takes him 2 minutes before he says any thing besides Ummm. It’s ummm..

  • John Philips on 03.20.11 @ 6:33PM

    I’m in total agreement with KOO. The F3′s max resolution @
    1920×1080 is totally adquate for even the highest budget feature.
    Realistically, anything over that, or at most 2K, is resolution overkill.
    I read somewhere someone comparing the F3 footage to an Alexa and stated
    that the F3 came “Freighteningly close”. I don’t know, but if he is comparing
    an F3 not yet fully enabled (S-Log, 4:4:4, etc.) then I can only imagine