Pmw-f3kimg1-224x168While RED releases EPIC to production and Panasonic prepares to ship their AF100, Sony has announced their most significant small-form factor camcorder since the VX1000 (the original miniDV camcorder, released in 1995). The PMW-F3L and PMW-F3K -- which are the same camera, the "K" moniker indicates the inclusion of three kit lenses -- are Super 35mm CMOS sensor-based CineAlta cameras, with a PL lens mount and variable 1080p frame rates. Sony is not messing around -- these are pro cinema cameras. Let's take a look at the vitals:

  • Super 35mm-sized Exmor Sensor with ISO 800 sensitivity
  • 1080p: 29.97p, 25p, 23.98p; 60p and 50p available in 720p
  • 35 Mb/s (HQ mode) or 25 Mb/s (SP mode) MPEG-2 Long GOP codec
  • Dual HD-SDI output,* down-converted SD-SDI output, i.LINK (HDV) input/output, USB2
  • Genlock and timecode interfaces
  • SxS (ExpressCard/34) memory card recording medium
  • PMW-F3K ships with three Sony F2.0 primes: 35mm, 50mm, 85mm
  • 1920x480 16:9 3.5" viewfinder
  • 16-bit, 48-kHz linear PCM uncompressed XLR audio inputs

Pmw-f3kimg2*Regarding the output options, Sony notes "10bit 4:2:2 HD-SDI output opens up hybrid recording possibilities with a variety of external recording devices. And from April 2011, a Dual Link HD-SDI option will enable 10bit RGB uncompressed signal output - ideal for the high-end film production."

All of this information has appeared at the Sony UK site, save one important specification: price. Given this is Sony we're talking about, I have no expectations of this coming in anywhere near the price of the less feature-rich Panasonic AF100. The PL lens mount is a good indicator that we're talking five figures, not four.

UPDATE: An astute commenter (thanks raitank) has noted that the price in Yen has been released in Japan; the price translates to $18,700 for the body-only PMW-F3L and $27,000 for the 3-lens PMW-F3L. While I expect the cameras to retail for a bit less in the States (if the past is prelude, our pricing should be lower than the directly-translated numbers, not to mention retailer discounts), this puts the cameras firmly in RED territory. In fact, the F3L seems to have been targeted exactly at the original RED ONE's $17.5k body-only price (though current RED cameras cost $25k with the upgraded Mysterium-X sensor, as seen in The Social Network). At $10k, these cameras are appealing to independent filmmakers; at $20k, they seem to be designed to be a B-camera for larger-budget productions that are already using full-size CineAlta cameras. The RED, after all, gives you a higher bitrate, RAW workflow, faster frame rates, and higher resolution -- and when (if?) the SCARLET gets released, there should be models available in exactly this same price range.


Sony also note some other interesting features, such as "3D System Link Option - Using this option you can easily synchronise timecode, genlock and control functionality with a single cable, locking together left and right cameras to simplify 3D acquisition. Available from April 2011." They also plan on introducing new zoom lens options in addition to the default PL mount: "The PMW-F3L is supplied with a PL Mount Adapter to provide immediate compatibility with the huge range of filmic 35mm lenses, including prime, digital cinematography and even still lenses. There are also hot shoe electric interfaces for Cooke/i and ARRI LDS... Sony plans to introduce a range of zoom lenses directly compatible with the F3 mount. More details will be revealed shortly. Zoom lens compatibility expands the operational flexibility of the F3 so it can be used for almost any application."

This is a very compelling camera, but there are of course a lot of unanswered questions. Here are the links, full specs below. With RED's SCARLET cameras delayed for who-knows-how-long, and Sony's stellar reputation as video engineers, it will be very interesting to see what price point the F3K/L cameras fall into. What do you guys think of these new Sonys?

PMW-F3K Overview
PMW-F3L Overview
PDF datasheet

Sony PMW-F3K Full Specifications

MassApprox.2.4kg (Camera only)
Dimension (W x H x D)Approx.151x189x210mm (PMW-F3L, protrusion not included)
Power requirementsDC 12V
Power consumptionApprox. 24.0 W (Typical) (REC mode, HD-SDI Dual Link On, EVF On, LCD Monitor Off)
Operating temperature0 to +40°C
Storage temperature-20 to +60°C
Battery operating timeApprox.130 Min (HD-SDI Dual Link On) (w/BP-U60)
Approx.170 Min (HD-SDI Dual Link Off) (w/BP-U60)
Recording formatMPEG-2 Long GOP
HD HQ mode: VBR, maximum bit rate: 35 Mb/s, MPEG-2 MP@HL
HD SP mode: CBR, 25 Mb/s, MPEG-2 MP@H-14
SD mode: DVCAM
Audio:Linear PCM (2ch, 16-bit, 48-kHz)
Recording frame ratePAL area:
HD HQ mode: 1920 x 1080/50i, 25p,
1440 x 1080/50i, 25p,
1280 x 720/50p, 25p
HD SP mode: 1440 x 1080/50i
SD mode: 720 x 576/50i, 25p
NTSC area:
HD HQ mode: 1920 x 1080/59.94i, 29.97p, 23.98p,
1440 x 1080/59.94i, 29.97p, 23.98p,
1280 x 720/59.94p, 29.97p, 23.98p
HD SP mode: 1440 x 1080/59.94i, 23.98p
SD mode: 720 x 480/59.94i, 29.97p
Recording/Playback timeHQ Mode:
Approx. 100 min with SBP-32 (32 GB) memory card
Approx. 50 min with SBP-16 (16 GB) memory card
Approx. 25 min with SBP-8 (8 GB) memory card
SP/SD Mode:
Approx. 140 min with SBP-32 (32 GB) memory card
Approx. 70 min with SBP-16 (16 GB) memory card
Approx. 35 min with SBP-8 (8 GB) memory card
Lens mountPL mount (w/supplied lens mount adapter)
Focal length3 lens supplied: 35mm, 50mm, 85mm
Aperture ValueF2.0 to Close
Minimum Shooting Distance0.35mm (35mm), 0.5m (50mm), 0.85m (85mm)
FocusManual Focus
Filter diameter95mm
Imaging deviceSuper 35mm Equivalent Single Chip Exmor CMOS Image Sensor
Built-in optical filtersOFF: Clear, 1: 1/8ND, 2: 1/64ND
Sensitivity (2000 lx, 89.9% reflectance)F11 (Typical)
S/N ratio63 dB (Typical)
Shutter speed1/32 - 1/2000 sec
Slow Shutter (SLS)2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 frame accumulation
Slow and Quick Motion function720P: 1 - 60fps selectable (17-60 fps when HD-SDI Dual Link is active) 1080P: 1 - 30fps selectable(17-30 fps when HD-SDI Dual Link is active)
White balancePreset, Memory A, Memory B/ATW
Gain-3, 0, 3, 6, 9, 12, 18dB, AGC
Audio inputXLR Type 3pin (female)x2, LINE/MIC/MIC+48V selectable
Composite outputBNC (x1), NTSC or PAL
S-Video outputn/a
Audio outputRCAx2
Component outputn/a
SDI outputBNC (x1), HD-SDI/SD-SDI selectable
HD-SDI Dual Link OutBNCx2 4: 2: 2 1080 50/59.94P 10bit output
i.LINKIEEE1394 S400 4on Connector x1
Timecode inputBNC (x1)
Timecode outputBNC (x1)
Genlock inputBNC (x1)
USBMini Type-B connector (x1)
Headphone outputStereo mini-jack (x1)
Speaker outputMonaural
DC inputXLR type 4pin (male)x1
Lens remoten/a
HDMI outputHDMI connector (Type A)x1
Viewfinder0.45", Aspect Ratio 16: 9
Built-in LCD monitor
3.5", Aspect ratio 16: 9, Hybrid (semi-transmissive) type
Media TypeExpressCard/34 slot (x2) Interface
ExpressCard compliant