Yesterday afternoon I attended a preview of the new Sony Super 35 PMW-F3 camera, presented by Snader & Associates and hosted by Videofax at their new rental facility in San Francisco. Reps from Sony and from Snader, who sells the camera, were on hand to present the cameraâ€™s features and specs, and three F3s with an array of accessories provided ample opportunity for hands-on time.
The F3 is an impressive little box, a little larger (6 x 7-1/2 x 8-3/8 inches)Â and heavier than Sonyâ€™s popular PMW-EX3 camera (5 lb. 4 oz. for the F3, compared to 4 lb. 2 oz. for the EX3). But the F3 contains a new Exmor Super 35 CMOS sensor, much larger than the Â½-inch chip in the EX3.
And size matters. The Super 35 sensor is one of the largest chips in any HD camera, except for the Canon DSLRs and Vision Researchâ€™s high speed Phantom 65. Large sensors mean shallow depth of field, the prevalent style of our times â€“ fuzzy backgrounds for our shots and focusing headaches for our camera assistants, the polar opposite of Gregg Tolandâ€™s deep focus photography a la Citizen Kane in 1941.
The Super 35 chip is 23.6 mm x 13.3 mm, considerably larger than that of another highly touted new sensor on the market, the micro 4/3â€. Both are 13.3 mm tall, but the Super 35 chip is 23.6 mm wide and has an HD compatible 16:9 native aspect ratio. The micro 4/3â€ chip (as used in Panasonicâ€™s new AG-AF100 camcorder) is 17.3 mm wide, but its native sensing area has a 4:3 aspect ratio, so it must sacrifice some of its height when used for 16:9 HD.Â AbelCine has compiled a useful comparison of 35mm digital sensor sizes.
The F3â€™s sensor has very high sensitivity (ISO 800) and a very low noise level (signal-to-noise ratio of 63 dB). The camera comes with a PL mount, standard for most film cameras, which opens up a huge variety of widely available lenses. It supports the Cooke/iTechnology protocol and the Arri LDS interface, allowing the camera to talk with supported lenses about focus and iris. It records internally on Sonyâ€™s SxS data cards (with a 64GB card slated for imminent release) or externally through its Dual Link HD-SDI port, offering 10 bit 4:2:2/1080 uncompressed output. Post-production follows the same XDCAM EX workflow as the earlier EX1 and EX3 cameras. Optional software upgrades provide RGB 4:4:4 output for HDCAM SR recorders, and 3D-Link, to control and sync two F3s for stereoscopic shooting.
Videofax, of course, will be renting out the F3. The new camcorder will be sold two ways:
- Camcorder body only, street price about $13,300 from B&H and AbelCine (and presumably Snader too).
- Camcorder plus three Sony PL-mount prime lenses: 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm, street price about $18,950 from B&H and AbelCine.Â New Sony zooms are expected later this year.
- Film & Digital Times has published a comprehensive review of the F3.
- Sony has also posted a number of videos explaining and demonstrating the capabilities of the F3.