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Sony F3 Camcorder Preview

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 camera’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) and heavier than Sony’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 ½-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 Research’s high speed Phantom 65. Large sensors mean shallow depth of field, the prevalent style of our times – fuzzy backgrounds for our shots and focusing headaches for our camera assistants, the polar opposite of Gregg Toland’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 4/3”. 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 4/3” chip (as used in Panasonic’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. AbelCine has compiled a useful comparison of 35mm digital sensor sizes.

The F3’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 Sony’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:

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