Lens Choices for the PMW-F3

The PMW-F3 has two lens mounts out of the box. The PL mount (via a supplied adapter) and the new F mount. PL mount lenses were developed by Arriflex for use with movie cameras, so PL mount lenses are an obvious choice. You used to be able to pick up older PL mount lenses quite cheaply, but when RED came along most of these got snapped up, so now PL mount lenses tend to be expensive. Sony will be producing a low cost three lens kit comprising of 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lightweight PL mount lenses. If you want top quality then Zeiss or Cooke lenses are the obvious choice. If your budget won’t stretch that far there are a number of 35mm SLR lenses that have been converted to PL mount.

PL  mount lenses often have witness marks for focus. This are factory engraved markings, individual to that lens for exact focus distances. They also often feature T stops instead of F stops for aperture. An F stop is the ratio of the iris opening to the focal length of the lens and gives the theoretical  amount of light that will pass through the lens if it was 100% efficient. A T stop on the other hand is the actual amount of light passing through the lens taking into account aperture size and transmission losses through the lens. A prime lens with an f1.4 aperture may only be a T2 lens after loss through the glass elements is taken into account. A multi element zoom lens will have higher losses, so a f2.8 lens may have a T stop of T4. However it is the iris size and thus the f stop that determines the Depth of Field.

But what about the F mount on the F3. What will that let you use? well right now there are no F mount lenses, but Sony are planning on a motorised zoom for next year. I am expecting a range of F mount to DSLR mount adapters to become available when the camera is released. These adapters will allow you to use DSLR lenses. The best mount IMHO is the Nikon mount. Why? Well most modern DSLR lenses don’t have iris controls. The iris is controlled by the camera. Nikon are the only manufacturer that has kept manual control of the iris on the lens body. When choosing a lens you want to look for fast lenses, f2.8 or faster  (f1.8, f1.4) to allow you to get shallow Depth of Field. You want a lens designed for a full frame 35mm sensor to avoid problems with vignetting or light loss in the corners of the image. You want a large manual focus ring to make focus control easy. Prime lenses (non zoom) with their simpler design with fewer lens elements normally produce the best results, but a zoom might be handy for it’s quick focal length changes. Do be aware however that zooms designed for stills photography normally don’t hold constant focus through the zoom range like a video lens so you may need to re-focus as you zoom. I have a nice Mk1 Tokina 28 to 70mm f2.6 Pro zoom. The optics in this lens are based on the Angineux 28 to 70mm and it’s a great all round lens. I also have a Nikkor 50mm f1.8, Pentax 58mm f1.4 and a few others. Of course you can also hire in lenses (DSLR and PL) as you need them.

Shooting Snow and other bright scenes.

Well winter is upon us. The north of the UK is seeing some pretty heavy snow fall and it’s due to spread south through the week. I regularly make trips to Norway and Iceland in the winter to shoot the Northern Lights (email me if you want to come) so I am used to shooting in the snow. It can be very difficult. Not only do you have to deal with the cold but also difficult exposure.

First off it’s vital to protect your equipment and investment from the cold weather. A good camera cover is essential, I use Kata covers on my cameras. If you don’t have a proper cover at the very least use a bin liner or other bag to wrap up your camera. If you have a sewing machine you could always use some fleece or waterproof material to make your own cover. If snow is actually falling, it will end up on your lens and probably melt. Most regular lens cloths just smear any water around the lens, leaving you with a blurred image. I find that the best cloth to use in wet conditions is a chamois (shammy) leather. Normally available in car accessory shops these are soft, absorbent leather cloths. Buy a large one, cut it into a couple of smaller pieces, then give it a good wash and you have a couple of excellent lens cloths that will work when wet and won’t damage your lens.

Exposing for snow is tricky. You want it to look bright, but you don’t want to overexpose. If your camera has zebras set them to 95 to 100%. This way you will get a zebra pattern on the snow as it starts to over expose. You also want your snow to look white, so do a manual white balance using clean snow as your white. Don’t however do this at dawn or near sunset as this will remove the orange light normally found at the ends of the day. In these cases it is best to use preset white set to around 5,600k. Don’t use cinegammas or hypergammas with bright snow scenes. They are OK for dull or overcast days, provided you do some grading in post, but on bright days because large areas of your snow scene will be up over 70 to 80% exposure you will end up with a very flat looking image as your snow will be in the compressed part of the exposure curve. You may want to consider using a little bit of negative black gamma to put a bit more contrast into the image.

If the sun is shining, yes I know this may not happen often in the UK, but if it is then the overall brightness of your scene may be very high. Remember to try to avoid stopping down your lens with the iris too far. With 1/3? sensor cameras you should aim to stay more open than f5.6, with 1/2? more than f8 and 2/3? more than f11. You may need to use the cameras built in ND filters or external ND filters to achieve this. Perhaps even a variable ND like the Genus ND Fader. You need to do this to avoid diffraction limiting, which softens the image if the iris is stopped down too much and is particulary noticeable with HD camcorders.

Finally at the end of your day of shooting remember that your camera will be cold. If you take it in to a warm environment (car, house, office) condensation will form both on the outside and on the inside. This moisture can damage the delicate electronics in a camcorder so leave the camera turned off until it has warmed up and ensure it is completely dry before packing it away. This is particularly important if you store your camera in any kind of waterproof case as moisture may remain trapped inside the case leading to long term damage. It is a good idea to keep sachets of silica gel in your camera case to absorb any such moisture. In the arctic and very cold environments the condensation may freeze covering the camera in ice and making it un-useable. In these extreme situations sometimes it is better to leave the camera in the cold rather than repeatedly warming it up and cooling it down.

Have fun, don’t get too cold, oh…  and keep some chemical hand warmers handy to help stop the lens fogging and to keep your fingers from freezing.

PMW-F3 Base and Lens Mount

As promised here is a picture of the base of an F3. It is the same size tripod mount as on the EX1R, plus an additional off-set 1/4 hole towards the rear of the base (which is flat).

2010_1122AB-1024x764-300x223 PMW-F3 Base and Lens Mount
PMW-F3 Base

Below is a picture of the lens mount with the PL adapter removed. I was surprised to find that this appears to be the same mount as the EX3 except with the electrical contacts in a different position and a small pin in that locates with a cutout in the top lens mount flange. It looks to me as though an Adaptimax or MTF EX3 to Nikon adapter would go directly on the F3 with just a small slot cut in the top flange of the adapter to clear the extra mounting pin.

2010_1122AC-300x224 PMW-F3 Base and Lens Mount
PMW-F3 "F" Mount lens mount.
2010_1122AF-1024x764-300x223 PMW-F3 Base and Lens Mount
PMW-F3 PL mount adapter rear flange

Nexto DI NVS2525 Dual Drive Backup Device.

NVS2525-300x224 Nexto DI NVS2525 Dual Drive Backup Device.
Nexto DI NVS2525 Dual Drive Backup Device.

Those clever Korean’s at Nexto DI have been at it again. At first glance this might appear to be one of the original NVS2500 backup devices, which in itself is a very clever device that in my mind no self respecting solid state shooter should be without. However this is actually the new NVS2525 and Larry (hello Larry) from Nexto gave me a quick demo of it’s new features.
The main external change is the removal of the CF and SD cards slots from the top. These have been replaced with a dedicated slot for P2 cards. As before SxS cards slot in to an express card slot in the side of the unit. For SD, CF, MS and all those other sticks that you might one day use, an adapter is supplied that slides in to the express card slot. This has improved the speed of offload for these cards and now CF cards can be backed up almost as fast as SxS cards. Once again the backup speed is impressive, 80MB/s, yes Mega Bytes! In Larry’s demo he offloaded 2Gb of SxS data in 27 seconds, very impressive. But it doesn’t end there. The Nexto uses a hard drive internally for storage. I’ve had my 2500 for about a year now and I have dropped it, banged it around, taken it to the arctic and storm chasing. Despite this it has been 100% reliable. However despite the built in crash protection, gravity sensor, sector checking and all the other safety features, it is at the end of the day a single hard drive. So what Nexto have added is the ability to write to an external drive. The NVS2500 can also write to an external drive, but the difference is that the NVS2525 can write to it’s internal drive as well as an external drive…… in parallel. So backing up your valuable data takes exactly the same amount of time as before.. 27 seconds for 2Gb, but now you have two copies on two drives.

NVS2525-2-300x224 Nexto DI NVS2525 Dual Drive Backup Device.
Side View of the NVS2525 plus drive.

This is what a lot of production companies have been waiting for. Safe, secure, backups with full verification on to two separate drives without the need for a laptop or any other bulky gear. You can use most bus powered 2.5? esata drives for the external backup drive. Nexto supply a nice looking wallet style case that holds both the NVS2525 and the external drive.
While I was talking to Larry I also spotted a Nexto DI box with red rubber buffers. This one it turns out has been developed specifically for backing up SxS cards from the Arri Alexa. The other little box in my pictures is an external battery pack for the Nexto DI devices. It has a little LED battery meter and looks really nice. Perhaps Larry could give us some more info?

Sony Cinemon XDCAM Workflow Accelerator

I first saw this at NAB earlier in the year, but it wasn’t available then, it is now. Basically it allows you to import and work with native MXF, MP4, IMX and even Proxy files files in FCP. When you install the Cinemon plugin you no longer have to re-warp your MXF’s to .MOV’s so import is greatly simplified and it makes sharing projects across platforms much simpler. In the US it will be known as Cinemon and in the rest of the world XDCAM Workflow Accelerator. Sadly it’s not free, but if you do a lot of work with XDCAM material and FCP it’s probably worth having. USA link

PMW-F3 Raw Footage.

Hi all. Grabed a few clips today with the PMW-F3. You can download the raw BPAV file by clicking here. half a dozen clips, each only a few seconds long, shot at 24p. 170Mb download.

As well as the video clips I have also pulled of a few full resolution frame grabs. Click on the images to see the full frame version.

Girl1-300x168 PMW-F3 Raw Footage.
PMW-F3 Girl frame grab
F3-Grab4-300x168 PMW-F3 Raw Footage.
PMW-F3 leaves frame grab
F3-Grab5-300x168 PMW-F3 Raw Footage.
PMW-F3 Owl frame grab

Interbee 2010. Sony F3, Sony 35mm NXCAM and Hurricane Rig.

Hi all. This is a quick day one report from Interbee in Tokyo. Sony today revealed the often rumoured “other” 35mm camera to feature in their product line up that will be sold along side the already announced PMW-F3 (more on that later). This new camera from Sony’s Shinagawa factory, which at the moment has no name or product number is part of the NXCAM product line, so it will almost certainly record Sony’s version of AVCHD to SD cards and memory sticks. The camera is of a fully modular design with a 35mm sensor housed in a square sensor module that has a flip out LCD panel on the left side. There are separate hand grip and microphone modules so you can put the camera together in a configuration to suit your needs. In the rear of the camera module there is a very large recess which looks too big to be just a battery compartment to me. Perhaps there will be a removable media storage device in this area. The lens mount appears to be the same mount as used on Sony’s NEX range of cameras. The prototype was in a plastic tiffany case so no chance of a real close look.

sony-35mm-1-300x224 Interbee 2010. Sony F3, Sony 35mm NXCAM and Hurricane Rig.
Sony Low Cost 35mm Camera at Interbee
sony-35mm-3-300x224 Interbee 2010. Sony F3, Sony 35mm NXCAM and Hurricane Rig.
The business end of the 35mm NXCAM

This new camera will be a direct competitor to the Panasonic AF100/AF101 which is being well received by those that have had a chance to play with one. It’s obviously a slightly different approach to the Panasonic with it’s modular design so it will be interesting to see how it performs in the real world. I have no details about the sensor being used, but my guess would be that it is an adapted DSLR/NEX sensor with a new optical low pass filter tailored to video as opposed to stills. One thing to note is that like the Panasonic it appears that this camera will be able to shoot 1920x1080P at up to 60fps.

PMW-F3… So we saw this getting announced a week ago and many details have already been given. I pressed the engineers for more information about the sensor, but they are keeping very tight lipped. All they would say is that it has been developed specifically for this camera and as a result has some very big pixels which is why the sensitivity is so high and the gain so low.

PMW-F3-11-300x224 Interbee 2010. Sony F3, Sony 35mm NXCAM and Hurricane Rig.
PMW-F3 at Interbee

The native sensitivity (0db gain) is ISO 800 with normal gammas and hypergammas and ISO 1600 when using S-log, that’s pretty impressive. There are two PMW-F3?s on display here at Interbee along with a set of the new PL mount lenses that will be available with the cameras. The PL mount lenses are very impressive to look at, they look like big Ziess primes with chunky lens barrels and big fat control rings. The three lenses all look the same, only the writing on the side tells you which is which. There are 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses in the kit and the F3 with any one of these on the front certainly looks the part. The camera body is about the same length as an EX3 body, but is quite wide and overall the camera looks a fair bit bigger than an EX3, but it doesn’t weigh much more. The biggest surprise with the PL mount lenses is the weight. These are not heavy lenses, in fact they are really light. There is a lot of plastic used in their construction. I have mixed views on this. The lightness of the lens helps prevent the F3 from being front heavy, so you can use it handheld without it trying to tip forwards under the weight of the lens. On the other hand when you pick up a Zeiss prime it feels like a high quality piece of kit and these new low cost PL’s just don’t have that feel.

F3-85mm-300x224 Interbee 2010. Sony F3, Sony 35mm NXCAM and Hurricane Rig.
Low Cost 85mm PL mount lens.

Of course you do have to consider that there is  a huge price difference between a Zeiss PL prime and these lenses, so it’s not fair to expect them to be the same and a heavy Zeisss (or Cooke) lens on the front of the F3 would make it all but impossible to use handheld. While looking at the front end of the camera I had a good look at the lens adaptor. The F3 has it’s own proprietary lens mount, the F3 mount. In front of this, as standard, is fitted an F3 to PL mount adapter. The adapter is easily removed and is about 25 to 30 mm deep. This means that the flange back from the F3 mount to the sensor is short enough for adaptors for Nikon and Canon DSLR lenses to be used. As yet no one has such adapters but I image there will be a race to produce them as soon as the camera hits the streets.

Of course you can have all the bells and whistles in the world on a camera, but the important thing is the image quality. On the Sony booth they had a mixture of pre recorded footage plus the two demo cameras that are connected to nice big HD monitors for you to see the results first hand. Once again the images have amazed me. There is simply no obvious noise visible in the footage. Shoot with the standard gammas or hypergammas and the noise figure is 63db. Take my word for it…. you can’t see the grain in the pictures. Colours are beautiful and well balanced, the images of autumn (fall) leaves that Sony have shot look incredible as do the live pictures on the camera stand. In addition the images have a very nice organic look showing very high resolution but without any obvious edge enhancement or electronic artefacts.

PMW-F3-2-300x224 Interbee 2010. Sony F3, Sony 35mm NXCAM and Hurricane Rig.
PMW-F3 on the camera set.

I think that once again we are seeing a game changing camera in the Sony XDCAM EX stable. While I am quite sure that the Panasonic AF100 (AF101) will do very well as it appears to be a very competent camera the F3 takes you up to another level. This is a true movie making tool at a price that is very attractive. I can see many programmes that would have traditionally been shot with HDCAM or DVCPRO-HD being shot with one of these. It is a great shame that the internal recording is only 4:2:0, 35Mb/s, while a good codec capable of great things, it just isn’t going to do justice to the beautiful images this camera produces. 50Mb/s 4:2:2 would have been sooo much better. Then this camera would probably have been accepted for broadcast production straight out of the box, but as it stands your really going to want to record on to something else like a NanoFlash or KiPro. Another entrant in the small recorder arena that may be suitable is the new and much talked about “Ninja” ProRes recorder.

Atamos-Ninja-300x224 Interbee 2010. Sony F3, Sony 35mm NXCAM and Hurricane Rig.
Atamos Ninja ProRes recorder.

Still only in it’s prototype stage, although production promised soon, this small device acts as both a monitor and ProRes recorder. It comes with an empty caddy to take a 2.5? laptop type SATA drive. This could be a really cheap hard drive or a more expensive SSD. Frankly I would not want to trust valuable rushes to a hard drive, so for me the only option would be the SSD. It looks like a very attractive device especially when you consider the $1000 USD price tag. We shall see. Having experienced getting stuff from design through to production the one thing I’ve learnt is that it’s very hard to go from the drawing board to full scale production and even harder to meet your target price point.

rig-interbee-300x224 Interbee 2010. Sony F3, Sony 35mm NXCAM and Hurricane Rig.
Atamos Ninja ProRes recorder.

Talking of which, for the first time we are showing the Genus Hurricane Rig on the Manfrotto stand. The Hurricane Rig is my light weight, easy to use, low cost 3D rig. I have been working frantically with Genus to get the rig into production over the last few months (hence the lack of posts) and we are very close now. In fact we have started a run of 15 rigs which will be going out to customers early next month. Manfrotto will be distributing the rig around the world. The price has crept up a bit and is now $7995 USD. But for that we are now including a fold flat mirror box which makes the rig incredibly easy to pack up and take on your travels. Also being shown here is the new optional lower stiffener and tripod mount that tilts the tripod head forwards through 30 degrees so that the front heavy nature of the rig can be offset against the counterbalance springs in the tripod head. There are several other small changes to the rig including a new stiffer mirror tray, stronger mirror frame with mirror locks and improved left camera pivot.

fold-flat-mirror-box-300x224 Interbee 2010. Sony F3, Sony 35mm NXCAM and Hurricane Rig.
Fold Flat Mirror Box

So lots to see here at Interbee. Tomorrow I will be getting some hands on time with the F3 and doing a video report. I have my SxS cards ready to try to shoot some footage with it and share it here with you all, so please check back soon. These are exciting times. Once I finish writing this I’m placing an order for an F3. I can’t wait to really start putting it through it’s paces and playing with the different picture profiles and scene files. I have a big shoot in Norway at the end of Jan and I’d love to try and get an F3 for that, but they might not be shipping by then. Later in the year I will buy a second F3 so I can pair them up and use the 3D link function for stereoscopic production.

More to follow tomorrow………

S-Log or Hypergamma with the PMW-F3

The new Sony PMW-F3 can record using normal standard gammas and hypergammas, which compress highlights and increase the dynamic range to 460% and S-Log which is, as it’s name suggests an “S” shaped logarithmic gamma curve that compresses both highlights and lowlights giving upto 800% dynamic range. However the noise figures given by Sony are very different for S-Log and Hypergammas.

It will be interesting to see what the ramifications of the F3?s, 63db noise figure using standard gammas and hypergammas, vs the 57db nf using S-Log.

S-Log on the F3 will give you almost an extra stop of dynamic range but doubles the amount of noise. In most grading situations noise is the defining factor as to how far you can push the image in post. With normal gammas, at 57db the noise level is at the point where 10 bit recording brings little advantage as the noise is still around the minimum sample size. But S-Log is different as the distribution of data across the gamma curve is not linear, you must have 10bit recording for S-Log to work correctly. With the standard gammas at 63db there will be a definite advantage to recording 10bit.

The noise behaviour suggests that the true zero point noise level for the F3 is 57db, but that for “normal” use, due to the sensors very large dynamic range I suspect that Sony have chosen to reduced the gain by 6db, thus reducing both the noise and dynamic range. In effect the camera is operating with -6db gain switched in as default. However the sensor is sensitive enough to still give excellent low light performance despite the reduced gain and has more than enough dynamic range to still give the 11 stops that can be recorded with Hypergammas. This points to excellent low light performance as with +6db of gain switched in (with standard or hypergammas) your still going to have a 57db noise figure and at +9db gain it should have about the same amount of noise as an EX1 at 0db! Ah.. the delight of big pixels.

Sony F3 35mm Camera, PMW-F3

PMW-F3-Image-81-300x235 Sony F3 35mm Camera, PMW-F3

This was on show at IBC, but no details were available. Today Sony issued a press release with in depth information about this new 35mm camera. It’s a little disappointing that it only records at 35Mb/s 4:2:0 internally (just like an EX), but encouraging that there will be a dual link HDSDi option do full 4:4:4 external recording will be possible (hmmm thinks NanoFlash at 180Mb/s). The pictures I saw from it at IBC looked amazing and reading the specs I note that the noise figure is 63db which is astounding. An EX3 is 54db and PMW-350 is 59db,  so the F3 has around 40% less noise than a PMW-350 and around 70% less noise than an EX1 or EX3. For me picture noise is crucial as the noise in an image will limit what you can do in post. Another important note is that when you use S-Log gamma curves you get 800% Dynamic range (PMW-350/PMW-500 maximum is 640%) or around 12 stops. The numbers are remarkable close to those for the F35. The price is very attractive at 14,500 Euros List for the body only, so expect a street price of around £11k to £12k.

The camera has a special Sony lens mount but is supplied with a PL mount adapter. A range of low cost PL mount lenses will also be available and as most of us used to working with TV broadcast cameras these lens kits will be a good option as to buy a set of PL mount primes is a major investment. PMW-F3K with three lenses (35, 50, 85mm F2.0) – Euros 20,700. At NAB next year Sony will also show dedicated zoom lenses for the F3.

In addition there will be a ’3D link” option for stereoscopic applications. Will it sell? Well I’m sure it will, but there will be some stiff competition from Red with Epic at 4K and Panasonic with the much cheaper AF100.

I hope to get some hands on time with one at Interbee in Japan next week and then on the Sony Roadshow event in Oslo on the 23rd of November. I’ll keep you posted!

Shooting 3D with 2 Cameras and Synchronisation (Camera Rigs)

It is important to understand that no matter how much you slip and slide the clips from you cameras in the edit suite timeline to bring them into sync, if the images captured by the two cameras sensors are not in sync, you may have some big problems. Even if you press the record buttons on the cameras at exactly the same moment, they may not be running in sync. In the edit suite you can only adjust the sync by whole frames while the cameras may be running half a frame out and this can be impossible to correct in post production.
Remember that from the moment you turn a camera on it is capturing frames. When you press the record button the recording doesn’t start instantly, but at the start of the next full frame, so the synchronisation of the camera is dependant on when the camera was turned on and how long it takes to start working, not when you press the record button….. Unless you have Genlock, which overrides the cameras own internal clock and matches it to an external reference signal, forcing the camera to run in sync with the sync source which can be the second camera or a sync generator.
It is possible to shoot 3D with non-sync cameras, but any motion in the scene, or camera movement such as a pan may lead to strange stereoscopic effects including distortion of the 3D space, un wanted depth changes and moving objects appearing to float in front or behind where they should really be.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t use a non sync camera, just that it is less than ideal and it’s use will limit the kinds of shots you are able to do.
If you don’t have genlock a further option is to use a pair of Canon or Sony camcorders with LANC control. It is possible to get special LANC controllers such as LANC Shepherd or the controllers I have listed below:
These work with most camcorders that have a LANC port or AV/R port and provide good sync for periods of up to around 15 minutes at a time. To reset the sync the cameras must be powered off and back on. They work by synchronising the start up of both cameras and then measuring the sync error. The sync won’t be perfect, but it will be good enough for most 3D applications. However as there will always be slight variations in the master oscillators in the cameras, over time the sync will start to drift apart. The controller will tell you how far apart the sync is and when it becomes excessive you will need to re start the cameras to bring them back into sync, typically you get between 10 minutes and 20 minutes of useful synchronisation.

Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.