Off to the airport to fly home in a minute, but I thought I would jot down some notes about the various lenses we were able to look at during the F3 workshop I ran here in Dubai. We had a set of the Sony PL primes, a Zeiss CP2, some Zeiss ZF.2 stills lenses, a Nikon 50mm and a Tokina 28-70mm ATX pro zoom. The stills lenses were all attached to the F3 using an MTF to Nikon adapter.
It was hard to see any difference between the Sony primes and the CP2, this was kind of expected. When comapring the PL’s to the Tokina zoom, the zoom was a little soft wide open at f2.6. Stopped down half a stop and it looked much better, but it needed to go down to f4 before it came close to matching the PL’s. Even then the PL’s had the edge, but then this is comparing a zoom to a prime. I would certainly have no hesitation over using the Tokina at f4 or more closed. The Nikon 50mm pancake, f1.8 was surprisingly good. Even wide open it produced a respectable image, stopped down to f2.8 it was a very close match to the PL’s. The Zeiss ZF.2’s were the budget stars of the show as even wide open these produced sharp, clean images with very similar bokeh and flare performance to the primes, very impressive performance.
Of course ergonomically the PL’s were better. Bigger focus rings, bigger iris rings and better focus scales. The CP2 impressed with it’s near 360 degrees rotation of the focus ring with very clear and accurate witness marks and wide distance spacing even approaching infinity. If I could afford a set of CP2’s that’s what I would buy, but I can’t. The Sony PL’s are good lenses, they don’t quite have the build quality of the CP2’s but they do represent excellent value for the money. If your budget won’t stretch to PL glass then the Zeiss ZF.2’s are about as close as you’ll get to a PL lens, but do watch out for the amount of telescoping when you focus the longer focal length ones. That can make using a matte box very tricky. I know my Nikon 50mm and Tokina 28mm primes work well. The Tokina 28-70 while not as sharp as the primes will still make a good all-round lens. All I need now is to get a nice 85mm and 135mm and I’ll be happy. Maybe a couple of ZF’s.
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.
The PDW-700 and F800?s are sold body only, so you have to choose which viewfinder you want. there are 3 choices. A cheap HDVF 200 mono CRT finder that is 480+ lines resolution, the mid range (top of the CRT range) HDVF-20A which is 500+ lines resolution and then there is the expensive colour HDVF-C35W.?I got the HDVF-20A. The viewfinder is a critical part of the package and I wanted a good viewfinder. For the past year my main camera has been my trusty EX3 which I love. This has a really good colour viewfinder with an excellent colour peaking function and image magnification. When I use my EX3 it is rare for me to not get my pictures pin sharp and spot on in focus. Plus I can frame my image taking into account both black and white contrast range and colour contrast. With the EX3 judging exposure is easy, you can see when your overexposing as you can see colours washing out. If I don’t want (or can’t) take a colour monitor on location then I really can light an interview or check colour balance without just using the EX3?s finder.?Now with the PDW-700 I am struggling. Going back to a mono CRT has been a bit of a shock, to be honest I am struggling with it. It’s not that there is anything wrong with the HDVF-20A but I have become used to working with a colour VF. I’m not sure I can live with the CRT VF for very long. I guess I am going to have to start saving my pennies as I think going back to a mono CRT is a retrograde step. I just wish the C35W was a little cheaper. Perhaps Sony could bring out a VF for the 700/F800 based on the rather good EX3 finder.?If I was making the purchase again I would opt for the more expensive C35W. I no longer see a colour VF as a luxury but more of an essential item. When you work with cameras day in – day out you want the tools that make your life as easy as possible and a good colour VF is one of them. On it’s own the C35W may seem expensive at £5.5k compared to the £3.5k of the 20A, but in terms of the total packing it’s another 10% to the cost but in retrospect I think it would have been worth it.