Sony PMW F3 Camera: High Performance, Great Value

Posted by on Nov 7, 2011 in Tech Talk and Trends | 0 comments

Lately, I’ve shot quite a few projects with the new Sony PMW F3 camera and I’ve had great results!  When I get to choose or recommend the camera for a project, I try to carefully balance both the aesthetic and the budget requirements of the project.  In my experience, the Sony PMW F3 is a fantastic camera for any project that wants a cinematic look without the cost of a high-end camera such as the RED Epic and the Arri Alexa.  Don’t get me wrong, these are fantastic cameras that represent the pinnacle of digital cinematography. However, I believe that the Sony PMW F3 offers excellent value because the quality of its images can rival the Epic and Alexa in some areas at a third of the price.

Amazing New Sensor

At the heart of the Sony PMW F3 is a super 35mm Exmor CMOS sensor that has larger pixels for superior light gathering.  Like other large sensor cameras, it has a beautiful cinematic look with shallow depth of focus similar to 35mm film.  What makes the Sony PMWF3 really stand out is the ability to record very clean images in ultra low light. The native sensitivity of the sensor is an impressive 800 ISO.  What is amazing is how high the gain can be pushed (increasing the sensitivity) with little or no noise.  See my candle test video below to see just how sensitive to low light the camera is.

In the video test, only the tiny flame from one candle illuminates the model’s (McKenzie Coffee) face – a standard 1” tapered candle held approximately one foot away (one foot candle).  The background lights were miniature Christmas tree lights on a dimmer at 50% voltage.  The gain on the camera was increased to +12db which is the equivalent of 3200 ISO.  The lens was an 18-80mm Arri Alura zoom.  The shutter speed was 1/48 sec (normal for 24fps) and the exposure was f2.8. The image is original ungraded footage from the Sony SxS card.

Impressive Dynamic Range

The Sony PMW F3 also has a very impressive dynamic range of approximately 12 stops.  Using the S-log feature (optional software upgrade), one gains an additional stop of dynamic range – mostly in the highlights. Sony just announced an upcoming firmware upgrade that will enable the S-log to capture one additional stop of highlight detail. This should place the Sony PMWF3 within very close range of the Arri Alexa’s 14 stop dynamic range. Keep in mind that even with the cost of the S-log upgrade, the Sony PMW F3 is less than a third of the cost of an Arri Alexa. I’ll be posting a blog in the future comparing the Sony PMW F3 with the RED MX, the RED Epic, and the Arri Alexa. I’ll also be discussing the newly announced RED Scarlet and the Canon C300.

Below is a commercial for the Oregon Lottery that I shot using the Sony PMW F3.  We had some very high contrast day interiors with bright windows.  I was very pleased with the “balance” I was able to achieve without adding any ND gels to the windows.  This project was shot just before the S-log upgrade was available.

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