Shooting with the Sony F3

Jake Wilganowski,Production July 6, 2011 10:52 am


First off, let me say that the Sony F3 is a fantastic camera.

The Super 35mm size sensor with the PL mount opens up the entire world of cinema glass to a Director of Photography.  It’s extremely good in low light, has a relatively small body, and has a very flexible workflow.  It has about 11.5 stops of dynamic range and is rated at 800 iso.

That’s fast….
…And the blacks are incredibly clean even at high ISO’s.

The Sony F3 also has 1080 resolution. This is a true 1080, unlike todays DSLR’s, which are in actuality far from true HD resolution.  The detail is superb when viewed on Blu-ray on your large HDTV.

The F3 can record internally to SxS cards at 8-bit 4:2:0 35mb/sec to the XDCAM EX codec.  When paired with an external recorder like the Aja Ki Pro or Ki Pro Mini, it can send 10-bit 4:2:2 out the SDI to be captured at 220mb/sec to the Quicktime ProRes HQ codec.  This flexibility really puts the F3 into a nice position.  You can go shoot the corporate talking head onto cards and deliver the same day, or you can shoot a commercial or music video onto the Ki with the data and color info one needs when doing lots of post coloring and effects.

The Aja Ki products are extremely well made and production friendly.  They can be powered off all your normal taps and have rail mounting options that make it easy to keep your rig compact.

Lens wise, I shot with the Zeiss CP.2′s mounted via the PL mount. Overall I really enjoyed these lenses.  They definitely have the signature Zeiss sharpness, cool tone, and contrasty look, as opposed to something softer and warmer such as the Cooks.  The Zeiss CP.2’s also have a beautiful, creamy bokeh.

To help give the best image possible the Zeiss CP.2’s are actually projecting an image larger than the camera’s sensor so you are seeing through the best part of the glass, the center. As a result, the image is very sharp edge to edge.

The focus rotation, travel and smoothness are excellent as these are made for cinema-style applications.  They are also uniform in size, making changing lenses super fast without having to readjust your mattebox, follow focus, etc.

Another really interesting option the F3 has with a firmware update is the ability to shoot in a gamma mode called S-LOG. With S-LOG selected in camera you actually increase the dynamic range of the camera to 14 stops.  If you rent a dual link recorder, the Sony SRR1 for example, you can send the signal out the dual-link SDI on the camera to the SRR1 as well as recording to the cards simultaneously. Suddenly you have a set of proxy files for editing(recorded to the cards) and a set of extremely high quality 4:4:4 12-bit master files (recorded out the dual link sdi to SRR1).  In essence you have 3 camera’s within the Sony F3.  One for fast turnaround jobs that need little post correction/effects (the cards), another for high end broadcast/commercial work (the Ki Pro), and lastly, one which records quality suitable for highest end commercials and feature films (dual-link to SRR1).  It should be noted also, that you can use S-LOG while recording to the Ki or internally to the cards, but the quality is limited by the bit and color depth of the recording device/codec.

But you still get the benefits of the 14 stops of latitude.

Score!

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Recently we used the F3 on a short test video at the Historic Texas Theatre in Oakcliff, TX.  We mounted the F3 on The Slider” movement system with the Aja Ki Pro and away we went.
The weight of the camera is perfect, heavy enough to feel solid when accessorized but light enough to move quickly.  The slider we were using was a heavy duty slider, so if the camera weighed more it would have been a struggle to move quickly as we were leaving everything connected and transporting it as one unit up and down stairs, etc.

While shooting, I wasn’t afraid to bump iso around in different scenarios, because the Sony F3 is so noise free.  Even the little noise you do see at 2000 ISO is not offensive in its structure.  It looks very filmic.  That being said, I didn’t typically shoot that high, because I had a crew and lighting package. In the end, I did bump it up to 1200 a few times as I was shooting with a faster shutter and higher framerate to get a little slow motion in some low lit areas.

The Sony F3 is fast and clean, and it’s really great having the ND wheel when shooting cinema-style.  It frees up a space in your mattebox and allows you to fine tune exposure.  With the flexibility of this sensor regarding iso’s AND a built in ND wheel, there is an amazing amount of quick control you have regarding exposure and f-stop choice.

The Zeiss CP.2′s are fast lenses as well opening up to a T2.1. I found I really enjoyed how the lenses flared. There are a few scenes we shot where we are purposefully flaring the lens with lights or a flashlight, and it looked great.

In a nutshell, the Sony F3 is a fantastic camera that gives you the benefits of the “cinema look” and shooting style in a easy to use package.  If you’re stepping up from a DSLR, it’s like night and day.  You have the ability to record audio onboard, have proper SDI ins/outs for monitoring and timecode, true video exposure tools, ND wheel, PL mount, as well as a much nicer image.  If you’re used to shooting RED, you’ll appreciate the quality of the footage taking into account the camera size/weight and easy post workflow.  I highly recommend it to Producers and DP’s for all ranges of projects.

Editors note: Be sure to check out the Behind the Scenes video for even more info! Also, stay tuned for more info on working with the Sony F3, a 4 part series from every aspect of production.

Part 2: Working with the Sony F3: An owner perspective 

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 Jake Wilganowski is a Dallas based Director and Cinematographer. See more of his work on the AMP website or on his personal website.

 

 

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