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The New Sony PMW-F3

Sony’s most anticipated camera is finally just around the corner with delivery expected mid-February.  The F3 is a dream camera for most in that it offers a large sensor like DSLR’s but with the feature sets and ergonomics of a professional HD camera.  The F3 features a Super 35mm-sized sensor and a PL mount adapter.  On the surface, the camera appears to be no more than an EX1R with a large sensor, but, under the covers, it’s actually so much more.  Its numerous features will mean more to some than others, but, it’s fair to say that Sony has a winner on its hands for both entry level shooters all the way up to seasoned professionals.  Beyond the sensor’s increased low-light capability is a huge increase in noise reduction and the forethought of keeping the flange depth (in relation to the sensor) accurate and in-tune for use with most professional motion 35mm Cine Lenses.  Great features like over crank and under crank are present (1fps-60fps), and the camera features the same amazing 3.5″ viewfinder as the EX1R.  Even with this great viewfinder, it’s advisable to use an on-board monitor since the depth of field is shallower than the EX series and focus will be much more critical.  A good monitor with focus assist is key if not pulling tape on each shot. Photo: F3 camera body with PL mount adapter. I noticed online via various forums, blogs, etc., a lot of confusion about the mount on the F3.  The F3 features a removable PL mount but the camera has its own F3 mount as well.  Many people have asked why there is a zoom rocker on a camera that comes with a PL mount.  The zoom control is specifically for the F3 mount on the body which, in the near future, will be able to control S35mm F3 mount zoom lenses which Sony has plans to bring to market in the near future.  These zooms are the 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 (manual focus and zoom), 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 (auto), and the 17-50mm f/2.8 (auto). These lenses are not due until the end of 2011 and price is TBD.  This is still very encouraging and something that cannot currently be found in the DSLR arena.  S35mm zoom lenses, even in a new F3 mount, are a solution that opens up the use of smaller crews and less external components (microforce, etc.).  Sony has the ability to make lenses like this due to their acquisition of Konica / Minolta.  Outside of the F3 mount the camera comes with a PL mount.  It’s not a dummy mount in that it has the ability to transmit Arri Lens Data and Cooke/i data to the camera body.  These data pins are located in the 12 and 3 o’clock positions inside the PL mount. This metadata is passed onto the SxS cards during recording so you have the ability in post to review lens information (think Canon EXIF data with Aperture but with motion pictures).  Sony also has an F3K bundle which features three of its own PL lenses (35mm, 50mm & 85mm) all f/2.0 with 95mm filter diameters.  I think this is a very clever choice to have a bundle with these primes because they are fast, consistent and can be purchased for a lot less than most PL mount cine glass.  Canon and Nikon users are not left out as Nikon (G and DX will all work) and Canon FD lens adapter to F3 mount are available from MTF Services.  Birger Engineering also has plans to release a Canon EF mount with full protocol control.  I think most users will be looking at Zeiss CP.2 PL lenses as an affordable solution for owning, and lens renters will be looking at Cooke S4, Arri and Zeiss PL mount lenses to take full advantage of the amazing sensor on the camera. Photo: F3 with PL mount. Notice the data pins at the 12 and 3 position in the mount. The Sony F3 uses SxS cards just like the rest of the Sony PMW series of cameras.  The camera records MPEG-2 Long GOP which is also used by the rest of the XDCAM HD cameras in Sony’s professional line.  The bit rate is selectable between the 35 Mb/s @ 1920 x 1080 or 1280 x 720 in HQ mode or 1440 x 1080 if using 25 Mb/s SP mode at all the standard frame rates we are accustomed to with Sony’s CineAlta line of cameras (1fps – 60fps).  This was smart on Sony’s part as it allows you to inter-cut with other Sony professional cameras in the line if needed. The camera features two SxS slots which can hold up to two 64GB SxS-1A cards for a total of 200 minutes of continuous recording time without having to offload (well beyond DSLR capabilities) A great feature of the F3, which also has some lack of clarity on the web, is its ability to output Dual Link 3G SDI 10bit 4:2:2 and RBG.  This is an optional feature available in April via a software unlock (price TBD), and it will allow you to use several different recording options like a CineDeck, HDCAM SRW5500/2, Codex, Astro HR-7502, S.Two, direct to AJA Kona 3G (ideally with CineForm DDR), etc.  You can also use a NanoFlash or a KiPro Mini if you just want to bypass the SxS or as a secondary or primary (with SxS as a backup). With 3D being popular in the past few years, Sony has wisely added a 3D system link option that will allow you to lock-up timecode, genlock and other controls with a single cable — simplifying the process.  This is really smart because it allows you to use simple side-by-side 3D rigs without the need for external devices, etc.  3D focus, zoom, iris can all be done with a Preston HU3 and 2 x MDR-2 units with 6 motors via 3D tweak in the Preston hand unit. When Sony puts out their own S35 Zoom lens with built in servos this process will be even easier as you can use a Varizoom and other simple electronic controls for FI+Z.  It’s also important in that the F3 has an 8pin remote terminal so you can use standard remote units like the RMB150 controller.  I mention this with 3D as it is possible to use one remote to control two cameras with an 8pin adapter cable. The 3D link option will be available in April and price is TBD. Overall, the Sony F3 is destined to become one of the most talked about and popular cameras of 2011.  With the Panasonic AF100 and the Sony F3, it is safe to say a shift to large sensor cameras by manufacturers is a priority.  Sony and Panasonic have been paying attention and both reacted with two quality products that directly address a number of features and requests that we have all had with DSLRs.  Ergonomics, proper audio (XLR connections with monitoring), proper waveform/vector, recording length, codecs, etc., have all been addressed affordably.  The camera comes with a PL adapter, Stereo Mic, Windscreen, IR remote, Shoulder strap (not sure why), manual, CD-ROM with drivers and digital manual and warranty.  The F3K comes with the same supplied accessories with the addition of the PL lens kit featuring a 35mm, 50mm and 85mm lenses. The camera does not come with batteries or a charger.  Luckily, it uses the Sony BP series of batteries so if you already have an EX1 or EX3, you’ll be all set.  These batteries and charger will be sold and rented at Rule along with the Sony PMW-F3 camera.   We’ll be hosting a Learning Lab for the F3 on Wed, Jan 19th 2011 at Rule Boston Camera. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

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In the Showroom: 3D, Euphonix MC Color, Tripods, Z-Finders, G-Drives & More

I was recently sitting in the Showroom looking over the latest additions to our stock.  We’re steadily adding to the inventory, so I’ll post what’s new in the Showroom as it comes in.  In the meantime, if you’ve been reading Mike Sutton’s blog posts or following the latest technology in the Learning Lab sessions you’ll know what’s new!   While I was in the Showroom writing this, one of our engineers, Alex Ulloa, came running down the hallway with an unfamiliar-looking manual, and as he pressed it against the glass everything went blurry.  And I bet the same thing will happen to you when you check out the new Panasonic 3D cameras.  They’re currently being tested by our engineers and prepped for rental and demo use.  If you’re looking to buy one, check in ASAP!  For a sense of what they look and feel like when shooting, check out Mike Sutton’s blog post (he recently took one out for a test drive), or come to the October 20th Learning Lab which is all about shooting with the AG-3DA1 3D camera and the BT-3DL 2550 25.5″ 3D LCD monitor (we’ll provide the 3D glasses). Another new product you’ll see in the Showroom is the Euphonix MC Color used for Color Grading.  Most of you Final Cut Pro users have probably heard about it, but what you might not know is that Euphonix was recently bought by Avid.  We like the MC Color because Euphonix built it specifically to avoid breaking the bank.  Any other color grading option out there starts at $3,650. Then there are the new tripods, specifically the Manfrotto 701HDV, 547BK, Sachtler FSB-6 SOOM tripod, Manfrotto 504HD, 546BK tripods (replacing the discontinued 503’s) and the standard Sachtler FSB-4 and FSB-6. Last but not least, we’re doing our best to get in some custom Canon and Zacuto catalogs.  I’m guessing that a lot of you are looking online trying to figure out which kit is best for you, so let us help you with advice from people who have already put together their own custom rigs and know the parts pretty well.  Bring your camera in along with any and all of your parts, and we’ll help you rig them to go with what you need.  If there are any missing pieces, we’ll order them right then and there.  It’s nice to be able to build something that fits your needs, not changes them. We’re becoming dealers for new brands by the week, adding Euphonix, Adobe, For-A, Ross and G-Tech relationships, so keep checking in!  We just got a LARGE shipment of Zacuto Z-finders and G-Drives so come in soon! Michelle Brooks, Inside Sales Representative

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The New Panasonic AG-3DA1 3D Camcorder

Rule Boston Camera just received the Panasonic AG-3DA1 camcorder which I decided to take out this long weekend for a test drive.  The camera is similar in shape and weight to the Panasonic HPX170 camera with the exception of its dual lens and longer lens hood. The camera is lightweight and has the core features of most camcorders with the exception that it shoots 3D and has dual HD-SDI outputs.  The 3DA1 uses dual SDHC cards to record media with one card for left eye and one for right eye.  One of the great things about choosing SDHC cards is that they fairly plentiful and inexpensive.  Tracking down an HD deck with dual HD-SDI inputs is difficult and expensive so this camera embodies simplicity and ease of use by going with common media.  Since the camera records AVCHD codec (MPEG4/H.264), SDHC cards are more than fast enough to write to and even a class 4 card will work.   Each card is given a channel and fed time code so it stays in sync in post when locking up left and right channels. The camera has three methods of output, dual HD-SDI, HDMI 1.3 and cards via a card reader to transfer.  There are no analog outputs for composite, component or S-video.  Audio is handled via the on-board stereo mic or via two XLR audio inputs.  Audio is embedded on the HD-SDI and HDMI and can be monitored via a 3.5 mini headphone jack on the back of the camera.  The built-in mic picked up a fair amount of noise during testing so an external mic is essential especially if used on-set indoors.

Panasonic AG-3DA1 head on

First, I would like to say that if you have ever shot anything in 3D before with either a side-to-side or beam-splitter rig, you’ll find that this camera is very easy to use.  Unlike the aforementioned rigs, you don’t need to worry about adjusting two lenses simultaneously for focus, zoom and iris.  Left and right eyes must match in focal length, focus and zoom or the 3D effect is blown, so a lot of control is required with traditional rigs.  The 3DA1 lenses are electronically and mechanically linked so focus, zoom and iris are tied automatically without the need for external hardware.   The AG-3DA1 allows you the freedom to focus without the technicalities of 3D inhibiting the creative process (to an extent).  With all that being said, this camera is not a run-and-gun camcorder.  If your shots are not locked down but stationary, it will work fine.  If you plan on Steadicam, dolly shots, zooming or any movement with the camera, you must plan for it in advance.  You have the ability on the camera to dial in convergence (where the optical axes of the left and right lenses converge) which allows you to dictate what is in the foreground and what is in the background — providing a sense of depth. While this ability is great, if it goes unplanned your shots could become unusable because the left and right eye are separate channels and not multiplexed together.  This can be corrected later (to a degree). Something else to consider is that the convergence adjustment utilizes the same dial as iris and is switchable, so you cannot adjust iris and convergence at the same time.  As long as you plan for this it should not be a problem, but if you are shooting from room-to-room or outdoors-to-indoors, for example, you should plan on remaining equidistant to the subject at all times so you can adjust exposure without affecting convergence.  There is a mix feature on the camera that will allow you to display left and right channels superimposed onto the swing-out viewfinder.  This allows you to see any convergence adjustments you make that you might not otherwise see when monitoring on a single channel.

AG-3DA1 on Kessler Revolution motorized head.

The Panasonic AG-3DA1 features I’m bringing to light are not to dissuade you, but to keep you informed so you can plan properly.  The camera features a slower boot time than most camcorders (approximately six seconds).  This could potentially be an issue but doesn’t really pertain to commercial work or feature work where the camera is turned on well in advance to shooting.  The camera features two 3CCD 1/4.1″ chips, so if you are planning to shoot indoors, you will need to consider a light kit due to the nature of the smaller sensors.  Noise in 3D is not pretty and can be very distracting, so it is imperative to have as much light as possible so you are not shooting at the lower threshold of the lens and sensors capabilities.  The sweet spot seems to be f/5.6 and higher on the lens.  Because the lenses are smaller there seems to be a bit more chromatic aberration than on an HPX170 for example.  This can have a large impact if you plan on shooting for Anaglyph Amber Blue or Cyan Magenta as it will pop on the screen.  There are post tools to reduce this, but, again, well-planned shooting and monitoring on set are probably the best ways to combat any potential issues.  You should plan on using a Kesson 50′ measuring tape or equivalent on location as the minimal focal distance of the 3DA1 is only 3’97” but the reference plane adjustment range for convergence adjustment starts at 7’2″ and goes to infinity.  You have to keep this in mind when shooting in order to maximize the 3D depth control as much as possible.  The camera does a fair amount of control on its own but the convergence adjustment is on the user to adjust if you want your footage to have any real depth to it.  There is a convergence display on the LCD that shows C00-C99 as a guide but its is only for rough estimation, and it is not accurate.  It also does not correlate to any system of real measurement.  The higher the number, the further away it is.  I tried to figure out a way to calculate based on these numbers but it never seemed accurate when using the camera day-after-day.  I used the shot marker whenever I racked convergence so that I would have a reference point in post when viewing in 2D single channel.  The convergence dial that shares Iris is small but usable and takes some getting used too.  After the second day of shooting, I got the hang of switching from iris to convergence and using the dial for both without taking my eye off the viewfinder, but it took a fair amount of practice.  There is also a button that will turn on 3D guide display, but, again, this is only for rough estimation, and it has no accurate distance of measurement built in. Zooming with the camera requires manual convergence adjustment to keep your subject depth accurate.  This is not automatically handled in the camera. It is highly recommended that you rent a 3D capable monitor if you rent this camera.  If you plan on shooting well and if you measure everything out, this is less of an issue, but realistically there is more to consider than just distances and convergence.  Another potential issue:  reflections and highlights which in the 3D world really pop on the screen and can be distracting, ruining your shot.  There were several shots I did that in 2D looked great, but when shot in 3D they were blown.  If I had monitored on location with a 3D monitor like the Panasonic BT-3DL2550, a 25.5″ 3D LCD I would have caught these highlights immediately in order to see which adjustments could be made to correct them.  This monitor will be available in the Rental inventory soon.  This next point might seem obvious, but, because both cards record simultaneously, you cannot eject a card while shooting or your shot will be lost. In a world of cameras that shoot dual solid state media, many people forget that you must treat the two cards as one card. Luckily the cards are located behind a locked plastic door which will keep you from accidentally pushing into and ejecting a card. The next major consideration when using the camera is post-production.  In my test case I used CineForm Neo 3D via FirstLight rather than as a plug-in on a MacPro 8-Core with 16GB of RAM.  A decent amount of RAM is a good idea especially if you are making adjustments and want to have real-time playback in the viewer.  Neo 3D works directly with the AG-3DA1 and allows you to bring in right and left channels independently. The main benefit of Neo 3D is that you can work with your footage in post without having a 3D monitor if you choose anaglyph and if you have the appropriate 3D glasses to match.  Luckily 3D glasses are trendy again and you can find them almost anywhere! My local gas station sells cyan magenta glasses for $1.  I picked up a pair and they worked perfectly.  Once in Firstlight you can select side by side, stacked, fields, onion skin, difference, anaglyph cyan magenta, anaglyph black and white, anaglyph amber blue, etc.  You can also swap eyes, monitor in 2D or just use left or right eye views.  In passive mode you can adjust parallax using the built-in vectorscope which you can also burn into the video. Working in the 3D tab of Cineform Neo 3D, you can adjust horizontal and vertical which can correct any convergence mistakes that might have been made in addition to depth tilt. This is all keyframe-able as well. There is also correction for primary curves on the encode and decode as well as Debayering and basic looks that can be assigned to the footage. If you do not have Cineform Neo 3D there are other solutions that will work such as the Quantel Pablo, Avid Media Composer (3.5 and up), Final Cut Studio (with plug-ins), Iridas, Dashwood 3D toolbox, Adobe and others.  A plug-in for CineForm Neo3D for Adobe will be released within a few months.

CineForm Neo 3D FirstLight stand alone application.

To sum up the experience, the Panasonic AG-3DA1 was great to work with.  Again I cannot reiterate enough the importance of being prepared in advance with pre-production, production and post-production well thought-out before shooting.  This should be the case with any shoot but more so with the special considerations of 3D.  The idea of a 3D camera that can be used with little to no crew is unheard of and the 3DA1’s small form factor allows for shots you could only get with a SI-3D rig.   If you are planning to shoot 3D but have no experience with 3D beam-splitter rigs or side-by-side rigs, and if you have a small budget, you really should check-out the AG-3DA1 camera.  You, too, can make a 3D feature, short, commercial, web project or spot without significant training or budget.  The Panasonic AG-3DA1 is now available in Rentals. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

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Grandpa Rule sees the Future

There is a lot of family lore about my grandfather, John T Rule II, who was an author and Professor of Mathematics at MIT and Dean of Students between 1956 and 1961. He was good friends with Dr. Edwin Land (the founder of Polaroid) and in fact, together during World War II they invented the first 3D bomb-sighting mechanism which greatly improved the Allies’ reconnaissance and bombing efficacy. And this is the really interesting part: Earlier, in 1939, Grandpa and Dr. Land had collaborated on the very first commercial use of polarized 3D when they created the “In Tune With Tomorrow” film for the Chrysler Pavilion at the 1939 Worlds Fair (mentioned here as the no. 9 milestone in 3D Movie history). So as I was researching this subject, I stumbled across this piece that he wrote for the October 1953 edition of the Atlantic, actually posted on the Internet! In it, he discusses the then current state of the nascent 3D industry, decrying it’s tendency towards sensationalistic gimmickry, and cautioning that badly done 3D would negatively impact the box office. He advises that 3D done artistically and in service to the creative goals of the Director will create an experience unmatchable by home televisions, thus stopping the theater industry’s steady drop in customers. Wow. People say that the more things change, the more they stay the same…it’s hard to believe that he wrote this 57 years ago. My favorite part of this article is at the end where he proposes that feature films should be released first on TV with Pay-per-view before going to theaters! He’s talking about Pay-per-view in 1953! It boggles the mind. John Rule