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The Phantom Flex High-Speed Digital Camera

The Phantom Flex is the latest in HD high-speed image capturing from manufacturer Vision Research. I have been spending some time testing the Flex over the past two weeks and I am very impressed. With a 1000 ISO, the sensitivity this camera allows is far superior to its predecessor the Phantom HD Gold (ISO 320) which is a superb camera in its own right. This kind of sensitivity proves beneficial in high-speed image capturing. With it’s capability to capture over 2500fps at 1920×1080, or over 5000fps at 1280×720, you quickly see why Flex is the most sensitive high-speed camera on the market today.

The Phantom Flex
Another fine feature of the Flex is its internal capping shutter. This makes black balancing much easier to do during production with the press of a button on the side of the camera. Because of high operating temperatures, the sensor needs to be regularly black balanced to stabilize the signal levels. With this in mind, the camera also has an optional HQ mode. HQ mode eliminates the need to manually black balance as it does it automatically within each captured frame. Although HQ reduces the maximum frame rate capture speeds by approximately one half than standard mode, it makes for quicker shooting in the field as well as increases the signal to noise ratio in the image. An improperly black balanced camera will ruin your shot and that is not an option when you often have one short opportunity to capture it. Flex has two recording operation modes to choose from:  Loop mode or Run/Stop mode. In Loop mode the Flex uses an internal buffer that stores each take. The duration of the recorded action respectively decreases as the frame rate increases. So you may only have 2 seconds of capture time to film that exploding water balloon, or 4 seconds to film that acrobat in midair. (Check out RBC client Tom Guilmette’s recent blog and Flex footage for a creative example at http://www.tomguilmette.com/archives/1986 ) The clip in the buffer can then be trimmed and saved to the on-board CineMag, which is a 128G, 256G, or 512G flash mag mounted to the camera.
Mounting the CineMag onto the Flex
Run/Stop mode allows you to record direct to the CineMag while avoiding the short time allowed in the buffer. This may be a better choice when the action is longer or continuous. The caveat here is that the maximum frame rate is much lower. Maximum frame rate direct to CineMag is 361fps at 1920×1080. But the bonus is recording for longer periods of time. The operator can start and stop recording like a regular camera until the CineMag is full. The CineMag files are downloaded via Phantom software on a PC, either while still on the camera or on a Vision Research CineStation. The files on the CineMag are RAW files with the .cine extension. These are very large files that take a considerable amount of time to download to external hard drives to deliver to post. These files can be opened with software like Glue Tools , or Iridas. Glue Tools opens the files in a QuickTime wrapper and allows you to edit and view them in Final Cut Pro or other QT based applications for editing, grading and coloring. A different approach to saving the Phantom footage is using a video workflow method, by capturing the video playback directly from the Flex or CineStation onto a recordable device.
CineStation
Both have dual link HD-SDI outputs for high quality recording. Popular choices for this may include the CineDeck Extreme(4:2:2, 4:4:4), Convergent Design’s NanoFlash recorder(4:2:2), AJA KiPro(4:2:2)  or KiPro Mini(4:2:2) or direct to a CPU via a video card(4:2:2, 4:4:4). The Flex also has auto-scaling which allows shooting over-sampled resolution of 2560×1440(16:9) and scaling the SDI output to 1920×1080. Over-sampling gives us a better quality image (no artifacts) and greater dynamic range.
Two HD-SDI outputs can be set to dual link 4:4:4 for high-quality image capture
Rule Boston Camera’s Flex comes standard with a PL mount allowing the use of our entire inventory of 35mm motion picture camera lenses. Super 16 lenses can also be used when operating the Flex at 1280×720. RBC has 128G and 256G CineMags available for rental with the Flex. Be prepared for long download times when saving the .cine files from flash mags. Flex Max Frame Rates in LOOP mode: 2560×1440 – SQ: 1617fps , HQ: 802fps 1920×1080 – SQ: 2564fps , HQ: 1267fps Flex Max Frame Rates in R/S mode: 2560×1440 – SQ: 217fps , HQ: 217fps 1920×1080 – SQ: 361fps , HQ: 361fps CineMag Recording Time: 2560×1440 – 128G = 20 minutes@24fps 256G = 40 minutes@24fps 1920×1080-  128G = 33 minutes@24fps 256G = 67 minutes@24fps Download Time via 1G Ethernet /PC : 128G = 1.75 hours 256G = 3.5 hours The quality of the images Flex creates combined with the super slow motion truly make for stunning cinematography. Often described as “jaw dropping”. Dave Kudrowitz, Senior Engineer

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In the Showroom: Sony EX1R & EX3 Savings!

With the recent influx of large sensor cameras with detachable lenses like Sony’s PMW-F3 and Panasonic’s AF-100, many people are wondering what the future holds for their PMW-EX1R or PMW-EX3 — both of which are only a few years old and still going strong.  Sony made adjustments around the new trend by offering a $300 rebate on the EX1R and a $500 rebate on the EX3 with great leasing options.  This isn’t meant to dwindle the EX inventory, however, and it’s not because the EX series is going out of style, but it’s meant to highlight the fact that both are still phenomenal cameras with great features.  In our Sales Showroom, we’ve seen lots of EX sales activity, and this special rebate offer from Sony is a great opportunity for savings. You won’t see a comparable camera like this from Sony anytime soon. Here’s a quick overview of some capabilities of the EX1R/EX3: 1/2″ sensor 1080p 24p HD-SDI 8-pin remote connection 2/3″ Lens Capability (EX3 Only) 2 XLR inputs Interchangeable Lens System (EX3 only) Dual SxS Express Card Slot 1/33 – 1/2000 shutter speed range Stop by the Showroom for more details. Michelle Brooks, Inside Sales Representative

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The Alexa – Out of the Box and Into It’s First Local Feature!

Our very own Alexa was the star of a film shooting locally, in New Bedford, MA, this Winter.  “Fairhaven” is a comic drama that tells the story of three childhood friends reuniting in their home town of Fairhaven, MA.  Written and Directed by Tom O’Brien who fell in love with the Massachusetts seaport town and was inspired to set the project there.  The film is being shot by DP Peter Simonite and features stars such as Mad Men’s, Rich Sommer, Six Feet Under’s, Chris Messina and Deadwood’s Sarah Paulson.
We missed our Alexa dearly and we were eager to hear what our friends at Fairhaven thought of the camera.  General Manager Brian Malcolm and myself ventured down to Westport, MA to meet the cast and crew on location at Lee’s Market for some grocery store interior shots.  On the way, Brian spotted 4 Red-Tailed Hawks and one male Cardinal.  I tried to play the bird game too but my bird-like findings turned out to be trash bags trapped in branches or bushels of leaves.  (You’ve won this round, Malcolm!)
When we arrived on the set, we were warmly welcomed by an excited cast and crew.  Everyone raved about the Alexa with its superior image quality and high sensitivity in low light.  The Alexa is rated at ISO 800 but we learned that they were able to get exposures of up to 1600 ISO.  Phrases like “This camera will change the industry forever” and ” I never want to work with another camera again” were echoing around us as the crew testified to the camera’s cinematic abilities and ease-of-use.
We really enjoyed watching the Fairhaven team in action, and we’re looking forward to the film’s release!
For more information about the Fairhaven movie visit their website at www.fairhaventhemovie.com.
For more information on the Alexa, call or email answers@rule.com.
Nick Giannino, Rental Agent
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Sony F3’s @ Rule Boston Camera next week !

The highly anticipated Sony F3 is making its way to Rule next week.  We will have the F3 available in our rental department as well as in our showroom.  If you have not put down a deposit on the camera you will want to reserve one asap.   We anticipate the camera will be sold out and become one of the most popular cameras for 2011 due to its familiar workflow, lensing options, sensor size, and form factor.  Myself and the sales team will be available for demos on the showroom camera (please call in advance to book an appointment) with various lenses and accessories. Soon we will have Zeiss CP.2 lenses (several sets on order) on hand in rentals and sales to test with the camera. We will also have the MTF services Nikon mount and Zeiss ZF.2 lenses as well very soon. Come check out the camera everyone is talking about. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

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Cold Weather Supplies!

This time of year we carry some great expendables to help you in the cold and snowy weather. Two main items are “Setwear Cold Weather Gloves” and “Bag It” all weather bags. The Setwear gloves are built to keep you warm with Thinsulate C40 lining and a seamless index finger design for sensitivity. They are padded for comfort, but form fitting to eliminate snagging. The Bag It bags cover a variety of studio equipment such as taco carts, studio lamps, camera dollies and makeup tables in bad weather, protecting them from slush and snow. They are made of strong 6mm plastic and are very versatile. It’s a cost effective way to protect your valuable equipment. Stop in to Production Outfitters to see for yourself! Gen Andrews, Production Outfitters (and Rentals, too)

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Sony PMW-F3: Back to Back Events

Yesterday, we here at Rule Boston Camera were graced with the presence of Sony’s new Super35-style HD camera, the PMW-F3. We hosted our own event about the camera as part of our weekly Learning Lab Series, and then the New England chapter of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) held their own meeting about the camera and its technology here in the evening. Sony was kind enough to bring a prototype of the F3 as well as an SXRD 4K projector to show off their new tech. Each event had its own personal flair, but both offered interesting insights into Sony’s new large-sensor offering. I recommend reading Mike Sutton’s blog post for a more complete and more technical feature description, but I’ll highlight some of the important parts that were featured during Wednesday’s presentations. The morning Learning Lab event was led by Sony’s Peter Crithary, who took us through the functions of the camera and showed us some truly breathtaking short-form pieces shot by people at USC and Stargate Films. Right off the bat, I have to say the footage looks beautiful. Even with 35Mbit/sec XDCAM EX internal recording, the images hold up well to color grading and compositing. When the camera is attached to an external recording device, though, like an AJA KiPro, Convergent Design’s NanoFlash, or Sony’s own HDCAM SR deck, the imager on this thing really shines. No noise, great depth of field, impressive dynamic range—it has it all. Don’t forget that your lenses can make all the difference in the world! And with the appropriate adaptors, the F3 can use a variety of prime or zoom lenses that are large enough to cover the super35 imager. Peter’s presentation gave us a ton of information on what the camera can do and how it can be applied to the typical, or sometimes not-so-typical, workflow. Not only does it make pretty pictures, it also gives you functionality to boot. For the absolute highest-possible recording quality, he recommended recording to the internal SxS slots for an off-line version, while simultaneously taking advantage of the 4:4:4 Dual-Link SDI output (with a firmware upgrade, available soon) to an HDCAM SR deck for your on-line edit. Both versions will be in perfect sync and the workflow is totally seamless. You can also take advantage of the additional SD/HD switchable SDI port to run an on-set monitor for your client without the need for headache-inducing distribution amplifiers. You can even apply the Look Up Table (LUT) settings you plan to use in post-production color grading in the camera itself, allowing the DP and the client to see it in its (almost) final form—without affecting your 4:4:4 master. Amazing! This is far more than many people will actually take advantage of, but the scalability here is definitely notable. He also highlighted features like 3D Link, where you can connect two F3’s and with one cable, can control both simultaneously for perfectly-synced 3D shooting.  Check out Peter’s Learning Lab session in its entirety on vimeo:  http://vimeo.com/channels/rulelearninglabseries. While Peter’s presentation was a little more practical, aimed at the average user, Hugo Gaggioni took the reigns at the evening’s SMPTE event and spoke more on the technology behind the F3. He took us all the way back to the 70’s and 80’s when CCD imagers were first developed and discussed the transition to new CMOS technologies up to and including future 4K sensors along with the new Super35mm chip in the F3 itself. While not necessarily for the layman, his presentation was packed with fascinating information on how we got to be where we are now—and how the new chips coming out of Sony’s new manufacturing plant are changing the way we shoot HD, 3D and 4K. The people in attendance even got a sneak peek at some of the new technology Sony will be unveiling this year—very exciting stuff! The Sony F3 often seems to come up in conversations about the Panasonic AF100 and Canon’s line of DSLR’s. While the size of the sensor on each of these suggests they are all in the same class, this is hardly the case. Each one is designed to fit a certain set of needs and a certain budget. The F3 is in a slightly different price range than the offerings from Canon and Panasonic, but again, the functionality and feature set far outstrip its competition. On the flip side, however, at $16,000 list price, it is much cheaper than both the Red One and Arri Alexa, another set of cameras the F3 is bound to be compared to. What you must do is really evaluate the needs of your shoot and decide which of these cameras best suits your demands and budget. We were assured that the camera is on schedule to ship in February. We’re all excited about what this camera can do, and I hope you are, too! Peter Brunet, Engineering Technician

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Whiteout Wednesday!

The forecasters were all gloom-and-doom; the iso-bars were tightening; and the snow shovels were being sharpened (are you supposed to sharpen snow shovels?) – a storm was predicted for Wednesday and it was going to be a biggie. Would Rule Boston Camera stay open? Well, John Rule has many mailmen counted amongst his ancestors so there would be no question that we would definitely be open. But employees like myself who travel from thither and yon face the dilemma of how to get here. So I had the brilliant solution – never leave! With a sleeping bag under one arm and a blow-up mattress under another (I have fragile bones – like a bird), I settled down in the Learning Lab and hunkered down for the night. I can’t describe what happened that night but let’s just say the spirits of Brighton are restless… and loud (“I’m tryin’ to sleep here!”). I emerged the next morning, white and shaken, but ready to handle the phone calls and shovel some snow. Many of my co-workers also braved the elements and a certain survivor’s camaraderie emerged: we swapped tales of digging and scraping but were ready to take on whatever Mother Nature could throw our way and still do business. And then we had a big snowball fight. Winter do your worst!

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In the Showroom: The AF100

With the new Panasonic AF100 Camera being shipped, and the new Sony PMW-F3 on its way, lots of questions have arisen, especially by filmmakers who don’t actually know much about lenses.  I know…seriously?  However if you’re like me and want a simple explanation of what goes with what, here it is below.

We’ve recently established a relationship with Birger Engineering, a well-known company right down the road from us in Boston, and, as of February 10, we’ll start carrying their Canon EF to Micro 4/3 Adapter.  Their Birger F-Mount adapter will shortly follow and after that you’ll be seeing adapters for the Sony PMW-F3, which is a native PL-mount, and also the Arri Alexa camera.  Don’t forget we’re having an event this Wednesday, January 19th featuring the Sony PMW-F3, currently, only one of two in the entire country.  If you have questions you’d like to ask Sony directly, this will be the event to come to! So, what next?  Well, please make sure you are stocked on accessories.  We are obviously seeing a delay in the AF100 inventory due to high demand, but note that we now carry stock of SanDisk CF and SDHC Cards, SxS-1 and P2 as well as batteries, chargers, headphones and more.  If there is something you’d like to see more of here, email me at Brooks@Rule.com, and let me know!  I’ll happily add more to the inventory if I’m missing something.  Tune in for more new things to be expecting- the countdown to NAB is on now that the New Year has begun, and it’s never too late to start tracking what you’ll see. Below, we have some pictures of an AF100 we recently set up for a client, including the Zacuto Fast Draw, with an extra Zwivel Arm, 4.5 M-F Threaded Rod, 10” Arm Extensions, 77mm step-down ring, Genus 4×4 Matte Box, Arri M-FF1 Follow Focus, Zacuto Zip Gear with stops, Vibesta 8.3” Magic Arm, Canon 24-70mm L-series lens and a Convergent Design Nanoflash.  Accessories?  In this case, Panasonic VWV-BG6PPK batteries and single slot Panasonic charger, Panasonic 32Gb Gold SDHC Cards, SanDisk 32Gb Extreme CF Cards (Class 10) and a Canon Adapter that will be announced shortly. As we were setting this up: One thing to note: When using a non-Panasonic lens with an adapter, go to Menu>Other Functions> Lens Check and turn it “off.” Otherwise you’ll see black. Michelle Brooks, Inside Sales Rep

(Above) Panasonic AG-AF100 with Arri MFF-1 Follow Focus, Zacuto Fast Draw Kit Canon 24-70mm LF/2.4 Lens and Genus Matte Box (Below) Same set-up with C.D. Nanoflash and Vibesta Magic Arm.

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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