I recently shot a project on the Sony PMW-F3. Being unfamiliar with the camera, I decided to do some tests to figure out how the camera responded to light and color, how flexible the footage was in grading, and what picture profile settings would best suit the look I was trying to achieve. It was fascinating to see how different picture profiles affected the image, especially the way colors were handled, as well as the camera's ability to hold over and under-exposure. I hadn't been paying much attention to this camera as it seemed to get kind of lost somewhere in between DSLRs and the RED/Alexa. These tests, however, have drastically changed my view of the camera. While these tests are somewhat specific to the project I was shooting, I figured I might as well share the results and let you make of them what you will.
For reasons outside of my control, the production made the choice to record onto the standard SxS cards as opposed to an external recorder. As this limited us to the 35mbps MPEG2 4:2:0 XDCAM codec, one of my concerns was that the grading required to make something like S-log watchable might be too much for the footage to handle.
For this test, I created a lighting setup similar to what I planned for the biggest scene in the movie. I bounced a slightly dimmed 100W pepper off of a 4' square of bleached muslin from below and created a soft, wrapping backlight with a 420W pepper through a small chimera, diffused further with a 4' frame of 216. I put an accent on the back wall with a 250W light with a doubled up blue party gel to emulate a feature that existed in our filming location. A spot reading on the gray card gave me T2.8 at ISO800, the highlights on the face were around T4, and the blue highlight was a little over T5.6. I left the diffusion and bounce slightly in frame to see how the camera reacted to extreme highlights.
I then, with the help of my lovely wife, made a series of exposures using the following settings (the camera was constantly set to 3200K, 180° shutter, 24fps and for the lens I used a 35mm Zeiss Superspeed MkII):
*S-log with LUT turned off. 0db gain/ISO800. Exposed normally, as well as 1 and 2 stops over, and 1, 2, and 3 stops under.
*S-log with the REC709 800% LUT baked in. 0db gain/ISO800. Exposed normally, as well as 1 and 2 stops over, and 1, 2, and 3 stops under.
*S-log off, and using the Abelcine Range picture profile. 0db gain, which is approximately ISO400 on this camera when S-log is turned off. Exposed normally, as well as 1 stop over (the lens wasn't fast enough to go 2 stops over), and 1 and 2 stops under.
*I was planning to light the film with an ISO800 rating in mind, so I tested the Abelcine Range picture profile again at 6db gain/ISO800 to see how much noise this introduced. Exposed normally, as well as 1 and 2 stops over, and 1 and 2 stops under.
*I then chose a standard picture profile, set the matrix to Cinema, then, at 6db gain/ISO800, made normal exposures using the following gamma settings: Cine 1, Cine 2, Cine 3, and Cine 4.
I then took all the footage through Apple Color to see how it responded to grading. My adjustments consisted mainly of tweaking the luma curve for contrast and bringing the offset exposures to a normal brightness, tweaking saturation, and slight color tweaks, mostly consisting of a slight increase of blue in the highlights and decrease of blue in the shadows. Certain picture profiles created some nasty clipping in the blue channel as a result of the background light, in these instances I used a secondary correction to tone down the saturation in that part of the image. I was surprised by how easy it it was to bring down the over-exposed footage. With the under-exposed footage, however, if it began to get unacceptably noisy, then I would leave it dark. The footage was rendered to ProRes 422 (HQ) from Color.
You can see the footage at . You can also download a high quality .mov from that page by scrolling down and to the right.
You can obviously come to your own conclusions about the footage, but I was very impressed by the camera. Surprisingly, the low bitrate codec with S-log held up to grading very well. I would love to see this footage recorded at 4:4:4 to a Gemini. Even at 4:2:0 on the SxS cards, the footage was totally usable from 2-stops under to 2-stops over. I appreciate the idea that, like with film, you could rate the sensor differently to get different looks out of the camera. For example, under-exposing a stop to get slightly flatter contrast, less saturation, and a little noise to add texture to the image. Or over-exposing and getting punchier colors and contrast and a smoother looking image.
Based on these tests, I decided to shoot the project in S-log, with no LUT, and rated at ISO800. Because I was confident in the camera's latitude, I felt free to expose it much like I do film, relying on my meter, and not being afraid to let characters move in and out of hot spots or shadows. I fussed with the camera on-set less than any other digital camera I have worked with. We wrapped just a couple of days ago, and I look forward to seeing the footage through the color grade.
I am very impressed with this camera. It out performs any DSLR without a doubt, as it should, and it handles skin tones very well for a digital camera, significantly better than the RED, in my opinion. The form factor is also pretty nice. I operated both on sticks and handheld with a Mantis rig and it felt quite comfortable. Although, the flip-out LCD was too close to my face on the Mantis, so I had to operate off an external monitor armed out next to the mattebox. It also could have used a little more weight on the back. A viewfinder along the side would be nice...
I will definitely be giving this camera a fair consideration on future jobs. I haven't used the C300 yet, but I'm starting to wonder, what can the Canon do that an F3 with S-log and an external recorder can't?
Edited by Colton Davie, 02 February 2012 - 04:30 AM.