'No Reservations' for Sony's F3

Videographer Zach Zamboni
NEW YORK—When Panavision New York hooked up videographer Zach Zamboni and the crew of the Travel Channel's "No Reservations" with a set of Panavised Sony PMW-F3 cameras, it represented a lot more than just a change of camera packages.

"The technology is finally where we've always wanted it to be," Zamboni says. "We've always wanted to do this show completely in Super 35 format. We used Letus adapters early on to get that look. We've used Canon DSLRs for the past couple of years for certain shots, but those [cameras] really aren't made for this kind of work. The F3 offers us a less compressed, more robust format in a design that was meant for video. We've never had anything like the combination of these F3 cameras and the fast, lightweight Panavision zooms we're using now."


Zamboni and crew used F3s and Sony PMW-EX3s for the last two episodes of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations," then moved on immediately to shoot the first episodes of Bourdain's new series—also from Zero Point Zero Productions for the Travel Channel—called "Layover," in which the chef/author takes the kind of abbreviated tour of various locations that someone might be able to accomplish on a flight layover. (This new series will be shot exclusively on the new F3s.)

Zamboni built custom shoulder-mount F3 rigs with TV Logic monitors. The videographer explains that the F3's chip sensitivity in conjunction with the fast, lightweight Panavision zooms allows them a new level of freedom. "We love the cinematic depth of field," he says, "but the most important factor about this chip, as far as I'm concerned, is its enormous sensitivity. That is revolutionizing the way we shoot this show. It's very clean at 1600 or 3200 ISO, which is equivalent to 12dB or 18dB, respectively. At [that highest setting] it looks roughly the way 6dB might with an EX3. That means we can go into places that are really dark—so dark I'd swear you could never shoot there—and get a very nice image."

This flexibility allows Zamboni to work the way Bourdain has always wanted the show to work: with essentially no lighting at all. Zamboni describes the start of an average workday following the host around for either of the two shows. "We come out of wherever we're staying and get into a cab. We get out of the cab and go into a restaurant or charge backward through a market. We get onto a subway. We come out of the station and walk into a bar that might be extremely dark. And we're shooting the whole time. You never know when Anthony will say or do something that will work perfectly for the show.

“No Reservations” Host Anthony Bourdain "Anthony hates waiting for us," Zamboni continues. "He's a real-time kind of guy and he makes fun of us for lighting. He hates lighting. Until we got these cameras, I would sometimes have to hide a light—maybe a Litepanels fixture with some muslin—somewhere inside a bar before we went in. Or I'd hide a very small unit inside a cab just to get some kind of exposure. I don't have to do that now—and for him, this is terrific."


Zamboni built custom shoulder-mount F3 rigs with TVLogic monitors that, he says, offer a picture with rich enough contrast and sufficient brightness to determine focus in just about any shooting condition. "The monitor is so lightweight that you can hang it far out in front of the camera, and that's really the key to the ergonomics. You want the monitor out in front of the camera and the camera as far back on the shoulder as possible."

While the F3 can record in the S-Log format to on-board recorders, these shows need to be as streamlined as possible, so HD is recorded to SxS cards in the XDCAM EX format. "We shoot on the safe side to protect highlight and shadow information," Zamboni explains, "and then the wonderful colorist at Zero Point Zero has some flexibility to work with."

For the videographer, these Panavised F3 packages offer more than just a minor upgrade.

"This is a very important moment for people who do what we do," Zamboni says. "You can now finally do a running-gunning, verité-style TV show completely in Super 35 format. And that's revolutionary!"