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Sony throws hat in single 35mm sensor video camera ring

The emergence of digital SLR cameras being used for TV and movie production continues to resonate within the industry, having a profound effect on the feature set of the next generation of professional video cameras as well as the price.

Sony has joined Canon, Panasonic and Red Digital in announcing plans to deliver a professional, handheld “film-style” video camera with a single 35mm sensor for low-cost digital cinematography and a host of other applications where low noise, high sensitivity, shallow depth of field and wide dynamic range are important to creative success.

The concept behind the new PMW-F3, according to the company, is to offer customers of Sony’s existing SRW-9000PL HDCAM SR 4:4:4 camcorder (now used for movies and episodic TV) a smaller, less expensive option. It also hopes to attract the growing legion of independent documentary and feature filmmakers looking for high quality and lots of latitude in their images but don't want to pay a lot of money to get it. Broadcasters producing magazine-style programs and TV drama series could also benefit from the “warm” pictures the camera produces.

“This is a new tool that empowers the independent filmmaker and gives them access to a level of functionality, at this cost level, they have not had in the past,” said Peter Crithary, production marketing manager for Sony Electronics. “We like to say the F3 is a new generation of electronic 35mm camera that can be used for a variety of applications. People might use the F3 as a second unit camera to work with a Sony F35, because they can be perfectly matched in post due to the fact that they both use the same HDCAM SR codec.”

Sony also said it wanted to build a camera that fits in with existing HDCAM EX workflows, of which there are thousands now in the field.

“The single-sensor trend is something Sony had anticipated for a few years (e.g., the Sony F35), but we weren’t going to offer just a camera. We wanted to ensure that our customers had a way to edit the footage and do all the things they are used to doing with traditional workflows,” said Tatsuro Kurachi, marketing and business developer for Sony’s professional video products. “We also wanted to take advantage of the steadily decreasing cost of solid-state memory and keep it inside the camera. So, this is not just about a new camera, but a new camera that fits seamlessly into an established workflow. That’s very important to our customers.”

Customers can order the new F3 with a set of three lenses — 35mm, 50mm and 85mm T2.0 HD prime fixed-focal length lenses (the F3K package for $23,000) — or just the body (the F3L for $16,000), which accepts all types of PL-mount lenses. The camera features a newly designed 1920 x 1080 Super 35 CMOS sensor that measures 23.5mm by 13.3mm and provides a sensitivity of F11, a 63dB S/N ratio and 460 percent dynamic range, according to Sony.

“This implementation is a big improvement over CMOS chip performance that you’ve seen in the past,” Crithary said. “There will be different levels of performance based on what output settings you use on the camera. In addition, you will see a vast improvement over the existing EX 1 and 3 models, even though we’re using the same codec.”

The camera also leverages Sony’s existing XDCAM EX (MPEG-2) codec, which captures images at 35Mb/s using 10-bit 4:2:2 HD signal processing, and stores data on Sony’s SxS ExpressCard-based recording media. A number of workflow features, such as look-up table (LUT) settings inside the camera that generate metadata, that can be used to a production’s advantage during post production are also included.

There are also genlock and time code generation features included with the camera as well as HD-SDI dual-link outputs for external, uncompressed HD (1080p/60fps) recording or simultaneous SD/HD image capture at a variety of frame rates. It uses existing Sony BP-U60 Li-Ion batteries for a run time of more than three hours.

In the future (perhaps in late 2011), Sony will offer an optional zoom lens, RGB output with S-Log gamma firmware and 3-D link capability that allows users to remotely control a pair of F3 cameras for stereoscopic production.

For fast file transfers out of the camera and HD monitoring applications, the F3 includes Sony’s iLINK, HDMI and USB 2.0 connections.

The camera is planned to ship in February 2011.