(still from Areaman Production’s ‘The Fisherman’ taken using an F3 in low light conditions)
The ‘F3’ is the camera we were really hoping Sony would make. As a small production outfit, Areaman has to consider very carefully any potential equipment purchase. We needed to buy into a camera and workflow that would last for at least three years and the arrival of the PMW-F3 has made our decision a comfortable one.
The F3, as it’s commonly called, gives us the best of all possible worlds for our current level of production. Broadly speaking, we retain the same post-production workflow from the EX1. We can use the same SXS cards and the same batteries from our original rig along with the same tripod and Steadicam model. This makes the initial buy-in less steep. With the added purchase of an MTF Nikon to the F3 adapter, we can mount our Nikon glass directly onto the front of the F3. This simple fact has proved utterly joyous. Our control of the image is now entirely photographic in the most basic, old-fashioned sense. The frustration of the Letus rig where everything had to be shot in a shallow depth of field by default has disappeared and we can now use the full aperture range of our lenses.
From a user’s point of view, the F3 is a very comfortable step up from the EX1 and EX3 cameras – the menu systems are the same, many of the function buttons are in the same place and the LCD is of the same excellent standard. XLR inputs are configured in the same way and there are even extra inputs for unbalanced audio. The body, though, is meatier. The immediate impression is one of heft. If the EX1 is an athlete, the F3 is a bruiser. The body is thick and brick shaped but beautifully balanced. Mounting the F3 on our Steadicam was child’s play and using it handheld, as we have been all this week, is a real treat.
The image coming out of the F3, while technically similar to that from the EX1, is streets ahead. You can search online for side-by-side comparisons. The F3 is simply incredible in low light. You can film by candlelight, you can film by streetlight, and you can even film by the light from an iPhone screen. The native capabilities of the Super 35mm CMOS sensor, combined with some fast lenses on the front, means that in a large number of shooting situations lighting becomes optional. The real implications of this are becoming clearer the more we shoot with this camera. The meaning of the term available light is being transformed. We tested the camera extensively on our recent Reality Bites documentary for the Irish Film Board where we filmed almost entirely at dawn or at dusk. Even as our eyes were failing us, the F3 was taking in stunning, murky images with almost no visible noise.
As anyone who uses a camera regularly knows, technical specs are always going to run secondary to how the rig feels to use. The F3 feels great. It is not very pretty or curvy and flashy. It’s a big dumb brick of a camera with a powerful chip inside and we are very happy to have one.