Hulkanizing Sony PMW-F3
Disclaimer: this is not a technical (scientific) review of hardware/software of the camera equipment. No pixel peeping. No LUT discussion. No deconstruction in bits and pieces of video signal. Just a personal note of the Cinematographer excited about personalizing his tool...
Sony PMW-F3 is one the first professional grade HD video cameras featuring large "Super 35" size imaging sensor, in size similar to "classic" 35mm movie cameras. As a result, this camera records images with so called "shallow depth of field" so popular last few years in broadcasting business ( largely thanks to DSLR craze). Being the first model in Sony's line with this size of the sensor, when introduced camera was revolutionary on so many levels (great "look", stunning low light capability, PL mount, flexibility of mounting almost any lens on it with appropriate adapter...). BUT... Yes, there was a "but".
In that department Sony totally blew it. Camera had no physical personality. It looked awkward. Handled even more awkward. Parts on the exterior of the camera were giving up mixed messages: is it a "handy cam"? No, to large. Is it a shoulder cam? No, key shoulder mount parts were missing. Then the eye finder. Disaster! In more than two years of owning and using this camera, I did not use it once on the shoot. The damn thing was useless, in every aspect. Just check out on my pictures with all the 'fun" ways I tried to mask it and protect it. I even put an apple cozy over it to secure eventual ding or damage... And it was an big issue (more and more with new rules of air travel limitations) when packing the camera in less volume, smaller traveling case. The side hollow handle with zoom rocker? Come on. Another waste of real estate. No way to mount anything on that side of the camera.
Don't get me wrong. I love using this camera. Once "tricked out" with proper base plate and 15mm rods, good monitor or EVF and optional higher bit recorder this machine becomes one serious imaging tool... I did use this camera on most diverse types of shoots and locations. From corporate, reality, stock and documentary to narrative.
From cold North of Ontario, to heat of Zambian bush. Never ever this camera failed me. I never lost a clip of footage in more than two years. But the form of the camera bothered me more and more. And I wasn't going to dump it for cheap on the net or Kijiji and take up a mortgage for another "newest and greatest" from Sony, Canon or that other company. Simply made no sense. There was so much "life" left in this old girl.
Enter 3ality Technica...
Company from US, specializing in professional digital cinema camera accessories. They found the solution. It is called "F3 body armor". Basically it is a "new skin" for two sides of the camera. Two most problematic sides: top and right "dum" side. New skin is made of high grade aluminum finished in matte black and featuring numerous mounting 1/4 and 3/8 holes. What we loose?
On the top: whole OEM handle assembly together with stupid eye finder, headphone jack, play back commands, microphone holder, one of start/stop buttons.
On the right side: OEM handle and strap, another start/stop button, preview button, zoom in for focus button.
What we gain?
On the top: less cluttered top with numerous mounting holes, "man handle" that is easy removable for transport (if needed) that features variety of mounting options including hollow center to "swallow" standard 15mm type rod for additional mounting option, protection,...
On the right side: it is a simple panel look with no hollow handle and again numerous mounting holes, smooth and flat side. All together, less bulk. Did I mention protection?
From the distance camera becomes a more boxy form, more defined. From close, it feels more handy with less bulk. It is much easier now to reconfigure and personalize the machine to operators needs and requirements. Man handle is great and comfy. All functions lost by removal of OEM parts are easily reprogrammed by using buttons on the smart side of the camera. Sound monitoring can now be executed by 2 RCA outputs bellow XLR jacks. All together, no original function is lost. To summarize, camera now looks like it was suppose to be when originally designed. Just look at the next few models done by Sony since then. Starting with FS100/700 and ending with newest F5/55. They all evolved to a box. That simple.
And now the icing on the cake: the price.
A little background about the pricing. You see, if you follow professional digital cinema camera news you would now that certain US Digital Cinema Camera Company has sued Sony Corporation over some patents and stuff. Demanding that all Sony's Digital Cinema cameras get destroyed. Go figure! Luck happened that the same US Digital Cinema Camera Company BOUGHT 3ality Technica recently. Result: all Sony F3 stuff gotta go (this is how I see it). So, in last month or so all F3 related accessories has been discontinued & discounted to remarkable 70% off (!!!). Can't go wrong with discount of that magnitude. This is Walmart style pricing! Good for us, consumers. I was able to give my two year old camera a proper "makeover". Totally happy. I gave old lady an new lease on life, to continue using her for quite some time. I have no need at this point upgrading to 4K , 5K, global shutter, RAW recording or what ever (i am not saying never, just not now). Some of my clients did not yet master the art of HD and tape less recording, let alone higher resolution and much higher requirements for footage storage. "Future proofing" my shooting with 4K? Some might say: Nice sales pitch from camera manufacturers to get you to spend more. At this time, HD will do. So Sony PMW-F3 dressed in 3ality body armor is staying in my bag a while longer...
A big thanks to Scott Putnam from 3ality for helping me with my camera "makeover".
Update on May 2, 2013...
here is the answer from Mr. Joey Romero on DVX Forum about what was going with the company:
"... Yes, the day before NAB2013, JUST the Element Technica portion of 3ality was purchased by RED. 3ality is still 3ality but they are only in 3D now. Element will continue to do what we do but now we are under the RED umbrella. Our business strategy doesn't change much though. We will still be working diligently on non-RED and RED cameras alike. The "dump sale" has zero to do with this. In fact we are offloading the F3 because sales had dipped to zero for month long stretches. That's not a product line we should continue to sit on if it means sitting for years. So instead we figured we would make a lot of people happy by getting them into our gear and hopefully make some new, long term customers....".
And a bit about the product in question:
"...This armor kit was built at the request of Sony. It took a year of back and forth with Sony to come to a final product that they would sign off on. When we started selling the kits, the camera was already on its downslide in popularity. We had missed the boat. Because we made such a small number, the production costs were through the roof. What we will never ever do again, is run these two pieces. Ever. Never ever."
This is GREAT just to clear things up, thans Mr. Romero!
My "kit" arrives tomorrow, hopefully get it installed this weekend. I am very happy to make these changes as you describe in my also 2 year old F3. Nice post.
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