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The Not-So-Technical Guide to the Sony F35

It's not so hard, once you know all the secrets...

By Art Adams | January 15, 2009

The RED ONE is cheap and good; the Sony F35 is expensive and utterly amazing.

Way back in November 2008, as banks melted around us and elaborate Ponzi schemes mailed out their last round of dividend checks, I participated in a series of tests of the Sony F35. Initially I worked with Jim Rolin (chief engineer and co-owner of Videofax in San Francisco) and Adam Wilt in doing some tests of various built-in and custom gamma curves, which resulted in the completion of a short spec spot. Later Jim and I got together and performed over-and-underexposure latitude tests to see how much dynamic range we could squeak out of the camera.

We were extremely impressed with the results and told all, far and wide, what we'd discovered. Following the rule of "Let no good deed go unpunished" we were asked to present these test results to the Northern California Chapter of the Digital Cinema Society at their December meeting, which was held on the Apple Computer campus. The entire event was videotaped, and as all of us came across reasonably well the final edit will appear shortly on the Digital Cinema Society web site. Meanwhile I've been asked by several people to write up my impressions of the camera in advance of my small screen debut.

This is not meant to be a highly technical document, yet there are some parts that may make one's brain hurt. Stick with me. There's no complex math, and I've done my best to explain things as simply as possible. If you have a desire to learn, at a basic level, generally how modern HD cameras work, and some specifics as to how the Sony F35 works, then put your brave face on and turn the page.

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Comments

Graham Futerfas: | January, 15, 2009

Thanks, Art!  That was excellent.  Next time I shoot with an F35, you’ve probably saved me a couple of hours worth of phone calls and a ton of headache.
-Graham

Art Adams: | January, 15, 2009

Thanks for your kind words, Graham. Stay tuned to this channel… there’s more. Believe it or not, there’s more. smile

cplevin: | January, 15, 2009

Great piece, Art. The article is a sort of hypergamma curve of information, helping to fill my (small) bit bucket of comprehension to the brim! I’ve just got to work on lowering the noise floor in my brain now…......!

Chris

Art Adams: | January, 15, 2009

I try not to get too technical because (1) it makes my brain hurt, and (2) I don’t need to know how to build a camera, I just want to know what it’s doing so that if something goes wrong I can troubleshoot, or anticipate things going awry.

I hope the article helps in that regard. Believe me, I know where you’re coming from—which is why I’m trying to bring it down to a level where we can understand what’s happening without resorting to serious math. (I’m just awful at math.)

The more I learn, the more I learn that there’s more to learn. My focus is on the practical aspects: how does this affect my next job? Theoretical knowledge is interesting, but unless it has a practical application it just adds to my own noise floor. smile

More to come… stay tuned!

Mike N: | January, 15, 2009

Wow this article is better than a Christmas present. I’ve been looking for this kind of info for ages.

But I have some questions after reading all the article:
You said that the NTSC standard goes from 0-100% on a waveform and the REC 709 form 0-109% so this would mean that we also have to convert any footage from any camera that shoots in the REC colorspace down from 109 to 100 .
The hypergammas that only go from 0 to 100 for broadcast purposes still use the REC standard right ?

I’m a little confused about the 109% percent thing. From my knowledge a waveform tells us the strength of a video signal. What does a signal beyond 100% mean and more importantly how is it cuantified by the sensor of the camera ? Doesn’t itmean that at 100% the photosites on hte sensor are already filled with all the light that they can collect ? Where does that 9% extra go ?

I didn’t undersantd form the article what kind of sensor the F35 is using ? CCD , CMOS , another type ?

Thanks again for the great article!

Art Adams: | January, 15, 2009

Okay, I’m going to start with the easy one first. It’s a CCD camera. smile

As far as the 100% and 109% go, I believe 109% is the max under Rec 709, but broadcasters are still limited to 100%. So you can capture up to 109% in the camera, but whether you can use it depends on whether you are (1) broadcasting the image, and (2) if you are broadcasting the image there needs to be a color correction step that can reduce those 109% levels into the 0-100% range using some sort of post curve correction.

If you shoot using the entire 0-109% range and then broadcast it the transmitter will hard clip the whites at 100% and you’ll lose a bunch of highlight detail. Hypergammas 1 and 2 are designed such that if you know you are going to broadcast the footage, and there’s never going to be any post color correction, then there won’t be any surprises when it goes to broadcast.

If you can record the full 0-109% range, and you’re either not broadcasting it or someone in post can reign in your highlights, then it’s well worth it to use Hypergammas 3 and 4 to grab that extra highlight detail.

I believe 100% is called “White” and 109% is called “Super White”. I believe the original NTSC broadcast spec only called for 0-100%, but the digital spec came up with some additional range as a response to camera sensors getting better at handling highlights. The best way I can explain it is “This one goes to eleven.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d54UU-fPIsY

Mike N: | January, 16, 2009

Nice analogy Art :D

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