Video Review of the Sony PMW-F3

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[xr_video id=”88b90a1efa45400dac8f9b9c408ad293″ size=”md”]

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Sony’s HDCAM SR tape in short supply

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The fallout from the devastation in Japan continues to reverberate throughout the professional production industry, and there’s now confirmation from Sony that its Sendai Technology Center in Tagaiyo (Miyagi Prefecture) was severely damaged in the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck near there.

The Sendai Sony plant was the only facility in the world capable of manufacturing most of Sony’s professional media products. Specific products impacted by the earthquake include HDCAM SR, HDCAM, DVCAM, Betacam SP, Digital Betacam, Betacam IMX, Betacam SX, XDCAM, SxS, DV and HDV. The facility also manufactured Li-Ion secondary batteries, magnetic tapes, IC cards, semiconductor lasers and conventional CDs and DVDs.

SR technology is particularly precise (with its 4:4:4 signal processing), and it may be sometime before manufacturing can begin at another facility. As a result of the loss of the Sendai manufacturing facility, Sony is carefully allocating shipments to prevent hoarding.

It is predicted to be a three-month shortage of HDCAM SR tape, in particular, high-volume users who manage cash flow may have only a two-week supply on hand of HDCAM SR tape.

HDCAM SR cassettes had recently been priced from $50 for a 40-minute cassette to $220 for a 130-minute cassette. These prices will likely rise as a result of product availability.

This will drive more producers towards devices like the Gemini from Convergent Design, this solid state device can record 4:4:4 which could be a saving grace for many production companies who film with the Sony F35 including the BBC who are filming the most recent Dr Who with a Sony F35 camera.
The Gemini is not a cheap option at £6000 plus the price of your SSD media. As an example 1080 24p with two 512Gb of SSD will record 88minutes of full uncompressed 4:4:4.

A number of production and playout facilities have been discussing how to recycle and recertify their redundant HDCAM SR tapes to extend their current supply and have also accelerated efforts to move away from HDCAM SR-based archives and workflow to file-based workflow and archives using HDD-arrays, LTO tape libraries and other storage methods. Many expect short-term growth in the use of disk drives and digital tape archives as well as solid-state server storage in the broadcast and entertainment industry as a result of the shortage of HDCAM SR tapes.

Over in the USA there seems to be shortages already…Paul London “Here in the U.S. we are already in short supply. We are buying tapes (HD Cam) in ones and twos from LA, Ohio, Canada -anywhere we can get them. All Sony stock has gone and the same with Fuji. There are a few Maxell tapes here and there but not much. I usually pay $18 for a 6 minute HD Cam tape -they are going for as much as $70 now -if you can get them. Sony contacted all of the Canadian tape dealers today and asked them to return all HD Cam SR tapes to them asap for use in the movie industry. The word I heard is that the Sony factory will not be up and running until Sept 2011. One bit of bright news is that Maxell is increasing their pro tape production X3 but this will not hit the market until end of June (also they do not make HD Cam SR).”

Several reports said Sony is also facing trouble with plants in Koriyama, Motomiya, Kuki, Ibaraki, Kanuma, Tochigi and Atsugi because of power-outage issues. But, this situation is deemed short-termed, and Sony is expected to start production soon.


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DSLR v Video “Where are we now”

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Last year I predicted to the letter what would happen when the large sensor camcorders came along..

2010 “Sony have just brought out the new F3, due for January 2011 shipping, but not as popular as the AF101 if sales are anything to go by plus the need for expensive prime lenses, 35Mbs SxS, 4:2:0 and the £12K asking price. The Sony is a great camcorder and Philip Bloom is testing one as I blog but the lack of 3rd party adapters is a major turn off though MTF are in the process of producing a Nikon adapter for early 2011.

Lastly we cant predict the future without a mention of RED DIGITAL CINEMA, who are producing an Epic light and a Scarlet. I do think RED have an upward struggle to compete with Sony and Panasonic and the fact that Jim also mentioned a significant price increase to Scarlet, a camera thats not in major production yet and has a fixed 8x lens !

The clear winner of the SDoF large sensor camera during early 2011 is by far the Panasonic AF101, it ticks all the boxes, a mountain of 3rd party adapters and lenses and the price of £4K has set this camera into 2011 with it’s head held high and a fantastic sales curve that can only get bigger.

I hope with such quality now available to the professional FilmLike market we will no longer see DSLRs used because the technology is limited and lets be honest Canon have stood aside for over a year now knowing that moire patterning is a major problem and done nothing to remedy the fault. As professionals we owe it to the future of our industry to embrace the new professional shallow depth of field camcorders from Panasonic and Sony…after all we have shouted for long enough about having a camera fit for purpose and the video manufacturers have delivered…BIG TIME.”

So that was 2010 how are things shaping up today almost 4 months later and NAB 2011 biting at our heals, the DSLR is still a major contender amongst those who embraced the technology but there has been a large uptake of cameramen and women who sat on the DSLR sidelines now coming forward since the introduction of the Panasonic AF101 and the Sony F3.

Mike Tapa from MTF Services has been run off his feet over the last three months trying to keep up with orders for adapters, especially the PL and Nikon to mFT adapters.

The DSLR has made its mark in the last two years with some high profile programmes being made like “The Road to Coronation Street” filmed by DP Tim Palmer who has kitted himself out with a mean looking rig.

Tim “Ian Potts, head of technology at the BBC, has asked me to give a presentation to fellow directors of photography about the use of DSLRs on the BBC4 drama “The Road to Coronation Street”. This will take place at Pinewood on March 17th. It sounds like a fascinating day and there will be other DoPs and technicians discussing alternative camera and capture systems. See below for some framegrabs from the drama which aired in September 2010.”


“The camera was a Canon 5D Mk2 and Nikon prime lenses. The vast majority of the show was shot on two lenses – the 50mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.4. The 35mm f2 and 135mm f2 had the occasional outing. The reason for this spartan choice of lenses is that because the camera is so small, even in tight spaces, one is able to get the camera far enough back to enable the use of slightly longer lenses on wide shots. Whereas under normal circumstances, due to the bulk and length of conventional HD cameras, the use of wider angle lenses becomes more necessary. As a result the pictures benefited from the reduced depth of field characteristics shown by full frame DSLRs.”

I emailed Tim and asked him the following question “Are you still using your 5D or are you considering something like a Sony F3.”

Tims reply “Yes I’m definitely considering the F3 now. The 5D has too many limitations unless it is used either in perfectly controlled conditions, so dolly and track, proper grip gear and camera accessories and a full crew OR completely uncontrolled i.e. shooting with abandon – no accessories just the bare camera in the hand basically being thrown around. Anywhere in between does not work.”

Although I am not a fan of using any DSLR for television work Tim and the team that graded the “Corrie drama” done a fine job and I accidentally happened to catch it and was very pleasantly surprised by the end result.

To bring you up to date on the DSLR, Canon or Nikon have still not fixed the moire or aliasing I assume we are to be treated to a large sensor video camera sometime this year from Canon at least which is why there is no urgency to solve the problem. Canon have given us the D60 which at last has a swivel viewfinder.

My own thoughts are that the DSLR will become less popular during 2011 in favour of the large sensor (LS) camcorders, this is already happening with major DPs now buying F3s and AF101s. Sony has a second LS camcorder due late summer the NEX-FS100 at about 50% less in price than the F3 but with the same Super 35mm sensor.

So what about companies like RED and ARRI who both have a share in the digital film market, all I can say is they both have their followers but there is no doubt about it Sony and Panasonic have given them a fright and I would say the F3 has taken sales from RED but it’s a big marketplace and as long as producers are spending the money DPs will taylor their kit towards their needs.

The DSLR has left it’s mark in history but it comes at a price…apart from the many limitations it was never made to do anything more than website news for photojournalists, the large sensor cameras like the F3, AF101 and the new FS100 are tools that are fit for purpose and come with that coveted shallow depth of field, when used with the right lenses.

The main winners of all these cameras are the lens makers themselves, even today they just can’t keep up with demand.


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Ninja Review coming soon

Categories: Miscellaneous 3 Comments

For all your video production needs in Scotland, get in touch with Small Video Productions

Sony PMW-F3 Investigation (UPDATED)

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Alan Roberts is respected by all who read his findings when he assesses various cameras for the BBC but recently people have begun to question his findings especially with the Sony PMW-F3. I take you back to his conclusion on the Canon XF305 last year when he concluded…

2.6 Conclusion

This camera performs well at HD, for such a small- image format. Resolution is very well maintained and is refreshingly alias-free. Detail controls work well, and the factory settings are good. Noise levels are typical for 1”/3 sensors, but sensitivity is unusually good. Operating the camera at significantly lower gain will reduce the noise level without sacrificing significant sensitivity.

The integral lens has a maximum aperture of F/1.6, unusually large for a small camera, and there was mo perceptible loss of resolution through iris diffraction until the lens was stopped down to F/8, at which point significant resolution was being lost. Again, this is unusual for such a small image size. Thus, the camera has a useful aperture range from F/1.6 to about F/6.8. This, together with the 3-stage neutral density filters (each providing a further 2-stops of control), means that the camera has a much better exposure control range than is normal in a small camera.

I don’t doubt the conclusion and for Mr Roberts it’s a glowing report on the Canon XF305 but now I will show you his conclusion on the Panasonic AF101…

2.7 Conclusion

This camera does not perform particularly well at HD. Clean resolution is limited to about 1210×680 by the presence of high-amplitude spatial aliasing. This is a little disappointing from a camera with a large-format sensor, and indicates that optical low-pass filtering is either absent or inadequate, and that the scaling from the resolution of the sensor down to 1920×1080 has not been done in the best way.

Noise levels are rather high, even though the pixel size is that of a conventional 3 sensor 1⁄2” camera. Sensitivity is also similar to that of a 1⁄2” camera.

If this camera is to be used for HDTV shooting, then it should be clearly understood that it’s only advantage over smaller-format cameras is the smaller depth of field. However, to achieve a smaller depth of field in this camera, relative to, say, a 1⁄2” camera, then the lens must be opened by at least 1.5 stops; using an F/2.8 lens on this camera, wide open, will give the same depth of field as on a 1⁄2” camera with a lens opened to F/1.6. This camera will not necessarily always deliver short depth of field, large aperture lenses must be used to achieve that.

This conclusion is far from satisfactory in my opinion as the camera performs fantastic in HD and there is no noise in the picture even at 9dBs, did Mr Roberts tweak the camera as we all know out of the box this camera needs 2 settings changed to remarkably reduce the noise. The BBC have conditionally approved this camera for HD production.

The last assessment is the most controversial I have had a play with the Sony F3 and it excels in low light and has the cleanest picture I have seen in a long time, surprisingly and this is where I take issue with Mr Roberts we don’t get a conclusion so we are not savvy to Mr Roberts final thoughts on the F3. Alister Chapman who in my opinion is far better versed to write about the Sony F3 is also puzzled with Alan Roberts comments and lack of conclusion…

Alister “In the report Alan observes the aliasing that I have seen from the camera, in particular the high frequency moire, so no surprise there. But he also measures the noise at -48.5db. Now I don’t have the ability to measure noise as Alan does and I normally respect his results, but this noise figure does not make sense, nor does his comment that the camera has similar sensitivity to most 3 chip cameras. To my eyes, the F3 is more sensitive than any 3 chip camera I’ve used and it’s a lot less noisy. The implication of the test is that the F3 is noisier than the PMW-350. Well that’s not what my eyes tell me. Take a look at the noise graph Alan has prepared. The hump in the noise figure curves at 0db also appears to be dismissed as insignificant, yet it means a greater than 4db difference between what the curve implies the noise figure should be and the measured noise figure. It really doesn’t seem to fit and is very strange. Video amplifiers and processing are normally pretty linear with gain giving a consistent increase/decrease in noise that follows the gain curve. If you read off the noise figures from the graph, the F3 appears to have less noise at +6db gain (-49.5db)  than at 0db (-48.5db). So id we are to believe Alan’s test then we should be using +6db gain or -3db gain (-53.5db) but not 0db, sorry but that just does not add up and to dismiss the 0db noise bump as “not significant” is something I don’t really understand as too me it is significant. Either there is something very strange going on with the F3 at 0db, or there is something up with the test. I suspect the later, perhaps the individual camera had some odd settings, as my F3 is quieter (visually) at 0db than +6db. I would need to check it out on a scope back at home to verify this.

There are also assumptions made about the pixel size and sensor pixel count that are quite wrong. Alan suggests the sensor to be a 12 Mega Pixel sensor, this suggestion is based on Alan’s opinion that the F3 has similar sensitivity to a 2/3″ 3 chip camera, so therefore the pixel size must be similar and the bigger sensor means that it must have 12 MP, yet Sony have published that it is 3.3 mega Pixels (same sensor as FS100). 3.3MP equates to roughly 2422 x 1362 pixels, for a bayer sensor this is a little under the optimum for 1920 x1080 (IMHO) and may explain the aliasing as Sony are probably trying to squeeze every last bit of resolution out of the sensor.

Alans assessment of his zone plate results also concludes that the R, G and B resolutions are the same and that the sensor resolution must be much higher than 2200 x 1240. Well I would not call 2422 x 1362 “much” higher and if this is a bayer sensor (neither admitted or denied by Sony) then the G resolution should be higher than the R and B. So could this be a case of conventional conclusions about an unconventional sensor, or have Sony managed to completely wrong foot Mr Roberts?

An interesting finding was that detail at zero, frequency at +99 and aperture at +20 gives the least aliasing. This is quite different from my own findings and will need further exploration.

The F3 assessment is also missing the usual customary round up from Alan where he suggests whether the camera is suitable for HD broadcast or not. I’m really glad I got my F3 before reading the report as I have seen with my own eyes the beautiful clean images the F3 produces. I strongly recommend anyone considering the F3, but put off buy this report to take a look at the pictures for themselves before making any decisions.”

HDW : Personally I think the BBC should be taking their camera advice from at least two independent sources and not from insiders or in Mr Roberts case a retired employee of the BBC. As an independent producer and someone who reviews camcorders I firmly believe to get bogged down in techno speak can be detrimental to the camera and more often than not can confuse a lot of people who are only interested in one thing…does it produce a good clean picture.

I am very much with Alister on this one the F3 is the cleanest, best picture at this price point you will see and I can assure you beats all the older APPROVED HD camcorders by a mile, the other reason for my request for two independent assessors is the need for comparison, sometimes the camera you receive is not up to scratch so two conflicting reports would highlight this.

I think the BBC need to take a good hard look at themselves in one hand they are allowing the use of Canon 5DMk11 DSLR for “Extreme SDoF work” and using Sony EX-3s without a Nanoflash for full HD programming yet they “conditionally approve” the Panasonic AF101 and talk about the Sony F3 as if it was no better than a 2/3″ P2 camcorder…nonsense.

UPDATE : Alan Roberts reply’s as a moderator on DV Doctor forum after taking flack about his AF101 report…

“I apologise for my outburst last week. It was unduly vitriolic.

Here’s the background.

For 11 years, I have been here, posting answers and solutions to problems, providing the science and psychophysics behind the science. Thousands of times. Many times, I have given the same explanation, largely because people seem unaware of the rather splendid search facilities here. Never mind.

Some of the questions have been interesting, some banal, needing only common sense for an answer. I’ve been happy answering them though, because it’s always a pleasure seeing the dawning of understanding. Other forums seem not to work this way, being largely platforms for vested interests to shout at each other. That’s why I stay here.

But, in the last couple of years or so, things have been changing. Now, the questions are more along the lines of ‘you’ve got it wrong because…’, and some of the posters and postings are clearly biased for/against individual cameras and/or manufacturers.

I have always been totally neutral on such things, I measure and report. My neutrality has often been questioned; I’ve been accused of being in the pay of both Sony and Panasonic, so I suppose my neutrality is still observable. It will always remain so.

The recent furore over the AF101 has been the last straw. I got so angry with the continued blether about it that the fuse finally blew. So, here’s my statement for the future:


If you want to talk rubbish about cameras, get on with it, I won’t comment either way.”

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Categories: Miscellaneous 1 Comment

For all your video production needs in Scotland, get in touch with Small Video Productions

Canon 35mm NAB 2011 Show-stopper

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Just when Panasonic and Sony were feeling good about themselves 3 large sensor cameras within the last six months between them…Canon decide to join the party.

This is a Super 35mm format which is not a 5DMk11 sensor but a smaller motion sensor fit for moire…no ailasing. Sadly for Sony and Panasonic this camcorder brakes the mould with the ability to film from 6MBs up to 50MBs plus an payed upgrade to allow 150Mbs.

Like it’s sister camcorder the XF305 this camcorder will be 4:2:2 with a new engine running at 12bit. The best news is the EOS mount with access to the full range of EOS ‘L’ lenses and a future adapter will allow you to fit special Canon HD zoom lenses, there isn’t a zoom control on the camera but Canon are producing a zoom control for the tripod handle that will attach straight onto the zoom lens itself with power being accessed by the adapter.

There is a special pin on the ‘L’ mount that does not appear on the cheaper Canon glass, this was added about 5 years ago with future proofing in mind so once again if you attach the non ‘L’ Canon glass to the camcorder it won’t power up. Canon’s theory is sound by keeping the best glass on the camera you are always guaranteed the best pictures.

One point about the EOS mount is that due to it’s power connections Canon are only making one other dedicated adapter and thats for PL lenses, Canon do not envisage any work around by third party adapter manufacturers to utilise this mount ie. Nikon glass etc. The camera will not power on unless it sees an EOS lens or the special PL adapter.

This is a bit of a shame in my opinion but if you have Compact Primes CP.2 or Canon ‘L’ glass then your laughing, there is a tentative price of €8,500 euros. The embargo (Not to be shown till the 1st of April) has now been lifted and I can now show you the camcorder itself.

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Carl Zeiss to launch CP.2 lenses with mFT and E mounts

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Carl Zeiss will present two new mounts for the Compact Prime CP.2 lenses: the E mount and the MFT mount. The MFT mount is particularly suitable for the new corresponding professional camcorders, while the brand-new E mount is perfect for the new Sony cameras like the FS100 Super 35 mm NXCAM camcorder. The MFT mount has only just become available during March 2011 and will be a cracking addition to the Panasonic AF101 with it’s large 4/3″ sensor.

The new E mount is expected to be available beginning in June. Exactly a year ago, Carl Zeiss introduced the Compact Prime CP.2 series during the NAB Show in Las Vegas. They are the first lenses with interchangeable mount developed specially for filming with HDSLR cameras. Since then, there has been significant demand for these lenses among cinematographers and still photographers. Carl Zeiss is now adding a new chapter to its Compact Prime CP.2 success story.

“With these new mounts, we respond to many of our customers’ wishes asking to use the lenses on these new HD video cameras,” said Holger Sehr, Product Manager for Cinematography lenses at Carl Zeiss AG, Camera Lens Division. “Thanks to the interchangeable mounts, now for five different camera systems — PL, EF, MFT, F and E mount — our Compact Prime CP.2 lenses deliver superb flexibility, can be used in many different market segments, and are attractive for both end-customers and rental houses.”

With the interchangeable mount and the 24×36 mm full-format image circle illumination, these latest members of Carl Zeiss compact lens family are extremely versatile. During the NAB Show, Carl Zeiss will present all nine fixed focal lengths of Compact Prime CP.2 series from 18 to 100 mm, which thanks to the new mounts can be used for a wide range of cameras — from SLR to professional camcorders through to professional cine and television film cameras. Moreover, the Compact Prime CP.2 lenses are highly compact with a robust construction, so that they can withstand any demand of cinematographers and photographers on the set.

If you have the need to purchase a set of Compact Prime CP.2 lenses our friends at CVP can offer you a set of 5 for only £11,199 plus 20% vat. The only problem with this news is that it’s fine if you are going to stick with a micro Four Thirds camera but if my experience with video cameras is anything to go by there is a good chance the next camera I own won’t have a micro Four Thirds (mFT) mount on it.

At the price point of these lenses I think you would be safer to buy a PL mount which would give you far more options if you decide to leave the mFT mount after all the first four large sensor camera’s…eg. Sony VG10, Panasonic AF101, Sony PMW-F3 and the Sony NEX-FS100 all have PL to E, F3 and mFT making the PL mount the most versatile of all choices.


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How the earthquake in Japan has serious knock on effects

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Japan is still reeling from one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded  and the after effects might be more devastating than we ever anticipated with seven of Sony’s plants still shut. The plants make a range of devices, from Blu-ray discs to batteries, some of which go to other overseas manufacturers.

Halts at two of Toshiba’s factories could mean production delays for Apple’s iPad 2, the tablet uses memory chips from the Japanese firm, with batteries made by Apple Japan and screens believed to be from Asahi Glass.

Other affected firms include Canon, Panasonic and chipmaker Renasas, even unaffected Japanese manufacturers face hurdles from logistics and shipping issues.


I have been in the video industry for over 25 years and this is the first time in my life that we are talking about main stream camcorders and lenses not being available for a minimum of 6 months or more.

This could wipe out dealerships globally who depend on video equipment for a living, main stream video camcorders from Sony and Panasonic are already running short of stock and in some cases certain models have dried up with no lead times less than 6 months.

I spoke to the UK supplier of Voightlander lenses last week and he told me that Cosina who make the lenses are struggling to complete orders as some of their component manufacturing companies have been badly affected, the NOKTON 25mm f0.95 mFT lens has had a global upsurge in orders since the introduction of the Panasonic AF101.

Nikon lenses are becoming like hens teeth with no prospects of deliveries in the near future.

This is all very doom and gloom but the Japanese earthquake on the 11th of March 2011 has changed the world forever, knocking the Earth of it’s axis by 25cm is bad enough, the terrible loss of life in Japan has been heartbreaking but the one thing we all know about the Japanese is their ability to come out of this stronger with their heads held high.

Take your time, the western world can wait, we have enjoyed your wonderful technology for the last 30 years, maybe it’s about time some of us learned to have patience and that includes myself, we expect every new gadget yesterday so this is a good time to reflect on our hunger for new toys and let the Japanese get back to some kind of normality.



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Enter the Ninja and later this year the Samurai

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The Ninja starts shipping this week and is set to topple both the NanoFlash and the AJA Ki Pro off their perches as far as price in concerned. Atmos the company who developed the Ninja were at BVE in London demonstrating the Ninja, now here are some interesting facts…

1. The Ninja records to Apple ProRes in various flavours the best being HQ which records at 220 MBs.

2. You get 10bit 4:2:2 recording from the HDMI input.

3. You can record 1080 50i, 1080 24p and 720 50p plus other recording formats in the pipeline via an online firmware upgrade scheme.

4. The screen can be used as a monitor or for playback.

5. You choose the recording media, 2.5″ Hitachi hard drives or the more popular 2.5″ SSD Intel solid state drives.

A word of warning to AF101 and F3 owners the Ninja only has one HDMI socket so if you are using the Cineroid EVF this may not be a good choice as it’s unwise to split the HDMI signal. NOTE. The Cineroid does have an in and out but unfortunately it uses the mini HDMI socket which in my opinion it too week to stand up to that level of use. A solution is just down the road with the arrival of the Samurai.

The Samurai is an HD SDI version of the Ninja and as we all know HD SDI is a far more professional, safer connector to use for recording HD video signals.

Pricing :

The Ninja which comes in a case with all the leads and two batteries but NO recording media is £828

The Samurai is a fair bit dearer and will come in around the £1300 price NOT CONFIRMED

I will be reviewing the Ninja as soon as I get one, in fact my 160 GB of Intel SSD arrives tomorrow and I will be ordering the Samurai on the strength of the Ninja’s performance.

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