Pro video blog…Produced by Philip Johnston DoP/Editor

When it comes to choosing one of the new cinematic camcorders it’s a hard choice, depending on your finances. On the one hand we have the Sony F3 Super 35mm sensor and on the other hand we have the Panasonic AF101 micro 4/3″ sensor.

The choice is not as simple as it may first appear, the Sony certainly has the better sensor and at 63dB a fairly noiseless sensor so why would you choose the Panasonic ?

Firstly the Panasonic is three times cheaper than the Sony so if budget is your driving force there is no competition. Secondly the Panasonic has a far better choice of lens adaptors from PL, Nikon and Canon in fact speaking to Mike Tapa only today he tells me that he has had a run on his PL to micro 4/3″ adaptor.

I met up with Mike recently on my way down to London and he told me that the Panasonic AF101 has brought a great amount of interest in his micro 4/3″ adaptors, from dealers worldwide to individuals making sure they have the correct adaptor in place when they purchase the AF101. Strangely he has had more interest in PL mounts than Nikon which surprises me as the Prime Lens route is a dear one, it also tells me that DPs are taking this camera seriously.

The Sony F3 gives you two mounts effectively, a PL mount and if you take this off the camera you are left with a new “F” mount which is a natts whisker short of a standard EX mount except with the electrical contacts in a different position and a small pin that locates with a cutout in the top lens mount flange.

Both cameras suffer from bad viewfinders though the Sony is a tad better than the Panasonic, it’s my biggest bug bear with these camcorders I can’t understand why Sony & Panasonic put such bad viewfinders on a shallow depth of field camera when focusing is far more critical than with a conventional camcorder. Future cameras in my opinion should offer you Hi-Rez viewfinders even if it’s an optional extra.

Both cameras offer similar features from 1080 50i to 720 50p and 25/24p, the Sony records at 35Mbs while the Panasonic is 24Mbs both have HD SDI out giving you 4:2:2 and the F3  having a dual link HD SDI option that with an upgrade will give you 1080 50p 4:4:4 into an external recorder.

Two DPs I know are committing to the Sony F3, Alister Chapman and Paul Joy. Alister has just finished an initial review of the camcorder…

Alister  “This is NOT as big as the frame of a full frame 35mm DSLR (Canon 5D) or 35mm SLR camera. It is closer to an APS-C sensor in size. This is important, because if you want to use PL mount lenses designed for super 35mm film you need this size of sensor, any bigger and you would get a fall off in performance at the edges and possibly some vignetting. Why do you want such a big sensor? Well the larger the sensor, the shallower the depth of field for any given field of view. In 2D film making it is traditional to use the difference in focus between background and foreground to give a scene a sense of depth, this is part of the “filmic” look that many video makers aspire to.

A further advantage of this low light performance is that you can use very low levels of gain or amplification to get a decent picture. Consider a stereo sound system or even an ipod. Pause the music and turn the sound up high… what do you hear? Hiss!  The hiss is the electrical noise generated in the system, the higher the gain or volume, the greater the noise. It’s exactly the same with video cameras. If you have a camera with a sensitive sensor you don’t need to have lot’s of gain (volume) to produce a bright picture and once again this is evident in the F3′s beautiful images which have extremely low levels of noise and grain. At 0db it’s all but impossible to see any noise in the pictures from the PMW-F3. Even switching the gain all the way up to +18db the image is still remarkably clean and I would, for the very first time be happy to use an F3 with +18db gain for a paying production, if needed.”

To read Alisters conclusions go to…

As well as myself I also know of many more DPs committing to the Panasonic AF101 so whats the draw ? Well I can only come at it from my own point of view, I run a small production company and we do a lot of interviews which are partly spoiled by drab backgrounds, there is a limit to creative lighting and even with a 2/3″ camera you can’t exclude some backgrounds as the room is often to small. In a lot of medical interviews you have to work with what you are given, consultants time is like gold dust.

This is where the AF101 comes in the shallow depth of field will give me the shots I have been craving for over the last few years, 35mm adaptors were far to cumbersome and by the time you add the prime lens took up far too much room so why did I not revert to the Canon 5D2…simple…little to no control over focus, if you interview a doctor and get it wrong you may not be allowed a second chance and it erodes your reputation.

I take on board that the AF101 may not be as good as the Sony F3 but I have invested in a Sony PMW-350 only last year which is a cracking camcorder and I am not about to throw that up in the air nor can I afford the asking price of the F3. At £4000 the Panasonic is affordable and leaves me plenty of change for batteries, lenses and adaptors. I own some sexy Canon “L” glass and look forward to using it on my AF101 in fact a company in the USA is bringing out a fantastic adaptor early next year that will blow your socks off…I kid you not. The Canon adaptor alone is worth owning the Panasonic AF101.

So that’s my take on the AF101 if money and the price of PL glass was not an option I would plum for the F3 but each to their own, one thing that’s clear is that there is a market for both filmlike camcorders and the professionals like me who never took to the HDSLR are being given a bite of the shallow depth of field cherry with cameras that have all the functionality of what we are used to and the added bonus of minus the pitfalls of the HDSLR.


Having been working in the video business since 1988 I have amassed a great amount of knowledge of both the kit and production values over the last 30 years.

4 thoughts on “Are you sitting on the shallow depth of field fence

  1. You write ..
    and the F3 having a dual link HD SDI option that with an upgrade will give you 1080 50p 4:4:4 into an external recorder
    And its FALSE!

    Its the second time i notice you write FALSE information..

    F3 Dual HDSDI will be (as announced by sony) 1080 50p 4:2:2 OR 4:4:4 at standard fps, BUT NOT 50p 4:4:4

  2. Hi,
    100% agree about F-3 viewfinder..what a joke!
    But disagree about AF-101 design – i like it but dont understand WHY Panasonic do not include FULL AUDIO AGS for one man operation?!

  3. Shot my first interviews with the Panasonic AF101 yesterday. Incredibly disappointed with the quality of the sound. When I got the footage back into Final Cut Pro, there was really bad hiss on the audio. I was using a sennhesiser ME66 mic on channel 1 and a senneheiser EW100 radio microphone on channel 2.

    I had used the very same microphones on my trusted Sony Z1 camera just 3 days prior to this and got really good clean sound.

    I know I’m not the only one to have experienced this. Switching between LPC and AC3 makes no difference. Anyone got any thoughts? 🙁

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