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Cinéma Vérité with the Sony PMW-F3

CreativeCOW presents Cinéma Vérité with the Sony PMW-F3 -- Sony F Series & PDW Series Cameras Editorial All rights reserved.

Zach Zamboni and Anthony Bourdain on The Layover
Wielding a Sony PMW-F3, Zach Zamboni shot Anthony Bourdain: The Layover, which began airing on the Travel Channel on November 21. He previously won two Creative Arts Emmy Awards™ for outstanding cinematography for nonfiction programming for his work on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, in 2011 for the Haiti episode and in 2009 for the Laos episode.

He began using the Sony F3 with two episodes of No Reservations, in Kurdistan and New Orleans.

I'm on the road 200 days a year. I have shot 10,000 hours in every corner of the world and, for me as a cinematographer, to see so many beautiful things has been an amazing experience. I am constantly striving to bring a certain level of cinematic treatment to all of these places, and to all of my documentary work.

The Sony PMW-F3 is a great camera for handheld verite. For documentary, working on a 35mm PL platform is very exciting, and more accessible now than ever. So much of the market is heading towards digital super 35mm, I think it's making the overall quality of our work better and better.

When I first started shooting over ten years ago, the early digital cameras were popular because they offered the ability to work in a way you couldn't with a larger camcorder. But there was a trade-off in the format. When I was trying to make a show more cinematic and was using a small chip camera, I'd hit a level of frustration at being so limited with that medium.

With Anthony Bourdain in Singapore

With the F3, Sony has brought the large sensor, Super 35mm platform to video and hit a price point that makes it affordable for so many shows -- including small shows like the ones I work on. Cinematographers like me have been wanting this for years. It's a revolution for me to be able to shoot Super 35mm in a cinéma vérité setting, go handheld all day and save hours of footage to tiny cards. It really is amazing.

The Layover was a new type of show for me. The idea behind the show is to give travelers an idea of what they could do to make the most of a few hour layover. Anthony explores each destination in just 24 to 48 hours. We follow him into unexpected places, and it's all completely off the beaten track, off the cuff and very fast. I don't have time to prepare for anything and I can't prelight a space -- and I'm not a big fan of on-camera lighting anyway.

I could never have shot this show with a 2/3-inch chip camera. The F3 enables me to do a show that, up until now, I couldn't have made the way I wanted to. I'm in all of these strikingly beautiful places with beautiful scenarios and, as a cinematographer, I wanted to share those the best way I could. The reality is that we can't all take the F35 with us -- but we can take the F3.

"More sensitivity in the Sony F3 means I can shoot longer after sunset, more available light night cities, and more ambient fire. More sensitivity means more possibilities."
Being able to shoot without using additional lights is an asset in many documentary situations. If you think like an anthropologist, and how people naturally behave in their environment, the moment I put a light up, it's training a microscope on the Petri dish. Things change.

If I don't have to turn that light on, something else happens. Yes, of course there is a camera in the room, but I'm always surprised at how a good operator can fade into the background.

I won't be the cinematographer saying this is the camera you don't have to light for. But I will say the F3 is an incredibly sensitive camera that allows me to capture low light in a way I couldn't before. More sensitivity in a camera means I can shoot longer after sunset, more available light night cities, and more ambient firelight. I can make better use of the light that is already around me. More sensitivity means more possibilities. It keeps me shooting.

So it's not just working in Super 35mm that's so exciting, but what the F3 adds to that: superior sensitivity. You put a fast lens on that camera and you'll see things you could never have seen before.

I would be riding on the back of a motorcycle at night in Singapore, or in a hut cooking by firelight, or a really dark bar in New York City and I would think, this is way too dark, I'm not going to be able to shoot anything. Then I'd turn the camera on, put on a fast lens, and it's there. I saw things and captured scenes that I never thought I'd be able to capture. That sensitivity would let me run down the steps with Tony into a bar I'd never seen before, and have faith I was going to get it.

Zach Zamboni: "I was on the back of a motocycle in Singapore, thinking 'This is way too dark.' Then I turned on the camera, put on a fast lens, and I saw even more than my eye could see."

In all these experiences, we found out that people don't like to inhabit spaces too dark for the human eye to see -- and the F3 is on the edge with that sensitivity. I saw as much, and even more than, what my eye could see.

I like that the F3 is a fairly compact form factor and that it records SxS onboard, which is how we shot The Layover. Panavision supplied our cameras and lenses, and we used their lightweight zooms and primes, which I enjoyed. I like the off-board recording capability, which is going to get better and better. You can already record 10 bit uncompressed 4:4:4 off-board, which is incredible.

And the F3 is really robust. I've had it in 120-degree heat, in wet saltwater environments and in extremely humid environments, and it's never died on me.

Some people are going to think of the F3 as a B or C camera that they can pair up with an F35 or F65 as a second unit. Others see it as an A camera on an independent movie or a lower budget television show.

Zach Zamboni and the Sony PMW-F3.

The top tier shows tend to always look good because they've got great resources of people and equipment. Now, I think that the aesthetics of all types of shows are getting better, thanks to all of this terrific new technology, including the Sony PMW-F3.


Re: Cinéma Vérité with the Sony PMW-F3
by Al Yeung
Does anyone know what brand those wooden grips are? Thank you.

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