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Chris D Walker

3-Chip HD Cameras

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I've posted before about the strengths of one format over another before (anamorphic 35). Now, I'm curious to ask about what DP's, AC's and the like consider to be the strengths of shooting on smaller-chipped digital cameras like the Viper, F900, F23 etc. Does anyone view there to be any problems shooting in the format? Do you consider 3-chip cameras equally to Super35 size CMOS/CCD's during pre-production and budgeting or even prefer them on the whole?


Also, which films do you consider to be the best looking examples of smaller format digital cameras? Here's a small list of my current favourites:


- Collateral (Viper & F900), a bloom of iridescent algae for the LA landscape (10 points to spot the reference). Can't say the look works as well with Miami Vice and I haven't seen Public Enemies (which hasn't stopped me from bad-mouthing the film to my friends).


- Star Wars Episode II & III (F900/F950), although not the first F900 film out of the starting gate Episode II does look great.


- Zodiac (Viper), upon repeat viewings I can see that video-esque motion but it doesn't diminish the strength of the photography and low-light scenes only achieveable with a 2/3rds digital camera (as far as available light shot wide open at a T1.6 with sizeable depth-of-field goes). I haven't seen Benjamin Button but from what I have it looks more of the same (which is good).


There's a handful of others, including a foreign-language film shot on an F900, but their names escape me.


Thanks to those who read and reply.

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Well, there are enough differences between these 2/3" cameras that it's hard make generic statements about 2/3" 3-sensor versus 35mm single-sensor. First, you'd want to make sure you were comparing the 35mm cameras to the 2/3" cameras that have a LOG mode and can output 4:4:4 if you are talking about theatrical work. A lot of 2/3" cameras are limited to Rec 709 and 4:2:2 (if that.)


But comparing, let's say, an F23 to an F35, you are mainly talking about the difference in depth of field due to the focal lengths typically used for similar fields of view. It's practically a 2.5-stop difference more or less. Whether or not that matters depends on the look you are trying to achieve. For typical day work, often shot at f/5.6 or deeper on 35mm cameras, it's not going to make much of a difference. For night exterior work, often shot at f/2.8 or wider in 35mm, the 2/3" camera will produce a more distinctive deeper-focus look. Whether that's good or bad, I can't say -- there is something to be said for being able to see more deeply in an urban night exterior if it looks interesting.


The B4 lenses made for 2/3" cameras tend to be smaller and the zooms are smaller and faster.


There are some unique optical artifacts though of prism block cameras.


I feel that it's easier to give the impression of more detail in a 35mm sensor camera, the larger sensors seem to have to work less hard to capture fine detail. But some of that impression is due to the shallower depth of field.


Truth is that most movies have been shot in 35mm so shooting on a 35mm digital camera is another step closer to that look. But since the main difference between 2/3" and 35mm is depth of field, which is controllable to some extent, and there are creative uses for deeper focus, 2/3" shouldn't be ruled out as an option.

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Yes, 3-chip 2/3" is vague. You're absolutely right in saying 4:4:4 Log when comparing with Super35 sensors for a film production.


The aspect of depth of field and field of view interests me; Sony has said the F23 compliments the F35 or vice versa but I don't know which DP's, if any, have shot with both on the same project. I could see the F35 shoot day exteriors and stage sets at a T4-5.6, then shoot the F23 for night exteriors and available light at a T1.6 (Digiprimes or Digital Primos) or T1.9 (zoom lenses) and achieve a similar depth of field with the same field of view.


Can you distinguish between a Super35-size frame from a 2/3" chip in such a scenario?


One could argue that you can shoot a Super35 sensor rated at 1000ASA at T2 in available light (or something similar) but it wouldn't be the same. Not worse, mind, just not the same. I did some numbers (which I love to do) and one would need another 3-4 stops of light to achieve the same depth of field:


2/3" at T1.6 - 500ASA: 6 footcandles

Super35 at T2 - 1000ASA: 5 footcandles

Super35 at T2.8 - 1000ASA: 10 footcandles

Super35 at T2.8 - 1600ASA: 6 footcandles


I guess my point is that everybody appears to be clamouring for faster sensors that can shoot in available light and with greater depth of field. It's already here, simply smaller.


That foreign film I was thinking of was Sex and Lucia (F900 if IMDb can be trusted).

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