Which recorder/monitor is best for the Sony PMW-F3?

The Sony PMW-F3 is an awesome camera, but with an external recorder it turns into a whole new beast! Leaping from its 35Mb/s 8bit 420 internal to uncompressed 12bit 444 RGB with an external recorder!

Atomos Samurai Blade

Tap into ProRes HQ out of the Sony PMW-F3!

Now the internal recordings are still rather nice, and many great things have been shot with just the internal recording such as the feature film “Safety Not Guaranteed” (which was also shot pre s-log update as well!! So basically was shot in the worst configuration of the F3, which in a way shows just how good the camera is). But I know I absolutely do want to get a recorder soon to unleash the power within the F3, and having a new monitor (as most recorders these days are combo monitors/recorders) would be a nice upgrade from my existing Feelworld FW759 monitor. Because its EVF is basically pointless, and its side monitor is positioned too awkwardly for use when on the shoulder.

While 12bit 444 would be nice, recorders which can do that are much rarer and very pricey (with the exception of the newly announced Video Devices PIX-E5, which is bringing this to a new low price), so I might want to limit myself to only checking out 10bit 422 recorders. Because for the vast majority of work having ProRes HQ files recorded is more than sufficient (and for the rare few times 12bit 444 is needed, I can always rent), as I’ve already been using rented/borrowed Atomos Shogun and Atomos Ninja 2 recorders on shoots with my Sony PMW-F3.

And the good news is with the move to 4K, there are now extremely affordable pricing on HD recorders. Last NAB Blackmagic Design announced their new Video Assist for a low low price of only US$495 (and it just finally started shipping in the last few days), and then Atomos responded at IBC by massively dropping the price of their Ninja 2 to US$295 and their Samurai Blade to US$495 match the Video Assist price (which means in total for the Samurai Blade and everything else I’d need with it such as recording media / accessories / batteries / S&H / taxes, I could get one to my door in NZ for somewhere just under NZ$1,500. Very cheap indeed!! Got to love the constant marching forward of technology)

The three main options to look at:

1) BMD Video Assist
Pro: cheap cheap! Has HDMI & SDI, and FHD screen
Con: is micro SDI, and is lacking in shipping firmware

2) Atomos Samurai Blade
Pro: cheap cheap!! Has mature firmware with peaking / waveforms / vectorscopes
Con: no HDMI (so you’ll need an HDMI/SDI converter, only sixty bucks or so from B&H) and no FHD 60fps (limited to 720p when doing slow motion)

3) Video Devices PIX-E5
Pro: the best, everything that you could want! (444 / 12bit / 60fps FHD / waveforms / vectorscopes / HDMI / SDI / 4K for futureproofing / etc). Has great add on audio options, with the top notch reputation of Sound Devices behind them.
Con: price…. is really cheap for what it does, but is more pricey than the other two options :-/ Also its recording media might be seen as a con by some (maybe… I think it is nifty what they’re doing, and is arguably a good choice for media. As it is small and cheap)

Haven’t listed the whole SD vs SSD thing as either Pro or Con for either of the Video Assist or Samurai Blade, as your viewpoint on SD/SSD as Pro/Con can be quite subjective.

I absolutely wouldn’t add Video Devices PIX 240i, Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q/7Q+, or Atomos Shogun to this list, they’re much more pricey (and I do not at all like the bulk of the Shogun when I’ve used it). Atomos Ninja 2 is also out because its monitor is far too low resolution (and it doesn’t have SDI or waveforms like the Samurai Blade has), ditto Atomos Samurai Blade is out because of its missing SDI. Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Shuttle 2 was out because it doesn’t have a monitor at all! (and yet its price is even a little more than the Atomos Ninja 2 is)

Basically my logic process then went, if:
a) you have a bit more cash, get the PIX-E5
Because aside from its price (which is pricey relative to a Samurai Blade or Video Assist, however PIX-E5 is cheap compared to any of its direct competitors!) it is practically almost flawless! Especially as I feel 5 inches is the “sweet spot” for an operator’s monitor while shooting, but if you disagree there is always the PIX-E7 instead with its 7 inch screen.

b) don’t mind focus peaking / waveforms / vector scopes / etc are missing, get the BMD VA!
Some people don’t mind living without these and don’t see what is the big deal, others would shudder at the thought of being without them….

c) otherwise…. am left with the last choice of the three 😛 Get a Samurai Blade

Or at least, that is how my thought process went.

Thus personally I went for the Atomos Samurai Blade, which I’ll use with my PMW-F3. It arrives next week! (it just arrived today at my reshipper service in the USA)

Forgot to order the HDMI/SDI converter at the same time from B&H, but oh well…. not a big issue. As I don’t really *need* one urgently I won’t rush to order one now, I’ll just order it in a month or five when I do my next B&H order (cheaper shipping for me as a NZer if I order a few things at once).

I’ll likely get one of these two:

14 thoughts on “Which recorder/monitor is best for the Sony PMW-F3?

  1. It has been noted in another forum by Ken Eakins that for the PIX-E5: “The SDI is only 3G, and therefore is limited to 1080p only. This is the one advantage of the Shogun with it’s 12G 4K raw capable SDI.”

    • Yup! F3 can do 12bit 444 if you’ve selected the right recorder for it. Which as you can see this puts the F3 massively ahead of any other camera in its price league (2ndhand) in late 2015. Only option which can come close to touching the F3 performance/price ratio is a BMCC/BMPCC (which I also own), but they’re also a very different kettle of fish in that in other areas they’re totally the opposite of the F3 (such as horrible battery life, no internal ND filters, no XLR inputs, limited settings to tweak, and more limitations).

      • Thanks David for your reply. It seems to me very strange, nobody talks about it, and if it were true it would be great. I have a PMW F3, I have a convergent Gemini. I can use this recorder to pull out of a 12bit f3? Sorry but I do not speak very well Inglese.

        • Strange…. really? I would’ve thought it is common enough knowledge among F3 owners.

          First of all, do you have the paid RGB 4:4:4 upgrade for your Sony PMW-F3? (check you’ve got the latest update for your Gemini as well: https://convergent-design.com/gemini-444-downloads.html Just to be sure in that area as well)

          As otherwise you’ll be limited to 10bit 422 (which really is not that bad at all, and is good enough for 95% of uses vs 12bit 444, and is much less storage space. It is really only in a few niche uses like VFX that having 12bit 444 really starts to noticeably pay off over 10bit 422).

  2. my f3 has firmware 1.4 with EI mode enabled. And Gemini is updated to the latest firmware. But I just can not figure out how to set the output signal to 12 bits 444. Would you help me understand please? Thank you

  3. What is your experience using the PMW F3 with Odyssey 7Q external recorder? you can record RGB4:4:4 10bts out of the F3 into the 7Q (ProRes HQ or ProRes 444) or DPX.
    One aspect that I can’t anyone explaining to me correctly is if the F3 has only one type of Slog (800% R709 (Slog1)) does this means you can’t use 3D LUTs? SLog2, Slog3 when recording into the 7Q? I do it experimentally and most times the results are good. Have you tried recording (And exposing with those LUTs using the 7Q LUT features) using the ARRI LUT or the Canon LUTs and then De-log in Avid or DaVinci with that exact LUT applied to video? Do you rather send your PP from the F3 to the RGB444 output into the 7Q instead of S Log? Can anyone share his or her experience on this?

    • Haven’t used an Odyssey 7Q, the ones I’ve used is Ninja 2, Samurai Blade, and a Shogun. But I’ve heard of plenty of other people using an Odyssey.

      Personally I wouldn’t be looking at buying an Odyssey at all, because I feel the 10bit 422 recorders (BMD VA or Samurai Blade) for US$495 offer waaaaaay better value! And if I wanted 12bit 444 I’d go with the Video Devices PIX-E5 (or PIX-E7) instead, which is cheaper too (and I’m looking forward to seeing the reviews of the PIX-LR when it ships, as it looks like a very interesting addition to it).

      Unless… I was very confident that in the near future I’d be getting an FS700, as an Odyssey paired with an FS700 is a wonderful thing.

      I wouldn’t use a LUT for s-log3, but in a pinch an s-log2 one can work on set as a substitute.

  4. hi, i found your nice article, and i have a question nobody can answer me:

    can the sony f3 output 1080p at 50/60 fps S-log on a single 3g SDI output WITHOUT the payed RGB01 Update ?

    i have talked with guys from the rental they have one f3 with the payed update, and they told me it can do.

    so the question is, if i can switch the SDI A Output from 1.5G to 3G without payed update. hope you can help me , because i want to connect it to the blackmagic video assist

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