Down and Dirty With the Sony F65

One of the first 35mm digital motion picture cameras produced was Sony’s F35, introduced in 2008. It recorded to HDCAM SR tapes and cost over $200k. It was known both for its considerable size and byzantine menu system. Though it rendered skin tones beautifully, the RED camera and, subsequently, the ARRI Alexa soon surpassed it in affordability and functionality.

Early this year Sony released the F65, the 4k descendant of the F35. Though it owes a lot, aesthetically, to the F35, the F65 is smaller, lighter, and dramatically easier to use. In addition, it incorporates a mechanical shutter to eliminate the wobbly motion that other CMOS cameras suffer from. In a nod to the direct-to-edit workflow that catapulted the Alexa to the top of rental order, Sony included an HD mode that uses a solid-state version of the HDCAM SR codec. With a free plugin, that HDCAM footage can be dropped into Avid or Final Cut Pro, or graded natively in DaVinci Resolve.

About two weeks ago, I got an opportunity to shoot a short narrative piece with two F65′s. Written by James Landrum, directed by Nick Perlman, and expertly produced by Dylan Hume, “The Estate” follows two brothers through their unique grieving process for their brother. Though the F65 is largely billed as a studio camera, we decided to shoot on location and primarily hand-held. We had to capture about seventeen pages in two days, so shooting fast and light was important. Both cameras were outfitted with short Angenieux DP zooms, one with a 16-42mm and the other wearing a 30-80mm. I rated the camera at its native 800 ASA and maintained a T4 or 5.6 for exteriors. Interiors and inserts were shot a consistent T2.8 to separate the actors in the narrow locations. Both cameras also had Mitchell diffusion filters to create a smoother look on the inherently crisp camera.

Me with b-cam operator Matt Martin


The first day was all exteriors in the woods of Sleepy Hollow, NY. We sharpened the diffuse, cloudy daylight with reflectors and negative fill, and the F65 captured the range of exposure beautifully. We were able to stay light on our feet as a result of the camera’s dynamic range and functional simplicity. Both cameras also had Sony stereo mics on-board to record scratch audio, as the nearby train tracks made location sound a virtual impossibility. Easy-Rig 700′s made the day’s hand-held work more bearable.

Shooting close-ups with the Sony F65 with director Nick Perlman


The second day was strictly interior, with an 800w Joker HMI bouncing through a window to key the actors. A gelled 300w tungsten fresnel provided some fill inside, but the F65 had no difficulty with the dim, natural look we were trying to achieve. I used a combination of my light meter and the cameras’ on-board monitors to judge exposure, and that proved accurate upon reviewing the footage later.

All told, it was an enjoyable and straight-forward project. The grading is all being done with the HDCAM SR files in DaVinci Resolve, with no transcoding necessary. As soon as I have some material to share, I’ll post it here.

B-cam operator Matt Martin


Photos by Colby Moore

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