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Unearthing a Sony F35

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DSC00246_sm.jpgThe Sony F35

Last weekend, I had an opportunity to spend some time with a rare gem from Sony's hall of fame. Released in 2008 with a sticker price of $250,000, the Sony F35 was the first CineAlta camera to come with a PL mount, meaning it was a serious contender for cinema primetime. It featured a 5.8K sensor, but unfortunately the output was downsampled to HD. I spent a few hours playing around with it, and found that while it had its upsides, it was not without its flaws.

The Good:

Battery Life: a 155Wh battery will last for hours. No need to lug around a block battery or stress about constant battery swaps.

The Look: I love the look of this camera! More on that later...

In-Camera Speed Ramping: This is a pretty neat feature—you can setup the camera to change framerate mid-take. So for example, if you started a shot at 4 fps, you'd have a timelapse full of motion blur, but then you could transition to 24 fps and be back to real time speed in the same shot.

The Bad:

HD footage: You have no room to digitally zoom in post, and unless you're cropping to 4:3 or 2.39:1, you have no room to shift your framing in post either. It's not all bad though—HD files consume much less hard drive space than 8K footage.

White Balance: There are only two settings for the white balance: Daylight and Tungsten. Just like shooting on film!

No built-in ND: We are spoiled with today's cinema cameras that let you effortlessly flip through ND filters with the push of a button. Not so with the F35. You have limited control of the exposure with a gain setting, but that won't save you from an obligatory mattebox and filter set.

No internal recording: The F35 was designed to be accompanied by an SRW-1 recording unit, which mounts to either the top or rear of the camera. But this recording unit was the same size as the camera! The F35 is huge and weighs as much as a sack of bricks—I can't imagine doubling its size (and probably weight too). However, in 2023, I was able to use an Atomos monitor to record 4:2:2 footage. If you want to record 4:4:4, you'll need an Odyssey or possibly one of the new Atomos monitors.

The Ugly:

Size & Weight: It's exhausting just to carry this camera—I can't imagine shoulder mounting it for more than a minute. It's larger than today's cinema cameras as well, meaning you'll have a harder time getting it on a gimbal or into small spaces.

Frame Rate: Again, we are spoiled by today's cinema cameras that can shoot 120 fps and beyond. The maximum frame rate on the F35 is only 60 fps. 

Menu: I think this camera gave Sony its reputation for bad menus that it can't seem to shake (even though the current Sony menus are great).  

DSC00264_sm.jpgThese are the buttons you'll be pressing to navigate the horrible menus 

Not only is the F35 menu system slow to navigate through, it's also unintuitive. You'd think you'd be able to quickly scroll through the different menus with the dial to the right of the screen. Nope. You have to press the Page and Set buttons to go back and forth between menu pages. Then to actually change a setting, you have to hold the Set button for three seconds—then you can turn the dial to cycle through options for that setting. On a film set where things need to move as quickly as possible, this camera would not be advantageous. 

Now, it may seem like there's a lot more cons than pros, but I want to talk in-depth about the biggest pro of them all. I found the look of this camera to be unique and wonderful. Here are a few stills from the footage I shot:

1.4.1_1.4.1.jpgUngraded still converted to Rec. 709, shot outside on a semi-cloudy day

cloudy_1.8.1.jpgGraded and color-corrected still, shot through a window on a cloudy day 

color sequence.jpgWhen the S-LOG footage is converted to Rec. 709, the reds are way too saturated. Adjusting the reds before the color space conversion leads to a normal looking image, which becomes quite pleasing after a slight color grade. 

1.5.2_1.5.2.jpgThis shot was originally underexposed. After brightening it up and adding some contrast, it looks really grainy, but in a cool way. Almost like film!

I was shocked at how much I liked the look of this nearly 15-year-old camera. Maybe I'll use it for a project in the near future. Hopefully my back won't give out while carrying it.

Has anyone else used the F35 (recently or back-in-the-day)? What were your experiences with it?


Leading Creator

Somehow, it looks more vintage than 2008! And I have to say like the look way better than a lot of the mid 2000s cameras. 

Couldn't agree more. The design struck me as something conceived in 2000—I was shocked to discover it was made as recently as it was. 

The F35 was purposely designed to have the physical look and feel of a traditional film camera, right down to the way the SRW-1 recorder mounted at an angle at the rear of the camera -- similar to a film mag on a Panaflex.

It was an interesting camera for it's day, but completely outdated by today's standards.  I know there is a fan base that have formed a cult around the F35, but don't get it.  If I'm going to invest my time, money, and effort into shooting something, it certainly wouldn't be with outdated technology such is this.  Fun to play around with though, I guess.  I remember back in my early days buying some old B&W video gear from a TV station surplus sale just because it was fun to experiment with and the price seemed amazing for what the stuff must have cost originally.

But then I got older and realized even the most expensive stuff eventually has zero value.  Five years ago when I moved from Rhode Island to Florida I donated a lot of old lighting gear and other stuff to a local school, but some stuff I just threw away.  Chucking two Ikegami Betacams into a dumpster, that originally cost over $50K each, seemed strange when I did it, but it was the right thing to do.  But I digress . . .  🙂

I agree—totally outdated. It would be a huuuge pain to work with on a real production for all the reasons I listed in my post. But also, I can't deny it's fun to play around with 🙂