In this post, Sean F. White shares his thoughts on the Sony PMW-TD 300 3D camera:
DP/Stereographer Sean F. White preparing a shot on the set of "Invasion" with the Sony PMW-TD 300 3D camera (C) Parallax Film Productions
In April of 2012, after hunting down and tinkering with all the integrated twin-lens/sensor cameras at the NAB in Las Vegas, I concluded that the Sony PMW-TD300 was the most viable solution currently on the market for S3D documentary series and broadcast applications (read previous post HERE).
For those not familiar with this camera, it’s an all-in-one twin-sensor, twin lens, fixed interaxial (I/A) system recording dual stream, full resolution 1920×1080 HD signals in an ENG style camera body. Full specs HERE.
Recently, I spent a week shooting with the PMW-TD 300 camera on the dramatic short “Invasion” for Parallax Film Productions based in White Rock, B.C., Canada. The script called for a combination of documentary-style news footage, exterior action scenes, lit interior sets, and one scene inside a dripping, limestone cave. All this was to be shot in stereoscopic 3D with a skeleton crew, compressed schedule and minimal budget.
The various challenges of the shoot were the perfect testing ground for the camera. Here’s a breakdown of my experience with the system:
The camera arrived the night prior to our first shooting day. Out of the box, the camera is familiar: lens housing, body, and viewfinder. From the lens housing and back, it resembles most ENG style HD cameras. All the controls, ND filters, menu access, audio dials, XLR, outputs, etc, are self-explanatory and intuitive. Nothing ground-breaking here, which is good if you’re transitioning from 2D doc to 3D doc and know your 2/3-inch HD camera inside-out. Everything is placed as expected and operates without resorting to the user manual. I was able to get the camera’s settings programmed and audio dialed in about 15 minutes.
Most of the general menu features are standard, plus a host of 3D features, which I thought were intuitive. My favourite feature was the alignment control which allowed me to individually adjust the horizontal and vertical alignment of the left and right eye signals PRIOR to any shooting. I filmed a bookshelf on wide angle from about 10 feet away and converged on the nearest subject. I displayed left and right eye on an external Transvideo 3D monitor set to anaglyph mode and zoomed in 200% to the centre of the screen. The camera’s menu allows you to tweak vertical and horizontal alignment at a sub-pixel level. I calibrated the alignment in about 5 minutes and never re-calibrated for the rest of the shoot. Convergence and fine-tune alignment will be done in post again, however this process gets you a better set of images to work with resulting in less enlarging /cropping and resolution loss in post. For live events, this alignment tool is a must.
Here’s where it gets interesting. The lens housing contains two 1/2-inch “Exmor” 3-chip CMOS sensors (not 2/3-inch) with two matched zoom lenses set at a fixed 45mm interaxial. I think of it as two Sony EX3′s side-by-side. What sets this camera apart from other all-in-one 3D cameras is the intuitive 3-way control dial for zoom, focus, and convergence. You can customize which dial performs what functions. I personally preferred the camera defaults of: large (outer) for zoom, middle for focus, and small (inner) for convergence. There’s a handy, accessible Viewfinder Display button just below the 3-way dial that allowed me to toggle between different 2D and 3D views. I believe you can also adjust colour per eye for best match but I didn’t perform this function since colour match was already close. What did bother me was the complete lack of a lens hood. Flare is a major issue with 3D so not having anything fit to help shade the lenses was a pain. We also encountered light rain during the shoot where a decent hood would have protected the lenses and working in tight quarters, such as in the cave, I was constantly worried about bumping or scratching the lenses and wiping moisture.
DP/Stereographer Sean F. White with the Sony PMW-TD 300 3D camera equipped with wireless microphone receivers and Convergent Designs Nano 3D drives on location for "Invasion" (C) Parallax Film Productions
At first glance, there was nothing special about the viewfinder other than the camera’s ability to toggle through a selection of views: left eye only, right eye only, L+R eye anaglyph, L+R onion skin (personally, I like the onion skin mode for setting convergence). What’s really cool is the flip up eye piece (similar to an EX3), which allows you to enable the 3D display mode and take advantage of the built-in auto stereoscopic display when you look with both eyes from about 10 inches. Voila! Glasses-free instant 3D viewing… very cool! Most of my previous 3D shooting has been rugged documentary acquisition without a video village to live view in 3D so this feature was a bit of a novelty. Historically, I always “imagined” and framed based on the math and the measurable overlays on an anaglyph display. Having auto-stereo in the viewfinder was insightful for getting a sense of the roundness and overall 3D feel for the shot. It’s also great for showing the director and other key crew to get them excited about the 3D or to make decisions based on the stereo space. I often found myself setting all the parameters for the shot with the eye piece in 2D, then flipping up the eye piece and framing in 3D with the auto-stereo mode. Somehow live 3D viewing changed how I saw the frame – for the better, I believe.
The camera records 3D (two streams) internally to Sony SxS cards at 35Mbps. I cannot comment on the picture quality of these files since we decided to tap both of the camera’s HDSDI ports and record higher bit-rate to our Convergent Designs Nano 3D drives. Camera output and Nano Drive recording was flawless – no issues encountered with any settings in the camera. Upon inspecting a few test shots with a digital slate running time code, the camera synch was perfect down to the sub-frame. However, I discovered that the left and right eye files were offset by 1 frame in approximately 25% of the clips. I’m not certain if that’s an issue with the camera spitting out signal or the Nano drives recording synchronization. Further testing required here. The bottom line is that the signals are genlocked and it’s easy to match-synch frame with a slate.
Here’s where you get your money’s worth. Basically, I was able to setup and shoot matched stereo images in a fraction of the time as our previous beam-splitter rigs and have the flexibility to adjust zoom, focus and convergence on one dial, fast. I didn’t need focus pullers, convergence pullers, rig techs, or to verify focus on each eye, check matching zoom, etc. etc. etc… I was able to shoot hand-held then switch to a tripod or a dolly in seconds – a dream. My shooting rhythm for each shot was something like this:
- Zoom and compose frame in 2D with the left eye displayed in the viewfinder
- Focus the left eye (I often used the focus-assist button on the right side of the lens housing or using the external Transvideo 3D monitor)
- Toggle to the onion skin display mode to set convergence
- Toggle to the anaglyph mode to preview the positive and negative disparity
- Toggle to the left eye display, shoot
- Optional: toggle to the 3D auto-stereo display, shoot
* I rarely ever checked the right eye unless it was raining and drops might get onto one lens and not the other. The focus synch on the cameras was spot-on.
Director Ian Herring (left) and DP/Stereographer Sean F. White prepare a shot on the set of "Invasion" with the Sony PMW-TD 300 3D camera (C) Parallax Film Productions
I was skeptical of the two built-in miniature lenses since quality glass of that size with matched zooming is not easy to find on the market. Since 3D favours wide angle, I was disappointed that the widest angle was only 53 degrees of view (appx 40.6 mm in 35mm photographic equivalent). Furthermore, I found that the lenses were softer on the widest angle and sharper at the midrange of the scale – nothing unusable but impossible to compare to prime lenses.
For “Invasion”, we recorded to Nano drives at 1920×1080, 23.98fps, at 140 Mbps per eye. In general, the image quality of the daytime outdoor action scenes and interior lit scenes matched what I would have expected from a Sony EX3 recorded at the same settings with the exception of the softer images at widest angle. With 1/2-inch sensors, there’s more depth of field compared to a 2/3-inch or Super 35mm sized sensor for the same given aperture and lighting. What you sacrifice in overall sensitivity with a smaller sensor, you gain in added depth often desired for 3D. So in this case, a smaller sensor is actually an advantage in well-lit situations. Where the PMW-TD 300 camera struggled was in the extremely low light of the limestone cave. Even with supplementary lighting and +6db gain, the deep blacks fell apart and visible noise was apparent throughout the image.
Again, I can’t comment on the quality of files captured on the internal SxS cards which record at 35Mbps.
Obviously, because of the fixed 45mm interaxial, the camera is limited in its ability to get close on a wide angle and as a result, has a signature 3D “look” inherent of its I/A and the depth-of-field of the 1/2-inch sensor. Having worked with fixed system before, I was able to get a sense of the space and distance-from-subject required to shoot comfortable 3D. In general, I’d want the nearest subject no closer than about 6-feet away if I want to converge on them and keep faraway background objects within 3% positive disparity. Any closer than 6-feet and the subject floats in negative which is OK – sometimes… I was also pleasantly surprised how much roundness I was able to achieve in telephoto subjects with the same locked I/A. As with all 3D cinematography, the relationship between foreground and background and I/A will dictate the overall 3D depth. With this camera, it is important to be careful about when to increase distance between the foreground object and background or when to compress them to bring all objects into comfortable stereo. The built-in scales and overlay functions in the menu will assist with that.
Overall, I was impressed with the camera both in quality and ease of use. There’s no way we would have been able to film “Invasion” in the time and budget allotted with any other system and get similar results. Although I had to adjust my framing to allow for the limitation of the fixed I/A, the combination of weight, portability and ease of operation allowed our team to execute more shots, a variation of shots, and more takes with our actors than if we had used any other system. I can’t wait to use this camera again!
- Fast setups and shooting
- Size and weight
- 3-way zoom, focus, convergence dial
- Fixed I/A of 45 mm is a decent compromise for close and medium shots
- 1/2-inch sensor provided greater depth-of-field
- Auto-stereoscopic 3D viewfinder with excellent 2D and 3D display options
- Output options (2 x HDSDI) great for external recording / monitoring
- Audio features great for self-contained ENG shooter
- ENG style camera body and menus = intuitive menus, no surprises
- - Non-adjustable I/A
- - Low light sensitivity not great
- - Lenses slightly soft on widest angle
- - Wide angle not wide enough
- - Lack of lens hood or shade
- - Adjustable I/A from 30mm to 75mm
- - Better lens hood / shade design for the front lens housing
- - Sharper lenses, especially wide angle please!
On the set of "Invasion" with the Sony PMW-TD 300 3D camera (C) Parallax Film Productions
Sean F. White is a Camera Operator/DOP for countless international documentary projects. He is a trained stereographer and has shot and delivered 3D content with Parallax for Blowdown 3D and Battle Castle.
Parallax Films remains committed to creating innovative storytelling through the use of 3D interfaces.
To this end, our team embraced a new challenge when we produced a series of 3D motion comics in conjunction with the television series, Battle Castle. We had the technical skill and creative tools to build and execute each of the phases - script, production and post but lacked experience of putting these phases together in the 3D comic genre. So with lots of enthusiasm we dove in and this is what we learned along the way.
- We overwrote the comics. We had figured on 40 panels for each comic – but this created a very complicated narrative for a short form genre. We figured this out after assembling the material in post. The upside was we had lots of material to work with to sharpen the words and create dynamic imagery.
- Designing and shooting the panels involved numerous poses and actions from each of the main characters. But ultimately neither Kings nor Castles move much. So we dropped these characters into scenes with action going on around them. The King can be looking off yonder or pondering his next steps – while the soldiers and errant knights march by or engage in battle.
- Blood splatters make it all good. Whenever possible and for the smallest of reasons we would add the ubiquitous blood splatter to fight scenes and occasionally if the action started to lag – just because.
- Music and sound effects were critical to stitching the story together and taking it to the next level.
- 3D effects and volume were enhanced by adding particulate layers, such as smoke, fire, rain and of course, blood. These created a series of depth cues that led the eye to the action and enhanced the gritty harshness of the environment.
Today, we’re publishing a side by side version for those with a 3D monitor or television display. These comics are available on the Parallax Youtube Channel accessible through Bluray DVD players. We’ve created a playlist with all the comics.
Here is the first, Crac des Chevaliers.
On a technical note, we have tested Playstation in the past, but unfortunately the interface with Youtube does not allow you to increase the resolution so the picture quality and 3D experience is poor.
Ian Herring, President
Parallax Films continues its commitment to debating and developing 3D talent, technology and dialogue. This week Sean White shares his thoughts about developments in 3D camera technology.
Sean F. White is a Camera Operator/DOP for countless international documentary projects. He is a trained stereographer and has shot and delivered 3D content for Blowdown 3D and Battle Castle.
On this trip to NAB, I was primarily focused on researching 3D camera systems for television documentary acquisition. While there has been some progress in 3D technology since last year, a huge void remains for production companies who seek professional results but don't have feature film or sports broadcaster budgets.
I'm looking for an integrated twin lens camera system we can take into the field.
Here's what I found:
Sean White with the Cameron PACE Rig at NAB2012
This is their latest integrated twin camera system. Although it's predecessor the AG-3DA1 was a great leap for 3D, the camera failed in one big department - the interaxial is too wide for filming subjects and converging on them closer than 15 feet away. Try to converge any closer and your background explodes beyond TV specs of 2-3%. Faraway subjects are fine for sports, talk shows, or cooking shows where subject and convergence are at a distance from the camera but not practical for run and gun doc or serious travel/location shooting.
I hoped their latest model, the AG-3DP1 would correct this, it didn't. Although the sensors and interface have improvements, the IA was still 58mm. Despite whatever specs sheets may claim, there's NO WAY you can frame a person (i.e.: a TV host) from the waist up, converge on them, and keep you background within a 2-3% disparity.
While at NAB, I conducted a test with the camera and found that on the widest lens, with convergence set to minimal distance, I'd have to frame an average-height person from the shins up (about 15 feet away) to keep a comfortable 3D. That's total deal breaker for me since I could never use this camera on any of our hosted programs. Can you imagine never being within 15 feet of your nearest subject? Maybe with the use of third party lens adapters you could make this work, but for now this camera still isn't a viable option.
Much like the Panasonic, the Sony is an integrated twin lens 3D camera with all the pros of being self-contained, portable, etc. however the inter-axial is smaller (45mm) so you can get closer to your subjects.
I conducted the same test above and found that at the widest angle and converged at the nearest point, I could comfortable frame a person from the waist up and keep background within acceptable 2-3% specs. Not bad.
I also really liked the 3-way control dial for focus, iris, and convergence. This is a nice design feature that speeds up shooting in general with the bonus of allowing dynamic convergence for moving subjects. It's small enough to fit on our Steadicam Flyer unit but still big enough to shoot smooth and steady off the shoulder.
Although the internal recording specs are pretty good, I'd probably still plan to tap both left and right HDSDI channels and record higher bitrate to our Convergent Design Nano 3D drives.
I definitely would consider this camera for an A-cam hosted doc. We'd still tote around a HDSLR side-by-side system for vista shots but this camera could do 75-90% of the work.
This is the best prosumer camera out there. It could be a great B-roll or POV cam for hard-to-get-at spaces. I played a lot with this camera and was impressed. There is a very nice interface and allows convergence closer than 10 feet. Sweet. We can't tap both left and right signals to our Nano drives but that's ok for our purposes. It would also be great for web video blogs. It’s a must have!
This is another integrated twin camera system. I chatted with the developers and the camera is based on a great concept are geared for sports and outdoor rugged applications (industry, military, etc.) But is still in the R&D stage so they're still have a ways to go before it's production ready. Additionally, sourcing quality lenses for 2/3 in sensors that can resolve 2K or 4K quality might be a challenge. So this is not an option yet but perhaps down the road… I’ll keep an eye on this one.
GoPro has released a firmware update for their HERO 1 and HERO 2 cams to allow users to keep or remove the colour settings applied to the footage during capture. This means that pro users can now start with more neutral, wider latitude source file. (Consumers who want to take the clips and upload to YouTube won't want to bother with this.)
So for us, what we'll experiment with next is using 2 x HERO 2 cameras with the 3D kit AND the new firmware to get the best possible 3D capture. More on this later…
Other than the above, I didn't find any other self-contained, ready-to-go integrated twin camera systems. Everything else 3D were rigs configured with various components of which there are a multitude of rig / sensor / lens / controller / recorder / monitor / etc. options to consider, but the price adds up!
I also looked into the rigs at 3ality and Pace. Very cool stuff but not practical for our work. Personally, I'm a fan of the StereoTec rigs - designed and engineered by my 3D mentor Florian Maier. If you have budget for a feature, I'd call them first. They've got all the auto-aligning technology of 3ality and more. Very solid gear and great people too.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Sean F. White
As our current six-part series Battle Castle moves towards its explosive season finale on History Television in Canada, 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 29, our audience - and the press - continue to take notice of this genre-bending action documentary experience on air and online.
Here are this week's transmedia highlights, direct from the Battle Castle universe:
BattleCastle.TV: Malbork Castle Motion Comic
Malbork Castle's motion comic reveals a bloody mystery that may have tipped the outcome of the famous Battle of Tannenberg, which occurred shortly before the 1410 attack on the Teutonic Knights' Malbork Castle. The castle's build, as well as this siege, are profiled in Battle Castle Episode 5: Malbork Castle.
Highlights from live tweeting leading up to and during the 9 pm ET simulcast of Battle Castle: Malbork on History Television:
@S3D_Post I like the black brick work @ Malbork best. It adds an amazing aesthetic.
@Medievalarchive Stoking that medieval kiln had to be great in the winter and a scorcher in the summer!
@TheGatekeep The attacking forces actually positioned themselves on all four fronts. Von Plauen and his men were surrounded. Or were they?
@S3D_Post Fast and furious cannon battle at Malbork castle... AWESOME!
The build: Malbork Castle was forged by the Teutonic Knights, a powerful order of German crusaders, in the 13th century. Historically known as Marienburg, it is the greatest fortification built by medieval knights during the Baltic Crusades, a mission to convert pagans to Christianity in Prussia and Lithuania. Believed to be the largest brick castle in the world, its unusual building blocks make its design stunning, both visually and militarily. Part of a network of castles with the same basic blueprint that stretch across modern-day Poland, its ingenious moat system, stand-alone tower and lofty High Castle place it among the Teutonic Order’s most incredible military –and architectural – achievements.
Video: The Malbork Castle Trailer
Official trailer for Battle Castle: Malbork, which made its world premiere Thursday, March 22 at 9 p.m. ET on History Television.
Want more Battle Castle action?
A world of castle engineering, bloody siegecraft, and epic clashes that transform mortals into legends awaits ...
As part of our ongoing commitment to unparalleled 3D production, Parallax Film Productions is thrilled to share stereoscopic 3D stills and video footage of several castles throughout Europe and the Middle East. This exclusive online content was captured during the filming of our current production, Battle Castle, an action documentary about medieval castles.
This week’s feature Battle Castle 3D stills are of the Teutonic Knights' Malbork Castle. Battle Castle: Malbork makes its world premiere Thursday night on History Television at 9 p.m. ET. Check your local listings here.
These high-resolution stereoscopic 3D stills were photographed and rendered by our Director of Photography/Stereographer Sean F. White using the Dubois Optimized technique in Adobe Photoshop. Although the colours are not true to reality, this techniques improves the overall comfort of viewing the images by reducing ghosting and other retinal discomfort common with standard red/cyan images.
The original images are 5K resolution per eye. They've been resized to 2K for faster downloading and viewing on the web.
Ian Herring, President