50 Megabits for the masses, the new Sony PMW-200.

workshops-275 50 Megabits for the masses, the new Sony PMW-200.

5 years is a long time in the video world. Cameras come and go, technologies change, but for 5 years there has been one camera that has remained essentially unchanged and that’s the versatile and well regarded Sony EX1 and EX1R.

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Alister shooting with an EX1 in the Arctic.

5 years ago I was asked by Sony to review a new handheld camcorder, that camcorder was the EX1. A camera that went on to change the way I work and the way many production companies work, because for the first time you had a handheld camera that could take on the bulky shoulder mounts in terms of picture quality.

The EX1 was the first handheld camcorder to offer full resolution and low noise HD pictures thanks to it’s 3 half inch 1920 x 1080 sensors. Not only did it have great image quality but it also had a great lens with 3 separate rings for focus, iris and zoom with accurate calibrated scales on each, this was a real cameraman’s camera, a delight to use compared to anything similar that had come before.

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Alister shooting a severe storm with an EX1

As a result the EX1, EX1R and the semi shoulder version the EX3, became the industry standard for handheld production. I owned one of each and never, ever, regretted my purchases. However, there has always been one small limitation with the EX camera line. They record using XDCAM EX Mpeg 2 at 35 Mbit/s. Personally I have never had a problem with this, I think the recorded pictures are fantastic, but the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) has very specific minimum specifications for broadcast television production. There are several tiers within the specifications and the EX cameras are permitted by the EBU within tier 2J for use in news and video journalism, but for long form productions the minimum bit rate for recording is 50 Mbit/s with 4:2:2 colour space. This restriction means that for long form broadcast television production  in Europe you can only use an EX1 or EX3 with the use of an external recorder.  Many production companies do exactly this, an EX camcorder with a NanoFlash is one of the standard set ups approved for many broadcast programmes. In the last couple of years other manufacturers have produced handheld cameras that meet the 50 Mbit/s 4:2:2 recording minimum and some of these have been approved for use in broadcast productions. But most of these cameras don’t have the large ½” sensors of the EX cameras so often struggle in low light. Low light performance is often critical in observational documentaries’ and many of the other types of programmes that involve the use of handheld camcorders.

Now, all that’s about to change. You see, Sony have been listening and as a result of customer feedback they developed the new PMW-200 handheld camcorder.

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The new Sony PMW-200
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Alister filming with the PMW-200

Designed to meet the needs of broadcast productions the camera records on to solid state media using 50 Mbit/s 4:2:2 XDCAM HD. This is the exact same codec as used in the highly regarded PDW-700, F800 and PMW-500 shoulder mount broadcast camcorders. As well as 50 Mbit/s 4:2:2 you can also record using the same 35 Mbit/s 4:2:0 codec as the original EX cameras as well as standard definition DV. When your using the XDCAM HD422 codec you have the ability to copy your footage as video clips directly to Sony’s XDCAM optical disc system for easy and reliable long term storage and archive. A further benefit of this is that when you copy the clips to an XDCAM Professional Disc you will automatically generate proxy files on the disc, so if you already use proxies in your workflow you can now extend this to all your footage.

But what about the image quality? There’s little point in having a great codec if the front end of the camera can’t deliver great pictures. The PMW-200 uses essentially the same sensors and lens as the EX1R, so the image quality is very good.

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Frame grab from PMW-200. Click on the image to enlarge.

The lens is made by Fujinon and is a 14x zoom starting at 5.8mm. It has 3 rings, one each for focus, zoom and iris. Each is marked with accurate calibration marks. The focus ring slides forwards for auto focus and slides back for full manual control. In manual it behaves and feels like a true pro broadcast lens.

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The lens and camera front end.

The zoom ring can be used manually or it can be servo driven and controlled by the main zoom rocker on the hand grip or a small zoom rocker on the handle. This zoom has an improved servo design and as a result slow zooms are a little smoother than on the EX1R.  The iris ring can be switched between auto and manual and is silky smooth. Should you choose you can add an offset of up to +/- 2 stops to the auto iris to help deal with tricky lighting situations, the widest aperture is a very useful f1.9.  Because this lens is very similar to the original EX lens you can use the same Sony zoom through wide angle adapter if you need extra wide shots and it has the same connector for remote zoom control. One small improvement is the lens servo motor. The PMW-200 lens has an improved servo that give better slow zoom performance. It’s not quite up to broadcast lens smoothness but it’s an improvement over the EX1R.

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PMW-200 lens, very similar to EX1.

 

Between the lens and the sensors there are 2 ND filters operated by a sliding switch giving you 3 positions, clear, 1/8th  (0.9 or 3 stops)  and 1/64th  (1.8 or 6 stops) so the camera can cope with the vast majority of lighting situations without the need for additional filtration. The 3 sensors are the same 1920×1080 ½” sensors that made the EX cameras so special. There have been some improvements to the image processing and noise reduction in the cameras electronics and as a result there is a small reduction in noise and as a result useable sensitivity.

You can see the reduction in noise in my frame grabs from both a PMW-200 and EX1R.  In my opinion the EX1R was the benchmark for image quality in a handheld camera and I think we are close to the limits of the sensitivity that can be achieved with current sensor technologies. So I don’t think it is a surprise that there isn’t a dramatic change. The small improvements are most welcome and I really like the images the PMW-200 produces.

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Noise comparison at +9db gain between RX1R and PMW-200

The pictures are rich and organic looking, they have very good dynamic range, I estimate a little over 11 stops and the noise levels are low enough to allow the judicious use of a little gain where needed. Sure there is a little more noise than you would get with a modern 2/3” or Super35mm camcorder but that’s just down to the laws of physics. Bigger sensors and bigger pixels give a better signal to noise ratio and being realistic your not going to fit 3x 2/3” sensors in a handheld camera. The half inch design of the PMW-200 is a great compromise, small enough for a compact handheld design, but big enough to give good low light performance and dynamic range. This isn’t just my opinion, this is also borne out by the EBU’s specification for long form broadcast production. The specification is know as EBU R 118 (http://tech.ebu.ch/docs/r/r118.pdf ) and for long form programmes (tier 2L) the EBU specifies a minimum of 3 full resolution half inch 1920×1080 sensors (there is an exception for 3 x 1/3” camera’s that can be shown to meet additional testing criteria) recording to a minimum of 50 Mbit/s 4:2:2 and the PMW-200 fully complies with this.

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Frame grab from the PMW-200. Click on the image to enlarge.

Picture Profiles: As with every other XDCAM camcorder the PMW-200 gives the end user the ability customise many aspects of the images it produces.  This is done through the use of the Picture Profiles menu.  You can change the cameras gamma curves to fine tune the dynamic range and contrast in the pictures. There are 6 standard gamma curves which can be used in conjunction with either an automatic knee or manual knee as well as 4 Hypergamma curves.

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PMW-200 Standard Gamma

Standard gamma 5 is a REC-709 compliant gamma curve and is the default gamma. The Hypergammas are the same curves as used on the PMW-500 and PDW-700. These are very useful as they offer improved dynamic range (460%) compared to the standard gammas but more importantly they do not use conventional knee compression.

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PMW-200 Hypergamma 4 (need to correct the caption on the picture!)

The Hypergammas gently roll off highlights in a much more natural looking way than the harsh electronic looking compression that a traditional knee circuit introduces. Hypergammas 1 & 2 are broadcast safe, never recording above 100%. Hypergammas 3 & 4 have the same curves as 1 & 2 but allow the use of superwhite recording levels (109%) to give you a little more data to play with in post production.

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PMW-200 Default settings.

As well as gamma the picture profiles allow you to choose from 6 different preset colour matrices and allow you to modify the colour saturation and colour vectors. This makes it easy to match the PMW-200 to other cameras or to create a number of in-camera looks. Matrix 1 gives a warm look with a little extra red, 3 is a little less vibrant, 5 & 6 give deeper blues with 6 being a little less saturated than 5.

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PMW-200 Custom Picture Profile.

If you want a sharper looking picture you can use the detail controls to boost the edge contrast enhancement. Just be aware that too much detail correction can lead to ugly black edges around objects. Reducing the detail level below -20 starts to soften the picture if you want a slightly defocused look. As well as the detail controls there is also a separate control for aperture correction. This is a high frequency boost that can be used to enhance subtle textures and fine details on things like fabrics. I found that by setting the detail level to -8 and aperture to +30 the camera produced pictures with a nice crispness without looking artificially enhanced.

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PMW-200 Default Settings.

There are many other adjustments that can be made in the picture profiles including knee settings, black gamma, a multi matrix or colour correction matrix and skin tone detail settings. I urge anyone that uses one of these camera to learn about what the various settings do as the picture profiles are a great way to tailor the camera to meet your exact needs.

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PMW-200 Custom Picture Profile.

The PMW-200’s main menu structure is again very similar to the EX cameras. It is logically laid out and easy to navigate. There sections for the camera settings, audio settings, outputs, monitoring, timecode and general system settings. In the camera menu you’ll find settings for the more advanced modes that the camera has, which include Interval Record for time-lapse, Frame Record for animation and stop frame filming, Picture Cache and S&Q (slow and quick) motion. The Picture Cache mode is particularly useful for capturing unexpected events. In this mode the camera continuously buffers the video from the camera sensors into an internal memory. When you press the record button recording stars immediately but in addition the (up to) 15 seconds prior to pressing the record button are also recorded. I use this mode a lot when I’m shooting thunderstorms and lightning as I can simply point the camera at the storm, wait for the lightning to strike, then press the record button.

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Rear view of Sony PMW-200.

The interval record mode allows you to shoot great time-lapse sequences with ease. For sunsets and sunrises and other scenes where you may have a big exposure change you can also take advantage of the cameras clever TLCS (total level Control System) function.  This is a sophisticated kind of auto exposure mode. I’m not normally a fan of auto exposure but TLCS allows you to set limits for the amount of automatic gain, iris, shutter speed and the response time. By limiting the maximum gain to around +9 db you can be sure that your pictures won’t become too grainy as the sun sets.  With TLCS the camera will still be able to correctly expose while the sun is still up thanks to the auto shutter and auto iris. TLCS is a very useful tool in the PMW-200’s arsenal.

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Menu and playback controls on the PMW-200’s handle.

With S&Q motion you can shoot at up to 50/60 frames per second (depending on region settings) at 720p for slow motion and effects shots. You can choose any speed you want from 1 fps up to the maximum in 1 frame increments. Below 25/30 fps you can use the full camera resolution of 1920×1080.

Talking of frame rates, the PMW-200 can be switched between both PAL and NTSC regions. As a result it can shoot at a multitude of frame rates at full 1920 x 1080 including 23.98p, 25p, 29.97p, 50i, 60i and at 720p it can record at 50p and 60p.

Recording Media Choices: The PMW-200 is designed to record on to SxS cards but you can also use SD cards, memory sticks and Sony’s new XQD cards via adapters. When you use the camera in any of the 4:2:2 modes the camera must format the cards using the same UDF format as the full size XDCAM optical disc cameras and XDCAM HD422 cameras. In UDF mode you can only use SxS cards. If you want to use SD cards or memory sticks then you have to use FAT formatting and this restricts you to the same 35 Mbit/s 4:2:0 recording modes as an EX camera. I strongly recommend that you use SxS cards. They are incredibly reliable and very fast. They are designed for video applications and in 5 years of using them I’ve never suffered a failure despite freezing them in ice and washing them in the washing machine (neither of which I actually recommend). You can offload media from your cards by connecting the camera to a PC using USB or by using the Sony SBAC-US10  USB card reader. If your computer has an express card slot you can insert the cards directly into the computer or if it has a Thunderbolt port you can use the Sonnet Echo Express card reader for incredibly fast transfers around 6x real time for 50 Mbit/s 4:2:2 material, even faster for 35 Mbit/s.

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XLR connectors for audio in on the PMW-200

Audio is as you would expect from any professional handheld camcorder except this one can record 4 channels of audio at the same time. There is a built in stereo microphone at the front of the cameras handle as well as two XLR connectors for external microphones or line level inputs. The XLR’s have phantom power if you need it. It is possible to record the internal microphones with automatic gain to audio channels 3 and 4 while the external mic inputs are recorded to 1 and 2. On the side of the camera there are controls for selecting the internal or external audio along with switches to move between automatic audio gain or manual gain plus a pair of knobs to set the manual gain level.

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Audio controls on PMW200

A 3.5mm headphone socket is provided for monitoring, the volume for which can be adjusted using up and down buttons on the camera handle. If your using a single external audio source such as a mono microphone you can map this to both audio channels in the cameras audio menu. Above the XLR audio connectors there is a microphone holder. This is attached to the camera body via a rubber mount and looks to be a lot more robust that the mic holder on the EX cameras that did have a tendency to break off if roughly treated.

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New LCD design with ultra wide viewing angle.

Great New LCD! The PMW-200 has both a 3.5” LCD screen and a small electronic viewfinder. The 3.5” LCD flips up and out from the top of the camera handle. This means that it can easily be seen from the left side of the camera as well as above and below the camera. In addition it can be twisted right around and laid back flat against the top of the handle or flipped up vertically. In the vertical position it can be viewed from the right side of the camera.

For self shooters and one man bands this is really useful as it means you can conduct an interview from either side of the camera and still check your framing. When the screen is folded flat against the handle it keeps the camera compact and the LCD is less likely to be damaged when it’s not sticking out from the side of the camera.

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The LCD screen reversed and folded flat.

The screen itself is bright and clear and has a remarkably wide viewing angle.  Like many LCD’s the LCD on the original EX cameras only has a useable viewing angle of about 15 degrees. If you are not looking square on at most conventional LCD’s the contrast and blacks are no longer accurate and this can lead to exposure errors. The new LCD on the PMW-200 has a viewing angle in excess of 120 degrees, you can see it from almost any angle. The contrast and brightness remains near constant even when viewed at very acute angles. This makes it much easier to use and should help reduce exposure errors. The new screen is also slightly higher resolution. One small criticism here is that on the pre-production camera that I had for review the screen was quite glossy. I hope the production screens have a less glossy finish as I prefer a matt finish.

The electronic viewfinder on the back of the camera handle is the same as the one on the EX1R.  I’ve seen worse, but I have also seen better. It’s adequate.

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Expanded Focus button on hand grip.

If you make use of the cameras coloured peaking or expanded focus assistance you can focus with it, but blink rapidly and you get a rainbow effect due to the way the red green and blue pixels are displayed one after another. The expanded focus function works while recording and is easily selected thanks to a button on the hand grip just by the zoom rocker.

There are buttons on the side of the camera body for zebras and focus so these can be selected quickly and easily if you need them.

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Rear BNC HDSDi, HDMI and other connectors.

If you want to connect an external monitor or viewfinder there is a comprehensive range of input and output connections on the rear of the camera. You have HDMI and HDSDi. Both can be used at the same time should you need to. You can down convert from HD to SD while you shoot if you need to provide a standard definition external feed. If you don’t need to connect an external device you can turn off the HDMI and HDSDi outputs to save battery power. If your shooting at 23.98p (24p) you can choose whether your output is 59.94i with pull down or straight 23.98p.

 

Just below the full size HDSDi BNC are two additional BNC connectors. The top one is for timecode and can be set to timecode in or timecode out. This is extremely useful on multi-camera shoots for synchronising the timecode on multiple cameras. Below that is a connector for Genlock In or Video Out, again an extremely useful feature that makes the PMW-200 useable in studio, multi-camera and 3D applications. Next to the BNC connectors is a USB port for off loading footage from media in the camera.  There’s an i-link connector (firewire) and AV out connector that provides stereo line level audio and composite video out.

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Playback controls on the handle.

Playback Mode. One frustration with the EX cameras is the need to switch the camera between specific recording and playback modes. To go from camera mode to playback mode takes about 8 seconds, that’s not really that long, but if you are playing back a clip and then suddenly need to shoot something, that 8 seconds feels like forever. There is no separate playback mode with the PMW-200. You simply press the thumbnail button or play button on the handle to view your clip thumbnails or play back the last clip. If you need to record again in a hurry you simply press either of the record buttons (one on the top of the handle, one on the hand grip) and within a second the camera will start recording. This is a big improvement and very welcome. The camera switches on faster than an EX1 and there is even a fast start mode where you press the record button while turning the camera on to power up very quickly and go straight into record. Another feature coming through a firmware update and the addition of a CBK-WA01 wifi dongle will be the ability to control some of the cameras functions using an iOS or Android device. I have limited information on this but you should be able to control focus, iris, white balance and rec start/stop and maybe some other functions as well. In addition the camera should support data logging and metadata management using XM-Pilot over WiFi (CBK-WA01 required).

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The battery compartment with recessed power connector.

Power Options: The PMW-200 is a 12v camera. It uses the same BP-U30 and BP-U60 batteries as the EX1/EX3, PMW-100 and PMW-F3 cameras. It can also be powered by an external 12v power supply. The connector for external power is tucked away inside the battery compartment so you won’t be able to use any of the 3rd party batteries that use a separate cable to connect the power. It also means that you can’t run the camera off an external power supply while you hot swap the batteries. I think it’s a shame that Sony have done this.

Power consumption is higher and the camera does get quite warm compared to an EX1. This I suspect is largely down to the extra processing power packed into the camera, not just for the 50Mbit/s 4:2:2 encoding but also for the improved image processing. I still got around 3 hours out of a well used BPU-60. To get rid of the extra heat the camera is covered in cooling vents. As handheld cameras like this get used outside in all kinds of weather I was a little concerned about water ingress.

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Alister shooting an airshow with the PMW200

However after shooting for a weekend at the Royal International Air Tattoo in showery rain I didn’t experience any problems. The engineers at Sony tell me that there are shields inside the camera to prevent any moisture that might get in from doing any damage. As always when shooting in the rain you should really use a rain cover with any camera anyway, but we do all get caught out in a shower from time to time.

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422 compared to 420 both shot with the PMW-200. Click on the image to enlarge.

Conclusions: Well I got to use the PMW-200 in Singapore in bright sunshine, high heat and humidity. I also shot night time cityscapes with it. It shrugged off the heat and performed flawlessly. The low light footage looks really good. Then I spent a week with it in the UK, putting it through its paces on a couple of paying shoots for clients. One a corporate video, the other shoot involving running around on the apron of a military airbase filming aircraft preparing for an airshow. In addition I used it to shoot the video review that accompanies this written review. At first I just saw the PMW-200 as an EX1R with the addition of 50 Mbit/s 4:2:2, which in itself is a nice improvement. But then when I started to find some of the subtle improvements like the better zoom servo, the wide LCD viewing angle, reduced picture noise and improved handling the PMW-200 really started to grow on me. It’s not significantly different from the EX1R and that’s good. The EX1R is a great camera and the PMW-200 builds on the strengths of the EX series. I believe this camera will do extremely well. It’s just what’s needed for many broadcast productions. Best in class low light performance. Beautiful full resolution images, easy to use and an industry proven workflow that meets broadcast standards.

Disclosure. I am a Sony ICE (Independent Certified Expert). I am NOT an employee of Sony, but I do work with Sony helping with training, education and events. I was paid a fee by Sony to cover the costs of shooting and editing the video and the time taken to write this review. I was not asked to write a favourable review and the reviews (seen here and on the Sony web site) were not modified, edited or changed by Sony from my original submission other than a correction to the EBU R118 specifications (added note about 1/3″ dispensation). The views expressed here are my own and are based on my experience using a pre-production camera for 2 days in Singapore and 10 days in the UK.

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44 thoughts on “50 Megabits for the masses, the new Sony PMW-200.”

    1. It can’t be rotated,but one of the biggest complaints about the EX1 was that it was not well balanced, in part due to the rotating hand grip making the camera very wide.

  1. I only wish they had announced the same camera with an interchangeable lens option. The small chip with photographic lens on the front is a winning formula for us nature/wildlife filmers, along with the cache recording.

    1. Maybe that will come in the future. The EX3 is a successful camera so it would make sense for Sony to do a 50Mb/s 422 compact camera with interchangeable lenses.

    1. No. The XDCAM codec is 8 bit. It’s based on Mpeg2 which is only 8 bit. The HDSDi output is I believe 10 Bit.

      8 Bit is fine if you don’t need to do extensive and heavy grading.

    1. I’m afraid you’ll need to start again as this camera use Hypergamma and not Cinegamma (very similar) and the matrix settings etc are from the full size XDCAM HD422 cameras as opposed to EX cameras.

    1. For starters I’d use Hypergamma 4 with a little negative black gamma. I found detail level at -12 and aperture at +30 gave a nice crisp picture without over sharpening.

  2. Nice write up and video review, Alister.

    I’m interested in the PMW200’s Wifi remote adapter and the tie-in to Android and iOS devices.

    The shot transition feature of the EX1R is probably the feature I’d miss most. But on the other hand, being able to replicate that feature with stored shot settings on my iPhone — at least in controlled situations where you have Wifi network coverage, that is — would be some comfort.

    Do you happen to know any of the specifics of the functionality that will be available in the December update that Sony promises?

    1. I’m sorry but I don’t have any information on the wiFi control beyond what is on the Sony web site. As well as camera control the WiFi adapter should allow the use of XM-Pilot for remote logging and metadata management.

  3. Hi Alister. Although I haven’t used this specific camera, I disagree that the viewfinder flipping up makes it acceptable for right-of-camera interviews. As a videojournalist, I am constantly having to shoot interviews and with a mic in the mic holder, the lower part of the screen is blocked; the screen’s at 90 degrees so you have to flip your head slightly sideways to see it properly; and if the interviewee is tall – our local County Council head is a giant of a man – you’re looking up at the camera as well so it’s even more unviewable! And don’t even start me on trying to film from the right with a rainjacket on the camera…

    Canon have done a much, much better job with the XF300 where the screen rotates out to the right. I just wish other camera manufacturers would take the hint 🙁

    1. I agree the XF305 viewfinder coming out to either side is better than this arrangement, but this arrangement I believe is better than the EX1 arrangement. Not every interview is done with the subject standing so in many cases this will be usable, not perfect but better than not being able to see it at all.

  4. Peace Allister,

    Does this new PMW 200, somewhat Justify that EX1r is still a camera that is worthy to buy now brand new? Its almost like the new camera is showing you how good the old Ex1r is, since its not a significant upgrade in every area, besides codec really.I some what a fan of the rotating grip of the EX1r.The Overall look of the camera period. The EX1r should ‘drop’ in price, somewhat and the Media for it will be cheaper. I really like this camera, but I am video Journalist mostly, and 35mbs should be fine enough for that right to send for broadcast? I see Europe says its fine for over there. I live in the US, and I see Ex1r everywhere still, It seems it can still compete with anything thats around for now. The ex1r maybe ‘older’ but it like it still has some solid years left. This camera does not make the Ex1r old, I think its all about application.I am torn on what to do. lol.

    1. That’s a tough one. I think one thing to factor in to your dilemma is depreciation. With the realise of the PMW-200 the value of a used EX1R is likely to fall as many EX1R owners may wish to upgrade. In a couple of years time I would expect a used PMW-200 to be worth considerably more than a used EX1R. I think you have to consider resale value as at some point you may wish to upgrade or change camera. You don’t have to use the 50Mb/s UDF mode with the PMW200. If you want to use SD cards you can still use them in FAT mode and 35Mb/s 420.

      The PMW-200 does not make the EX1R redundant. The EX1R performs today just as well as when launched and with a 3rd party external recorder can still comply with broadcast standards. The PMW-200 is an incremental improvement. The picture quality improvements are small but worthwhile, the 50Mb/s codec does make meeting broadcast specs easy.

      I think if I was in your shoes I’d be keeping an eye out for one of the many used EX1R’s that’s probably going to become available in the near future, using the savings to buy an external recorder perhaps or buy a PMW-200. I think buying a new EX1R right now could end up being one of those “I really wish I’d spent a little bit more…..” scenarios. It would cost a lot to upgrade later.

  5. I loved your review.

    On the noise and high gain performance, were you able to compare gain at +12db or even at the top at +18db?

    It seems that on current small sensor cameras like the NXCAM NX70 and the NX30, these cameras can perform very high amplification while still looking “relatively” clean. Example: crank up the gain on an NX70 to +18db and you will see no where near the amount of noise you would have expected 3 or 4 years ago from the same small sensor.

    With the PMW 200 are you seeing amplification levels and noise amounts that are comparable to the NX30’s amplification performance?

    Cliff

    1. Well gain, noise and sensitivity are tied together. +18db is meaningless unless you know what your base sensitivity is. For example if base is 100 ISO then + 6db = 200 ISO, +12db = 400 ISO and +18db = 800 ISO. But if base is 340 ISO (PMW-200 approx) then +6 db = 680 ISO, +12 db = 1340 ISO and +18 db = 2680 ISO.

      So without knowing the base sensitivity of the NX30 (anyone know??) comparing +18db on one camera to +18db on another doesn’t mean a great deal as maybe the NX30 at +18db has less noise than the PMW-200 at +18db, but then maybe at +12 db the PMW-200 is more sensitive than the NX30, so for the same dark scene the PMW-200 produces the image with least noise. I’m waffling…… So long and short is you need to compare noise levels when both cameras are outputting exactly the same signal levels to get a feel for the actual noise/sensitivity performance.

      I suspect, but don’t know for sure, that the NX30 is not as sensitive as the PMW-200. So I don’t know what the result of a side by side noise/sensitivity comparison would be. Clearly some more advanced noise reduction has found it’s way into the PMW-200, so it produces less noise than the EX1, especially at higher gain settings, but at higher gain settings there is a little bit of image softening of the image as a result.

      1. All good points, no doubt.

        My questions about amplification and NR are more focused on the process itself.

        Sony starts the process by taking a relatively low output sensor,….then adding it’s “super secret sauce” and getting a final output of “x”. But let’s say they start again but take a higher output sensor,…then add that same “super secret sauce”…one would expect a brighter and cleaner final result?

        I guess that I’m so shocked to see what Sony is doing with tiny single sensors today and I’m expecting to see equivalent proportional gains when that same (hopefully the same) “secret sauce” is applied behind larger and higher output sensors. I wonder if the PMW 200 is getting the same readout and post electronic turbo charging that the little sensors get. (I say “secret sauce” because that’s what Sony’s Andy Munis called it when we talked about it at NAB…lol)

        What is your feeling on Sony’s back illuminated (EXMOR-R) theory? Do you think that moving the circuit grid behind the photosites and giving them a bit more room to be a bit larger is really a benefit? Or is that just marketing fluff?

        If it is something that is truly great, why are we not seeing it on this PMW 200? The NX70 has “EXMOR-R” and so does the NX30 as well as several Handycams.

        Cliff

        1. Sony’s NR is obviously getting clever, but apply too much and the images start to look very glass like and the resolution drops. You can see this effect on most of Sony’s newer cameras when you turn up the gain. The PMW100 images look very odd because of the noise reduction. There is a fine balance between noise reduction and acceptable image softening.

          EXMOR-R does have a slight advantage on very small sensors where the pixel size is very small. As the pixel size increases the advantage diminishes as a much smaller percentage of the pixel is obscured by the electronics. It should not be forgotten that micro lenses have been used on larger sensors for a long time to overcome the issue of pixels being obstructed or poor fill factor. When the pixel size gets to that of the PMW-200 back illumination does make a significant difference.

          Sensor output is governed by the QE of the pixels. The Quantum Efficiency is the ratio of photons of light falling on the pixel to electrons output by the pixel. The sensors used in the EX1 and PMW-200 clearly have a very high QE. Modern sensors are achieving QE’s of around 65% or more which is quite remarkable, converting 65% of the photons of light falling on the sensor into electrons. The next thing to consider is the pixels noise level as you can’t detect the actual picture information if it’s below the noise floor. This is where sensor size becomes important. Much of the noise in a sensor comes from the onboard electronics. Sensors with similar pixel counts have similar amounts of electronics, but a bigger sensor with bigger pixels will be able to capture more photons per pixel, so for the same amount of noise the bigger sensor will normally have a higher output. These factors are governed largely by the laws of physics. The bottom line is that no matter what you do, the bigger the pixels, the better the signal to noise ratio will be. Clever noise reduction does help produce a cleaner image, but it does introduce artefacts such as a loss of micro contrast, softness, and smear. Start with a low noise signal and the end result will be better than a heavily noise reduced image.

          It is a big mistake to focus on any one single factor of a cameras performance with looking at the bigger picture. When assessing noise you must also include base sensitivity. You should also take into account resolution and dynamic range. Remember the uproar when everyone discovered that there new cameras were suddenly much more noisy than before? That was when we moved from SD to HD and because of the extra and as a result smaller pixels needed to shoot HD cameras suddenly became less sensitive and noisier and everyone got upset. Still today I get emails from people moaning that their EX1 is rubbish because it’s noisier than a PD170. You must consider the whole image and while the pictures from the NX30, NX70 etc are remarkably good they do not have the resolution, dynamic range, colorimetry or verisimilitude of an EX1 or PMW-200. I’m sure Sony could have cranked up the noise reduction on the PMW-200 to a much higher level if they chose, but it would have had a detrimental effect on the rest of the image.

          1. Thanks for that info, very insightful indeed. I must read more about sensor QE. Whenever I have an idea about something, you always have a way of making me rethink the things that I think I know! lol (The “negative gain” topic a while back altered my view on dynamic range.)

            On the PMW 200 build quality:

            I played with a PMW 100 for about 15 min last week. I twas struck by how “plasticy” feeling the construction was. It felt like a “Star Wars” toy gun to me. How does the 200 it feel in your hands? The EX1 feels “solid”. It feels like if you hit somebody with it, they’d be on the floor knocked out and the camera would be fine. I’m not saying I want to use the PMW 200 as a weapon but I’m just curious if you think that it’s construction is as good as an EX1.

            PMW 200 zoom rocker:

            The EX1r has a nice deep zoom rocker with allot of travel distance. The PMW 200’s is smaller and only feels like it has half the movement range. What are your thoughts on the new zoom rocker? Will the PMW 200 firmware for zoom speed go below the EX1r’s “8” value?

            Just looking at PMW 100 & 200 photos. They appear to be identical bodies with literally only different lenses attached. There is a plastic seam that runs down each camera just under the front handle. Both cameras appear to share the entire body behind that seem. Basically speaking, is the PMW 200 just a 100 with and EX1r lens and sensor block up front? (keeps productions costs down?)

          2. The PMW-100 and 200 bodies are different. Not hugely so, but different non the less, I’m sure that much of the camera parts are shared between both. The plastic on the 200 is similar to the 100, but the 200 has a more solid feel to it. At first I was a little suspicious of the build quality, but when I compared it side by side with an EX1R I didn’t feel that it was actually all that different. The plastic panels don’t flex or give and while plastic as opposed to die cast alloy I thing they are probably just as strong. The entire build philosophy of the PMW-100 and 200 appears to be quite different to the EX’s. The EX’s don’t require the ventilation for cooling that the 50Mb/s codec and 422 processing requires, so they don’t need all the cooling vents. This allows you to build a tough monocoque body where the electronics can fill the entire body. As a result when you tap the side of the camera it sounds very solid and full. The cooling vents on the PMW’s appear to require a different approach when you peer through the vents and shine a torch in you can see that behind the plastic body panels there is a gap before another what appears to be metal inner enclosure. So when you tap the outside of the camera it sound hollow, that’s because in part it is. The camera appears to be constructed with an inner compartment with heatsinks and metal faces that is within the outer plastic casing.

            I had no issues with the zoom rocker. It didn’t feel small or difficult to use in use. I didn’t check the slowest speed in the menu but the zoom is certainly better at slow zooms than the EX1. The lens has a new servo that appears to have better gearing to improve slow zoom performance.

    1. As far as I know only one card at a time. You can copy your material from one card to another, but as far as I know it’s only possible to record to one slot at a time.

  6. Did you notice any improvements to the image stabilization on the PMW 200? (I’m guessing it’s the same as the EX1r.)

    You said that you believe that the SDI is 10 bit. Any word on if the HDMI is 10 bit?

  7. Alistair,

    Many thanks for your review of the PMW-200 – very interesting and informative.

    I notice it’s been a few weeks since you first mentioned that you were having a bit of a play with the PMW-100. Since then I’ve regularly checked to see if you’d posted a more detailed article about it, but I’ve seen only a scattering of comments from you – all of them quite negative (thanks for being very straightforward, by the way).

    With the release of the 200, it seems like, why did they bother with the 100, since it seems to fall short on so many levels. I understand people will have budget issues, but I can’t help thinking that, for a work tool, a relatively small jump in outlay for the 200 now will pay back massively over the longer term.

    Cheers,

    Nigel

    1. I never got around to publishing my PMW-100 review because I wasn’t confident that the picture quality I was seeing on the pre production cameras was representative of the production models. Being honest I found it hard to believe that an XDCAM camera could look so poor. The second PMW-100 I got to play with was noticeably better than the first, but still a long way from the PMW-200 and really no better than the cheaper NX-30 (actually I think the NX30 is the better camera).

      I don’t understand the PMW-100 either, Sony have better sensors than the one in the 100, why not put your best single chip sensor in with the great XDCAM code? The PMW-200 is a good solid investment, it does what it’s supposed to do, while the PMW-100 fails to deliver what I believe it should.

      1. Exactly.

        A principle of documentary filmmaking for me is – get the shot first, seek forgiveness later. There are many occasions where the NX30 would allow me to ‘get the shot’ where a relatively bulky camera such as the PMW-100 would not.

        I don’t have the EBU documents in front of me, but I’m sure that the specifications for long-form documentary productions must allow for a small percentage of the footage to be shot at lower than the minimum requirements for bit-rate and sensor-size, as long as that footage is included for artistic reasons, or contributes significantly to the story being told.

        When you see the PMW-100 up close, you realise it’s quite a bulky camera – maybe only 25-30% shorter than the PMW-200, so size as a deciding factor doesn’t really enter the calculations either.

        The PMW-200/NX-30 combination is compelling for me. The NX-30 is truly minuscule, but still allows for the use of a couple of radio mics, or one radio mic and a decent top mic.

        I’m sure a lot of doc0-makers have been, like me, in two minds recently about the FS-700. Seeing it’s obvious limitations as a documentary tool, but sorely tempted by the ‘cinematic’ benefits of its large sensor, its lens options, the slo-mo, and, of course, it’s low price – while no new EX1/3 offering was anywhere on the horizon.

        The PMW-200 for me, is the camera to buy. Likewise the NX-30. The FS-700 is the camera to rent when the need arises.

        Cheers.

        Nigel

  8. Nice comprehensive review, Alister.
    I’m wondering why the auto-iris button on the zoom handle has been discarded. Any ideas?

    Thanks,
    Ed

  9. the rotating grip on the ex1 made it,

    this 35 v 50mps, what a heap of b…… , think I will stick with the ex1 and if need be use a nano flash. Watched a storyville doc a while back, looked like it was shot on some kind of domestic camera, it’s the story that counts.

    1. Content is king, no one will argue with you there! 35Mb/s XDCAM is very good, I’ve produced many a corporate using it. But if your client is a broadcaster that wants 50Mb/s, that’s what you have to shoot on.

      The PMW-200 certainly doesn’t make EX1’s worthless or anything like that. They are just as good today as when launched, they are great cameras that still give results that are tough to better.

  10. Do you know if this is going to be a PAL-only (for PAL markets) / NTSC-only (for NTSC markets) or able to do both out the box?

    If the former, is there likely to be a firmware upgrade to add the other region frame-rates to the region you have (e.g. add NTSC frame rates if you have a PAL PMW-200)?

    The specs on the Sony Europe site seem to imply that you get all the frame rates you’ll ever need (60i, 50i, 30p, 25p, 24p… ) already built in, right out of the box: http://www.sony.co.uk/pro/product/xdcamcamcorders/pmw-200/specifications#specifications But with Sony, you can never tell… were you able to verify this?

  11. Thanks Alister for this very clear review.
    EX1 and EX3 camera have the Freeze Mix function that are important for my filmings.
    Have you notice this function on the PMW 200?
    Cheers,
    Pascal

    1. I did not notice whether it was there or was not. The menus are almost identical to the EX1’s as is the functionality, so I would be surprised if this feature has been dropped.

  12. A truly excellent review!

    The PMW 200 appears to be an answer to many prayers…

    One Question:

    While the PMW 100/200 User Manual) clearly notes (pages 27 and 30) that UDF formatting is NOT supported for the PHU-220R Hard Drive Unit, OR for SDHC cards or Memory Stick Media, I note that NO such notation is made with regard to the recently introduced XQD cards – which can be utilized in combination with the QDA-EX1 Media Adaptor (US$ 44.99 at B&H Photo).

    While certainly not inexpensive, XQD cards offer an attractive alternative to outrageously priced proprietary media (Sxs, P2, etc.). With Lexar and other major players set to enter the XQD marketplace shortly, the price is bound to come down significantly.

    Kindly confirm the compatibility of XQD cards with the 50Mb/s UDF mode.

    Best regards…

  13. Is the image stabilization better with the PMW 200 compared to the NX5U.
    I used the 200 today shooting from one of our helicopters, and the stabilization did not appear to be any better than our NX5U.

  14. i have sale service sony in pakistan i have sale 4 camera pmw 100 that return insame fault zoom is working auto back slowly i think that manufacture fault . what can i do . if you have any suggestion for that .

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