IBC is still in full swing and I’m very busy at the show, but I managed to spend a bit of time with the Z100 today. I was able to compare it with some of the other cameras on the camera set for comparison, but this is a very crude first look at a camera running beta firmware and picture settings. So it may not 100% represent the final product, but I do expect it to be pretty close.
Having played with the Z100 now, I have to say I am pleasantly impressed. It is not a sensitive as the PMW200 or an EX1, I estimate it’s about 1.5 stops less sensitive at 0db. But it is remarkably noise free with slightly less noise than a PMW-200 at 0db. Even at +9bd the (which brings it back up to similar sensitivity to a PMW-200/EX1 at 0db) the noise is not too bad. Fast pans at +9 or +12db will reveal some image smear due to the 3D noise reduction having to work harder, but it’s not too bad and usable for most applications.
I thought it would be worse than this. There must be a lot of noise reduction and processing taking place to produce this clean image, but overall the NR is very transparent and well executed. I estimate dynamic range at about 10 stops, maybe a little more but certainly nowhere near the 14 stops you can get from a camera like the F5 or FS700 in raw mode. .The PMW-300 on the Sony booth is showing more dynamic range than the Z100. I did expect this due to the small pixel size. The standard 709 gamma curve with knee works quite well. The Cinematone gammas don’t bring any more dynamic range as far as I can tell, but the highlight roll off is more pleasing and a little more natural looking with the Cinematone gammas.
My biggest reservation is focussing the camera with the built in viewfinder or LCD. The rear finder is really not up to the task of focussing for 4K. The LCD panel is better, but with no magnifier or monocular your going to have to have damn good close up eyesight to be able to use it for accurate focus at 4K. This is not an issue unique to this camera, as no camera I know of has a viewfinder better than 1080P and most are only 720P or 1/4HD (960×540 which is what I believe the Z100 is). But not having a magnifier makes this even worse than most. So, your almost certainly going to have to rely on autofocus to get the focus spot on in many situations. Fortunately the autofocus is fast and accurate. I think with these smaller cameras the use of autofocus will be common even for us old “I never use autofocus” operators, just as autofocus is now normal even for professional photographers. There is a good colored peaking function that works well and the deeper DoF from the small sensor does mean that focus errors are not quite as telling as on a large sensor camera. But even so the LCD, for me at least is far from ideal for good focus at 4K. I think your going to need to either add a 3rd part loupe or use and external finder such as the Alphatron with focus magnification.
Build quality is good, the camera feels very solid yet lightweight, even with a high capacity battery it is comfortably under 3kg. It uses the very common NP-F type batteries. Minor gripes are that the shoe on the handle in front of the LCD means that if you have a large light or radio mic attached to the shoe you can’t open and close the LCD panel.
The menu system is lifted straight from the PMW-F5 and F55 and most of the menu pages are very similar. Scene file settings are quite comprehensive and there is a lot of scope for fine tuning the pictures with matrix, detail and gamma settings. However as I said, no extended dynamic range Cinegammas or Hypergammas but you can adjust the knee and black gamma to fine tune your contrast range and dynamic range.
Overall, it’s better than I expected. The 4K images are sharp and clear, not overly sharpened and they look quite natural. At 0db the noise levels are very low and the image is quite clean, but sensitivity is lower than we expect from a modern HD camera (no big surprise). Dynamic range is also a little lower than you can get from a good 1/2″ camera but not significantly so. I think Sony have done a good job of squeezing as much as they can from this small size sensor with very small pixels. The 20x zoom seems to stay nice and sharp across the zoom range, even out in the corners. As an F5 owner there have been many occasions when I have longed for a sharp 20x zoom that I can use when shooting 4K. That’s probably something I’ll never be able to afford for my F5, but the Z100 opens up the possibility of having that wide zoom range and 4K. Providing the scene isn’t too dark or too contrasty the Z100 would allow me to get those shot for a lot, lot, lot less money than very big, very heavy PL mount zoom.