A Tale of Two Cameras – The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.

XDCAM-sliding-system-v2 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
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Which do you choose, PXW-Z100 or PMW-300?

I decided to review both of these cameras together. Why? Well because many of the people I have met recently have been looking at both of these cameras as possible options. The price of both of these cameras is very similar, yet both cameras are actually quite different. On the one hand the Z100 offers 4K and a 20x zoom lens while the PMW-300 offers broadcast quality HD in a sort of shoulder mount design. Which to choose?

PMW-300-side-300x199 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
Sony PMW-300

To start with both cameras are well built. They both feel very solid and well put together. I didn’t notice any creaks or flexing of either camera body. They both feel like professional pieces of kit that will withstand the bumps and knocks that they will almost certainly get. They are finished with a nice matt black finish. The Z100 appears to have a primarily plastic shell while the PMW-300 has a magnesium alloy shell. One small criticism here is that this has a slightly rough finish and is prone to marking from finger nails etc. But the marks can simply be wiped off. Of the two the PMW-300 feels just a little more substantial. Compared to the Sony PMW-200 I feel that both of these cameras feel more substantial and better built.

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Sony PXW-Z100 4K/HD Camcorder.

The PXW-Z100 design is very conventional. A handheld camera with a flip out LCD on the top of the handle and a second small drumstick style view finder on the rear of the handle.

 

The PMW-300 is rather different. It’s a little larger than most handycam’s, a little heavier too at almost 4kg (9lbs) and instead of a flip out LCD display features a large colour monocular viewfinder. The viewfinder is on an articulated arm that slides fore and aft on a sliding rail. The rail can be adjusted left right by about 30mm to give a small degree of left/right adjustment.

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The hard to get at release for the left/right viewfinder adjustment.

However I found it really fiddly and tricky to get at the release leaver for the left right adjustment. The viewfinder can easily be detached for travel or storage. The plug for the viewfinder goes into a recess in the cameras body and is then covered by a plastic plate that stops it pulling out.

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Broken plastic cover for the viewfinder connector socket.

I used the camera for a dealer event. By the end of the day at the dealer event the little plastic cover had been broken off. It’s attached to the camera via a thumb screw and a very thin piece of plastic. I suspect a lot of these will get broken. It doesn’t really affect the operation of the camera, but without the cover there is nothing to prevent the viewfinder plug from being pulled out.

The other major design feature of the PMW-300 is that the lens in interchangeable. There are two kit lenses to choose from plus adapters that will allow the use of conventional 1/2″ and 2/3″ ENG style zoom lenses. More on the lenses in a bit.

THE VIEWFINDERS:

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Te PXW-Z100 LCD screen.

The flip out viewfinder on the PXW-Z100 is sharp and clear. It’s a 3.5″ 852 x 480 pixel screen and the colour and contrast appears pretty accurate. In common with most cameras like this however it struggles in bright sunlight. On the back of the camera there is a small 0.45″ 852 x 480 pixel EVF. Now although both of the screens are supposed to be the same resolution, I felt that I could see more detail on the bigger flip out LCD. In addition if I blinked my eyes when looking at the EVF, I would see a rainbow colour effect. This is because the EVF display is shown one colour after the other, rather than all three RGB colours together. I also found that when I got the center of the EVF in focus using the diopter adjustment, the left side of the screen was out of focus. I don’t know whether this is a fault on the demo sample I had or whether they are all like this. To assist with focusing the camera has a coloured peaking system and via a button on the hand grip (Focus Mag) the ability to zoom into the image to check focus without effecting the recordings. The peaking also works in the Focus Mag mode, so you can both zoom in and have peaking at the same time. This is just as well as when shooting in 4K, focus is super critical.

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The PMW-300 flipped up.

The viewfinder on the PMW-300 is a delight! It is a little bulky and this does tend to make the camera slightly lop-sided from a weight and balance point of view, but with it’s large 3.5″ high resolution 960 x 540 screen behind a monocular eyepiece it is sharp, accurate and very nice to use. It’s very similar to the viewfinder available for the F5 and F55 cameras. The monocular itself flips up to allow the LCD to be viewed easily from behind or above the camera and mirror assembly flip up so that you can view the LCD from the side. In addition you can remove the lens and mirror assemblies if you choose. There is a mirror switch on the finder so you can reverse the LCD image when using the mirror or have a normal image without the mirror. As well as the mirror switch there are controls for the brightness contrast and peaking as well as switches to turn the zebra and display overlays on and off. Like the Z100 there is a Focus Mag button on the hand grip that enlarges the viewfinder image to help with focus, but on the PMW-300 the peaking is disabled when Focus Mag is engaged which is a shame.

THE LENSES.

The Z100 has a 20x zoom lens and the PMW-300 is available with a choice of two lenses, a 14x and a 16x. Both lenses being very similar, the 16x having a little more telephoto reach (available early 2014).

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The 20x zoom lens on the PXW-Z100

On the Z100 lens there are three rings, one each for focus, zoom and iris. All of these are of the electronic round and round, uncalibrated servo variety. I’m not a fan of these and this camera reminded me of why. The focus and iris control is a little sluggish so snap focus changes are almost impossible. When using the ring to change the aperture you have to go slowly to make sure you don’t overshoot. The zoom ring seemed pretty responsive and I found I could use the zoom ring to re-frame shots more accurately than the zoom rocker. The zoom rocker has quite a large dead band area where you push the rocker and nothing happens. Then you suddenly find the point when the zoom starts to move and if you’re not careful the zoom will start quite suddenly. It is possible to do slow creeping zooms, but finding the “bite” point where the zoom starts to move is tricky. Press the rocker further and you can have quite a quick zoom.

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The PXW-Z100 fully wide and zoomed all the way in.

The big plus point of the lens though is the zoom range. Having been shooting with large sensor cameras and restricted zoom ranges for a few months it really was quite a revelation to get back to a camera with a big zoom range. I think I had forgotten how nice it is to be able to get a wide shot and a very long shot without changing lenses. In addition the lens is optically stabilised and this really helps with long shots on wobbly tripods or when using the camera hand held.

One thing I did note that was a little disappointing is that the aperture ramps as you zoom. If you start wide open at f1.6 as you zoom in the aperture slowly decreases to f3.2 when fully zoomed in. You can see this one stop exposure change in your shots. If you start at f3.2 or smaller then this does not happen, it only if you have the lens wide open.

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The 14x lens on the PMW-300

The PMW-300’s lens is just like the lens on the PMW-200 and the EX1R before that. Except on the 300 the lens in removable, just like the EX3. There are two different lenses available. The one I tested was a 14x zoom and the other coming in early 2014 is a very similar 16x zoom with a slightly longer telephoto end. Again we have three rings, one for focus zoom and iris. Unlike the Z100 though these are all calibrated and have end stops. The focus ring has two distinct modes. Slide it forward and it’s a round and round servo controlled focus system. But in the forward mode the lens can be set to either manual or auto focus. Slide the ring back and it locks in to the calibrated focus scale and it is a responsive, accurate and snappy focus ring, just like a much more expensive broadcast lens. The zoom ring appears to act directly on the mechanics of the zoom lens and as a result in manual mode is beautifully fast making crash zooms really easy. In servo mode the zoom rocker has only the smallest of dead areas so finding the bite point and starting a slow zoom is easy. You can do a slow creeping zoom or a fast zoom and the control is easy. The iris ring is also fast, accurate and repeatable. For the money these are great lenses.

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The PMW-300’s zoom range.

The lenses on both cameras exhibited similar amounts of chromatic aberration. This isn’t particularly bad, but it is there none the less. One issue when trying to make a lens sharper or higher resolution, then CA becomes harder to control. The Z100 lens is a good example of this. Remarkably sharp, but with some CA, especially out at the edges of the frame.

Image Quality.

Lets start by saying that the laws of physics and optics will almost always mean that a small sensor with small pixels will be less sensitive than a larger sensor with larger pixels. The PXW-Z100 is at quite a disadvantage here. For a start it has a single fairly small 1/2.3″ sensor (that’s smaller than 1/2″ but a little bigger than 1/3″). Packed in to this area are 8 million active pixels. That’s a lot of pixels in a small space, so they are very small. To help make up for the small pixel size Sony have used a back illuminated sensor. Back illuminated sensors have fewer obstructions in front of the pixels so are more efficient than conventional sensors, but this advantage only goes a small way towards making up for the very small pixel size.

On the other hand the PMW-300 has three 1/2″ sensors. Sony’s EX and now PMW range of half inch cameras have always performed well in low light thanks to the larger than average sensors used, most handycams use 1/3″ sensors. The PMW-300 is no exception, not only does it have the same 1/2″ sensors as the PMW-200, EX1 and EX3, but it also has a new and improved noise reduction system. As a result the PMW-300 tends to show a little less noise than it’s predecessors. Even with +9db of gain added the pictures are still pretty good.

So just what is the PXW-Z100 like in low light? First of all let’s look at what it’s like in good light. Below I’ve included two frame grabs. One from the PXW-Z100 and one from the PMW-300. The shots were done within a few minutes of each other in good daylight. The Z100 was set to HD. Both cameras were at 0db gain. Click on the images to see them larger or at the original resolution.

Z100-HD-Std-1024x576 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
PXW-Z100. HD, 25p, 1/50th, 0db, f6.8, ND1 (1/4).
300-std-wide-1024x576 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
PMW-300, HD, 25p, 1/50th, 0db, f8, ND2 (1/16).

So what do I see in these images? Well first of all there is a saturation difference between the two camera. The PMW-300 looks richer because it has more colour saturation. This is easy to adjust with either camera via the paint or picture profile adjustments. The next is the difference in dynamic range. The PMW-300 has better dynamic range than the Z100. Look at the highlight on the back of the blue car, the top of the street lamp on the left and the widows of the distant houses. The PMW-300 is holding these highlights much better than the Z100. Also look at the deep shadow across the grass, both cameras are handling this similarly, so the PMW-300 has better dynamic range. This isn’t really a big surprise as the bigger the pixels the better the dynamic range and the 300 has significantly bigger pixels.

Colours: The Z100 produces some very pleasing and natural looking colours straight out of the box. The PMW-300 has that slight yellow/green look that most Sony cameras have. This can be corrected or altered with a few matrix tweaks in a picture profile if you don’t like it, but as it has this typical Sony look it will match quite closely with most other Sony broadcast cameras.

Both cameras show low noise levels at 0db. The z100 is marginally noisier than the PMW-300, you can see a little more noise in the sky in the Z100 shot but it’s not in my opinion a significant difference. Sony claim 60db for the PMW-300 but don’t give a noise figure for the Z100. The Z100’s noise is a little blotch when the camera is set to HD, I suspect the blotchy nature is a side effect of the cameras built in noise reduction. But, again, I don’t have an issue with the noise levels of either camera at 0db. The Z100 is using quite a bit of noise reduction at all gain levels. As a result there can be a little bit of a difference in noise levels from shot to shot.

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Noise comparison between PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 at 0db.

So while the noise is not bad, just refer back to the settings noted in the full size frame grabs. The PMW-300 is at f8 with 1/16th(4 stops) of ND and the Z100 is f6.8 with 1/4 (2 stops) of ND. Even allowing for the Z100 possibly being fractionally over exposed compared to the PMW-300, that’s a not insignificant 2 stop sensitivity difference between the cameras. This difference becomes even more apparent when the light starts to fall off. I rate the PMW-300 at approx 340 ISO and the PXW-Z100 at about 75 ISO.

So I did some further tests to evaluate the low light performance of both cameras. The first test you can see below. This was shot in my living room using a ceiling light fixture with 3 x 40w household light bulbs. I would suggest this is a fairly typical light level for a lot of living rooms at night and the type of situation that might be encountered when shooting an observational or fly on the wall type documentary.

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PXW-Z100 at 0db, f1.6 in a typical living room.
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PMW-300 at 0db, f1.9 in the same room as above.

As you can see the difference is quite striking. Just to be sure of my results I repeated the test using a chart as you can see below, both cameras at 0db and wide open.

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PXW-Z100 at 0db, low light test.
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PMW-300 at 0db with same lighting as above.

So the Z100 is obviously around 2 stops less sensitive than the PMW-300. Can we make up for this lack of sensitivity by adding some gain? Take a look at the results below, the Z100 with +9db and +18db of gain:

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PXW-Z100 with +9db gain.
Z100-18db-1024x576 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
PXW-Z100 with +18db gain.

This test confirms the slightly over two stop sensitivity difference between the PMW-300 and PXW-Z100. You can see that at +18db the Z100 is marginally more sensitive than the PMW-300 at 0db. 18db is the equivalent to 3 stops. AT +12db the Z100 is less sensitive than the PMW-300 and 12db is two stops.

The key thing here is to note that in a low light situation where the PMW-300 is just about producing an acceptable image at 0db, your going to need 12 to 18db of gain to get the same brightness image out of the Z100. Looking closely at the noise levels from the Z100, I would be reasonably comfortable using +9db gain if I had to, but +12db from the Z100 is too noisy for me and 18db is getting pretty grim. In addition there is some loss of contrast at the higher gain settings.

Low light is where the PMW-200 and EX1 etc have always been good performers and the PMW-300 continues this. I also decided to take a look at how well the 300’s new noise reduction circuits work, so here are frame grabs from the PMW-300 at +9db and +18db.

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PMW-300 at +9db.
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PMW-300 at +18db.

The noise reduction on the 300 is quite effective at +9db and if I had to, I wouldn’t be too uncomfortable using +9db of gain (I never want to use gain, but sometimes you just have to). Above about 12db however the noise reduction is less effective and also starts to reduce the contrast in the image quite noticeably.

So, the PXW-Z100 struggles a bit in low light compared to a camera with a larger sensor and fewer pixels. But then the Z100 is a 4K camera and can produce a much higher resolution image. Just how good is this 4K image as in many cases the Z100 will be used alongside cameras like the PMW-F5 or F55, both of which are capable of stunning 4K.

Well I think it does very well considering the small size sensor. The 4K images have nice contrast and plenty of detail. The deep depth of field that the small sensor provides really helps when you have street scenes like the ones below which were shot in Austin, Texas. Sometime’s you don’t want a shallow depth of field and for the kinds of applications I can see this camera being used for, I think a deeper DoF will be good.

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6th Street, Austin Texas. HXR-Z100 frame grab. Click on the image to enlarge.

 

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Shop signs, 6th Street, Austin. HXR-Z100 frame grab.

Picture Profiles and Scene Settings.

Both cameras have the ability to customise the way the pictures look. On the PMW-300 you have 6 picture profile memories that you can use to save 6 different camera setups. There are adjustments for the matrix, detail, white balance and gamma settings. As well as standard gammas including Rec-709 (STD 5) you have the same 4 Hypergammas as used by the PMW-200, 400, 500, 700 and also used in the F5 and F55. The Hypergammas extend the cameras dynamic range and provide a very pleasing highlight roll off that is closer to film and less video like (Hypergammas should be exposed a little lower than standard gammas for best results). The PMW-300 appears to have a very respectable 11.5 stops of dynamic range.

The Z100 only has a single set of paint settings. Most are very similar to the 300, but instead of Hypergammas the Z100 has two gamma curves called Cinematone 1 and Cinematone 2. It’s important to note that unlike the Cinegammas found in the EX series cameras or the Hypergammas in the PMW’s the Cinematone gammas do not extend the dynamic range. The Z100 appears to have around 10 stops of dynamic range when using the standard gamma and knee settings.

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PXW-Z100 gamma choices.

The Cinematone gamma curves both tend to pull down the black and shadow areas of the picture increasing contrast. There is almost no change to the highlight handling. Personally I would not use these curves. I would rather shoot with the standard 709 gamma curve and then adjust my black levels in post production where I have more control. Having said that if you do want a contrasty look straight from the camera then the Cinematone gammas may prove useful.

Recording Codecs and Media.

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The PMW-300’s SxS slots and output connections.

The PMW-300 like every other PMW camcorder is based around Sony’s SxS solid state recording media. This very robust professional media has been around for over 6 years now and is widely accepted in the pro video world. The cards are expensive when compared to consumer media, but they are very fast and very reliable. I’ve been using them for 6 years and never had any issues. The camera has two SxS slots and it will automatically switch from one card to the other as the cards fill up without any interruption to the recordings.

The 300 currently comes with Sony’s XDCAM HD codec as standard. Next year there will be a firmware update that will add the new XAVC codec to the camera. As it stands right now the 300 has two distinct modes. FAT mode and UDF mode. In FAT mode the camera records in standard definition DV, HDV and 35Mb/s 1920 x 1080 4:2:0 XDCAM. The XDCAM footage is wrapped in the .mp4 wrapper. The key benefit of FAT mode is the ability to use cheap SD cards via an equally low cost SxS to SD card adapter. The BBC use SD cards via adapters for some TV news applications. For those on a tight budget the SD cards are certainly an option, or they can be used as a backup for those times when perhaps you run out of the more expensive SxS cards. Just remember that SD cards are mass produced consumer products. In addition there is a lot of sub-standard fake media out there, so do be careful where you buy your media.

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An SxS card and XQD card side by side.

To get the very best from the PMW-300 you want to use UDF mode. In UDF mode you cannot use SD cards, only SxS cards or via an adapter XQD cards (more about those in a bit). In UDF mode the camera can record XDCAM HD422. This is wrapped in the broadcast industry standard MXF wrapper, is 4:2:2 and has a bit rate of up to 50Mb/s so offers better image quality than the FAT modes and fully complies with most TV broadcast standards. One limitation however of the Mpeg 2 encoding used by XDCAM is that the maximum frame rate that can be recorded at 1920 x 1080 is 30fps. So if you want to shoot at 50p or 60p with the 300 you have to drop the resolution of the internal recordings to 720p.

At the moment (December 2014) it is unclear exactly what frame rates or modes will be available when the XAVC codec gets added to the PMW-300. I would hope that one of the things that will be added is the ability to shoot at 1920 x 1080 at 50p and 60p, but at the moment Sony are being quite tight lipped as to what will come.

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The PXW-Z100’s card slots.

The PXW-Z100 records on to XQD cards. XQD is a new high end, very fast consumer flash media. At the moment only Sony and Nikon use them and you will only them in the Nikon D4 camera as well as the Z100, plus via adapters in most other PMW cameras. Cards are available from Sony and Lexar and to add to the confusion they come in different speed ratings with 3 different classes of card from Sony, N, H and S.

The entry level “N” series cards have a maximum write speed of 80MB/s (640Mb/s). The H series cards have a maximum write speed of 125MB/s (1Gb/s) while the faster (and more expensive) “S” series cards have a significantly  maximum write speed of 180MB/s (1.4Gb/s).  There are both USB3 and Thunderbolt card readers for the cards so read speeds are also very fast. To record all of the various modes that the PXW-Z100 is capable of you need the more expensive “S” series cards. If your only going to shoot in HD then you will be OK with the cheaper “N” series. In December 2014 amazon were selling a 32GB “S” series XQD card for £220 GBP ($350 USD). That’s about half the price of a similar SxS card.

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The playback and menu buttons on the handle of the Z100

The Z100 comes with Sony’s XAVC codec. This is a 10 bit, 4:2:2 “I” frame only codec. In the future there will be a firmware update to add the more compact 4:2:0, long GOP XAVC-S codec. A further update will also add the ability to record AVCHD on to an SD card into the currently un-used SD card slot next to the two XQD slots.

XAVC is a great codec. It offers very high quality 10 bit recording at different resolutions and different frame rates. Unlike Mpeg 2 it is not restricted to 30fps and HD. It is the same codec as used in the PMW-F5 and F55 cinema cameras. It is almost certainly going to become standard on most Sony pro camcorders in the future. For post production it is already supported in FCP-X, Adobe Premiere, Avid, Edius, Resolve and of course Sony Vegas.

One thing to be aware of though is the data rates. These are higher than XDCAM. In HD the data rate, depending on frame rate is around 100Mb/s, that double the amount of data compared to XDCAM HD422 and almost 3 times as much data as XDCAM EX. So a 32GB XQD card will only last a around 30 minutes (depending on frame rate 24/25/30fps, 15 mins at 50/60p). If you want to shoot in 4K things get even worse, a 32GB card lasting between 12 and 14 minutes at 24/25/30fps and a mere 6 to 8 minutes at 50/50p. For most people a 32GB card will not be big enough and your going to need a couple of 64GB cards as a minimum. Once the XAVC-S codec becomes available as an option you will be back to similar data rates and storage requirements to XDCAM HD, but without the image quality benefits that the full XAVC codec brings.

The Z100 has two slots for the XQD cards and as one card fills up the camera will automatically switch to the next card without any interruption to the recording. As XAVC can shoot at full HD when you enter into the cameras S&Q mode you can choose any frame rate up to 60fps and the recording will be in full HD. The PMW-300’s S&Q mode is only full HD up to 30fps, above 30fps it is 720p.

Ergonomics:

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The right side of the PXW-Z100.

The PXW-Z100 is pretty conventional in it’s layout. It’s comfortable to hold and the record button and Image Mag buttons are easy to access while shooting. In addition at the front of the hand grip there is a one push button to quickly set the auto iris, very useful when shooting run and gun. It has 6 assignable buttons on the top of the left side of the main body. Out of the factory 3 of these buttons are set to quickly turn on and off the zebras, peaking and thumbnail viewer for playback.

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Focus Mag button on the handgrip of the PXW-Z100.

There are conventional 3 position switches for gain and white balance controls. The gain levels can be set in the cameras menus and the preset white balance can be selected between indoor and outdoor in the cameras single set of paint settings. Incidentally the menu look and structure in the Z100 is very similar to that of the PMW-F5/F55 and F65 cameras. Once you have made any changes to the cameras settings you can save an “all file” to an SD card in the utility SD card slot.

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The right side of the PMW-300.

The PMW-300 is an interesting design. It isn’t a full size shoulder camera where the center of the camera sits over the top of your shoulder. Neither is it like most hand held handycam cameras. It’s designed to be used on your shoulder, but it isn’t a full shoulder camera. At the rear of the camera there is an extending shoulder pad that sits on your shoulder. As well as extending the pad has an additional flip out pad.

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The release catch for the shoulder pad on the underside of the PMW-300 camera.

This is just as well because the release catch for the extending shoulder pad is on the underside of the camera. If you attach a tripod plate to the bottom of the camera you can no longer release the catch to extend or retract the shoulder pad. Not the cleverest bit of design! When I used the camera, I extended the shoulder pad before attaching my tripod plate and then used the flip out section when needed. Depending on how you adjust the viewfinder you’ll probably find that most of the time you don’t need the flip out part of the shoulder pad.

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The PMW-300 tends to sit well back on your shoulder.

When using the 300 on your shoulder most of the weight is still carried through your arms. It’s not a heavy camera, so it’s not hard to hold for long periods. The big benefit of having it on your shoulder is stability. With your eye up against the eyepiece, you right hand though the hand grip and left hand on the lens it can be very stable. Shoulder hight is also better for interviews, I don’t like looking up at people from cameras held at chest hight. The 300 is still light enough to be used handycam style if you wish, although with the hand grip being quite well forward on the camera it’s not quite as easy to use as a handycam where the hand grip tends to be close to the cameras center of gravity.

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The menu and playback controls on the handle of the PMW-300.

Like the EX and PMW-200 the 300 has Sony’s direct menu system where you can use the arrow keys on the handle to directly navigate around commonly used functions like gain, exposure offset, white balance and shutter speed, as displayed in the viewfinder, without having to enter into the cameras main menus. There are also 7 assignable buttons on the left side of the camera that can be used to control various functions. Don’t forget that peaking and zebra controls are on the viewfinder with this camera so there is an abundance of buttons for you to use.

Connectivity:

DSC07967-300x199 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
The output, remote and timecode connectors on the PMW-300.

Both cameras have HDSDI and HDMI. Both cameras two XLR connectors with phantom power for external audio sources and both have timecode in/out connectors (nice to see this on the Z100). They can both be connected to a computer via USB2 to off load media and they also have USB host connectors for connecting WiFi adapters and other similar accesories. In addition the PMW-300 has i-Link (firewire), genlock and an 8 pin remote control  port for lens control (same as EX1/PMW-200) plus an 8 pin remote port for connection to an RMB type remote control panel.

One note about the pxw-z100. The HDSDI is HD only. The HDMI can do both SD and HD, but currently the HDMI support is only at HDMI 1.4, so there are some limitations over the frame rates that can be passed over the HDMI at 4K. There will be a firmware update in the future to bring the HDMI up to the 2.0 specifications that will allow 4K at up to 60fps. In addition the camera cannot output both 4K HDMI and HD HDSDI at the same time. You can have 4K over HDMI on it’s own or 4K down converted to HD over HDSDI and HDMI together.

Power and Batteries.

The PXW-Z100 is a 7.2V camera and uses the very common Sony NPF style batteries. An NPF970 will run the camera for a little over 2 hours. This is a lot less than many of Sonys 7.2V cameras. The XAVC codec and 4K image processing require more power and the Z100 consumes around 15W. More power means more heat and there as a fan inside the camera to aid cooling. The vent is at the rear of the camera and there are intakes at the bottom of the camera. The fan is barely audible.

The PMW-300 is a 12V camera and like most of the PMW range it requires Sony’s BP-U type batteries. A BP-U60 battery will run the camera for a little under 2 hours. Many of the third party batteries designed for the EX1, EX3 and PMW-200 will not work with this camera. I did find that the DSM U84 worked OK and this ran the camera for 2.5 hours.  Once the XAVC codec gets activated it is possible that the power consumption may increase a little. One improvement over the PMW-200 is the placement of the external DC socket on the rear of the camera rather than inside the battery compartment.

Conclusions:

I like both of these cameras and would be pleased to own either. But of the two cameras, I think the PMW-300 is the better all round camera. I really like the 300, I think that Sony have really got this one right (with perhaps the exception of the release catch for the shoulder pad). The picture quality is once again best in class and rivals many much more expensive and larger cameras. It’s going to be a good all round camera that will find a home on corporate shoots, news and documentary shoots as well as in low budget studios. The new viewfinder is really delightful and is a big part of what makes this camera so good.

The PXW-Z100 is a bit of a mixed bag. There is nothing wrong with it as a camera, it is what it is… a small 4K camcorder. It does produce a pleasing image with good colours and the zoom range is impressive. But.. and it’s a big “but”, the fact that it is 4K and only has a small sensor hurts this cameras sensitivity quite significantly compared to a camera like the PMW-300. This isn’t a design fault, that’s just the laws of physics and optics at work. In addition the current limitation of XAVC only (XAVC-S will come later) means that your going to need two to three as much media for HD and six to ten times as much media for 4K compared to a 50Mb/s XDCAM camera. Even though XQD cards are cheaper than SxS that’s still a considerable investment in media that’s needed. If you’re coming from cameras with AVCHD and SD cards the media cost are probably quite frightening. If you are considering this camera you might want to hold off until the updates for AVCHD and XAVC-S become available. Having said that, if you need 4K in a small camera this is almost certainly the best there is at the moment (not that there is a great deal of choice). It will be a good run and gun companion camera to an F55 or F5 shooting 4K, provided you have enough light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

76 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cameras – The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.”

  1. Alister,

    Thank you very much for the great review, i got my Z100 3 days ago and share you exactly what you published, the only issue i want to find out about is the external 4K or 2K recorders workflow, any clue?

    1. The camera only outputs 4K via HDMI which is 8 bit 4:2:0 at the moment. So the internal recordings are going to be much better quality than anything you can record externally at 4K, assuming you are even able to find a 4K HDMI recorder, I don’t know of any. For HD then you can use the HDSDI, so any of the normal external HDSI based recorders can be used.

  2. Which cam looks sharper on a 4k TV ?
    That is the elephant in the room.
    Nice review. Seems spot on. Your observations and conclusions are as I would expect, but could you address if the Zed chip is ‘worthy’ of such a great codec, and/or, is sharper on a 4k?
    ….and displaying your edited 4k project on a 4k TV ?????? Thanks

    1. The 4K from the Z100 looks not just sharper than the footage from the PMW-300 on a 4K screen but clearly shows more detail. The 300 looks soft on a large 4K screen compared to the Z100.

  3. Allister, I have been using my pmw-300 since they shipped and really like it except for the few odd design choices that you pointed out, I was wondering a couple of things.

    1. would you work on some picture profiles for it ?

    2. could you get a sample VOCAS SHOULDER mount and test it, it looks very good.

    Thanks
    Brent

  4. Hi Alister,
    great site you have! Thank you for the time your putting down in this blog.

    My company recently invested in the PMW-300K1, up from the EX-3. We’re also using a F-3. Sometimes, but not often, we have to use both cameras at the same time. I did find a decent set-up for the EX-3 and the F-3 for matching with some grading in post.

    But on the 300 the matrix table names have changed. In camera they are called 1-6, and in the manual they are mentioned by different names. But Sony isn’t using the same matrix names anymore. Do you know if it’s possible do compare the new matrix names to the old ones? I.E. is it safe to say that matrix 1 on the 300 is the same as standard matrix on the ex3?

    1. There is no direct relationship that I have been able to find with the new 1-6 matrices and the old named matrices I’m afraid. I think 2 might be 709, but I’m not sure.

  5. I second this comment. The Vocas rig looks really good, but I have yet to read any user reviews or seen any pictures with a person actually using it.

  6. Great review Alister. I have been using the EX3 for years now and I am seriously thinking about the PMW-300. You said the 300 has a dynamic range of 11.5 stops. How does that compare to the EX3? My main goal is to get a lightweight camera with greater dynamic range.

  7. Hi Alister,

    Great review, thanks.
    Since you have tested the PXW-Z100, can you tell me whether this camera has a variable shutter? I have not been able to find any info on this one. Thanks

  8. Great review… thanks! You mentioned the sxs cards, what sxs card reader would you recommend? I have a Mac and do not have a sxs slot. Thanks for your time.

  9. Alister,

    Thanks so much for the in depth review. There is not really a lot of good information on the web currently on the Z100 so I am glad I came across your post. So I have an FS700 and have used it for a few projects and really like it. I don’t have the 4K upgrade for it yet and really don’t think I am going to bother with it as shooting 4K with the FS700 really means a large investment and a larger rig setup. I initially purchased the FS700 for the slow motion to use for sporting events. However, I really miss being able to just grab a camcorder and hit record and not worry too much about pulling focus and having a heavy rig setup. There are times when you just need to record and run around to cover an event. So I am looking at the Z100 for this. I am interested in the 4K a lot because I sell stock footage. I have had some experience with 1/2 sensor camcorders in the past having noise at 0 gain and was not happy with the picture. I have seen your images that you posted of the Z100 at 0 gain and they look good but seeing video is the true test and noise will sometimes dance around in the image. I will probably only be using the Z100 in good light so I am not worried too much about it otherwise. I know in your post you stated you were satisfied with the noise levels at 0 gain for both camcorders but how does the noise look at 0 gain for the Z100. Can you see it clearly in bright daylight in contrast areas in the image? Does the noise move dance around on the image? Do you have any video posts of what the video looks like without any correction or grading. Thanks so much for your post!

    Max

    1. There is some dancing noise from the Z100, but for such a small sensor it isn’t that bad. If you can wait, I would wait. This is the first generation of 4K handycams and I’m sure we will see improvements in the coming years. 4K and small sensors will always be difficult, I would wait for something with a larger sensor.

  10. Greetings from Brittany, Alister.

    I probably speak english like a dead French cow..
    I use a PMW-300 since November 2013, your review is right.

    But… Nothing about the HUGE Chromatic Aberrations (with the stock lens Fujinon x14) ???
    Very present in your «wide-angle» picture..
    I have the same issue.

    Best regards.

  11. Hi there,

    “Just one more thing” about the firmware,

    In the PDF, they say : “model name_Y.YY_XXXX-SxS.f.bin”.
    But the update name is : “PMW-300_Firmware_Version_1.12.bin”.
    Unfortunately… After copy, the camcorder can’t detect the data file : “Version Upgrade No File”.

    So, is it the right name ?
    Should I change it to : “PMW-300_1.12_XXXX(?)-SxS.f.bin” ?
    (What does “XXXX” mean… ?)

    Any information will be helpful.

    Best regards

  12. Great review. Thanks! I purchased the PMW300 and am struggling with a few things. My biggest concern is that I cannot figure out an easy way to access my shutter settings. The manual states there is a camera menu (which is what I have been using) and a direct menu. What is the direct menu? I want to quickly be able to change between 1/100, 1/250, 1/500, etc. without going into the camera menu settings. HELP ME! Thanks, Joey O

    1. Direct menu allows you to use the little joystick on the top of the handle to navigate around the icons on the viewfinder display and change things such as gain and shutter speed by selecting the VF icon.

  13. Thank you for all is written on : .xdcam-user.com
    and thank you already for picture profiles for the Z-100.
    I would like to do it by myself but without a vectorscope, it will be difficult. I will try with my sekonic chart( 24 patchs for 3 IL) to understand this informations receved from a sailor in Belgium:
    • STD1: DVW camcorder equivalent. Has lowest slope near black (for low noise and black-crushing).
    • STD2 x4. Somewhere between Std1 and Std3
    • STD3 x3.5
    • STD4 240M
    • STD5 R709 Rec709 is the most commonly used gamma; it’s the default HDTV standard gamma.
    . STD6 x5.0
    If you have some recommendations, I will be glad to read you.

  14. First, sorry for my childish English.

    Then…

    http://www.sony.co.uk/pro/article/broadcast-products-from-pmw-ex1r-to-pmw-200
    “Better picture quality” They say…

    More specifically, I invite you to study this relevant comparison from Msmuc : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yd8SU5jc4Qg

    Both camcorders are set with the Wolfgang Winne’s Picture Profiles.
    Look at the first scene, branches, foliage, tiny details on the building …
    The EX1R (older and limited to 35 mbps 4.2.0) delivers a much richer and more detailed picture than the PMW 200 !

    I have take some other pictures : EX1R vs PMW- 300.
    For both camcorders :
    Picture Profiles OFF
    25p Full HD
    Gain OdB
    Shutter 180°
    Iris between f4 and f7

    EX1R ( 4.2.0) :

    http://nsm08.casimages.com/img/2014/03/22/14032202485613514212087089.png

    http://nsm08.casimages.com/img/2014/03/22/14032202444813514212087063.png

    http://nsm08.casimages.com/img/2014/03/22/14032202474313514212087080.png

    The EX1R gives a naturally piqued and detailed image.

    PMW-300 (4.2.2) :

    http://nsm08.casimages.com/img/2014/03/22/14032202455613514212087077.png

    http://nsm08.casimages.com/img/2014/03/22/14032202500513514212087093.png

    http://nsm08.casimages.com/img/2014/03/22/14032202465213514212087079.png

    The PMW 300 produces an ugly slobbery picture !
    (The wooded area in the background … Unacceptable !)
    Adjust the back focus , reduce the Crispening or and enhance the Aperture level doesn’t stop this malfunction !

    But WHY ???

    The imposed digital noise treatment, that annihilates all the tiny details ?
    Faulty sensors ?
    The “random” factor, too inherent in this chain of Japanese production ?
    The 4K ? the XAVC ?
    Give them a crappy 50 mbps 4.2.2 MXF to insidiously push them to paid more and more ?

    “Better picture quality” ? Damn no !!! This is a huge regression !
    I don’t care about their EBU standards, their 4.2.2 , their DSP ” advanced noise reduction” …
    I’m just legitimately waiting for a nice and detailed picture, like the EX1R !

    That’s why, I invite you to do some honest checks (with similar settings).
    Especially in wide angle, front of detailed areas.
    The must : the distant trees !
    If the problem exists , Sony must fix it !
    Like a firmware with the ability to disable the noise processing for example … ?
    Or allowing a good native detail level, like the old models … ?
    Like the manufacturer pledge… ?

    Thank you for taking this fact in consideration.

    The French Cat

  15. Hey Alister would any of the other camera sony picture profile settings work with the z-1004k camera?

    Thanks
    Billy

  16. Hi!
    I have some problems with my Z100:
    – first it didn’t show battery life in minutes or percent (no battery info anywhere)
    – no option to override (like old Z1U) or AE shift (like FX1000)
    – second ugly highlight handling when recording small details (recording branches against sunset made some annoying flicker); can you test this problem?

  17. Considering a PMW-300. Does the viewfinder adjust vertically lower than the center point of the bracket in the pictures? The drawings in the manual show it goes up quite a bit but can’t tell about down. If using a baseplate like the Shape, Vocas or Zacuto, can you bring the finder down so your head is still level with finder since the camera would be raised by an inch or so? Thanks…..

  18. The more I look at the pictures, it might be low enough. But how about forward adjustment. If the camera is slid back over your shoulder, will the finder go far enough forward?
    Thanks,
    Kirk

  19. I need to add an explanation: when the sky is over expose (at the “border” detail over expose i see problems). Here it’s a short test

  20. This is the video straight from the camera, no correction in post no recompression (mxf from camera uploaded to vimeo).

  21. Something I don’t think was mentioned yet about the 300:
    We had a situation where a high-pitched hum revved up in the middle of a shot. This happened while shooting alongside a PMW-200.
    Sony said:
    The PMW-300 has an internal fan and the PMW-200 doesn’t.
    The PMW-300 has a menu setting for fan control (page 108 of the owner’s manual), and by default it is set to auto. Please change the setting (it’s in the Others Menu) to Off in Rec.

  22. Something I don’t think was mentioned yet about the 300:
    We had a situation where a high-pitched hum revved up in the middle of a shot (internal mic). This happened while shooting alongside a PMW-200.
    Sony said:
    The PMW-300 has an internal fan and the PMW-200 doesn’t.
    The PMW-300 has a menu setting for fan control (page 108 of the owner’s manual), and by default it is set to auto. Please change the setting (it’s in the Others Menu) to Off in Rec.
    (Sony said they would recommend that their engineers change the default to “Off in Record.”

  23. Has anyone had much experience using the PMW-300 with a different 1/2″ or 2/3″ W/A zoom lens or any other external lens? I know you need the 1/2-type EX mount adapter to make it work.

  24. Thanks for the excellent review, Alister. I an eager amateur rather than a professional but I found your review very interesting.

    Do you have any thoughts on Sony’s new consumer 4K camera, the FDR-AX100? In particular, I’m wondering how its low light capability would compare with the PXW-Z100s. It’s a third the price but its sensor is 1″.

    Regards,
    Fergus

    1. AX100 appears to be more sensitive than the Z100. I have an AX100 and I like it a lot. A full review will come in a couple of weeks.

  25. Hi Alister,

    I have a Z1U Light and Motion underwater housing which was $8k when new, and I found out that the Z100 is almost identical +/-26mm width, and has physical features which resemble the Z1U very very closely. After some light machining I will be able to work with the Z100, bringing life back into my favorite housing. If you do get the camera back in your hands [?] might I ask that you could measure the distance from the 1/4″ tripod hole to: 1]. the front of the lens [no hood/filter on] and also to: 2]. the end of an inserted NP-F970 battery. It pains me to lose this housing so I would really appreciate your help. I am based in the Caribbean, so no stores here!
    thanks
    best
    Eddy

  26. Dear Alister,
    As always, I would appreciate your thoughts, please.

    Le Chat Errant (above), on March 22 2014, posted the following PMW 300 screen shots
    which do look rather muddy in the fine tree detail which he says is due to the noise
    reduction:
    http://nsm08.casimages.com/img/2014/03/22/14032202455613514212087077.png
    http://nsm08.casimages.com/img/2014/03/22/14032202500513514212087093.png
    http://nsm08.casimages.com/img/2014/03/22/14032202465213514212087079.png

    Is the PMW 300 picture really as bad as he says? I saw one this week at the London
    TV Bay Roadshow and it looked superb.

    Also, does the PMW 300 record 4:2:2 onto the SxS cards or does it need a separate
    recorder like the EX1R?

    And can I edit this MPEG2 4:2:2 in Final Cut Pro 7?

    Thank you.
    Michael Jay

  27. I wish Sony would produce a simple comparative features list for the PMW 200 vs. PMW 300. It is apparent that there is more to this than an interchangeable lens as many owners claim to have never changed their EX3/PMW300 lenses – so what does the extra ~$3000 buy? Apart from the fixed lens difference I read sporadic bits of information about less obvious potential advantages of the PMW300 on various forums; e.g., a better viewfinder and more substantial use magnesium alloy in the frame. I realise that I could scrutinize the spec sheets myself in detail, but it would be very helpful to have a feature by feature comparison.

    1. It is mainly just the lens change option and better viewfinder. Of course the PMW-200 has now been replaced by the PXW-X200 with it’s 17x zoom so the need to swap lenses is even less.

  28. Hi Alister,
    Good review as always!
    I’m looking for something more run and gun than my GH4s for promo work, the 100, even with the low light limitations seems to fit the bill.
    But I can’t find, or see from any pictures if it has a remote zoom control socket. Did you notice one when you did the review? I have 2x PMW 200s which I’m keeping and was hoping to use the remotes.

    Phil.

  29. Hi Alister

    Sony’s spec says you can copy files between the two SxS slots on the PMW 300, but I can’t find out how from their manual. Any ideas?
    Also, can you copy from an SxS card to an SD card using their SD adaptor, for supplying rushes to non-broadcast clients?

  30. The camera I really want to see is a Sony PXW-Z200 with three 1/2 inch sensors and a 20X servo zoom that can shoot 4k 60p internally on XQD cards using the XAVC codec. I bet we are close.

  31. Of course it depends on how well Sony implements it, but is it not reasonable to expect that it will be at least as good as (or slightly better than) the PXW-Z100 you review here? The form factor of the PMW-200 (now the PXW-200) with its small size, large zoom range and great codec will continue to meet a lot of needs. It would be awesome to have 4k available on that camera. If 4k is simply beyond the capability of the 1/2 inch sensors, then perhaps the new Sony FS7 will be the EX1 of days gone by.

  32. Excellent review. Having owned a Sony PXW-Z100 for almost year, I have found it an excellent camera to use despite its limitations over sensitivity. The HD quality is far better than most HD specific cameras that I have used (very clean images) and the 4K is excellent too. The one complaint I have with Sony is that they have been very slow with their firmware updates, the first in February 2014 was very limited, the main one with additional codec options is due out on 30th October, and there will be two more updates after that in January 2015 and before the end of the first half of 2015 to enable USB Type A connector and SD card slot to be usable, more than 18 months after the camera was put on the market. I personally don’t think that this is good enough. I have had a devil of a job to obtain this information, eventually resorting to the Institute of Videography (of which I am a member), HD Warrior and my camera supplier to find out.

  33. They released firmaware v3.00 on 10 nov ( https://pro.sony.com/bbsc/ssr/micro-xdcam/resource.downloads.bbsccms-assets-micro-xdcam-downloads-XDCAMSoftwareDownload.shtml#apps ) and added only XAVC-L option (!! NOT XAVC-S !!) and I have problems viewing any XAVC-L clip In vegas pro 12 built 770. I find another report about the problem here http://community.sony.com/t5/XDCAM-Cameras/XAVC-L-from-PXW-Z100-in-VEGAS-13-0-build-428/m-p/469313/highlight/false#M233 .

  34. It is very nice review, it’s very help to those camera technology to know the every video graphers it’s very help full to us.

  35. Hi Alister,

    Is the tested PMW300 the same as PMW300K1? Or what is the difference if not?

    Thanks for a great review!

  36. Hi Alister
    I’ve just come across your excellent reviews for what little I understand about the technology. I am wondering if you can help me choose my first semi pro video cam.

    My field is only hobby based as is my photography, but I am trying to produce the best videos I can. Here are recent ones I did with the Thailand Mad Dog MC club of which I am part of.
    Southern Comfort Ride 2015 action bike video
    http://youtu.be/k7w3wXUyIJ4

    Southern Comfort Ride 2015 Picture video
    https://youtu.be/pFVSSN1e9_8

    I used Gopro hero Black 4 and Canon 5D mk III cameras, but the later is not suited to the type of video productions I want to make. However, the 5D MK III is great for the photography side with the L lens I have.

    I have a budget of about US5000 for my video camera and thought the Z100 looked a viable option, but now I’m not so sure. I don’t have much experience in the video world so am going to have to learn much of what you have mentioned here.

    The other camera I thought might suit me is the Panasonic HC X1000 but was concerned with the low light problems; it seems the Z100 has the same.

    I’m a young 60, so I want to buy a camera for the future, as it’s probably the last camera I’ll buy, and is why I’m looking at 4K. My real question is could you recommend a camera that will be best for fast action filming with an accurate and fast auto focus. I also use it to shoot my son’s club’s Taekwondo fights, which is equally a quick sport and also an indoor sport where the light ca be a little low. As you can see from the video links, we shoot from a fast moving car to film the riders who move at around 120kph.

    What do you think?

    I’d be happy to contribute something for your advice as I know it will save me a lot of pain and money in the long run.

    Many thanks

    Tony Duffield

  37. When I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments
    are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment.
    Perhaps there is a way you can remove me from that service?
    Cheers!

  38. Alistair, wish I had found your review much earlier. I am a die-hard EX1 user, and in wanting to replace it with a newer model, bought the PMW200. A disaster. My editor warned me off the camera after the first production (colour issues, critical focus issues, balance too far forward on the cam), and it spent lots of time back with Sony, who eventually fixed firmware issues but conceded later that the model was a dud. This was long after I sold it.

    Fortunately I had kept my beloved but temperamental EX1. It was overheating, and stop/starting recordings at weird times, enough to give you a heart attack during shoots.

    Subsequently, I have been looking for a true replacement for the particular characteristics that made the EX1 great – 1.9 lens, 1/2″ chip, nice short depth of field on full zoom, reasonable dynamic range, good balance for run n gun and corporate productions. Sadly, there was nothing in the Sony range that compared. If it had a reasonable chip, Sony inexplicably loaded its crappy servo-driven focus ring, or saddled it with a 1/3″ chip on a pro rocker and focus setup, making it nigh unusable in low light.

    So, two years on, in your opinion, is there a decent, apples-for-apples replacement for a corporate cannon with a superb lens, pro end-to-end focus, low light ability for events, good balance for handheld run n gun shooting? I looked at the Panasonic 4K DVX200, but it does not tick all the boxes. I am not interested in 4K. Just a solid workhorse such at the PMW300 seems to be. However, I don’t need the lens choice. The EX lens range was fine for my purposes.

    My Sony agents here in Cape Town suggests the FS5, but I baulk at using the f4 kit lens. Nothing else seems to fit the requirement. Any suggestions, now – 2 years on?

    1. Large sensors are all the rage, but the ideal replacement for the EX1 is the PXW-X200. This is very similar to an EX1 but with a 17x zoom, new sensors, all the old codecs plus the new XAVC codec, the ability to use SxS, XQD or SD cards plus a whole host of wifi and streaming options. And the X200 is a huge step forward from the PMW-200.

      The FS5 is also a great camera but quite different with some wonderful pictures and great features like 240fps slow motion. I wouldn’t worry about the f4 lens. You must remember the FS5 is 2 stops more sensitive than an EX1, so with a like for like scene you get roughly the same performance from the FS5 at f4 as an EX1 at f1.9.

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