Fujinon have a long history of producing excellent lenses. When I used to shoot motorsports, windsurfing and TV news I used to use Fujinon lenses on my 2/3″ Betacam, Digibeta and DVCAM camcorders. I still have a Fujinon remote zoom demand sitting in the cupboard. Today Fujinon still produce high quality lenses for broadcast cameras.
But Fujinon don’t just make lenses for broadcast cameras, they also make PL mount lenses for use with super 35mm cameras. Perhaps their best known cinema lenses are their “Cabrio” zoom lenses. When it was introduced the 19-90mm T2.9mm Cabrio was ground breaking as it offered a silky smooth zoom servo with an ENG style handgrip on a compact zoom lens.
The 19-90 Cabrio was the workhorse servo zoom that many F5/F55, Red and Arri users had been wanting for a long time. I’ve used the Cabrio’s and they are great lenses, I’d love to own one, but my budget just won’t stretch that far. The 19-90 costs around $40K but it is a beautiful lens.
Aware of the demand for a similar lens at a lower cost, last year Fujinon introduced a more affordable 20-120mm T3.5 lens. However even though much cheaper, at £13.5K/$16K it is still quite an expensive lens, especially when you consider that a camera like the Sony FS7 only costs £6k/$8K.
That brings us to today. Fujinon have developed a pair of new lenses specifically for E-Mount cameras. An 18-55 and a 55-135. The 55-135 isn’t ready just yet but the wider one, the MK18-55 is, and I’ve been lucky enough to have been loaned one to test.
As you can see the lens looks very similar to the more expensive XK20-120, but it’s actually a bit smaller and a lot lighter. The lens is an 18-55mm T2.9 (f2.8) Parfocal zoom. Parfocal means that the focus does not shift as you zoom as happens with most DSLR lenses. It’s E-Mount only, so you can’t use it on a Canon camera, but you can put it straight on to a FS5, FS7, even an A7S/A7R (The lens is designed for s35/APS-C so you need to use crop sensor mode or clear image zoom on a full frame sensor). No adapters needed! It’s a manual lens, no autofocus and there isn’t a zoom servo. But what you do get is beautiful image quality!
The short back focus distance of E-Mount compared to PL or EF makes it easier to produce an affordable high quality zoom lens, that’s why this lens is E-Mount only. To ensure that the lens remains parfocal on different cameras it has a backfocus adjustment ring. This ring also functions as a macro focus ring by pressing a small button. This allows you to focus on objects around 1ft/38cm from the lens. When not using macro the minimum focus distance is 0.85m/2ft9″.
The iris is a 9 blade iris with curved blades that produces a pleasing bokeh both inside and outside of focus.
To keep the weight down a lot of the lens exterior is made from plastic. It is quite a long (in length) lens. If it was all metal it would make a light camera like the FS7 front heavy, so while perhaps it doesn’t have the tactile feel of a $40K Cabrio it also doesn’t have the weight, the 19-90 is almost 6lb/2.7kg, the MK18-80 is just 34.6ox/980g. However it does feel well made. The focus, zoom and iris rings all feel very smooth and have just the right amount of rotation resistance and damping.
The focus ring has around 180 degrees of travel and the focus markings (in both metric and imperial) are clear and easy to read. Each ring also has a 0.8mm pitch gear ring.
In use I found the lens a pleasure to use. I can perform nice smooth manual zooms with ease. It is easy to focus with just the right amount of focus travel, not too much not too little. Focus breathing is very well controlled and quite minimal. It’s certainly one of the best lenses I’ve used at this price point. It feels and behaves like a proper cinema lens.
So what about the image quality? This lens does not disappoint. The images are sharp from edge to edge, corner to corner throughout the zoom range, even when wide open at T2.9. Contrast is good and even when shooting into the sun, flare is minimal. A square lens hood is provided with the lens that works well, but of course you can also use it with a matte box if you wish.
To me the images from this lens look closer to the ones I get from prime lenses than a zoom. I can see this lens being used instead of a set of primes for many productions and it certainly works out very cost effective compared to a set of decent prime lenses.
Chromatic aberration is well controlled and minimal and I didn’t notice any significant colour cast or tint. The lens is also remarkably free from geometric distortions (unlike the Sony 18-105 that is supplied as a kit lens with the FS5 that’s full of all kinds of distortions). There is a little, but it’s no worse than most other wide zoom lenses and nothing that I am concerned about.
While T2.9 isn’t super fast it is at least a stop faster than most (all?) of the other budget cinema zooms on the market. Plus it’s absolutely useable at T2.9 unlike some other lenses that go a little soft or become prone to flare when wide open. I’d be perfectly happy to shoot at T2.9 all day.
So, in case you haven’t noticed yet I really like this lens. It may not have the zoom range of the new Sony 18-110, but it’s a stop faster. It may not have the ability to be used on different mounts like the Canon 18-80 t4.4 but again it’s faster and has a real manual focus ring with hard stops and repeatable calibration. The new Zeiss 21-100 t2.9/t3.9 is interesting, but more expensive and not as wide nor as fast. You should be able to buy both the 18-55 and the 50-135 for less than the Zeiss.
So, if you are in the market for a proper digital cinema lens for your FS5 or FS7 do take a close look at the Fujinon MK18-55. I hope to get a chance to shoot some more interesting footage with this lens very soon and share it with you.
UPDATE: I should have anticipated this, I’ve been asked this many times today already. Given that the new Sony 18-110 f4 and the MK18-55mm are similar prices, which one would I choose?
I would probably choose the Fujinon, but my needs are not necessarily the same as others. Very often if I need a zoom lens I need a very big zoom range. For my storm chasing I use a Tamron 16-300mm dslr lens, I need a BIG zoom range. It’s a compromise, I know I can get better image quality with primes or a shorter zoom, but I often need to go from super wide to super long and the Tamron 19x 16-300mm zoom fits the bill. For run and gun handheld work I actually quite like the cheaper Sony 18-105mm. Sure the focus is a bit wonky and it has a lot of different geometric distortions, but it’s really small, very light and the autofocus works OK. It does the job I need of it.
Currently I own various prime lenses. I also have the Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 which I rate highly. For a drama or documentary shoot with my FS7 right now I would probably pack my 18-35mm Sigma, 20mm Sigma, my 14, 35, 55 and 85mm Samyangs plus the 16-300mm Tamron. I could see the Fujinon 18-55mm replacing ALL of the lenses below the 85mm Samyang, except perhaps the 14mm. So instead of carrying 4 lenses, I only need to take one and achieve the same kind of image quality (the Samyangs are T1.4, but normally I stop them down to T2 -T2.8 as they are a bit soft wide open). I will have less breathing, plus I can zoom during the shot. In addition I’m getting near prime lens quality without the need to keep swapping lenses when I need a different focal length.
The Fujinon is light and compact a big bonus when travelling. Once the MK50-135mm becomes available the pair would cover the majority of drama or short film focal lengths. Just 2 light and compact lenses. For me the Sony at f4 just isn’t quite fast enough for film style productions – great for run and gun and general purpose shoots but it’s not really the lens I want.
The only question that remains is what should I get for my F5 with it’s PL/FZ mount? If only the MK18-55mm would fit the F5. Have to save my pennies for the Fujinon XK6x20 20-120mm.
I was recently sent a new rain cover by Camrade for my FS7 (there is also one for the FS7 II). I’ve used Camrade “wet suits” as they call them for years. They are great covers made from a low noise fabric. That means that if you need to fiddle with the cover while shooting it makes very little noise. The fabric is high quality, soft and supple but also completely waterproof.
The FS7 cover set covers the whole camera and lens and also has a separate cover for the viewfinder that can be used either with the extension tube attached or thanks to a large clear panel that allows you to clearly see the LCD screen it can be used without the extension tube. There is also a cover for the arm and handgrip.
The main camera body cover has clear panels that allow you to see all the major controls and switches on both sides. In addition the clear panels can be opened and rolled up and secured open by velcro if you want easy access to the camera while it’s not raining.
Along the top of the cover there is a long velcro opening that allows the mount for the viewfinder to exit the cover as well as an elasticated opening for a shot gun mic. There are further openings for the front MI shoe as well as the cameras top handle.
Overall the cover is quite large and the fit is quite baggy on a bare bones FS7. But this does mean that you can attach radio mic receivers or timecode sync boxes etc to the camera and keep them protected from the elements under the cover. The bagginess also allows you to grip the top handle through the rain cover, so even when carrying the camera from location to location it remains protected from the elements.
The length of the cover means that there is space at the back for the XDCA extension unit and/or an external battery system. There’s even a little flap at the back that allows you to see the top of the battery to check the batter status. This is great with my PAG-Link batteries (love my PAG-Links).
If you are using a long lens then you can add an included extension section to the front of the cover that will protect most lenses. Underneath the main cover there is a zip that allows you to almost completely close the rain cover so that when using the camera on your shoulder it doesn’t flap about.
Cameras like the FS7 are expensive. While the FS7 does have a degree of built in protection against a splash of water it really isn’t designed to survive a heavy rain shower. The Camrade covers are not expensive and much better than wrapping the camera in a bin bag. When not in use the cover slips into a nice soft pouch that you can keep in your camera bag until the next time you need it.
Here’s some sample footage from the Sony FDR-X3000 4K Action Cam with built in BOSS (Balanced Optical Steady Shot), a kind of gimbal inside the body of this small POV camera. If you have watched all of my video blog on this camera you will have already seen the footage.
One of the cameras I used a lot in Norway is the new Sony FDR-X3000 action cam. What’s different about this POV camera is that the lens and sensor are actually mounted in an internal miniaturised gimbal. This really does work and helps stabilise the image.
There is also a tiny bluetooth monitor that you can wear on your wrist to view the pictures and control the camera. The image quality you get from these tiny cameras really is quite amazing. Take a look at the video to find out more and see some sample footage.
When Sony launched the FS7 II they also launched a new lens to go along with it. The previous zoom lens that was bundled with the FS7 was the SELP28135G, a 28-135mm f4 zoom lens that would work with Super 35mm, APS-C and full frame cameras. While generally well received this lens is not without it’s problems. For a start it’s not really wide enough for use as a general purpose lens on an APS-C or Super 35mm sensor. The other problem is that the zoom is very slow. Even when set to manual zooming in and out takes a long time. You turn the zoom ring and then have to wait for the lens to catch up.
The new lens is a wider 18mm to 110mm f4 lens. This is a really useful zoom range for a Super 35mm camera. But the new lens can only be used on S35mm and APS-C cameras. It can’t be used with full frame cameras like the A7s in full frame mode.
But what about the zoom speed? Well this has been addressed too. On the 28-135mm lens the zoom function is electronic. There is no mechanical connection between the zoom ring and the optics of the lens. The 18-110 has a proper mechanical connection between the zoom ring and the internal lenses, so now you can crash zoom in and out as fast as you want. In addition the zoom servo motor is much faster and motorised zooms take place much more rapidly. One downside to this is that it’s a bit harder to control the zoom speed. You can do slow creeping zooms if you are very careful with the cameras zoom rocker, but it’s hard to do. The difference in pressure on the zoom rocker between creeping zoom and medium speed is tiny. The lens tended to change zoom speed quite quickly. While it is indeed very nice to have a variable speed motorised zoom, don’t expect the fine degree of control that you get from admittedly more expensive traditional ENG lenses. Lets face it this lens is only around £3K/$5K which is remarkable cheap for a parfocal s35mm zoom. Take a look at the video below for an idea of the zoom speeds etc.
Is it really parfocal? Well yes, it does seem to be parfocal. I only had the lens for a morning to play with, but in all my tests the focus remained constant throughout the zoom range.
So, what about focus? Like the 28-135mm lens there is a nice big focus ring that slides fore and aft.
In the rear position the focus is manual and there are calibrated focus markings and end stops. You get about 180 degrees of focus travel from 0.95m (3.1ft) to infinity (in autofocus you can focus slightly closer when the lens is at the wide end). The focus ring has 0.8mm pitch teeth for use with most standard follow focus units, although this gear ring is very close to the end of the lens, so it may be tricky to use if you have a matte box in place. Breathing is very well controlled and barely noticeable unless going through very large focus throws. Out of focus Bokeh isn’t bad either, I didn’t observe any nasty surprises in the limited time I had to play with the lens.
Sharpness and flare. The lens appears to be nice and sharp at the wide end but just a touch soft at the long end. It’s not bad overall but when shooting at 4K I could just about detect the lens becoming marginally softer as I zoomed in. The sample I had was a well used pre-production prototype, but I’m going to guess that the production lenses won’t be hugely different. Shooting the roof of a house against a bright sky revealed only a small amount of flare, certainly nothing out of the unusual for a zoom lens.
Overall I really like this lens. It even has a support point at the front of the lens body for additional stability. While f4 isn’t the largest of apertures it is quite usable and even wide open the lens performs well. For the money it is a lot of lens. I think we need to be realistic with our expectations for zoom lenses and large sensors. Bigger zoom ratios require bigger lens elements if we want to maintain a constant aperture. Bigger lens elements cost more to produce.
One advantage Sony have over the competition is that it’s easier to make zoom lenses for the very short flange back distance of the E-Mount cameras compared to the deeper flange back of PL or Canon mounts. The closest competition to this lens is the Canon 18-80mm T4.4 (f4 ish) which is a fair bit more expensive (£4K/$6K). If you want a similar zoom range then you’re looking at the beautiful Fujinon 20-120 T3.4 at around £14K/$19K.
I’ve been using Camrade bags for years. They are tough, protect my gear well without being heavy and clunky like pelicases and other hard shell cases. In addition they don’t scream “expensive equipment here”. They just look like large holdalls. One of the best features is the use of dividers, pads and inserts that are attached with velcro that allow you to reconfigure the bags for different applications.
One thing I often do is carry my camera in a standard carry-on bag when I’m flying. Meanwhile my tripod goes in the camera bag in the hold. When I get to my destination the tripod comes out of the camera bag, I re-arrange the dividers and the camera then lives in the camera bag until I need to fly again. This is so easy to do with the Camrade bags. Although the bags look like soft bags they are extremely ridged. The sides, top and bottom have hard inserts in them that can withstand very large loads, they are strong enough for you to sit on them without collapsing. The bags have strong carry straps and come with a high quality, removable camera strap. There are mesh pockets on the outside as well as on the inside of the lid for those little accessories and bits and pieces that would otherwise get lost. Another bonus is a 90% white card for white balance and use as an exposure reference.
Here’s a video of the medium size Camrade CB-HD bag, designed to take the PXW-FS7 or other similar digital cinema cameras. It’s a bit taller than some of their other bags so perfect for cameras rigged up with base plates and matte boxes.
By the time you get to read this you may already know almost everything there is to know about the PXW-FS7 II as it has been leaked and rumoured all over the internet. But I’m under a Sony NDA, so have had to keep quiet until now.
And I’ve been told off for calling it a MKII, the correct name is PXW-FS7 II. Sorry Mr Sony, but if you call it FS7 II, most people will think the “II” means MKII.
The FS7 camera is a mature product. By that I mean that the early bugs have been resolved. The camera has proven itself to by reliable, cost effective (amazing bang for the buck really). To produce great images and 4K files that are not too big. It can do slow-mo, 4K, 2K, HD and raw via an adapter and external recorder. As a result the FS7 is now one of the top choices for many broadcasters and production companies. It has become an industry standard.
The first and most important thing to understand about the FS7 II is that it does not replace the existing FS7. I would have preferred it if Sony had called this new camera the “FS7 Plus”. The “II” designation (which I take to mean MKII) implies a replacement model, replacing the MKI. This is not the case. The FS7 II is in fact a slightly upgraded version of the standard FS7 with a few hardware improvements. The upgrades make the MKII quite a lot more expensive (approx 10K Euros), but don’t worry. If you don’t need them, you can stick with the cheaper FS7 MK1 which remains a current model. In terms of image quality there is no real difference, the sensor and image processing in the cameras is the same.
So what are the changes?
The most obvious perhaps is the use of a square rod to support the viewfinder. This eliminates the all too common FS7 problem of sagging viewfinders. As well as switching to a square rod each of the adjustments for the viewfinder mounting system now has a dedicated clamp. Before if you wanted to slide the viewfinder forwards or backwards you undid a clamp that not only freed off the sliding motion but also controlled the tilt of the screen. So it was impossible to have the fore-aft adjustment slack for quick adjustments without the viewfinder sagging and drooping.
With the MkII you can have a slack fore-aft adjuster without the VF drooping. Overall the changes to the VF mounting system are extremely welcome. The VF mount on the Mk1 is a bit of a disaster, but there are plenty of 3rd party solutions to this. So you can fix the problems on a MKI without having to replace the camera. In addition, if you really wanted you could buy the FS7 II parts as spare parts and fit them to a MKI.
The Lens Mount.
The next obvious change is to the lens mount. The FS7 MK1 has a normal Sony E-Mount where you insert the lens and then twist it to lock it in to place. The FS7 II mount is still an E-Mount but now it has a locking collar like a PL or B4 mount. This means that you have to insert the lens at the correct angle and then you turn a locking ring to secure the lens. The lens does not rotate and once locked in place cannot twist or turn and has no play or wobble. This is great for those that use a follow focus or heavier lenses. BUT the new locking system is fiddly and really needs 2 hands to operate. In practice you have to be really careful when you mount the lens. It’s vital that you align the white dot on the lens with the white dot on the mount before you twist the locking ring.
As you rotate the locking ring a small release catch drops into place to prevent the ring from coming undone. But if the lens isn’t correctly aligned when you insert it, the lens can rotate with the locking ring, the catch clicks into place, but the lens will just drop out of the mount. When inserted correctly this mount is great, but if you are not careful it is quite easy to think the lens is correctly attached when in fact it is not.
Variable ND Filter.
Behind the lens mount is perhaps the most significant upgrade. The FS7 II does away with the rotating filter wheel and replaces it with the variable ND filter system from the FS5. I have to say I absolutely love the variable ND on the FS5. It is so flexible and versatile. You still have a 4 position filter wheel knob. At the clear position the ND filter system is removed from the optical path. Select the 1, 2 or 3 positions and the electronically controlled ND filter is moved into position in front of the sensor. You then have 3 preset levels of ND (the level of which can be set in the camera menu) or the ability to smoothly control the level of ND from a dial on the side of the camera. Furthermore you can let the camera take care of the ND filter level automatically. The real beauty of the variable ND s that it allows you to adjust your exposure without having to alter the aperture (which changes the depth of field) or shutter (which alters the flicker/cadence). It’s also a great way to control exposure when using Canon lenses as the large aperture steps on the Canon lenses can be seen in the shot.
Another physical change to the camera is the use of a new arm for the handgrip. The new arm has a simple wing-nut for length adjustment, much better than the two screws in the original arm. In addition you can now use the adjuster wing-nut to attach the arm to the camera body and this brings the hand grip very close to the body for hand held use. This is a simple but effective improvement, but again 3rd party handgrip arms are available for the base model FS7.
The viewfinder loupe has seen some attention too. The standard FS7 loupe has two fiddly wire clips that have to be done up to secure the loupe to the viewfinder. The MK2 loupe has a fixed hook that slips over the top lug on the viewfinder so that you now only need to do up a single catch on the bottom of the loupe. It is easier and much less fiddly to fit the new loupe, but the optics and overall form and function of the loupe remain unchanged.
As well as the loupe the FS7 II will be supplied with a clip on collapsable sunshade for the viewfinder. This is a welcome addition and hand held shooters will no doubt find it useful. When not in use the sunshade folds down flat and covers the LCD screen to protect it from damage.
The number of assignable buttons on the FS7 II is increased to 10. There are 4 new assignable button on the camera body where the iris controls are on the original FS7. The Iris controls are now on the side of the camera just below the ND filter wheel along with the other ND filter controls. These buttons are textured to make them easier to find by touch and are a very welcome addition, provided you can remember which functions you have allocated to them. It’s still a long way from the wonderful side panel LCD of the PMW-F5/PMW-F55 with it’s 6 hotkeys and informative display of how the camera is configured.
Tucked under the side of the camera and just above the power switch there is now a small green power LED. The original FS7 has no power light so it can be hard to tell if it’s turned on or not. This little green light will let you know.
The last hardware change is to the card slots. The XQD card slots have been modified to make it easier to get hold of the cards when removing them. It’s a small change, but again most welcome as it can be quite fiddly to get the cards of an FS7.
A further change with the FS7 II is the addition of Rec-2020 colorspace in custom mode. So now with the FS7 II as well as Rec-709 colorspace you can also shoot in Rec-2020. I’m really not sure how important this really is. If Sony were to also add Hybrid Log Gamma or PQ gamma for HDR then this would be quite useful. But standard gammas + Rec2020 color doesn’t really make a huge amount of sense. If you really want to capture a big range you will probably shoot S-Log2/3 and S-Gamut/S-Gamut3.
So – the big question – is it worth the extra?
Frankly, I don’t think so. Yes, the upgrades are nice, especially the variable ND filter and for some people it might be worth it just for that. But most of the other hardware changes can be achieved via 3rd party accessories for less than the price difference between the cameras.
With all the financial turmoil going on in many countries right now I think we can expect to see the cost of most cameras start to rise, including the original (but still current) FS7. This may narrow the price gap between the FS7 MKI and FS7 MK2 a little. But an extra 3000 Euros seems a high price to pay for a variable ND filter.
In some respects this is good news as it does mean that those that have already invested in an FS7 MKI won’t see that investment diminished, the MK1 is to remain a current model alongside the souped up MK2 version. Now you have a choice, the lower cost workhorse FS7 MK1 or the MK2 with it’s variable ND filter and revised lens mount.
I have been loaned a set of 4 Stella lights to test. I have the Stella 1000, 2000, 5000 Pro and 7000 Pro to play with and test. I’m going to take a quick look at the 1000/2000 now and will write up the 5000/7000 in a later article. These lamps are made by Californian company Light & Motion (www.lightandmotion.com) and I have to admit that this is a new brand to me. The portable lighting market is full of many different lights from different manufacturers, so it’s a tough market to stand out in. However these lights really do stand out from the crowd for many different reasons.
Build Quality: If you are going to stick a light on the top of a news camera it had better be tough. It’s going to get bumped, bashed, knocked and generally have a tough life. The Stella lamps are all beautifully made. The bodies are made from a very robust feeling plastic material while the lamp surround is made out of anodised aluminium that acts as a heatsink to keep the lamps cool. They have been built to withstand being dropped onto concrete from 1m multiple times without breaking and while I haven’t actually tested this, I do believe that they would survive this and the rigours of life on top of an ENG camera.
Power: The lamps have built in high capacity batteries. You don’t need to buy batteries or run the lamps of the cameras batteries. The internal battery in the Stella 1000 will run it for an hour on full power and around 7 hours at low power. The brighter 2000 will give about 50 mins at full power and 6 hours on low power. If you want longer run times you can attach an adapter to run the lamp from an external power source. Re-charging is fast at a little under 2 hours from flat and you can pack these in the hold of an aircraft as the battery is installed internally and under the current restrictions for Li-Ion batts on aircraft.
Control: The lamps have a built in dimmer that allows you to select one of 6 different brightness levels. Being LED units there is no color temperature change as you dim the lamps. The dimmer control can be locked in the off position to prevent accidental operation, plus the lamps have a thermal cutoff to prevent damage if left on by mistake when covered or perhaps packed in your luggage. There are 3 LED’s that indicate the batter state and dimming level.
High Quality Light: Instead of the more common LED panel design with an array of a large number of small LED’s the Stella’s feature a single high power Chip 5000K LED. This gives a beam angle of 120 degrees and the light is very uniform across this entire spread. The lamp heads are designed to take modifier lenses that can be used to reduce the beam spread to 50 degrees and 25 degrees if you need more of a spot light. I used the 25 degree fresnel adapter to turn the Stella 1000 to a mini spot light and it was very effective.
The quality of the light from these lamps is very good. The have a CRI of 90 as well as a TLCI of 90. They are also flicker free so suitable for shooting at high frame rate. In use I found the lamps gave great skin tone rendition and I didn’t see any of the green cast that is often common with lower quality LED lamps.
These are surprisingly bright lamps. The Stella 1000 is 1000 lumens and surprise, surprise, the Stella 2000 is 2000 lumens. That’s one heck of a lot of light from such a small and compact unit. Everyone that I have shown these lights to has been impressed by the intensity of the light output. The Stella 1000 is similar to a 75W tungsten lamp and the 2000 close to a 200W tungsten lamp. As the Stella’s are daylight balanced if you are using them as a fill light when shooting into the sun there is no need to gel them as you would with a tungsten light. Add to that the ability to use a clip on fresnel lens to narrow the beam angle and you are approaching the performance of 300W gelled tungsten fresnel fixture but with a compact battery operated lamp. I would consider the Stella 2000 as a replacement for an Arri 300 fresnel in many applications.
Waterproof! The Stella 1000 and 2000 are waterproof! Not just shower and splash proof, but completely waterproof. They can be operated underwater at depths of up to 100m with needing to buy any extra seals or fit any bungs or plugs. I know that when I shooting in adverse weather conditions this will be a big deal as normally the camera will have a nice fitted cover, but the top light is almost always left exposed to the elements. Now I don’t need to worry.
Light and Motion have a wide range of accessories for these lamps including all kinds of different mounts and handles. As well as the usual barn doors there are some clever light modifiers including the clip on 25 degree fresnel lens, a clip on 50 degree lens, a clip on diffuser, gel holder and glo bulb.
So far I have been really impressed by what these small lamps can do. They may not have variable color temperature, but the consistency and quality of the light they produce is amazing. The companies tag line is “Beyond Bright” and I’m inclined to agree.
I’ve also been loaned the Stella 5000 Pro and 7000 Pro to test. I’ll be writing about these beauties in the coming weeks!
Sony have a new 4K action cam with some very cool features. The FDR-X3000 boasts full optical image stabilisation using a Balanced Optical Steady Shot (BOSS) system where the lens and sensor moves to take out the camera shake typical of hand held or body worm motion. This helps produce smoother and sharper images in many typical mini-cam applications. In addition the camera has a 4K Exmor-R sensor providing great (according to Sony) low light performance. The camera records using XAVC-S at up to 100Mb/s and has built in timelapse functions. All in all the spec is very impressive for such a diminutive camera. Pair it with the new Live-View remote and it becomes even more versatile as you can use it as a camcorder (and you can change the focal length of the lens from very wide to medium). The Live View remote can be worn on your wrist, attached to the back of the camera with a novel finger grip or clipped on to a tripod.
Although it’s been on the market for a while now I have not yet had a chance to write a proper review of the PXW-Z150. I’ve played with it a few times and I’ve felt it offers good value (approx £3k/$4K). As it’s starting to gain some traction amongst corporate producers and those looking for a straight forward 4K camera with lot’s of bang for the buck I though it’s time to share my thoughts.
Cameras like the Z150 are often overlooked these days as they don’t have the “cool” factor that comes with the large sensor Super 35mm cameras that are all the rage, cameras like the PXW-FS5 or FS7.
But not everyone wants shallow depth of field all of the time. In addition many people want zoom lenses that can zoom in to get a tight shot and zoom back out smoothly without a focus shift. If you add portability and ease of use into the mix then there is no Super 35mm camera that offers all of these. Want a big par focal zoom range – the lens gets big, heavy and very expensive.
This is where a one piece camera with a fixed zoom lens comes into it’s own. For a fraction of the the price of any of the 10 times or more par-focal S35m zoom lenses you can get a fully functioning camcorder. The PXW-Z150 has a 12x optical zoom that can be boosted up to 24x in HD (more on that later).
So lets take a closer look at the Z150.
From the outside the PXW-Z150 resembles many other handycam style cameras and is almost identical to the HXR-NX100. But this is from the PXW product line, I’m lead to believe that stands for “Professional XAVC Writer”. So this means it will have the XAVC codec. It’s also an XDCAM camcorder and in this case that means it also includes the MPEG2 HD codec. In addition in case you haven’t spotted it there is also a big “4K” symbol on the side.
CODECS AND RECORD FORMATS
So the camera can record UHD (3840 x 2160, the 4K standard for TV) at up to 30fps using Sony’s XAVC-L codec. This is the long GoP version of XAVC and comes in 60 and 100Mb/s versions in the Z150. It is worth considering that this codec does require a pretty good computer to work with it in post production, ideally a minimum of a 4 core i7 processor with 16GB of main ram plus a good NVIDIA or AMD graphics card with 2GB of dedicated video ram. In UHD XAVC-L is limited to 8 bit 4:2:0, this still produces a great looking image but is not considered good enough for main stream UHD broadcast.
The image below is a UHD frame grab from the Z150. Click on the image to see larger versions including the full 3840×2160 image. The grab is a jpeg so may have some compression artefacts not in the original frame.
If you are not shooting in UHD then you have lots of options. Again we have XAVC-L now at 25, 35 and 50Mb/s and up to 60fp. 35Mb/s and 50Mb/s XAVC-L is normally considered broadcast quality at 25/30fps. In HD XAVC-L is 10 bit 4:2:2.
As well as XAVC-L you also have two more 8 bit HD codecs, MPEG2HD and AVCHD. There are two versions of MPEG2HD, the regular HD version which is 4:2:0 at 35Mb/s as found in the older EX1 and EX3 camcorders as well as the 50Mb/s HD422 4:2:2 broadcast quality version as found in the PMW-200 and most of Sony broadcast camcorders. These older MPEG2 “XDCAM” codecs are still incredibly popular and accepted almost everywhere for broadcast HD. They are really easy to use and even though they are 8 bit still give great looking pictures. Finally if you just need something compact there is AVCHD, although frankly why you would want to use AVCHD when you have so many better options available I’m not sure. Perhaps those running older or consumer based edit software will benefit from the inclusion of AVCHD.
In order to be able to record all the different formats available you must use SDXC cards. These are readily available and low cost. Please remember though that SD cards are consumer media. It is normally very reliable (probably more reliable than tape used to be) but card failures can occur and a duff card could result in the loss of everything on the card. Fortunately Sony have considered this and the camera features two card slots.
The two card slots can be configured in a number of ways. To record long events you can use relay record where once the first card is full the camera will automatically switch to the second card. For security you can use simultaneous record where you record to both slots at the same time. This means you are creating an instant backup, so the failure of a single card should not be a drama. As a further option you can control the recording function of each card slot separately. You can use the record button on the hand grip to control one slot and the record button on the carry handle to control the other to give 2 independent recordings.
A further recording function is the ability to record a proxy file alongside the main recording. The proxy file can be used in a number of ways. One way is to provide an easier to handle 720p HD file for use as an edit proxy when shooting in UHD. Another is as a small compact file that can be uploaded to the internet via the cameras built in ftp function, perhaps for a breaking news story or remote editing and preview. As this is a proper video camera there are none of the overheating problems or limited record time issues that effect many DSLR type cameras.
One word of advice: Buy your cards from a reputable source. There is a lot of fake media out there that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. The fake cards are often unreliable, so do make sure you only buy good quality genuine media from one of the main brands such as Transcend, Lexar, SanDisk etc.
1″ TYPE SENSOR.
The sensor that feeds all these different codecs is a “1 inch type” Exmor RS back illuminated CMOS sensor with 14.2 million effective pixels. What does all that mean?
“1 Inch Type” means the sensor size is bigger than the sensor on a 2/3″ broadcast camera but smaller than APS-C, Micro 4/3rds or Super 35mm (see this for more info on imperial type sensor sizes). So the depth of field will be deeper (more in focus) than a camera like Sony’s PXW-FS5 with it’s Super 35mm sensor, but shallower than most typical 2/3″ ENG broadcast shoulder cameras and other traditional handycams with 1/2″ or 1/3″ sensors.
Exmor RS is Sony’s latest generation of back illuminated sensor technology that gives better low light performance with small pixels compared to traditional front illuminated sensors. In addition RS stands for “Rear Stacked”. The stacking technology allows for a faster sensor readout among other things and this significantly reduces image skew and rolling shutter artefacts compared to the previous generation of these sensors. The faster readout also means that every pixel is used when shooting at up to 120 fps in HD using the cameras super slow motion function (note that this is 120fps interlace XAVC-L), so less aliasing and moire.
While RS does not eliminate rolling shutter artefacts from what I can see the Z150 offers a big improvement over cameras like the PXW-X70 and the A7S. You have to pan very fast before rolling shutter becomes a problem and in normal use skew and jello should not cause any significant problems.
12X OPTICAL ZOOM LENS.
Light is fed to the sensor by a 12x optical zoom lens. On the side of the camera there is a big and bold “18X“. That’s there because this camera also has Sony’s clever “Clear Image Zoom” technology. In the past if you mentioned a digital zoom it used to make people cringe as it normally meant a drop in picture quality. But Clear Image Zoom really is very clever.
First of all remember that in HD you have a UHD sensor, so you can crop into this by 2 times with virtually no loss in image quality anyway. So in HD you have an additional 2x zoom on top of the optical zoom giving a combined total of 24x. In UHD the camera uses a database of textures to determine the best way to process the image. This allows for a virtually transparent extra 1.5x electronic zoom on top of the optical one. This gives you the 18x zoom range indicated on the camera body. In use, the clear image zoom function works seamlessly with the optical zoom. So as you zoom in or out the electronic zoom takes over where the optical one finishes.
There is the very slightest of bumps in the zoom at the changeover point from optical to digital which I don’t think most audiences would spot. After shooting so much recently with Super 35mm cameras I really had forgotten just how much quicker it can be to shoot with a good par-focal zoom with a high zoom ratio (par focal – focus remains constant through the zoom range). The lens is reasonably wide at the equivalent of 29mm going all the way optically to a 348mm in full frame 35mm terms. The only downside really to the zoom is that the widest aperture ramps from f2.8 to f4.5 as you zoom in. This is one of the penalties you pay for having a larger sensor.
Another slight peculiarity of the aperture is that the minimum is f11. Most lenses go down to f16 or smaller, but this is limited to f11. I suspect this may be to prevent something called diffraction limiting. When light travels though a very small aperture it can become slightly defocussed. When you have very small pixels (like when you cram 4K’s worth of pixels onto a smallish sensor) this slight defocussing has a big impact and can lead to soft and blurry looking pictures. I suspect that Sony may be limiting the smallest aperture to f11 to prevent this and help ensure sharp pictures at all times. If you have too much light then don’t worry as you have a 4 way ND filter system where you can choose between clear, 1/4, 1/16th and 1/64 ND.
The lens has three control rings. One for aperture, one for zoom and one for focus. Unfortunately none of these have any markings as they are all electronic controls with no direct connection to the mechanics of the lens. Fortunately though the lens is quite responsive. The iris ring works well with almost no lag. The zoom ring is the weakest link as you can turn the zoom ring faster than the lens can zoom and this can result in some lag as you wait for the zoom to catch up. The zoom speed range is pretty good, using the rocker on the hand grip you can go from a very slow creeping zoom to a respectable 2.5 seconds (approx) from fully wide to 12x.
The focus ring is big and chunky, easy to find and easy to grip. While you can’t crash focus with it the manual focus, it is nice and responsive and doesn’t exhibit any nasty overshoots or other surprises. So manual focussing is nice and easy. This is assisted by a good viewfinder peaking and a focus magnification system that helps you determine the sharpest parts of the image with ease. One observation though is that if you leave the peaking on the default “White” setting it can make some scenes appear over exposed as white sparkles appear across areas of fine detail. For this reason I normally use the Red or Blue peaking colors.
INPUT AND OUTPUT CONNECTIONS
For audio there is a built in stereo mic on the front of the handle that is adequate for background and ambient sound recording. You then have the usual 2x XLR connectors with switchable phantom power on the front of the hand grip plus Sony’s MI Shoe on the top. Using the MI Shoe you can connect Sony’s UWP-D radio microphones directly to the camera via a low cost mounting adapter (SMAD-P3) eliminating the need for wires or batteries in the microphone receiver. It’s a very neat system.
To output your pictures you have an HDSDI connector on the rear of the camera for HD plus an HDMI port that can deliver UHD. There is also a legacy standard definition composite video output, this is one of the few Sony professional cameras to still have this built in. There is of course also a headphone socket on the rear panel of the camera just above the DC in socket.
POWER AND BUILD QUALITY.
The PXW-Z150 runs off readily available and incredibly common Sony NP-F series batteries. It’s a low power camera so a single battery lasts for ages. I got about 3.5 hours from one of the smaller F770 batteries. An F970 would give at least half a working day, so two of those is all that most people would need.
When I first picked the camera up it felt good. Like most modern cameras it’s constructed from a mix of plastics and alloy. The plastics appear to be of good quality and it seems to be well constructed. Perhaps not quite as high quality as the PXW-FS5 or FS7 but this is a much cheaper camera.
Buttons and switches:
There are very few switches on this camera. Just the on/off switch and switches for the audio inputs. But there are plenty of buttons including 6 user assignable buttons. For exposure control you have push buttons that select the gain, white balance and shutter settings and work in conjunction with a small up/down rocker button on the front left of the body. The rocker is used to scroll though the selections available for each of these. In practice this works quite well except that once you select one of these functions, lets say the gain, it remains selected and the rocker switch active unless you press a different function. If you press gain again to try to deselect it, gain will switch to auto and you have to press it again to go back to manual. It’s a minor thing but did result in me ending up accidentally going to auto gain or shutter when I didn’t mean to. I’m sure if you were to use the camera regularly you would soon get used to this.
Iris(aperture) is switched between auto and manual via a dedicated button as is focus. Autofocus works surprisingly well even in low light. It’s not fast but hunting is minimal once it’s focussed and it was able to track moving objects quite well.
While a one inch sensor is bigger than 2/3″ or 1/2″ it’s still significantly smaller than the Super 35mm sensors that are all the range. The Z150 has a lot of pixels squeezed onto quite a small space, so don’t expect amazing low light performance, it’s not that kind of camera. However it’s low light performance is very good for this class of compact all-in-one UHD/4K camera. For all but the most critical applications you can add 12dB of gain without any major dramas to boost the low light performance. +24dB isn’t horrendous if you really have to push the camera and the top limit of +33dB is impressive but rather noisy. In low light the lens works best when it’s wide and at f2.8. Zoom in and it drops down to f4.5 and that does drop your brightness by over a stop or the equivalent of a little over 6dB of gain (1 f-stop = 6dB = Double/half the ISO).
So picture quality… that’s a pretty important factor.
Single small sensor cameras have come a long way in recent years and the Z150 is no exception. The picture quality is pretty good for a budget camera. The smallish sensor with it’s tightly packed and very small pixels does impose some limitations on just how good it can be, especially in dynamic range and sensitivity but it does produce a nice picture for what it is.
Colours are vibrant, noise levels are low and dynamic range perfectly useable. I estimate about 10 stops of dynamic range so it’s not in the same league as the super 35mm cameras, but respectable none the less. Noise levels are low enough that you can afford to slightly under expose the camera and tweak the pictures a little in post production if you need to. This can be useful if you notice the camera is struggling with bright highlights. I used the cameras built in Histogram to help judge exposure and found that if I had bright highlights such as the bright clouds in the sky as seen in the frame grabs here, that the best results were achieved when ensuring the highlights were below the grey 100% line on the histogram. If you expose the highlights all the way to the far right of the histogram (109%) the highlight areas are flattened by the cameras knee and they can look a bit odd. I felt it was best to expose just a little lower as this gives better looking highlights (about half to one stop). If using auto exposure, including a -0.5 to -1 EV offset to the auto exposure (in the camera menu) has the same effect. Chromatic aberration is very low, probably being hidden by in camera processing. and the sharpening/detail correction well balanced. The PXW-Z150 creates good looking images for a single smaller chip sensor out of the box.
But as well as the standard look the camera does include 6 picture profiles which can be found towards the bottom of the camera menu. Each profile gives a quite different look.
As you can see each of these looks is quite different (The Z150 also has several different scene settings that can be used for shooting in full auto under differing lighting conditions, these change the way the camera works out the auto exposure levels).
The dynamic range is no different in each profile. PP2, the DSLR look adds contrast by crushing the mid range and blacks, it’s also highly saturated to give stronger colors, particularly reds. The red flower in the frame grab was not that red.
Picture Profile 3 mixes Rec709 gamma with Sony’s “Pro” color matrix. I like the Pro color settings as it gives true to life colors and it grades quite well if you want to make tweaks in post production.
Picture Profile 4 is Rec709 (ITU709) gamma and color. To me the colors are not as accurate as they could be. The flower looks a little too “electric” compared to the real life color.
The Cinematone Gammas in picture profiles 5 and 6 flatten the image a little and bring up the shadows. This can help a little if you wish to tweak or adjust the images in post production. The Cinematone gammas are not the same as the Cinegammas found in the higher dynamic range cameras like the FS5 or A7.
Personally I did not like the colors associated with the Cinematone color settings. But one of the great things about the Picture Profiles is you can mix and match the various gamma curves and color matrix settings to create your own looks and styles. The “Pro” color matrix offers some very accurate colors and I quite like the look that you get when you combine Cinematone 2 gamma with the Pro color matrix. If you find the colors a little flat you can boost the saturation level a bit, I found that setting the saturation to +15 gave a great look straight from the camera. Don’t be afraid to go into the Picture Profile settings and experiment with different combinations of Gamma curve and Color matrix. Just don’t turn up the Saturation too high, I would not recommend going above +20.
One small annoyance I found with the PXW-Z150 was that the only menu button is up on the top of the hand grip. As I like to fiddle around with the Picture Profile settings I did find it a little awkward to access the menu controls on the very top of the camera, especially if it was at shoulder height or above on a tripod. You can’t see them up there!
Like most modern cameras the PXW-Z150 has a full set of WiFi features including the ability to transfer files wirelessly via ftp to a remote server, to stream live or control the camera from a tablet or mobile phone. A future firmware update will add Sony’s QoS (Quality Of Service) streaming error correction that promises much improved image quality over poor network connections when streaming to a Sony QoS server. To remotely control the camera you need to install Content Browser Mobile on your Android or iOS device.
SUPER SLOW MOTION
One more trick that the PXW-Z150 has is the ability to shoot continuously at up to 120fps (100fps when the camera is set to 50i area). The image is full HD but more highly compressed than the regular HD recordings, plus it’s interlaced, not progressive. In addition the inevitable faster shutter speeds mean that you do need plenty of light to get the very best results. I could definitely see a small drop in image quality when shooting at 100 or 120 fps, but the footage is perfectly useable and it is great to be able to slow down motion by 4 or 5 times. You do need to be a little careful if using the interlaced footage within a progressive production as very fast moving objects that travel through the frame may exhibit the combing artefact common in regular interlace material when show progressively. To get the full 5x slow down the camera needs to be set to 60i area to allow the selection of 120fps.
The PXW-Z150 is a compact jack of all trades camera that’s easy to work with, has a great zoom range and delivers a respectable looking image. The largeish 1″ sensor gives a greater degree of control over the depth of field than you will have with a camera with a 1/2″ or 1/3″ sensor. But it’s isn’t going to give you that super shallow film look unless you are using longer focal lengths.
I think the Z150 will find a home in many corporate and industrial production applications. The ability to shoot in 4K gives the flexibility to crop int the image to re-frame shots for HD productions. And the price is good too, you get a lot of camera for the money.
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.