Sony PXW-X70 Review

workshops-275 Sony PXW-X70 Review
DSC09308-1024x681 Sony PXW-X70 Review
The new Sony PXW-X70 XDCAM camcorder.

Initial Thoughts.

As the owner of a Sony AX100, which is a really great little 4K and HD camcorder I wasn’t really all that excited when I saw the first prototype of the X70 at Broadcast Asia back in June. You see in the past Sony have done this many times, taken a high end consumer camcorder, updated the firmware, added a handle and then sold it for a higher price as a pro camcorder.  In the past, there has in reality been little difference between the cheaper consumer model and the more expensive pro version.

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The handgrip on the Sony PXW-X70

The PXW-X70 is different. This is much more than an AX100 with new firmware. For a start the body of the camera is quite different. The right hand side of the X70 is quite different to the AX100. It has a much fatter hand grip. This makes the camera much easier to hold comfortably for long periods. It also makes space for a full size HDSDI output and a full size HDMI output. But the differences don’t stop there.

On the top of the hand grip there is a large assignable button that is normally set to act as a control for the focus magnification function. This button falls immediately under your index finger when your shooting. In front of this is a new larger and easier to use zoom rocker and then in front of that is another assignable button, this one set as a one push auto iris button – very nice!

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The back of the handgrip and the small joystick.

At the back of the handle there is a small joystick that ends up under your thumb (just where it needs to be). This joystick can be used to navigate through the cameras menu system. So, without taking your hand out of the hand grip you can check focus, zoom in and out, set your exposure and go through the menu system. If only it was this easy on all of Sony’s cameras! Ergonomically this camera is really good, especially when you consider how small it is.

The camera has a nice 12x stabilised, optical zoom lens, behind which sits a 1 inch 20 megapixel sensor. In video mode about 14 million pixels are used, so even in 4K (there will be a paid 4K upgrade option next year) there are more pixels than needed for full resolution. Rather than let this extra resolution go to waste you can activate Sony’s “clear image zoom” function that works seamlessly with the optical zoom to give you a 24x zoom range in HD.

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Frame grab from PXW-X70. Click on the image to see the full size frame.

The clear image zoom really is remarkably transparent. If you look hard enough at the image, on a big screen, when it’s zoomed all the way in you can just about discern a very slight softness to the image, but frankly I don’t think this is any worse than the softness you might see from a compact optical 24x zoom. It certainly doesn’t look electronic and unless you have side by side, with and without test clips I don’t think you would know that the clear image zoom has been used.

If 24x is not enough there is also a further digital extender, controlled by a button on the right side of the lens that doubles the digital zoom. This you can see, the image is a little degraded at 48x, but it’s not terrible, might be handy for a breaking news story where you can’t get close to the subject.

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The left side of the PXW-X70

As well as the optical stabiliser in the lens the camera also has a switchable electronic stabiliser. The active steadyshot is very effective at smoothing out even the shakiest of hands. But it does tend to hang on or grab hold of the image a bit. So when you do deliberately move the camera it tends to try to stabilise the scene until it can no longer correct for the cameras movement at which point the scene is suddenly released and starts to move. If your using a tripod you definitely want to just use the standard steadyshot and not the active mode.

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Dual SD card slots on the PXw-X70

The pictures are recorded using either XAVC, AVCHD or standard definition DV to SD cards. For XAVC you must use SDXC cards, but these are cheap and readily available these days. There are two card slots and you can choose between relay record where the camera will switch from slot A to slot B once A is full, or you can make two simultaneous recordings on both cards at the same time. This gives an instant backup if you need it.

XAVC HD RECORDING:

The XAVC HD recordings are 10 bit 422 long GoP at 50Mb/s, 35Mb/s or 25Mb/s. The quality of the 50Mb/s recordings is amazing with no compression artefacts that I can see (there must be some, I just can’t see them). Even the 25Mb/s recordings look really good. You can shoot at up to 60fps in 60i mode and 50fps in 50i mode. In 60i mode you also have 24fps.

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Frame grab form the PXW-X70, click on the image to see full size.

Considering this is a highly compact, single chip camera the images it produces are really very good. They don’t have that typical small sensor camera look. The pictures are remarkably noise free at 0db and largely free of artefacts. I tend to find that small handycams often suffer from what I would describe as “busy” pictures. Pictures where  perhaps there is a lot of added sharpening or where the pixels are read in special ways to make a sharp picture. This makes edges slightly flickery and gives the pictures a tell tale small sensor look. The X70 with it’s big sensor and abundance of pixels just doesn’t have this “busy” look.

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Train sitting in station. Frame grab from PXW-X70

The pictures really look like they come from a pro camera. Occasionally very fine, high contrast details like white text on a black background can look a little busy, but this is very minor. Dynamic range is quite respectable, it’s not as good as a PMW-300, but not too bad for a compact handycam (I estimate about 10 to 11 stops of DR).

One thing I did find with this camera is that because there is so little noise and the codec is so good, you could quite comfortably shoot about a stop darker than you would normally and then just bring the image up a bit in post. Shooting a little darker helps the camera handle bright highlights and then in post you can just bring up the shadows and mid tones with a simple colour correction to give a nice exposure. I wish I had realised this when I shot the demo video. I would have exposed a little on the dark side and then tweaked the shots in post. There’s so little noise at 0db and so few artefacts that the image holds up to this really well. If your using auto exposure you can set an exposure offset to allow for this in the menu.

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PXW-X70 without the top handle fitted.

The X70 is pretty sensitive and 9db of gain is quite useable, so shooting indoors in a typical home or at a wedding venue without extra lights should be no problem. Ramp it up to +33db and it see’s better in the dark than I do, but there is a fair bit of noise at +33db.

As well as being generally rather sensitive the PXW-X70 also has a nightshot mode that bypasses the cameras IR filter and includes a switchable infra-red light, so you can shoot in total darkness if you want.

To see what you are shooting there is a 3.5″ LCD panel. This panel is higher resolution than the one on the AX100 and gives a sharp and pretty accurate image. On the back of the camera there is a small OLED viewfinder. This little OLED is pretty good. It has great contrast and is pretty sharp for a small finder. It’s a great feature on bright sunny days when the LCD can become harder to see.

CRISP, SHARP IMAGES:

The HD images are crisp and sharp without any obvious sharpening, almost certainly a result of having a 4K ready sensor. The lack of obvious detail correction helps give the pictures a pleasing, more filmic look. The camera has picture profiles so if you want you can soften or sharpen the images if you choose. As well as detail and aperture controls there are also controls for gamma (standard, still, Cinematone1, Cinematone2, ITU709) and color. The color controls are similar to those on the FS700 where you can adjust the saturation as well as R, G, B, C, M, Y and K brightness. In addition there is a choice of 6 different preset color modes plus black and white.

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PXW-X70 auto/manual switch.

The camera can be controlled either fully automatically or fully manual as well as various in between modes. There is a switch on the back of the camera to switch between auto and manual. In manual you can control the iris, shutter and gain by pressing one of three buttons along the bottom edge of the camera and the using a small wheel just below the lens to set what you have selected. In practice this actually works quite well. There is another button for white balance control on the side of the camera with the usual presets plus auto white balance. Just under the Manual/Auto switch there is a selector for the built in ND filters. I recently purchased a A7s DSLR type camera and I had forgotten what a fiddle it can be to use a camera that doesn’t have built in ND’s. So it’s really good to see proper ND filters on the PXW-X70 as they really help you manage your depth of field.

On the lens there is a single large control ring that can be used to focus the lens or to act as a manual zoom ring. The focus is responsive and although I don’t normally like round and round servo focus rings this one wasn’t too bad.

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The zoom/focus ring on the PXW-X70.

There really is so much to this camera that it would take a small book to go through all the features. For example there’s the touch screen LCD that can be used for touch to focus or touch to expose where you just touch the part of the screen you want to expose or focus on. There’s a full set of exposure and focus aids including peaking, histogram, zebras etc.

On the top of the camera you have Sony’s new MI shoe (Multi-Interface) for connecting accessories like the supplied handle with XLR audio inputs. The supplied detachable handle is really well made and very secure when attached. One small note is that by default when you attach the handle to the MI-shoe the camera switches to XLR audio automatically by default. So if you don’t actually have a mic connected to the handle you won’t have any audio as the internal mic gets shut off. You have to go in to the audio section of the menu to enable the internal mic if you want to use the handle but want to use the built in mic.

If you want to do time-lapse or slow stuff down the camera has S&Q motion that goes from 1fps to 60fps at 1920×1080.

The camera has WiFi and NFC and allows remote control via Content Browser Mobile and simply touching an NFC enabled phone or tablet against the side of the camera will pair the camera with the phone or tablet. In the future following a firmware update you will be able to use the camera to stream your content live via U-stream.

Finally – build quality. It’s really well made. It feels nice and solid, it feels like it will really last. Don’t tell Sony, but I dropped the camera from waist hight while I was using it. It survived, no problem at all.

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Sony’s new baby XDCAM camcorder, the PXW-X70.

In conclusion: This is a nice little camera. It’s very easy to operate. The picture quality is very good for such a compact camera, the only thing that lets it down just a bit is the highlight handling. But the camera is so clean that you can afford to expose a little lower to compensate for this. Since shooting the demo video I have been playing with the picture profiles to help with the highlight exposure and I found that bringing up the black gamma really helps as it lifts the mid range allowing you to expose slightly lower.

The large sensor, combined with the switchable built in ND filters gives you much greater control over the depth of field than normally possible with a compact handycam.

I think you have to remember that this is a small camera. It isn’t a PXW-X180 and it never will be, but if your budget is tight and you want an easy to use compact camera this could be the one for you. I think it would be a good fit as a “B” camera or for use in lower budget corporate productions. In addition the PXW-X70 would be a good camera to give to PA’s and producers or to hand off to inexperienced shooters for fly-on-the-wall productions.

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53 thoughts on “Sony PXW-X70 Review”

  1. I’ve pretty much made the decision to get this video camera, mostly based on this review. Thank you again, Alister. All the footage I’ve seen is stunning, and this on SD cards in-camera! I still have a couple of questions: a big advantage of SDI output (and HDMI) would seem to be the ability to get more information off the chip, perhaps capturing at higher bit rates long-GOP, or even in some flavour of full XAVC, but I can find no information about this. Also, when the 4K upgrade is implemented, might we expect higher in-camera bit-rates to match?

  2. Just recieved mine on Saturday. Great little camera, as Alister says, “it’s very easy to operate.”
    Only problem is editing the XAVC as Media Composer will not AMA link or transcode. Downloaded Premiere Pro also would not import. Did a search and found many people having same problem. Sony included a note saying a future version of Content Browser would support it. The new Catalyst Browse display and plays the clips but also would not transcode.
    Strange as I also have a PXW-Z100 and it’s 4K and HD XAVC clips can be AMA linked and imported into Media Composer with no problem.

  3. How suitable is this camera for shooting high school and college football? I would be shooting from the top of the pressbox, and modest zoom with a wide angle is important. Any advise? Thanks

    1. There are better cameras for this role, but generally they work out more expensive. So it depends on your budget really.

  4. Sorry, Alister – not need to respond. I see these sorts of questions were addressed in your initial impressions post Q&As. Wait and see what Sony does I guess. Thanks anyway.

  5. There are conflicting reports about the cameras ability to record 1920X1080 60p in the XAVC-L 50 mode. The EU specs says it can, the U.S. says it is 60i. Can you shed light on this. Thank you.
    Kevin

  6. Thank you Alister for a great review. A built in lens cap in the lens hood which would be a welcome feature. Do you know if it is possible to replace it with one from another Sony model? Is the mount the same and are they available as a part? Thanks very much.

    1. No, 60i is 60i each field has slightly less than half the resolution of the full frame so if you just take a single field you will have a serious resolution drop. If you combine the fields you may suffer from combing artefacts.

  7. Hi, I was using mine in full auto (intelligent auto) mode filming speeches so the camera was fixed on a tripod.It went in and out of focus a couple of times but mainly was fine. Lighting was not too good but have shot previously dark scenes without problem, seemed more like the focus beam was broken so camera tried to refocus but there was no movement. Very annoying if I cannot rely on it,have you had a similar problem? Thanks

    1. There is no focus beam. Auto focus uses the contrast of the image to asses the focus, if the contrast is low because the light is low, the focus will struggle. The only way the camera can know when it has found the best possible focus is to go slightly out of focus, so every now and again it must hunt a little to know whether it’s in focus or not. Frankly of your filming speeches and on a tripod the best bet is to focus manually.

  8. Hello Alister,

    I bought few weeks ago a SONY PXW-X70 and your report helps me lot to make this decision. Thanks for your report.

    I have few question or remarks.

    At first a remark , I’m surprised that you have Code to download and register the latest version of the Content Browser. But I don’t understand why this software could not import MXF-Files. The free version of the Catalyst Browser can do this, but here I don’t have the capability for a first colour management.

    Secondly a question. I need to deliver for a project AVCHD-clips, the reason is that the clients cutting software doesn’t support MXF. Did you recommend to record directly in AVCHD or did I have a higher quality when I convert later the MXF to AVCHD? What software did you recommend for converting few hundred files?

    Tino

    1. Content Browser is now no longer supported and does not include the XAVC-L codec. For some years you had to provide a licence code to use it. Catalyst Browse has very good color tools. If the client can only deal with AVCHD then you may as well shoot in AVCHD. There would be no benefit from transcoding.

  9. Been researching the X70 a bit, so your reviews have been very helpful. I’m currently testing out video workflows with .MXF files (Final Cut Pro X with latest native MXF support).

    Do you know offhand where I could obtain sample files specifically generated by this cam? A user on video made his X70 MXF files available, but they refuse to import (video always black). I’ve found many other sample MXF files generated by other cameras and they all import properly.

    If I purchase this cam, I will end up shooting 24p HD at 50Mbps. So samples with those specs would be ideal. Thank you!

  10. Update: Come to find out, FCP X’s native MXF support still doesn’t include XAVC-L (long GOP). Hopefully an update from Sony and/or Apple will be available soon.

  11. i have the same problem with Mine there is definitely something wrong with the Auto focus on the X70. I shot a wedding last night (with lots of light)and the Auto focus every few Min would just suddenly blur up the whole picture for like 5sec then refocus it self. this was happening in Manual and auto mode, i spent hours trying different settings and it kept doing the same this in every situation. it’s the most unreliable Auto i’ve ever seen! (and it’s not just my Camera ive heard the same thing from couple of friends that have the same issue with the same X70). Seriously SONY what the Hell is wrong with the Autofocus on this Camera??

    1. The only way an autofocus camera can tell if it is in focus is by going out of focus. So it’s quite normal for every now and again an autofocus camera to hunt a little. Sometimes if there is not enough contrast in the subject being shot the camera may struggle to find focus.

      This is why most professional video camera operators do not use autofocus as you can never be sure when this might happen.

      If you think your camera is faulty then you should take it back to the dealer you purchased it from.

      1. my eyesight is not so good so when focus is very critical like getting eyes in focus in an interview what I do is start off with autofocus, then switch over to manual focus when the camera has found focus to stop the autofocus from starting to hunt again, though this means you have to watch carefully to make sure the person you are interviewing doesn´t move their head so much the manual focus goes off anyway. Best solution is probably to clamp the head of the interviewee in a vice but this would probably have a detrimental effect on what he or she has to say.

  12. Hello, great review! I have noticed the PXW Models is made in china ?
    The FS7, x160 x180, x70 is made in china, but the x200 I dont know where is made!!?

    1. Many of the latest Sony cameras are made in China. The factories are very carefully monitored by Sony Japan and the construction standards should at least match the Japan built cameras. Don’t forget that most Apple products are also made in China. The Chinese are very good at making high quality electronic products. I think you have to realise there is a huge difference between high quality mainline branded products made in China and the cheap and nasty off brand products made in China that we all know are often sub standard.

  13. Hello,

    I am looking to fit this to my drone but am struggling to find a definately answer on what functions the Supplied IR remote comander has. I understand it comes with the wifi capability but in the droning game we are unable to use due to frequency clash. Would you be able to confirm that IR remote can control start/stop recording, zoom as a minimum. If in manual can it also control focus, wb, etc.

    Thanks!

    1. I’m not sure of all the functions but you certainly get rec start and stop and zoom control. I think you also have a one push auto focus control, but I don’t think you can manually control the focus via the IR remote.

  14. We are editing XVAC MXF 422 50 with Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2014, no problem. We use the X70 as a B-Roll camera for our PDW 700. I don’t know of any other video editing software that handle the X70’s XAVC.

  15. If Sony only adds 60Mbp/s 4k (UHD) than the X70 will literally be all by itself as the LOWEST 4K bitrate in the industry. Every Panasonic, JVC, Canon and all other Sony 4K models have a basic bitrate of 100Mbp/s. Even the very rock bottom cheapest entry level 4K models ALL provide 100Mbp/s or higher.

    This is not my simple “opinion”, it’s actually a mathematical “fact”.

    Why wont Sony officially commit to 100Mbp/s? Even the tiny Sony 4K Action Cam does 100Mbp/s. No Sony XDCAM camcorder should EVER have a codec that is WAY below the cheapest consumer industry models.

    I feel this is highly embarrassing for an “XDCAM” branded model.

    1. Not necessarily. It depends on where you buy it. Many are now made in China. Some Asian countries have restrictions on imports from Japan, so the cameras have to be made elsewhere. Many Sony cameras are also made in the UK.

  16. which one has the better image-quality? the x70 or the x180?
    i am planning to buy the new z150 or the x180. but i dont know which has the better image/look. i need a little help for decision.

    1. If I only ever want HD then I’d probably go with the X180, but if you ever need UHD then it has to be the Z150.

  17. We are looking for a camera that is very easy to use so that a less experienced 2nd shooter can put the camera in auto mode and shoot without having to deal with focus, exposure and audio levels. Hopefully they can just put the camera in full auto and shoot.
    I would imagine that in addition to putting the camera in auto our more experienced videographer can use the manual controls as well.

    1. Both are possible. Just don’t expect the best results from a camera in full auto. It’s probably the worst possible combination, an inexperienced shooter and a camera that’s trying to guess at what’s needed.

  18. Trying to decide between this camera X70 Sony and the Sony AX 100. Which one will pruduce better quality videos the 4 k AX 100 or the X70?

    If I upgrade the X70 to 4k will they both be equal in video quality, or will one better?

    1. The X70 has a higher quality version of the XAVC codec and as a result will give a marginally better image. Whether you’ll be able to see that difference is another matter.

  19. I’m new to video and my school had this to check out. I filmed something but I want to make it look professional. Do LUT’s exist for this camera? I cannot find any for it. The only LUTs that come up are for the other Sony cameras.

    Thank you

    1. LUT’s are normally used with cameras that shoot Log or RAW to convert from the flat log to normal gamma. The X70 does not have log or raw and as a result no one makes LUT’s specifically for it. You could try using something like “magic bullet” to create different looks in post production or learn how to grade with Resolve or a similar grading software.

  20. Hi Alistair,

    Thanks for the great review. I am looking at this camera as a loaner to faculty/students and a second camera for multi-camera recording and streaming with an PMW-EX3 that I already have. Do you have any comment on how the two cameras would look in a multi-camera production?

    Thanks!

    1. They would look quite different. One is single chip 1″ bayer, one is 3 1/2″ chips. While colors and gamma may be similar, they will still look a little different.

  21. Para empezar e actualizado el firmware a el v3, para poder utilizar la transmisión directa a USTREAM el tema es el siguiente cuando la configuro para grabar en XAVC en cualquiera de los formatos ya sea 1080p/50 hasta el mínimo la cámara no graba titila el indicador STBY y nunca llega a quedar el rec permanente y mucho menos correr el tiempo de grabación, después de esto para apagar la cámara debo sacarle la bateria puesto que queda colgada. La memorias que utilizo son la sony SF64UX2 94mb, Sandisk 90mb EXTREME 64GB ambas clase 10 U3 y una Lexar Profesional 300mb 2000x SDXC UHSII class 10 u3 las pruebas las e hecho con las tarjetas juntas y por separado.

  22. Alister,

    It’s been two years since this camera came out. Any ideas about Sony’s plans for a replacement camera in the same price range? Maybe one already 4K ready?

    1. I have no information about any X70 replacement. However it’s worth noting that the new Z150 (which shoot 4K) has an improved version of the sensor in the X70. I would expect to see a new smaller camera with this sensor in the future, but when I don’t know. X70 has been a big hit and sells well so Sony might decide to stick with it a while longer.

  23. Alister,

    I’m evaluating purchasing a new camcorder and looking that the following three:
    1) Sony PXW-X70 (with the 4K upgrade)
    2) Canon XC-15
    3) Panasonic AG-UX90

    Any suggestions about how to choose between them.

    1. I’m afraid I can’t help as I have not spent enough time with the Canon and Panasonic cameras to make a comparison. The X70 is a very capable camera and produces great images.

  24. Hi Alister,

    I’m a university student who uses the Sony PXW-X70 in class.
    I have to write an essay about this and was wondering if I can reference your work?
    If you don’t mind please may I have the date you wrote this review?

    Thanking you in advance,
    Daniela

  25. I’ve been shooting with SONY PXW-X70 for about a year. Great to work with if your shooting action and its weight and size make great to travel with!

  26. Aloha from Hawaii, I just purchased the journalist package from B and H Photo of New York. This cool little cam is the main part of the package, In the 90’s I was an ENG cameraman with CBS locally and I love SONY, Your reviews are terrific and very helpful, cause I’ve out of the business for several years.
    A corporate vid is going to be shot using this cam.
    The pac comes with Sony’s Xperia tablet for viewing and editing clips, it comes with Vegas Pro.
    Any suggestions for this shoot?
    Should be mostly outdoors but maybe some indoors, also in the pac is a cam mounted light and UPW D11 wireless mix package

    Looking forward to hearing from you and doing this shoot.
    Drop me an email if you can, I ‘d welcome your thoughts.
    Aloha sir.
    Marc David

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Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.

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