Some people are struggling with lens options for the Sony half inch interchangeable lens cameras. Many try to use 2/3″ lenses via the ACM-21 with disappointing results. Lenses are designed to meet certain criterion. The lenses for the PMW-EX3 and PMW-320 actually perform very well, yet these are inexpensive lenses, so why when you use a much more expensive 2/3″ ENG zoom lens can the results be disappointing?
There is a very big difference between the way most typical ENG lens focus and the way an EX1/3, PMW-320 or PMW-200 lens focusses. An ENG lens will be a Par Focal lens, a lens that maintains constant focus throughout the zoom range. This is incredibly difficult to design especially with large zoom ranges and is one of the reasons ENG zooms are normally expensive pieces of glass.
The lenses used on the EX1/EX3, PMW-320 are not Par Focal, this makes them much cheaper, the focus shifts and changes as you zoom….. But clever electronics inside the camera and lens compensates for this by adjusting the lenses focus as you zoom so that in practice the lens appears to stay in perfect focus. An electronically compensated lens like this is lower cost to produce than a sophisticated typical ENG type zoom and makes the lens compact and lightweight as well as much cheaper.
Another factor is that as you increase the resolution of a lens, trying to bring everything in to focus on an ever smaller point, you run in to more and more problems with chromatic aberrations. Different wavelengths (and thus colours) of light get bent by different amounts when they pass through a glass lens. As you make the focussed light for one single colour smaller and sharper, the other colours of the spectrum become more dispersed. As a result, generally a softer lens, for example an SD lens (lower MTF) will exhibit fewer colour aberrations than a sharper HD lens. To compensate for these aberrations lens manufactures use very exotic types of glass with different refraction indexes to try to cancel out or at least minimise CA (chromatic aberration), but this glass is extremely expensive. The higher the resolution of the lens, the more expensive the glass gets.
With a camera like the EX1/EX3, PMW-320, PMW-200 when you know the exact characteristics of the lens (as they all use essentially the same lens) instead of employing exotic glass, you can program the camera to electronically remove or reduce the appearance of the CA and this happens inside the EX1/EX3, 320 and PMW-200 etc.
Next you must take in to account pixel size. In simple terms to work with the resolution of the cameras sensor, the lens has to be able to focus a point of light small enough to hit only one pixel. A typical 2/3″ HD camera has much bigger pixels that the pixels on the 1/2″ sensor of the PMW-320. As a result a lens that is only just able to achieve HD resolution on a 2/3″ camera, will not achieve HD resolution on the PMW-320 with it’s smaller pixels, it’s simply not designed to work with such small pixels. This means that you really need an HD lens designed for the 1/2″ sensor size and the corresponding pixel size.
These factors combined mean that the standard kit lens on the EX3, PMW-320 etc appears to perform very well and it takes a much more expensive, designed for 1/2″ lens to even match this apparent performance in most cases. Perhaps the new 16x lens coming for the PMW-300 will be available to purchase on it’s own. This would offer EX3 and PMW-320 owners the option of a high performing lens with a greater zoom range, probably for less than a similar performance conventional lens.
I get asked a lot about settings for shooting in low light with the EX1 and EX3. To be honest there is not much that will make a big difference that can be done, beyond adding in camera gain. There are a few tweaks you can make to the picture profiles that will help minimise noise levels and give a slightly brighter picture without resorting to overall gain and I’ll go through those here.
Gamma: By using a brighter or higher gain gamma curve you can get a slightly brighter image without an across the board gain increase. Do however consider though that gamma does add gain so a brighter gamma curve has more gain and thus more noise than a darker gamma curve. Where you light range is limited or controlled then I recommend using Standard Gamma 2 with the black gamma set to +40. Raising the black gamma helps lift shadow and dark areas of the image. For scenes with bright highlights then it’s useful to have some extra dynamic range and in this case I would choose cinegamma 4, again with the black gamma raised, this time to +50.
If you are happy with turning detail off altogether then this may be a wise choice as it will prevent any noise from being enhanced. If not in order to keep the appearance of noise to a minimum I would decrease the detail level to -10. As we are shooting in low light then I will assume there are a lot of dark areas in the image. To keep noise less visible in low contrast areas I would set the crisping to +50. This will slightly soften the image but help control noise.
There are two principle forms of noise, chroma noise and luma noise. There’s not much we can do about luma noise other than controlling detail enhancement as above, but if we reduce the image colour saturation we can reduce the chroma noise. Better still using the low key sat function we can just reduce the chroma (colour) level in low key parts of the shot. So for my low light profile I would set Low Key Sat to somewhere around -50.
So by changing the gamma we can increase the sensitivity a little, turning off the detail correction or using crispening we can ensure that the visibility of any noise is as minimised and the Low Key Sat function will keep the noise to a manageable level.
These setting won’t turn your EX1 or EX3 into a mega low light monster, but they will give a small boost to the low light performance before you have to resort to adding gain. Talking of gain, do make sure you read this to understand what gain is doing.
EX1/EX3 Picture Profile suggestions for low light:
Gamma Standard 2, Black Gamma +40 OR Cinegamma 4, Black Gamma +50
I promised I would re-visit some of my Picture Profile stuff. I thought I would start with this one as it is one of the least well understood settings. It’s effects are quite subtle, but it can mean the difference between a noisy picture and a clean image, but also between a sharp image and a soft image, in particular in areas of subtle detail or low contrast detail such as foliage, grass and textures.
Crispening is a part of the detail correction circuit. It does not in itself, as it’s name suggests (at least on an EX of F3) make the image “crisper”. What it does is control the contrast range over which the detail circuit operates. Basically it sets the threshold at which detail correction is applied to the image, which in turn can make the image look a little sharper or less sharp. The apparent sharpness itself is controlled by the Detail Level and Frequency controls.
Why is this useful? Well it allows the user to choose whether to opt for a cleaner looking image or a sharper looking image. An important consideration is that this adjustment does not change the actual resolution of the image or the noise level of the camera, but it does make subtle details in the image more or less enhanced and as noise is also a subtle, even if unwanted detail within the image it will also make noise more or less enhanced, thus more or less visible.
In the first illustration I have drawn an imaginary video waveform signal coming from the camera that contains a mixture of noise and both subtle and more obvious picture information. The bigger the up/down change in the waveform the more obvious the change in brightness (and thus contrast) on the monitor or TV would be. Throughout the image there is some noise. I have indicated the noise level for the camera with a pair of red lines. The EX1 and EX3 is a moderately noisy camera, not the worst, nor the best for an HD camera, but pretty good in it’s price range. So if we can do something to make the noise less obvious that would be desirable in many cases. Crispening can help us do that. Crispening ONLY has an effect when you are applying detail correction to the image. It sets the threshold at which detail correction is applied. The default setting on an EX is zero.
If we reduce the crispening setting, lets say to -60, it REDUCES the threshold at which detail is applied which generally makes the pictures look sharper. Looking at the second and third illustrations you can see how if you reduce the threshold too much then detail correction will be applied to even the most subtle changes in the image, including the image noise. The little black spikes I have added to the diagram illustrate the way the detail “enhancement” will be added to both noise and subtle contrast changes as well as larger contrast changes.
This will make the pictures look more noisy, but… and this is important… it will also help bring out subtle low contrast textures in foliage, skin, fabrics etc. A area where perhaps the EX1 and EX3 don’t do terribly well.
If you want a clean image however where noise is less visible, then raising the crispening level to a high positive value, lets say +60 will increase the threshold at which detail correction is added, so signal changes will need to be bigger before detail correction is applied.
With a high positive number the image will look cleaner and less noisy, but you will loose some enhancement in textures and low contrast areas as these will no longer have detail correction applied to them. This can lead to a slightly muddy or textureless look to tress, grass, skin and fabric.
The real problem areas are the subtle textures and low contrast areas (circled in orange) where the true image detail is barely above the noise level. It’s very difficult to bring these out without increasing the appearance of noise. Unfortunately there is no clear answer to how to set the crispening level as it will depend on what you are shooting and how much noise you can tolerate. I tend to have crisping set between +10 and +30 for most things as I do tend to do a fair amount of grading work on my footage. When you grade noise is often the limiting factor as to how far you can push the image, so I like to keep noise under control as much as possible. For green screen and chroma key work I push crispening up to +40 to +60 as this helps me get a cleaner key, especially around subtle edges and hair.
If I am shooting exteriors and scenics with lots of foliage, grass etc then I will sometimes go down to -30 as this helps bring out the subtle textures in the leaves and plants, but this can make noise a little more pronounced, so it’s a trade off. And that’s what Crispening is all about, trading off subtle textures and detail against more visible noise. Ultimately only you can make the choice as to which is more important, but the Crispening level control gives you that choice.
One way to reduce the noise in a video camera image is to reduce the cameras gain. We all know that increasing the gain to lets say +6db will increase noise and generally the reverse holds true when you reduce the gain, the noise typically reduces and this may be helpful if you are going to do a lot of effects work, or just want a clean image.
However in most cases negative gain reduces dynamic range as it will artificially clip or limit your low key parts of the image. The maximum illumination level that a camera can capture is limited by the sensor or the amount of data used to transfer the signal from the sensor into the processing circuits, the cameras DSP (Digital Signal Processor). The black level or darkest part of the image is the point where the design engineers have deemed that the ratio of actual image signal to sensor noise is high enough to give a suitably noise free image (also known as noise floor). So the dynamic range of the camera is normally the range between the sensors noise floor and saturation point.
The gain of the camera controls the video output level, relative to the sensors signal level. If you use -3db gain you attenuate (reduce) the relative output signal. The highlight handling doesn’t change (governed by the sensor) but your entire image output level gets shifted down in brightness and as a result you will clip off or loose some of your shadow and dark information, so your overall dynamic range is also reduced as you can’t “see” so far into the shadows. Dynamic range is not just highlight handling, it is the entire range from dark to light. 3db is half a stop (6db = 1 stop) so -3db gain reduces the dynamic range by half a stop, reducing the cameras underexposure range.
So for cameras like the EX1 and EX3 or even PMW-500/PDW-700 using negative gain can be a bad thing to do. You need to be aware that there is a trade off of noise against dynamic range and need to be sure that the small noise benefit are worth the sacrifice of some latitude.
Interestingly the PMW-F3 has an excess of dynamic range for the normal gammas and cinegammas and the processing appears to take advantage of this to keep the images very clean. When you shoot with the standard gammas and cinegammas on the F3 the cameras base ISO (sensitivity) is 400 asa at 25p. In effect the arbitrary black level is kept some way up the sensors output range to keep the images well clear of the noise floor. This gives a very clean, ultra low noise image with 11.5 stops of dynamic range. When you switch the camera to S-Log, which gives a greater dynamic range (approx 13 stops by my estimation) the base ISO increases to 800 asa. When you increase the sensitivity like this you lower you black point lower down the sensors output range closer to the noise floor. Looking at some of my S-Log test footage a clear increase in under exposure latitude can be seen when you use S-Log. I suspect that the “0db” point in the F3 is actually 800 asa as used by S-Log, where maximising dynamic range and using the full sensor range is the priority. Meanwhile with standard gammas, which are limited to 11.5 stops anyway, you can reduce the gain by 6db (1 stop) sacrificing one stop of underexposure and raising the black point well above the noise floor but still have the full 11.5 stops but with 6db less noise.
These are the picture profiles that I am currently tending to favour for the EX1, EX1R and EX3. Please remember that picture profiles are entirely subjective. These settings work for me, that doesn’t mean they are perfect or for everyone. I like the images the cameras produce when I use these profiles. Please feel free to adapt them or modify them any way you choose. They work on any of the current EX cameras.
Vivid – Designed to help match the EX to a PDW-700. Gives vivid colours with a small shift away from yellow.
Matrix – Cinema, Matrix Level +60
R-G +8, R-B +10, G-R 0, G-B +15, B-R +5, B-G +6
Detail Level -10 Frequency +20, Crispening -40 (if using gain use crispening +14)
Gamma Cinegamma 1
Black level -3, Black Gamma -35
Low Key Saturation -10
Natural C4 – Designed to give a neutral, natural looking image.
Matrix – Cinema, Matrix Level +35
Detail level -7, Frequency +30, Crispening -40 (if using gain use crispening +20)
Black Level -3, Low key Saturation -15
AC Punch – Gives a very high contrast, bold look.
Matric – Cinema, level +40
Gamma Standard 2, Knee level 80, Slope 0
R-G 0, R-B +1, G-R +12, G-B +2, B-R +11, B-G 0
Detail Level -10, Frequency +30, Crispening -45
Black Level -4, Black Gamma -20.
AC Good to Grade – a general purpose setup to give good grading possibilities.
Matrix – Cinema, Level +25
Gamma Cinegamma 1 (Do not use -3db gain)
Detail Level -7, Frequency +45, Crispening -45 (use +35 if using gain)
Black Level -3.
AC-SD Camera look. To mimic an older SD camcorder based on a DSR400, good for HD to SD conversion.
Matrix – Cinema, Level +15
Detail Level +20, Detail Frequency -35, White Limit +35, Black limit +45
Knee, Manual, Level 90, Slope 0.
Gamma Standard 2, Gamma Level +5
Black Gamma -10
Black Level -10
Enjoy! Any feedback or suggestions welcome. Let me know of any profiles that you come up with that may be of interest to others.
Well, I’m now in New York preparing to introduce some of our potential dealers to the Genus Hurricane Rig. I’m going to be spending some time with the guys at ZGC and Abel Cine showing them how the 3D rig works and what it can do before heading down to LA for ShowBiz Expo later in the week. Our hotel overlooks the Hudson river and Manhattan so I could not resist the opportunity to shoot the sunrise this morning. Apart from anything else I’m jet lagged so was up at 4am!! The video was shot with my trusty EX3 at 1 frame every second, sped up to x400 in FCP. I used the TLCS controls to limit the maximum gain to +6db and to introduce shuttering when the iris gets to f11. This helps deal with the huge changes in light levels. Now I know where the sun appears I might re do this later in the week, centered on the sun. Hope you like it.
IMPORTANT UPATE REGARDING NOISE AND SENSITIVITY: See section highlighted in red below.
Hi all. Well I have got a Canon XF305E for the afternoon. Wish it was longer, but they are like hens teeth. I’m going to be writing and updating this as I go, so please keep coming back for the latest updates and post a comment if there is anything you want me to specifically look at.
Out of the box, first impressions are that it is big. 20% bigger than an EX1. The body is dominated by the very large lens which also has a sensor of some kind to the left of the lens barrel. I assume this is to do with the autofocus system. I hope so as it would make Matte Box use very difficult.
Overall it feels very well made although there are a few bits that could be better. It’s possible to put a battery in the battery compartment incorrectly so that the camera will work unless you knock it and bump it, then the battery connection is lost. You really need to have the camera down on a flat surface to be sure the battery goes in right. In addition there is a pair of really heath robinson looking springs at the back of the battery compartment. Considering this is about the most expensive camcorder in it’s class you don’t expect cheap and nasty springs like the ones fitted in the battery compartment.
They look like an after thought.
Incorrectly inserted Battery
The flap that covers the battery feels cheap and plasticky compared to the rest of the camera body and I would be worried about this breaking off at some point. However if it does break there is a separate battery catch that holds the battery in place.
Looking at the lens my first point of confusion came when I pressed the zoom rocker and nothing happened. I turned the calibrated zoom ring on the lens and the lens zoomed in and out, but the rocker did nothing. So I looked for the zoom servo switch. I didn’t find one but did find the “Zoom – Rocker – Ring” switch. Switched it from ring to rocker, pressed the rocker and the zoom works…….. but….. now the zoom ring does not turn or move, so you can have one or the other but not both. The iris ring has no markings and is of the round and round servo variety so you need to look at the (very nice) LCD screen to see where the iris is set, the same for the zoom when set to rocker.
The focus system is not that dissimilar to an EX with both calibrated manual and non calibrated manual/auto operation. On an EX you slide the focus ring forwards and backwards to switch from full manual to servo control. On the XF305 you have to take your hand off the focus ring to operate a small push button that allows you to rotate the lens body to switch between manual and servo. It’s not quite as convenient as the EX but is easy enough to do. There is a problem with this however. If you set the manual focus ring at say infinity, then switch to the servo/manual/auto focus and use that, when you switch back to full manual the lens will return to the last position you set the focus to. OK, fine, that’s the same as an EX1R, BUT on the XF305 you can’t see the focus scale in the focus window when you are set to servo/auto so you have no idea what the focus is going to do when you switch modes unless you can remember where you last set the manual focus.
Just like an EX1 when you hand hold the camera it’s bulk puts a fair bit of strain on the wrist as it want’s to fall forwards and to the left. There is no adjustable hand grip rotation and the record start stop button is a little low down for my thumb. The hand grip is also quite small and angular. I think the EX1R is a lot more comfortable to hold.
If your using the XF305 on a tripod there is only a single 1/4? threaded hole in a small plate on the bottom of the camera, much like the original EX1, so don’t overload it or you may end up breaking the plate. Perhaps Curtis at Juiced Designs will do a strengthening plate for the XF305. Do camera designers not read forums and look at what happens to cameras when used in the field?
Behind the hand grip there is an array of BNC connectors for SDi, video out, Genlock and timcode. Full marks for using proper BNC connectors here. Behind these are a whole bunch of floppy cheap plastic covers over HDMI, USB, headphone, AV, remote and mini component connectors.
In use the large LCD screen is clear and easy to see. It flips out from under the handle on both sides of the camera which is really neat.
The multi-coloured graphics all over the screen do make it a little cluttered but these can be easily turned off. The XF305 can also display waveform monitor and vectorscope plus a 3 zone waveform monitor all of which are very useful tools to have (LCD screen only, not rear VF). While looking at the LCD I realised that just like the EX1 the microphone and in this case the LCD as well, stick out beyond the end of the lens. Why do camera manufacturers do this? It makes fitting and using a Matte Box so difficult. Doh! Having the LCD screen so far forwards could present problems for Matte Box users.
Where the EX1 and EX3 have picture profiles the XF305 like most pro Canon cameras has a number of “Custom Picture” memories. There are 6 preset memories for you to dial in your own looks plus “Video C”, “Cine V” and “Cine F” setups. The Cine V setup was really soft and Cine F just had a quite flat look, however I didnt really have time to explore these fully. I did try Alan Roberts recommended settings and these are very nice and I would recommend them as a good starting point for really making the XF305 sing. Within the CP settings you can choose from 4 standard gamma curves and 2 cine style gamma curves. The Matrix is fully adjustable so it should be easy to roll your own custom looks. Another setting tucked away in the CP menu is the noise reduction. The XF305 has some very clever noise reduction that is clearly doing a good job of controlling the noise that is normally be associated with a small sensor camera. You can choose between Automatic nose reduction and 8 steps of reduction. If set to 8 however the noise reduction is very hard and the resolution drops way down.
The pictures from the XF305 are very good. At 0db they are quite similar overall to those from an EX1. They do have a different colorimetry to Sony’s camera’s (which I always find a little yellow) and are pleasing to look at. Clearly the lens is very good, CA is well controlled but there is some quite obvious barrel distortion between fully wide and 6mm, but it’s no worse than an EX1R and really to be expected from a camera at this price point.
I also found some noticeable softening in the corners fully wide which appears to be worse on the left side of the image than the right.
When I was looking at the lens distortion I was zooming in and out using the zoom rocker, then I went to turn the zoom ring just to tweak the zoom and of course nothing happened. This zoom rocker or zoom ring, but not both way of operation really sucks.. am I missing something here? While on the subject of the zoom rocker I was asked about how it was with slow creeping zooms. Well it’s very good. I did find that you have to press the rocker a long way past the center point before anything happens, but once the zoom starts to operate you can get a slow creeping zoom. But to then go from the creeping zoom smoothly to a faster zoom is tricky as a tiny bit more pressure on the rocker leads to a rapid increase in zoom speed. It seems that there is a very large dead area where the zoom rocker does nothing and then all the action takes place in the last few millimeters of its travel. It almost feels like the zoom speed is in steps, not entirely variable. I’m sure it’s not and with practice perhaps I could master it, but it’s a little touchy. The EX1R isn’t perfect either. The zoom rocker can be a bit twitchy when trying to do a creeping zoom, but in this case I prefer the EX1R zoom over the Canon. If you do choose to use the zoom ring to control the zoom there is some serious lag between turning the zoom ring and the zoom happening. For slow zooms this may not be an issue, but crash zooms are very difficult to execute. The iris ring also as some lag which makes fine tweaking of exposure a little harder than it should be. The last couple of years I have become so used to the EX1 and EX3 lens with its great feel and proper zoom and iris rings that this is a real let down. Overall I think that optically the Canon lens as a small edge over the EX lens, there is less CA and a greater zoom range. But ergonomically I much prefer the EX1R lens.
Latitude is very similar at 0db between both cameras, I couldn’t really see much of a difference either way. UPDATE There are some differences in image sharpness and noise however. Please see this clip (Vimeo or YouTube) for some examples, generally Vimeo is better quality.
If anything the Canon 305 at first glance appears a little sharper than the EX1R, but looking closer and examining the footage as well as resolution chart results shows very similar resolution from both cameras. However the XF305 pictures contain a lot of quite visible, very fine noise that’s constantly buzzing around at all brightness levels. This very fine noise is easily mistaken for extra picture detail, which it is not.
It’s really interesting to look at side by side comparisons of the EX and XF footage. With the same clip, trees and foliage from the XF appear to be more detailed, but step through the footage frame by frame and you see the XF foliage is actually full of this fine noise compared to the EX foliage, this makes it appear sharper as it adds a fake “texture” to the foliage. But I can’t actually see any extra real detail in the XF foliage. Taking the same clip and looking at the parked car, again the XF shows a lot of noise, but in this case you can clearly see the car is a little softer in the XF footage than the EX. These differences are not so much down to resolution differences, but down to noise and noise reduction working in slightly different ways in the two cameras plus differences in the detail settings.
Turn up the gain on both cameras to +12db and the difference is even more striking. Click on the image to the left to view it full frame or look at the clip I have prepared (Vimeo or YouTube). I find the fine, busy, noise from the XF305 a lot more objectionable than the more blocky noise that the EX1R generates. The XF305 also shows some black speckles similar to those found on the Panasonic HPX301. Given that the XF305 is using small 1/3? sensors this kind of performance is not really unexpected. The XF305 probably has the best front end of any 1/3? camera currently on the market, but controlling noise on small sensors is harder to do than with large sensors and IMHO it still doesn’t perform as well as the EX’s with their larger sensors.
In addition the EX1R’s larger sensor helps it capture more light making it 1.5 stops more sensitive than the XF305. So in low light you will tend to use more gain with the 305 than with an EX. It has been pointed out that the XF305 lens is about half a stop faster than the EX lens which does help the 305 little, but if low light performance is important to you do choose wisely. You can increase the noise reduction on the XF305 to combat the noise but this also softens the picture, especially when used at the higher settings. If you download the raw footage you can zoom in and see the differences for yourself.
The differences are small, but they are there. The Canon is noisier looking while the Sony appears a little softer, but I’m not convinced that it is, I thinks it the XF’s noise giving the impression of a sharper image by adding texture to many surfaces. I personally would take the cleaner image as you can more with this in post production.
I also shot some clips with the XF305 and a NanoFlash as well as the EX1R and a NanoFlash. At 50Mb/s it was very hard to tell any difference between the XF305 and 305/NanoFlash recording, which is what you would expect. If anything the NanoFlash footage may be just a tiny bit less blocky. Comparing the XF305 at 50Mb/s and EX1R/NanoFlash at 50Mb/s the EX footage was quite a bit cleaner with less mosquito noise and macro blocking. If you click on the side by side image on the right you can view it full screen. Look at how much cleaner the EX footage is, but also look carefully at the brickwork. I can tell you that in the moving video clip the bushes in the XF305 clip are full of fine noise, on the frame grab this looks like fine detail, but it’s not.
The EX footage recorded on to the NanoFlash at 50Mb/s is cleaner with less macro blocking and mosquito noise, this is probably due to the very fine noise from the 305 stressing the codec harder than the low frequency noise from the EX. At 100Mb/s the EX1R looked really good indeed. The test footage was shot at 25P and even though the XF305 is recording at 50Mb/s 4:2:2 against the EX1R’s 35Mb/s 4:2:0 the visible difference in the rushes is negligible.
The rear viewfinder on the XF305 is a bit better than the rear finder on the EX1R. It’s bigger and I found it very nice to use, however I could not get the waveform monitors etc to appear in the rear finder, only the LCD screen. The menus are logically laid out, I didn’t find them as straight forward to use as the EX menu’s but then I have been using EX’s for some years now so it could just be a case of them being different to what I’m used to.
So what do I think? Well the XF305 is a very good camcorder. It produces very pleasing images recorded at 50Mb/s 4:2:2. Is it better than an EX1R? Well I don’t think that overall it is. Is the EX1R better then? On it’s own, no, but with a NanoFlash, yes. There are bits of both cameras that I like and dislike. The EX1R is nicer to hold and more compact, it has a better zoom rocker and record switch. The XF305 has a better zoom range and less CA (Chromatic aberration) but I would not enjoy the way you have to choose between the zoom rocker OR zoom ring and can’t have both. The 305?s zoom and iris rings are a little sluggish to respond and the iris has no calibrated markings so you have to rely on the viewfinder or LCD. The 305?s LCD is really very good and I like the way you can flip it out either side. The EX1R’s rear finder, while perfectly useable is not as good as the one on the XF305. The picture quality from both cameras is very good. Different…. but good. The 305 has a slight edge on it’s out of the box look but it is visibly more noisy than the EX1R and it’s easy to confuse the very busy fine noise that appears across the whole image as fine detail. The EX can be dialled in to give great pictures too. As a side note with the EX going in to the Picture Profiles and increasing frequency to +40 helps sharpen up the foliage in the EX pictures. Both cameras have some noise in the images, at 0db I think the EX has the visual edge and looks cleaner, at higher gain levels above +6db the XF305 noise becomes more and more objectionable compared to the EX1R. At 0db the XF305?s fine noise is stressing the codec a little. An EX1R recording to a NanoFlash at 50Mb/s produces a much cleaner image with less mosquito noise and macro blocking.
If your thinking of buying either it’s a tough choice. The XF305 has genlock and timecode in, which the EX1R does not have. For that you need to get an EX3 which is more expensive, but then you can also change the lens. I certainly don’t see any reason to swap my EX’s for 305?s and the similarly priced EX1/NanoFlash combo is an extremely powerful tool offering the benefits of dual record, HD and SD recording as well as higher bit rates. In addition NanoFlash 50Mb/s files are compatible with the XDCAM HD optical disc system, which the Canon files are not. The XF305 has smaller sensors than the EX1 so controlling depth of field will be a little harder, also you will get image softening due to diffraction effects about a stop sooner with the 305 but this may or may not be important to you.
Pictures: Sony (cleaner, less noise)
Workflow: Sony (Because it’s faster (with SxS) more mature and you have backwards compatibility with Optical Disc XDCAM HD) Canon XF305 and Sony EX1R side by side tests from Ingenious TV on Vimeo.
I’ve spend a couple of days putting a PMW-320 through it’s paces. The 320 is the latest addition to the XDCAM EX line up. It’s very much like the PMW-350 which I reviewed in depth last year, the principle difference is the sensor size. The PMW-350 is 2/3? while the PMW-320 is 1/2?. The camera can be purchased with or without a lens, the supplied lens is a Fujinon 16×5.8mm HD lens that has both autofocus and manual focus. The lens mount is Sony’s standard 1/2? hot shoe bayonet, so owners of DSR300? or PDW-350?s etc can use their lenses directly on the PMW-320. As with the 350 the lens that comes with the 320 is pretty good. Nice and sharp and with a good feel to it considering the cost. It does however suffer from flare under harsh lighting and this can soften the picture a little. A good lens shade or matte box with flags would really help this lens.
Externally the 320 and 350 are almost identical. The give aways are the rubber strip under the handle, EXMOR badge on the side and lens mount ring are dark blue on the 320, black on the 350. Off the shelf the stock PMW-320 actually has more features than the 350. SD is included as standard and it can output to both HDSDi and HDMI at the same time. Buttons and switches are the same on both camera as is the excellent high resolution colour viewfinder. On switching on and looking through the menus they appear to be the same as the 350, no there surprise really, so just like the 350 instead of the pictureprofiles and Cinegammas found on the EX1R and EX3 we have Scene Files and Hypergammas more like a PDW-700 or other high end Sony cameras. Talking of the EX1R and EX3, there has been a little confusion over the sensors used in the 320. At first I got the impression that the 320 used new sensors, but I was told at NAB that was not the case and the 320 has the same sensors as the EX1R/EX3. So I was somewhat surprised when I started looking at the images from the 320 to see less noise and a different looking picture.
On the PMW-320 there is a wider range of camera adjustments compared to an EX1R. For example as well as detail settings there is also a section for adjusting the Aperture correction which can also sharpen and soften the look of the camera by boosting high frequencies. Out of the box I didn’t think the 320 was quite as sharp as my EX3. But after a few minutes on the bench and with a few tweaks to the detail and aperture settings the camera was looking very good indeed (detail -8, aperture +20). While not a quiet as the PMW-350 the 320 does appear to have less noise than an EX1 or EX3. It’s not a big difference, but every little helps. My guess there is additional signal processing going on to reduce the noise.
The use of scene files for the PMW-320 and PictureProfiles on the EX1 does make it harder to match the cameras if your using non-standard settings. It can be done, but it takes a little more work.
The power consumption of the 320 is, once again remarkably low. I was powering it with a 95Wh battery and it lasted most of the day. There are no fans to make noise and it’s very light yet well balanced. The big question on my mind when I heard about it was, why buy a 320 when you can get an EX3 for a lot less or a PMW-350 which has amazing image quality for another £2k to £3k. Well obviously the form factor is very different from an EX3. The 320 is a full shoulder mount camera, complete with slot for a radio mic that runs on V-Lock batteries. The EX3 is a semi-shoulder handy-cam running on small batteries. Both will take 1/2? interchangeable lenses, so no great difference there. But as well as the form factor, which can be very important, the PMW-320 also adds SD recording and HDMI output. There is also the small improvement in image quality to consider. I like the 320, not as much as I like the PMW-350, but it is a fair bit cheaper so could prove to be very attractive for those on a tight budget that want the shoulder mount form factor as well as those that may already have nice 1/2? lenses on their PDW-350?s or 355?s.
Click on the images below to see the full frame images. The small noise improvement is difficult to see in a frame grab. It’s more noticeable in a video clip.
Sony have just released the firmware required to use the new 32Gb SxS-1 cards, the Memory Stick and SD Card adapters. This firmware also adds the ability to have much longer clip titles (46 Characters!) on the PMW-350 and EX1R. You can do the update yourself, you don’t have to send the camera back to Sony (hooray) to do the update. CLICK HERE to go to the firmware on the Sony UK site. Initial reports indicate that the update improves the performance of 3rd party SD card adapters and is straight forward to install. There are also indications that original EX3?s boot up a bit faster. At the moment the EX1 update appears to be missing from the download page, but I have been assured this will be rectified in the next 24 hours.