Tag Archives: Review

How does the Panasonic EVA1 stack up against the Sony FS7 and FS5?

This is a question a lot of people are asking. As I’ve mentioned in other recent posts, sensors have reached a point where it’s very difficult to bring out a camera where the image quality will be significantly different from any other on the market for any given price point. Most differences will be in things like codec choices or trading off a bit of extra resolution for sensitivity etc. Other differences will be in the ergonomics, lens mounts and battery systems.

So it’s interesting to see what Keith Mullin over at  Z-Systems thought of the EVA1. Keith knows his stuff and Z-Systems are not tied to any one particular brand.

Overall as expected there isn’t a huge difference in image quality between any of the 3 cameras. The EVA1 seems weaker in low light which is something I would have predicted given the higher pixel count. The dual ISO mode seems not to be anywhere near the same as the really very good dual ISO mode in the Varicam LT.

Why not take a look at the full article and video for yourself. http://zsyst.com/2017/12/panasonic-eva1-first-look/

 

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The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.

Having done a fair bit of shooting with the new and very nice Fujinon MK 18-55mm E-Mount lens I decided to take a much closer look at the Fujinon Cabrio XK6x20 20 to 120mm T3.5 lens with the servo hand grip.

AJC05580-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The Fujinon XK6X20 20 to 120mm lens on my PMW-F5. The lens was loaned to me by Fujinon at my request as I wanted to test it for myself.

The price of this lens is very competitive and it can now be found as low as £11K/$16K. Lets not try to pretend that good quality PL mount zooms are cheap, but this is a great price for what is very high quality glass. The 20 to 120mm zoom range is nice and of course it’s truly parfocal there is a back focus adjuster along with macro function.

AJC05581-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The XK6X20 viewed from the top.

Like the other similar ENG style PL zooms this lens is quite heavy. The front element of the lens is huge and I’m sure a lot of the weight comes from this big lump of glass. One of the nice things about this lenses baby brother the MK 18-55, is that the 18-55 is really very light, which is great on the smaller cameras like the FS5 or FS7.

AJC05591-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The XK6X20 and it huge front element on the left and the smaller and lighter MK18-55 on the right.

The 20-120mm Cabrio exudes quality. The build quality of the lens is wonderful, the witness marks are crisp and well engraved, the servo zoom is silky smooth. The large servo module acts as a handgrip just like traditional ENG lenses and it really comfortable to hold and use this way. But if you don’t need it it can be easily removed leaving the bare bones lens body and saving a little bit of weight. There are the usual 0.8 mod pitch gears on each of the focus zoom and iris rings. Focus ring travel is huge at about 200 degrees and due to the physical size of the lens this is as much as I’d ever want. Even towards infinity there is still a nice range of travel so focussing accurately on distant objects is easy.

But what about the image quality, how does the lens perform in real world situations?

To find out I used it for a shoot in Norway. The shoot was for TV manufacturer Philips. We wanted to obtain some high quality 4K HDR footage to show off the capabilities of a new 4K OLED Ambilight TV. Unfortunately the weather conditions on the shoot were pretty grim most of the time and this made it all the more challenging. But I’m pleased to say that both lenses performed very well despite snow, ice and cold.

AJC05587-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
You can see the size difference here – XK6X20 on the left and MK18-55 on the right.

One of the great things about having both the high end Cabrio 20-120mm and the budget friendly 18-55mm for the shoot was that the overall look of the images from the FS5 and F5 was the same. Often mixing lenses from different manufacturers results in different looking images giving the colourist more work to do in post. Fujinon now have a range of lenses to suit most budgets from the high end Cabrio 19-90mm T2.9 down through the Cabrio 20-120 T3.5 to the MK 18-55 T2.9.

So what do the images from these lenses look like? I’m afraid I can’t show any of the footage from the Philips shoot yet, I should be able to show it later in the year. Below are a couple of frame grabs to give you an idea of the kind of images you can get. We didn’t shoot the same shots with the F5/XK6x20 and FS5/MK18-55 at the same time, I was the only cinematographer. So I don’t have a side by side comparison from the shoot, but the different scenes shot with each lens/camera combo match really well.

sami1-1024x540 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Sami woman feeding reindeer shot with the XK6X20 in Norway. Click on the image for a hi res version.
sami2-1024x540 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Wide of Sami woman feeding reindeer shot with the XK6X20 in Norway. Click on the image for a hi res version.
trmso1-1024x540 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Annika Summerson filmed in Tromso with the Fujinon XK6X20.
Tromso2-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Boats in the harbour on a cold but bright morning (the only one we had).
social-1024x540 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Icicles on the window. Shot with the Fujinon XK6X20 with my PMW-F5.

TESTING BOTH LENSES:

In order to better directly compare the two lenses I shot some test shots. The XK6x20 on my F5 and the MK18-55 on my FS7. Both cameras were set to the same settings and hypergamma 3 with the cinema matrix used. The images you will see below have not been touched, this is how they looked straight from the camera. If you click on the picture you should get a link to the full frame 4K image, but do remember this are Jpegs.

AJC05593-1024x681 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
Testing the Fujinon MK18-55 and XK6X20 with my PMW-F5 and PXW-FS7.

I tried to get the same shots with both combinations but you will see some small variations. I apologise for that. To give as fair a comparison as possible I did most of the shots at 20mm and 55mm, but then in addition shot at 18mm on the MK18-55 and 120mm on the XK6X20 so you can see the additional range each lens offers.

First test was of a neighbours Cherry tree in blossom.

FS7-Blossom-55mm2-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The FS7 with XF 18-55mm at 55mm. Click on the image for the full size 4K frame.
F5-20-120-55-blossom-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with XK20X6 at approx 55mm (sorry about the different framing). Click on the image for the size 4K full frame.
FS7-18-55-20mm-blossom2-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The FS7 with XF 18-55mm at approx 20mm. Click on the image for the full size 4K frame.
F5-20-120-20-blossom-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with XK20X6 at 20mm. Click on the image for the size 4K full frame.
F5-20-120-120-blossom-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with the Cabrio XK6X20 at 120mm showing the extra reach of the 20-120mm zoom.

The next test was a simple setup shot of a couple of beer bottles on a table with strong sunlight from above and behind to create deep contrast. I wanted to see if either lens showed signs of loosing shadow detail due to the very large, very bright table top introducing flare into the shadows.

FS7-18-55-20-Beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PXW-FS7 with XF18-55mm at approx 20mm, high contrast scene.
F5-20-120-20-beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with XK20X6 at 20mm. High Contrast scene. Click on the image for the size 4K full frame.
FS7-18-55-55-beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PXW-FS7 with XF18-55mm at 55mm, high contrast scene.
F5-20-120-55-beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with XK20X6 at approx 55mm. High contrast scene. Click on the image for the size 4K full frame.
FS7-18-55-18-beer-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
The FS7 with the XF18-55 at 18mm showing the extra “width” that 18mm gives over 20mm.

My conclusion with the above shots is that there is remarkably little difference between these two lenses. Both perform extremely well. I think the XK6X20 might be marginally sharper at the wide end than the 18-55mm, either that or the slightly better viewfinder of the F5 is allowing me to focus more precisely. In addition I think the bokeh of the more expensive Cabrio is marginally smoother than the 18-55, but again it’s a tiny difference (not as big as the difference in white balance of the two cameras).

Finally a shot of my ugly mug just so you can take a look at some skin tones.

FS7-18-55-me-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PXW-FS7 with Fujinon XF 18-55 at approx 30mm. Click on the image for full size 4K frame.
F5-20-120-me-1024x576 The Fujinon Cabrio XK6x120 alongside the MK 18-55.
PMW-F5 with Fujinon Cabrio XK6X20 at approx 30mm. Click on the image for the full size frame.

Again very little difference between these lenses which is a good thing. Both perform very well, both produce pleasing images. Sure the XK6X20 20-120mm is more than twice the price of the MK18-55 but then it does offer twice the zoom range and it’s very hard to make fast parfocal lenses with big zoom ranges for large sensors. There will be a companion MK50-135mm lens coming later in the year, so with both the MK lenses you will be able to get the full range of the XK6X20 and a bit more, provided you don’t mind swapping lenses. It’s a tough choice if you have an E-mount Sony camera, which to get? For E-Mount I think the pair of MK lenses will be the way to go. If you have a PL mount camera the XK6X20 has to be a very serious contender. It’s a great all-round cinema zoom lens and a realistic price. Whichever way you do go you won’t be disappointed, these are proper cinema lenses.

Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.

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.

fujinon-tv-zoom-1024x683 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.

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.

fujinon_19_90mm_t2_9_cabrio_pl_895225-1024x1024 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.
The Fujinon Cabrio 19-90mm cinema zoom. A lens I’ve always enjoyed using and would love to own.

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.

FujifilmXK20-120-Leftftd-1400x739-1024x541 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.
The Fujinon XK20-120 cinema zoom. A servo unit can be added to turn it into a servo zoom.

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.

AJC03759-1024x683 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.
The new Fujinon MK18-55 E-Mount zoom lens.

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!

AJC03771-1024x683 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.
The MK18-55 T2.9 on my FS7

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″.

macro1-1024x576 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.
The MK18-55’s macro function allows you to get very close to the subject. Click on the image for the full resolution frame grab.
dog-cu-1024x576 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.
Frame grab from the MK18-55mm Fujinon lens. Click on the image for the full resolution frame grab.

The iris is a 9 blade iris with curved blades that produces a pleasing bokeh both inside and outside of focus.

hedge1-1024x576 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.
Near and Far bokeh is pleasing thanks to a 9 blade iris. Click on the image for the full resolution frame grab.

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.

AJC03769-1024x683 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.
The MK18-55 with the supplied lens hood.

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.

709-cu1-1024x576 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.
The Fujinon MK18-55 at 55mm. Click on the image for the full resolution frame grab.
709-wide-1024x576 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.
The Fujinon MK18-55 at 18mm. Click on the image for the full resolution frame grab.

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.

into-sun-1024x576 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.
Even shooting into the sun flare is minimal and shadows remain dark. Click on the image for the full resolution frame grab.

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.

dog-by-fire-1024x576 Fujinon MK18-55mm t2.9 E-Mount zoom lens.
Wide open at t2.9 the MK18-55 still produces a nice sharp image. Click on the image for the full resolution frame grab.

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.

 

Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).

DSC06751-e1470742966440 Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).
The Sony PXW-Z150 4K camcorder.

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.

DSC06737-300x200 Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).
Left side of the PXW-Z150

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).

DSC06749-e1470743380323 Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).
Right side of the PXW-Z150

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

DSC06726-300x200 Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).
The PXW-Z150’s lens hood with built in shutter style lens cap.

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.

full-wide-1024x576 Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).
UHD frame grab from the PXW-Z150. Click on the image to see a larger version or to view the full UHD 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.

RECORDING MEDIA.

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.

DSC06735-300x200 Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).
The PXW-Z150 has two slots for SDXC cards.

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.

DSC06741-e1470743643268 Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).
PXW-Z150’s 12x “G” series 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.

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PXW-Z100 full Wide.
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PXW-Z100 12 x optical zoom (click on image to see higher resolution versions)
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PXW-Z150 Full 18x zoom, 12x optical plus clear image zoom (click on the image to view higher resolution versions).

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.

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The zoom rocker.

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.

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There are 3 control rings on the PXW-Z150’s zoom lens.

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

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The PXW-Z150’s built in stereo microphone.

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.

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Video output options on the PXW-Z150

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.

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The PXW-Z150 runs off NPF-F type batteries.

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.

Build Quality:

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.

DSC06738-e1470743903861 Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).
Audio switches and controls on the PXW-Z150

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.

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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 1 (standard camera settings)
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 1 (standard camera settings)
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 2, DSLR Look.
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 2, DSLR look.
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 3 Rec-709 with Pro Color.
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 3, Rec-709 with Pro Color.
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 4, Rec709.
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PXW-Z150 Picture Profile 4, Rec709.
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PXW-Z150, Picture Profile 5, Cinematone 1, Negative Film.
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PXW-Z150, Picture Profile 5, Cinematone 1, Negative Film.
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PXW-Z150, Picture Profile 6, Cinematone 2, Print Film.
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PXW-Z150, Picture Profile 6, Cinematone 2, Print Film.

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.

DSC06743-300x200 Sony PXW-Z150 Review (with picture settings).
The Z150’s only menu controls are on the top of the handle.

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.

Summary:

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.

Sony’s new PXW-FS7. First Impressions.

I was lucky enough to get a chance to go out and shoot with a pre-production PXW-FS7 in Amsterdam during IBC. Guess what? It makes some very nice pictures!

In case you’ve had your head in the sand the last couple of weeks the PXW-FS7 is a new super35mm camcorder from Sony. It uses the same sensor as the Sony PMW-F5 and a lot of the camera is, I am sure, shared with the F5. Even the menu’s are almost exactly the same. It can record 4K internally on XQD cards using Sony’s XAVC codec. When the cameras start shipping next month you will be able to record 3840×2160 UHD/QuadHD as well as HD. Next year there will be an update to add 4096×2160 at up to 60fps.

DSC04422 Sony's new PXW-FS7. First Impressions.Want to shoot slow motion? That’s no problem as the camera can go up to 180fps internally in HD and if you add an external raw recorder you can stretch that out to 240fps.

The XAVC codec options are great. You can choose between I frame for easy editing or long GoP which gives a smaller file size but needs more processing power to decode. The 10 bit 422 image quality is very similar in both cases, so choose which to use based on how much recording media you have and how powerful your edit machine is. If you still need the legacy HD XDCAM Mpeg codec then you have that too.

Extension Unit:

By adding the optional extension box to the rear of the camera you can even record ProRes HQ to the XQD cards (after a firmware update early next year). The extension box also adds the raw output needed to record raw to an external recorder such as The Odyssey 7Q or Sony R5 recorder. On top of that you also gain Timecode in and out plus genlock. To power all of this (and the camera) the extension box has a V-Mount battery plate on it’s rear. When not using the extension box the camera runs off BP-U type batteries, the same 12V batteries as used by an EX1 or PMW200 etc.

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The right side of the FS7 showing the XLR connectors.

The FS7 has two different shooting modes. In custom mode the camera behaves pretty much like any other conventional camera where what you see in the viewfinder is what’s recorded on the cards. You can alter the cameras gamma curve, matrix and other settings, but basically what you see is what you get. The other mode is the CineEI mode (just like an F5 or F55) and in this mode the camera records using SGamut3.cine and S-Log3. The aim being to capture the maximum possible dynamic range and in this mode the cameras sensitivity is locked to it’s native ISO of 2000. As S-Log3 results in a very flat picture (that’s great for grading and post work) the camera includes the ability to add a range of Look Up Tables (LUT’s) to the viewfinder or HDSDI output. LUT’s help you better judge exposure and give a more pleasing image prior to grading. You can even generate your own LUT’s in software such as Resolve and load them in to the camera. For exposure assistance the camera has a range of tools including a waveform, vectorscope or histogram display as well as zebras.

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The FS7’s handgrip and control unit.

Ergonomically the camera is very interesting. It has Sony’s E-Mount lens mount so you can use just about any lens you want simply by adding a lens adapter. Using a metabones or Commlite adapter you can use Canon EF lenses with ease. Likewise PL or Nikon lenses with the appropriate adapters.

Designed to sit on the front of your shoulder and supplied with a handgrip on an adjustable arm (attached via a standard Arri type rosette) the camera is easy to use. There are a couple of assignable buttons on the hand grip as well as a small joystick for navigating through the cameras menu system. A large zoom rocker will control any E-Mount zoom lenses used such as the new 28-135mm f4 lens and a further assignable dial wheel can be used to control the lenses aperture or other functions. The hand grip uses the LanC protcol so it should be possible to use other LanC devices with this camera.

DSC04472-300x200 Sony's new PXW-FS7. First Impressions.
The PXW-FS7 with the extension unit fitted, a V-Mount battery and a Vocas base plate.

The camera is a little front heavy as it sits on the front of your shoulder. When you add the extension box and a V-mount battery the balance is much better as the weight is now set much further back. With a 3rd party shoulder mount such as the new Vocas one or the dedicated Sony VCT-FS7 mount the camera can be turned into a true shoulder mount camera.

The LCD viewfinder is mounted on a thin arm that gives it forwards and backwards adjustment as well as up and down adjustment, but there is no left right adjustment.

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The viewfinder on the PXW-FS7

Overall I think the viewfinder is the weakest part of this camera. The images in the VF are quite reasonable (its 940×560 resolution) but the mounting mechanism and loupe are not the best. Maybe this will be improved before the camera ships. I made a lot of use of one of the hand grip assignable buttons to provide focus magnification while shooting to ensure focus was spot on and it’s nice to have the focus mag function so easily accessible.

One issue I did find with the arm for the hand grip was that unless you fold it up out of the way you can’t slide the camera on and off a tripod. If you are using a base plate this is less of a problem but with a bare camera it’s a bit of a pain.

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The XQD card slots on the PXW-FS7, also there is an SD card slot for loading LUT’s, user files and setup information.

I found the operation of the camera almost identical to the PMW-F5. There are some differences however. The FS7 does not have a 2K center scan mode for the sensor. This is used on the F5/F55 to eliminate aliasing problems when shooting above 60fps where the 4K sensor is read out as a 2K sensor. On the F5/F55 if you don’t want to use the 2K center scan mode you can fit a special 2K low pass optical filter to eliminate aliasing above 60fps, but again this is not possible on the FS7.

Another thing the FS7 doesn’t have is the large side display of the F5 and F55. For conventional shooting this is not really a big deal. But if you are using the CineEI mode where you may be using LUT’s on different outputs not having this information clearly displayed is a bit of a nuisance. In fact during the shoot with the FS7 at one point I though I was shooting with a LUT when in fact I was not. The only way to be sure of how everything is set is to go into the cameras menu system.

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The PXW-FS7 fitted with the 28-135mm f4 servo zoom lens.

But what about the image quality? Frankly it’s amazing! For the money the images this camera produces are remarkable. It is using the F5’s sensor and it does have 14 stops of dynamic range. S-log3 is a great gamma curve and the camera is very low noise, even at it’s native 2000 ISO. It was hard to tell as most of the shooting took place at night, but initially it doesn’t look like there is any difference between the quality of the footage from the FS7 and the PMW-F5. Great colours, low noise, high dynamic range with very pleasing roll off what more can you want? One area where there will be a difference is with raw. The PMW-F5 takes the Sony R5 directly docked on it’s back. The raw form the F5 is 16 bit while the raw from the FS7 is going to be recorded on an external recorder at only 12 bits. 12 bit linear raw is really pushing the limits of what is needed for linear raw. However we do already know that the 12 bit raw from Sony’s FS700 works well, so this should be no different.

Where this camera will be really good is when combined with the new 28-135mm f4 servo zoom lens. Typically par-focal lenses with this kind aperture and zoom ratio cost in excess of $30K. This lens will be around $2.7K. Being able to zoom in and out on a large sensor camera smoothly really increases the cameras flexibility making it much easier to use in run and gun type situations. The lens is never going to be an incredible performer at this price and when wide open I did find it a little soft, but for shear ease of use it’s really remarkable. The FS7 combined with this lens will be a killer combination and that’s why I have ordered one. It’s NOT replacing my F5, I love my F5 and I think that the F5 is a much better camera for drama or studio type shoots. But the FS7 will be very handy for fast and fluid productions. In addition, for the money this camera is an absolute bargain.

Scheider Xenon FF Prime Lenses.

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Schneider Xenon 50mm FF lens on the Sony A7s

When you think of cine lenses then there are several brands that immediately come to mind. Zeiss, Arri, Cooke and Angenieux are probably the most familiar names but there are many others too. One brand I have been looking at more and more recently is Schneider.
Schneider Kreuznach have been making lenses since 1913. Based in Kreuznach in Germany they have long been know for their innovative designs and they won an Oscar in 2001 for Technical Achievement for their Super-Cinelux motion picture lenses.
A few years ago I met one of their lens engineers at NAB. I don’t think I have ever met a man as passionate about a lens design before or since. Every Schneider lens that I have ever used has been brilliant. They always seem to have near zero breathing, are always extremely solidly built and produce great images. So when I got a call from Manfrotto, the UK distributor to see if I would like a chance to play with some of the new Xenon FF (Full Frame) lenses I grabbed the opportunity.

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Another view of the 50mm Schneider Xenon FF lens.

The Xenon FF lenses are cine style lenses available with either Canon, Nikon or PL mounts. The mounts can be changed should you need to switch mounts at a later date. They are priced to directly compete with the Zeiss compact primes. At the moment there are only 3 lenses available, a 35mm, 50mm and 75mm, all are T2.1. In the near future there will also be a 25mm and 100mm T2.1 as well as an 18mm T2.4 Yum Yum! I’d love to have one of those for my Northern Lights or Storm Chasing expeditions. They are all the same size, have a 100mm front diameter, all have a 95mm lens thread. This means that swapping lenses during a shoot is straight forward as you don’t have to change Matte Box donuts or re-position the follow focus if you’re using one. Being Full Frame lenses and rated for 4K these should be a great match with the Sony A7s.

I got to play with a 35mm and 50mm with EF mount and decided to try them on my full frame A7s shooting in HD as well as taking a few still photos (which are the equivalent to 4.5K) on a cloudy and rainy day.

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14 blade iris and EF mount on the 35mm Xenon FF.

Straight out of the box you cannot help but be impressed by the build quality. These are substantial lenses, weighing in at around 1.25kg each with the EF mount. I could not find any plastic on these lenses, they look built to last.

The focus scale is large and easy to read, each lens being individually calibrated. Focus travel is a full 300 degrees. Even as you get to the far end of the focus ring the distances are still nicely spaced. From 9ft(3m) to infinity is around 100 degrees. Compare that to most DSLR lenses where the same focus range might be compressed into just  5 or 10 degrees and you can see that precise focus is much easier. Although sometimes  a very large focus travel can make focus pulls a little harder simply because or the large distance the focus ring has to be turned. But I’ll take a big focus throw lens over small throw any day.
The lenses have 14 curved iris blades giving a very round aperture even when stopped right down. I love peering into these lenses at the aperture blades as they are a work of art (but really hard to take a photo of). You can also see in the photo that the coatings of the lens are a distinct orange colour.

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Photo taken with the 50mm Xenon FF. Click on the image to enlarge or view at original resolution.

In practice the lenses did not disappoint. It did seem a bit odd to have such a large and heavy lens on the diminutive A7s, but as image quality starts with the lens a good lens can make all the difference. I shot at various apertures from wide open at T2.1 down to about T8 and didn’t notice any significant change in resolution across the range (I took photos as well as video to check the lens performance).

The lenses do tend to flare a little bit, the 35mm more than the 50mm, but I thought the flares were quite pleasing, others may disagree. Take a look at the video to get an idea of what they are like. There was a bit more flare at T2.1 compared to T2.8 or T4 on both lenses.
I did some big focus pulls to see how much breathing there was and as with all the Schneider lenses I’ve used breathing was very minimal. There is some breathing, these are not like the Cine-Xenars which have virtually zero breathing, but the breathing really is small.

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Frame grab, shooting through trees. 35mm Xenon FF and A7s.

Another test shot was to shoot some tree branches silhouetted against the sky to check for CA and colour fringing. Basically I can’t see any. Maybe right out in the very corners of the frame there is the tiniest bit of CA, but you really have to hunt for it.

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Shopping basket frame grab. 35mm Xenon FF. I love the smoothness to the highlights.

Colour wise there is no obvious colour shift, if anything perhaps very, very slightly warm. As expected the lenses are very sharp and crisp, from corner to corner, but not excessively so. I found that the images contained a lot of detail but had a pleasing roundness too them that I really like. I shot a chrome shopping basket and the reflections of the bright chrome look really nice. I think this is a combination of a little bit of flare without excessive sharpness. I think it’s a very nice natural look. This can be one of the benefits of a video lens over a stills lens. Stills lenses must be incredibly sharp to work with 24 or 36 mega pixel sensors. Sometimes this results is a super sharp image that lacks character. Arguably if you start with a very sharp image you can always soften it a bit in post, but sometimes it’s nice to start off with a more rounded image. Look at how popular Cooke lenses are, they are well known for their rounded rather than super sharp images.

As expected from a 14 blade iris the bokeh is very creamy and smooth. Both near and far out of focus areas look very good indeed. Out of focus edges are smooth and don’t show any obvious double edges or other distortions.

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It’s really easy to get a very shallow DoF with a full frame sensor. Xenon FF 50mm and A7s.

Take a look at the video for a better idea of the lens flares and the overall image quality. I really like the look you get from these lenses and wouldn’t mind a set of them for myself. I feel they have a lot in common with Cooke lenses, but at a much more affordable price. I hope to test them further in the near future and to a wider variety of scenes. I suspect they will be very good on skin tones and faces.

 

The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!

DSC09308-1024x681 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
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.

DSC09310-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
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!

DSC09313-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
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.

Guard-detail-300x168 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
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.

DSC09318-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
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.

DSC09326-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
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.

Train-arrivibg-detail-1024x576 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
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.

Train-Station-1024x576 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
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.

DSC09336-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
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.

DSC09315-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
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.

DSC09330-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
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.

DSC093181-300x199 The Sony PXW-X70. Sometimes good things come in small packages!
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.

PXW-X70 Teaser Video.

Here’s a short clip to keep you going until later in the week when I will upload the full length version of my video “Dancers on the line” shot with the new Sony PXW-X70 camcorder. As well as the film there will be a behind the scenes video with some insight into what the camera is like to shoot with and how the images look. It’s all good stuff, this is a great little compact handycam and a pretty big step up from the AX100.

Shallow-Dof-1024x576 PXW-X70 Teaser Video.
Frame grab from the PXW-X70.

It has a nice big 1″ size sensor, built in ND filters and a nice power zoom lens. It records XAVC long GOP 10bit 422 at 50Mbps at up to 60fps. Also has AVCHD and standard definition DV. The ergonomics are brilliant, clearly Sony have done a lot of works on this area and it a delight to operate run and gun or when your pressed for time. You get great battery life and the pictures are pretty amazing for a compact handycam. You can even dial in your own picture profiles for a custom look. Dual SD card slots allow for relay recording or dual card recording, there’s an full size SDI and HDMI out too. LAst thing for now… it’s 4K ready. There will be a paid upgrade to 4K option in the first half of next year. More details to come as the week progresses.

Here’s the press release from Sony.

Basingstoke, July 29, 2014: Sony has today launched the 4K-ready PXW-X70, the first compact XDCAM professional camcorder ever produced. Expanding the popular file-based XDCAM family to a new smaller form factor and lower price point, Sony has combined stunning picture quality, speed of shooting and robust performance into a package which is ideal for a wide range of applications from news gathering and documentary to events work.??

The PXW-X70 features a 1.0 type Exmor® R CMOS Sensor with a resolution of 20 megapixels. The sensor, which is even larger than the Super 16mm film frame, delivers high resolution and fantastic low light performance, as well as offering more depth of field control as demanded by today’s diverse shooting requirements. The new camcorder has the ability to record High Definition in XAVC Long GOP, enabling 422 10-bit sampling at 50 Mbit/s. This in-turn supports a broadcast-quality workflow, increasingly adopted by productions in many different professional applications.

This addition to the expanding next generation XDCAM family follows the recently announced PXW-X180 and PXW-X160 and builds upon Sony’s successful heritage of compact professional camcorders. The PXW-X70 is the first professional compact camcorder from Sony to include Wi-Fi-enabled control via Smart Phone or Tablet using the Content Browser Mobile application. An upcoming release will also provide customers with the ability to upgrade the PXW-X70 to record in 4K Ultra High Definition, with file transferring, and live video streaming capabilities.

“This first compact member of the XDCAM family brings the performance and workflow benefits associated with XAVC to an even wider range of shooting scenarios,” said Robbie Fleming, Product Marketing Manager, at Sony Professional Solutions Europe. “Over the past couple of years we’ve seen the broadcast industry really embrace the picture quality benefits associated with large sensors; the one-inch sensor at the heart of the PXW-X70 sets a new standard for colour, depth and texture in a professional compact camcorder. Coupled with the ability to upgrade to 4K, this represents a multipurpose, future-proof option for customers looking for a tough camcorder which doesn’t compromise on image.”

Key features of the PXW-X70

• 1.0 type Exmor® R CMOS Sensor and Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* lens for stunning picture quality. High sensitivity and fantastic resolution with 14.2 million effective pixels delivers striking detail and colours, even in low light conditions. The lens offers a 12x Optical Zoom, which can be increased to 24x with Clear Image Zoom while retaining full resolution thanks to Super Resolution Technology. Zoom performance can be doubled at any point with a Digital Extender by up to 48x.

• Compact, lightweight XDCAM camcorder packed with adaptable professional functions. The PXW-X70 weighs less than 1.4kg, including the XLR handle unit, battery (NP-FV70), lens hood and large eye-cup. It offers professional interfaces such as 3G-SDI and HDMI output connectors plus an XLR x 2 handle unit with zoom lever. Other professional features include a manual lens ring that can intuitively control zoom and focus, ergonomic palm grip with large zoom lever, two SD memory card slots for backup, simultaneous and relay recording, and a three-level switchable ND filter.

• Breadth of recording format capabilities. Provides multiple choices depending on application required, including XAVC, AVCHD and DV® file-based recording. When recording in XAVC, the PXW-X70 uses the MXF file format, efficiently compressing full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution using the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 CODEC. Image sampling is 4:2:2 10-bit with high-efficiency Long-GOP compression at 50 Mbps, 35 Mbps or 25 Mbps.

• Built-in Wi-Fi control functionality for monitoring and remote control versatility. Near Field Communication functions enable easy, one-touch wireless LAN connection to a smartphone or tablet, while the Content Browser Mobile application allows confirmation of shot angles and operation of the camcorder by remote, including field angle setting, spot focus and iris adjustment.

• Upcoming announcements to add even greater, future-proof functionality. Sony is set to make upgrades to 4K and file transfer and streaming by Wi-Fi function available for the PXW-X70 in the coming months.

Sample Footage from PXW-X180 XAVC/XDCAM/AVCHD camcorder.

I was lucky enough to get to spend some time with a pre-production Sony PXW-X180 here in Singapore. I put it through it’s paces shooting around the botanical gardens, China town and Clarke Quay.

For a 1/3″ camcorder it produces a remarkably good image. Really low noise, very clean images, much better than anything I have seen from any other 1/3″ camcorder. The 25x zoom is impressive, the variable ND filter is very clever and it might seem trivial but the rear viewfinder was very nice. It’s a very high resolution OLED, much, much better than the LCOS EVF’s found on many other models.

The zoom lens has proper manual calibrated controls with end stops, much like a PMW-200. The ability to use a multitude of codecs is fantastic and perhaps better still is the fact that you can use SDXC cards for XDACM or XAVC at up to 50Mb/s, so even XDCAM HD422 can be recorded on this low cost media. This will be great for news or other situations where you need to hand off your media at the end of the shoot.

A more in depth review will follow soon, but for now here’s the video. Un-graded, un touched, straight from the camera footage. Looks very nice if you ask me.

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

which-camera-1024x579 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
Which do you choose, PXW-Z100 or PMW-300?

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

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

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

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Sony PXW-Z100 4K/HD Camcorder.

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

 

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

DSC07983-300x199 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
The hard to get at release for the left/right viewfinder adjustment.

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

DSC08006-300x199 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
Broken plastic cover for the viewfinder connector socket.

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

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

THE VIEWFINDERS:

DSC07952-300x199 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
Te PXW-Z100 LCD screen.

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

DSC07978-300x199 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
The PMW-300 flipped up.

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

THE LENSES.

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

DSC07942-300x199 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
The 20x zoom lens on the PXW-Z100

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

Z100-zoom-range A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
The PXW-Z100 fully wide and zoomed all the way in.

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

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

DSC07960-300x199 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
The 14x lens on the PMW-300

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

300-zoom-range A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
The PMW-300’s zoom range.

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

Image Quality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

noise-levels-1024x354 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
Noise comparison between PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 at 0db.

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

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

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PXW-Z100 at 0db, f1.6 in a typical living room.
300-room-1024x576 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
PMW-300 at 0db, f1.9 in the same room as above.

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

Z100-chart-0db-1024x576 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
PXW-Z100 at 0db, low light test.
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PMW-300 at 0db with same lighting as above.

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

Z100-9db1-1024x576 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
PXW-Z100 with +9db gain.
Z100-18db-1024x576 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
PXW-Z100 with +18db gain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Z100-street-300x168 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
6th Street, Austin Texas. HXR-Z100 frame grab. Click on the image to enlarge.

 

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

Picture Profiles and Scene Settings.

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

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

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PXW-Z100 gamma choices.

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

Recording Codecs and Media.

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

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

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

xqd-and-sxs-card-300x228 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
An SxS card and XQD card side by side.

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

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

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The PXW-Z100’s card slots.

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

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

DSC07948-300x199 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
The playback and menu buttons on the handle of the Z100

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

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

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

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

Ergonomics:

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The right side of the PXW-Z100.

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

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

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

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The right side of the PMW-300.

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

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

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

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

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

DSC07974-300x199 A Tale of Two Cameras - The PMW-300 and PXW-Z100 reviewed.
The menu and playback controls on the handle of the PMW-300.

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

Connectivity:

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

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

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

Power and Batteries.

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

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

Conclusions:

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

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