Well I didn’t know what “XDCAM Air” was so I had to ask. In a nutshell XDCAM Air is the name Sony are giving to the wireless and network functions of there more recent and forthcoming camcorders and it’s a cloud service especially for XDCAM.
So XDCAM Air covers things like proxy streaming from a camcorder, ftp uploading and the Sony QoS (quality of service) system that allows you to get great streaming image quality over less than ideal network conditions. Plus remote control of a camera or cameras over a wireless network.
But not only is XDCAM Air about existing capabilities, it is also about future possibilities with the introduction of remote NLE editing of content stored on a camera connected via the internet to the NLE. Other future possibilities are things like firmware updates and some engineering tasks over the Internet. As an example if your camera is playing up and engineer could be given remote access to the camera to look at any error codes or error logs stored in the camera. While the engineer might not be able to fix a hardware issue remotely it may mean that firmware bugs can be identified sooner or patches applied remotely. Perhaps one day I will be able to upload picture profiles or scene files directly to camera son the other side of the world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As an owner of both the A7s and AX100 and as someone that has shot with the PXW-X70, if I had to choose one which would it be? That’s tough because although they really are very different cameras they both have strengths that are nice to have. The A7s produces a prettier picture and can be used run and gun, with limitations. I use the kit 28-70mm f3.5-f5.6 and it works well, good auto focus, smooth aperture changes etc. BUT and it is a very big BUT you need a really good set of ND’s or a strong ND fader to use it outdoors due to the extreme sensitivity. Add to that the minimal 3x zoom and it’s pretty restrictive as to what you can shoot without switching lenses and fiddling around. Sure you can add something like the new Tamron 16-300mm f3.5-f6.3 but the autofocus tends to hunt a lot more, manual focus is fiddly and you still need to mess around with ND’s. I think you need to be a fairly competent cameraman and need to be very careful over lens choices etc to use the A7s for run and gun successfully. Plus don’t forget the cost of all the extra lenses, filters etc adds up and makes the kit bulkier.
The AX100 (or PXW-X70) on the other hand really is a grab and go camera. Easy to use, great zoom range, built in ND’s. It’s quick and easy to use and may get you shots that you will miss with the A7s. But the pictures are not as pretty, primarily they lack the dynamic range of the A7s. But they are very easy to use, so well suited to those that are full auto shooters or rely heavily on auto functions to keep life simple. The X70 has much better ergonomics than the AX100 but is a bit more expensive. Both are very compact packages and as you don’t need to buy extra lenses or filters work out substantially cheaper than an A7s kit with a set of lenses to cover the same focal lengths at reasonable apertures.
Anyway, if I had to give up one of mine (A7s or AX100), for me it would be the AX100 that would go. I would be prepared to sacrifice the ease of use of the AX100 for the better images from the A7s. But I normally shoot manually anyway. I’m used to swapping lenses, working with ND filters etc. If you not used to shooting manually then the AX100 may be the better choice. Great images are of course important, but the best camera to own is a camera you will use. It’s all very well having fancy pictures and the ability to swap lenses etc. But if fiddling around means you don’t use it very often, then there is no point in having it. You would be better off with a camera that you will be comfortable with, that you will use regularly.
Today Sony launched a couple of the new cameras. The MC2500E a very low cost, fairly basic shoulder mount AVCHD camcorder with a single 1/4″ CMOS sensor and a new full size, shoulder mount XDCAM camcorder the PXW-X500.
This is basically a replacement for the PMW-500 with the added benefit of the XAVC and SStP codecs. Like the PMW-500 and PDW-850 this is one of the few cameras to still use CCD sensors, so no flash bands or skew, making it a great news gathering workhorse. It has some new features not found on the PMW-500 including upto 120fps S&Q motion (looks like this is an option) and GPS. It looks like this possibly has the same very good sensors as the PMW-500 but with new signal processing and improved noise reduction. More details can be found on the Sony web site.
So really that just leaves the PMW-200 without XAVC. It can’t be long before we see a PMW-200 replacement with XAVC.
Sony are putting together an XDCAM demo reel to show on the Sony booth at IBC. They are looking for examples of great XDCAM footage to include in the reel. The footage should be inspirational, exciting, dramatic, romantic, happy, pretty, colourful. Basically anything eye catching or with a “Wow” factor.
Here is what Sony are asking for:
· 3-5 second emotional clips (the more clips the merrier).
· Tone is emotional (fun, dangerous, could be sad but not too tragic), action, extreme – music on final project will be fast paced, action.
· No political symbols/figures, no blood, no dead people.
· It has to have been shot on a Sony XDCAM camera (and specify which one).
· These clips should be rights free, these clips will be posted on the various Sony digital channels and might be shown at Sony-run presentations – but they will not be distributed to anyone outside of Sony.
· The clips can either be in MP4 or just a link for submission, and then if we choose to use your footage we’ll come back to you and ask for a higher quality format.
If your footage is chosen to feature in the video you will be eligible to win one of 30 Action Cams up for grabs on a first come first serve basis! (Please note that your footage may still be used after the 30 action cams have been given away. By submitting your footage you will be agreeing to these T&Cs).
As IBC is coming up very fast there is some urgency to get this footage. If you have anything that you wish to submit please send a link to the clip to:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5 years is a long time in the video world. Cameras come and go, technologies change, but for 5 years there has been one camera that has remained essentially unchanged and that’s the versatile and well regarded Sony EX1 and EX1R.
5 years ago I was asked by Sony to review a new handheld camcorder, that camcorder was the EX1. A camera that went on to change the way I work and the way many production companies work, because for the first time you had a handheld camera that could take on the bulky shoulder mounts in terms of picture quality.
The EX1 was the first handheld camcorder to offer full resolution and low noise HD pictures thanks to it’s 3 half inch 1920 x 1080 sensors. Not only did it have great image quality but it also had a great lens with 3 separate rings for focus, iris and zoom with accurate calibrated scales on each, this was a real cameraman’s camera, a delight to use compared to anything similar that had come before.
As a result the EX1, EX1R and the semi shoulder version the EX3, became the industry standard for handheld production. I owned one of each and never, ever, regretted my purchases. However, there has always been one small limitation with the EX camera line. They record using XDCAM EX Mpeg 2 at 35 Mbit/s. Personally I have never had a problem with this, I think the recorded pictures are fantastic, but the EBU (European Broadcasting Union) has very specific minimum specifications for broadcast television production. There are several tiers within the specifications and the EX cameras are permitted by the EBU within tier 2J for use in news and video journalism, but for long form productions the minimum bit rate for recording is 50 Mbit/s with 4:2:2 colour space. This restriction means that for long form broadcast television production in Europe you can only use an EX1 or EX3 with the use of an external recorder. Many production companies do exactly this, an EX camcorder with a NanoFlash is one of the standard set ups approved for many broadcast programmes. In the last couple of years other manufacturers have produced handheld cameras that meet the 50 Mbit/s 4:2:2 recording minimum and some of these have been approved for use in broadcast productions. But most of these cameras don’t have the large ½” sensors of the EX cameras so often struggle in low light. Low light performance is often critical in observational documentaries’ and many of the other types of programmes that involve the use of handheld camcorders.
Now, all that’s about to change. You see, Sony have been listening and as a result of customer feedback they developed the new PMW-200 handheld camcorder.
Designed to meet the needs of broadcast productions the camera records on to solid state media using 50 Mbit/s 4:2:2 XDCAM HD. This is the exact same codec as used in the highly regarded PDW-700, F800 and PMW-500 shoulder mount broadcast camcorders. As well as 50 Mbit/s 4:2:2 you can also record using the same 35 Mbit/s 4:2:0 codec as the original EX cameras as well as standard definition DV. When your using the XDCAM HD422 codec you have the ability to copy your footage as video clips directly to Sony’s XDCAM optical disc system for easy and reliable long term storage and archive. A further benefit of this is that when you copy the clips to an XDCAM Professional Disc you will automatically generate proxy files on the disc, so if you already use proxies in your workflow you can now extend this to all your footage.
But what about the image quality? There’s little point in having a great codec if the front end of the camera can’t deliver great pictures. The PMW-200 uses essentially the same sensors and lens as the EX1R, so the image quality is very good.
The lens is made by Fujinon and is a 14x zoom starting at 5.8mm. It has 3 rings, one each for focus, zoom and iris. Each is marked with accurate calibration marks. The focus ring slides forwards for auto focus and slides back for full manual control. In manual it behaves and feels like a true pro broadcast lens.
The zoom ring can be used manually or it can be servo driven and controlled by the main zoom rocker on the hand grip or a small zoom rocker on the handle. This zoom has an improved servo design and as a result slow zooms are a little smoother than on the EX1R. The iris ring can be switched between auto and manual and is silky smooth. Should you choose you can add an offset of up to +/- 2 stops to the auto iris to help deal with tricky lighting situations, the widest aperture is a very useful f1.9. Because this lens is very similar to the original EX lens you can use the same Sony zoom through wide angle adapter if you need extra wide shots and it has the same connector for remote zoom control. One small improvement is the lens servo motor. The PMW-200 lens has an improved servo that give better slow zoom performance. It’s not quite up to broadcast lens smoothness but it’s an improvement over the EX1R.
Between the lens and the sensors there are 2 ND filters operated by a sliding switch giving you 3 positions, clear, 1/8th (0.9 or 3 stops) and 1/64th (1.8 or 6 stops) so the camera can cope with the vast majority of lighting situations without the need for additional filtration. The 3 sensors are the same 1920×1080 ½” sensors that made the EX cameras so special. There have been some improvements to the image processing and noise reduction in the cameras electronics and as a result there is a small reduction in noise and as a result useable sensitivity.
You can see the reduction in noise in my frame grabs from both a PMW-200 and EX1R. In my opinion the EX1R was the benchmark for image quality in a handheld camera and I think we are close to the limits of the sensitivity that can be achieved with current sensor technologies. So I don’t think it is a surprise that there isn’t a dramatic change. The small improvements are most welcome and I really like the images the PMW-200 produces.
The pictures are rich and organic looking, they have very good dynamic range, I estimate a little over 11 stops and the noise levels are low enough to allow the judicious use of a little gain where needed. Sure there is a little more noise than you would get with a modern 2/3” or Super35mm camcorder but that’s just down to the laws of physics. Bigger sensors and bigger pixels give a better signal to noise ratio and being realistic your not going to fit 3x 2/3” sensors in a handheld camera. The half inch design of the PMW-200 is a great compromise, small enough for a compact handheld design, but big enough to give good low light performance and dynamic range. This isn’t just my opinion, this is also borne out by the EBU’s specification for long form broadcast production. The specification is know as EBU R 118 (http://tech.ebu.ch/docs/r/r118.pdf ) and for long form programmes (tier 2L) the EBU specifies a minimum of 3 full resolution half inch 1920×1080 sensors (there is an exception for 3 x 1/3” camera’s that can be shown to meet additional testing criteria) recording to a minimum of 50 Mbit/s 4:2:2 and the PMW-200 fully complies with this.
Picture Profiles: As with every other XDCAM camcorder the PMW-200 gives the end user the ability customise many aspects of the images it produces. This is done through the use of the Picture Profiles menu. You can change the cameras gamma curves to fine tune the dynamic range and contrast in the pictures. There are 6 standard gamma curves which can be used in conjunction with either an automatic knee or manual knee as well as 4 Hypergamma curves.
Standard gamma 5 is a REC-709 compliant gamma curve and is the default gamma. The Hypergammas are the same curves as used on the PMW-500 and PDW-700. These are very useful as they offer improved dynamic range (460%) compared to the standard gammas but more importantly they do not use conventional knee compression.
The Hypergammas gently roll off highlights in a much more natural looking way than the harsh electronic looking compression that a traditional knee circuit introduces. Hypergammas 1 & 2 are broadcast safe, never recording above 100%. Hypergammas 3 & 4 have the same curves as 1 & 2 but allow the use of superwhite recording levels (109%) to give you a little more data to play with in post production.
As well as gamma the picture profiles allow you to choose from 6 different preset colour matrices and allow you to modify the colour saturation and colour vectors. This makes it easy to match the PMW-200 to other cameras or to create a number of in-camera looks. Matrix 1 gives a warm look with a little extra red, 3 is a little less vibrant, 5 & 6 give deeper blues with 6 being a little less saturated than 5.
If you want a sharper looking picture you can use the detail controls to boost the edge contrast enhancement. Just be aware that too much detail correction can lead to ugly black edges around objects. Reducing the detail level below -20 starts to soften the picture if you want a slightly defocused look. As well as the detail controls there is also a separate control for aperture correction. This is a high frequency boost that can be used to enhance subtle textures and fine details on things like fabrics. I found that by setting the detail level to -8 and aperture to +30 the camera produced pictures with a nice crispness without looking artificially enhanced.
There are many other adjustments that can be made in the picture profiles including knee settings, black gamma, a multi matrix or colour correction matrix and skin tone detail settings. I urge anyone that uses one of these camera to learn about what the various settings do as the picture profiles are a great way to tailor the camera to meet your exact needs.
The PMW-200’s main menu structure is again very similar to the EX cameras. It is logically laid out and easy to navigate. There sections for the camera settings, audio settings, outputs, monitoring, timecode and general system settings. In the camera menu you’ll find settings for the more advanced modes that the camera has, which include Interval Record for time-lapse, Frame Record for animation and stop frame filming, Picture Cache and S&Q (slow and quick) motion. The Picture Cache mode is particularly useful for capturing unexpected events. In this mode the camera continuously buffers the video from the camera sensors into an internal memory. When you press the record button recording stars immediately but in addition the (up to) 15 seconds prior to pressing the record button are also recorded. I use this mode a lot when I’m shooting thunderstorms and lightning as I can simply point the camera at the storm, wait for the lightning to strike, then press the record button.
The interval record mode allows you to shoot great time-lapse sequences with ease. For sunsets and sunrises and other scenes where you may have a big exposure change you can also take advantage of the cameras clever TLCS (total level Control System) function. This is a sophisticated kind of auto exposure mode. I’m not normally a fan of auto exposure but TLCS allows you to set limits for the amount of automatic gain, iris, shutter speed and the response time. By limiting the maximum gain to around +9 db you can be sure that your pictures won’t become too grainy as the sun sets. With TLCS the camera will still be able to correctly expose while the sun is still up thanks to the auto shutter and auto iris. TLCS is a very useful tool in the PMW-200’s arsenal.
With S&Q motion you can shoot at up to 50/60 frames per second (depending on region settings) at 720p for slow motion and effects shots. You can choose any speed you want from 1 fps up to the maximum in 1 frame increments. Below 25/30 fps you can use the full camera resolution of 1920×1080.
Talking of frame rates, the PMW-200 can be switched between both PAL and NTSC regions. As a result it can shoot at a multitude of frame rates at full 1920 x 1080 including 23.98p, 25p, 29.97p, 50i, 60i and at 720p it can record at 50p and 60p.
Recording Media Choices: The PMW-200 is designed to record on to SxS cards but you can also use SD cards, memory sticks and Sony’s new XQD cards via adapters. When you use the camera in any of the 4:2:2 modes the camera must format the cards using the same UDF format as the full size XDCAM optical disc cameras and XDCAM HD422 cameras. In UDF mode you can only use SxS cards. If you want to use SD cards or memory sticks then you have to use FAT formatting and this restricts you to the same 35 Mbit/s 4:2:0 recording modes as an EX camera. I strongly recommend that you use SxS cards. They are incredibly reliable and very fast. They are designed for video applications and in 5 years of using them I’ve never suffered a failure despite freezing them in ice and washing them in the washing machine (neither of which I actually recommend). You can offload media from your cards by connecting the camera to a PC using USB or by using the Sony SBAC-US10 USB card reader. If your computer has an express card slot you can insert the cards directly into the computer or if it has a Thunderbolt port you can use the Sonnet Echo Express card reader for incredibly fast transfers around 6x real time for 50 Mbit/s 4:2:2 material, even faster for 35 Mbit/s.
Audio is as you would expect from any professional handheld camcorder except this one can record 4 channels of audio at the same time. There is a built in stereo microphone at the front of the cameras handle as well as two XLR connectors for external microphones or line level inputs. The XLR’s have phantom power if you need it. It is possible to record the internal microphones with automatic gain to audio channels 3 and 4 while the external mic inputs are recorded to 1 and 2. On the side of the camera there are controls for selecting the internal or external audio along with switches to move between automatic audio gain or manual gain plus a pair of knobs to set the manual gain level.
A 3.5mm headphone socket is provided for monitoring, the volume for which can be adjusted using up and down buttons on the camera handle. If your using a single external audio source such as a mono microphone you can map this to both audio channels in the cameras audio menu. Above the XLR audio connectors there is a microphone holder. This is attached to the camera body via a rubber mount and looks to be a lot more robust that the mic holder on the EX cameras that did have a tendency to break off if roughly treated.
Great New LCD! The PMW-200 has both a 3.5” LCD screen and a small electronic viewfinder. The 3.5” LCD flips up and out from the top of the camera handle. This means that it can easily be seen from the left side of the camera as well as above and below the camera. In addition it can be twisted right around and laid back flat against the top of the handle or flipped up vertically. In the vertical position it can be viewed from the right side of the camera.
For self shooters and one man bands this is really useful as it means you can conduct an interview from either side of the camera and still check your framing. When the screen is folded flat against the handle it keeps the camera compact and the LCD is less likely to be damaged when it’s not sticking out from the side of the camera.
The screen itself is bright and clear and has a remarkably wide viewing angle. Like many LCD’s the LCD on the original EX cameras only has a useable viewing angle of about 15 degrees. If you are not looking square on at most conventional LCD’s the contrast and blacks are no longer accurate and this can lead to exposure errors. The new LCD on the PMW-200 has a viewing angle in excess of 120 degrees, you can see it from almost any angle. The contrast and brightness remains near constant even when viewed at very acute angles. This makes it much easier to use and should help reduce exposure errors. The new screen is also slightly higher resolution. One small criticism here is that on the pre-production camera that I had for review the screen was quite glossy. I hope the production screens have a less glossy finish as I prefer a matt finish.
The electronic viewfinder on the back of the camera handle is the same as the one on the EX1R. I’ve seen worse, but I have also seen better. It’s adequate.
If you make use of the cameras coloured peaking or expanded focus assistance you can focus with it, but blink rapidly and you get a rainbow effect due to the way the red green and blue pixels are displayed one after another. The expanded focus function works while recording and is easily selected thanks to a button on the hand grip just by the zoom rocker.
There are buttons on the side of the camera body for zebras and focus so these can be selected quickly and easily if you need them.
If you want to connect an external monitor or viewfinder there is a comprehensive range of input and output connections on the rear of the camera. You have HDMI and HDSDi. Both can be used at the same time should you need to. You can down convert from HD to SD while you shoot if you need to provide a standard definition external feed. If you don’t need to connect an external device you can turn off the HDMI and HDSDi outputs to save battery power. If your shooting at 23.98p (24p) you can choose whether your output is 59.94i with pull down or straight 23.98p.
Just below the full size HDSDi BNC are two additional BNC connectors. The top one is for timecode and can be set to timecode in or timecode out. This is extremely useful on multi-camera shoots for synchronising the timecode on multiple cameras. Below that is a connector for Genlock In or Video Out, again an extremely useful feature that makes the PMW-200 useable in studio, multi-camera and 3D applications. Next to the BNC connectors is a USB port for off loading footage from media in the camera. There’s an i-link connector (firewire) and AV out connector that provides stereo line level audio and composite video out.
Playback Mode. One frustration with the EX cameras is the need to switch the camera between specific recording and playback modes. To go from camera mode to playback mode takes about 8 seconds, that’s not really that long, but if you are playing back a clip and then suddenly need to shoot something, that 8 seconds feels like forever. There is no separate playback mode with the PMW-200. You simply press the thumbnail button or play button on the handle to view your clip thumbnails or play back the last clip. If you need to record again in a hurry you simply press either of the record buttons (one on the top of the handle, one on the hand grip) and within a second the camera will start recording. This is a big improvement and very welcome. The camera switches on faster than an EX1 and there is even a fast start mode where you press the record button while turning the camera on to power up very quickly and go straight into record. Another feature coming through a firmware update and the addition of a CBK-WA01 wifi dongle will be the ability to control some of the cameras functions using an iOS or Android device. I have limited information on this but you should be able to control focus, iris, white balance and rec start/stop and maybe some other functions as well. In addition the camera should support data logging and metadata management using XM-Pilot over WiFi (CBK-WA01 required).
Power Options: The PMW-200 is a 12v camera. It uses the same BP-U30 and BP-U60 batteries as the EX1/EX3, PMW-100 and PMW-F3 cameras. It can also be powered by an external 12v power supply. The connector for external power is tucked away inside the battery compartment so you won’t be able to use any of the 3rd party batteries that use a separate cable to connect the power. It also means that you can’t run the camera off an external power supply while you hot swap the batteries. I think it’s a shame that Sony have done this.
Power consumption is higher and the camera does get quite warm compared to an EX1. This I suspect is largely down to the extra processing power packed into the camera, not just for the 50Mbit/s 4:2:2 encoding but also for the improved image processing. I still got around 3 hours out of a well used BPU-60. To get rid of the extra heat the camera is covered in cooling vents. As handheld cameras like this get used outside in all kinds of weather I was a little concerned about water ingress.
However after shooting for a weekend at the Royal International Air Tattoo in showery rain I didn’t experience any problems. The engineers at Sony tell me that there are shields inside the camera to prevent any moisture that might get in from doing any damage. As always when shooting in the rain you should really use a rain cover with any camera anyway, but we do all get caught out in a shower from time to time.
Conclusions: Well I got to use the PMW-200 in Singapore in bright sunshine, high heat and humidity. I also shot night time cityscapes with it. It shrugged off the heat and performed flawlessly. The low light footage looks really good. Then I spent a week with it in the UK, putting it through its paces on a couple of paying shoots for clients. One a corporate video, the other shoot involving running around on the apron of a military airbase filming aircraft preparing for an airshow. In addition I used it to shoot the video review that accompanies this written review. At first I just saw the PMW-200 as an EX1R with the addition of 50 Mbit/s 4:2:2, which in itself is a nice improvement. But then when I started to find some of the subtle improvements like the better zoom servo, the wide LCD viewing angle, reduced picture noise and improved handling the PMW-200 really started to grow on me. It’s not significantly different from the EX1R and that’s good. The EX1R is a great camera and the PMW-200 builds on the strengths of the EX series. I believe this camera will do extremely well. It’s just what’s needed for many broadcast productions. Best in class low light performance. Beautiful full resolution images, easy to use and an industry proven workflow that meets broadcast standards.
Disclosure. I am a Sony ICE (Independent Certified Expert). I am NOT an employee of Sony, but I do work with Sony helping with training, education and events. I was paid a fee by Sony to cover the costs of shooting and editing the video and the time taken to write this review. I was not asked to write a favourable review and the reviews (seen here and on the Sony web site) were not modified, edited or changed by Sony from my original submission other than a correction to the EBU R118 specifications (added note about 1/3″ dispensation). The views expressed here are my own and are based on my experience using a pre-production camera for 2 days in Singapore and 10 days in the UK.
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.