PMW-320. Surprisingly Good!

I’ve spend a couple of days putting a PMW-320 through it’s paces. The 320 is the latest addition to the XDCAM EX line up. It’s very much like the PMW-350 which I reviewed in depth last year, the principle difference is the sensor size. The PMW-350 is 2/3? while the PMW-320 is 1/2?. The camera can be purchased with or without a lens, the supplied lens is a Fujinon 16×5.8mm HD lens that has both autofocus and manual focus. The lens mount is Sony’s standard 1/2? hot shoe bayonet, so owners of DSR300? or PDW-350?s etc can use  their lenses directly on the PMW-320. As with the 350 the lens that comes with the 320 is pretty good. Nice and sharp and with a good feel to it considering the cost. It does however suffer from flare under harsh lighting and this can soften the picture a little. A good lens shade or matte box with flags would really help this lens.

Externally the 320 and 350 are almost identical. The give aways are the rubber strip under the handle, EXMOR badge on the side and lens mount ring are dark blue on the 320, black on the 350. Off the shelf the stock PMW-320 actually has more features than the 350. SD is included as standard and it can output to both HDSDi and HDMI at the same time. Buttons and switches are the same on both camera as is the excellent high resolution colour viewfinder. On switching on and looking through the menus they appear to be the same as the 350, no there surprise really, so just like the 350 instead of the picture profiles and Cinegammas found on the EX1R and EX3 we have Scene Files and Hypergammas more like a PDW-700 or other high end Sony cameras. Talking of the EX1R and EX3, there has been a little confusion over the sensors used in the 320. At first I got the impression that the 320 used new sensors, but I was told at NAB that was not the case and the 320 has the same sensors as the EX1R/EX3. So I was somewhat surprised when I started looking at the images from the 320 to see less noise and a different looking picture.

On the PMW-320 there is a wider range of camera adjustments compared to an EX1R. For example as well as detail settings there is also a section for adjusting the Aperture correction which can also sharpen and soften the look of the camera by boosting high frequencies. Out of the box I didn’t think the 320 was quite as sharp as my EX3. But after a few minutes on the bench and with a few tweaks to the detail and aperture settings the camera was looking very good indeed (detail -8, aperture +20). While not a quiet as the PMW-350 the 320 does appear to have less noise than an EX1 or EX3. It’s not a big difference, but every little helps. My guess there is additional signal processing going on to reduce the noise.

The use of scene files for the PMW-320 and Picture Profiles on the EX1 does make it harder to match the cameras if your using non-standard settings. It can be done, but it takes a little more work.

The power consumption of the 320 is, once again remarkably low. I was powering it with a 95Wh battery and it lasted most of the day. There are no fans to make noise and it’s very light yet well balanced. The big question on my mind when I heard about it was, why buy a 320 when you can get an EX3 for a lot less or a PMW-350 which has amazing image quality for another £2k to £3k. Well obviously the form factor is very different from an EX3. The 320 is a full shoulder mount camera, complete with slot for a radio mic that runs on V-Lock batteries. The EX3 is a semi-shoulder handy-cam running on small batteries. Both will take 1/2? interchangeable lenses, so no great difference there. But as well as the form factor, which can be very important, the PMW-320 also adds SD recording and HDMI output. There is also the small improvement in image quality to consider. I like the 320, not as much as I like the PMW-350, but it is a fair bit cheaper so could prove to be very attractive for those on a tight budget that want the shoulder mount form factor as well as those that may already have nice 1/2? lenses on their PDW-350?s or 355?s.

Click on the images below to see the full frame images. The small noise improvement is difficult to see in a frame grab. It’s more noticeable in a video clip.

pmw-ex3-1-300x168 PMW-320. Surprisingly Good!
pmw-320-1-300x168 PMW-320. Surprisingly Good!

13 thoughts on “PMW-320. Surprisingly Good!”

  1. Alister, bought a Sony PMW 320K in May 2011 and was pleased with it at first. I’ve set the profiles up according to the Alan Roberts settings for news. I have used it many times on lives for BBC News but just recently particularly when filming weddings I have noticed increased noise levels in the blacks on 0dB and it increases when I switch to 6dB and 9dB. I can’t see the noise in the viewfinder when filming or playing back the clips and I’ve even set the camera to your settings but the noise in the blacks is still there. Could it be the compression when the XDCAM files are converted to .mov files for Final Cut Pro. I’m using a MacBook Pro and 24″ Apple screen running 10.6. Any suggestions apart from I should have bought a PMW 350 intead, funds were a bit tight then. The link below shows some footage that was shot when I first got the camera. Also I can’t find any Paint 18 Noise Suppress setting in the menu on my 320 as indicated by Alan Roberts.

    1. The PMW-320 is not the quietest camera in the world. The 350 is a big improvement in noise. It comes down to the size of the sensor. to get good sensitivity out of a small sensor you have to pay a penalty in noise. It is not the compression, just the nature of a small sensor HD camcorder.

      I am not aware of a noise suppression setting on the 320.

    2. i agree, when you are filming on HD 25P the picture is crystal clear,but i made a mistake and gained to 3db and the noise which i cudnt see on the viewfinder when i loaded the footage to the macbook was too much, good thing i have the opportunity to go redo the shoots,,my recoommendation is with the 320 film HD AND ON PROGRESSIVE, u wont regret.Nick Nairobi

      1. I too have a PMW-320 and was disappointed initially with the noise, but by playing around with the Alan roberts settings as a starting point, I have been able to reduce the noise massively. I have seen much less noise when shooting with the film gammas, and in HD Progressive mode as suggested above. I have also contacted Sony with regard to the noise suppression issue and was told by them that the 320 has no noise suppression, only the 350. But I have put it to them that they have just removed the option from the menu, as the 320 and 350 share the same internal electronics, they refuse to discuss this. I suggest that a review prototype with noise suppression available was sent to Alan Roberts for the BBC review, and Sony subsequently removed the option from the production model. Anyone know how to access the service menu on these?

        1. There’s nothing in the service menus that relates to noise. All of Sony’s current crop of CMOS cameras feature noise reduction. It takes place on the sensor chip in both the analogue and digital domain. This cannot as far as I know be turned off. In addition there is almost certainly further noise reduction taking place in the DSP, again this cannot be turned off. The 350 has an additional feature that allows the user to either increase the amount of noise reduction or add a second layer of noise reduction. I suspect it is the former. This is in part what you are paying for in the increased price. It’s like buying a base model car or a top spec model. They may share the same bodies, but when you buy the higher spec models you get more features.

          I doubt very much the Alan got a “special” camera.

  2. Hi Alister,
    Thank you for the informative review. I am chief photographer in Buffalo, NY. For news, I have always preferred Sony cameras over Panasonic. The company is looking to buy 17 HD cameras before the end of the year. We had SX and now Sony PDW-530/520 XDcams – both fantastic cameras. Now “they” want us to consider the PMW 350 and 320. It seems like a step backward to me especially with the Fuji lens (passing XDCAMs & lenses to other stations). I’d prefer to keep them and shoot SD 16X9. Do you have an opinion on this decision? Keep up the good work. Sincerely, Mike Mombrea.

    1. As more and more TV work switches to HD you are going to have to take that step up soon. I would not get the 320 if you can afford 350’s, the 350 is a nice camera. While the “kit” lens isn’t the best lens in the world, for an entry level HD lens it does produce a good image and it does not breathe.

  3. We have four of the PMW-320’s . Three studio, one remote. We use crystal clear Sony OLED monitors in studio via HDMI. We find the EFP viewfinder to be subpar , making it difficult to find focus. Additionally, the rather large viewfinder makes it difficult for photographers that like to reach over the lens from the left side to get at the zoom rocker. I’ve seen better viewfinders on 500 dollar consumer camcorders, the Sanyo Xacti employs OLED. Could the cost of these impacted price of the PMW-320 that much? I think it tarnished Sony’s reputation.

    1. The resolution of the 320 Viewfinder is actually higher than the Sony HDVF-20, the standard broadcast HD CRT viewfinder that they specify for cameras like the PDW-700. To put things into perspective, the 500 line resolution HDVF-20 is about $3,000 USD on it’s own. The 320 EVF uses the same LCD panel as the EX1/EX3/F3/FS100 and has a resolution of 1920×540. I suspect the problem is with the different way that the digital peaking works compared to the analog peaking found on CRT finders, plus the fact that the full HD resolution of the camera makes focus ultra critical. A further consideration os that the smaller sensor size (compared to 2/3″) makes focusing harder as the increased DoF means that the camera doesn’t snap in and out of focus quite so quickly.

      The problem of reaching the zoom rocker is as much to do with the VF as the very short length of the kit lens. Longer conventional lenses have the zoom rocker further forwards so this is less of a problem. It is still tight but not so bad.

  4. can a standard VCL-915BYA fujinon lens be used on a pmw-320 and if not is their an adapter that can be purchased to do this ?

    1. The VCL-915BYA is a 2/3″ budget SD lens. You will need a 2/3″ B4 to 1/2″ adapter to use it on the 320. There is a magnification factor of about x1.3 so the wide end becomes a not so wide 11.7mm. I would also question the image quality. This was a budget lens, so not a great performer at SD let alone HD. You’d be better off getting a proper 1/2″ lens like the Canon YH19x6.7


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