camcorder

50 Megabits for the masses, the new Sony PMW-200.

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.

Alister shooting with an EX1 in the Arctic.

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.

Alister shooting a severe storm with an EX1

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.

The new Sony PMW-200 Alister filming with the PMW-200

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.

Frame grab from PMW-200. Click on the image to enlarge.

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 PMW-200 lens. The lens and camera front end.

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.

Side view of the PMW-200 PMW-200 lens, very similar to EX1.

 

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.

Noise comparison at +9db gain between RX1R and PMW-200

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.

Frame grab from the PMW-200. Click on the image to enlarge.

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.

PMW-200 Standard Gamma

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.

PMW-200 Hypergamma 4 (need to correct the caption on the picture!)

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.

PMW-200 Default settings.

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.

PMW-200 Custom Picture Profile.

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.

PMW-200 Default Settings.

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.

PMW-200 Custom Picture Profile.

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.

Rear view of Sony PMW-200.

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.

Menu and playback controls on the PMW-200′s handle.

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.

XLR connectors for audio in on the PMW-200

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.

Audio controls on PMW200

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.

New LCD design with ultra wide viewing angle.

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 LCD screen reversed and folded flat.

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.

Expanded Focus button on hand grip.

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.

Rear BNC HDSDi, HDMI and other connectors.

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 controls on the handle.

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).

The battery compartment with recessed power connector.

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.

Alister shooting an airshow with the PMW200

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.

422 compared to 420 both shot with the PMW-200. Click on the image to enlarge.

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.

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Thursday, July 26th, 2012 Uncategorized 41 Comments

Sony FS-100 Super 35mm NXCAM Camcorder Announced.

Sony FS100 fitted with PL mount lens.

Well the rumours have been circulating for some time and prototypes have been seen at various trade shows, but the full details have been sparse to say the least. Well here it is, it’s called the FS-100 and it’s a quite radical design from the Sony Shinegawa factory. The Super 35mm NXCAM shares the same sensor as the new PMW-F3, so the images will be excellent, but the design of the camera body itself could not be more different. If you don’t like it…  well you can blame me and several other DoP’s that were invited to attend brainstorming sessions with the Sony engineers. In the photo below you can see the white board from one of those sessions and you can see where we (me and the other DoP’s) discussed ideas like a modular design with removable handles and how we hold handycam cameras.

The end result is this rather quirky but in my opinion, really quite clever and versatile design. The top viewfinder allows you to use the camera cradled in your hands in front of you, either using just the LCD panel or the monocular viewfinder. When your doing interviews you can twist it so that it is visible from either side of the camera, excellent for those interviews where you are both camera operator and interviewer. It allows you to alternate the sight lines from left to right of the camera for more varied interviews. It’s also useful for shooting in cramped locations such as in the front of a car as you can hold the camera sideways in front of you to shoot… I mean film…. the driver and still see what your getting.

Top view of FS100 body

Unlike most traditional camcorders the camera can be stripped down to just the sensor/recorder body. You can remove the top handle, mic holder and hand grip. In addition it has a multitude of tripod mounting holes on the top, bottom and even one side. On the base of the camera there are 6x 1/4″ threaded holes and wait for it… 2x 3/8″ holes. Hooray!! On the top there are a further 3x 1/4″ holes and there is even one on the side, revealed when you detach the removable hand grip. This is going to be fantastic for use on cars as a 35mm minicam or crash-cam. It will make getting all those different car chase angles so easy as a few small suction mounts will allow you to mount the stripped down camera just about anywhere. I can see the FS-100 becoming a “must-have” B camera to compliment my F3. The 1/4″ thread on the side of the camera means you can mount it on it’s side for portrait style shooting for digital signage or to get the maximum resolution when shooting people for chroma key.

While the camera does come with a detachable handgrip, there is no zoom rocker like the F3. That’s because the camera is primarily aimed at those using DSLR lenses which don’t have servo zooms, although PL mount adapters are available. The front end of the camera has Sony’s E mount for interchangeable lenses. It will come with the rather nice (if a little slow) 18-200mm f3.5-f6.3 optically stabilised zoom lens and the auto focus and auto iris do work! As well as Sony’s own G series lenses for the NEX cameras you can get adapters for Sony A mount and most other lenses. Do consider that if you are planning on using heavy PL lenses that the E mount is not designed for such high loads, so an additional lens support system should be used.

Rear view Fs100

On the input and output front the FS-100 has most of the connectors you would expect to find on an NXCAM camcorder, with one notable exception… HDSDi. There is no HDSDi, but don’t panic! The camera does have HDMI and the quality available from HDMI is every bit as good as HDSDi. No word as to whether it’s 8 bit or 10 bit though. Sony are well aware that the one thing missing from HDMI is normally timecode, but even that has been addressed and it will be possible to export timecode in the HDMI stream, although at the moment we need to wait for the HDMI recorders to update them to accept timecode via HDMI. There are 2 XLR connectors for audio in. One on the right side and one on the rear, there is also the usual mini-D component out and RCA/Phono audio and composite video outputs.

Sony FS100 35mm NXCAM

When you start to delve into the cameras frame rates and recording modes things get really interesting as the FS100 will record full 1920×1080 at 60P and 50P. Even the F3 can’t do this internally (you can output 50/60P to an external recorder). As well as all the usual frame rates like 23.98, 60/50i, 30/25P you can also shoot full resolution slo-mo at up to 60fps using S&Q motion. It’s not quite as flexible as the F3 as you will find that you only have a choice of frame rates (for example 1,2,3,6,12,25,50fps) and won’t have the ability to dial in any frame rate you want, but all frame rates will be full 1920×1080. As with the other NXCAM camcorders all these lovely modes will be recorded on to SD cards or Memory Sticks using the AVC HD codec (mpeg 4), in addition you can add the Sony FMU128 (128Gb Flash Memory Unit) for dual recording giving peace of mind with one off events.

Once your footage is on your cards the cleverness of this camera continues as you don’t need a laptop to backup your data. Simply plug in a USB drive or even a Blu-ray burner), direct to the cameras USB port and you can backup direct from the camera to the drive. Your footage will contain GPS data about when and where you shot it, which for me will be a great bonus with my severe weather footage as I can never remember exactly where I was during a storm chase!

All in all this is looking like one hell of a camcorder. The street price is estimated to be below $6000 USD, so you do have to ask the question.. why buy an F3 when this is half the price? In my view they are two quite different cameras for different applications. The F3 has the ability to output full 10 bit 4:4:4 for extremely high quality recording possibilities. It also has built in ND filters and will have S-Log and 3D dual camera control. For multi-camera shoots the F3 has Genlock and timecode in/out. There will also be some nice servo zooms for the F3 some time later this year or early next year. The F3 is a camera that would not at all be out of place as a B camera on a big budget production. The FS-100 will I’m sure also find a place on big budget productions, perhaps as a crash-cam or mini cam. But overall I think it will be most at home on more run and gun style shoots where auto iris and maybe even autofocus are beneficial. I really do think that the FS100 will replace many of the DSLR’s out there currently being used for video as a lot of thought has gone in to the ergonomics.

These are very interesting times. It’s now possible to shoot a movie, with quality good enough for mainstream theatrical release on cameras costing little more than a high end home video camcorder of just a few years ago. I doubt most cinema goers would realise that a camera like the F3 or FS100 was used, especially if it’s recorded to a NanoFlash, KiPro or even the new Convergent Design Gemini. However we must not forget that content is king, not the technology that makes it possible.

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Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 Uncategorized 8 Comments

JVC GS-TD1 3D camcorder launched at CES.

JVC GS-TD1

JVC GS-TD1 3D Camcorder

Everyone is at it! Hot on the heels of the Sony TD10 comes the JVC TD1. With such similar names and numbers this is going to get confusing fast! Anyway this is another dual stream full 1920×1080 3D camcorder with some impressive specifications. This taken from the JVC press release:

The new GS-TD1 uses two camera lenses and two 3.32 megapixel CMOS sensors – one for each lens – to capture three-dimensional images much the same way that human eyes work.  JVC’s new high-speed imaging engine simultaneously processes the two Full HD images – left and right images at 1920 x 1080i – within that single chip.  The newly developed “LR Independent Format” makes the GS-TD1 the world’s first consumer-oriented camcorder capable of 3D shooting in Full HD.  JVC’s new camcorder offers other shooting modes as well, including the widely used “Side-by-Side Format” for AVCHD (3D) and conventional AVCHD (2D) shooting.

Side by side recording is going to be very usefull for going direct to consumer TV’s or for YouTube uploads so this is a nice feature indeed. It appears to only have a 5x optical zoom in 3D compare to the Sony’s 10x, like the Sony it features image stabilisation. It’s certainly an impressive looking unit. The flip out LCD screen once again uses some kind of parallax barrier for 3D viewing without glasses. The consumer 3D market is certainly growing at a rapid rate and I’m really excited about these new cameras. Sony.. JVC.. Anyone want to lend me one for my 3D shoot in Iceland in March???

The GS-TD1 should be available in March for $1995. More details on the JVC web site: http://newsroom.jvc.com/2011/01/jvc-full-hd-3d-consumer-camcorder-is-world’s-first/

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Sunday, January 9th, 2011 Uncategorized No Comments

Sony NEX-VG10 APS-C Camcorder Launched, available September.

Sony NEX-VG10 APS-C Camcorder

UPDATE: I had a play with one today. It’s actually really good, although it’s very strange holding a small video camera that doesn’t have a zoom control.  Click the link: nex-clips to download raw NEX-VG10 (MTS) clips straight from the camera. See end of post for brief hands on info.

So, Sony have launched a new APS-C camcorder. The NEX-VG10 comes from the consumer side of Sony and is based on the APS-C sensor used in the new NEX-5 and NEX-3 Sony Alpha stills cameras launched a few months ago. Compared to a full frame 35mm sensor APS-C is about 1.5x smaller, but still significantly larger than the sensors found in the majority of video cameras. It is designed as a video camera with a familiar video camera look and shape to it. There is a fold out 3? LCD screen on the left side and video style viewfinder at the rear. It records full 1920×1080 HD video using AVCHD at 24Mb/s so it should look pretty good. It also takes still images at “near DSLR quality” thanks to the high resolution 14.2 megapixel sensor. In some respects this is a little disappointing as it means that the sensor will not have an optical low pass filter tailored for video. Without this, in the past, it has meant that the video produced by stills cameras tend to suffer from aliasing and other image degrading effects caused by trying to cram too much resolution into a 1920×1080 video frame or by the sub sampling of the sensor. Lets hope the Sony engineers have done a good processing job getting the footage off the sensor down to HD video. It records 25P (Pal version) or 30P (US version) recoded in an interlace stream to give maximum compatibility. You can use a variety of recording media including Memory Sticks and SD/SDHC cards. On the handle there is a rather strange looking array of 4 microphones in a shock and vibration isolating mount for recording  surround sound audio. In addition there is a 3.5mm socket for an external microphone as well as a 3.5mm headphone socket. The camcorder is supplied with a 18 to 200mm optically stabilised f3.5-f5.6 zoom lens that attaches using Sony’s E mount system. This has a very short back focus distance and it will be easy to convert this to take a wide range of other mounts such as Canon via already available low cost adapter rings. Sony will be making  an E mount to Alpha A mount for Alpha (and Minolta?) lenses. The supplied lens is a bit disappointing as really for those super shallow DoF shots you want a fast lens and f3.5 is not what I would call fast, but it does offer a useful 11x zoom range. Autofocus can operate while your shooting if you need it.

Sony NEX-VG10 with LCD open

With a US street price of around $2000USD it represents good value for money, provided it performs. Video that I have seen from the NEX5 cameras looks very good but I have not seen what the aliasing performance is like, after all this is again a sensor optimised for high resolution stills and not video. It’s also important to note that this is not the camera that Sony showed at NAB, so who knows when we may or may not see that. The NEX-VG10 is an interesting looking camera and it surprisingly looks like it will beat the Panasonic AG-AF100 to market as the first low cost 35mm (ish) sensor camcorder. The big question is what will the pictures be like?

HANDS ON: I managed to get a brief play with one today. First off it’s very small and light, but with the supplied lens makes it quite front heavy. The LCD is clear and easy to see, however I did find focusing tricky with the LCD but I did not have time to see if there was any kind of focus assist system or peaking control. With the supplied lens you turn the forward ring to zoom and rear ring to focus. It was quite stiff turning the zoom ring and very difficult to do in shot zooms as you tend to twist the whole camera as you rotate the zoom ring. As well as the focus ring on the lens there is a dial behind the LCD screen that controls many functions including menu navigation, but this is also marked as a focus control. It was very strange holding a camcorder but not having any kind of zoom control. The menu system is quite logically laid out and easy to find your way around. I did shoot some clips with it and could see no signs of any aliasing which is very promising indeed. As expected it had pleasing shallow DoF but the low light performance was disappointing as it didn’t seem to perform as well as I had hoped. In some respects this may be an advantage as it helps get a shallow DoF. It also has to be remembered that the stock lens is only f3.5 compared to the f1.9 of a EX camcorder, so overall low light performance may not be as bad as it appeared. The pictures look very promising, it’s not a particularly expensive camcorder and for video, ergonomically it’s much better than a DSLR. I’m sure this will be popular with those that are seeking the filmic look.

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Wednesday, July 14th, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments

Sony To Launch 35mm compact camcorder


Well one of the big NAB announcements was the intention by Sony to release a compact 35mm equipped camera. A prototype unit was briefly shown at the press event but little details were given. I’ve been trying to find out more but Sony are being very tight lipped. It was announced that it will be available prior to next NAB, so that means that there is likely to be some other launch event in, at my guess 6 to 8 months time, of course there may be more news before then. Last year Sony announced the PMW-350 at Satis which this year is October 19th/20th, so I would expect more news by then. What I would say is that the prototype appears to be more than just a simple mock up as it shows some new switch and control designs that I’ve not seen on a Sony camera before. It has also been stated that this new unit is just part of Sony’s 35mm road map so perhaps there will be more than one new camera. As for pricing, well all that Sony will say is “affordable”. My guess is it will be in the XDCAM EX1 price area depending on lens options. If it uses DSLR lenses and can be purchased without a lens, my guess is that it would be cheaper than an EX but more expensive than a Canon 5DMk2, my guess would be £4k.

So what features can we expect to get? The sensor should have large pixels so it should be good in low light and offer high dynamic range. As it has a 35mm sensor I expect it will shoot 24P, 25P, 30P plus I would hope over-cranking at up to 60fps. It would be really nice if it did 1080P60. It should have decent audio controls and it’s going to need a really, really good viewfinder. I would imagine that you will have a number of different lens options via some form of adapter, possibly being supplied with a Sony Alpha lens mount. The prototype was shown with a PL mount lens and very few users will be able to afford to use them, so there will have to be a lower cost option.

These are exciting times. In the next 12 months we will see a huge change in the tools available for video production. The new 35mm and 4/3? cameras from Sony, Panasonic and Canon will change the way TV is made forever. They won’t be ideal for some applications such as news or run and gun, where you don’t want the focus problems that a big sensor will bring, but for drama, documentary and low budget movies I think we will see a dramayic change in the way things are done.

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Saturday, April 17th, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments

Canon To Launch 4:2:2 50Mb/s MXF HD Camcorder!


Canon has been keeping quiet for some time now and there has been lots of speculation about their next video camera, including many that had hoped for a 35mm sized sensor. Well this morning Canon posted a press release on their website. The main and most exciting point is that the camera under development will be full 1920×1080 and it will be 50Mb/s 4:2:2 Mpeg 2 MXF. Now this looks on paper to be an extremely similar format to XDCAM HD422. It would certainly make edit suite integration a lot simpler if the MXF files are the same as the Sony XDAM MXF’s.

Mockups of a camera seen in recent months have shown a handycam style, fixed lens camera with two slots for some type of memory card, which could possibly be express card slots. The mockup lens looks like it might be an EX1 style lens with manual and auto focus and might be big enough to accommodate 1/2? sensors. Is this the camera that the press release refers to, or is there another camera in the pipelines? There is a lot of stuff not mentioned in the press release, like recording media. It says “file based”, this could be solid state or it could be something else, maybe optical disc. Might this be a full size XDCAM HD camcorder from Canon? The release gives no sensor or form factor information which I find a little odd. Having shown mockups of an EX1 sized camera why not a more detailed press release with info on the lens, sensors, recording media etc? (apparently there will be another press release on the 8th of Feb).

Canon make some very good video cameras, I had an XL-H1 and it was a great HDV camcorder. I have no doubt that this new camera will be very good and competitively priced. IF it is the EX1 sized camera and it has 1/2? sensors then this would tick all of the BBC’s boxes for HD. If it’s CCD (which seems likely) it won’t have skew or flash banding. This is a very significant announcement and could push Canon to the front of the Pro Handycam pack. Here is the full press release from the Canon web site.

New Canon MPEG-2 Codec chosen for file-based professional video camcorder promises compatibility with industry-standard editing & processing software

United Kingdom / Republic of Ireland February 2nd 2010 – Canon Inc. today announces the adoption of an MPEG-2 Full HD (4:2:2) file-based recording codec for a new professional video camcorder currently under development. The Canon MPEG-2 codec will enable high-quality imaging and audio performance with up to 50 Mbps data recording and twice the colour data of HDV HDV is a standard for the recording and playback of high definition (1,440 x 1,080 pixels) video and audio on DV-format cassette tapes profile formats. File-based recording helps video operations realise greater efficiencies during post-production processing, making it an ideal format for many industry applications such as news gathering, documentary filmmaking and event videography.

MPEG-2 Full HD compression and 4:2:2 colour sampling?The adoption of MPEG-2 Full HD (MPEG-2 4:2:2 HP@HL compliant) compression enables the recording of 1,920 x 1,080-pixel full high-definition video. Additionally, compared with the 4:2:0 profile format used in HDV and other standards, 4:2:2 colour sampling offers twice the volume of colour data, providing double the level of colour resolution.

Maximum 50 Mbps data recording?With approximately twice the total data volume of HDV, the codec supports higher resolution and increased colour data to enable the recording of high-quality video.

Industry-standard MXF file format (see note (II))?MXF (Material eXchange Format) is a widely supported open source file format for the recording of video, audio and metadata, developed to suit the latest editing systems used by broadcasters.

Canon partners with major editing and processing software?With the adoption of the MPEG-2 Full HD (4:2:2) file-based recording codec, Canon is working in cooperation with Adobe Systems Incorporated, Apple Inc., Avid Technology, Inc. and Grass Valley to ensure compatibility with major editing and processing software programs widely used within the video imaging industry. Additionally, at future industry events Canon intends to demonstrate the overall video-production workflow, from initial video capture to clip-trimming and final editing. Video clips stored in a file-based recording system and industry-standard software applications will be used.

(II) A format for professional digital video and audio media defined by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE)

Notes to editor

Advantages of File-Based Recording

File-based recording enables video and audio data to be managed and stored by file, much in the same way as computer data. It supports efficiency throughout the production process, from initial video capture to final editing through the entire workflow. Additionally, file-based recording provides users with the flexibility to utilise different editing environments and workflow solutions without the restrictions associated with some other video recording formats, helping to reduce investment costs.

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Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010 Uncategorized No Comments