Video / Hands-on Review

Sony PMW-500 Solid State Memory Camcorder


Sony has been delighting video professionals with their XDCAMs since 2004.They introduced their first high-speed memory XDCAM EX in 2007, and went on to set high standards in broadcast quality with their PDW-700 and PMW-320 and PMW-350 models.

 Sony’s newest XDCAM, the PMW-500, brings together the best of both video worlds in a hybrid design that combines the fine image quality of the PDW-700 optical disc-based model with the solid-state versatility of the lightweight 350 model. Video broadcasters who had a chance to test preproduction versions of the 500 were excited to see a new professional HD camera that uses the HD 422 codec and can shoot both 720 and 1080 HD at 50Mb/s. 

Weighing just 7.59 lb (3.4 kg), the PMW-500’s body is based on the same ergonomic design found in the popular PDW-700. Coupled with an impressively low power consumption of just 33 watts, this feature-rich professional camera can rest easily on your shoulder for hours. Bringing solid-state stability into the proven design of the PDW-700 results in a workhorse of a camera that’s sure to become a favorite among news crews, broadcasters and videographers who have a lot of shoots in the field.  

In addition to its body, the PMW-500 also borrows from the PDW-700’s sensors, using the same 2/3”-type, 2.2 megapixel full-HD CCDs found in Sony’s Professional Disc HD422 camcorders. This sensor has an impressive signal-to-noise ratio of 59dB and makes the camera an excellent choice for shooting in low-light situations.  

Though the PMW-500 uses the same sensors found in the professional disc models, the image processor and recording functions are derived from the PMW-350 model, which also contributes to the camera’s low power consumption and lightweight design. The camera also has the same menu structure as the PMW-350, which you can access through the 3.5-inch color LCD Panel. You can use the onboard monitor to compose shots and adjust color balance in addition to reviewing recorded material. According to Sony, the LCD panel has a high resolution of approximately 921,000 effective pixels.   

You have several options for what type of solid-state media you want to record to, though the best choices are the SxS Pro and SxS-1 memory cards. In a pinch, you can also use an adapter to record to Sony Memory Sticks or SD cards. Using the SxS Pro cards has several advantages over the memory options, however, such as the excellent shock and vibration resistance along with a high transfer rate of 1.2 Gbps (while using SBS-64G1A and 32GIA cards) and a transfer rate of 800 Mbps using other SxS memory cards. One of the big benefits of recording to the SxS cards is that you can hot swap them for uninterrupted shoots, and have plenty of time to switch out a card thanks to a reliable 15 second cache that helps ensure you don’t miss a shot while changing cards.   

Though the PMW-500 doesn’t have the User Gamma setting found on the PDW-800, it does give you the choice of four HyperGamma curves in addition to six standard gammas. Those are enough gamma curves to save you set-up time on a shoot and, perhaps more importantly, work quickly and easily even in high-contrast lighting situations that would bring out the shortcomings in other digital camcorders. You can shoot your subject walking from shadow to sunset without having to make any adjustments and can even capture natural skin rendition of a face illuminated just by the light of a cell phone.    

In addition to excellent video quality, the PMW-500 also offers high-definition audio through four uncompressed 24-bit channels when recording in the MPEF HD 422 mode or MPEG IMX modes. You can adjust each channel independently for a full range of subtleties that 16-bit audio would miss. A slight improvement over the PDW-700’s design is side-panel access to the sound channels, making them even easier to adjust.  As for recording options, the camera has a slot for a DWR-S01D wireless mic with two-channel audio and you can also attach analog wireless adapters.   

One of the exciting innovations of the PMW-500 is the opportunity to delve into Sony’s XMPILOT metadata workflow. With an optional CBK-WA01 WiFi Adapter, you can setup a proxy feed to stream audio and video directly to a laptop or smart phone, where a production assistant can use a proprietary app to log input and output metadata on the fly. Working with Sony’s XMPilot metadata workflow cuts down on some of the work done in post production. Another innovation to look for in the PMW-500 is the Live & Play function, which allows a broadcaster to insert a prerecorded shot from the camera into a live shot seamlessly and without interruption.

There are also several options for creative shots. Along with selectable slow- and quick-motion filming that ranges from 1-30 fps for 1080p and 1-60 fps for 720p, the PMW-500 also offers intuitive time-lapse video and simple frame recording. Once they make the tiny adjustment to their clay figures, stop-motion animators can just press the record button to capture predetermined frames. The low-light capabilities of the camera mean that claymation doesn’t just have to happen under full light; scenes can be lighted with more variety without losing color, contrast and detail.

Since the PMW-500 ships just as a body, you will have to outfit it with your choice of viewfinder, lens, mic and tripod adapter. The two viewfinder options to chose from are the CBK-VF01and  the HDVF Series, while an ideal lens is the Fujinon XS20SX8.5BRM HD Professional Lens. For a professional grade, low-noise shotgun mic, go with the Rode Condenser Shotgun Microphone.