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First Look at the Sony PMW-EX1

An Interview with Doug Jensen

Doug Jensen is a 28-year veteran of the television and video production industry, with experience in all phases of production. He has worked extensively as a freelance network cameraman and owns a production company called Vortex Media. Vortex Media also manufactures production tools such as WarmCards, Storm Jackets, MediaFiler 3.0, and VortexHD Stock Footage. As a member of Sony's I.C.E. Team (Independent Certified Expert), he has been called upon by Sony to teach HD workflow classes and provide equipment demonstrations for the press and selected customers. Sony asked Doug to shoot test footage with a pre-production EX1 in September, and he purchased his own EX1 through B&H. A three-hour training DVD from Vortex Media titled "Mastering the Sony PMW-EX1: A Complete Guide to the Camcorder and the XDCAM EX Workflow" is slated for release in early December. B&H's Ron Seifried was fortunate enough to speak with Doug about his experience as one of the lucky few who was able to put the Sony PMW-EX1 through its paces.

Doug Jensen

B&H: What differentiates the EX1 from other camcorders in its class?

There are three things. First, and most important, it's the only camcorder this small to feature ½” image sensors, and that makes a huge difference in picture quality, light sensitivity, and for shooting with a shallower depth-of-field. Second, the CMOS sensors are full 1920x1080 resolution with no pixel-shifting or gimmicks that attempt to trick you into thinking it's a true hi-def camera. And third, it's Sony's first professional camcorder that shoots on solid-state memory cards instead of video cassettes or optical discs.

B&H: You already own an XDCAM HD F350 and a Z1U, so why did you want the EX1?

First, let me say that the F350 and Z1 are excellent cameras and the F350 will still be my primary camera for most of my shoots. But the EX1 offers many advantages over both of those cameras. Compared to the Z1, the EX1 has higher resolution, a superior lens, true 24P and 30P capabilities, slow-motion, time-lapse, 35Mbps recording, HD-SDI output, and it's tapeless. Compared to the F350, the EX1 is smaller and lighter, has full 1920x1080 resolution, and allows me to shoot in places where a larger shoulder-mounted camera wouldn't fit or might attract too much attention. And, let's not forget that you could buy seven EX1 camcorders for the price of one F350 with a good lens, so it makes an affordable “B” camera for two-camera shoots.

B&H: How does the EX1 change your workflow?

I've already had a tapeless workflow for nearly two years so the EX1 hasn't changed it very much. And once you go tapeless, there's no looking back. Archiving the EX footage is really the only major thing that's new. With XCDAM HD the optical discs I shoot on are also my permanent archive medium, but with XDCAM EX I had to create my own archiving workflow because obviously, the SxS cards are too expensive to use once and then put on the shelf. In Vortex Media's "Mastering the Sony PMW-EX1" instructional DVD, I discuss an archiving method that actually gives me two backups of everything I shoot – and yet still costs less than ½ the cost of archiving XDCAM HD footage on the optical discs.

B&H: Does the EX1 replace previous XDCAM cameras?

Not at all. The F300 series cameras are still the best choice if you prefer working with a full-size, shoulder-mounted camera. But if you can't justify the expense of an XDCAM HD camcorder, or if you need a physically smaller camera, then the EX1 makes a great alternative with very little compromise in quality.

B&H: How does the picture quality compare between the F350 and the EX1?

It's not easy to tell which camera is which unless you compare identical side-by-side shots. I'd still rate the F350 higher, but when I choose to go out to shoot with the EX1 I never have the feeling that I'm sacrificing picture quality by using the smaller camera. Whatever difference there is between the two, it's marginal, and I actually think the EX1 has better color reproduction and cleaner blacks.

B&H: This is the first 3-chip ½” CMOS handheld camera available. Did you find any improvements or enhancements over the previous similar-sized models like the HVR-Z1U?

Yes. In fact, there are so many differences and improvements that it would be hard to list them all. But one of the most important ones for me was the big improvement you get for controlling depth-of-field. The ½” sensors on the EX1 allow me to get the same shallow depth-of-field I can get on the F350, and that's a huge improvement over what is possible with the Z1 or V1.

B&H: One complaint about CMOS chips in video cameras is the noisy picture when shooting in low light. What did you think?

I strongly disagree with that. The EX1 is a couple of stops faster than the F350, yet the blacks are noticeably less noisy. I tested the camera with a lot of night shooting and I've got no complaints.

B&H: What do you think of the 14x Fujinon Pro HD lens?

The lens is great. Some people don't like the fact that you can't swap lenses, but to me that's a minor issue, and with the EX1 you never have to worry about back focus. I think most camera owners never change their lens anyway — even if they can. This lens is plenty wide enough (even without the wide-angle converter) for 99% of what I shoot. Any wider and there'd be too much distortion on horizons and horizontal lines. I would like the lens better if it was an 18x zoom, but I just have to keep reminding myself that the whole EX1 camera costs less than half of what my 18x5.5 Fujinon lens cost for the F350.

B&H: How does the lens compare to shoulder-mounted cameras?

Ever since I got my hands on a pre-production EX1 back in September I've been telling people that the EX1 has a lot more in common with shoulder-mounted cameras than handycams. And a big reason for that is the broadcast-quality lens with full manual control over focus, zoom, and iris. The importance of professional-style lens controls cannot be overstated. No other handheld camera can match it.

B&H: By recording in full 1920x1080 resolution, does this actually have a higher resolution than previous XDCAM's?

Yes. Not only does the EX1 have better resolution than the F300 series cameras, it also has better resolution than most of Sony's high-end HDCAM camcorders which are also only 1440x1080.

B&H: How was it working with over-cranking and under-cranking?

Slow motion and fast motion look great with the EX1, and there are no hassles with needing special playback equipment or post-processing. You can play back these modes immediately, right on the camera. The only down-side is that slow motion only works in the 720p shooting modes, and it is not available in any of the 1080 modes.

B&H: How would you compare the XDCAM SxS PRO memory cards to the Panasonic P2 technology?

P2 was built on outdated technology before the cameras even came out on the market, but there wasn't a viable alternative at the time. Today, P2 is really showing its age and it's only going to fall further behind. SxS cards, on the other hand, offer tremendous performance improvements.

B&H: Is there any down time while changing memory cards?

It takes about 5 seconds to change memory cards, and since there's no need to record 30 seconds of bars and tone at the head, there's almost no down time at all. Furthermore, there are two memory card slots on the camera and you can swap cards “live” while you're recording. So, at least in theory, you could keep shooting uninterrupted forever without stopping if you just keep swapping out the memory cards.

B&H: How much HD video can you record on one 16GB ExpressCard?

There are a lot of variables that affect the capacity of the memory cards, such as: 720 vs. 1080, 24P vs. 30P, SP vs. HQ, etc. Sony says you can get 50 minutes of footage on a 16GB card at the best quality setting, but I've always gotten more than that. Plus, don't forget that you can delete clips on the fly that you don't want to keep. So, for me personally, 50 minutes of footage on an SxS card is really the equivalent of nearly three 30-minute Betacam tapes because I delete bad takes immediately. That's basically the same thing people do with their digital cameras when they delete bad photos right away.

B&H: One surprising new feature in a camera this size is the ability to output video via a HD-SDI/SD-SDI.

I love that feature because I use a high-definition field monitor, and the picture quality coming out of the EX1 is beautiful.

B&H: There are also some cool features for in-camera media management for easier browsing of recorded footage.

It is nice to be able to play back clips at random in the field, especially when you're working with a client who constantly wants to watch the last take. Unlike tape, there's no danger of damaging the footage, no hassles of re-cuing, and no possibility of erasing anything accidentally.

B&H: What are the possible post-production workflow scenarios for the EX1?

EX1 footage can be easily integrated into any HD post-production workflow. Once you get the footage off of the card and into your computer, it's just like any other footage. Whatever works for you now will work for you with the EX1. Even if you're still editing SD productions, the EX1 fits in fine. I've been shooting 100% HD footage for over two years now, and yet 90% of my post-production work is still done on SD timelines. It's no big deal working with HD clips. In fact, I'll miss the days of SD editing when it comes to an end because of the advantages I get with scan/pan effects and cropping HD footage in an SD sequence. My advice is to shoot everything in HD now, whether you need it or not today, so you future-proof your footage!

Coming soon is Doug's latest informative DVD Guide, this one on the Sony PMW-EX1
Coming soon is Doug's latest informative DVD Guide, this one on the Sony PMW-EX1

 

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