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Old January 13th, 2010, 07:05 PM   #31
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Tom & Dan -
Sort of an observation from using Sonys for a while that might apply to both of your posts... Sony seems to continually develop their firmware side of things as they release cameras, meaning if there's room to tweak, they probably will... sometimes this will be for better, sometimes maybe not... for instance, I see significantly more noise/gain in the CX500 in low light mode, but it's also a lot brighter and better color in low lux than the XR500. Don't like the noise, but sometimes that extra boost could be handy, and I've learned to dial it back...

I also see a significant difference in the OIS of the CX500 vs. the XR500, particularly in the "roll" axis, I'd expect that to be the same or even better in the new 550's of both flavors. It's pretty dang good, and I would observe that the different lens range will probably make it "appear" even better, simply because stabilization tends to become relatively easier the wider the frame, and the new range is significantly wider (I'm torn as to whether this is "better" and now wondering whether I should try to pick up some good tele glass... got the good HG series WA's...)

As for the addition of iris and shutter, there's no doubt the "hooks" were already in the hardware - they HAD to be for the camera to adjust in auto modes - they no doubt saw all the criticism here and elsewhere and realized that adding the access to allow user intervention was simply a matter of a few (hundred?) lines of code and a slightly altered user interface.

As Tom notes, the lens and sensor mechanics are probably pretty well dialed in (making the new lens range a bit of a surprise to me!), and the DSP/computer internal to the camera no doubt has adequate power and speed to do most every possible function (although I recall seeing what appeared to be the hardware "hitting the overhead ceiling" in the SR11...). BUT it takes time to get the firmware developed, tweaked, and ready for prime time (I've seen commentary from Sony execs that indicates this is at least partly why there is no DSLR-V from Sony YET!).

SO this year's model, we get access to iris and shutter and 24 Mbps bitrate - maybe a little hollering we can get zebra and peaking (ala the HC7-HC9 "upgrade"), and it really shouldn't be that difficult to add 24p and 30p IF they thought the market expected it... my guess is that Sony simply does not feel that the customers who buy these cams are intending to shoot a feature film with it, but are wanting the highest quality possible in VIDEO.

OTOH, how much of the market is passing on these just because these features aren't there? Probably going to be a lot of people again this year that go to the Canon HF-S21 because of the perception (and it looks like it might be a real serious horserace between this and the CX550V - if the Sony needs new batteries, the upgrade choice becomes a lot more interesting... the feature sets are pretty close this time out, with the Canon also supposed to be sporting improved low light and OIS!).
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Old January 13th, 2010, 09:08 PM   #32
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Customer comments on software products I've built echo much of what Dave suggests. Every change you make is evaluated by a user almost solely from his or her perspective. For the exact same change, you'll get "I've been waiting for years for that" to "please please please put it back the way it was" to "I don't care one way or the other, do my enhancement and stop screwing around with these other stupid changes". The job of your marketing people is typically to steer the developers into the changes that will please the customers and/or sell more of your product. This process often looks to users as if it's totally random, but of course, it's not supposed to be that, and in a well-run company, it's not random at all.

My guess is that the cam manufacturers are always close to hitting the hardware ceiling but the internal CPUs and GPUs get more powerful every year whether they advertise that or not. In other words, I suspect they're much closer to the limit than we suspect but the increases in computing power will let them continue to improve things each year for quite a while.

In the general case of the digital camcorder, it's a very special-purpose computer. It helps that they can set a hard performance limit to meet and they either do or don't and they can test for it. The performance / feature balance is much harder to work out where your software runs on a wide range of hardware and your user base is lots of simultaneous users. Having one piece of hardware being used by one person with very specialized needs must be very liberating in some ways...

A thought re "iris" and "shutter". From other discussions here and based on Steve Mullen's work, I think "iris" still physically exists in these cams but it sounds like "shutter" doesn't. The equivalent of the analog shutter is now the fully digital CMOS integration period - how long the electronic sensor chip is actually allowed to accept light inputs until processing of the current state is forced to occur. Steve also noted that the slowness of the physical iris vs the fully electronic "shutter (CMOS integration period)" means that the original analog equation where the iris setting is primary and the shutter speed secondary is reversed in the processing of light going on in the Sony cams. It also should be possible to apply different processing to different parts of the CMOS chip outputs - that may be how they achieve sharper focus or smile detection in specific spots. So the whole process really isn't an "iris and shutter" process anymore in a real sense, but it does make people familiar with it from analog days or still photography happy to have it presented to them that way.

One other astounding accomplishment that makes me want to tip my hat to the camcorder developers: the science and math behind the computing is high-level stuff. It's not trivial in the slightest. But in 4-5 years of using digital cams, I don't remember a single instance where the software failed outright on me in any way. I may have taken video where the video processing software didn't handle what I threw at it, probably because I used the cam poorly. But from the standpoint of the operational software, to build something so complicated but so reliable is unheard of in the applications and Windows software I use and write. You push most applications long enough (even within their design) and they will flake out on you in some highly visible way. If you're a software developer, you have to stand in awe of the people developing the software for these cams. I'd bet that errors do occur periodically and there is lots of horsepower devoted to redundancy and error recovery so you just don't see the problem. My group devotes about 1/4 of its time to bulletproofing regular software and regression testing. I suspect the percentage is even higher for camcorders - at least the reliable ones!
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Old January 13th, 2010, 09:18 PM   #33
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Originally Posted by Dave Blackhurst View Post
Tom & Dan -
..........
As for the addition of iris and shutter, there's no doubt the "hooks" were already in the hardware - they HAD to be for the camera to adjust in auto modes - they no doubt saw all the criticism here and elsewhere and realized that adding the access to allow user intervention was simply a matter of a few (hundred?) lines of code and a slightly altered user interface.
..........
Based on Steve Mullen's analysis of the XR12s and CX12s, the iris still has a physical reality or close analogue but the shutter does not. The shutter is emulated in certain ways electronically but overall what we call that is only one continuously variable input to a very complicated set of programs that control how light is gathered off the sensor chip and processed.

So the UI for telling people Iris and Shutter can be controlled was probably simple. But the shutter speed values probably need all sorts of translation to go from what the user indicates to what the cam actually needs to do. I refer back to Steve's table showing four or five variables and what each exposure setting represents in those cases. I think "shutter speed" is being transformed into some much more complicated equivalent in a multi-variate equation and then the real electronics and processing kick in. Exposure settings already provided by Sony may provide a more direct way of achieving the results than "shutter speed". But so many individuals have used "shutter speed" in the past that eventually it has to go into the UI.

Again, this is all based on Steve's documentation of how the immediate predecessor cams worked internally. Providing "shutter speed" controls may (repeat, may) be an example of people saying "I don't care how it really works, put it back the way it used to be expressed because I think I understood that and can work with it". That's the power of users!
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Old January 13th, 2010, 09:25 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by J. Stephen McDonald View Post
On the other hand, if there's two separate card slots, there could be the ability to automatically switch recording to the 2nd card, when the first one is full.
That physical opportunity existed in the CX5xx series but isn't present. They have internal large chips and you can get 16GB to 32GB chips for the removable memory slot. So they could have designed it to flip to the other chip if the first one fills up. Like other features, if enough people clamor for it, it may show up someday. I don't see any real technological barriers to it except for how to get the extraction software to know it was done. That doesn't seem like a showstopper.
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Old January 14th, 2010, 12:11 AM   #35
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You can actually SEE the iris configuration on the Sony pages for these cameras - in the picture that they use for the steady shot, you can see the 6 leaf shutter blades. I shot a few seconds of the sun - something I did with the SR11, and you can see a different pattern to the "rays" around such a bright light source - the XR also handled it much better than the SR.

You may be correct about the "shutter" actually being actually related to the CMOS refresh rate, in which case it would be interesting to test the infamous "rolling shutter" at different shutter speeds - in theory a faster refresh would aproach the ideal "global shutter" if fast enough.

Memory sticks/record times/storage:
The "rollover" capability should be possible - could have sworn I saw something about some camera doing it automatically? Maybe the Canon? On the AX2000/NX5 they have two physical slots - lots easier when the camera is bigger!. With "mixed media" (internal flash/HDD/Mem stick) it should be possible, but might get "interesting" spanning "drives" with some removable, some not... I can see some "user errors" cropping up!

I'm pretty sure that 64G on the new CX550V will be plenty - 8G records right around 1 hour, even if the 24Mbps bitrate takes more space (worst case 50% more than 16Mbps?), you're looking at 5 1/2 hours of recording time on the internal memory - that ought to be enough? You'd have to change batteries a couple times before you ran out, and 8G MS duos have come down (not to mention SDHC, presuming those work as advertised). I'll gladly take the smaller size/weight of the CX550V now that it has a VF and adequate internal storage!

"Feature creep" is a factor in ANY electronic/software device - a camera has an advantage in that it's a dedicated/closed "system", so I think you avoid all the fun compatibility issues that are usually responsible for "system crashes"? That probably helps some, but then there is still the challenge of "what to change/add/delete?" I know my first reaction to the "new" CX500 menu was mixed... but in the end it's not TOO traumatic to adjust to a new interface - the problem comes when you're used to one interface, and they go and change things around!!

I don't mind "learning" a new camera, I just like it when there are enough new features or improvements to justify the time - at first these two new cams didn't look that exciting, but after digging deeper, they may be a lot more interesting!
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Old January 15th, 2010, 01:36 PM   #36
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Canon's AVCHD camcorders in the consumer line, on the other hand, are permanently fixed at 1080-line recording (no SDTV recording capability is possible); however, a choice of 60i, 30p and 24p modes are available. And as for native 24p recording capability on Canon's new camcorders, only the upper levels of its high-end line will offer this capability. The other, less-expensive Canons will continue to encode 24p inside a 60i stream.
I am taking back part of this quote. The ability of recording in 24p mode may no longer be the case on the lower lines of the new Canon camcorders. And the native 24p recording applies to all models in the (new) high-end HF-S series. It is likely that the mid-tier HF-M series will include 24p encoding in a 60i stream, while the entry-level HF-R series might record 60i video only.

As for SD recording capability, all of the new HF-S models, plus those HF-M and HF-R models with built-in flash memory, can downconvert HD to SD in-camera - but that will be a separate step.
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Old January 24th, 2010, 08:33 PM   #37
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I am taking back part of this quote. The ability of recording in 24p mode may no longer be the case on the lower lines of the new Canon camcorders. And the native 24p recording applies to all models in the (new) high-end HF-S series. It is likely that the mid-tier HF-M series will include 24p encoding in a 60i stream, while the entry-level HF-R series might record 60i video only.
I checked Canon's USA site again, and discovered that all of these new Canons do offer 24p and 30p recording modes encoded inside a 60i stream. The HF-S2#(#) series will offer an additional, native 24p recording mode in addition to the 24p-encoded-inside-a-60i-stream mode.

On the other hand, in order to keep the price of the HF-R series low, Canon limited the maximum recording bitrate of the camcorders in that line to 17 Mbps. This is due to their very small 1/5.5" sensors (even smaller than the 1/5" sensor in my Sony CX100). The two higher lines offer full 24 Mbps recording bitrates.
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Old January 25th, 2010, 08:05 PM   #38
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This wider angle and shorter highest focal-length will probably be popular with many serious videomakers, along with the dedicated controls for shutter and exposure. But for some of us, who shoot wildlife and sports events, it's not a welcome change. If the flash memory models still have the 43mm to 516mm range and all the other new features, that would prompt a move away from those with the harddrives. As usual, no one gets everything they want, in a single model. If I put my 2.2X telex on the XR550, I'd get only 655mm, instead of 1135mm, which isn't nearly enough for shooting birds on the far side of a river. I'd much rather pop on a wide-angle lens, than be limited to such a short lens reach.
I see some desirable features in the 55x series as before, but I am still very happy I bought the CX500V with the 12x zoom and different optical specs. I hope they offer the same two years down the road, or two models with different optical behavior optimized for distance or width.

I just spent some time at Disney World and needed a wide angle lens for the first time there to capture the fireworks at Illuminations. I probably could have just backed up 20-30 yards but then I might have lost some stability (shooting on a wall) or might have lost the unobstructed view itself. I carried the wide angle lens with me this trip because I had noticed this possible need before and that lens is small and light where the telephoto lens is large and heavy. I returned a second night this trip to use the 12x zoom to capture what was being shown on the globe itself during the show - something hard to catch with inadequate zoom. In fact, I couldn't really make it out with the naked eye but should have nice video to watch now at the 12x level.

So as you suggest, I'd rather carry a wide angle lens infrequently than a telephoto most of the time. I use the full in-cam telephoto all the time, the widest angle rarely. Others may do exactly the opposite, particularly filming family gathering indoors from what I've read here. But this is one way in which the earlier cam has an edge for certain types of filming.
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Old January 26th, 2010, 04:28 AM   #39
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I think that at least some of the explanation for the new lens range goes to "apparent stability" of the end image.

I'm sure we've all noticed that at the tele end of things, it's bloody hard to keep a stable image unless you're on a tripod - so by going with the "wider" lens, voila, even more stable video, even if no improvement is made to the excellent OIS! Plus you can get in closer to a subject, play with the iris setting, and probably achieve a bit more respectable DoF effect I suspect.

BUT you're definitely losing if you NEED the long tele end of the range... which may or may not be acceptable, I know I want to sit down and fiddle with the approximate ranges and see whether it will affect the type of shooting I typically do. I've got good WA glass, not so much in the tele department, and what I do have is bulkier and there's no escaping the vignetting, something I don't have with the WA... It's going to come down to whether the new lens range is a good fit, something to think about... Sure would be nice to see a refresh of the XR500V and CX500V with the new features - wonder if the firmware could be hacked?
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Old January 26th, 2010, 08:26 AM   #40
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I think we very often forget the target market that Sony is aiming for with most of their cameras. Its point and shoot. They may have some manual controls but they expect most of the people to leave the camera on EASY, hence the importance of the iAuto modes and now GPS etc. Also the simple interconnect to the stand alone DVD burner etc. And in camera deinterlacing to 60p for good playback on flat panel displays. Sorry, their market focus is not the enthusiast trying to get a lot out of a consumer camcorder. Sony would like us to buy the high end !!!! ( If Sony made a small high camcorder I might well buy it) With this in mind I am happy with the combination of clever auto modes for the Handicams with main camera being the high end. I use the SR11 and XR500 as unattended cameras( always on wide, so the wider the better for me) and I really like the clever auto modes. Other uses are for family events where once again the wide angle is more useful together with all the other fancy new features like face detection. The new CX550 looks really good based on my requirements, if it had zebra it would be great and replace the SR11 that my wife sometimes uses as another attended cam.

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Old January 26th, 2010, 01:20 PM   #41
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Ron -
While "point and shoot" is good, especially if it gets excellent results, as a practicat matter there's little difference between adding a "PRO/ADV" (professional/advanced) mode along with the "EASY" mode, in other words add a "secret" button combo that activates things like zebras or whatever. The hardware/software "hooks" are undoubtedly there, it's just whether they decide to offer access (or not)

Sony did make a significant jump with the 550V versions - while they look pretty tame at first... the higher bitrate, iris/shutter, biggest LCD, VF on both models (the first CX with a VF and I/O options!!) - this revision makes these camera significantly more interesting for those who want more control in a small package that also delivers good auto results. A couple of these and an AX2000 would represent a pretty fantastic multicam "event" package...
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Old February 13th, 2010, 03:36 PM   #42
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Watch.Impress review of the CX550V

http://av.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/s...03_346539.html
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Old February 17th, 2010, 09:49 PM   #43
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Both lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberrations in the framegrabs and clips posted on the above site are very pronounced (looking at the compared still grabs from the CX550 and CX520 of the pigeon in particular). It's almost clear to me from looking at those stills and clips that Sony has pushed too far in making the lens wider than normal. I just hope they rectify these CA flaws in their production models either by tweaking the hardware which is highly unlikely or minimizing them via software. Too bad, other aspects of the image at 24 Mbps look very good and seem superior to the images from my CX500 and SR12 judging from those few clips.
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