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Old December 31st, 2005, 08:40 AM   #1
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Trying to be objective IMO

I have not posted here for a long time - I have been very busy - but I have read with interest the many forums on the new HD prosumer cameras over the last week or so, both here and elsewhere (and scrutinised extensively the various footage now available both online and in person).

What concerns me is the infighting between the various camps and champions of, usually owners, of one make or other - this I feel may be good for one or other manufacturer but is ultimately IMO detrimental to market choice and the overall filmaking/broadcast and prosumer community at our level.

I'd like to counter what I see as some of the more ludicrous hyperbole without attacking anyone or any one make. I'd like to be objective although much of what follows is my own personal preference, and as they say your mileage may differ. I do not own (yet) any one of these cameras BTW.

I currently work in broadcast TV with a DSR570, and sometimes DigiBeta and I own an XL1s (all PAL) FYI.

I think all the HD/V camcorders in this category are excellent products and are capable of truly amazing results, in the right hands, and compared to their much more expensive hi-level counterparts.

Firstly, I can see very little meaningful difference between the various footage in picture quality terms. This is to be expected they are all 1/3" chip cameras with lenses built to a price. IOW there is not enough difference for this to be the main factor in choosing between them, the picture quality difference is negligible.

This remains true of both HDV and DVCPRO HD in this category - the chips and lenses are the determining factors for me.

I feel also that from a professional point of view these cameras are of most interest to broadcasters and corporate producers. They will all make excellent tools for TV and promotion. I don't want to burst anyones bubble about features but I feel, and this is entirely my opinion, the reality is that probably 0.001% of owners will ever go to 35mm filmout. There will be (and is) lots of independent low budget films made but mainstream Hollywood is never, except under rare experimental circumstances going to use these cameras. The only mainstream dramatic feature as I see it ever to use DV (as in trying to get the best out of the format, not to degrade it by drawing attention to its consumer qualities) was 28 Days Later. HD is obviously better than SD but if you're making a feature of even a million dollars and upwards then HDCAM becomes a realistic and almost mandatory option for HD.

So without further ado I am going to list the 4 models (in the order of market release) with their various pros and cons, whilst ignoring the NLE and HD distribution mess which I feel will be resolved at some point:

SONY HVR-Z1 - an excellent HD replacement for the PD170, easy to use and good looking footage. It's main drawback is no progressive but if you don't need this (as in a lot of daytime and news broadcast TV) then it is a great workhorse. A companion deck too is a great plus point for pros - though only mini cassettes is a slight drawback. A great price for entry level pro HDV.

JVC GY-HD100 - the most professional form factor of all 4 for me (coming from a DSR570). Interchangeable lenses, robust and true progressive scan. It is also part of a complete end to end system including deck, HD monitor and even a DVD player that will accept WMV HD and M2t streams. Perhaps released to market to soon with one or two problems but this is the camera that we have tested most extensively and we like it very much - I wasn't even aware of SSE until I came here and we haven't really noticed it since. There was a dead pixel but that was sorted very quickly. Ok its only 720p but that compares very favourably with 1080i in resolution terms and we love true progressive scan with full 1280 x 720 raster scaling. The lens has been slated but what do you expect for an $800 essentially SD lens - with the wide angle HD lens or a new standard HD lens (due soon) you have a very good HD/SD camcorder for about $15000 - a lot for some but the next step up is significant in pro terms. The SD footage from this camera was better IMO than what we get from the DSR570. Interestingly the actual owners of this camera who are more than satisfied with it far outweigh those owners who dislike it, for all its bad press.

CANON XL H1 - I love my XL1s and I like very much the similar form factor of this one. Interchangeable lenses a big plus but I would prefer a non proprietry mount like the JVC, although this lens is better than the one provided with the JVC. HD-SDI and genlock is going to make it very attractive to broadcasters. 1080i is great and from what I've seen of the footage 24f is a very very good compromise for progressive - 'frame mode' acquisition with true 24p encoding - although it is not true 1080p resolution. There is however no deck for 24f and I would hate to use this as a feeder to an NLE - big negative point for me. Can do everything the SONY can with a host of extras though at a much higher price.

PANASONIC AG-HVX200 - built upon the very successful and good DVX100, I'm sure its going to be a huge hit. I like the 4:2:2 DVCPRO HD codec and MXF workflow - very robust and currently the most useful in NLEs - although it's downscaling raster implementation is not ideal particularly in 720p. I love the choice of 720p/1080i and 1080p with variable framerates - no other camera comes close to this flexibility. The P2 card system is innovatory too but I feel cumbersome in long form production although DTE solutions may obviate this. The lack of interchangeable lens for its intended use (narrative fiction and glossy entertainment) and handycam form factor are huge drawbacks for me - I know the lens is probably quite good (seems to be from the footage) but I would choose the JVC first for these very reasons. However like the SONY it is going to extremely useful in broadcasting: MTV, pop promos and arts/history programming. The lack of a cheap mastering solution may be a drawback for some too - the cheapest DVCPRO HD deck is about $20,000. Overall though an excellent and innovative camera.

IOW they're all good in different ways for different uses and when the post-production and distibution workflow gets sorted they will all make powerful tools. As I said in the title 'trying to be objective IMO' if that's not too much of an oxymoron. I am not going to get into a debate about the details of which one is best, it is more of a plea for us to promote all of these tools whilst obviously not being blind to their faults, so that we can push the various manufacturers to improve their products. But if we give too much bad press to one or the other simply because we own one or the other or are a 'fan' of one make over the other then we might see some otherwise excellent product die and disappear from the market with no equivalent alternative for those who need that combination of particular features.

Last edited by John Mercer; December 31st, 2005 at 09:14 AM.
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Old December 31st, 2005, 09:02 AM   #2
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John, what do you think about resolution and film-like images? Which one is the best in these categories?
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Old December 31st, 2005, 09:53 AM   #3
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Hi Robert,

"what do you think about resolution and film-like images? Which one is the best in these categories?"

I think 'film-like' images are most producible with those cameras featuring progressive scan for me - so for me the SONY is the least film like in these terms.

The JVC produced excellent film like images for us once we had tweaked the settings (basically putting it in to 'cine' matrix setting). It had nice glowing highlights and rich colours. The footage I have seen from the HVX200 also produces very nice crisp film like images. The Canon seems very good too but I do notice a resolution hit, albeit very slight, from 1080i to 24f. I basically think all three in the right hands could be used very happily to produce a film look.

In terms of resolution they are all as I said very very close to me. If you have to scrutinize to see any difference as I did then you know this to be the case. 1/3" chip cameras will look pretty much like any other 1/3" chip cameras IMO excepting for newer chip technology - this was the case with DV and seems to remain true of HD perhaps unsurprisingly.

Apart from our own testing the only differences seem to be in the way things are shot, for example, the Charles Pappert clips for the JVC look too dark on my PC whilst the HVX200 Barry Green look brighter and punchier. This could be encoding not the shooting (I know Charles is a first class DOP) plus in my view there are problems with using the mini35 adaptor for HDV, the ground glass grain challenges MPEG2 encoding and in any case produces a slightly softer and therefore impaired resolution. Our own tests with the JVC looked great that is all I can say. On the other hand, as I said, the Sony clips from DSE looked very very sharp and lush. The great thing about Canon is that they seem never to rush a product to market and so the XL H1 seems to be very mature and again its footage is every bit as good as the rest.

Maybe not the answer you're looking for but as I say to me there are no clear winners in resolution terms. For me rez charts a pretty meaningless unless testing lenses - the final photographic results are what matter, and in this you'd be hard pushed to tell what camera was used to shoot a HDV originated show shot by a top DOP. I say look at the long shots not the crisp CUs - all cameras tend to look their best with extreme CUs. When you look at the long shots on all the available clips they are almost identical in terms of resolution.

Interestingly I went to MIPCOM this year (the European broadcast festival) and they had a number of HD seminars. They had the best HD monitors and the cream of the crop HDCAM content showing on them and it is still not obvious that you are not looking at very good SD DigiBeta sometimes, so for the public HD is a difficult perception problem. The very best HD image I have ever seen was shot by Sony's XDCAM HD shown on a 32" pro Sony CRT HD monitor. I know XDCAM HD isn't the top HD format but it was the first time I personally have seen HD footage that looked truly HD. I am in the long run looking closely at XDCAM HD to replace the DSR570.
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Old December 31st, 2005, 10:36 AM   #4
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Excellent comments John! What a refreshing respite...
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Old January 1st, 2006, 07:48 AM   #5
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Nice comments, John, your first post was a very interesting read, and I mostly agree with you.
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Old January 1st, 2006, 09:58 AM   #6
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Not be overly critical, as I totally agree that with 1/3" chip, cheap lenses, and lots of compression, there's really not that much in it for the final picture quality, but both the JVC and the Sony can produce extremely film-like images, but you've really got to put the Sony in 50i, post-de-interlace and shoot with care, not that you don't have to shoot with care on the rest. Again, there's very little in it.

But, I must take a point on your statement: "The only mainstream dramatic feature as I see it ever to use DV (as in trying to get the best out of the format, not to degrade it by drawing attention to its consumer qualities) was 28 Days Later."

Because they intentionally degraded the quality of the footage to achieve the look they wanted. It was deliberately made to look really bad, and indeed, it did look really bad. For instance, they had the sharpness up full, a big no-no for film-out, and the up-rezzing was attrocious, again, to achieve the grainy / nasty / evil look they were after.

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Old January 1st, 2006, 10:07 AM   #7
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I still think it looked really good...
(Nobody in the theatre speak to me about it, and even some collegues in the film academy are surprised if I say it's shot on DV!!)
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Old January 1st, 2006, 10:15 AM   #8
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Wow. I can't quite believe that - I thought the picture quality was the worst I've ever seen for a DV to film blowup - pure headache inducing.

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Old January 1st, 2006, 11:43 AM   #9
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John,

Pardon me if i'm wrong (i quite often am), but you're not being objective at all. I mean the beginning of your message was positive and fair, and when you said this.....
Quote:
Originally Posted by John Mercer
if you're making a feature of even a million dollars and upwards then HDCAM becomes a realistic and almost mandatory option for HD.
.....I stood up and cheered as if I were at a boxing match in Vegas! That's probably the most honest uppercut punch I've heard in a while when it comes to these little camcorders. 100% true!

However, as I continued to read your summations of each camera, it became clear and concise that you obviously have an un-objective bias in favor of the JVC HD100.

You mentioned how "most extensively" you've tested & used it and how "pleased" you are with it. But apparently you haven't touched the others (i may be wrong, but thats my guess) and if you have, it sure wasn't 'extensive'. Well, I mean....if that's true, then how can you write an Objective and Fair report?
Instead you've written the longest tid-bits about how great the HD100 is out of all the other cameras paragraphs. And here's the killer.....when you mentioned "some" of the (serious if you ask me) faults it has, you made sure you mentioned how insignificant they are and how they were so easily fixed and all that. Talked about how how wonderful a $deal$ it is and how more people who own the camera like it then those that don't. How do you know that? For all you know, there are more HD100 'returns to the store' then there are people who kept them. Do you have access to some RMA information that we don't? Additionally, you mention how it's better then your DSR570 and also you talk about how it's the only true end-to-end solution and mention HD delivery on WMV format and DVD players and all that.

John, I thought you were " ignoring the NLE and HD distribution mess "??? But you made sure to mention how great it is for the JVC. Wassup with that John?

So now when it comes to the other cameras, when you mention a fault (if you call it that) then that's that, no excuses for these guys? The poor little Sony got all of 2 lines for his so-called review and half of those 2 lines were talking about the sony deck and not the camera! lol You made sure to mention the Canon and what it's not and how it lacks a deck and how its a much higher price and all that. And lord, the Panasonic....you mentioned all kindsa bad stuff about that awesome camera. Cumbersome P2 and handycam formfactor (as if thats a bad thing) and gave crazy expensive prices on post production gear for it and simply summed it up as "Oh Well". Where's those excuses and 'work-a-rounds' for these cameras that you objectively gave the JVC? *shaking my head*

I think the only person that can give a true and fairly 'objective' report on these 4 cameras is someone who owns em all! Someone who has no commercial intrests with any of the companies or anything else to offer but the truth to others who are interested. I happen to own a SD camera made by all four manufactures. And I happen to own half of the HD cameras at question. All of them sitting right here with me like an Army of electronics on the shelf ready to attack. I may pick up a third HD camera if I can find someone who has one in stock (been unsuccessful so far)......and even then....I don't think I can be truly OBJECTIVE and UNBIASED if I don't own and operate ALL FOUR. Therefore, I simply praise the ones I got and give my heavily biased opinion on the ones I don't.

Now John, don't get me wrong, I value your opinion, but I don't think its fair to post a topic and then try and protect it under the banner of 'objectivity' and 'non-attack' of any manaufacturer, but then notify us that it's followed by your own personal preference and end up praising the one you've used the 'most extensively'. lol Well John, that just oxy-moronish if you ask me. *smile* Especially considering you don't even own one.

I'm sorry, but I just had to call you on this bro.

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Old January 1st, 2006, 11:50 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Graeme Nattress
Wow. I can't quite believe that - I thought the picture quality was the worst I've ever seen for a DV to film blowup - pure headache inducing.
Graeme,

That's because you, me and the rest of us here can't watch TV like the rest of the world anymore! and you know it! *smile*

Actors = pick out bad acting
Writers = proof read the movie as they watch it
Directors = pick out bad directing
Costume Designers = slam the wardrobe if its ugly
DP's & Camera Geeks = pick out bad lighting and picture
etc... etc...
Producers = pick out everything!

When "MIAMI VICE" comes out...I bet you won't be able to comment on the story to your regular friends because you'll be busy seeing if the HDCAM holds up in low-light. *smile*

When "Superman" comes out you'll probably bring a laptop to the movie theater to do some calculations on the Genesis camera.

I know how ya feel buddy.....it sucks to be us.

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Old January 1st, 2006, 01:41 PM   #11
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Shannon, you're spot on right my friend! The more you get into this biz, the more educated you become about film and TV, the more you can spot the errors, mistakes and qualities.

Film viewing for me was ruined the day a friend pointed out the que dots, and how to tell if the movie whas shot flat or anamorphic. From then on, it's just down hill.

I barely watch TV at all these days. Most TV I watch is "classic" TV from the 50s onwards which I watch for pure enjoyment.

Graeme
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Old January 1st, 2006, 02:15 PM   #12
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Hi John,

I want to Thank You for your comment regarding the "infighting" as well as your thoughts on the four cameras.

I'm just starting out and I'm not very technical, so I like to hear what people with a lot of experience think.

I'm wondering why Andomeda wasn't included in your comparison?

And what your thoughts are on the Andomeda mod?

http://www.reel-stream.com/

There is something about the look of those Andomeda images that I just love.

Am I wrong in thinking that Andomeda should be part of this discussion?

Anyone care to comment?

Thanks
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Old January 1st, 2006, 08:35 PM   #13
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Hi Shannon,

"I'm sorry, but I just had to call you on this bro."

You are quite right - reading back my comments it does seem biased in favour of the JVC - it was not intended to be so, it's just that again you are right I have had more hands on experience with it. But I think I was saying you can make an informed choice in the absence of owning all four - how would you make an initial purchase otherwise? Do you need to own all four and then send back the three you don't like? My point was that there is very very little to choose between these camcorders in terms of quality - it only remains to choose based on feature set that is more useful for you - that IS market choice, but infighting and slagging off other makes is a) way over the top compared to the true flaws and B) detrimental to market variety.

I also purposely drew attention myself to the obvious and inevitable contradiction in some of what I was saying.

As a matter of fact I haven't settled on buying any make yet though I really do like both the Canon and JVC - I don't really like a camera that has no interchangeable lens and handy cam form factor, sorry that's just me, and so I think that would rule out both the SONY and the HVX200. The Canon has one big problem for me in that there is NO deck that can feed 24f to any NLE, and I really don't like using the camera as a deck. So yes I am veering towards the JVC for the reasons outlined, but that still doesn't alter the central theme of what I was saying - Yes I can't be anything but subjective because I have my own preferences but the differences between these cameras is not worth the mudslinging and as a community we should celebrate the choice rather than hack it all down for what are almost negligble differences.

Hi Graeme,

"Because they intentionally degraded the quality of the footage to achieve the look they wanted. It was deliberately made to look really bad, and indeed, it did look really bad. For instance, they had the sharpness up full, a big no-no for film-out, and the up-rezzing was attrocious, again, to achieve the grainy / nasty / evil look they were after."

No I don't think they intentionally degraded it - it is just the reality of 4:3 frame mode SD cropped to widescreen. The XL1 is quite soft to start with, add frame mode and crop it too and then you've actually got something like 50% PAL vertical resolution. On DVD, despite this, it looks very good and carefully composed and shot - in the cinema it looked soft - I think they tried their very best to make it look as good as they could. My point was this was a $15 million movie that used DV not as a home movie device but as a legitimate shooting choice.
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Old January 1st, 2006, 11:42 PM   #14
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John

Ok...I feel ya. We should in fact be more helpful then hurtful. Thank goodness for people like you who can referee some others (even me sometmes).

Happy New Year.

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Old January 2nd, 2006, 12:23 AM   #15
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$15M for 28 Days just didn't sound right, so I went to check it on Wikipedia and $8M seems more like it (5 million British Pounds).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/28_days_later

I actually thought 28 Days looked pretty good, albeit quite videoish. In other words I do agree with Shannon in that we nitpick a lot (look at me challenging John's opinion on 28 Days Later budget) so we don't let little things go. From interviews I read with Danny Boyle it seems he opted for using DV in order to give it a fake documentary look. Not that people were supposed to think it was a real documentary, instead he just wanted the film to visually resemble one.

As to the JVC bias, well I have to be with John on this one. After so much and so exaggerated bad publicity given to this camera it's good to have its owners defending it a bit. I also feel his points about the XL-H1 and HVX200 are good although it's obvious he didn't give so much info because he doesn't own these.

Let's face it - The Sony looks highly videoish and CF24 is crap; The JVC has issues (namely SSE and CA); The Canon is expensive and has no true 24p; The Panny is going to be a new ground (and therefore possibly harder) to walk on. In the end they're all going to die suddenly when Red comes out. *

But if Mr. Boyle made a film that cashed in $60M bucks shooting with a XL1, no matter which HD cam we use we don't so much to worry about image quality but instead having as good produciton values has he did.


* Just kidding. I think.
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