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Sony ENG / EFP Shoulder Mounts
Sony PDW-F800, PDW-700, PDW-850, PXW-X500 (XDCAM HD) and PMW-400, PMW-320 (XDCAM EX).


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Old July 14th, 2008, 11:26 AM   #1
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PDW-700, HDW-790, EX1 and F350 all on one shoot

An interesting weekend!

We had the full range of Sony cameras to film both the Royal International Air Tatoo and Flying Legends at Duxford. Unfortunately RIAT got cancelled when the car parks became flooded by rain, so I we ended up with almost everyone and the pick of the kit covering the Duxford airshow. At Duxford we had one HDW790, PDW700, PDW-F350, EX1 and the great Phil Bloom with his EX1 and Letus.

The difference between the 790, 700 and EX1 is remarkably small. On the day the 790 seems to have produced the best looking images, but the 790 had some very nice Paint and Gamma settings. We tried to match the other cameras to the 790 and got very, very close, given more time we think we could make the 700 look as good as, if not better than the 790. The 700 has a very similar menu structure to the HDCAM cameras and the paint settings include various gamma curves and gamma adjustments as well as step gamma. In addition there are all the usual matrix settings, detail and knee adjustments.
Lens choice for the 700 seems critical we used a range of HD lenses including a Canon 44x, and a Canon Wide.

The PDW-700 was much as I expected, a very nice competent camera producing nicely balanced, pin sharp pictures. The professional disc workflow is delightful, although I have to say the transfers from the camera seem slow, guess the larger 50Mbps files account for that. The HDVF-20A viewfinder is clear and sharp with a wide range of peaking adjustment that helps make focusing easier. The microphone supplied by Sony was a ECM-680S which is a stereo/mono switchable gun mic. This is a long microphone and this could give matte box users a small problem as it protrudes a long way from the mount.

A lot of the time we were filming aircraft against a sky filled with bright cumulus clouds. Both the PDW-700 and EX1 handheld the extreme contrast range very well. One nice feature of the PDW-700 is the ability to programme the response of the iris, a function very useful when filming aircraft.

The EX1 once again stunned everyone. Including Dave Crute, a discerning DOP that until now has always considered small form factor HD cameras to be "toys". Dave is now looking to add an EX1 to his kit list. In many cases it is difficult to see the difference between the EX1 and the PDW700. We stuck the EX1 on a lightweight telescope pan and tilt head to do some panning timelapse shots, we put it on the end of a microphone boom pole to get overhead shots of the aircraft, we used it in a "follow me" car to get tracking shots of taxiing planes. It even went up in a B17 bomber to film air to air shots of a classic Mustang fighter. You just couldn't get those shots with a full size camera.

I have to congratulate Sony on these two cameras. Together they are the perfect combination for just about any kind of shoot. The PDW-700 gives you the ability to take a wide range of industry standard lenses and accessories. The professional disc system is robust and fool proof. The EX1 is a go anywhere, do anything camera that does not sacrifice quality for size and weight. In the right hands it produces beautiful picture that can rival and in many cases exceed far more expensive cameras. With tools like these there is no reason why anyone should not be able to produce beautiful images in even the most demanding of situations.

The pictures from the F350 just don't have the subtle detail of the EX1 and PDW700. The F350 pictures still cut together fine with the EX1 and 700 pictures in the majority of cases. However if you do a side by side, same shot comparison the F350 looks a little more enhanced or electronic. Turning the detail down reduces the enhanced look but the images start to look soft compared to the PDW-700. Don't get me wrong the F350 produces a good picture but you can definitely see the extra resolution of both the EX1 and PDW-700. The one area where the PDW-700 excels is in the detail in highly saturated parts of the image. Grass for example looks more natural from the PDW-700 than the HDCAM or the EX1 or F350. This is no surprise as the PDW-700 has full 4:2:2 sampling.
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Old July 14th, 2008, 11:51 AM   #2
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Don't say that, I've just ordered an F355!!!

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Old July 14th, 2008, 12:06 PM   #3
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I'm just about to buy an EX3, but I won't be getting rid of my F350. The F350/F355 is still a good work horse. The pictures are excellent and I prefer the Disc based workflow over the SxS workflow (either is sooo much better than tape!). The EX1 and F350 are different animals and both have strengths and weaknesses. The f350 has cache record, CCD's shoots SD and HD, and is a proper shoulder mount. On the other hand the EX1 is higher resolution, smaller and lighter. It really depends on what you need the camera for. I would suggest that for corporate work or work where you must hand over your material the F350/F355 is the better bet, while for in-house projects the EX1 might be a better choice. It is not a simple choice. If it was purely a picture quality choice I would go with the PDW-700 first, EX1 or EX3 second then F350. But if I could have only one camera and the 700 is too expensive then I think it would have be the F350/F355 as it is possibly a better all-round camera. I still need a camera that can shoot SD and my clients like to walk away with the Discs.
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Old July 14th, 2008, 12:08 PM   #4
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Thanks Alister, for sharing your impressions from your shoot. I had heard rumors there were some problems with the PDW 700 and B&H has pushed back the arrival date for the camera so its good to hear about it. Its also great to hear about the EX1 intercutting so well with the other formats as I am quite interested in the EX1 & EX3.

Thanks again

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Old July 14th, 2008, 12:41 PM   #5
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I think the PDW-700 problem is that the demand has far exceeded Sony's expectations and they just can't fulfill the orders. I believe most of the first batch are going to China for the Olympics.

I don't think there is anything revolutionary about the 700. It is just a very good match of an excellent camera head with the flexibility and robustness of XDCAM HD. Bringing the data rate up to 50Mb and using 4:2:2 sampling makes the whole package a really good one.

Looking again at the pictures from the weekend I find it hard to fault the camera. It really does do what it says on the tin very well with little fuss. If I could afford one I would have already handed over the cash. I am sure I will be hiring 700's for all my high end productions. I can't really see why anyone would now buy an HDCAM camera. The PDW-700 appears have the potential to optically out perform HDCAM with the added advantage of file based workflow, tight NLE integration and incredibly robust media.
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Old July 14th, 2008, 01:26 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alister Chapman View Post
It is not a simple choice.
Yeah, tell me! Those damn little bastards! ;-)

Thanks for sharing this review.
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Old July 14th, 2008, 01:46 PM   #7
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Don't say that, I've just ordered an F355!!!
Don't worry! I'm also getting a new one shortly. After trying them all, the 700, 355 and EX1, I still will be getting a new 355. The 700 is like Alister says a fantastic camera. But too expensive for the things I'm doing at the moment. The EX1 is also a wonderful camera, but I just hate to shoot with those small handheld things. They make me nervous. All those little controls and knobs. I owned an EX1 and sold it again after two weeks because I did not feel comfortable with it. Too heavy for handheld shooting. And in your hands it is the most worst balanced camera ever! So that leaves me with the 355. If i need higher quality I'll rent a 700. It's very difficult to buy a new camera or other high-end electronics these days. That world is just changing too fast. That's why I'm renting for several months now. ;-)
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Old July 14th, 2008, 02:01 PM   #8
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The other problem is that a lot of the broadcast clients now have their own kit, so that even if you spent a fortune on gear they'd want to use their own. There seems to be very little interest by broadcasters in XDCam still, even the PDW700 hasn't been talked about, it's still all HDCam and (for wildlife especially) Varicam. I'm still not sure about the long GOP compression on the PDW700 (not that I've tried one yet), but when you factor in the extra lines of resolution and the colour space over the F350 it's probably about the same compression ratio. HDCam, tape though it still is, is stil I-frame at 144 mb/sec, and it's that rate for a reason. I still think that when it comes to fast motion subjects the long GOP schemes will always struggle. But I'm no engineer and am prepared to be proved wrong!
I've bought the F355 mainly just for personal stuff, I know that 99% of my broadcast work will still be HDCam/Varicam for a good while to come.

Steve
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Old July 14th, 2008, 03:02 PM   #9
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In the corporate world I have seen a very steady increase in the use of XDCAM HD. I now have many clients that use XDCAM HD as their format of choice. I think the introduction of the 700 will greatly increase the take up of XDCAM HD as a format. The PDW 700 is the camera many broadcasters have been waiting for. 4:2:2, full raster, 2/3" B4 lens mount, file based, cheap re-useable media. That's what many have been looking for for some time. This can only be good news for the users of the F350/F330 cameras as the 50Mb players and drives such as the U1 will also work with 35Mbps XDCAM HD and editors and producers will soon learn the advantages of file based workflows and not want to go back to tape. A well exposed or well lit, well composed, in focus image from a F350 will still look better than a badly shot 700 shot. Taken in isolation the pictures from the F350 etc looks very good. You only really see the difference in side by side, like for like shots.

When it comes to compression the numbers never tell the true story. I wont disagree that HDCAM is less compressed than XDCAM, but long GOP is not the work of the Devil as some would have you believe. 50Mb 4:2:2 XDCAM certainly appears on paper to have the same compression ratio as 35Mb 4:2:0 XDCAM and looking at the pictures from the 700 what I see is much better colour reproduction, which again is to be expected. I also see an improvement in resolution, but I expect that comes from the better front end and the simple fact that it records full raster.

As for compression artifacts due to the long GOP's. Well my experience is that the XDCAM HD version of MPEG II is very robust. It is NOT HDV. It isn't an editing codec, I would not want create several generations of XDCAM HD, instead using something like ProRes or un-compressed but it is IMHO a very good acquisition codec offering a good picture quality at a sensible bit rate.

I and hundreds of others at IBC, NAB and other events have watched my edited footage projected using a 4K projector onto screens 11m across. Even at that size the footage (from my F350) looks good and not that dissimilar to the film sequences shown before and after. No-one has ever complained or even commented about artifacts, soft pans or any other so called long GOP issues. I expect the PDW700 set up right would look simply stunning on a big screen.
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Old July 14th, 2008, 03:27 PM   #10
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Interestingly, once the PDW700 gets its 720/50P "upgrade" in autumn (apparently) it will actually be the only realistically priced camera that will do both 1080 and 720/50P at a good resolution, making it a catch-all camera for wildlife production; for regular 25fps work, scenics, interviews etc., you can use 1080/25P, for slomo you can switch to 720 and do 50 or 60P. The HPX3000 only does 1080, the Varicam 3700 only does 1080 to 30fps, the F900 only does 1080 to 30fps, the Varicam 2700 does 60P but only in the 720. You have to go to the F23 to get 1080/60P, and the price and size of the unit is just unreachable to even large TV productions.
So, assuming the compression does its job, it could well be a killer cam. I like the disc media, wasn't sure to begin with but it does seem to be the best of both worlds; an archive plus a drag and drop format, delete individual clips in the field etc. And by all account (including Wade Fairley in the Antarctic) it's pretty robust too.
I'm going to play with the F355 and if it's not satisfying me may well hook it up to a Flash XDR and see how that looks. BUT unless it's a massive improvement I'd prefer to shoot to disc to be honest.
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Old July 14th, 2008, 10:38 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Alister Chapman View Post
The HDVF-20A viewfinder is clear and sharp with a wide range of peaking adjustment that helps make focusing easier.
Isn't it though! I really wish this viewfinder could be mated to my F350. *sigh*

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Old July 15th, 2008, 02:20 AM   #12
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Greg, I gather the viewfinder output on the F350 is SD so even if you could adapt the plug (which you probably could) it still wouldn't be as good as on the PDW700.
Steve
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Old July 15th, 2008, 02:27 AM   #13
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interesting Alister, I didn't know you were planing on going to RIAT, I had tickets for Sun, shame it was cancelled :( was this for the organizers or Sony etc? Is the footage going to be available somewhere ?

Paul.
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Old July 15th, 2008, 02:53 AM   #14
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RIAT was to be for the official DVD of the show. Although the show got cancelled we did on the Friday get to shoot the Raptor close up on the ground and doing it's display practice which was very impressive. Then when RIAT got cancelled I joined another crew covering Flying Legends at Duxford, again for another official DVD shoot. This was NOT a Sony job, it's just that at the moment Sony (for me at least) have the best offerings of cameras with low cost HD workflow.

Steve: I've taken the HD-SDi from my F350 and recorded it uncompressed to compare with the 35Mb compressed. To be honest I didn't really see that much of a difference, I think you will be surprised at how good the XDCAM codec is. I'm sure that recording to a Flash XDR or similar at 100Mbps MPEG II will have less artifacts and so be more robust over multiple generations but it isn't a big difference.

IMHO the biggest difference between the F350 and PDW-700 is not the 50Mbps codec but the better CCD's and optics.
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Old July 15th, 2008, 03:30 AM   #15
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Thanks Alister, I was hoping someone had done that test, very interesting.
Steve
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