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Sony HVR-V1 / HDR-FX7
Pro and consumer versions of this Sony 3-CMOS HDV camcorder.


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Old January 13th, 2007, 08:53 AM   #1
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First Shoot with V1U

This is going to be a fairly long post, but I think it might be useful to those considering purchasing a V1U. I just returned from a 4-day shoot in Nicaragua. The video is about a coffee cooperative that is helping improve the lives of small coffee farmers. It was a grueling 12 hour a day schedule with lots of variability and last minute changes. I own a DVX-100, so some of my comparisons are based on that.

Bottom line, the V1U is a great camera with sharp images that could have been very great if they had put a wider lens on it. There are some features I thought I was going to use and didn't. And others that I didn't think I needed that came in very handy.

Image Quality – The image quality is really very good. I was a little concerned when shooting that skin tones looked a little green to my eye, however upon playing back on a more accurate monitor the red component is stronger than it shows on the camera’s LCD. The progressive scan is indispensible in my opinion and that is the greatest selling point of this camera. A progressive scan image will always look sharper than a similar interlaced image. For me 30P is the format of choice. The Cinegamma looks pretty good. However I wish setting 1 was actually setting 2 and there was one in between setting1 and off. For really contrasty scenes, I found that it made shadows and faces too dark. So basically I setup camera profiles to turn on and off the Cinegamma. I never used setting 2. Other than that and turning on and off Skin Tone Detail, I didn’t find the camera adjustments in the profiles offered enough tweakability to be really useful.

LCD, Viewfinder and Camera Info Display – The flip-out LCD is quite good. That being said it’s not real easy to focus accurately while shooting live. It seems to not put enough red in the image, so that skin tones can look a little green. The viewfinder I found mostly useless. The image is too small to really effectively focus. In bright light you can use it in a pinch. But, I almost exclusively used the LCD with a sunshade. Mostly I liked the camera info display, however there were a few things that annoyed me. I would have liked to be able to get rid of the info at the top left and keep the TC numbers. Also the biggest annoyance was that after focusing, the focal length reading disappears after a few seconds. Of almost anything else on the screen, I want to be able to see the focal length the entire time I’m recording. I found myself just moving the focus slightly so I could see where it was at. Sony didn’t think clearly on that one. Another annoyance is that the LCD doesn’t show an edge to edge picture. This made sense in SD when you knew stuff was going to get cropped off by the end viewers TV. However, with HD 16:9, almost all displays show the entire picture. You have to be very careful that stuff doesn’t poke in just outside of your LCD display. I used the AllScan for interviews. But for B-Roll shooting, the image is too small in that mode.

Lens – To me this is the weakest part of the camera. Why Sony thought a 38mm (I think in 35mm equivalents) lens was wide enough is beyond me. Making the lens 32mm would have lost almost nothing at the telephoto end, but would have done wonders at the wide end. I do plan to get the adapter, however that will loose light, add time to setup and in general is not a very elegant solution. Even with the “wide” adapter it will only go down to 32mm. I’d call that “normal angle” not “wide angle”. To get a really wide angle you’d have to have a .65 adapter. There were many times during the shoot that I really needed a wider angle. And in general many of the shots would have been more dynamic if I had had a slightly wider angle. I felt very constrained by this. The focus ring worked pretty well. Although I found it much easier to deal with when macro was off. With macro on, the focus changed too fast to be able to finely adjust. The Expanded Focus wasn’t as handy as I thought. I generally just found it easier to zoom in and focus, then zoom out. If you could use it while recording, it would be indispensible. The one area it is handy, is when you’re shooting in macro. The momentary auto-focus never seemed to work for me. Whenever I pushed it, it always seemed to focus to infinity regardless of what I was shooting. I’ll have to play around with that some more. The iris wheel was easy to make fine adjustments with. During interviews I had to ride the iris during answers to adjust for sunlight going behind clouds and coming out again. I would have never gotten it as smooth with my DVX-100. I’d prefer to have the option of a servo-less zoom for really rapid zooms. You can get pretty fast with the servo zoom, but not fast enough for those cool instantaneous zooms. The depth-of-field definitely felt deeper than the DVX-100 that I’m used to. For interviews I moved the camera about 15 feet away from the subject. With a distant background you could get it very soft. With a closer background, it never got very soft. That being said, deep depth of field is great for B-Roll when you’re not confident about your focus, which I rarely am with a 3.5” LCD.

Low-light Performance – I expected worse. I was shooting in a shack that had no electricity and was lit with only sunlight coming through the door and cracks in the siding. I really needed that LCD light! However, I was pleasantly surprised that the images came out quite useable. One advantage of progressive scan is that you can use a shutter at 1/30th of a second. For indoor shooting, it was always on that. I found that 3db of gain was pretty good, 6db was iffy, but still useable. Anything more ruined the image and should only be used when what you're shooting is of such interest that image quality doesn’t matter. I also found with low-light turning Cinegamma off can help brighten the scene. Dark areas of the picture can also start to look a little soft. I don’t know if that’s a function of the HDV codec or not.

Audio – The location of the XLR jacks is a little ackward, but not terrible. Sony put on some nice little cable clips to keep your cables neat. Auto-mode sounds terrible and I would never use it. Instead of auto levels I wish Sony had put a limiter on it instead. Then you could be less stressed out about clipping and record your levels a little hotter. The wind filter came in handy as we were taping in some VERY windy conditions. Instead of the stock shotgun mic, I used a Rode NT-5 mounted in the holder to record ambient sound. Shotguns are not particularly accurate for ambience. And the stock one is not too good. I’ll probably eventually get an M-S condenser like the Shure VP-88 or a stereo shotgun.

Miscellaneous – Originally I thought I was going to use the Shot Transition feature. However, it just seemed to take too long to setup and I really wanted faster speeds than the 3.5 sec minimum. That being said, I think there are situations where it could be quite useful. Just try adjusting focus, iris, zoom and white balance all at the same time manually. Also Shot Transition takes away 3 of your programmable buttons, and I really needed them. The programmable buttons I found indispensible were – Steadyshot, Macro On/Off, Allscan, End Search, Rec Review.

I don’t particularly like how the white balance, gain and shutter buttons work. I found myself accidentally putting them in auto-mode by pushing on them again when I wanted to make an adjustment. So for example if you adjust the shutter, then five minutes later decide you want to adjust it again, if you push the shutter button it goes into auto-mode because it was already in the “shutter mode”. I don’t even know why anyone would want “auto-shutter.” White Balance I found cumbersome. You have to know the right combination of keys to push and it’s not real intuitive. The DVX-100 had a much better white balance system. The pleasant surprise with White Balance was the preset mode. I never thought in reading the manual that I would use it. For most of the time I was shooting B-Roll, I left the White Balance in daylight preset. Then with the menu wheel I could adjust the Kelvin point up or down with +/- 7 steps. So basically I could ride the white balance. I could match shooting with the sun and shooting against the sun by a simple turn of the wheel. I could use adjust the warmth of the image very quickly. With the DVX-100 I used multiple camera presets to do this, but this is actually a better way.

Battery life was great. I have 3 NP-F970 batteries and only ever used one and a half in a day. I also bought the BC-V500 charger that was nice and compact. With that and two batteries you are golden for a long day of shooting.

So I was pleasantly surprised about the quality I got out of the camera. If you’re considering this camera, I would not even think about it without getting the Wide Angle Conversion Lens. Just add that $500 to your purchasing decision. Hopefully within a week I’ll get some clips and stills up.

Last edited by Brett Sherman; January 13th, 2007 at 01:40 PM.
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Old January 13th, 2007, 09:27 AM   #2
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Thanks for sharing to observations Brett. It's funny, but aside from its lack of progressive scan it sounds like the Z1 would have addressed many of your complaints. I think it's hard to please everyone when it comes to the focal length on fixed lens camcorders. The Z1 is regularly criticized for its lack of a more powerful telephoto end :-)
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Old January 13th, 2007, 09:59 AM   #3
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Know just what you mean about the focal lengths chosen by Sony (and every other camcorder manufacturter in this sector come to that). But the fact remains that it's difficult and therfore expensive to make a genuine wide to tele zoom, especially one that's fast, sharp, avoids barrel and pincushion distortions and all sorts of other colour fringing nasties.

So they all make this mild wide-angle to super telephoto, and those that fit 35x zooms (the new Canons) do the same thing - ending up with telephoto reach that tests even very expensive tripod heads, let alone the EIS.

But I take issue with you over your asumption that Sony's wide-angle converter will 'lose light'. Of course any 3 or 4 element multi-coated add-on will lose maybe 0.5% of the light, but this tiny part of a stop shouldn't be one of the factors that puts you off using it. Of course for a number of reasons (distortion, light loss, centering etc) a single element aspheric is the way to go.

But I do agree that attaching a converter lens adds hassle, time and inconvienience, and that it's 'not a very elegant solution'. But it does mean we all get cheaper, sharper, nore compact V1s, and those that plan to shoot wild wideangle can go about their own business.

Considering the hassle of carrying and fitting a wide-angle converter, I'd say that your plans to go for a 0.65x aren't brave enough. I always reckon a 0.5x is the way to go - that way you can always zoom up to the 0.65x position should you want that framing.

Can't believe Sony haven't given us a full v'finder readout of its underscan mode. They must've hard the Z1 folks yelling about this one, surely.

tom.
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Old January 13th, 2007, 11:46 AM   #4
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The Canon A1 has the lens that I would have wanted, which is 32mm at the wide end, but also a 20x. But even 16x would've been adequate for me. I wouldn't expect a camera at this level much wider 32mm, but that's a huge difference from 38mm. I realize that lens design is a tricky business, but Canon seems to have gotten it correct -- at least for my needs. If Canon can do it, why can't Sony?
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Old January 13th, 2007, 12:18 PM   #5
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Thanks for the Review!

Brett,

I thank you for this extensive and very detailed review of the V1U from your perspective. This will help me make the decision between the V1U & XH-A1 much easier.

regards,
Juan
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Old January 13th, 2007, 04:09 PM   #6
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Brett, thank you for that very honest review. It's nice to hear an opinion that is based on real work, and not just 20 minutes in the back yard! (not that those aren't valuable too).

Just out of interest, was it the "Coffee Kids" organization you were working with?
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Old January 14th, 2007, 10:46 AM   #7
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No it wasn't "Coffee Kids". It's a non-profit , I'd rather not say without their permission.
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Old January 14th, 2007, 10:51 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brett Sherman
No it wasn't "Coffee Kids". It's a non-profit , I'd rather not say without their permission.
Of course, no problem. :-)
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Old January 14th, 2007, 01:09 PM   #9
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I've been playing around with my work's V1U, and I have to agree with your assessment on the white balance, gain, shutter, and iris buttons. Because of its compact size, everything seems to be in the way. :) But this may be because I'm so use to the FX1 and the Z1, which may falsely make the buttons seem counter-intuitive to me. I also don't like how overriding these settings seems more difficult. In the Z1, I could change any of the gain or iris without affecting each other too much. Now, depending on the settings you have, changing one will change the other. And the mic that came with the V1U absolutely blows.

And I really loved the location of the viewfinder on the FX1 and the Z1. Really worked for me. I could turn the viewfinder anyway I want -- even slightly upside down for use with a 35mm adapter. Plus it was in the right place for me (near the front and on the top), which was surprisingly versatile for the crazy shots I sometimes have to get.

But these are just my quick observations is from only a day of experimenting. Basically I just need to experiment more. Oh, and perhaps, I should sit down and RTFM. :) But it seems to be written in a different version of English than the one I'm used to.

That being said, the 24p absolutely rocks.
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Old January 14th, 2007, 05:21 PM   #10
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I actually like the LCD position on the V1U better. I can use it for "Don Juan" style (basically shooting backwards over your left shoulder) when using the Steadicam. I just flip it around 180 degrees and snap it back in to the side. I don't think I could do it with the Z1 style LCD, it's too far forward in the camera. But to each their own.
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Old January 14th, 2007, 06:51 PM   #11
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Very comprehensive and useful real-world summary Brett.


Just one thing:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brett Sherman
Even with the “wide” adapter it will only go down to 32mm. I’d call that “normal angle” not “wide angle”.
With Sonys 0.8x lens on the V1, it gives a 29.9mm focal length (35mm equiv), not 32mm.
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