Jon Fordham's HDR-FX1 Review at DVinfo.net

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Sony HVR-Z1 / HDR-FX1
Pro and consumer versions of this Sony 3-CCD HDV camcorder.


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Old January 5th, 2005, 01:20 PM   #1
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Jon Fordham's HDR-FX1 Review

As many of you may recall, in November of 2003 I was asked by Heath McKnight to put his JVC jy-HD10u next to the Panasonic aj-HDC27F (Varicam) while shooting the film ď3 DaysĒ (now called ďCleansingĒ) for Illusions Entertainment. At the time, Heath and I had been discussing my involvement with his upcoming feature film 9:04 AM and we were both interested in testing our working relationship on a small short film shoot during the 2003 Holidays. Heath wanted to shoot the short film with his HD10 and I welcomed the opportunity to take the camera for a spin. In preparation for that shoot, Heath sent his HD10 to me in NY so that I could become familiar with it prior to jumping into production with it as the primary camera and asked that I write an article that chronicled my experiences with the camera during that test period for the DV Info community.

As a Cinematographer I am always eager to learn the new tools that are, or may become available to me to practice and perform my craft. And as a Cinematographer, I must be familiar with the available tools to responsibly report to producers and directors what is and is not suitable for a particular production and/or application. By putting a new tool, such as the HD10 (vs. DVX100A review here), next to a tool that I am already familiar with, like the HDC27F Varicam or the DVX100A, I can get an idea of where the performance of the new tool is falling. I know I have stated this before, but I feel it is an important point to make for anybody reading this article as it should give you a clear understanding of my motivations and points of interest.

For those of you who have not taken the time to read the series of articles regarding my experiences with the HD10, I recommend you do so. You may find them of interest as they formed the foundation on which I approached my testing of the new Sony HDR-FX1. (Editor's note: find them here.)

To recap my HD10 experiences...

I was disappointed with the performance of the HD10. While the camera and format did provide some positive possibilities, I found that the overall design of the camera was flawed and lacking in what I would consider the basic nescesities. Why JVC chose to design and market a ďprofesionalĒ camcorder without full manual control is beyond me. I have always thought of JVC as a manufacturer that built a decent and reliable camcorder for an affordable price. Thier jy-DV500u and subsequent models rival the image quality of Sonyís DSR-300. And to this day, the DV500 remains a workhorse of the industrial videography crowd. JVC was even generous enough to loan me thier jy-DV700u widescreen ďCine-LineĒ camcorder in 2002 for a demo shoot. I was very impressed with the image quality and performance of the DV700. Again, it wasnít a Sony DSR-500WSL. But it did offer one hell of a nice picture for an affordable price. For anyone interested in a native 16/9 2/3Ē MiniDV camera, the DV700 demands consideration. So even though the specs of the HD10 were suspect, I was hoping for better. Of course the ďwhyĒ is of no consequence at this point in time. Success or not, JVCís HD10 ultimately will go down in the history books as the first prosumer HD camcorder. And JVC does deserve the praise for introducing the first ďHDVĒ camera and ďsetting the wheel in motionĒ.

Now a full year later, Sony has grabbed the wheel and given it good hard spin.

Without too much fanfare, but plenty of buzz and expectation, the Sony HDR-FX1 hit the streets in November. Iíll admit, I even paid a visit to B&H myself that first week hoping to get a look at the camera. Unfortunately B&H didnít have one out on the floor yet...

While shooting a Super16 project on location in Westchester, Heath called me and once again asked if I would be interested in testing out the FX1 on a short film project during the Holidays. Having failed in my attempt to get a look at the camera at B&H and knowing my schedule had me booked on shoot after shoot until I was scheduled to fly to FL for the holidays, I happily said yes. Oh yeah, I guess I might as well mention that Heath is a friend, I have agreed to come on board his upcoming feature, and what else was I going to do between teaching a couple classes at the Palm Beach Film School and enjoying the warmer Florida weather! Besides, itís a $3,500 HD camera from Sony. Who wouldnít want to take it for a spin?

I first got my hands on the FX1 a full 3 days prior to the shoot. Let me just take the time right now to say that the FX1 is damn sexy! The pictures youíve seen just donít do it justice. And it feels quite nice as well. Itís not ridiculously heavy, yet it doesnít lack weight. It does feel plastic, yet not cheap. Unfortunately due to my Christmas schedule I only had minimal time to really get a feel for the camera and shoot a few test shots. Thankfully, the FX1 is a Sony through and through. For anyone who has solid experience with Sonyís 3 chip DV camcorders, you shouldnít have any trouble getting used to the FX1 in a short period of time.

Like the legendary VX1000, the tape transport door is on the operatorís left side. For those of you who havenít touched a VX1000 in years and have become very acustomed to the left side flip out LCD on the subsequent VX2000, PD, TRV, DVX, etc, etc, youíll probrably do the same thing I did over and over: Reach for the LCD and thumb around on the door a time or two before remembering that the LCD is located on the top of the camera. I first found the LCD placement strange to say the least. But after getting use to it, the LCD placement is actually a comfortable fit for shooting. Even for guys like myself who arenít taller than average, most will end up with the LCD tilted up and looking down while shooting with a PD170 or DVX100A. You get use to it. But having an LCD at the top of the camera where you can more easily see the action with your peripheral is a much better way working. Having alot of experience with top mounted LCDís on HD and Film cameras (which are sometimes just as akwardly placed), it didnít take too much time to adjust to the location of the FX1íís LCD. Wheather itís a better design for the camera remains to be seen for two reasons. One, I felt like the LCD was in a fragile place. I doubt itís in any more physical danger than any other flip out LCD. But not being use to the placement it felt like it might be harms way more often than not. And two, with the near endless array of accessories and add ons from dozens of manufacturers for the established placement of the LCD on the VX2K, PD, TRV, DVX, etc, did we really need to be thrown a curve by a camera that requires a whole new set of adapters and accessories? I get that the point of business is to make money. And the more accessories, add ons, and adapters you can dream up and sell the more money you make. Certainly the prosumer video realm can and often is a high turnover, high volume, money maker for some manufacturers. In my opinion the best strategy for design and marketing a new product for maximum appeal is one that produces a product that not only offers new features and superior quality, but is also compatible with the customers existing tool set.

Compatibility with my existing tool set came on the FX1 in the form of a 72mm thread mount. For owner/operators of the XL and DVX series of cameras, you shouldnít have any trouble using your 72mm accessories on the FX1. EXCEPT, that the Sony lens hood and on-board mic placement will restrict how many and what size those accessories are. The FX1ís lens hood and its eyebrow lens cap design only allow enough room for a single 72mm screw on filter. And as reported and lively discussed on the DVi boards, matte box use is difficult if not impossible due to the on-board mic protruding so far out from the front of the camera. My set of P series Cokin filters and modular lens hood did fit the camera with no problem. And though not the worst way of working, using resin filters for HD acquisition is certainly less than desirable. Even it is only HDV... For diffusion or effects filtering, resin filters such as the Cokin P series with modular lens hood should be perfectly acceptable. But for color filtering where you donít desire any possibility of softening or accentuating the diffusion you are already employing, glass filters are a better choice. Not to mention that since the FX1 employs a 1/3Ē chipset, itís much more likely that the inevitable scratches that befall resin filters will be visible due to the inherint depth of field.
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Old January 5th, 2005, 01:23 PM   #2
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The lens hood and on-board mic placement are certainly an annoyance. Especially when compared to the DVX100A and XL2. Neither of which have any trouble mounting multiple filters and can easily accept a variety existing of matteboxes. The ability to mount a quality 4x4 mattebox is serious issue for shooters who work with a variety of cameras and lens types. I have a healthy of set of 4x4 filters that I use with everything from a DVX100A and HDW-F900 to an Aaton Minima and Arri S16. Limiting my ability to use my set of 4x4ís, limits my tools available to me as a cinematographer. Some days itís nice to just walk on set and not have to worry about being MacGyver all day just to get the shot you want. It only takes a few frustrating minutes of applying and then ripping wads of gaff tape and black wrap off a $30,000 Fuji HD-EC zoom before the AC has to hold my arms back from clamping maffers and cartolliniís to the damned thing! The FX1ís 72mm thread mount is a step in the right direction. I just hope Sony puts a little more thought into designing the next HDV modelís lens front. I mean seriously, how hard would it have been for them to make sure that the eyebrows were set and opened far enough apart to attach more than one filter?

Another nice point of compatibility on the FX1 is the type of batteries the camera uses. The FX1 accepts the same NP-F batteries as the VX2K/2100, PD150/70, TRV900, PD100, and other Sony camcorders. This was a real lifesaver for me as the unit I was given for testing only had the token battery that ships with the camera. And unfortunately the FX1 sucks power! I mean it really burns through a battery fast! Fortunately, I had a Sony NP-F950 left over from the days when I was using the VX2K and PD150 regularly. On a VX2K, the NP-F950 would last almost a full day of shooting. On the FX1, the NP-F950 gave me about 3-4 hours. And when compared to the DVX100A which easily gets a full day and change on my D-54ís (even when phantom powering a mic), the FX1 feels like a power hungry monster! I highly recommend that anyone venturing away from AC power with the FX1 have at least two of Sonyís NP-F970ís if you donít want to end up dead in the water.

The placement of the buttons and controls are pretty well thought out and easily accessible. The rotating iris dial eliminates the small jumps in exposure adjustment experienced on the VX2K and PD150 for smooth changes in aperture. The programmable user menu is a nice touch. It gives the user the ability to program the most used menu options into a seperate menu for quick access. And the user assignable buttons also further aid in a customized shooting experience.

During my few days of testing the camera prior to the shoot, I experimented with a variety of settings and subjects. Interlaced, CineFrame, high color saturation, B&W, sunsets,
people, ducks, lakes, and so on...

Before I get into the performance of the camera during the short film shoot, Iíd just like to thank Heath for deciding on the day, that the script he had given me, the one I had created a shot list for, the one the script had already broken down and lined in preparation, wasnít the script we were going to shoot! Thank you Keith! I mean Heath. :)

While the news of the script change sunk in, I took some time to set up the FX1 and the DVX100A in front of a Putora 7A9 chart. I did a series of three different comparison shots. DVX in 60i and 30P at three different focal lengths. And the FX1 at 60i and CineFrame30 at three different focal lengths. Iíll take the time to post the settings and my thoughts on this test seperately and Heath will be supplementing with still frames of the results.

After I finished up the chart test, I read the script and then went over the scene with Heath. The good news was that the script only required two setups. The bad news was that the talent had a time limit. We only had a few hours to shoot the 5 page script before the actors had to go!

The script was about three sisters having a conversation on the living room couch. While I dig Heathís living room, it was a bit drab in color tones and the walls are white. I suggested that we move the conversation into another room of the house in hopes of finding brighter colors and walls any color other than white! Heath and I finally settled on having the girls hang out in a bedroom with some nice blue walls. I breathed a sigh of relief upon the success of getting away from the white walls! The scene was INT Day. And thankfully the room had a nice large window with plenty of light coming in. I decided to use the light from the window as my Key, but at a full side light position to the talent. I then supplemented with a 1K fresnel gelled with Full CTB bounced in to fill the shadows. After switching the table lampís bulb with a bulb of a lower wattage and gelling it with 1/2 CTB, I was ready to roll.

The scene started with a girl at the window who then crossed to the bed. Knowing the sunlight pouring in would be too much for any format to handle, I made the decision to get a seperate cutaway of her and set up the master with the girl just on the edge of frame.

We used a Sony 8Ē Standard Definition CRT monitor (practicly an industry standard for field monitoring) to evaluate our image during the shoot. Certainly not as good as having an HD monitor to view the image in full resolution. But a hell of a lot better than going off an LCD. And considering that 90% (thatís a conservative number) of your audience will probrably never see the finished project in its full resolution, using an SD monitor is just as valid if not a better way of working.

With the FX1 set to output a live 480i downconverted image in anamorphic 16/9, we plugged it into the Sony 8Ē via Y/C, set the monitor for 16/9 and everything worked exactly as it was supposed to. Itís always nice when things work right the first time. Using the cameras SMPTE bars, calibrating the monitor was quick, easy, and accurate. And thanks to the user assinable buttons, bringing up the color bars was as simple as pressing a single button on the side of the camera. SMPTE split bars and access to them without navigating a menu is a welcomed change from the VX2K and PD150.

The image looked very nice on the monitor. Very clean, clear, and color accurate with just the right amount of chroma saturation for my taste. However, the sensitivity of the CCDís and lattitude capability were noticeably less than what I had hoped for. Even with sunlight pouring in from the window, and a 1K fresnel, I had to open the aperture all the way to get the shadow side of the talent (which was the direction we were looking for most of shots) at an acceptable level. And the few spots of sunlight that were hitting the wall or furniture were above 100 IRE. Like I said, sunlight pouring in would be beyond the range of most any format. But thatís when weíre talking about an actor standing at the window. There was sufficient fall off by the time the sunlight hit the wall and furniture to be in range. But alas, the FX1ís lattitude handling seems to fall a little short.

Having tested a variety of settings in the days before, I decided to set up the camera right down the middle. Color 0, phase 0, WB shift 0, skin tone DTL OFF, and the sharpness at the default setting of 11. I did not use the CinemaTone gamma setting. But I did use the CineFrame24 setting.

I decided not to use the CinemaTone gamma setting because I felt the resulting contrast was too stark for this film. Iím at a bit of a loss as to what Sonyís intention was with the CinemaTone gamma setting. To my eye, the CinemaTone gamma does clamp down on the highlights which should give you a bit more play in the upper end of your exposure. But in the process it also forces the shadows down to a much darker level. The result is an image that is more contrasty and possibly an even narrower range of lattitude. This is the complete opposite of what the DVX100Aís CineLike gamma settings do. The DVX100Aís CineLike gamma functions actually produce less contrast delivering a more even tone and actually increasing the range of lattitude.

The only thing I can think of as to what Sony means by ďCinemaToneĒ is a picture that seems richer because of the higher contrast. As a DIT, I often get asked the question, ďCan you make it look like film?Ē To which my reply is, ďYou tell me what film looks like, and Iíll make it look that way.Ē Iím not looking to get into a debate of what film looks like. Yes, I know what people are referring to when they discuss the look of film. But the reality is that Film only looks a certain way because of how itís handled. The way itís lit, exposed, processed, printed, tinted, timed, etc. And that doesnít take into consideration the many different film stocks available or todayís new DI timing process. So, what does film look like? Ask ten different people that same question and youíll get ten different answers. I suspect that Sonyís CinemaTone gamma setting is what Sony thinks film looks like.
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Old January 5th, 2005, 01:25 PM   #3
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CineFrame...

There has been alot of discussion about Sonyís CineFrame option. Iíve read plenty of explanations of what CineFrame is and how it works. The explanations range from simple one line answers like, ďitís and in camera de-interlacerĒ or the camera does a magic bullet process in cameraĒ to complex explanations complete with graphs and very technical sounding theories. The problem is, I have yet to find white papers that support any of these theories. And I havenít read any offical explanation from Sony on how it works. If anyone has white papers that verify any of the theories, claims etc, I would love to read them. Until then, Iím going to throw out my own theory based on what my eyes saw. To my eyes, Sonyís CineFrame30 appears to be using the exact same method as Canonís Frame Movie Mode of getting non interlaced frames. As I understand it, Canonís Frame Movie Mode takes one field from the Red and Blue CCD and interpolates it with one field from the Green CCD creating a single non interlaced frame. However, this method cuts vertical resolution by about 25%. Sonyís CineFrame24 looks as if itís taking those 30 non interlaced frames and just drops frames to get to 24. As everyone knows, getting to 24 frames from 30P or 30 Frame Mode produces less than ideal motion. Add to that the 2:3 pulldown of those remaining frames, and itís no wonder why CF24 produces such stuttered movement.

Now, Iíve read multiple declarations that CF24 is ďunusableĒ or that it is a ďlook filter for amateursĒ. And while I understand why such declarations would be made, I disagree. First of all, any option at your disposal is a tool that can be used to create the images you desire, regardless of how expensive or sophisticated it may or may not be. Prior to the DVX100, Canonís Frame Movie Mode was the only option available to acquire non interlaced 3 chip DV footage. And whether you were shooting for the web, sports, or just desired a motion signature that took the edge off normal interlaced video, Frame Movie Mode was used by a hell of a lot of productions. Even though the XL1 lacked enough pixels for a 1 to 1 NTSC pixel ratio and even though Frame Movie Mode was noticeably lower in quality, productions still used it to great effect.

I chose to use CF24 for two reasons. One, because during my testing I found that the stutter was not an issue when operating the camera as I would any other 24 frame capture system. Whether shooting film or digital, 24 frames per second is a frame rate that requires practice to get smooth motion. Yes, CF24 has an unnatural stutter to it. No, itís not as good as 24P. And NO, CF24 wonít be appropriate for every 24 frame project. But when CF24 is shot with care and discipline, the results are nice. Two, I always make every effort I can to do as much in camera as possible. Why? Itís the best insurance Iíve got that what ends up on the screen in the final cut is representative of the work Iíve done. While I donít doubt that Heath wouldíve followed through with some sort of smart de-interlacer, or Magic Bullet type of processing, Iíd much prefer to work with what Iíve already tested and seen the results firsthand. Since this project was an effort amongst friends, time and money to test and test and re-test multiple ways of achieving different frame rates and motion signatures didnít exist. Perhaps a smart de-interlacer/Magic Bullet process could achieve smoother motion and preserve more resolution. But without having tested the process, I was not comfortable with relying on that possibility. During the few days of testing the camera on my own, I determined that the FX1ís CF24 produced satisfactory results for the motion signature I desired. And thus was the best choice among the options I had tested to achieve a motion signature that removed it from interlaced video. CF30, which produces smoother motion and likely higher quality results in terms of resoltuion was an option that I considered. But even though Iím a big fan of 30P both on the DVX and other Progressive Scan cameras, 30Pís smother motion retains a bit of the video look. For those that arenít keen to the motion signature of 30P, I would describe it as a hybrid type look. Somewhere between 24P and 60i. For commercial, industrial, sports, or digitally screened narrative shorts, 30P is a great choice. However, for this project I decided that Iíd prefer a motion signature that was another step removed from 30fps. Even if it meant a few moments of noticeable stutter. An added benefit of doing as much as possible in camera is the time and money it saves in post. If I can get the frame rate, color, contrast, tone, balance etc. that I am aiming for, then post doesnít have to spend time rendering the project through some de-interlacer, I donít have to spend a lot of time color correcting, and the production ultimately saves money by cutting down on the amount time it takes to get the job done. And for anyone whoís done a supervised transfer or DI, you know that time is money.

Being pressed for time and given that the film was a pretty straight forward narrative that didnít lend itself to unusual angles and frames, we set about covering the scene with the standard WIDES, MEDS, and singles. With the exception of one or two brief moments when the action and corresponding camera movement abruptly changed, the CF24 motion signature worked very well. During the course of the five hours we spent shooting, no major problems or anything unusual popped up that were caused by the performance or design of the FX1.

There were a couple minor issues though. First, the lattitude and sensitivity of the camera. As I mentioned, I was working at a wide open aperature just to get enough exposure in the shadows. I usually work at a 2.8 when shooting Digital. And sure, I couldíve thrown up another 1K to bring the shadows up and even out the contrast. But with ample sunlight coming through a window and a 1,000 watt light, thereís no reason that I should have to work right at the upper limits of a DV cameraís range or sacrifice contrast in this day and age. A DVX100A wouldnít (and didnít) have any problem seeing into those shadows or handling the highlights of the lattitude range we were working with. Second, the manual zoom ring feels akward to me. It has barrel markings indicating focal length, but I noticed immeadiately when I started testing the camera that the manual zoom ring is just a servo ring with hard limit stops. While the design of this quasi mechanical zoom ring functions well and does offer an interesting trick of ďjumping to a focal lengthĒ when switching from servo to manual, seasoned shooters or anyone use to the true mechanical zoom ring on the DVX, will probrably notice the odd feel every time you manually zoom.

One feature I really liked was the ability to downconvert HDV to DV digitally via Firewire. Iím sure that with the current state of HDV post production, the option of downconverting the footage to DV for an SD cut will be taken full advantage of by many. With the option of going back to the originals for an online in the future, a DV cut of an HDV project today isnít a bad idea. At least until the standard NLEís incorporate support for the HDV codec. But what I found most appealing about the Firewire downconverter, is that also works live while youíre shooting. I always encourage productions that are shooting DV to do a live clone. Itís simple, cheap, and effective. By connecting a Firewire cable from your production camera to any DV device with a Firewire port, you will end every day with the security of two exact copies of your footage. This virtually eliminates the possibility of dropout ruining a shot and lowers the risk of losing footage. Aside from those two very important benefits, it provides me with a clone of all raw footage. Having access to my work is crucial for me to continually update my reel and showcase my most recent imagery. Since I donít have any real post productions skills to speak of, having access to any HDV footage I may shoot in the form of DV makes it easy for me to update my reel on my desktop without installing and learning new software and figuring out workarounds. When FCP incorporates simple capture presets and render options for HDV, then Iíll worry about access to the HDV originals. Until then, the live Firewire downconvert is a nice little feature to have. The one little annoyance about the FX1 in this regard is the lack of external device control. When running this type of setup with a DVX, I can set the DVX to automatically start and stop the slave deck every time I trigger the DVX. When running this setup with the FX1, I have to trigger both devices by hand which can get annoying.

After we wrapped, Heath and I sat down with some of the crew and decided to watch the dailies. I hate watching dailies. Especially right after a shoot. But Heath has such a nice 34Ē 16/9 HDTV that I couldnít say no. So with the FX1 set to 1080 and connected via the components, we sat down to watch the dailies.
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Old January 5th, 2005, 01:27 PM   #4
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The dailies looked good. The images were clean, clear, and color caccurate. I had no complaints. But while watching the dailies, I couldnít help think about what our script supervisor said earlier when I switch on the DVX100A and asked her if she could see a difference. I had my DVX100A set up with the exact same filters, normal gamma, 24P, 1/60th shutter, auto knee, normal matrix, etc. Trying as best I could ďmatchĒ the way the FX1 was working as opposed to setting up the DVX as I normally would. When I switched back and forth between the FX1 and DVX100A while she watched the monitor, she said she could see a difference. But that neither one looked better than the other. They just looked different. The fact that FX1 didnít look any better to her was something for me to consider. Now, Script Supervisors arenít video engineers. They generally donít have ďtrained eyesĒ. But as professionals who have the very important task of maintaining continuity, they are a group that stare at a lot of monitors. Video taps, HD monitors, SD monitors, LCDs, from Film to DV, they watch a monitor all day looking for the details in the picture so that you donít have continuity errors. And while watching our monitor with the both the FX1 and DVX100A, she said neither one looked better than the other. I asked her if the FX1 looked like it had any more resolution or detail. She said, not that she could see. And while I sat there watching the dailies, that was the thought that stayed in my head. Yeah, the images looked good. But they didnít look any better than what I would expect from a DVX100A.

I had also taken some time to watch the test footage I had shot before in the days prior on Heathís 34Ē HDTV. Again, my thoughts were that it looked good. But it lacked something. Iíve read a lot of reports from people who say, ďThereís no question itís HDĒ. I agree that the camera is capable of delivering resolution. And deliver it does. But to my eyes, the images lack ďsnapĒ. They donít have that visual ďpopĒ that people equate with HD. Iíll admit my eyes ARE trained and bias. After you shoot as much HD as I have, you get used to the resolution and clarity of those very expensive cameras and monitors. I understand itís a $3,500 camcorder. And I donít deny that the camera does produce very clear 60i video. But to my eyes, it doesnít have the same snap that I equate with HD.

While watching the test footage I shot, I was very dissapppointed to see the way the HDV format fell apart on images that challenged the compression. In particular, a shot of a lake. When the camera had a frame of reference such a tree in the foreground or a sunset in the background, the compression was able to keep up with the changes without any noticeable problems. But when I panned the camera down to the lake and filled the frame with nothing but the beautifully rippling water, the compression couldnít handle it and the image fell apart in seconds. Instead of smooth rippling water, I got a crunchy blocked up web-video looking image. With no constant for the MPEG2 to compress over and over, the image turned to squares. Like a head clog or dropout or artifacts. As soon as I panned the camera back to something with a constant in it, the compression caught up and the image looked fine again.


Since I had my DVX100A set up with the same filters, matching settings etc, I had also rolled a take so I could sit down and compare both cameras for myself after the shoot. Iíve taken the time to watch the footage from both the FX1 and the DVX over and over on 6 different monitors. And hereís the deal with the FX1 and the DVX100A head to head...

The FX1 was set up straight down the middle.

Sony HDR-FX1

COLOR 0
PHASE 0
SHARPNESS 11
SKINTONE DTL OFF
AE SHIFT 0
AGC LIMIT OFF
WB SHIFT 0
CINEMATONE OFF
CINEFRAME 24

The DVX was set up to match the way the FX1 was working in terms of normal gamma, norma color, and auto knee. But I did pull the detail, coring, chroma, and pedestal down to even things out as my experience with the DVX100A has shown to be nescesary.

Panasonic AG-DVX100AP

DETAIL LEVEL -3
V DETAIL LEVEL -1
DETAIL CORING -1
CHROMA LEVEL -3
CHROMA PHASE -1
COLOR TEMP 0
MASTER PED -6
A. IRIS LEVEL 0
GAMMA NORM
KNEE AUTO
MATRIX NORM
SKIN TONE DTL OFF
V DETAIL FREQ THIN
PROGRESSIVE 24P

The first noticeable difference is in tone and color saturation. The FX1 has the hallmark colder blue tone of a Sony. And the DVX has a more natural warmer tone. The FX1ís color saturation was good, but a bit desturated compared to the DVX. I personally found the FX1 color saturation to be just right for my taste. But itís worth noting that the DVX100Aís color saturation had been turned down to -3. I usually work with the DVXís color turned down. But I was a bit surpirsed that even with the color turned down, it was still more saturated than the FX1. There was no noticeable difference what-so-ever in sharpness. Neither camera seemed to have more or less resolution than the other. And with the exception of lattitude, both cameras looked about the same in terms of contrast. I thought maybe the FX1 would have cleaner blacks. But alas, both cameraís blacks were equally clean and noise free. The other noticeable difference was the difference in natural movment. As expected, the true 24P capture of the DVX provided much more natural movement. Even though both cameras were set to a 1/60th shutter speed, the FX1ís fake 24 frame capture did exhibit a more staccato look when faced with anything more than simple character movement or a slight camera adjustment.

When it came to sensitivity, the DVX100A was consistently working at a F 4.0 to get the same exposure as the FX1 at F 1.7. Thatís a big difference.

So whatís the verdict?

My experience with the Sony HDR-FX1 in this particular situation showed me a camera that performed well, yet definitely had drawbacks. Both in the ability of the camera itself and the HDV format.These drawbacks are already known issues and donít in any way render the camera or format useless. But they are issues to be considered.

For any project that needs 60i interlaced video, the FX1 is the clear winner. For short narrative projects that require an HDV master for future proofing and can deal with the pseudo 24 frame motion signature, the FX1 again takes 1st place. But for long form/feature narratives, short narratives with action or more than just simple talking head stories, or challenging contrast situations, the FX1 falls short. The DVX100Aís true 24P, far superior low light performance and lattitude, and thorough DSP control give the DVX100A the top prize in the small format 24 frame production arena.


We are only in the very beginning stages of the world of HDV. And in comparison to JVCís HD10, the FX1 is worlds apart in performance and image quality. Thereís no question that HDV is the next step. And thereís no question that the FX1 has taken us a step forward in the world of HDV. For the industrial videography set, the FX1 gives you the tools you need to start creating 1080/60i content now. But the race to claim victory among the digital filmmaking set has yet to won. Sony had the chance to shut down the competition before the race even got started. Instead, they did what they always do. They gave us a camera that comes so close to being perfect without giving us the features that we require. Thatís why they lost the DV race to Panasonic.

I am a huge Sony fan. I feel they build superior cameras. There was a time that I knew nothing but the comfortable feel of a PD150. But Panasonicís DVX100 changed everything. And the DVX100A cemented Sonyís fate in the world of DV.

If Panasonic releases a 720/24P HDV DVX200 with ALL of the same features of the DVX100A, as well as incorporate some Sonyís innovations on the FX1 like Firewire downconversion, and do it all at a price point under $4,000, they will win the HDV race.


Iíd like to say thank you to Matt Miller for the use of his Sony HDR-FX1 and to Jim York at the Palm Beach Film School for providing gear support. And Iíd like to say a very special thank you to our cast and crew who gave us their time and talent to make this project possible.

I expect to shoot plenty of projects with the FX1 in the coming months. And I look forward to discovering new ways to push the FX1 to deliver excellent footage in a variety of situations. But what I really look forward to, is the introduction of the next HDV camera to enter the race. And with it, a new tool to further expand the digital filmmakerís arsenal to create.

Jon
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Old January 5th, 2005, 01:55 PM   #5
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Wow...great stuff!!! Thanks very much for the DVX comparison and explanation of the not-so-"magic" deinterlace.

We now return to our regularly scheduled DVX vs. XL2 debate...
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Old January 5th, 2005, 02:05 PM   #6
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Thanks for the very thorough review! I only wonder if the lack of "snap" in the video is due to the use of cineframe? Did you actually roll any clips without it?
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Old January 5th, 2005, 02:16 PM   #7
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Yeah, we did, and it still didn't have the "snap," which I didn't notice because I've only seen high-end HD in the theatre (Star Wars Ep. 2) or on TV (Discovery HD, HDNet, etc.).

I'll have still frames soon! And maybe a clip or two... <g>

heath

ps-Thanks to Jon, our script supervisor, our assistant, our crew and cast for all their help! Especially when I wrote a NEW script as they were rehearsing the other one (lots of exteriors on a VERY windy day--it woke me up at 5 am and had me thinking hurricanes for a second, and that's when the new film came to me, a prequel to a feature I'm doing this year, 9:04 AM).
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Old January 5th, 2005, 02:18 PM   #8
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Paul,

The lack of snap was in reference to the test footage I shot prior to the short film shoot. The CineFrame mode does noticeably reduce the image sharpness. But even when shooting in 60i during my tests, I found the picture to be lacking that high res pop!
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Old January 5th, 2005, 02:21 PM   #9
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Jon, thank you so much for taking the time to write such a thorough, detailed, comprehensive review!
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Old January 5th, 2005, 02:21 PM   #10
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Fordham, you're spoiled! Too much CineAlta and Varicam for you! <g>

heath
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Old January 5th, 2005, 02:32 PM   #11
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Also, Jon... in reference to what you said here:
Quote:
If Panasonic releases a 720/24P HDV DVX200 with ALL of the same features of the DVX100A, as well as incorporate some Sonyís innovations on the FX1 like Firewire downconversion, and do it all at a price point under $4,000, they will win the HDV race.
I don't know if you're aware, but Panasonic has said that they're not going to respond with an HDV camera, but instead they will respond with a comparably-priced camera using DVCPRO-HD. Same 100-megabit format as used in the VariCam; no MPEG-2 compression, 4:2:2 color sampling, etc. But there's been no announcement as to features of the camera itself, or as to when it may be announced and/or released.
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Old January 5th, 2005, 02:41 PM   #12
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Then that may bury HDV, if it's good enough, or just create another viable and profitable HD format, but I don't want to get into debates about Panasonic "mini-"HD vs. HDV.

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Old January 5th, 2005, 02:51 PM   #13
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Barry,

That's incredible. I was not aware of that. It makes sense though. With Panasonic and Apple teaming up to do DVCPRO-HD over Firewire, the next logical step would be to design a DVX styled camera that could record DVCPRO-HD. I wonder if tapes from the Varicam could then be played back on such a camera and captured via Firewire the same as their very expensive deck they have out now...

Also, let me just say that you made writing my review difficult Barry. After the seamingly endless list of threads you had authored regarding your experiences and tests with the FX1, I felt my comments were just repeating most everything you had already said. Aside from my personal opinions, I found my experience with the FX1 to be parallel to yours. So if there's anybody out there who missed Barry's many posts regarding the FX1, take the time to read through them. His posts are a bit more "scientific" than mine.

Jon
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Old January 5th, 2005, 02:57 PM   #14
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Barry,

Could you provide us a link to your reviews?

Thanks,

heath
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Old January 5th, 2005, 03:06 PM   #15
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Thanks for the clarification. I was REALLY surprised at how fast it drains down an NPF-970 battery!

Like you, I feel Sony makes great cameras. I can't wait to get my hands on this one. I own a PD-150 and a PDX-10. I NEVER use the default settings in the custom preset though. WAY to blue, plus I usually turn up the color one notch. I noticed you had the camera at SHARPNESS -11 , is that the preset level? That seems really high to me. (reminds me of Spinal Tap...when 10 just isn't loud enough!)

Did you shoot any exteriors or was it all inside?
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