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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 28th, 2005, 02:47 PM   #1
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Z1 First Impressions

First Thoughts on the HVR-Z1U

Have had the very fortunate opportunity to play with one of the first official shipping Z1s into Canada, and here are my preliminary thoughts/notes after spending 2 hours with the camera:

- This is very much like the PD150/VX2000 scenario - these are the same camera, with just a few features making them different, such as PAL support, built-in XLR, etc. You will get the same picture quality from both.
- Just like the DVX100, the Z1 does NOT come with the shotgun mic that is in every picture of the camera
- Cineframe 24 is the exact same as the Cineframe 24 on the FX1 that I can determine. I had the FX1 and Z1 side-by-side.
- Cineframe 25 loses all the stuttering ugliness that CF24 has, and is smoother. However, it doesn't look particularly "film like", but that may change with filters/software and spending more than 10 minutes playing with that feature.
- CinemaTone Type 2 is more contrasty and has deeper blacks than Type 1. A bit too much deeper black personally (I was shooting Manfrotto tripods and Pelican black cases amongst other things under fluorescent lights, and they just went black with very little detail).
- Enhanced Focus does not work while recording, just like the FX1.
- You turn on Phantom Power for the XLR through the menus, not a switch on the outside of the camera
- The 4:3 and TV Safe markers are nice
- It is really cool to switch between PAL and NTSC. The camera has to do a re-boot, which takes about 30 seconds
- HyperGain (+36dB) works, but adds a lot of noise. Believe it or not, the Night Shot features on the $500 cameras work better - they can at least shoot in total darkness, whereas HyperGain needs some light
- All Scan feature (everyone else would call it UnderScan) is a nice touch

I liked the FX1, and like the Z1 too. It's up to you to decide whether the built-in XLR, PAL support and a few other features is worth the extra money. If not, get a BeachTek and put the money towards a HiDef monitor. I'm using the JVC DT-V1910, and can recommend it highly.

For an excellent comparison between the FX1, DVX100 and XL2, read a review at DVXuser.com - http://www.dvxuser.com/articles/shoot3/

While I don't agree with every single point in the review, I agree with the vast majority of it. I think the Z1/FX1 is better in low light than they give it credit for :)

As for the CF24 vs CF25 vs 24p debate, I think more testing is needed with CF25, once you convert to NTSC and downconvert it to SD before one can make a final judgement on it. Let the rendering begin!

Terry Steyn
The DV Shop
Toronto, Canada
www.dvshop.ca
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Old January 28th, 2005, 05:51 PM   #2
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I'm seeing it tomorrow

We deal with Terry all the time from our company/t.v. station. A real stand up guy in the Toronto DV scene. I am visiting Terry at the store tomorrow to test-drive the Z1.

Finally.

It is here.
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Old January 28th, 2005, 07:22 PM   #3
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I've had one (Z1U) for about a week.

I've been doing some comparison shooting, and features shoot out for the DVD.

In my opinion, the main benefits of the Z1 are:

The LCD has a few more guides that you can lay over the video. This includes action safe, and what I think Sony is calling 4:3 guides. Basically 2 lines on either side of the screen that show the 4:3 image you wouold get by croppiing the 16X9. This would be very useful for pro shooters .

There is a different zoom scale that can be turned on. The FX1 filling bar is possible, but you can use a numbereed scale too. I like this for exactly matching a shot or zoom. It also came in handy using with with some Century Optics what were not full zoom through.

Some shooters will find the ability to shoot in Pal and NTSC useful.

Lastly, and least important in my view are the XLR adapters. You can buy those anywhere, but you also get enhanced audio capabilities on the pro model which include more fiters for wind, etc. So don't see the XLR adapters are the reason for the change, consider the electronics behind it.

Lastly, you can change colors of things like peaking and highlights. It's a little thing, but could be useful.

Our DVD, The JumpStart Guide to the Sony FX1/Z1 will be out in February, and includes hundreds of dollars in discount and rebate coupons. You can save money on Manfrotto tripods, Century Optics adapters, Schnieder glass, B&W filters, Camera bags, and software (Like $100 from Canopus - $60 from Ulead, a discount from Vegas.

Much much more.


Advanced orders starting Monday on our web site includes free shipping.

Cheers


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Old January 29th, 2005, 10:07 AM   #4
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> the Z1 does NOT come with the shotgun mic
> that is in every picture of the camera

Sorry can you elaborate on that? Is the mic removable then?
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Old January 29th, 2005, 10:13 AM   #5
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Ignacio, on the Z1 there is the same built-in, un-removeable stereo mic that the FX1 has. Then there's also a mic clamp for an additional mic off to the upper right side, just like the Panasonic DVX100, which plugs into one of the XLR jacks. This is the shotgun mic which is not included. The Z1 camera comes with the built-in stereo mic, plus an additional mic clamp for a short shotgun (not included). Hope this helps,
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Old January 29th, 2005, 10:34 AM   #6
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>Hope this helps

Thank You Chris, yes, I finally got it. I should have actually gotten it just by looking at the pictures. I was just hoping that maybe we had all been mislead by pictures of prototypes or something like that. It is unfortunate that the stereo mic is not removable on the Z1, being a "pro" model and all. Actually on my PDX10 the stereo mic is also not removable but it doesn't get in the way of anything, and a moderate quality shotgun is included. So it is somewhat surprising to see Sony mess things up in an area where they had already been doing such a great job on previous models. I at least hope audio on the Z1's inputs is as good as with the PDX10 or better.
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Old January 29th, 2005, 02:10 PM   #7
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My guess is that 90% of PD170/150 users didn't ever use the supplied mic anyway, and went out for an Audio Technica, Senheisser or somesuch. So I don't feel it's much of a loss that it's not included with the Z1.

Ah - but I do so wish there was some way around the 4x 'focus assist' not being useable in ther record mode. That would be so-soocool on a lot of occasions.

tom.
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Old January 29th, 2005, 08:31 PM   #8
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pal vs. ntsc - very slight advantage when downconverted

Hi folks - first off, special thanks to Terry for letting us come into his store to check out the Z1 before he sold out his first shipment!

We did head-to-head shoot comparing Z1 to FX1 NTSC - mostly comparing obvious points - I'm doing an analysis of the footage and I have to finish renders/downconverts to make a final weigh-in...

But Terry is right on with his initial observations regarding things like confirming that in no way shape or form is Z1 offering any optical advantage to FX1 in terms of CCDs or lens or anything like that - as far as the eye can see on HD monitor etc., they are identical.

I second Terry's observations re: black stretch, cinematone type 2, etc.

On downconversion to SD DVD - 50i source PAL is offering very marginal, if any real noticeable, quality advantage to 60i... Perhaps detailed extensive chart testing would determine exactly how much - if any appreciable. To casual observer, they are the same. 10 less interlaced frames per second isn't really much of a visible compression advantage. Of course, the 25 fps of 50i gives a smoother, more filmic cadence on motion approximating the 24p type look. But you'd be hard-pressed to look at 50i and 60i footage and say - "oh, that's 60i, that's 50i" - the FX1E footage provided so far by users has been expertly shot and certainly tailored to present HDV, not FX1E per se, in best possible light. What I'm trying to say is: if you're impressed by Christopher's FX1E with mini 35 p+s technic sample, then don't worry NTSC FX1'ers - you'll get the same thing if you get your hands on the p+s here in NTSC land...

CF25 is obviously "done right" - I have yet to analyze this footage and check resolution loss but initial findings suggest it's definitely more useful than cf30, cf24 for sure. Default profile setting on Z1 for cf25 also puts on cinegamma type 2 (shadows) and black stretch. I think it's safe to say the intention here by Sony is to try and get as "DVX-ish" as possible the way the gamma curve/knee is applied in 24p mode... but here is big caveat to NTSC-region folks hoping to use cf25: you'll definitely want a PAL-capable monitor if you're the kind of editor who likes to patch out to monitor while editing - captured cf25 footage in Sony Vegas patched out to NTSC camcorder then out to monitor via components to monitor will "flicker" the way PAL likes to flicker in North America...

Terry admits now too that the "switch" is actually faster from 60i to 50i then initially reported - about 5 seconds for the cam to re-set itself. Analogous to when you have cam in VCR mode and flick to off then to camera mode, for instance. No big deal...

Captured to PC fromZ1U using current CapDVHS - no problems whatsoever. Windows XP service pack 2 driver sees Z1 device via firewire as "Sony HVR-Z1U" and that was nice to see. Capture of Z1 exactly the same as FX1 - no problems whatsoever... Importing Z1 50i into Sony Vegas to edit - no problems - correctly identified as 1440x1080, 25fps...

How to sum this all up?

At last a lot of things have been answered...

Is cf24 "fixed"?
No, it is 100% the same as NTSC FX1.

Is black stretch and new cinematone setting worth the wait?
For me, not really, you can probably achieve similar/better results yourself in post.

Hypergain?
Well, you want noise? Now you can have noise.

Is 50i superior to 60i?
Maybe by a hair. Only a photo-finish can tell for sure.

So, expanded focus doesn't work while shooting.

The 4:3 guides are nice to have...

Weight/feel of Z1 is same as FX1 - maybe now a bit denser plastic or something - weighs/feels pretty much the same... Not "solid" like DVX... really, they're pretty much the same camera.

Bottom line?

I think it's safe to say that when all is said and done, the FX1E is the best value for the money - you get a cam wherein all the cf modes that are offered actually deliver on their promise and the "extra" cine modes incl. black stretch ain't something to write home about... I'm biased too because I've been a beachtek user for years and have gotten great results so built-in XLR's to me is not really a big value-add - not worth all that extra $$$ at least...

Prediction: FX1 sales are going to now go up, not just Z1 as folks realize the biggest difference between the two is the extra moolah you have to fork out if you take the latter... Certainly, the new $5,9ish.00 US figure now being bandied about for Z1 is just nuts...

Cheers.

Terry touches on a very crucial point that became more apparent today as we worked with Z1 - the initial advantage offered by FX1 in terms of having all the buttons/controls available outside is now lost as all the extra settings that differentiate the Z1 are accessible by menu only. While you now do in fact have 6 user buttons, guess what, the "backlight" button is gone and you must assign it via menus if you want on-the-cam one-touch backlight...

Did NOT test any DVCam/mini-dv modes... Our focus today was HDV and seeing what if any difference 50i offered, cf25 etc.

What else can I say except that the support and assistance Terry and his company offers is head-and-shoulders above and beyond the call of duty - it was fun testing today on his premises with the Z1 on a DVRig pro - Terry's got all the gear and he knows his stuff... Thanks, Terry!
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Old January 29th, 2005, 09:18 PM   #9
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Mark,

Thanks for that report, exactly the kind of thing I'm looking for.

One question I'm trying to find an answer to:

In the comparison done here (can't find the official chart) it as a 'NO' under audio monitoring for the FX1.

Does this mean there's no way to monitor your audio on the camera? This alone would almost be a deal breaker for me as most of what I do are quick interview setups and keep 99% of my audio in camera.

Insight on this issue would be great.

Thanks!
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Old January 29th, 2005, 10:39 PM   #10
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I was hoping to read this kind of reports and it was worth the waiting... 1000 € diference in spain. FX1 won the battle, specially if it can get any XLR adapter like new friend, because it looks like the only big difference.This and the possibility of getting a good tripod. or a good savin start for the mini35. Who knows.
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Old January 30th, 2005, 12:13 AM   #11
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> Did NOT test any DVCam/mini-dv modes...
> Our focus today was HDV and seeing what
> if any difference 50i offered, cf25 etc.

Thanks you for the great report. As expected, mostly the same camera. The first thing I thought when I read this report was "oh, the €1000 or so difference would be worth writing HDV at DVACAM track pitch"... and then I remembered my own previous rants... the capability to record at DVCAM speed (and we all now how important avoiding tape drops will be with the MPEG GOP structure) is just a SOFTWARE feature, as are many of the other differences between the FX1 and Z1.

It would actually appear more correct to say that the FX1 is a dumbed-down Z1 than to say that the Z1 is the professional version of the FX1. This is terrible!

If, for the same €1000 we can get a portable hard drive for direct to disk capture, many of us will just end up buying european versions of the FX1 even in NTSC countries. Unless Sony makes the price difference much smaller, I don't think europeans and other PAL users will prefer the Z1 either.

And that's another thought that dawned on me when reading the post: Sony's lousy CF24 and the better fit of CF25 with PAL, as well as the slight edge in compression, will make a lot of US professional users of the Z1 want to use 50i. This might be crucial in defining the future of digital television. If so much material starts to be originated in 50i and HDTV sets support 50i no matter where they are sold, we might just be going towards a de facto worldwide 1080i50 standard. Not a bad thing, even if the EBU goes for 720p50, converting back and forth between 1080i50 a 720p50 is probably much easier than with 1080i60 and 720p50.
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Old January 30th, 2005, 01:56 AM   #12
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Bryan asks, "Does this mean there's no way to monitor your audio on the camera? "

Well the FX1 sure does have a 1/8" stereo headphone socket, if that's what you mean. It's covered with a beautifully fitting rubber flap and will take a newbie to the camera a good minute to find. You can also switch the audio to manual (again under a rubber flap at the back, above the audio control wheel) and you'll get a small audio meter up on screen.

If you enter the menu you can have this audio meter taking up a good deal of viewfinder real-estate, and it all goes to show that a 4:3 LCD finder would have been a good idea.

Of course the picture frame would still have been the top 16:9 rectangle, but the bottom 25% of the screen could've been used for the audio levels, aperture, shutter speed, w/bal etc readout, so leaving the picture much less cluttered.

I got hold of the 3.5" Hoodman and fitted that to the top screen. Know what? It fitted beautifully. If you look at the 16:9 screen you'll notice that it is in fact fitted into a 4:3 rectangle of plastic frame, so when you attach the Hoodman there's no light leaks. Mind you, this new screen is by far the best LCD I've ever seen, and when bathed in direct light seems to be amazingly good. How things have improved since the TRV900 days.

tom.
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Old January 30th, 2005, 03:17 AM   #13
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Quote:
the capability to record at DVCAM speed (and we all now how important avoiding tape drops will be with the MPEG GOP structure)
The camera has no provision to do so. Doing so would create a new format, probably called something like HDVCAM. The camera writes at one speed for HDV, and one speed only. The DVCAM provision allows you to record DVCAM data. It does move the tape faster and make it more dropout-proof, but only for standard-definition DV data. If you are recording HDV, you're recording it at HDV speed, and there's nothing the Z1 does to provide more dropout protection than the FX1 or any other HDV camera. HDV is what it is; to change it (by going to a faster tape speed, or 50mbps or whatever) would by very definition NOT be HDV, it'd have to be something else.

Quote:
we might just be going towards a de facto worldwide 1080i50 standard.
I had hoped for a worldwide standard as well, but that's not what we got. In the US it's 1080/24p, 1080/30p, or 1080/60i, no provision for 25p or 50i. Or it's 720/24p, 720/30p, or 720/60p, with no provision for 25p or 50p.

Those are the broadcast standards that have been settled on and agreed on, those are the signals that are being broadcast now, and those are the signals that the HDTV sets in America can display.

In Europe, they're still deciding, but apparently they're deciding between 720/50p and 1080/50i... no provision for 60i! So if things go the way they're going, we will *not* have a worldwide standard! It'll be almost as bad as PAL/NTSC, with the difference that at least the frames will be the same size this time.

Unless some of our European friends do some fierce lobbying to get 60i/30p/60p included in the EBU recommendation, there will be no worldwide HDTV standard. It's too late for the US, we locked in our broadcast standards almost seven years ago, but it's not too late for the EBU...
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Old January 30th, 2005, 04:03 AM   #14
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Re: Z1 First Impressions

<<<-- Originally posted by Terry Steyn :
- You turn on Phantom Power for the XLR through the menus, not a switch on the outside of the camera.
-->>>

Not true. My Z1 has two switches right up front. One for Ch1 and one for Ch2. They are in the exact same spot as the MIC/LINE switches on my DVX100a's.

Did you see this?

- ShannonRawls.com
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Old January 30th, 2005, 06:57 AM   #15
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<<<-- Originally posted by Barry Green :
Unless some of our European friends do some fierce lobbying to get 60i/30p/60p included in the EBU recommendation, there will be no worldwide HDTV standard. It's too late for the US, we locked in our broadcast standards almost seven years ago, but it's not too late for the EBU... -->>>


Let's hope such a disaster (IMHO) does not happen and Europeans stick to 50i, because transfer from 60i to film is much more expensive.

Until now no one could explain to me why transfer labs, like DVfilm, charge the same thing (high) when coming from a 60i original than from a 50i original. Let's forget 24p and stick to 25p for low budget projects, that are low budget because they have less money.

A transfer from 50i onto film, photographing 25 fps and letting it go slower for projection, is straightforward and a good option for difficult to finance projects. Such a transfer does not need any extra software processing to solve artifacts problems, and that's why they cost less to the transfer labs. They can transfer them quickly. So why do they charge the same as when coming from a 60i original?

Another thing which I can't understand either is why a DV original coming from a real 24p camera, like a DVX100A, is also charged as if it also needed the same 60i processing time. What additional processing does it need? Isn't it processed as when coming from a 50i original?

The comments on this column until now, about Z1 first impressions, seem to confirm that the real revolution for filmmakers is in the FX1 and its very affordable price, not on the Z1. The important good thing on the Z1 is being 60i/50i. So where are the people that can hack into the FX1 and make it also 60i/50i?


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