Some first impressions at

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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 June 17th, 2005, 04:42 PM   #1
Join Date: Dec 2002
Location: Mays Landing, NJ
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Some first impressions

Went out and did a little shooting today with the Z1, then after returning home I set it up on a tripod out back along with a Sony SDM-V72W 17" 1280x768 HD LCD monitor fed from the component cable.

I like the camera a lot, it feels good on the tripod. The focus ring works well for me, and I like the zoom ring although it's hard to start a smooth zoom. The shot transition feature is cool, but I wish it wasn't limited to 15 seconds. The iris knob is terrific.

Compared to my VX-2000 and PDX-10 there are a lot of extra features and new buttons. Most of this is good, but like all small cameras the ergonomics could be better. I'm disappointed that Sony didn't give us a distinctive shape and placement for the menu button, for example. And the menus have so many options that you have to do a lot of scrolling. When changing more than one setting I find my self bailing out by hitting the menu button again, then one more time to return and pick a new menu. It's too awkward to scroll back up to the top and hit the Return item. The wider scroll wheel is an improvement, but I still find myself pushing accidently when I try to scroll quickly.

I like the viewfinder, but wish it was higher resolution. LCD screen a little better, but still needs to be higher res. Unlike my PDX-10, the images from the Z1 seem to look better with the sharpness set very high, and I don't see the objectionable edge enhancement that the PDX-10 has at higher sharpness settings. The picture profile feature is great. Black stretch really seems to help. I like the cinematone settings too, but need more experimentation to understand when/where to use them. Cineframe doesn't do a whole lot for me, but will have to try some experiments eventually.

The real reason I bought the camera was so I could shoot PAL for a project in Argentina, and I find I'm liking the added resolution but still adjusting to the 25 fps difference. I could certainly learn to like this more than NTSC :-)

My Sony LCD won't accept PAL component, so for those tests I switched to 60i mode (I do my PAL editing in FCP with the digital cinema desktop on a Samsung 22" 1280x720 widescreen LCD connected via DVI to the second monitor port on my G5).

There sure is a huge difference when you switch between HDV and DV modes, as viewed on the 1280x768 LCD panel via component! However, this is what really surprised me: in HDV 1080i mode I tried some A/B tests of the options in the component menu. I could hardly see any difference between the 480p and 1080i modes on a live image outdoors with lots of leaves and trees. The monitor correctly reported the signal as switching between 480p and 1080i, so I don't think that was the issue. Maybe on a 1920x1080 screen I'd see a more noticeable difference? There were some very subtle details when looking really closely at the aliasing of slightly angled lines. But switching to 480i in the component menu caused a huge quality drop, comparable to switching to DV mode.

What a disappointment that Sony doesn't let us send 480p/576p out of the firewire port. Has anyone tried using a capture card in this mode from the component cable? That should look really great...

Finally, I did a test shooting the exact same scene and capturing as NTSC DV. First I shot in HDV 1080i mode with firewire downconversion, then I shot in DVCAM. I dropped this two clips into FCP then overlaid and cropped them as a split screen so I could A/B the same video as it played. I also exported some stills to Photoshop. I could barely see any difference in the stills, but on the live video I'd have to agree with others that the downconversion yields a little better results. I can definitely see a difference in the fine details of blowing leaves and twigs; the downcoverted HDV is a little crisper. So I guess I'll have to weigh the benefits of this against the fact that the tapes will only play in my camera for this upcoming project.

But the 480p results were much, much nicer. I couldn't look at 576p since my monitor wouldn't handle it, but I'll bet that looks even better. Are there any reasonably priced capture cards or firewire boxes that can capture this? Is anyone working this way?
Boyd Ostroff is offline   Reply With Quote
Old June 17th, 2005, 08:31 PM   #2
Join Date: Dec 2002
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I put up a still from my A/B test of downcoverted HDV vs DV:

The Z1 was set for 50i mode. The left half of the frame was shot in HDV mode and captured as PAL DV using in-camera downconversion. The right half was shot in DVCAM mode and captured as PAL DV. I stretched the image to 1024x576 in photoshop to get the correct aspect ratio for square pixels.

The light was changing as clouds passed the sun, so there are some differences in the pictures, but look at the fine leaf and branch details in the areas outside the direct sunlight. The in-camera downconversion sure looks like the winner to me...
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Old June 17th, 2005, 09:43 PM   #3
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Thanks for sharing your initial thoughts on your new Z1! Mine arrives this coming Tuesday and I'm looking forward to putting it to the test.

I absolutely agree that your downconverted HDV -> Pal DV looks superior to the PAL DV shot in DVCAM mode.
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Old June 18th, 2005, 09:57 AM   #4
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thanks Boyd - obviously better. Yes , when 1080 projectors and monitors arrive we'll be happy we shot in hdv . great report- kurth
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Old June 18th, 2005, 02:39 PM   #5
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Thanks for the report Boyd.

I agree that the LCD could have been more high-res, but we can't have everything. ;-)

As for the shot transition: it would have been great if the camera could measure the time for us. It could for instance be done in the "check" state: Pressing A starts a timer in the LCD and pressing B stops it and stores it as the current shot trainsition time. Switching to "exec" uses that time.
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