From someone who has used both the FX1 and Z1 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 October 17th, 2005, 04:44 PM   #1
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From someone who has used both the FX1 and Z1

Hey all,

Long time since I posted here. This is basically a meandering little post, but something I just wanna get off my chest!

Basically, back in Spring this year I bought the Z1 (UK version) to complete a film for the final year of my degree.

I absolutely loved the camera, however when I came to film a wedding the poor low light capabilities revealed the camera's major weakness. Low light performance. Could I care less about progressive images? Not now. Not really a demand in the UK, and unless you go to really long lengths video will always look like video to me. The great thing about these cameras are their 16:9 chips. The problem is there should NEVER be a step taken backwards. These should be superior in every shape and form to their predecessors, but being dull where the VX2000/PD150/170s are bright is baffling to me.

Any how, I ended up selling the Z1. It had served its purpose for me, and as I saw a huge gaping hole in my summer for filming I figured I might as well get rid of it whilst it still holds its value (especially with that Panny cam putting doubt in so many potential buyers).

Now I'm working for a company who use the PD170, among others, but also have the FX1. Having owned and thoroughly acquainted myself with the Z1 I knew the best pictures would be produced with the FX1. My doubt however was with the sound. Well having been filming all day today with a Beacktek attached to it I am glad to say I cannot honestly notice a single difference in quality. Yes, the Z1 has it all built in (and has some useful features the FX1 does not) but for me the primaries are as follows:

Lens, build quality, sound, ergonomics. With these four areas the cameras are inseparable. Same picture quality, same great controls (still love the LCD screen, and its position, still love the vastly improved focus ring over the PD170, and LOVE the shot transition, which thankfully is retained with the FX1). I was also happy to find the picture profiles allowing me the control I needed to shift the WB to make the picture a tad warmer. Definitely not a consumer feature!

As for the sound, with a stereo jack into the FX1, manually adjusting each XLR input with the adaptor, I can't see much difference. In fact, I would argue the Beachtek box has better positioned gain knobs, which are less finicky than the Z1's.

My main gripe is what seems to be a lower audio monitoring level with the FX1, and the lack of peaking lines (which is ridiculous as the button, with its printed label is still on the back!). I reckon the FX1 has the same circuitry inside as the Z1, it will just take someone with balls to tamper with it to activate the hidden Z1 features.

Bottom line: The 16:9 SD images (I know, I know, should have shot in HDV and downconverted, but can't with this particular film) are rich in colour and detail.

Worthless low light performance imo (and honestly, having used the PD170 for night shots over the weekend that just past, I am telling you the difference is huge) but at the end of the day you use what is right for the application. Today the FX1 fit the application, surpassed my expectations, and will delight the end client; guaranteed.

Tomorrow am off to Manchester and taking the FX1 with me. I can't wait to look through the viewfinder and compose some more great images with this camera. I might even shoot some HDV, 25CF stuff for my own personal curiosity and see what it looks like back at work.

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Old October 17th, 2005, 06:25 PM   #2
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Thanks for the nice review Chris! I too like the look of the FX1 and Z1 and all the features you can twiddle with to adjust the image. But low-light performance, even though I rarely shoot in low light, is still something everyone should take into consideration when purchasing a camera. A lot of the time, using a little video light is a no-no for independent films, weddings, and documentary work as the subject or surrounding people could be flared too much when looking at or be in the peripheral vision of the camera and it could appear too hokey looking or could draw too much attention. Also, low light can also be something to take into consideration when wanting a certain look, like the underground fight scenes in Ong-Bak: Thai Warrior. If I could be guaranteed to be shooting in daylight or in well lit buildings all the time, I'd get a Z1 in a heartbeat regardless of HDV compression. But, since there is a problem, then I'll just have to wait for something better.
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Old October 17th, 2005, 07:05 PM   #3
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I thought the "Peaking" button on my FX-1e was as an aid in acquiring correct image focus. I use the camera's audio level wheel and controls that are under the clear plastic cover for adjusting levels etc. and just watch the meters on the LCD once they're set just in case...

Did you bump your gain for the lower light shooting circumstances? Keeping gain at or near the 18Db is not going to create an unwatchable image. I wish other cameras had as noise free an image at such high gain levels...
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Old October 17th, 2005, 07:18 PM   #4
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You can also shoot at 1/30 sec without losing resolution in DV mode due to the oversampling; that will gain you another f-stop.

There's been a lot of discussion of the FX1 and Z1 in low light and opinions seem to vary widely. I have a Z1, a PDX-10 and a VX-2000. I only use the VX-2000 as a deck; the low light ability doesn't interest me because it won't do decent 16:9. The PDX-10 is about 2.5 f-stops slower than the VX-2000, but I find that acceptable for most of my work. And the Z1 is clearly faster than the PDX-10.

See John Beale's thread on this topic for more info:

and also this long thread:
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Old October 17th, 2005, 11:13 PM   #5
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Having owned and thoroughly acquainted myself with the Z1 I knew the best pictures would be produced with the FX1. My doubt however was with the sound. Well having been filming all day today with a Beacktek attached to it I am glad to say I cannot honestly notice a single difference in quality.
This is really good to know as few seem to compare the two outright. DSE said he was going to try a similar comparison with the beacktek DXA-8, but I haven't seen anything on that yet.

Were you using the same mic with the Z1 and the FX1? Also, which Beachtek adapter are you using on the FX1? Thanks, Shawn
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Old October 18th, 2005, 09:20 AM   #6
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I'm not too familiar with the PD170 (I know some people who love it), but the FX1 seems to me to have fairly decent low light capability once you add the gain. Unlike my GL2, you can have the gain at up to 12db with almost no difference in image quality (this is in DV mode. In HDV it's a different story). Like Steve said, even 18db is fairly clean, especially compared to other models. How do the PD150/170's rate when adding gain?
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Old October 18th, 2005, 04:01 PM   #7
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Regarding the mic, I am using a fairly basic Beyer Dynamic shot gun mic (model number eludes me at the moment). I am using the DXA-4 Beachtek box (again, it's what's available to me), which is fine if you are using a BATTERY powered mic. If not, and there is every chance you may not depending on your application, then opt for a box that provides phantom powering. If you can afford the difference, go with the DXA-6 or even better the DXA-8. The sound is the same between all three models, however the DXA-8 provides decent limiters. The Z1's limiters are useless. As far from gracious as a limiter can be!

There is definitely no peaking lines on the FX1. If you have the switch on peaking, it is doing nothing.

Slight gripe: the shot expander being disabled during recording is a pain in the ass! As I like using as shallow a DOP as possible there are times when I am unsure if the subject's face is in focus. Their ears or hair could be, but it's the eyes that are most important, and as people move fractionally back and forth they can go out of focus, which is where the shot expander would be great to ensure they are in focus. But the FX1 has this function disabled DURING recording, and with no peaking lines available it certainly makes the job harder to focus. So I tried to make the viewfinder (not the LCD screen) B&W, which would enable me to focus more easily, but I couldn't seem to do this, which I am pretty sure you could do with the Z1. REALLY annoying!

The noise on the Z1 with 18db gain is very noticeable in my opinion. Sure, not as noticeable as 18db on SD cams, but come on lads, it's still boosting the signal of the image to the point where it can become very noticeable. As I said with these cameras you are basically lowering your standards in picture quality for low light performance. If you think 18db gain is fine, then good for you. For me, having used it for one shoot, I would rather not be in the same situation again without having a back up PD or whatever to come to the rescue! What I found interesting is all the other HDV cams (JVC, Canon) seem to have the same problem. I really wonder if this Panny cam will come to the rescue.

The PD/VX range really are significantly better than these HDV cams for low light situations. And when you add gain to the picture these cameras are even better! Basically the PD150 was the original life saver for major networks such as the BBC and CNN for small news reporting/documentary crews. For those who don't know, England has got a huge drink culture, where university students flock town centres to get completely wasted, and basically wreak havoc until 4 in the morning on a nearly daily basis. A slew of documentary/current affairs films have been made on this subject across England, following emergency services as well as the perpetrators in ridiculously low light environments. Knowing a production company who have provided countless films for UK network TV, I can inform everyone that the PD150 is the standard by which all other cameras are measured against for this type of subject. They were 6/7 years ago, and still are today. The Z1 would be fine with hot light, but what about the backgrounds? They would be borderline BLACK. I kid you not. And with the PD150, you need no gain or 6DB to see EVERYTHING. That's the difference I have found.

Any way, you can split hairs about these things. Go out and shoot and find out for yourself. I now know the limitations of these cameras and use them to their strengths. If in doubt just go and buy the classic shoulder mounted DSR-570. Recently discontinued, it will give the best 16:9 SD images shy of Digi Beta, and its low light performance is phenomenal. Still fetches a few grand more than the Z1 though!

Back in Manchester today, manipulating the picture in camera to slightly saturate the colours, and I am left with a picture that rivals anything being broadcast by BBC news this evening. Do not have time to properly colour correct in post so did it in camera (not a drastic effect, just a subtle improvement that gives a warmth I find quite appealing). Remember though, match the equipment with the application!
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Old October 18th, 2005, 04:55 PM   #8
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I stand corrected on the peaking lines with the FX1. The feature is there and does work, but the line is VERY fine, and is white only. With the Z1 you could change the colour so it stood out more, whereas with the fine white line tis very difficult to notice.
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