PD-170 first impressions vs DVX100 (long) at DVinfo.net

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Sony VX2100 / PD170 / PDX10 Companion
Topics also include Sony's TRV950, VX2000, PD150 & DSR250 family.


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Old March 18th, 2004, 09:59 AM   #1
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PD-170 first impressions vs DVX100 (long)

As some of you may know I recently sold my DVX100 (which I owned 1 month shy of a year) and opted for a PD-170. Recieved it yesterday and here are my first impressions:

1. The first thing I noticed is the build quality. Very sturdy and rugged feeling. The body does seem to lack metal on the right side where the tape transport is though. To me it felt simply better built than the DVX did. Granted the DVX is supposed to be ALL magnessium-alloy but doesn't "feel" like it...not that it matters how it "feels", just a peeve of mine I suppose

2. Another peeve that might not hold any value is the size of the lens. Granted, I knew purchasing this camera that it's lense was physically smaller than the 72mm DVX. Maybe things like the lense "size" give you the feeling of value and quality..I dunno.

3. Lens hood. I absolutly love the lens hood. I know, I know...it's just a hood- however, little details like this impress me. Not only is it made out of a rubber composite but it has a really neat latch that activates two flaps that shut and act as a built in lens cover. The hood definitly feels like it can take some knocks whereas the DVX feels like if it tapped something it would break under it's own brittleness. The built-in lens cap is very nice as I hate having to stash the cap in a pocket with fear of loosing it. Again not a big issue but nice attention to detail. Kudos Sony!

4. Focus and zoom controls. They were some of my biggest complaints about the build of the DVX were the feel of the focus and zoom rings. The focus had no resistance...felt like I was turning a loose lid on a jar of peanut butter. The zoom was even worse it felt sloppy- the ring had a few mm of play.
The PD-170 zoom rings are smooth and sleek. They offer good resistance and feel solid (very similar to Canon DV lenses). The one thing the DVX has an advantage on is the zoom on the DVX feels like a real zoom. In other words when I turn the zoom ring it's changing the focal length on the lens simultaneously like it would on my EOS 10D lens. The sony feels like it's an electronic zoom ring...and I don't think there is a servo button I'm missing.
Regardless I'll take electronic controled zoom ring over a sloppy one any day...just my opinion.

5. LCD. The LCD on the PD170 is very impressive. It's not quite the size of the gigantic 3.5" DVX LCD. Despite it's dimunitive size it seems like it has better resolution (maybe someone can confirm this). I also heard that the LCD can easily be seen even in sunlight. Have to test it out.
The viewfinder on the DVX and PD-170 are practically the same as far as resolution is concerned though having the PD-170 in B&W is a nice touch and will definitly aid in locking focus. Notably the DVX viewfinder does feel a bit more bulky and robust compared to the PD-170's.

6. Controls. This is where Sony blows away the DVX- but keep in mind this can be mostly due to the fact I stared shooting DV on a Sony TRV17 years ago, and the layout is familiar. I really like having the shutter, white balance, gain, and audio controls on the back all controled by a unified wheel. Very clean well laid-out system. I absolutly hated the volume knobs of the DVX- very difficult to reach and clumsy to control. I do however like the fact that the adio controls are accessable at anytime and not hidden in a menu. Same thing goes with the SteadyShot....I wish it wasn't hidden in a menu and that it could be toggled on and off with a simple flick of a button...especially beings I do a lot of tripod to handheld and back shooting.
Lastly I wish there was a way to have the audio meters visible at all times without being inside of a menu. The DVX displays audio bars in real-time, all the time which is helpfull. You can't always trust your ears when audio is spiking and having a constant visual reference will definitly help.


So in all there are a few things I miss that my DVX had but the benefits definitly outweight the negtives, two-fold. I look forward to doing more tests with the actual video quality, as I've not shot any footage yet- and as they say the proof is in the pudding. However, comparing in regards to functions and build I'd definitly have to give it to the PD-170 hands down.
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Old March 21st, 2004, 12:13 AM   #2
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I'm interested in your findings however the fact that you are comparing the two without running any tape through the pd170 yet is discouraging.

Does the pd have AGC? I hate adjusting levels all night at a reception (I own a dvx100). Also what is your honest comparison in low light? We know the sony is better but by how much.
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Old March 21st, 2004, 12:46 AM   #3
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yes...please inform us of the low light performance? i am trying to decide between the dvx and the pd170 and am leaning heavily towards the sony.
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Old March 21st, 2004, 01:21 AM   #4
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Lowlight performance of the new PD170/VX2100 is very nice+

A definite improvement in that the pic is less grainy at say higher gains of -6 db or more. I shoot u/w and lowlight performance is about the most important thing for wide shots w/o lights. Is it 100% better? Without proper tests in controlled conditions I don't want to be quantative but with what I've seen in similar conditions, I'm using at least a stop higher in low light conditions (eg. -6 db vs -9db) for almost the same conditions. Also the picture is less grainy and there is a bit more color than with the older series. These observations are my own subjective view.
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Old March 21st, 2004, 10:25 AM   #5
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I did some visual obervations connecting the cam to my TV...which is more accurate than going simply by the LCD. I'm trying to to waste tape stock right off the bat beings I'm going to be shooting al DVcam which is $12 a tape.

First impressions: Very sharp vivid picture. It honestly doesn't seem any more light sensitive than the DVX, which was suprising. The huge difference was it's ability to provide a clean image with gain. Gain settings 3, 6, 9, and 12 were free from noise. Some would say there is visible noise using these setting but I carefully studied the image and it's the same "grain" that you get with unproper light on DV to begin with. The gain just makes it brighter but does not add any additional grain. Gain 15 and 18, however, do indeed "add" grain to the image. I even slowly stepped up the gain while carfully studying the image and there was a noticable difference from 12 to 15. As soon as it's notched past 12 extra grain is added. 12db is incredible- it actually displays an image that is more light gathering than my own eyes...in other words the image on the tv had more shadow detail than I could see in the subject with my bare eyes. That........was impressive. Perfectly usable images up to and including +12db. The DVX would add grain almost immediatly when gain was turned on.

Regarding AGC...yes that is another new feature I love. The PD-170 does have AGC. You have the option of applying it to channel 1, 2, or both. Some have said, including Mike R., they run the one channel on AGC and the other manual. Keeping the manual channel a bit low. That way the AGC channel can capture the quite sounds, and the manual channel can pick up loud sounds that the AGC might not control correctly and clip. In post you could duplicate the channels accordingly.
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Old March 21st, 2004, 11:56 AM   #6
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Glen, your findings match my experience with the dvx. Basically equal to the sony in sensitivity (as good as 1/3" chips get?) but the sony has superior video gain processing. I'll admit I use the dvx grudgeingly up to 12db but do notice the noise. Worst offenders are the groom and his groomsmen's tuxedos which show noticeable noise under low light.

I'd like to have AGC. Although I'd hate to give up having 3 mic sources without using an external mixer (2 wireless and the onboard with the dvx). How's the AGC? It doesn't clip does it? Also how easy is it to monitor audio. Does the viewfinder give you a visual meter of your levels? I use headphones all day and want to be able to adjust the volume without the need of an external amp like the dvx.

Do you find the picture overall more to your liking with the pd? How does it compare egonomically?

I forgot to ask. Does the included WA lens detach and can it be used with another camera?

Thanks.
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Old March 21st, 2004, 12:22 PM   #7
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Good post Glen and thanks for that. You may like to know that I thought JUST as you did about the sloppy zoom ring, wibbly-wobbly focus and iffy build quality, but Panasonic were quick to respond, and the DVX100A is much better in this respect.

But you've now got a much more useful zoom lens, even if the last one had Leica written on it. Look at it this way.
I agree, the 32mm equivalent wide-angle is a whole lot better than the 43mm of the VX2000 and the 49mm (!) of the TRV950, but it's still not wide - only sort-of-wide.
But the big problem with this Leica zoom lens is that you need a wide-angle converter AND a telephoto converter. The DVX tops out at 45mm, whereas the VX2k goes all the way to 72mm. So the VX is a DVX with a 1.6X telephoto converter permanently in place that magically adds a half stop wider aperture into the bargain. The VX with the 0.5x Aspheron is a DVX with a 0.65X
wide-angle converter. Make sense?

tom.
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Old March 21st, 2004, 11:42 PM   #8
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<<<-- Originally posted by Mathew Evan : Glen, your findings match my experience with the dvx. Basically equal to the sony in sensitivity (as good as 1/3" chips get?) but the sony has superior video gain processing. I'll admit I use the dvx grudgeingly up to 12db but do notice the noise. Worst offenders are the groom and his groomsmen's tuxedos which show noticeable noise under low light.

I'd like to have AGC. Although I'd hate to give up having 3 mic sources without using an external mixer (2 wireless and the onboard with the dvx). Yeah I think the PD-170 can only do two input sources
How's the AGC? It doesn't clip does it?
AGC is great- doesn't clip unless I use my ME66 which is a notoriously hot mic. I wouldn't fault the AGC for that though, the ME66 is being overloaded at the diaphram. Regardless of my audio "showing" clipping it would still sound distorted and high volumes.
Also how easy is it to monitor audio. Does the viewfinder give you a visual meter of your levels? I use headphones all day and want to be able to adjust the volume without the need of an external amp like the dvx.
Very easy- audio bars on on the screen at all times- plus when you the the audio button on the back it brings up a translucent menu that actually gives you the levels in DB. In that menu is where you adjust audio manually. Though AGC on the channel(s) has to be dissabled for manual adjustment.

Do you find the picture overall more to your liking with the pd?
The picture is fantastic- very bright and vivid. Not as flat as the DVX picture....not saying flat is bad. Flat images are easier to work with in post.

How does it compare egonomically?
I don't have any problems with it- the DVX feels balanced better while hand holding. The PD-170 is very lens heavy though once I get a giant sony battery on the rear it should help it.
The layout of the buttoms for the PD-170 are worlds better than the DVX (in my opinion) I like having access to the "Gain, Shutter, White Balance, AE shift, and audio levels" right on the back of the camera. Alot of the controls are on the side of the DVX- not bad, but can't compete with buttons well laid out litterally RIGHT in front of your face.


I forgot to ask. Does the included WA lens detach and can it be used with another camera?
Yes- it's a nice lense. Easily as good as- if not better than my WD-58 canon wide angle adapter. The sony one retails for $300 by itself and it comes packaged OEM with the PD-170 now...what a bargain!

Thanks. -->>>
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Old March 22nd, 2004, 01:32 AM   #9
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When Sony started pumping out the VX2k and the PD150, the first accessory people reaised they needed was a wide-angle converter. Sony responded, but so too did other manufactures, and no less than three made bayonet-on converters that are a breeze to fit and remove. Then came 0.5X and wild fisheyes, aspherics and flip-overs.

Sony was caught with a huge amount of these mild, screw-on 0.7x lenses on their shelves. Giving them away with the 170 is wonderful marketing hype in the face of the DVX100's capabilities, but in essence it's no more than that. The sort of person working with a PD170 really neads the speed and security of a bayonet fit lens in my view.

tom.
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