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Sony VX2100 / PD170 / PDX10 Companion
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Old May 9th, 2011, 09:40 AM   #1
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PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

G'day,

I currently own a Canon MVX430 camcorder, purchased after my Sony PC140 camcorder was stolen. I chose it on the basis that it was the only camcorder I could find at the time that offered analogue to digital pass-thru, to capture from VHS etc into my Mac. (Oh, and... to use as a video camera now and then.)

I've been asked to film my sister's wedding in Feb12, and as the Canon is 4+ years old, and there's actually a lil bit of money in the household, I'm looking at buying a "new" camera.

My preference is Sony, as I used Sony cameras at Uni (DCR300, PD150, PD170, XDCAM), and like the brand. I've checked out their website, and certainly can't afford the semi pro range.

What I am tossing up between is $1000 worth of camcorder, vs $1000 worth of 2nd hand PD170...

I was just wanting to see what people thought of the idea of buying such old (though still relatively expensive) equipment. Does the 2nd hand price indicate it's comparableness to the handcams? Is there just no point buying antiques?

Thanks for any advice you have to offer.


cheers

Travis
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Old May 9th, 2011, 10:19 AM   #2
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

Travis,
Well this is coming from an old time Sony guy that still uses his PD170s and loves them. Lots of hours, lots of tapes run theu them but they are about as solid as can be PLUS the low light capability is fantastic. I know it old technology and 4:3 but I haven't lost any clients because of that. I've been using them for so long they are like an extension of my hands and for dark receptions they simply can't be beat.
Like I said, it's just me and my old school ways and if I don't retire before next season I'll probably make the switch to something a bit more modern but for now I love my 170s for weddings and other live events plus I still have some corp clients that get the tape at the end of the day so they work out great for me.
YMMV
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Old May 9th, 2011, 10:21 AM   #3
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

Hi Travis,

A brand new sub-$1000 domestic camcorder (say, Panasonic TM900) will out-perform the old PD170 in almost every way, apart from in very low light. Even a slightly cheaper model, and add a Zoom Z1 audio recorder. Solid state is great, no more tapes.

Physically, the domestic handycam gives a much less "pro" package (no XLRs etc.) which you may need to workaround. But unless you want to deliver 4:3 SD footage, I think the old Sonys have had their day, really. (And I had a VX2100 and loved it at the time).

This does assume you have a computer that's capable of editing AVCHD from the memory cards.

That's just my opinion, others may differ!
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Old May 9th, 2011, 01:28 PM   #4
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

While the 170 was and is an incredible workhorse, a new cx560 or 700 will blow it away in every category, picture-wise. The only areas in which the PD would be better would be in audio and how it looks sitting on a tripod.

I guess if you were absolutely sure you'd never need to deliver 16:9 widescreen or HD, you could go with the PD. But in my opinion that's like saying you'll never need to deliver anything besides B&W.
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Old May 10th, 2011, 08:01 PM   #5
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

The folks before me raise some very good points. Here's something else to consider....

Although solid state memory is great it requires a totally different workflow since once the files are moved to your PC there is no tape to fall back on. If your hard drive goes "POOF", there go your files. Prepare yourself with knowledge.

AVCHD requires mucho horsepower to edit. What is your current PC situation. I assume you want to edit your work, right?

I still use a PD170 and a VX2100. A steady, well composed and lit image beats a poorly shot HD image any day. My stuff looks great on my 54" Panny TV.
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Old May 10th, 2011, 09:19 PM   #6
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

I've decided to sell my PD170. If anyone is interested send me an e-mail and I'll check the hours and take some photos. It's still my favorite camera but I need HD.
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Old May 11th, 2011, 07:06 AM   #7
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

Thanks for the replies everyone! Am really glad I found this site.

Don
I had great fun running around a cemetery with a PD170 back at uni (tastefully of course, with care not to show headstone details)... and some other action scenes - so much easier to use than the DSR300 or XDCAM for those types of shoots. That's why I was considering it, especially when I saw they were still worth $1000 - obviously not junk yet. I also was interested in a Sony tape solution so I could revisit my first year uni projects, which which my Canon handcam can't play.

Mike
Do you have a link to a "Zoom Z1"? Closest I can find is a Zoom H4, which I gather is from the same "family".

Sound is certainly an issue I want to resolve if going consumer. In Dec09 I filmed my brother in law's wedding - just as a guest - using my Canon MVX430 handcam. Even sitting in the front row at the ceremony the sound wasn't great, and the speeches were near impossible to make out over the din of the revellers in the reception hall. I had to try clean it up in post but it wasn't great.

Whilst I think "most" consumers don't appreciate HD vs SD (mostly because there are still a lot of people using older equipment, or as in my case, don't have room to make use of a HD TV set), widescreen is pretty much expected these days...

Adam
At the above mentioned wedding, the "professional" was using a handcam. Have to say it made me feel sorry for my brother in law, though it was a family friend doing it on the cheap. :} (He wasn't impressed with the package he received... and was grateful for the 8 minute montage/music vid I put together for him)

Just looking at the CX560... AU$905 - $1057 on Shopbot... so certainly in the right ballpark (though considerably more in brick and mortar stores). Ahh... tho it seems maybe Sony Australia don't sell it here themselves... the sell the cx550...

Q. How much HD footage do you get on the standard 64GB memory card?
& it's not quite clear - there is a 64GB internal card... can it also use removables for if you are running out of memory...

I see it doesn't, and indeed many modern handcams don't, use firewire/iLINK. As a Macboy, I was thinking that would be an issue... though perhaps not - as it just stores the video as data files anyway, then there is no Log and Capture required, I assume? (Final Cut 5.1 is my only editing viewpoint)

Jay

I have 2 choices RE editing. PowerMac G5 dual 1.8GHz, or a Macbook Pro 13" (2009 model). I'd rather use the G5, because it's got 2.5TB of HDD space, but will also be looking at getting a 27" iMac next year some time... if the wife's psychology degree starts to earn her some money.
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Old May 11th, 2011, 08:25 AM   #8
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

Travis,

Sorry, I meant the Zoom H1, I got mixed up between that and the Sony camcorder!

Link is here:
Zoom H1 Ultra-Portable Digital Audio Recorder ZH1 B&H Photo
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Old May 11th, 2011, 12:36 PM   #9
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

Right, AVCHD cams don't have or need firewire, as there is no streaming involved. But with a Mac you will have issues. Check out the FCP forums for more info.

Recording time will vary with the quality level you select, but the manual says at highest quality mode you can get about six hours internally.

Jay makes some good points, but I don't know that I'd call the image from the VX/PD series "great" on an HDTV. In 4:3 mode it's very pretty, but if you go widescreen it completely falls apart and looks worse than VHS. Well, almost. You're better off cropping in post. You should definitely test this before you buy.
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Old May 11th, 2011, 12:59 PM   #10
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Travis Wheaton View Post
Adam
At the above mentioned wedding, the "professional" was using a handcam. Have to say it made me feel sorry for my brother in law, though it was a family friend doing it on the cheap. :} (He wasn't impressed with the package he received... and was grateful for the 8 minute montage/music vid I put together for him)

Just looking at the CX560... AU$905 - $1057 on Shopbot... so certainly in the right ballpark (though considerably more in brick and mortar stores). Ahh... tho it seems maybe Sony Australia don't sell it here themselves... the sell the cx550...

Q. How much HD footage do you get on the standard 64GB memory card?
& it's not quite clear - there is a 64GB internal card... can it also use removables for if you are running out of memory...

I see it doesn't, and indeed many modern handcams don't, use firewire/iLINK. As a Macboy, I was thinking that would be an issue... though perhaps not - as it just stores the video as data files anyway, then there is no Log and Capture required, I assume? (Final Cut 5.1 is my only editing viewpoint)
Not Adam, but maybe I can help you out. I've had a pair of CX550v cams for a year and have been using them singly and with an NX5 in multi-cam shoots. (I also used -- and still have --- VX2000 cams which I happily used for a very long time. I am happier with the HD cams.)

The CX560 and CX 700 are this year's replacement model for the CX550. I believe that the PAL versions are not yet shipping which (probably) is why they are yet in the places you've been looking.

The CX 560 is viewscreen only, no viewfinder. The older CX550 and new CX 700 have viewfinders in addition to viewscreens, which can be a consideration if you plan on shooting in bright light.

The CX 700 has a 96gb of internal flash memory which will hold about 9 hours of highest quality 24 mbps AVCHD footage. The 560 and 550 have 64 gb internal flash drives which hold about 6 hours. All will also record to SD cards. (Note that they do not record simultaneously to both media nor do they automatically roll over from one to the other.) You can get NPFV100 batteries that will allow shooting for the capacity of the flash drive. (I've run them for 5 hours and found there was still plenty of juice left for the file transfer.)

All will record SD video, but only in MPEG2 format.

In HD modes, the CX700 and 560 will shoot full 1080/50p true progressive modes (1080/60p here in NTSC land). Those modes take up more file space and reduce recording capacity by about 20%, I think.

The CX700/560 have zebra stripe exposure display, peaking to assist with manual focusing and an expanded focus mode on the viewscreen. (When you press the button, the viewfinder zooms-- but not the lens --- so you can check focus). The CX550 lacks these functions but has a larger view screen. The viewscreens on these little units will seem amazing in comparison to those on the PD170.)

The CX cams do a very good job of low-light shooting (they all have a "low lux mode" which allows the shutter speed to drop to 1/30 sec in NTSC land and, I assume, 1/25th in PAL models). Sony rates them down to 3 lux. Very respectable, if not quite as low as the the VX2000/PD150's 2 lux or the 1 lux of the PD170/VX2100 and current cams like the NX5. Interestingly, the CX cams have significantly less graininess in low light than my NX5 and seem better in this regard than my old VX2000.

The CX cams have limitations on manual control. They are tiny. There is a single knurled knob on the front of the camera which allows you to control any one of focus, exposure, shutter speed, iris, white balance, or auto-exposure shift. In theory, you can manually control another function from the touch- viewscreen.

In exchange for the lack of manual control, they have excellent auto functions. As has been said elsewhere, the auto modes in these little cameras are sometimes better than those on the much larger NX5u.

They all have Sony's "active steadyshot" capability which is an additional stabilizaiton mode. I've found it both excellent and necessary for handheld shooting with cameras this tiny.

File transfers are via USB cables. Significantly faster than tape capture.

There are some invconveniences when ingesting this footage to Macs. First, as far as I know, Sony has yet to release a Mac version of the PMB file transfer utility. This complicates ingesting footage. The cameras record to media formatted for a FAT32 file system. For longer clips, the camera splits the footage into 2gb files. On a PC, the PMB utility seamlessly stitches the component files into a single file. On a Mac, you have to copy the files as clips and butt them up against each other on your timeline. Also, I believe that FCP does not read the mpeg transport stream (mts) that are recorded by the camera. You would need to transcode to something your version of FCP can read. Two frequently cited choices are ProRes and Cineform's Neoscene. These formats can be much easier on computing resources and may allow you to continue working with your older version of FCP on your present computer.

As I am not familiar with FCP so I cannot answer your question about Log and Capture.
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Old May 13th, 2011, 11:36 PM   #11
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

Mmm, a lot to take into consideration.

As I noted above, I've been a sony-boy for a while, although my 2ndary reason for wanting Sony (converting miniDV tapes) can be forgotten as I've decided to go with a flash based camera.

The capturing into Final Cut is certainly an issue. The idea of having to convert the files in order to edit them goes again what my film tutors taught me, but then you guys know that. :) That said, from what I've been reading, it's not so much converting but re-wrapping... so that's really just a time/CPU issue, which shouldn't lose quality.

I don't know how the G5 will go on this task... but can connect my 13" MacBook Pro to my 32" LCD TV if I have to, so that's an option until I can upgrade to a modern iMac.

Questions

CX550V vs CX550E
I've seen both these models for sale online here in Australia... as well as a CX550bVE. Are these 3 different models, or likely all the same model, misquoted? (I'm thinking of getting the 550 now that it's starting to be discounted, obviously pending the arrival of the 560)

5.1 Dolby (!?)
Just how impressive is the camera's 5.1 audio capabilities? It is just a gimmick? How easily could I add the stereo audio captured by a Zoom H1 to the camera's 5.1 channels?
(Actually this is something I think I'll need to investigate further RE Final Cut Pro 5.1, as I'm sure it only handles stereo)

Zoom H1
Does the Zoom physically attach to a CX550 or only connect via cable, then require its own tripod/etc? Can the camera record the H1 sound distinct from its own channels?

Thanks!
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Old May 14th, 2011, 12:51 AM   #12
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

"CX550V vs CX550E: I've seen both these models for sale online here in Australia... as well as a CX550bVE. Are these 3 different models, or likely all the same model, misquoted? (I'm thinking of getting the 550 now that it's starting to be discounted, obviously pending the arrival of the 560)"

CX550v is the NTSC version, CX550E is the PAL version. No idea what a CX550bve would be.



"5.1 Dolby (!?): Just how impressive is the camera's 5.1 audio capabilities? It is just a gimmick? How easily could I add the stereo audio captured by a Zoom H1 to the camera's 5.1 channels?
(Actually this is something I think I'll need to investigate further RE Final Cut Pro 5.1, as I'm sure it only handles stereo)"

My personal take on the 5.1 surround sound recording is: (a) useful for recording audio in a meeting where you put the camera in the middle of a conference table and use it as an audio recorder; (b) a good way to record the sound of your own breathing while operating the camera. I switched my CX cams over to stereo.

How impressive are the camera's audio capabilities: not bad for an internal mic but very limited control of recording levels. The camera only has a 3.5mm mic-level input jack. There is no manual volume control. It needs an xlr adapter (Juiced Link, Beachtek, etc.) to handle XLR mics or line-level imputs.

Can you mix Zoom H-1 audio? Probably. The H-1 records standard audio files so your verison of FCP should recognize the files. I have never used FCP 5.1, so cannot really comment further


"Zoom H1: Does the Zoom physically attach to a CX550 or only connect via cable, then require its own tripod/etc? Can the camera record the H1 sound distinct from its own channels?"

Zoom H-1 is an audio recording device which records to SD cards. You put it out next to your subject and record audio (to SD cards) while shooting. (It can be used the way you would place a wireless mic except that it works remotely without feeding the signal to you back at the camera; you mix the track in editing. ). The H1's recording quality is, I think, about on par with the CX cams' interenal mic. It just extends your reach without needing to connect it.

When you speak of attaching it to the camera, you may be thinking of DSLR cams, some of which have terribly poor on-board audio.

I'm not sure you could use the H-1 as an external mic, in any event. The H-1 has a 3.5 mm stereo output jack which is basically an earphone jack low grade line-out. Since the CX cams only have mic-level for their 3.5 mm port, I think the H-1 signal would likely be way to hot for feeding the camera.


The difficulty with an H1 is syncing it's audio tracks on your timeline with the camera audio tracks. You basically do this by matching up the audio waveform displays. Plural Eyes software can automate this matching process but I do not know if they have a version that works with FCP 5.1.

The CX cams do not have the facility to simultaneously record from the mic jack and the internal mic. It is an "either or" not both.

CAPTURES: These cams do not make the DV files you are used to with a PD170. There is no loss in quality in converting to Pro Res or Cineform "mov" files. Actually, they enhance your ability to get all the quality out of the video. 24 mbps AVCHD (which is what the CX550 records) is a highly compressed format, even more so than mpeg2. Kind of like a zip file. You get one full frame ("I" frame), with the next 14 frames being B or P frames (which basically just carry information about changes). Essentially, Pro Res and Cineform ProRes and Cineform decompress every frame into an "I" frame. While the resulting video file is much larger, it is also much more easily processed even by older software that would not otherwise read the new formats.
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Old May 14th, 2011, 06:15 AM   #13
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

Travis,
Leave DV behind and at least start shooting in HD. Your G5 can handle the HDV and Prores formats no problem. Since you are focussed on just the camera upgrade and not your post production equipment, you put yourself in a bind so maybe you shouldn't go AVCHD. Pickup an HDV based camera and start shooting.

That said, if you intend to upgrade your post production and end up getting an AVCHD camera, then at least budget for a Clipwrap license. Clipwrap will convert the AVCHD files to MOV and also transcode them to Apple's ProRes codec which will make the editing easier on the G5. It comes at the cost of file size and some upfront processing during the ingest of the files. But, you've been capturing from tape so no big deal.

I'm not sure why you feel it's important to stay with Sony when there's plenty of alternatives...some less expensive....take a look at the Panasonic TM700 if you can find one or the TM900, or the Canon XA10. There's others I'm sure.

Also, instead of using a memory based audio recorder and it's extra's, get a camera with an external mic jack and add a Beachtek to get your XLRs. Price wise, it should be about the same but the logistics may suit you better.
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Old May 14th, 2011, 07:49 PM   #14
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

Following up on Les's post, the Canon XA10 is probably more of what you had in mind but the price is about double your planned camera budget. B&H offers the NTSC version for $2,000 ($US). So, probably out of the question.

The Panasonic TM cams are similar in size and layout to the Sony CX cams you were looking at. The CX cams have 2 to 3 times the amount of on-board flash memory but all of the cams will also record to SD cards. They all have 3.5mm stereo mic jacks, so external mics wither have to have that kind of connection (e.g., Rode Videomic) or else you need a passive adapter like the Beachtek or Juiced Link to feed line-level inputs and XLR mics. To mount external mics on any of these liltte cams, you will need an accessory bracket.

To read further about the Panasonics, check out the AVCCAM forum here at DV info. I believe that there are some recent posts comparing the TM and CX cams.

Finally, I'm wondering if we have resolved your questions about the Zoom H-1 recorder?
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Old May 16th, 2011, 12:40 AM   #15
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Re: PD170 vs Modern Camcorder?

I've been having a look around... have only seen one CX550 - discounted to AU$1044... my wife keeps affirming the comments here not to limit myself to one camera/brand, and as I do have a propensity to become obsessive, I am trying to keep my mind open.

The cheapest Canon XA10 on shopbot was about AU$2600... so definitely out of budget. The Pana TM700 is only around $800... Does anyone here actually notice and become annoyed by the sound from an internal hard drive recorder? After reading that comment somewhere, I was definitely looking to flash, which of course pushes the price.

On a very superficial note (and I guess it's not my first), I did like the look of the CX550, in as much as it looks a lot beefier than most modern handcams.

Oh Jay - I meant CX550VE, but got my bold wrong.

My pref would be for sound direct to the video file... the H1 would allow this, by connecting direct to the camera... (according to their website)... and would be cheaper than a Beachtek option (which retails around $250, compared to $130 for the H1 here in Oz). So, at least as far as my sister's wedding is concerned... I think the H1 will win.
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