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Sony XDCAM EX Pro Handhelds
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Old October 9th, 2007, 07:14 AM   #1
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XDCAM EX answers...

Firstly, a big thank you to Steven Thomas for compiling the list of questions for me (you gave me back my lunch break today Steve, so thank you mate!). I wasn’t able to get to answers to all of the questions, but I got most of them. I’ll also give you guys a brief run down of my thoughts on the camera at the end. So here goes:


1. Will the camera support a flip system for use with 35mm adapters?

No, there’s no flip system, which is a shame because the EX’s LCD is a beauty (more on that later). However, from what I’ve seen so far of the Letus35 Extreme (which flips the image with only ½ stop of light loss) that’s becoming less of an issue with the latest 35mm adapters.

2. What are the transfer rates from SxS to XDCAM ?

Will depend on your system, but the Sony guys were suggesting approximately 3-6 times fast than real-time download from the cards on to computer.

3. Will it be now possible to preserve the 1920x1080 format to XDCAM Disc instead of 1440?

No, however when the new XDCAM HD 422 disks arrive next year, you will be able to store your footage on those disks (albeit upsampled to 50Mbps). Peter Jefferson suggested that MP4 files could be stored as an archive, but not as an editing format.

4. How many stops of dynamic range the EX has, and how it compares to the 1/2" chip DV models?

Ben Allan ACS shot the EX sample footage for Sony Australia, unfortunately the tech I spoke to said he’d forgotten to ask him about dynamic range when they collected the camera. From the footage we were shown (screened on ruddy data projector – people at the launch up in Sydney got to see it on Sony’s 4K projector) I’d say that the EX’s dynamic range is very good – it looks better than any hand-held HD camera I’ve ever seen. Some of the sample footage had some very tough, contrasty shots in it (person in foreground standing in deep shadows under some trees, with a very bright sunlit house in the background) the detail in the shadows in the foreground looked superb - and this is with the brightly lit house in the background correctly exposed.

5. Are Progressive Segmented Frame modes (25PsF, 30PsF) available through i.LINK

I’m not sure, there was a table in the powerpoint presentation we were shown that had all of the possible output formats through HD-SDI, SDI etc. PsF might have been on there, they might not have – there were a LOT of output options on there, so I wouldn’t be surprised if PsF is one of them.

6. What kind of proprietary adapter is required to use the lens remote controller?

The Sony Australia guys don’t know yet.

7. Is the HD-SDI output live only and/or will it output recorded footage from the SxS cards at both bitrates?

HD-SDI offers output for both live and recorded footage.

8. Can the EX record to card and output SD out of SDI (downconvert) simultaneously and with matching timecode?

I’m not sure about matching timecode, but you can certainly record to card and output SD to a computer/capture device.

9. Will the EX accept a standard fujinon remote lens controller?

No

10. Will the EX be able to adapt (in any way) previous Lanc controllers such as the Manfrotto 523P?

Not sure yet, no one knows quite what Sony are planning for the lens controller.

11. Will the live HD-SDI output offer real 10bits and not 8 bits stuffed into a 10bit SDI stream?

I was told “real” 10 bits.

12. What requirements are for mobile workstations ( PC laptop clock speed, current MacBookPro or MacBook, Vista and Leopard compatibility), RAM size, Hard disk speed requirements?

Just about any current computer should manage just fine. They said they’d used a basic dual-core PC with 2Gb of RAM and Vista Ultimate, and that ran fine. If your computer can handle capturing and editing HDV you’ll probably be okay.

13. Can you copy HQ footage directly to FCS5or6 timeline without capturing or rendering?

Not sure about FCP5, but FCP6 will support XDCAM EX footage natively, just drag your footage straight off the SxS card and into the timeline and off you go! All you’ll need is download Sony’s codec for FCP6 (it’ll be available after they release the camera next month)

14. What are the best software options on PC?

Grass Valley’s Edius (Broadcast v4.6 – due soon) will support XDCAM footage via some software from Canopus (which unwraps the .MP4 files for you) workflow looked fast and simple, unwrap the .MP4s and throw them straight on the timeline.

Sony’s Vegas 8 requires you to unwrap the .MP4 files using the software that comes with the EX (looks quick and painless) and then you drop your footage straight on the timeline and start editing.

The workflows on all three of the NLEs we were shown (Edius, FCP6 and Vegas) looked quick and hassle free.

15. How does it perform against green or blue (or other color) screen?

No blue/green screen sample footage had been shot. I was told that someone had tried changing the colour of a t-shirt with some of the footage, and had pulled it off with some minimal colour fringing around the edges of the t-shirt. That’s as much as they knew I’m afraid.

16. How flexible is footage for coloring in native format?

The first footage we were shown was a short video of a woman painting, at first I was quite horrified by the blue tinting in all of the shadows, fortunately we were then shown that the footage had been colour-graded to look bluish (the native footage looked fine). I didn’t think it was a pleasing grade for that footage, but handled differently maybe it would have looked okay, that’s the only example of colouring I can give you.

17. Will there be a firmware upgrade in the future so that one can store 1920x1080 at 35 mbs from the iLink/firewire port on for example a new FIRESTORE model?

No word on whether firmware is being developed for Firestore, however 25Mbps 1080i should store on Firestore drives just fine.

18. Why no HDMI out?

Because they have HD-SDI? To my knowledge HDMI is a consumer format. The Sony guys sounded pretty adamant about this being a “Pro” camera. The camera has a LOT of output options, it would be hard to find a fault with the camera on that front IMO.

19. Can we use the bundled XDCAM Transfer tool on a PPC Mac, or is it only for Intel Macs?

I didn’t get to ask this question. But the good news is that FCP6 will support XDCAM EX footage natively, so you won’t need the software anyway… unless of course you’re running Vegas or Edius on a PPC Mac (do people run Vegas/Edius on PPC Macs?).

20. Can the EX1 record to DR60 (in SP mode, of course) without any SxS card inserted (or with them both 100% full)?

Good news here – the EX can both communicate with and record to the DR60 (in SP mode only) without any SxS cards inserted. And can record when both SxS cards are full, or as a backup whilst they’re recorded to.

21. What is the bit depth of the internal processing circuitry?

No official word on the internal processing circuitry. The images are captured off the CMOS chips at 14 bit A/D, the tech today told me that Sony’s internal processing is often twice the bitrate of the captured image - so 28 bit, assuming the EX follows this philosophy.

22. Will the cameras allow use of less expensive SSD cards or actively block them, even if they have sufficient throughput?

They dodged this question like true professionals! They wouldn’t say “no” but they also wouldn’t confirm if any non-SxS cards would actually work. Assuming that the read/write speed of a non-SxS card was compatible with the camera, it should work. But there’s no confirmation on whether any such cards actually exist. On the plus side – they didn’t say that camera would actively block such cards!

23. Will HD-SDI output live footage when over/under-cranking?

There’s been some concern about this, particularly for people using steadicam rigs on a regular basis. The bad news is that HD-SDI won’t output live footage for the majority of over/under-cranked framerates. The good news is that it will output the important ones. 1-23, 26-29, 31-49 and 51-59fps can not be outputted live via HD-SDI, however 24, 25, 30, 50 and 60fps (i.e. the regular framerates) are all supported.
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Old October 9th, 2007, 07:15 AM   #2
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The EX is a very interesting camera, in my opinion the ½” sensors and lens alone make a very strong case for anyone shooting HDV to upgrade. The image quality of HQ 35Mbps footage is a bigger improvement over 25Mbps HDV than I had imagined, and the increased lowlight sensitivity seems to suggest that this is a handheld HD camera that can really handle shooting low-light concerts, weddings etc.

However there are more things than just the image quality, that make me excited about this camera. The LCD is great, it has a 480x1920 resolution that combined with the focus assist function (a button that gives you a 2x magnification of what the camera is looking at) makes getting sharp focus quick and easy. It can display an unobtrusive live histogram as you shoot (handy), and can also display a DOF meter as you shoot (very handy).

This of course is all helped by the lens, which is awesome. I’ve never shot on digital with full manual lenses before, 16mm but never digital, the lens is great – MUCH, much easier to get your exposure and focus correct quickly.

I’m still a little sceptical about the workflow however. From what I’ve seen today there are going to be no dramas with getting your footage into your NLE, that part of things is going to be a massive bonus over tape – getting your footage on to the computer and edited is going to be a breeze. It’s archiving the footage you shoot that poses problems. The tech I spoke to suggested that archiving on blue-ray would probably be the best option for the time being, other people were suggesting simply using hard drives. It’s an issue I’ll be keeping a close eye on in the future.

There’s just one other thing I’ll mention, build quality. Compared to Sony’s V1 and Z1 camcorders the EX I saw both looked and felt surprisingly flimsy. The lens feels top notch, but the body and many of the buttons feel pretty cheap. Let me put it this way: this is a camera that I would throw a rain-cover over not at the first sign of rain, but at the first sign of dark clouds – it looks and feels pretty vulnerable.

I hope that was helpful guys, I’m certainly looking forward to getting a sample from Sony for a proper review (though with only one camera in the country at the moment, that could be awhile!).
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Old October 9th, 2007, 08:01 AM   #3
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Great report Mark.
As for the build, what you were handling was one of the 4 pre-production units in the country, so hopefully the build will be a little more robust.
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Old October 9th, 2007, 08:26 AM   #4
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Thanks so much Mark!

Great amount of information.
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Old October 9th, 2007, 08:54 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mark Kenfield View Post
Can we use the bundled XDCAM Transfer tool on a PPC Mac, or is it only for Intel Macs?

I didn’t get to ask this question. But the good news is that FCP6 will support XDCAM EX footage natively, so you won’t need the software anyway… unless of course you’re running Vegas or Edius on a PPC Mac (do people run Vegas/Edius on PPC Macs?).
The XDCAM Transfer application will run on PPC Macs and no, you can't run Vegas/Edius on PPC Macs because you can't use boot camp, Parallels, or VMWare to load Windows.

-gb-
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Old October 9th, 2007, 09:19 AM   #6
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As one of those contributing to the lengthy list of questions, I'd like to thank you Mark very much for all the info!
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Old October 9th, 2007, 10:45 AM   #7
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Glad to of helped out Mark.
Great report.. Thank you!
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Old October 9th, 2007, 11:13 AM   #8
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Excellent. Thanks Mark for the time that you took to do this. You're a true professional. And thanks for a "balanced" opinion on your part.

Cheers.
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Old October 9th, 2007, 11:20 AM   #9
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Thanks so much for this report..very informative.

Do you happen to know the thread size ? 72mm?
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Old October 9th, 2007, 11:29 AM   #10
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Thank you very much for everything.

I'm kind of shocked that they said the HD-SDI was a "real" 10 bits. I'm still not sure if I believe it though. The issue of 10 bit video from a camera has been a funny issue in the past and can cause some mixup. It is pretty darn exciting if it is true however.
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Old October 9th, 2007, 11:46 AM   #11
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Hopefully it will offer 4:2:2 10bit via SDI. If it does, the upcoming FLASH XDR will make one heck of a combo.
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Old October 9th, 2007, 04:17 PM   #12
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Thanks for the info Mark, truly impressive.
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Old October 9th, 2007, 07:10 PM   #13
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Download speed from the cards is 2.5Gb/s, so you can work out download/shooting time fairly readily. Whether non-SxS cards will work seems to be debatable. Sony have had the cards engineered for reliable operation and say that "ordinary" cards don't have the necessary capabilities. Obviously these will get cheaper as production volume increases, so the current costs are not such a downer as first hit suggests.

I didn't consider the camera flimsy, but that will depend on how you wish to use it. The body is very compact and there is little real-estate remaining for any extra buttons or switches. Accordingly these are small and I can see how the criticism will be valid for certain applications. Seemed to me very similar to the Z1 for robustness, but perhaps I do treat my gear with more respect than many. Certainly not water resistant, but I'd assumed that the Z1 also needed a raincoat and have always cloaked it when shooting sailing regattas; so don't see the exposed switches as a negative. Guess it might depend on whether one owns the gear or just uses it.

There was a question asked about being able to invert the LCD image when using the camera with a 35mm lens adapter (as in the Redrock Micro). If the EX uses the same system as the Z1 you can invert the LCD image using a magnet, although it will still be a mirror image.

The material projected wasn't a good representation of the camera and much of it was a demonstration of how people mistake it for a consumer camera so you can shoot in public places without permits or attracting attention. The interesting stuff were shots of a model taken at exposures varying 2 stops above and below correct, showing the clips corrected in post. Here the camera was rated at 800 ASA and the images 2 stops under showed no noise when corrected, although that might not have been so with a decent projector. I would have liked to have seen a more testing subject, for there was little black in the image (blonde, fair skin, light background). The over exposed clips demonstrated soft clipping and I would have like to have been able to explore that -- appeared much more natural than the usual video clipping. One shot in the video cried out for correction (man in shadow backgrounded by sunlit building) and that would have been a good test of dynamic range, but couldn't judge it from the projected image. In the auditorium I was able to try some of the other cinegamma curves and they looked interesting but was unable in that situation to quantify their relative benefits (others kept wanting to look). The black stretch was very nice with precise control over its setting.


Incidentally there was also a large Sony HD TV screen playing a promotional video, and this looked excellent. Would have liked to have seen the test material on that.

The facilities built into the EX1 are excellent and this looks to me like a significant addition to the arsenal for low end producers.

Last edited by Serena Steuart; October 9th, 2007 at 08:02 PM. Reason: spelling, correct download speed
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Old October 9th, 2007, 07:44 PM   #14
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Another view on the switch/button matter:

"In use the EX1 is just in the same ball park as the Z1 and HVX200, the layout, switches, levers and dails etc are all logically laid out and roughly where you would expect them to be on a camcorder of this kind. However, I didn’t like the White Balance, Assign 4 and Shutter lever under the lens to the front of the camcorder. They are just too small and difficult to ‘feel’ your way to during use. You have to flip the camcorder up to actually see what you are about to press. I’m more used to having a camcorder on my shoulder or on a tripod with my eye pressed up the viewfinder and having all the controls fall nicely under my fingers so I don’t have to take my eye from the viewfinder; you won’t find that here with the EX1. I found just about all the controls/buttons/levers/switches/dials on the EX1 to be just too darn small, and I only have regular size hands/fingers. This is a shame as the image quality produced by the EX1 means that some professionals will be adopting it as a B-camera to their higher end gear; and it is these guys that will have to tolerate the little buttons on the EX1. I personally feel that the EX1 needs to have a ‘macho’ makeover in the button/switch department; but that’s just me."
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Old October 9th, 2007, 08:28 PM   #15
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Serena, thanks for the review.

How large was the Sony HD that they were displaying the demo EX stuff on?

How would you compare what you saw to the current camp of sub $10K cameras?
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