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Sony XDCAM EX Pro Handhelds
Sony PXW-Z280, Z190, X180 etc. (going back to EX3 & EX1) recording to SxS flash memory.

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Old October 3rd, 2008, 01:13 PM   #1
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EX3--First Shoot, First Impressions

Just finished a week of shooting on location and wanted to post some overall comments. I've posted elsewhere about traveling with the camera, so this will be about the camera itself.

ERGONOMICS--No matter how you slice it, Sony's basically putting lipstick on a pig with its adjustments to the EX1. The chin plate, shoulder pad, angled body, all help, but nothing can really compensate for putting that twistable grip on the right side, which makes everything else list to port. I tried using a monopod with fanny pack, but while it's a great solution for standing still, it makes for too much uncontrollable movement while walking. The best method for me was to grip the lens hood and keep fingers free for adjusting iris and focus. I'm going to try putting some a neoprene pad on the shoulder plate and see if that helps. If that doesn't work, I'll spring for the U-Grip which I'd tried out at NAB, and which allows you to grip with the left hand while still keeping fingers free. ($400.) I like to shoot a lot with the camera slung low, like carrying a valise, but I've yet to get that human steadicam from the EX3 that I was able to get with the much lighter DVX100; I think partly it's a result of the 16:9 frame--any movement gets magnified on a 42" screen. Maybe it will come with practice. And the camera's Steady Shot is not quite what it was on the Panasonic. That said, a DP friend who owns an EX1 who came to check out the camera and shot briefly with it (and is a left-eye shooter to boot), felt that it was a whole lot easier to hand-hold than the EX1.

BUTTONS & DIALS--It was probably the same guy who designed the twist grip who fabricated the on-off switch. The amount of energy I spend making sure it's in the off position is a complete waste of time. If they can make the toggle type switch for Rec/Hold on the grip, they should have done it for On/Off. Having Expanded Focus and Peaking are great aids to focusing in unforgiving HD, and it's nice to be able to turn peaking off from the viewfinder. Sometimes you want to quickly see what the shot looks like without the "photogravure" look. On the other hand, I wish there were a way to lock Brightness and Contrast in the menu, rather than having them exposed on the viewfinder. I've got them set to where what I see is what I get--if it looks hot in the viewfinder, it will be on a monitor, and I don't want the dials shifted. So I covered them with some electrical tape.

Had one scary pilot error moment with another set of dials, when I was unable to hear audio. Called Sony Support in a panic until he reminded me to check the mic/line switches which I'd been unable to see (and had forgotten were there) in the dim studio light and which had been slid out of position. I recount this embarrassing moment in case it happens to some other hapless soul new to his camera!

The viewfinder is probably the single biggest improvement over the EX1. It's a huge help in daylight as well as for critical focusing and irising (which I used often for checking green screen levels). My only beef is that it doesn't swivel. I do a lot of solo shooting, and when interviewing, I'm sitting to the left of the screen and like to angle the viewfinder so I can keep an eye on the shot. You can't do that with the EX3 without craning your neck. One time, an assistant was monitoring the shot and wasn't seeing the left edge, and missed the fact that we were getting garbage on the left side.

I used shot transition once, and it went well, but I'm reading on other threads that with short shots, it's bumpy. I wish slo-mo were available from the dial, not the menu, but, hey, I'm grateful to have it at all.

MEDIA--I used the PHU-60k drive with no hitches, unlike a lot of people who are having problems with it. It was a joy not having to change tapes or cards while doing a long interview. You only need the little Sony battery with it, as it uses barely any juice. That said, tapeless really sucks on location. It may be a boon in post, and as someone who edits a lot, I'll appreciate it then, but when you've driven two hours to a small town, shot for 12, driven back, come exhausted to your hotel room, only to be facing an hour of downloading and the nerve-wracking experience of making sure you've transferred to two drives and it's all there before pushing the delete button at 11 o'clock at nite, well, let's just say I was longing for tape and wished I could be using that time for getting ready for the next day--or sleeping. I also realize that it's a question of trade-offs: were I only using cards and had a laptop with Express34, things would go twice as fast. Still, you're engaging in a critically important, irreversible activity when your energy level is at its lowest. Maybe the solution is the new express reader/cf cards route: buy a whole bunch, verify you've got your shots, and save the downloading for later. But I'm still seeing that as beta.

All of the camera's shortcoming, however, are balanced by the fact that the image is drop-dead gorgeous. I pulled some keys off the green screen footage, and they look great, too, even though they're in 4:2:0. All in all, a good experience, and if I can lick hand-holding, it'll be even better.
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Old October 3rd, 2008, 04:34 PM   #2
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Hi Mike,

You know, even when you are fresh from a short shoot, making the backups to 2 separate drives is and then deleting the clips from the SxS cards is always going to have an element of fear. I was quite scared doing this for the first time, even though I backed up AND double checked the backups in XDCAM transfer.

I think the fear will diminish once we have a number of backups up our sleeves.

As for hand holding the camera, I purchased a DVRIG Pro HD unit. I shot a presentation to a group of people the other day and the rig/camera was on my shoulder for about 45 minutes. No problems with the ability to move around and hold fairly steady shots and rest the camera on my shoulder for that length of time. The 2 handles & telescopic post really help to keep fatigue at bay. In addition, I have the Fujinon 17x lens on the camera, which adds additional front weight. The rig handles this combo very easily, but it is NOT a poor man's steadicam.

What did you mean when you mentioned wishing for slo-mo from the dial? Both quick & slow motion options are available from the dial. Rotate one way for quick & the other for slow. The only limitation is a lack of variable speed changes whilst recording. Please correct me if I misunderstood your statement.

Anyway, enjoy your camera.
Best wishes
David Issko
David Issko
Edit 1 Video Productions
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Old October 6th, 2008, 12:22 PM   #3
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Hi Dave:
I think backups could get more regularized, the more you do them, but there's still that moment when you hit delete...It wasn't helped by the fact that my G-raid mini was acting up, not showing on the desktop without re-booting. I used Synchronize ProX to back up the second drive, which took some of the pressure off. It's a program I've used before without a hitch as my nightly drive backup software. And before filming, I used a little program called Folder Automator to make me five folders for each day of shooting, one for each of my media (cards & PHU drive), so I only had to drop the day's shoot in the appropriate folder. I want the date as part of the final folder's name, otherwise FCP will show hundreds of "16A"'s or "8B's" for example in its Source Info and I'll never be able to find the originals.

The rig looks nice, but a bit bulky. Does it attach to your tripod (in my case Vinten) mounting plate? That would be nice. How compact does it fold?

Re: the slo mo. I shoot 1080/24p, so without going into the menu to change to 720, it will only go up to 30fps, and I was wanting 60. (At 60 the flags at the Texas State Capitol looked very nice)
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