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Old December 8th, 2008, 05:54 PM   #1
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PMW-EX3 for wildlife versus Canon

I am a professional wildlife and nature still photographer and workshop leader (Ralph Paonessa Photography Workshops) interested in expanding to video. I've been eyeing the $8K Canon XL-H1 and then the even more affordable Canon XH-A1 (fixed 20X zoom to 650 mm 355 mm film equivalent) which shoot in HDV. I'm also wondering about the Sony PMW-EX3 (I think the fixed zoom on the PMW-EX1 is too short for my needs). I'm wondering how these Sonys and the Canons compare.

One obvious difference is tape versus tapeless; I think I could adapt either way, so this isn't a huge difference for me.

I'm very curious about the differences between XDCAM EX and HDV. I've read that Discovery Channel HD will accept the former but not the latter (except upto 15% of a production). I'm assuming that means XDCAM EX is "higher quality," but I don't know what that means in practice.

I'm also wondering about how these cameras differ. I've read alot about video, but have almost zero experience. From what I've been able to glean, it seems that the PMW-EX3 and XL-H1 are comparable (removable lens, high degree of adjustability, professional sound capabilities, similar price) except:

1. SxS Pro Memory Card vs. tape
2. 1/2" vs. 1/3" sensor
3. CMOS vs. CCD
4. Variable frame rates on Sony that might assist in getting good slow motion??

Any thoughts about these models for wildlife and nature and how they compare?

I should add that my ultimate goals for video are a bit vague (partly because I'm not sure what I could accompoish with what I could afford). I have a particular interest in hummingbirds, penguins, and birds in general. I would love to capture them in motion. Whether I could make a commercial success out of this remains to be seen. I'm assuming that everyone here has gotten rich doing this, though, so I'm sure you can offer guidance.

Also (and maybe more immediately practicable), I have an interest in producing how-to videos, which could be sold as Blu-Ray and/or DVD, and/or offered over the web. I don't know how much capture quality this requires (obviously the least for the web); but I'd like to capture in the highest quality I could afford so that I would have the greatest flexibility down the line using the footage.

So ...

1. How do XDCAM EX and HDV compare?
2. How do the Sony PMW-EX3 (and PMW-EX1) compare to Canon XL-H1 (and XH-A1)?
3. How suitable are these for "wildlife and nature?"
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Old December 8th, 2008, 08:42 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ralph Paonessa View Post
1. How do XDCAM EX and HDV compare?
XDCam EX is true square pixel at 1920x1080 while HDV is 1440x1080. XDcam EX a newer generation of compression which REALLY shows a big difference. And XDCam EX has a higher bitrate. The EX1 and EX3 also have SDI output so if you REALLY wanted to capture the data the same way the $150k cameras do, you could. Completely uncompressed, full HD. Or you could capture 1080p 4:2:2, or you could capture 720p at 60fps which would give you lovely slow motion. And you can do it all with pristine audio in camera if you so choose. Footage from the EXx camera on -3db gain has to be seen to be believed. You won't believe the images are coming from a sub $10k camera. It's just stunning. There is a reason that the major HD channels will accept it for 100% acquisition.

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Originally Posted by Ralph Paonessa View Post
2. How do the Sony PMW-EX3 (and PMW-EX1) compare to Canon XL-H1 (and XH-A1)?
This is kind of vague in terms of how they compare, but for my money, they are truly in different leagues. I am admittedly biased. When I had my choice of cameras this year, the Canon was never even in contention.

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Originally Posted by Ralph Paonessa View Post
3. How suitable are these for "wildlife and nature?"
As wildlife cameras go, the EX series may well be tailor made. Looking at the footage is like watching it through clear plate glass. It's not perfect, but it's as good as anything you'll see from anything under $50k. Or at least that's been my experience. I had my camera hooked up to a big plasma at the office today, looking at some stuff I shoot 3 weeks ago. At night, in existing light in a parking lot. My buddy who does video for a living was just stunned at the images. This camera was as clean in nighttime existing light as my DVX is in full daylight.

If I was shooting high motion sports, I'd probably look for a different camera, but for shooting wildlife, scenics, and so forth, this camera would be on top of my list by a wide margin. Certainly at this price range. Maybe I'll take the camera out soon and shoot some wild life and scenics. I haven't really done that yet.
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Old December 8th, 2008, 09:52 PM   #3
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Here's a comparison I just thought of that has never been mentioned.
With wildlife, you'll always have to be prepared to shoot at a moment's notice.
With the EX-3, leave the power on at all times. When you press record, you'll be recording at that instant. There are no heads to spin up, no tape to cue.

With the Canon's tape based system, the tape transport goes into slack mode if you're in record/pause too long. So when you press record, you'll have to wait at least 5 seconds or maybe longer before the tape cues up, the heads come up to speed, and recording begins. Those precious seconds could be the fine line between either getting the shot or not.
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Old December 8th, 2008, 09:56 PM   #4
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I document nature as well from time to time and have worked with the Canon XH-A1 extensively and currently have migrated to a Sony PMW-EX3. Honestly, the EX3 in full zoom gets too soft for my taste, but the quality is much better (especially if you look close enough). If you zoom in on HDV footage, you see all kinds of compression. With XDCAM compression, there is MUCH less blocking/noise. This can be an issue if you compress to different formats, or blow up for the big screen.

My answer to you is this....although it's an expensive one.

Forget Canon and go with Sony (EX3), only because it will produce better images and yield a better work flow.

Buy the Canon KH-20 lens or go for Canon EOS lenses/adapters for 20x+ power.

If you are on a strict budget like the rest of us, then you may want to go with the XL-H1, as it has a viewfinder that works well (the XH-A1 flip out screen is not worthy for achieving sharp focus and the viewfinder is sub-par.
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Old December 8th, 2008, 10:02 PM   #5
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If I was shooting high motion sports, I'd probably look for a different camera, but for shooting wildlife, scenics, and so forth, this camera would be on top of my list by a wide margin. Certainly at this price range.
Could you explain that comment about high motion sports? A lot of the wildlife I'd shoot could be actively moving (e.g. birds flying, penguins running, eleven lords-a-leaping**). I realize there must be limits to capturing fast motion; but I've been told that HDV "breaks up" with a lot of motion. So I'm curious what you're referring to here.

(**It sounds like the camera would be stunning for the partridge in a pear tree, however. Ho ho ho ;)
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Old December 8th, 2008, 10:15 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Ralph Paonessa View Post
Could you explain that comment about high motion sports? A lot of the wildlife I'd shoot could be actively moving (e.g. birds flying, penguins running, eleven lords-a-leaping**). I realize there must be limits to capturing fast motion; but I've been told that HDV "breaks up" with a lot of motion. So I'm curious what you're referring to here.

(**It sounds like the camera would be stunning for the partridge in a pear tree, however. Ho ho ho ;)
Action sports often call for quite sharp camera movements. Far different that panning with a bird in flight or similar. The XDCam Codec can be overwhelmed with fast panning and direction changes at high speed. Not as bad as HDV, but not as good as intraframe either. The CMOS sensors will also tend to show skew on some things with fast camera movement. Much less an issue in wildlife, but far more so in sports and action work where the failings are more obvious.

Trying to follow a bird or a lion is VASTLY different than trying to follow a baseball or hockey puck.
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Old December 9th, 2008, 01:44 AM   #7
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I had a Canon A1 before the Sony EX1. Here you have my thoughts:

I prefer the EX1 in EVERY aspect discussed above, except the built-in lens at max zoom, where it goes a little soft, especially at the edges of the picture. The A1 also has 20x zoom and EX1 has 13, so the A1 gives you better magnification.

My solution is to always use f8 when at telephoto.

Another solution is to buy the EX3 and some good lenses for birds, e g 135, 200 and/or 300. And why not a macro lens (like Micro-Nikkor 60). Then you will have the best cam for wildlife, no competition.
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Old December 9th, 2008, 02:53 AM   #8
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[QUOTE=Larry Huntington;974982] or go for Canon EOS lenses/adapters for 20x+ power.
QUOTE]

Larry, is there an adaptor which will allow you to use EOS lenses on the EX3? If there is a link to it would be much appreciated.

Many thanks
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Old December 9th, 2008, 11:12 AM   #9
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I bought the EX3 to use for wildlife. The standard lens doesn't reach far enough for my taste so I bought the Nikon adapter. The adapter is fine (I assume since there is no glass) but I can't get Nikon glass to produce good quality wide open. Look at enclosed image (no cropping). Taken with 300/2.8 ED glass. I have also tried 80-200/2.8 ED and a 135 with the same result. If I close down it gets better but I'm not really happy.

I'm also coming from still image background and one thing to know is that you can just forget about using autofocus. Also I used monopod for sufficient support with stabilized long lenses. Now I'm back to sturdy heavy tripods which makes wildlife shooting less fun and more cumbersome.

Another thing that's bothering me is to how to do both still and video shooting at the same time. Often I want to do both but can only take one, but thats only a mental problem ;-)

One major drawback for me is that I have to go into the menusystem to set whitebalance manually.

I'm also irritated that I have to rewrap(just takes extra time) the native files to mxf format to use in NLE. I don't like the idea of having to buy a new NLE every time I buy a camera. I have Vegas and want to continue using that.

The EX3 is not easy to hike with. I have yet to find a good backpak that fits my desired setup volume wise, not weight.

But once I get some nice footage I'm happy with the quality.

I rented an Canon H1 before I bought the EX3. I liked the handling of the H1 better (the control buttons, like white balance) but it was a nightmare(almost) to focus with (viewfinder). In my opinion the EX3 is way ahead there.

There is no standby on the EX3, so when you are sitting in a hide waiting for wildlife you are eating batteries. If you turn it off to save batteries you have a 15 sec startup and the animal might be gone. If you leave it on, you need to carry a lot of batteries.

These were just a few thoughts from my experience.
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Old December 9th, 2008, 11:26 AM   #10
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It's really amazing to read this stuff.

20 years ago, this footage would be captured on 35mm with sync sound. Try hiking with one of those strapped to your back. As far as stills go, when I shot nature on film (remember film?) I always had to carry a real tripod. Just the nature of the game. I just thanked God I wasn't shooting a Horseman or a Linhof!

How much time does re-wrapping take compared to a telecine? Come on. We have AMAZING tools, but our expectations have grown out of all proportion. Three weekends ago, I shot 2.5 hours of footage. The re-wrap was done in about 1/3 that time. Full 1080p footage, ready to edit before bedtime. Is this really not good enough?

In terms of battery life, I remember wearing a battery belt even for still work. My Nikon F4 ATE batteries. The F3 was nearly as bad. Remember what wedding photogs looked like in the 80s? You were easily known by your battery vest! And yet, here I am able to shoot for hours on the EX1 with a small motorcycle battery tied to an inverter. Or a small sack of standard Sony batteries.

As to the issue of autofocus, the EX cameras have one of the best HD autofocus systems around. Try an HVX sometime. You'll swear it wasn't even working. In fact, it's not even called autofocus, they call it focus assist!

The EX3 isn't perfect. But it's amazing for what it is. And at the price point in today's economy. We are talking about a TRULY professional tool (with some consumer bits) for less than we'd change for a solid job. That's not bad. Considering a few years ago, you'd have been doing the same thing with an F900 or a Varicam, this is worlds better.
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Old December 9th, 2008, 11:57 AM   #11
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Larry, you'll struggle to put EOS lenses onto the EX3 'cos they don't have aperture rings. Nikons mount fine with an adapter though (Les Bosher - Camera Engineer or MTF services).
I think the point about motion in sports does apply to wildlife too, plenty of fast pans and direction changes in my experience, that's the one thing (the ONLY thing) I didn't like about the EX cameras.
Don't worry about tape too much with the Canon as you can get a Flash XDR that'll work wonders with it and record to Compact Flash.
AFAIK Discovery will NOT take EX as full programme acquisition, it's limited to 15% just like HDV, except maybe for low end progs. XDCam 4:2:2 from the PDW700 is the only fully accepted XDCam format AFAIK.
As far as hooking up the camera to a big plasma and it looking great, I know many folks who have done that with the Canon, and it does look superb.
Best feature on the EX cams for me is overcranking to 60fps in 720P, can't overstate how important slomo is for wildlife.
Steve
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Old December 9th, 2008, 12:09 PM   #12
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AFAIK Discovery will NOT take EX as full programme acquisition, it's limited to 15% just like HDV, except maybe for low end progs. XDCam 4:2:2 from the PDW700 is the only fully accepted XDCam format AFAIK.
Steve
WRONG!!!! Discovery will take EX and XDCam HD for 100% production at Silver Standard
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Old December 9th, 2008, 12:10 PM   #13
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But this camera wasn't even released until the summer. What were they allowing in March? And have they seriously told everyone who was shooting XDCamHD (1440x1080, 35mbps, 4:2:0) in the early part of the year that their footage was no longer welcome? Considering that XDCam EX is a step up (Full raster, 35mpbs, 4:2:0) I can't see how it would have simply been dismissed.

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AFAIK Discovery will NOT take EX as full programme acquisition, it's limited to 15% just like HDV, except maybe for low end progs. XDCam 4:2:2 from the PDW700 is the only fully accepted XDCam format AFAIK.
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Old December 9th, 2008, 12:39 PM   #14
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It's really amazing to read this stuff.

20 years ago, this footage would be captured on 35mm with sync sound. Try hiking with one of those strapped to your back. As far as stills go, when I shot nature on film (remember film?) I always had to carry a real tripod. Just the nature of the game. I just thanked God I wasn't shooting a Horseman or a Linhof!
Wow!

Since Ralph is coming from the same background as me I thought I would share my experience in the context of that.

I don't care what you had to lug around 20 years ago. What is important for me is to have the right tool for the job I'm doing. And right now I have chosen the EX3 but I'm not defending it's weaknesses.
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Old December 9th, 2008, 12:52 PM   #15
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Since Ralph is coming from the same background as me I thought I would share my experience in the context of that.
Certainly nothing wrong with that. I too had a still background, but probably not at the level of you guys. Just local newspaper and such.

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What is important for me is to have the right tool for the job I'm doing. And right now I have chosen the EX3 but I'm not defending it's weaknesses.
We all want the right tool for what we are doing. But comparing a semi-professional video camera and a professional still camera, and complaining because the video camera doesn't work like your still camera does, is rather silly. And calling it's operational differences "weaknesses" really doesn't do service to the camera. It would seem far more appropriate to compare the EX3 and it's operation to other video cameras or perhaps even film cameras. And as such one might actually get some useful information from them.

It would be akin to me moving from my EX1 to a D2X and complaining how it won't capture 24, 30, or 60 frames per second and noting that as a "weakness" of the camera.

I don't mean to belittle your comments. That is certainly not my intention. But I just found it unnecessary to call out things like needing a decent tripod or sufficient batteries a "weakness".

I hope this makes sense.
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