Hands-on DSR250 Report, Part One
by Bill Pryor, October 2000

The Companion notes... This is the first half of Bill Pryor's extensive DSR250 review. It's really two separate reports which he wrote at different times, so it's more accurate to say that this first part is the original and the second part is a re-write. He covers different points in each report so they're both well worth reading.

I just got a new DSR250 yesterday and have spend most of today checking it out, since I have a week long shoot starting tomorrow. So far it's pretty impressive for the money. My normal camera is a BVW300, pretty old, but we're in the process of getting DVCAM cameras and decks. We will replace the BVW300 with a DSR500 in a few weeks, but for some specific reasons, we got the DSR250.

I needed a camera with the steady-shot and flip out LCD screen for a certain type of shooting I'll be doing on some upcoming jobs. I didn't want the PD150 because I also wanted more professional features, like the viewfinder, shoulder mount, etc. And, the DSR250 shares batteries and charger with the DSR500 we'll be getting, which saves about $1700 in the long run.

The DSR250 looks amazingly good for the price. Its picture is just a little softer than half-inch chip cameras because it uses one-third inch chips. However, it is very siginificantly sharper than the XL1 or the Sony DSR200A... much sharper. And it has a look I kind of like. While our Betacam SP camera is sharper, I am liking the DVCAM look a lot. The DVCAM stuff is cleaner than Betacam and I like the look of the flesh tones. I've also seen some XL1 footage that looks pretty good, but it's difficult to intercut it with Betacam, usually.

I had rented a JVC GY-DV500 recently, and I think the DSR250 has a cleaner, more pleasing picture, although the JVC is sharper due to the bigger chips. The DSR250 seems more solid and better built than the JVC. It's quite a bit heavier too, but balances better on the shoulder. I had trouble holding the JVC level on my shoulder, for some reason.. propped in the natural position, it wanted to lean way off level. And the tripod adapter plate you get with it is kind of lightweight. Also, there's a bit too much plastic in the JVC for my tastes, and I think the lens with the DSR250 is better, even though it's built-in.

I'd agree that the DSR250's fixed lens is better than what Sony has produced in the past. It includes Canon stablization (very good) and it can be used in manual mode - which I know is not the same as true manual lens. So far I haven't had any problems at all with the DSR250. I've used it in a variety of difficult location shooting, as well as studio work. It feels solid, like other Sony professional cameras. Also, that pesky electronic lens does have a few nice features. For example, it has the auto iris button, just like professional lenses: you can zoom in to, say a person's face, hit the auto iris button, let the camera get the aperture it wants, then release the button and you're back in manual and can adjust up or down as needed.

And, it has the same feature for focus... zoom in, hit the auto focus button and let the camera snap into focus, then release the button and you're in manual. I find that a quicker way to focus than turning the ring, because, like all those electronic lenses, it requires more turning than normal.

The DSR250 has some nice features...you know how you zoom in to a face, hit the auto iris button for an instant to let the camera see where it wants to expose? (At least I do, then adjust from there). You can do that with the DSR250; the button is even in the same place as it is on broadcast lenses.

Also, you can do the same thing with focus: zoom in, hit the auto focus button and let it focus automatically. Take your finger off the button, and you're in manual. I find that faster than using the focusing ring when going from really close to far away. There are no focusing marks or f-stops on the built-in lens, which is really about the only drawback to the camera I've found so far. (You can read the f-stop in the viewfinder, however.) But that's the tradeoff for having a built-in lens, and apparently that's what ya gotta have for the steady shot to work.

The steady-shot works great. I shot some hand-held stuff and it's hard to tell if I'm on a tripod or not. I can't see any degradation in the image with steady shot on.

The DSR250 also is DVCAM while the JVC DV500 is DV, and the DSR250 uses full size 3 hour cassettes; and you can still use mini's if you want. It looks a lot like the DSR300 and is about the same size but just a little lighter. In fact, it takes the same Porta-Brace case as the DSR300.

I liked the look of the video from the JVC camera, but I got the Sony because I needed it for certain types of things, ie., hand held shooting from cars and trucks, and the steady shot helps with the vibration. Also, for walking low angle shots, I can flip out the little lcd screen and see what I'm doing. I can also prop the camera on a beanbag on the dash of a car, shoot head-on of the driver, and flip the lcd screen all the way around so I can see what I'm shooting.

I think the DSR250 is a really well thought out camera. Sony built an affordable professional camera and incorporated some of the features of the "prosumer" line. At least it works for me. I don't mean to knock the JVC DV500; it's great for the price, but the Sony does more of what I happen to need at this time. I didn't notice any green cast with the JVC I rented, and it worked incredibly well under really low light conditions. Overall, though, it's got a cheaper feel than the Sony. Probably because it is cheaper.

With the DSR250 so far I've seen no "edginess" or "jaggies" at all. Also, I did a chroma key test before I bought any DV stuff. I've seen references to the fact that DV might have some chroma keying problems--not true. It keys exactly like Betacam, no better, no worse. Maybe the people who have had problems don't light properly for keying.

About the DSR250 price... I paid $4995 in Chicago. The batteries and charger I wanted were not immediately available, so I got them from New York. The charger was $565, and each BPL40 battery was $299. I got three batteries because I'll use the same batteries and charger on the DSR500 we're getting, but the BPL40 lasts most of the day with the DSR250. You could get by easily with two, I think. You can also use the BPL60 and 90, but I like to the more lighter batteries.

If anybody's interested, I shot a total of between seven and eight hours of tape over a five-day shoot this past week with the DSR250. No problems, and the footage looks great. About 90 percent of the stuff was hand-held, bouncing around in 18-wheelers, and I really have come to appreciate the camera's light weight compared to my old BVW300. It's also nice to not have to change tape or batteries very often. Those three-hour DVCAM tapes are great, and the camera ran all day on one BPL40 battery most of the time.

Although the built-in lens is very good and holds focus just fine, I'm not wild about these electronic lenses with no distance marks or f-stops. That's the trade-out for having steady shot, I guess. More about the steady-shot... I don't know if anybody else has ever tried to shoot inside a big truck, but you bounce around all over the place. Use a tripod, and you get a lot of vibration. I shot a lot of stuff hand-held, some with the camera on my shoulder, some with the camera on the dash on a beanbag, and some on the tripod with the steady-shot on to absorb vibration. All techniques worked fine, and I can't see any degradation with steady-shot.

Since I'm not used to electronic type cameras, ie., with a lot of things in the menu, it was a bit awkward for me at first, but by now I know where to find things in the menu. Because of the menu-accessed items, it's still time consuming to turn on and off the color bars and the steady-shot, but not a big problem. Keep in mind that I'm comparing this camera to my BVW300. Those who have used other menu-driven cameras probably would love the way things are set up in the DSR250.

Overall it was a major leap for me to use a camera of this nature on a major shoot for a big client, but everyone is very pleased with the results. I did chicken out on a few of the wide panoramic shots and covered myself with the Betacam, though after looking at the footage, the DSR250 stuff is perfectly acceptable. In terms of in-cab lighting, we used one 200 watt HMI for key and two of the 10-inch Kino-Flo's for fill, along with reflectors and an Omni with 100 watt DC bulb and dichroic. The camera handled the contrasts very well.

I do have a documentary planned and perhaps a feature short hopefully for the upcoming year, and I will probably shoot most of the footage for at least the documentary with the DSR250. My previous feature, "Shades of Gray," was shot mostly 16mm and Betacam SP, but that's because it was started about 5 years ago. Today it would all be DVCAM, no questions asked.

Read the second half of Bill's review.
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Written by Bill Pryor
Thrown together by Chris Hurd

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