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

The Companion notes... This is the second 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 the 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.

Okay, my first impressions of the DSR250 after a few days of shooting... it's incredibly good for the money. Much better than I expected. The video has a smoother, more pleasing look than my old BVW300 (which, with lens, listed at $42,000 when I bought it some years back). In fact, the resolution is only 20 lines less than the old camera.

The DSR250 is well balanced and has the same nice, hi-res viewfinder as on the DSR300 and DSR500. It uses the same batteries too. We spent about $1,400 on 3 batteries and a charger, but that means we won't have to buy another set when we get out 500. One BPL40 battery lasts the 250 almost all day.

The shooting I've been doing is difficult for any video camera... lots of hand held shots inside the cab of a truck -- black floormats, black boots, black or gray walls, and bright sun out the window. So far, all the video I've transferred to Betacam, via S-out/in, looks great. We have a 5000 watt generator, but I've only used two lights, and I've been shooting well over f/4-5.6 mostly with the ND 1 filter on. With my old camera, I would have been wide open all the time and very little depth of field.

The main reason I got the DSR250 over some other fine cameras is because of certain projects I've got going on right now that require a lot of hand held stuff. Also, I found that the flip out lcd screen allows me to get shots that might be almost impossible otherwise. For example, I propped the camera on the dash of the truck on a beanbag, shot back at the driver. I could open the flip out screen, fold it back so I could see it from the side of the camera and get critical focus, framing and exposure just perfectly. It takes some practice to use the lcd screen, but the zebras are easily visible, so that helps.

I would prefer the camera had a lens with f-stops and distances marked, but that's the price you pay for the optical stabilization, I guess. Anyway, you can read the f-stop in the viewfinder, along with both audio channels and whether you've got the steady shot on or off. Nice info to have.

You have to go into the menu to turn on or off the steady-shot, as well as the color bars... a little bit of a pain, but not worth complaining about.

A couple of nice features that come in handy: you can zoom in, say to a face, hit the auto iris button and let the camera find the aperture it wants, just like with a broadcast camera, then make manual adjustment to suit the reflectance of the subject. Well, you can also do the same thing with focus... zoom in and hit the auto focus button. It focuses quickly, release the button and you're back to manual. This is handier than the excessive turns the focus ring seems to want, compared to what I am used to, anyway.

I can see no deterioration at all in the image when using steady shot. As far as audio, I'm only recording ambient sound in this part of the program, using the camera mike on auto. It sounds fine for that purpose.

Overall I'm really pleased with the look and feel of the camera. Glad I got it. I think the JVC GY-DV500 has a sharper picture, but the Sony has a more pleasing look, in my opinion.

So, I wanted a camera with some of the "prosumer" features, mainly the optical steady shot and the flip out LCD screen. The steady shot worked great in absorbing vibration, and with the flip out screen I was able to mount the camera on a beanbag on the dash, shoot back at the driver and still see to focus and check zebras in the LCD screen. Also, the DSR250 is significantly lighter than what I'm used to, so it was a lot easier to hand-hold for several days' shooting in awkward positions. And it's easier to climb hills with because it can use a lighter weight tripod.

I'm accustomed to broadcast cameras, so having to setcolor bars and time code through the menu was a bit frustrating for me at first. Not having f-stops and distances marked on the lens is also a bit annoying. However, being able to read time code in the viewfinder is good, especially if you've got an anal-retentive script person yelling at you for time codes all the time. Don't get me wrong, having good take sheets is a wonderful thing, I edit too... but you get your camera all set on your shoulder, sitting down in a tight spot where you can't get up easily, and they yell at you for the time code and you've got to move the camera down, turn on the light to read it, etc. Lots of info in the viewfinder is nice, including both audio channels.

The picture from the DSR250 compares favorably with my soon-to-be replaced Betacam BVW300. In fact, it's only about 20 lines less in resolution. Although it's not as sharp as the BVW300, the flesh tones have a better look, and the picture is cleaner, especially in fairly low light and shooting saturated colors.

In addition to the truck shows, I've also shot some typical office set type things with the DSR250, ie., standard office set with a guy behind the desk and a salesman calling on him. The client thought the footage looked better than previous vignettes shot in exactly the same set with the Betacam.

The camera is well-balanced, and the gel pad makes it really nice for hand-held shoulder mounting. Audio (using Sennheiser MKH416 shotgun and Lectrosonics wireless with Countryman lavs, Shure stereo mixer) is significantly better than the Betacam audio I've been accustomed to with the same mics and mixer.

I also like the full size DVCAM cassettes and long battery life. And I like the fact that the 250 uses Sony standard BPL series batteries--so I only had to buy one charger and one set of batteries to use with both the DSR250 and DSR500. I've got six BPL40's, but the DSR250 rarely used more than one battery in a typical day of shooting. Of course, if you don't have another camera that uses BPL's you might not like that, because they're expensive.

The lens (yes, it's attached because of the steadyshot, I guess) has the zoom and auto iris button in the normal place. In addition, down on the lower left up near the base of the lens, there's an auto focus button too. It works just like the auto iris button... zoom in, hit the focus and let the camera snap into focus, let the button go and you're back in manual, zoom back and there ya go. I've found that nice because the focusing ring is typical of electronic attached lenses and takes too much turning to focus. It's quicker to zoom in, hit the button, and zoom back. There's also an infinity focus button, so you can just focus on infinity the same way, which came in handy for me in some outdoor shooting.

The camera is pretty incredible in the amount of light it wants, or doesn't want, I should say. In a typical office type set, I was accustomed to using 650's for backlighting, 1K's for key and 500's for fill. With this camera I used 300's for backlighting, 650's for key, and bounced scrimmed down 500's off foam core for fill. And I still had too much depth of field, so I flipped on the ND1 filter. On the interior truck shooting, I had one 200 watt HMI and three little Kino-flo's and was shooting at between 5.6 and 8 even when shooting the driver's black boots on black pedals over black floormats.

As far as overall picture quality, I wouldn't think it would be any different from the PD150, since the chips are the same. I don't know if there are any electronic differences or not and don't have a PD150 to compare. I had four main reasons for getting the DSR250 over the PD150: first, the full size DVCAM tape it uses; second, the shoulder mount -- I can hand-hold things a lot better on the shoulder; third, the professional hi-res viewfinder (it's the same as on the DSR300 and DSR500), and fourth, the political reason. Yep, there's client politics at work most everywhere I go. The DSR250 looks just like any other Sony professional camera, just a bit smaller. This is important sometimes.

So, is it worth the higher cost? Depends entirely on what you need.

I rented and used the JVC GY-DV500 for three days, and I have purchased a Sony DSR250 and used it on numerous shoots. While the JVC has a bit of a sharper picture because of its 1/2" chips, vs the Sony's 1/3" chips, I like the look of the Sony picture. It's cleaner, although a bit softer. Skin tones seem more natural.

However, the reason I bought the DSR250 had to do with other factors: I needed a camera with some of the "prosumer" features for a series of projects I was doing. Specifically, I needed the optical steady-shot and the flip out LCD screen. Both performed better than I expected.

Some other reasons I got it: It's DVCAM instead of DV, and our other camera is a Sony DSR500. Also, I like the balance better than the JVC for hand-held work, which is the main reason I needed a "guerrilla video" type camera. The JVC is not as well balanced and doesn't want to sit level on your shoulder... you have to make a conscious effort to tilt it unnaturally in toward your head to make it level. Of course if you aren't doing a lot of hand held work, that's not too relevant.

Although I don't use the automatic features much, I did check them out, and they work the way they're supposed to. The camera is also excellent in low light. The JVC is probably better in low light, but it's also a little grainier.

Really, they're two different types of cameras. The Sony is a DVCAM in a professional configuration that brings up some of the "prosumer" features, while the JVC is strictly a manual camera with a professional removable lens.

I am not wild about the electronic lens on the DSR250; however, it is sharp and does what it's supposed to. And, even though it doesn't give you f-stop marks on the lens, you can read f-stops in the viewfinder. You can also read time code in the viewfinder, which is really handy for calling out numbers to the script person. And, it lets you read both audio channels in the viewfinder, too.

Also, the Sony has the 801 series viewfinder, the same hi-res one that's on the DSR300 and DSR500. I had trouble with the JVC viewfinder and if I bought that camera would have to spend more money on the better viewfinder.

Keep in mind that with both cameras you'll have to buy batteries and power supply too. They both will run off the Sony BPL series, which are great lithium ion batteries, but they're 300 bucks apiece and the charger is over 500 dollars. However, the DSR250 gets incredible life out of a BPL40. Two of them are more than adequate, and I got an IDX power supply for $180. You'll also have to buy the standard Sony tripod adapter plate with the DSR250. I'm not sure about what comes with the JVC.

What you really need to do is try out both cameras and see which one you prefer. If you don't care about DVCAM over DV, and if you don't do a lot of hand held work, the JVC might be better for you. If you want the "prosumer" (I hate that word) features in a professional camera, the DSR250 might be better. There ain't no one perfect camera for all things in the video world, in my humble opinion.

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

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