Hands-on VX2000 Report, Part One
by Brooks Reid, August 2000

The Companion notes... this is the first half of Brooks Reid's extensive VX2000 review. It has been reproduced here with permission of the author from its original location at www.airtimedesign.com/camera.htm (be sure to check out this page for some great comparison images which accompany his review).

The long awaited heir to the VX1000 throne has been several years in coming. Sony has apparently listened to VX1000 owners and, with a few exceptions, granted most of the requests on their wish list. With the new DCR-VX2000, Sony has raised the DV bar another notch and taken the lead in the DV camcorder market.

First off, it's important to know that I am a shooter and I have owned and shot with almost every format out there. I have broadcast cameras and consumer cameras. I have or have had VHS, S-VHS, 8mm, Hi8, DV,", Betacam SP and film cameras for about 35 years. I run a production company and we have been through a lot of cameras and do a lot of shooting. I am not a stickler for details around the house, but when it comes to electronics I become a bit of an eccentric. I am a gadget freak and I love new technology.

I approached the Sony VX2000 with some apprehensiveness. I was really looking to replace my XL1 with a JVC GY-DV500, but I decided to take a look at the VX2000 because the price was affordable. I wasn't expecting the same image quality or features as the DV500 or the Sony DSR300, but there is something about these little camcorders that kind of sucks you in. I would never think about taking my broadcast camera with me to the beach, but I don't mind taking the little ones and gettting great shots. I love the ability to whip out these little camcorders and grab the moment. For some shooters, its ambiguity is essential. Of course, the trade off has always been quality. But the quality difference between my big stuff and the little guys just keeps getting closer.

I love Sony and I hate Sony. From my first Sony 13" TV, my first Walkman and now the DV camcorders, you've got to love Sony for its relentless plethora of innovative designs and technology. Then of course you've got to hate them because they come out with something newer, better and cheaper right after you just mortgaged your house to buy the current obsolete model. The VX1000 must hold a world record for the longest lasting Sony product ever. Let's see if the VX2000 will fare as well.

For the most part I am comparing the VX2000 to its predecessor, the old VX1000. I have had a VX1000 for quite some time and I am familiar with its strengths and weaknesses, the biggest pitfall being its poor low light performance. I am happy to report to you that the VX2000 is a huge improvement. The new 1/3" HAD chips are not as densely packed with pixels as the VX1000, but achieve a superior image with much less light. The quality of the image is remarkable, better than the TRV900 and the VX1000. I like it better than my XL1. It won't beat a DSR300, but it looks real good. There have been several posts on the newsgroups from VX2000 owners that have raved about every aspect of the image quality. You just can't beat it in the price range.

Overview:

Okay, it's not as cool looking as the gun metal gray body of the PD150 but I can live with it, I think. The silver color looks like plastic, and Japan has become so good at deceiving us with appearances it's hard to tell. The body construction wasn't mentioned anywhere in the literature or the Sony specs, but I finally found the answer in the little demo mode in the menus. There it was, "magnesium body". Thank you, Sony, for not changing the rugged construction from the VX1000. There are some plastic parts such as the viewfinder and lens hood, but those parts are plastic on my Betacam SP also. The camera looks a little more angular, but is laid out almost the same as the VX1000, the major differences being the pull out color LCD screen and the superior HAD chips. There are lots more pleasant surprises and a few disappointments.

The Audio:

There have been post on the usergroups about audio issues with the Sony VX2000 and its pro brother, the PD150. The first run of the PD150's without a doubt had some audio problems, but Sony now offers an "upgrade" to resolve these issues. The VX2000, on the other hand, has a different audio setup and in "auto mode" it has no problem. The manual mode needs a high output mic or preamp in order to get the best signal to noise levels... let me further explain.

Recently, I had a chance to put my VX2000 side by side with a recently upgraded PD150. We compared audio in both cameras. The PD150 after the upgrade is clean, no problem. Since I did not have a chance hear the audio problem before the upgrade, I have no reference, but one owner reported it went from -47 to -62db signal to noise.

The VX2000 in the auto mode with onboard microphone has no problem. However, when you switch to manual mode, the gain drops. This I suppose is the difference in the Sony's "new audio circuitry" in auto mode versus the standard preamp. To compensate for the gain drop, you have to raise the input level just a bit. Anything past 50% (or dead center on the level meter) starts to introduce more "hiss" which translates to less signal to noise. At the extreme "full," or with gain maxed out, I believe it could be as high as -45db although I did not have any test equipment hooked up to measure it. I believe the problem is due to the manual audio mode's preamp section not having enough input sensitivity. We did a test and put a Sennhieser shotgun mic through a Semetrix preamp, and feed the line level signal to the mic input at line level. Setting the Sony VX2000 manual mode and volume at 50% (center position) the audio was clean. As long as we kept the VX2000 manual audio level at 50% (dead center) or less, and used the external Symetrix preamp to boost or level the audio remained clean.

If you are planning on using the VX2000 with an external mic to record professional audio, this setup works. If you are planning to use a shotgun or external mic without a mixer or preamp, then you need to find a mic that has plenty of output to compensate for the low input sensitivity of the VX2000. I can't tell you which mic has the most output, but the report that Sennheisers don't work well with the VX2000 is probably because the output is too low.It would be nice if the manual mode had as much gain as the auto mode, but you can work around it and still get good clean audio.

The VX2000 now has the ability to record audio in 16 bit or 12 bit. The VX1000 only recorded 12 bit audio. There is a button on the back on the camera which adds a stereo volume meter display in the viewfinder. Another new addition is a mic/line level switch by the mic input.

The LCD Screen:

The 2.5" color LCD screen is not a big as the TRV900 but it is a welcomed addition. Indoors, the image is sharp and the color is rich. If you shoot outside in bright sunlight, it's almost impossible to see the screen and you'll probably need a hood. Don't forget the lesson I learned the hard way with the Canon XL1. Don't aim the LCD or the viewfinder into direct sunlight. They will burn and leave permanent little splotches all over the LCD screen. The LCD monitor also includes a brightness control and a volume control wheel for the camera's internal side mounted speaker. Having a small color monitor there with audio for viewing or playback is very useful. I love having the color LCD screen for my little SteadyCam rig, and it's great for low and high camera positioning and reviewing your shots. The cool thing of course is when you flip the LCD monitor over to face your subject for vanity monitoring, the image is reversed. The monitor can also be spun around and re-seated back into the camera housing facing outward, so it is viewable even when closed.

The VX2000 now includes options for viewing the 16:9 wide screen mode that includes letterboxing. This makes much more sense that the squish technique of other cameras. Sadly, the 16:9 mode only crops the existing pixels to achieve this ratio... it is not "true" widescreen. Located under the LCD screen are several buttons for camera functions such as picture effects, index memory controls and a two-position zebra switch.

The zebra switch has long been a staple of broadcast video cameras. It activates a superimposed set of diagonal lines which appear in the viewfinder and let the shooter know when a scene is too bright. The zebra switch has two positions, for 100 IRE and 70 IRE. If you have not had this feature on other cameras, you will soon grow to love and appreciate it. When the LCD panel is closed, there's a small outside LCD window which displays the battery info. This allows you to monitor the charging progress of your batteries.

The 180K pixel color viewfinder looks good and I had no trouble adjusting the focus. There is a lever under the viewfinder which adjust the viewfinder for your eyesight. The viewfinder swings up to allow for low shooting angles. The old VX1000 viewfinder suffered from strain and stress on its internal ribbon cable connection after a few hundred movements, but I am hopeful that Sony has now corrected the problem.

The Lens:

The new aspherical 58mm lens is slightly larger the old VX1000 52mm lens. My guess is that Sony probably changed the size so you couldn't use all the accessories you'd already bought for your VX1000 to force you to buy new ones. The focal length has been increased to an optical 12x, but it's still not as wide as I would like. Of course Sony sells the .7x wide angle adapter for this lens as well as a 1.7x extender. I must admit, the digital zoom is improved. There is much less of a pixellated look. At 48x it gets soft, but at up to 24x it might be usable.

One of the drawbacks to the old VX1000 was its zoom speed. The VX2000 is improved somewhat but still suffers from abrupt starts and stops. The zoom rocker works much better now and is easier to control.

Many thanks to Sony for another new welcomed feature, the addition of two neutral density filters. We shoot in Florida and most of the time we usually have too much light. Also, ND filters are a great way of reducing your depth of field and getting that nice soft background look. The filters are 1/32 and 1/4, and are very useful.

The auto focus seems about the same as the VX1000. It does a nice job without too much hunting and is much better than the XL1 by a long shot. The VX2000 image stabilization on the other hand is nowhere as good as the XL1, which I consider the best.

The lens also includes a manual zoom and focus ring. These control inputs are "fly by wire," electronically transmitted, and are similar to the VX1000. They are not bad compared to other similar cameras but are nowhere as good as having real manual control of the lens.

The exposure button and its related wheel are perfectly placed right at your fingertips. The maximum range of the automatic gain is adjustable in the menu, but only to 6db and 12db. I would prefer to have 0db as an option.

Brooks Reid
Air Time Design Productions
see also www.airtimedesign.com/camera.htm
b.reid@mindspring.com

Read the second half of Brooks' review.
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Written by Brooks Reid
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