I went to Ginza Sony Plaza to look at FX1

I went to Ginza Sony Plaza to look at FX1
an article by Kaku Ito

This user’s report is condensed from our Sony HDR-FX1 discussion group.

(Note: Be sure to check out Kaku’s web log, too.)

Since Mark Kubat asked me about the Sony HDR-FX1, I went to Ginza Sony Plaza by my bike and checked it out. They had two FX1s that you can actually try, one on a reasonable tripod and one with the shoulder pad. One with the tripod was connected to a Wega TV with a composite cable.

I tried the tripod one first. Since it is using Mpeg compression, I guessed that it would not be so great when the cam is panned quickly. They had arranged fake flowers in front of the cam with a couple of halogen lights. First, I tried the zoom ring and the rocker zoom. The FX1 has a toggle between ring and rocker which I had assumed that the rocker would work even it is turned to the rocker position, but I was wrong. The zoom ring feels like how it is on VX2xxx series, but since it has a little handle, it is easier to zoom in/out all the way. However, the ring is rather heavy like the similar Sony cam, so you have to hold the cam very tight, otherwise it would wobble when you tried to move the ring fast in its extreme range.

I could not figure out the functions of each buttons on the side, each says iris, gain, shutter speed, white balance. The first two seem to be adjusted by the silver knob in the front but the rest seem to be adjusted by the revolving menu selector (the one that partially shows, but most of the knob is hidden in the chassis). It was confusing to me when I guessed that the silver knob would adjust all of those functions but then I realized that it is strictly for the iris. However, although the FX1 has a lot of buttons, I saw much less parameters in the menu as I see in today’s most DV camcorders.

The LCD display was nice and clear. The placement of the LCD feels somewhat awkward in the beginning, but after you get used to it, the position seems to make sense.

After I played around with the function, finding out how most of the adjustments work then I started taping.

First I taped the fake flowers. The fake flowers consist of color variations and gradation, so it was ideal to evaluate the color reproduction. I tried to zoom in and out, focus in and out, then wobbled, panned fast in front of the flowers. As I switched the cam to play and watched the video closely, the video looked excellent, especially the color and the details. The shaky footage looked regular, I could not see degradation when I played it in the regular speed. But when I play it back in the slow mode, ah, now I can see what the Video Alfa magazine editor was talking about. When you play the shaky footage slow, I saw less resolution in especially “red carnation”. However, I was shaking and wobbling the camera really fast, which I would never shake my cam this fast for any reasonable purpose. It made me think that how in the world Sony was able to do this (changing the resolution or gradation) in real time instead of getting disappointed with the result. It varies the resolution in a very natural manner in a way. Some really picky people might not want to use slow play back if the image resolution/gradation was less, as a result of fast panning. If there are a hundreds of pingpong balls with various color moving in front of the cam, it may not do good, but how often do you have to shoot that? By zooming in and out fast on the flowers, it didn’t result in lower resolution/gradation, though even with the zooming ring and the lever, I could not zoom much faster.

After checking it out on the tripod, they let me shoot with the cam with the shoulder pad and play the tape back on the Wega TV. I shot people walking by, panning and zooming in and out. I was amazed at how well the stabilizer worked. Lately, I worked with Canon XL2, Panasonic NV-GS400 and AG-DVC30 and so on, I felt like something wrong because the image was so stable when I played back. The skin and hair of people looked amazing. Also, I did not see any of the resolution degradation in real life shooting. I would have a better idea if I saw the footage played back on a larger screen like 100 or 120 inch with a projector because even GS400 and XL2 look relatively nice on a 42 inch monitor, but I must say FX1 is higher in resolution if the image is stable or in normally panning situation. I assume that FX1 is okay for following fast moving objects as I worried before I tried the real thing (I shoot downhill/4X/Dual mountainbike race), but maybe not good in the pingpong ball example (not tested so not certain).

The showroom was very bright, so I would not know how this cam works in the dark situation. Because of this, I would not make a final decision to order this yet, but for shooting under normal condition, to be able to get this kind of resolution is especially nice if you are thinking about projecting the image on larger screens. If you are aiming for monitors smaller than 40 inch or so, this HDV business may not excite you much, but making DVD from the footage shot by FX1 might look nicer than XL2 because the resolution is higher in most cases.

*I only tested the cam with 1080i mode. Since FX1 can shoot in DV mode, having anamorphic dv mode with this high quality optical architecture might result in superior resolution in even 16:9 DV mode, but it is only my guess.

*I was amazed how the staff (girl) can put the cam back in defaut setting. She was very fast, believe me!

*The cam was bit heavier than I wanted it to be, but since it has nice large zoom ring, I really can’t complain.

*The shoulder pad works like how XL1 was held. The pad is pushed against your chest. I would rather have a real shoulder pad.

I’ll probably go to Pro Video Station in Shinjuku (we have our HD NLE displayed there) after 15th to look at the cam good again. They will probably let me take it out of their shop for a spin.

I tried the preset on cineframe/cinegamma mode, but did not try it long enough to see how good it is. Personally, I would prefer interlaced video for today’s typical monitoring situation (remember people are making noise about flickering or moire happening with the XL2? That is happening because people are watching progressive footage on interlaced monitor), especially for my mountainbike video. So I would do the other test I need to do first, but the frame mode thing would come at last. But if I have the time, I will try.

To me, the XL2 was too heavy for what I do and progressive mode was not needed to me unless it would do 60p. I was interested in XL2 mainly because I thought the progressive format would give me higher resolution on my footage projected on 120 inch screen. It was nice, but I also needed a higher frame rate for fast moving object. XL2 is good for shooting something on a tripod and still or very subtle movement, like the film camera. So, in order to get better resolution, HDV is one way, and so far, FX1 seems like to be able to fill my demand. There would be problems on quick pans or many color objects moving fast, but that would be very rare to happen, so as long as FX1 would shoot nicely in the dark (this would be the last test), then I would sell my last DSR-PDX10 then go for FX1. I said FX1 is bit heavier than I thought and I was right, it is 500 grams heavier than VX2100 according to the web specs. By the way, the optical architecture on FX1 seems to be performing better than VX2100 for low light situtation according to the web site, too. It is supposed to be less noise.

I heard that Pro Video Station in Shinjuku received over 100 units on order (must be more by now) and they are guessing that they will not able to deliver all. The price is around $4000 but not certain.

Written by Kaku Ito.
Thrown together by Chris Hurd.

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