Cruising Alaska's Inside Passage with the Sony Z1U at
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Sony HVR-Z1 / HDR-FX1
Pro and consumer versions of this Sony 3-CCD HDV camcorder.

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Old July 4th, 2006, 03:17 AM   #1
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: Denver, Colorado
Posts: 1,891
Cruising Alaska's Inside Passage with the Sony Z1U

I returned from cruising Alaskaís Inside Passage June 23 aboard the Mercury, and have been assembling footage shot with the Z1U. I preface the events with the preparations I made leading up to the trip. I am not a filmmaker or a professional, although I did make a little money with still photography in an earlier era. Now Iím just an amateur shutterbug photo/video enthusiast who took some pictures on vacation.

Iíve owned the Z1U for more than a year, but along the line I was tempted by a desire toward still photography with a DSLR. When I couldnít resist any longer, I purchased a Canon 5D 12.8/mp and 24-105L lens with image stabilization. Itís a robust camera and lens combo that weighs nearly as much as the Z1U, creating my first dilemma. Do I take along one or the other or both, and how? Thereís something alluring about the handling and sweet sounds of a DSLR, and the detail you can capture with it. But something inside I just felt Iíd be missing an opportunity of a lifetime if I let the HDV cam stay at home, so I found a way to carry them both on the plane to disembark from Seattle.

I shot 252 stills, and just didnít want to put it down. I was just not quite as enthusiastic for the Sony Z1U, itís fun to use to be sure, but maybe because it was older or something else, I canít say exactly but it seemed more like a plastic utility knife and the Canon more like a fine Nikon professional camera, Lol. That opinion would change, more about that later.

As it unfolded, I simply made the maximum use of each at every opportunity. As we sailed into Disenchantment Bay, I used both to photograph and shoot video of the Hubbard Glacier. I used them both everywhere, in port, on the ship, shooting portraits and landscapes, flash photography, other ships and boats, shooting video and stills of family, old friends and new friends, in all weather and all light conditions. I shot video on the deck, from the veranda, the halls, in dimly lit bars, performers on stage, and under strobing lights at the discoteque.

Once back, I couldnít wait to download the still pictures. To be sure, they came out great and I spent hours pixel-peeping the fine detail in picture after picture. After several hours of that activity, it dawned on me that I didnít have even a single snapshot that was ďmagic.Ē On one level, they were all sharp, vivid, correctly exposed, properly composed, but in the totality of it, they donít tell a STORY. Still pictures fade into memories of the past. The conclusion I took from this I should have known, but snapshots no matter how impressive the level of detail only manage to frame an instant in time that you can put on a wall or desk. Cameras like the Canon 5D excel at making possible larger than usual enlargements.

What about the Sony Z1U video? I downloaded the raw footage and started piecing together clips. I streamed this out from a networked media server to a Samsung 50 inch DLP HDTV.

I was immersed and I was there all over again, ÖAlaska. The video, all of it is excellent. Despite the challenges, varied lighting, low lighting, motion, this is the best and Iím congratulating myself for getting virtually all of it 100% right. All Iíve learned about the Z1U came together when it counted. So many details, exposure, aperture, shutter speed, ND filter selection, white balance, backlighting, gain. My indoor footage of the spotlight illuminated karaoke performers shot from a distant dimly lit corner are fabulous. The trick there was to not underestimate the intensity of the floodlight or the low light performance of the Z1U. By using the zebra stripes and 12-18 db gain, black-stretch=off, 12x zoom, steadyshot type = hard, I was able to shoot at f3.7 Ė f4.0 for crisp detail at 1/60th second with noiseless background. The same strategy yielded excellent results shooting into the strobing lights of the discoteque. No problem whatsoever. Some credit may rightly belong to the Samsung DLP. Picture breakup of the surf caused by long chain GOP compression? Not a problem here, at all.

Using the ďhardĒ setting for the steady-shot stabilization, my handheld video was never more steady. The vibrations of the propulsion, motion of the waves, rocking of the ship, the gusting wind, it just came out great even at 12x zoom.

Some of the things I did right included keeping people and objects in the frame to maintain the proper perspective when shooting a distant landscape like a mountain range. In other words, itís tempting to hang the camera over the railing and shoot footage of the landscape or shoreline. Itís also easy to confuse the viewer who canít judge the scale of mountains that rise 19,800 feet from sea level without known points of reference. Itís amazing just how much is added by backing up a few feet, including a few people in the shot, the railing, the deck, and what it contributes to the overall sense of scale.

The Z1U image usually has the most detail at F4.0 especially at wider angles but if you zoom in to 12x on distant landscapes, the borders will be slightly sharper by going to F5.6 without diffraction degradation.

I set the white balance manually and often since the lighting conditions were varied and challenging.

Iím just so stoked about how the video came out. Everything Iíve learned about the Z1U, all came together for some great video and a great vacation. I would note that itís not about the equipment, itís about using whatever you use to itís fullest potential. I made a point not to pay any attention to what equipment other people were using. But I did observe a good many people with 35mm or DSLRs with all manner of quality telephoto and zoom lens. And I just canít help feeling just a bit sorry for any and all of them, for if they werenít capturing some HDV, then their trip is now but a collection of still moments frozen in time. The Sony Z1U experience remains alive and immersed.

With one exception, I did strike up a friendship with the shipís photographer, who was a consummate professional, and swabbed the dust from my sensor for me. His equipment is a Fuji Fineplex DSLR with 12.7mp sensor and Nikon AF 18-70mm zoom lens, and a Sigma 12-24mm for wide angle. My wife and I had not portraits in some years. Portrait photographers are often extemporaneous and candid, or the opposite, posing and structured. He is the latter. We donít usually photograph too great together, but he put us into the proper positions, chin, head, hands etc., and HIS portraits WERE magic. I spent $150 buying them.

I donít have bandwidth for uploading or a hosting site for posting clips, but I will honor a few requests (if there are any) for files I can snail-mail to you on DVD media. Right now, I only have 1440 x 1080i60 m2t mpeg transport streams.

My wife is not really into the HDTV thing normally, but she did see me editing some clips on the timeline and was drawn to it. Weíre going to have a post-cruise party, and sheís not going to see the videos until that time. I think itís a knockout but maybe itís just me. Credit Alaska, but the Z1U did not disappoint. Iíll take a prop for once, getting it right, not blowing the chance, although I almost did if I had left it at home. The moral, memories from ships and cruises are made for HDV.
Tom Roper is offline   Reply With Quote
Old July 4th, 2006, 07:36 AM   #2
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Alaska Cruise

I did the same thing last year. Lots of excellent video, however at that time I had`nt gotten into HDV yet. I took my PD170 and got great video of every aspect of the cruise from the scenery to the entertainment( that they alowed me to video ).
One drawback however. My wife didn`t appreciate the fact I was spending more time with the cam than her. And to this day even the greatly edited ( if I do say so myself ) DVD she states just reminds her of all the moments we should have been spending together not with the video camera as another extremity.
I have to learn to balance my time better about holding my wife and holding my camcorder. I just bought the Z1U so it`s going to be tough!!!!
Has anybody else experienced this dilema?
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Old July 4th, 2006, 10:49 AM   #3
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: Denver, Colorado
Posts: 1,891
And to this day even the greatly edited ( if I do say so myself ) DVD she states just reminds her of all the moments we should have been spending together not with the video camera as another extremity.
I have to learn to balance my time better about holding my wife and holding my camcorder.
What a letdown surely. If not for 20 years, makes room for insecurity when traveling just the two if the memory creation activity itself became the mistress. Your story was a reminder of how fortunate this time to not be the only focus of attention since we had the mother, the nephew and wife, three of her sisters and two friends, all from distant cities at the gathering to raise a glass, get loopy and laugh, dance and enjoy our time together. My video activity was thusly welcome and otherwise beneath the radar screen.
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