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

The Companion notes... this is the second 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 Battery and Charger:

The new "L" series Lithium Ion battery have two very important features. First they allow longer run times, up to 8 hours or more, and in the "Stamina" (standby) mode even as much as 15 hours. The second important feature is that the Info Lithium batteries keep you updated as to their condition and display a visual estimate in the viewfinder and LCD screen of the remaining amount of battery life. That can be a life saver when you are in the middle of shooting someone's long winded speech or trying to capture an important moment. Another big improvement is that the batteries now mount on the back of the camera instead of inside like the VX1000. This allows bigger batteries to be used and you don't have to fuss with another door. If fact I prefer the largest battery (NP-F960), because the weight balances out the camera better.

The disappointment is that Sony decided to forego including a charger. The only way to charge your battery is on the camera! They of course want to sell you a separate charger for $150. There is a numeric readout on the side of the camera that indicates the progress of the charging. There is also a mode on these new "L" batts that allow it to be overcharged. After the standard charging cycle is complete, you leave it on for another hour for a boost charge. It will give you about 20% more time. Pretty cool, but they still need a faster charger. The separate charger Sony sells is called a "quick charger," but I can't tell any difference in charging time, and it still takes too long.

The Sony product literature makes some wild claims about the estimated battery 15-hour battery life, but in the real world, figure about half of what they claim. Still, I used the NP-F750 battery (which is Sony's 6-hour battery) for a shoot the other day, and never had to change batteries in 4 hours. I got home and the readout said I still had over 200 minutes left! There are lots of battery choices and compared to my Betacam batteries they are very affordable!

Are We Still Using Tape?

Although Sony has released a recordable video disc camera, the VX2000 is still tape based. As John Beale pointed out to me, the limited run time and the awkwardness of MPEG in editing makes disc based camcorders not-quite-ready-for-prime-time. Maybe we'll go tapeless someday with a VX3000. I have always liked the Sony transports over the Canon and alike. The Sony transport is more responsive and seems to do a smoother job of moving tape around. The transport controls are similar to the VX1000, but because of the addition of the color LCD screen, they are now placed under the top grip handle. This makes them difficult to get to, especially if you have large fingers like me.

I don't like the way tapes go in and out. The VX1000 was a one step in door. The VX2000 is like the Canon where you have two compartments to close. The outside one takes a little getting use to since you don't just close it. You have to push a button and it electronically locks a about one second later if you do it right. If you don't, the inside door opens and you have to start over. The other awkwardness is that it opens into the hand strap. I'll admit it's not as bad as the Canon GL1, but the strap does gets in the way and sometimes you have to push it away to get tapes in and out.

Digging In The Menus:

Through the on-screen menus, Sony has provided the videographer with a way to customize the camera to your method of shooting. Using the "custom presets" button on the back of the top handle, you can change the color saturation, sharpness level, white balance, automatic exposure (AE) shift and the automatic gain control (AGC) maximum level.

There is a button on the rear panel for the new auto exposure (AE) modes, which closely resembles the Canon cameras. These modes include shutter and aperture priorities as well as sunset and sports modes. If you want control, most shooters go to manual. Luckily there are plenty of manual settings. The new wheel button on the rear of the camera makes getting around within the menus a snap.

Another little disappointment with the VX2000 is the progressive scan mode. If you are shooting for web content, or to later capture stills from your footage, or are plannning to view your footage on a computer monitor, then progressive scan is the way to go. Progressive scan captures non-interlaced full frame video using every pixel on the chips for every frame. Unfortunately, The Sony VX2000 only captures at a maximum of 15 frames per second which makes it too jerky to be of any use. Sony, listen up! We want a progressive scan at least 24 frames per second.

Shutter speed can be set within the menus, and this is pretty standard stuff. Slow shutter effects aregreat for getting dreamy or distorted images, and can also be used for low light shooting without gain boost. Another use of shutter speed is in shooting computer monitors. Match the shutter speed of your camera to the refresh rate of the monitor, and you're in business.

Little Cool Stuff:

The VX2000 camera has the option of audible chimes to confirm certain functions. It sounds like a Nintendo, but I really don't mind it. I would not recommend it all the time but it does confirm most of the actions such recording, powering up, the LCD screen, shutter "click" in photo mode, on and so on.

The included 4 MB memory stick and the PC interface is a pretty slick gizmo. The default setup is for the highest resolution (190KB), and at that setting you can only grab twenty pictures. The image compression can be set at 190 KB, 100KB and 60KB for a maximum of 60 pictures on the supplied 4 megabyte stick. The included PC interface allows you to transfer your images directly to your PC via software. Also included in the VX2000 pack are software programs for capturing photos from the stick and a photo/paint program. Memory sticks are available up to 64 MB with a capacity for almost 1000 pictures. I usually just hit the photo button and record stills to tape, but with the memory stick you can record directly to JPEG format. There is a very tiny button that locks the mode selector from going into the photo stick mode. If you don't unlock it, you will not be able to record stills to the stick. It's kind of easy to miss (I had to use a magnifying glass, no kidding), so look very carefully on the side of the switch, it's there.

Because this video camera is limited to 720x486 pixels and not a Mega Pixel still camera, my first impression of the Memory Stick was less than enthusiastic... but I have actually found some use for it. Here's a couple of ideas:

  • Although the VX2000 can generate its own color bars, you can record SMPTE color bars with your company's name, client info, codes or dates right from the stick and bring it up in the camera on location.

  • How about recording test patterns and calling them up for calibration.

  • And one person wanted to know how he could letterbox "on the fly" at the shoot. Well, create a blue or pure white graphic page 720x486 in any paint program, then make black bands at the top and bottom in a 16:9 ratio. Record it to your memory stick (with the include Sony interface) and superimpose them right in the camera!

Alright Sony, so it's not a total waste!

Some features carried over from the VX1000 are the time lapse record, the frame record (for stop action) titling, digital effects and picture effects. One nice thing about the effects is you can record them or just add them after you record if you're not sure about them. They do not transfer via firewire.

And speaking of firewire, you can use the firewire as a transcoder in or out. This allows you the to use the VX2000 as DV recorder.

Some Extras:

Sony has a wide variety of options available for the VX2000,the first of which you'll want is a 58mm UV or Daylight filter to protect your lens. Tiffen and Hoya as well as others offer equal quality, so find the best deal. The next thing you'll want is a good case. With a camera this nice, I like to have as much protection as I can afford. Soft cases are fine for a lot of things, but I have found the military style hard cases from Pelican to offer the most protection. The Pelican 1520 or the 1550 case is the perfect size for the VX2000, and these cases are available at local camera stores for about $125. You can go to a bigger size if you carry lots of accessories, but the Pelican 1520 has plenty of room for the camera, all the included accessories, plenty of videotapes, several batteries, and a charger. If you need more space for the tele and the wide angle lens adapters, then get the 1550.

By the way, if you have not worked with the precut foam inserts here is an easy way to get the right size holes. Layout and organize all your gear in the places you want. Then use toothpicks to outline the cutouts. Once you have removed the pieces, you can cut the width of the whole pieces to make different depths.

And speaking of an extra lens, a wide angle would be the next item you'll want. Sony makes a .7x wide converter and a 1.7x tele converter, but the wide is my first choice. I found the Canon .7x wide converter for their GL1 is also a 58mm size and it works great! I paid about $149 for mine at a local camera shop which I believe is about half the cost of the Sony. I also purchased the Sony 1.7X Tele Converter. I have not had time to make a fair evaluation of it but my first impression was that it was less than perfect.

There have been discussions on the user groups about the best DV tape. From these discussions, the preferred choice seems to be the Panasonic Professional. I have used the Panasonic, Sony, and the JVC brands and I have seen very little difference in quality or dropouts with all of them. Another point of interest is achieving longer than the standard 60 minutes record time. There is the slower speed LP mode that yields 90 minutes, but all the tape manufactures recommend that if you record with this speed, then you should always play the tape back on the same machine it was recorded on.

The VX2000 comes with a 90 minute battery, but you'll want to buy at least one extra. You must choose an "L" (Lithium Ion) series battery for the VX2000. All of the "L" series batteries accurately calculate the remaining battery power, and display it in your viewfinder. My choice would be the NP-960. This is the largest and most powerful battery, with an endurance of eight hours or longer, and it will balance out the camera nicely. It should cost about $150.

Do you really want to tie up your camcorder while you wait for hours charging your batteries? Sony does not include a charger with the VX2000 so you're going to have to spring for the Sony digital Quick charger, about $135.

Don't have a tripod? In my opinion, the best choice out is the new Bogen Manfrotto 501 head. Its not too big, has a pro-style sled shoe mount and is the smoothest head in the $150 price range.

What else do you need? How about an XLR adapter and a better mic? Well, a good camera operator always has at least a few filters such as a Tiffen Warm Pro Mist, a LoCon, a Fog or possibly a Star. Get creative and don't forget your light kit.

One other gadget you might consider. I used a little remote zoom and focus grip that you can attach to a tripod or directly to the camera, and it connects via the LANC control. It works great and the price was very affordable.

And In Conclusion...

All the niceties aside, the real test is how the video footage looks. Thet image quality of the VX2000, in my humble opion, is better than the Sony VX1000, the TRV900, the Canon XL1 and the GL1. We recently shot a presentation for a tree nursery where we used a $12,000 Sony DSR300 and the VX2000. I've got to tell you, at the end of the day I preferred the shots from the VX2000. If you shop around, you can find the VX2000 for about $2600 to $2800. There is nothing in this price range that even comes close. Sony has done a great job of improving a proven winner.

My advise is to always buy from an authorized Sony dealer and always deal with a reputable company. If you can find acompetitive price from a local dealer, even better. Don't always shop for the bottom dollar. A fair price from a reliable dealer who can offer service or an exchange is always worth a few dollars more.

Now get out there and grab some great images!

Brooks Reid
Air Time Design Productions
see also www.airtimedesign.com/camera.htm

Read the first half of Brooks' review.
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