Friday, December 14, 2007

One Cool Camera

Sony announced the PMW-EX1 HD video camera months ago, but it’s only in the past month that articles about it have started to appear, and it still seems to be in pre-order status.

And first things first, this is an expensive toy; $6,699 is the price at the moment, putting it out of reach of the video hobbyist.

But what a camera. Sony sells a variety of HD camera’s, and this one bridges a gap between their semi-pro cameras and their true pro cameras. On the semi-pro side, existing cameras like the HDR-FX1 and HVR-Z1U feature three chips, a fixed lens, record to tape (MPEG-2) and cost about $3,000. In size and shape they are very similar to the PMW-EX1.

Then you jump to the professional cameras like the PDWF330, which feature interchangeable lenses and record to optical discs using Sony’s XDCAM format. But it’s a big jump; $15,000 is at the low end for these cameras.

For me, the intriguing thing about the professional XDCAM cameras is the move away from tape based recording. Except for the PMW-EX1, all XDCAM cameras record to optical discs that provide random access; connect the camera to your computer and immediately see thumb nails representing all the clips on the disc.

The PMW-EX1 uses the XDCAM file format, and also supports random access; but records to flash cards rather than optical discs. And it costs half of what the PDWF330 costs (but twice what a HDR-FX1 would cost you.)

The PMW-EX1 does provide a lot of features that the HDR-FX1 lacks; XLR inputs and the ability to record slow and quick motion (from 1 fps (frame per second) to 60 fps in 720P mode) are appealing, as are it’s full manual (absolute focus position) and semi-manual focusing. When they announced it, I was hoping it would be around $4,000. The extra $3,000 is hard to swallow “just” to record to flash memory; even with the many additional features.

And when it comes down to it, it’s the movement away from tape that’s the most interesting – and the most worrying – feature of this camera. I’m excited by the idea of getting rid of tape; but I honestly don’t know how I’m going to manage archiving when I go to a tapeless system. I’m terrible at doing backups and archives, and tape provides at least an emergency backup.

In the B&H article First Look at the Sony PMW-EX1; An Interview with Doug Jensen there’s a reference to “an archiving method that actually gives me two backups of everything I shoot” but he cannily doesn’t explain what that method is (or what it will cost.) I’m afraid that if I ever ponied up the $7,000 for this camera, I’d need to spend another $2,000 or more to really set up some kind of archive system. For example, Sony’s PDW-U1 XDCAM Drive Unit costs $2,800. Of course, I could buy a Blu-ray burner for about $600.

I guess it’s just as well I can’t afford this camera.

Sony PMW-EX1 overview

PDW-EX1 brochure (PDF Format)

Digital Content Producer: First Look: XDCAM EX

First Look at the Sony PMW-EX1; An Interview with Doug Jensen

DV User: Sony XDCAM EX – PMW-EX1 Solid-State First Look