Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sony NXCAM followup


1. How does it compare to the EX1? Does it replace the EX1?
It probably doesn't replace the EX1, since the EX1 has 1/2 inch imagers instead of 1/3 inch. Also, they just updated the EX1 with the EX1R, so clearly it's not going away for a year or two. The EX1R sells for $6,299.

2. Does this replace the Z5U?
Probably. It's essentially the same body, and HDV is dying. Given the pricing/features of the EX1, this gives us a good idea what the NXCAM will sell for (the Z5U sells for $4,095.)

2. AVCHD? Why not XDCAM EX?
Since Sony owns XDCAM, it's probably not a licensing issue. AVCHD takes up less space (24 vs. XDCAM EX's 35 Mbps) and given recording to flash memory, size is probably a big consideration. Both are 8-bit, and 4:2:0.

AVCHD gets a bum wrap because it's mostly been in consumer cameras, often at the lower bit rates (24 appears to be the maximum for the standard at the moment.) But it's also a more efficient compressor than MPEG2 (which can be a negative when editing.)

3. Low bit-rate? Only 24 Mbps?
XDCAM does have a higher bit rate, but the H.264 compressor in AVCHD is more efficient than the MPEG2 compressor. Some people think AVCHD rivals XDCAM EX (not to be confused with XDCAM HD.)

4. What? $4,000? Anything cheaper?
Since this seems to replace the Z5U, if Sony follows it's current practice with the FX1000 semi-pro and the Z5U pro cameras, there will probably be a semi-pro model soon after that lacks the XLR audio input, selling at around $3,000.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sony kills Tape

For the past year it seemed that Sony was the lone tape supporter for pro-sumer, low-end professional cameras. JVC went tapeless and even embraced QuickTime with the GY-HM100U, while Panasonic has the AG-HMC150. And even though Canon is still selling the XH-A1s HDV camera, they’ve been so preoccupied with the Canon 5D Mark II and 7D you can almost overlook the fact that they seem to be overlooking this market segment. Only Sony was still selling tape and telling people that was the way to go.

Until the day before yesterday, when they announced the NXCAM, a camera based on the FX1/FX1000/Z5U body shape that replaces the HDV tape mechanism with AVCHD on Memory Stick recording.

This is big news. November 18, 2009 may go down as the day tape died. At least for video acquisition.

The camera also has an optional solid state recording module that -at least in the prototype- holds 128GB. According to Sony, the camera will automatically switch cards when one is full, and it can record to the memory card and the memory module simultaneously.

While it includes the expected – HDMI output, two XLR inputs, a new HD imager, support for a variety of frame sizes and rates, and AVCHD up to 24 Mbit/sec - it also includes a few unexpected features, including SD/HD-SDI output, timecode in, and “better” audio. It also outputs a true 10-bit signal, according to Sony

Unlike some other cameras, which output a live HD-SDI signal at 10-bit which has been derived from an 8-bit signal, NXCAM (as the EX1 and EX3) output a true 10-bit signal over HD-SDI when live.
-Allan T├ępper, TechnoTur

It also reportedly includes a built-in GPS.

The NXCAM is supposed to come out next year; at the moment the word is that details of availability and pricing will be announced in January. Figure that it will cost about the same as the Z5U ($4,000.) it also seems likely they’ll release at some point a “pro-sumer” version to replace the FX1000, lacking the XLR inputs, memory unit (and probably the SD/HD-SDI output) for around $3,000.

As well as the resources listed below, there’s a short Sony video at the online Sony HD tradeshow linked to yesterday. It doesn’t really tell you anything more than you can learn from the other links.

I'm kind of excited about this announcement, if only because my favorite camera is still my old FX1. If they'd brought this out last year I probably would have bought one, but I just bought a Canon 7D, and while I don't consider them competitors, I don't have the camera budget to get this one! Guess I'll have to wait until the FX1 packs up.

Chart of HD formats supported by NXCAM


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sony's "The New Economics of HD" Online Expo

Sony has an online HD Expo, which went live today. It runs live all day - there are Sony people hanging out in the chats, so there's some value to popping in today if you have questions! The demo videos etc., will evidently remain available until March.

There's some interesting prerecorded lectures, including one on the just announced NXCAM:

  • PDW-F800 and PMW-EX1: Battle Proven in Afghanistan (Run Time 16:45)
  • Basics of Professional Blu-ray Encoding and Authoring: Part 1 (Run Time 54:21)
  • Broadcast Fundamentals Part 1: Nomenclature, Basic Color Theory, the new xvYCC Color format, Film & Frame Rate Basics, Progressive vs. Interlaced Display (Run Time 44:02)
  • Broadcast Fundamentals Part 4: Video Compression Basics (Run Time 45:53)
  • Brooke Rudnick, Event Videographer, on Sony's UWP Microphone System (Run Time 10:31)
  • Sneak Peek at Sony's NeXt Affordable Professional HD Camcorder (Run Time 9:13)

Dusty EX1
Thierry Humeau, talks about documenting the war in Afghanistan
with a PDW-F800 and PMW-EX1

John Garrett on Sound

Rule Broadcast Systems has been hosting a series of lectures/workshops relating to video production. The Nov 11 workshop on sound featured sound mixer G. John Garrett.

John started with an introduction to the human auditory physiology; the parts of the brain that receive and process sound, and noted that the bone surrounding the inner ear is the hardest bone in the body.

He then asked, somewhat rhetorically; how do you know when the sound is right? Some one yelled out from the back; “when the producer says there’s no money left.

Getting down to specifics, John didn’t have many positive comments about on-camera audio hardware, noting about one camera “What do you think they spent on the audio hardware? Probably $50?” One audience member said she’s heard that the audio on the RED camera wasn’t that good, and he agreed, noting that the very first version didn’t even have audio, and that Sound Devices had tested the RED and found it to be closer to 12-bit sound than the claimed 16-bit [see link below, I can’t actually understand the article, so I don’t know whether they do say it’s closer to 12-bit or not.] Either way, John advocates dual system recording.

the Red One’s near 16-bit audio performance is similar to many of the digital pro-sumer and pro cameras we have tested. This is perfectly acceptable for dialog, especially when hit with a good, clean line-level signal. Sound Devices recommends dual-system sound for critical applications. – Sound Designs

One of the most important aspects of recording is the acoustical space, and the goal of the film maker is to reproduce an acoustical space that "matches" the visual space. In recording, this often means that you have to adjust the space to produce an “idealized” recording. Most importantly, while you can add reverb later, it’s almost impossible to take out afterwards. With that in mind, parallel walls set up standing waves and have a resonant frequency; you must reduce parallel walls to reduce standing waves

Temporary relief:
  • Carpeting
  • Furniture
  • Draperies
  • Sonex

While the goal is to reproduce sound accurately, as a counter example, he did note that in the helicopter scene from Apocalypse Now, somehow it’s incredibly noisy outside the helicopter, but inside you can hear them talking just fine! Sometimes the sound works, even though it’s obviously wrong.

John also told a story of visiting a local movie theater were they had the channel assignment wrong; the center channel was coming out of the left channel. He immediately went to alert the staff, who dismissed him by saying that the projectionist said it was okay. He was more than annoyed by this when he came back five months later and found the problem still existed. As he said, “I'm not just a cranky old man- I'm a cranky old man with portfolio!

He offered a number of tips, some obvious; Don’t go above 0!, Line level is preferred over mic level in case of any noise, and some not so obvious: It’s very hard to get “realistic” recordings of guns with digital equipment. Analog recording equipment does a better job of recording explosions and guns because the limiter works like your ear.

He concluded by listing some essentials for recording:
  • Mixer
  • Directional microphone hyper-cardoid or shotgun
  • Boom pole
  • Shock mount
  • Wind protection
  • Head phones
  • Lavalier mic
  • Bag to put it in and all connectors

Though this was just a fraction of the equipment he actually had with him both on a cart, and in a large travel case which he thought probably had “over 300” items in it. Doing good sound, it turns out, is a full time job.


* Sound is easy, you only need to know two things: what mic and where to put it!
* Where's does the boom mic go? Right on the edge of the frame.
* British DPs aren’t afraid of the dark
* I'm an old guy who believes in the church of the copper wrote
* Sound can be accurate or good
* Quoting another sound expert: Somedays you can be wonderful and somedays you have to be practical


What do you mean “dynamic range”? I'm playing as loud as I can -Musician

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Odds Thoughts on the JVC Picsio

When I first saw the JVC Picsio I was interested in it because it was low priced, looked pretty and Engadget blasted it for falsely claiming it was HD. I’m not sure whether it’s my natural inclination to doubt Engadget, but I added the camera to my bookmarks, and sat back to wait for reviews.

After a somewhat favorable review on Camcorderinfo, questions started to appear when the first review on Amazon was negative. But that’s one review. MacWorld was a little less flattering, when they touched it. But now it’s been blasted by Gizmondo, and the ratings on Amazon have turned abysmal: it has a rating of 3 ½ stars after 7 reviews. Worse yet, one of those five stars is from someone that doesn’t even own the camera, jumping to the defence of budget cameras. The other ratings one 2-stars, and four 1-Stars.

I had the worst time trying to get good quality video out of this device.

The build quality was cheap and flimsy, the controls were awkward and counterintuitive, the video was unwatchable, and the stills weren't sharp.

- poor of image stabilization: practically absent
- poor HD quality: image "wobbling"
- not posible to use indoors: grainy picture; inaccurate colors; etc.

The image was grainy and shaky (even though stabilization was on). I'm returning it immediately. I previously owned a flip HD and have shot video in the same room and the quality is much better.

I want to make it clear that I don't usually spend a lot of time reading through Amazon reviews for a product I don’t intend buying - and I know there’s more than one wrong person on the Internet - but something about the other “user” 5-star rating did catch my eye. It reads more like a promotional piece:

This model comes in three colors; Black, Blue & Purple. It has 1080p HD video, DIS for the video, internal 128MB memory, SDHC card slot, Rechargeable Li-on battery & 8 MP stills

The piece goes on to mention “128MB of internal memory & a card slot” “a 4x digital zoom” and the “HDMI port”, all from a mom who is “not a techy person” and uses it for “kids in their football games.”

For a mother that has to worry about getting the kids to the game, and wants something she can take “out of my purse and get recording right away in a snap” this 581 word love letter to a product just seems wrong. Some of it reads more like a rewrite of selling points: “Even when they have night games you can still see the video very clear & steady just like in a traditional camcorder,” and “My older boy loves the fact it will share right to his iTunes library.

Then again, it seems that the correspondent has had a lot of trouble with DVD production in the past: “I used to make DVD's which took me forever to figure out the software” and then had trouble with the mail “I can't begin to tell you how many times the DVD disc was broken on delivery,” but now she can “just plug in the camera to the pc & the software loads instantly so I am able to share online to You Tube.

Ah, if only the video files she’d been burning to DVD could have been uploaded to YouTube, she might never have discovered the wonders of the JVC Picsio!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Engadget & Gizmodo Camera Reviews

Engadget's video producer, Chad Mumm, provides his impressions of the Canon 7D for video work. He does a pretty good job of listing all the drawbacks (audio, 12 minute recording limitation, etc.,) and notes a concern about over-heating.

There's nothing new here if you have been following the 7D, but I really like his summary, which is pretty much how I'd describe the camera to someone:

We like to think of the 7D as another very specific tool in our arsenal. [...] there is a time and a place for this camera. If we're running around shooting a mile-a-minute, we're still going to reach for our trusty HD camcorder.

Meanwhile, Gizmodo does a comparison of some low-budget cameras, and crowns the Flip Ultra HD the winner, the Flip Mino HD losing because of price and the "lousy touch controls."

Most interesting of all, the recently released JVC Picsio GC-FM1 really scored low, with a rating of: sucked.

It's spectacularly ugly (think Ed Hardy-inspired) and cheap-feeling, with a confusing button layout (unforgivable in a pocket cam) and a high price ($200, or $178 at Amazon). Besides all that, it scored poorly in every one of our tests. Avoid.

Monday, November 16, 2009

GoPro HD Hero

Engadget does a review of the GoPro HD Hero, and compares it to the ContourHD. There seems to be pros and cons for both, with the GoPro having a slightly better color rendition, while the ContourHD is easier to use.

It's available for pre-order at Amazon, and supposed to be released on November 25th.

Photographers Virtual Trade Show

B&H is co-sponsoring a "virtual trade show." You register (now) and then log-in December 2-3 to "chat / attend virtual events / network."

I'm not really sure what the advantage of this will be (didn't we try this kind of thing 10 years ago?) If you're interested, check out the PDN Photographers' Virtual Trade Show