Impressions of the Sony EX1
Shooting XDCam with a new breed of camcorder
PAGE 5 We have entered a time in acquisition where compromise has become an acceptable way of working. Buying a high quality video camera used to be like buying a house in terms of cost, however compromises in compression, lens technology, processing have seen the price of cameras tumble and some camera people hate this. My verdict is these compromises have opened doorways and shooting possibilities which produce high quality images at very affordable prices. I regard the images out of the EX1 as the some of the best I have seen from a sub-$10 000 camera. The images are sharp with beautiful colour, the size of the camera suits me perfectly. One cameraman remarked to me that ergonomically he found the camera very awkward. Personally, I love the way the EX1 feels and handles. For hand-held one needs two hands to operate but I would not call the camera heavy or difficult. The integration of the rotating grip provides versatility, the small form means I can carry it all day without making one arm longer than the other and I can shoot five times the footage I would ever be able to achieve with a larger camera - and, if used properly certainly gives images which compete with some of the larger cameras.
How can one define image quality. The difference between the images out of a Sony Z1 compared to DSR-570 or 450 comes down to sharpness and resolution. Prosumer cameras do not offer lenses which compare to the high-end. The difference is noticeable. To call some of the more "prosumer" lenses soft is not an unfair criticism.
The lens on the EX1 is sharp. It provides the look of a more high-end camera - so if you want that high-end look there are two ways to achieve this: one, buy a high-end camera or, buy something with a good lens like the EX1 or a competitor which offers interchangeable lenses so that a quality lens can be attached. Otherwise one is limited to the resolving power of the included lens. I have worked with the Sony Z1 for several years, prior to using the EX1, and have always been very happy with the results. However, the Z1 had a certain look and in no way are the images as sharp as those which come from the EX1. It is worth stating that not everyone likes the "sharp" look. Some people even say the EX1 is too sharp.
It's like having a DSR-570 in a Z1 size and it shoots HD progressive or interlaced, 1080i or 720P and also 720P 50 which has truly become one of my favourite formats.
This is not a perfect camera...
Auto focus not great - but expand the focus and the manual focus control is brilliant. You can shoot with expanded focus engaged. I would describe the focus controls as being so good one could follow a moving bird and keep it in focus. This sets this camera apart from many of the other competing models.
Instant playback of last shot - by default will play the last 3 seconds, however this can be changed in the menu to playback the entire last shot. So a quick check of the last take filmed is easy and useful.
I see the EX1 as heralding a revolution. We now have a very portable camera with 1/2 inch sensors, a quality lens and a tapeless high capacity card system with very fast transfer rates. This compact and portable camera truly has the potential to compete with larger cameras.
The beauty of the EX1 is that it shoots very high quality images straight to SxS cards which can then be ingested into a NLE. Operation is slick and impressive. However, as brilliant as the EX1 is it suffers from the major limitation that the camera only does HD. If you want SD you will have to convert your images and this is a time consuming process (click here for details on how to convert HD images from the EX1 to SD.) If the client wants SD then this camera will not provide SD native. So workflows need to be adopted, and having used this camera considerably I have found this to be a problem for fast turnaround productions where the requirement is for SD output. This is not a criticism of the EX1 - but it is something one needs to consider when purchasing. However - an overlooked feature of the EX1 is that it shoots both XDCam HD at 35mbps, variable bit rate in high quality mode and also 25mbps at a constant bit rate. The 25mbps is HDV and can be fed out of the camera via firewire or moved as data from SxS card to hard drive. Shooting HDV on the EX1 still produces very good images and integrates with other HDV footage. So for the person who owns an EX1 and another HDV camera such as Z7 or Z1 then compatibility is ensured. If you want a HD camera with a great lens which shoots high quality images with tapeless workflow - and the ability to shoot to various HD formats, then the EX1 stands out as a front runner in this area. If you want or need SD and need quick turnaround then it may be wise to look elsewhere. Of course the people at Sony are very clever and one of the main competitors to the EX1, as mentioned right at the beginning of this writing comes from Sony itself in the form of the Z7. More on the Z7 soon.