Sony HDV redefines semi-pro expectations
image quality, control, shot transitions, tactile interface, price
weight, intial restrictions on editing solutions
The Bottom Line:
Great cam, great price, but buy a tripod, shoot everything on HD and downgrade to SD for present editing.
Forget XL2's, forget the HD1. This is the only camera that counts.
The LCD screen is a bit cookie at first, but users of pro-cameras will find it similar to a conventional EVF.
The shot transition buttons are amazing, the duration of the transition can be varied as can every image facet (gain, iris, W.B, even focal length).
The main objections seem to be the MPEG2 compression.
I was sceptical when I heard this was the codec that was to be used, I had the luxury of an extended road test with the cam and tested it under the following conditions where MPEG2 usually falls down:
Fast zooms and camera movements: As long as the shutter is at 1/50th or faster there are no problems, slower than this and the problems are really motion blur, no worse than you would expect from regular DV.
Similar colours: I was at a car show and recorded a stall of classic ferraris, all deep reds, the reds came out better than on DV, and there was no pixelation or compression artifacts as I may have expected as the codec attempted to save space.
Long recording runs: I left the camera on a tripod at my back window and recorded a sunset over the course of an hour, on playback at regular speed there was no compression apparant, even when speeding the footage as much as 100x, no compression artefacts were apparant.
Blacks: There was no undue crunching, if anything HDV seems to have a wider contrast range than DV (on this camera at least).
It is a heavy beast, so a tripod or shoulder rest is probably essential for prolonged use, the image quality in DV is as good as the XL2, the image quality in HDV is lightyears above anything else at this price.
I've had to change to Final Cut Express HD in order to get a reasonably priced edit solution, which is a bit of a grind, but as the format is more widely adopted (which it will be, the BBC favour it) more software solutions will become available.
All the 'on-the-fly' controls rest under the fingers and are immediately responsive. This is a huge improvement over the PD170 and VX2100.
The Z1 is largely the same camera, but a lot more money, true the DVCAM tape pitch is more stable, but I've encountered no problems with using ordinary miniDV.
The Z1 gains an XLR box with phantom power (select beachtek boxes will do the same job), a B&W viewfinder, similtanious 4:3 & 16:9 guideframes (FX1 does offer 4:3 guide frames in the DV 4:3 mode) and a few other nice wee toys, but not an extra grand and a halfs worth.
An editing update to satisfy numbnuts in the comments box!.
HDV editing differes from regular dv editing because you have to import in streams, not in frames as currently happens. In order to acheive the high compression that the HDV format requires compression takes place accross several conventional frames, rather than as currently, within each individual frame.
The upshot of this is that you lose OHCI timecode accurate control over the playback device, once you assemble your clips on the timeline you then have to render them from MPEG to AIC, then render it back for output. This does make the editing process more cumbersome, but the results are definately worth it.
Since writing the first part of this review HDV plug-ins have became available for Final Cut Pro HD and Adobe Premiere Pro.
I would also recommend you use a twin processor of at least P4 or G5 or your computer will struggle to capture in real time.
What some of my contemporarys are doing is shooting on HDV then downconverting on camera to standard DV for the edit stage. I think it's better to edit on HDV then downcovert for present day delivery, but retaining your HDV master for when Bluray or HDDVD takes off.