Home > Gear, JVC, Panasonic, Sony, Video > HDV Grows Up: Sony’s HVR-S270 and HVR-Z7

HDV Grows Up: Sony’s HVR-S270 and HVR-Z7

s270side.gifSony recently unveiled its latest HDV camcorders to the world. This wasn’t just any ordinary product announcement; with the release of these new models, HDV arrived as a true professional video acquisition technology.

Just as MiniDV was a format that evolved into DVCAM and DVCPRO, and eventually DV itself became acceptable for broadcast, and even feature film production, HDV started as a “consumer” version of HD. But it has evolved dramatically in Sony’s latest models.

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The key features of these camcorders that define HDV’s leap to pro production are as follows:

  • A removable lens on a 1080p camcorder
  • An on-shoulder, full size tape camcorder
  • Full HDV bandwidth to any third-party compact flash media
  • Four channels of audio recorded in camera with the video
  • Good low-light capability

jvcwfilmlens.jpg

Lens
JVC broke the “removable lens” barrier with its 720p-based GY-HD100. This smallish, but definitely on-shoulder, camcorder was adaptable to any number of projects with a removable lens. JVC added the icing of true 24p recording to HDV tape. The market jumped on this and started producing adapters and lenses to use with this camcorder.

The two limitations on that camcorder (and its successors, the HD110, HD200, and HD250), were that it was limited to 720p (and at 19Mbps 24p, it did not use the full 25Mbps bandwith of HDV, leaving bits “on the floor,” so to speak). It also did not record the higher-resolution 1080 image.

I’ll leave alone the arguments over how viewable the difference is between 1080p and 720p images. What matters is that there was a large group holding out for a true 1080p24 camcorder with a removable lens. That’s what Sony has now delivered in not just one, but two different body styles.

Sony itself offers adapters for using its Alpha still lenses, and the camcorders feature hot shoes, as well as jacks to connect non-hot shoe lenses to the camcorders. I’m sure we can expect to see adapters for film lenses to be commercially available in the not-too-distant future.

Shoulder Mounting
Aside from the JVC models—and with the single, recent, oddball exception of Sony single-chip HD1000 shoulder mount—all HDV camcorders so far have fallen into two slightly differentiated categories: handhelds and palmcorders. They ranged in size from tiny, obviously consumer palmcorders with almost no manual capability, to somewhat larger camcorders with copious manual control and professional I/O, but almost all the weight rested in your hand. The latter body style is fine for short bursts of camerawork. But for hours and hours, an on-shoulder camcorder provides a level of usability and comfort that can help ensure that you or your camera operator will get the shot you want. Sony’s HVR-S270 is a true professional camcorder. Sony offered a hint of what it would be at NAB 2007 by showing a DSR-200 (Sony’s full-size DV camcorder) under glass with an HDV label on it. At IBC 2007, a video in the Sony booth showed a completely different model, which we now know as the S270.

mes270.jpgThis camcorder has all the I/O a professional camera operator would expect, including component, SDI, and four separate XLR jacks for audio into the camcorder. It uses full-size batteries, which places the center of balance squarely on the shoulder of the operator without any of the shoulder-harness gizmos that attach to a handheld—the ones that often look like a torture device with numerous sliders, levers, knobs, and the like.

When I felt the S270 on my shoulder, I knew I was holding my dream HDV camcorder—the one I had written about in my last 2 HD Today columns (Part 1, Part 2).

Compact Flash
Panasonic really pushed the industry forward when it introduced the HVX200 camcorder. Though it could shoot DV to MiniDV tape, it really existed as the flagship for the industry’s focus on recording to flash media.

As widely as it has been adopted, the HVX200 was well ahead of its time, and the disparity between the cost and capacity of P2 and other lower-cost, much-higher-recording-time media was evidence of a breakthrough technology whose time had not yet come—not for event videographers, anyway. The genius of P2, of course, is that it’s a solid-state acquisition media that Panasonic has promoted as having “no moving parts.” P2 media comprises two SD cards with a special controller to handle the high bandwidth required by 100Mbps DVCPRO HD. Today, a single SDHC card easily does 125Mbps all by itself, and it is a fraction of the cost of a single P2 card.

sonysxspro.jpgContinuing to advance the “tapeless acquisition” approach, consumer camcorders then began to offer a mix of internal hard drives, DVD discs, and SD cards. Sony then introduced the PMW-EX1, a professional, HD-only camcorder that recorded only onto ExpressCard, which is the smaller, faster successor to PCMCIA cards.

Wearing the CineAlta badge, this remarkable little camcorder had an integrated lens and the ability to “overcrank” to shoot true slow motion 24p footage at 60p. The camcorder sent 2.5x the normal data rate to the cards—something you can’t do with ordinary tape mechanisms. sonycfadapt.jpgWith the HVR-S270 and the HVR-Z7 HDV camcorders, Sony developed specialized, clip-on compact flash media recorders. These will use any compact flash media fast enough for the 25Mbps data rate of HDV. This also enables you to download the footage several times faster than you could with tape, yet you can still record to tape as a backup.

Compact flash is currently limited to 16GB capacities, yielding about 73 minutes of HDV record time on one card. Larger cards are in the pipeline, and it may not be too long before end users are recording several hours of HDV onto a single piece of very inexpensive, non-proprietary flash media.

The fact that this is coming from Sony is quite a surprise, because Sony is the company that has a long line of proprietary media in its history, from Digital Mavica to MemoryStick, Digital 8, MicroMV, and the like. Most Sony products are limited to Sony-only media—for example, all Sony phones and digital cameras are Sony MemoryStick-specific. To see high-end Sony HDV products integrate the use of third-party flash media is quite refreshing.

4-Channel Audio
The HDV specification, like the DV specification, has allowed for four-channel audio recording from the outset. Few cameras took advantage of it, and when they did, it was an add-on that did not maintain full balanced audio throughout. Though the smaller Sony HVR-Z7 records only two channels of audio, the larger HVR-S270 has two XLR inputs in the front of the camcorder and two XLR inputs on the back of the camcorder. Each one has a separate audio level control and an automatic level control switch on the side of the camcorder.

s270audcontrol.jpg

In the camera menu system, there are discrete controls for limiter, audio level, wind filter, and more for each of the four channels. Never before has HDV audio been given the red carpet treatment like this.

Some reviewers have tested Sony camcorders and found the audio frequency response and noise floor less than what you’d expect on a pro camcorder. Let’s hope that Sony built these two new camcorders to quell the concerns of any audio purists in the field. We’d all surely love to make full use of all four of those audio channels while shooting in the field.

Let’s also hope that NLE providers such as Apple, Adobe, Sony, NewTek, and Grass Valley step up to the plate here and guarantee that we can import and edit all four channels as soon as these camcorders are shipping. There’s nothing worse than recording it and not being able to get it into the computer.

Low-Light Performance
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for our market, Sony apparently heard the cries of event and corporate videographers who hated that we kept taking steps backward with low-light capability in HDV camcorders from what we’d come to expect in mature DV models.

The PD 150 was a great DV camcorder. The PD 170 took what was great in the PD 150, kept it, and added unparalleled low-light capability. Sony’s FX1/Z1U proved in testing to be about a stop, to a stop and a half darker than the PD 170.

Sony’s FX7/V1U CMOS HDV camcorders were reportedly another stop to stop and a half darker than the CCD-based FX1/Z1U. Many producers were scared that the next step was to put the 50 W light back on the camcorder to get any image at all.cmos2.png

Sony insists that the new CMOS design and processing used in the S270 and Z7 will produce a CMOS image that appears as bright as the PD 170 at the same light levels. While they haven’t mentioned grain from gain, Sony has talked about its new processing that improves the images by comparing each chip to the others. It seems that these new HDV camcorders demonstrate that Sony has listened to criticism and not only fixed the problems, but made distinct improvements.

I’m sure there are event and corporate videographers out there who have been wary of HDV to date, but they are finally ready to take the plunge into HDV if these camcorders live up to the claims and the specifications. In the end, we don’t ask for miracles. We weren’t clamoring for a compact flash adapter, but we’ll certainly make full use of it when it arrives in our hands. As long as the many (and there are many) features of these two new camcorders work as advertised when the cameras ship in February, there will be smiles on the faces of many videographers around the world.

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This article was originally published in the January issue of EventDV.

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  1. January 26, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Great article Anthony- I’ve got a Z7 on order so can’t wait for delivery! I see in the photo above that the S270 has an audio monitor switch where you individually monitor any of the 4 channels, channels 1&2 or 3&4, or all 4 (mix) channels at the same time. For me that is a huge feature for both sound checking before a shoot and isolating channels to monitor during a shoot. Nothing worse than getting some crackle on one of your lines and struggling to figure out which channel it is coming from when you are in a loud building.

    My old way of checking was to put my first feed in both channel 1&2 and monitor in both ears. Then I would unplug that feed and plug-in the 2nd feed the same way. Once I was satisfied I would then plug back in the 1st feed and assign one to channel 1 and the other to channel 2. This is fine and dandy for testing, albeit a bit more time consuming, but during a shoot you have to struggle to “turn-off” the hearing from one ear and concentrate on the other to determine if your audio is still good. I don’t know about you but I have a hard enough time keeping my mouth shut – let alone one of my ears.

    Does the Z7 have this audio monitor select feature for its 2 channels or can I expect to have to play the plug and unplug game again?

  2. January 26, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    The Z7 lacks both the physical space for the needed buttons and knobs, and also the 4-channel recording that necessitates such minute control. It’s 2-channel stereo so just take one earpiece off your ear at a time to figure out which side is scratchy.

    Anthony

  3. January 27, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Thanks Anthony. Well at least it is not a step backwards in features like with the Canon XHA1 that requires you to assign either a line or mic level input to both channels 1 & 2 but does not let you assign one as mic and the other as line. This comes into play anytime you take a line feed and then want to capture ambient sound from your shotgun.

    Another question – I understand that there will be wide angle lenses available for the Z7 starting in June (VCL-308BWH). Until that time what options do we have to get a wider image? Can you throw a wide angle adapter on the end of the stock lens? And if so what is the thread size? If the camera is compatible with the Sony Alpha system do they have any wider lenses?

  4. January 28, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    The Alpha lenses, with the adapter, will have a magnification factor. By the time you deal with the magnification factor and then whatever wide angle you put on, you may be no wider than the stock lens.

    Raynox has some very nice wide angle adapters (zoom through) that I used reliably on my PD-150 and DSR-250 for years. Much more cost effective than the Century lenses, but not as well coated against internal reflections. It’s really your judgment call on the price performance scale.

    More specifics as I get responses from Sony…

    Anthony

  5. March 3, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    Just bought a couple of Z7`s & a S270, the thread size of the lens is I`m told by SRB here in the UK is 72mm. I wanted to get a step ring to use my Cavision 0.6 W/A with one of the cams but found that even placing the lens up to the Carl Zeiss on resulted in severe vignetting until you got to about half zoom. Add the distance of a stepper ring & I think you would lose all the advantage of a W/A.

  6. July 4, 2008 at 9:05 am

    It’s a glowing review of the Z7 but what about these issues?

    1. All Scan Function Missing
    This continues to be a big problem whilst shooting.
    The “All Scan” (Under-scan) is an essential feature that’s missing from the Z7. It’s a pro feature that’s on the older Z1 and A1E cameras. The omission of the All Scan feature by Sony has serious operational implications.

    2. ENG Lenses Compatibility
    Z7 12-pin lens connector will not control professional ENG lenses.
    I have tried to control my Canon broadcast lens on my Z7 plus a Fujinon lens on colleagues Z7. Neither of them controls the zoom lenses as advertised.

    3. Timecode Problems
    Timecode advances 15 frames.
    Timecode advances 15 frames after camera power down, i.e. 15 frames are missing. The missing frames have also manifested in between shots without switching the camera off.

    This is a problem when editing as Avid etc. requires un-broken timecode for batch capturing.

    Also, timecode from Flashcard cannot be read by Avid or Adobe Premier Pro.
    Timecode records and plays from flash card but, exports individual clips at 00.00.00.00 when imported in edit suites.

    4. No timecode or Display Output on Video Outputs.
    Page 83 of operating guide states “You can select outputs to which display information, such as timecode, is outputted”.

    Information is only displayed on output, i.e. a monitor, during the menu selection set-up. When the selection menu is closed, the display information disappears from the external monitor.

    5. Display Set – Too many icons displayed in the viewfinder.
    We need the option of selecting each of the icons to NOT to be display in the viewfinder/LCD? They really clutter up the screen.

    • Why have a 4:3 icon when we can see were shooting in 4:3

    • When the gain is 0db, we don’t need a ‘0db symbol in the display.

    • The same goes when zebra is selected, another icon appears. We don’t need an icon as we can see the zebras.

    Any thoughts folks?

  7. Marcos
    October 16, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Hi,
    I am trying to download some paper to configure my z7 lenses (flange back). It´s a kind of black and white figure that allows to configure the focus when you change the lenses… Anyone can help me ?? I Didn´t find yet !

    thanks

  8. edwin knopf
    December 1, 2008 at 4:18 am

    hi i bought a sony 2270 about 3 months ago.
    i have had nothing but problems with the camera in that i swallows tapes (tape comes out in spagetti form when i eject from camera)like the sony 450 did in the beginning.
    needless to say client not happy about this.
    i have used maxell,sony,panasonic minidv tapes aswell as the
    sony pdv range.
    is there anyone else out there that has had similar problems.
    a colleague of mine bought 4 s270 cameras and has had the same problems with three of his cameras.
    edwin knopf
    goblin@lantic.net

  9. Simon J Miller
    December 29, 2008 at 9:24 am

    I am considering purchasing a Sony HDV S270 but what is the difference between the two models E and OU ? Also what is the mag factor when using SLR lenses designed for 35mm photography (not DSLR lenses or DX lenses) Can I use 15mm Arri bars and their new 2 stage matt box for 4×4 filters without vignetting or would the model from Chrosziel be better, if so what plate do i need to mount these And lastly will their follow focus rig fit the gears of the supplied lens – thanks

  1. January 23, 2008 at 10:00 pm

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