There’s some new video out on the net showcasing Sony’s latest HDV camcorders. As much as I look forward to testing Sony’s XDCAM EX (which is technically misnamed because it doesn’t use the same media as XDCAM) next week, I am a strong proponent of HDV because of the the many advantages of tape.
For those who need high-speed turnaround, there are many hard drive recorders that can be connected to an HDV camcorder and record the HDV stream right to hard drive for nearly immediate access after you stop recording. Forcing a camcorder to be flash-media only still seems quite a bit limiting to me. Are those who need very long recording supposed to stand there and swap cards all day? Or are they then supposed to connect a deck to the SDI output, defeating the purpose of getting such an “advanced” camcorder in the first place.
So tape still has good reason to exist, even as hard drive capacities increase and flash media starts to take over the smallest hard drive capacities (currently 4g, 8g and 16g in use, with 32g and 64g waiting for moore’s law to make them become anywhere near affordable), small 1″ and 2.5″ hard drives continue to out-pace flash media in both space and price. At IBC, Sony showed off their latest tape-based HDV iterations and both removable lens camcorders look very promising…
At NAB 2007, I snapped some photos of the DSR-250 HDV replacement and it was clear that they literally slapped an HDV badge and a “3 CMOS” logo onto an existing DSR-250 DV/DVCAM camcorder. Having owned a DSR-250 for many years, I knew it it all too well. Honestly, the only reason I gave up my DSR-250 was to upgrade my studio to HDV.
Here’s a clip floating on YouTube (embedded below) and in it, you can see the actual camcorders and some shots from some very polished Sony marketing video. I grabbed a few frames for discussion here. In the video, it is clear that the DSR-250 replacement has undergone a complete redevelopment. This is not just swapping out CCD with CMOS chips as the NAB teaser would have led us to believe. No. the entire camcorder has been redone and now features Sony’s signature “lean” on the back end- where the battery attaches.
Although there’s clearly a huge difference between the two shoulder camcorders, the key similarity is the size of the tape cassette door. This is still clearly a full-size door. Also changed is the position of the I/O ports- there’s a whole mess of them on the bottom of the rear of the camcorder. This is quite unlike the DSR-250 which had just a smattering of ports at the bottom front right, and bottom rear right. This new camcorder looks to have a far more professional set of I/O jacks. The video touts HDMI, but I will go so far as to venture SDI, Time Code, Monitor Out and more. Let’s hope Sony continues the excellent Firewire output with multiple conversion options as demonstrated on the FX1/Z1U- to which these new camcorders were directly compared in the video. No mention of the V1U.
Moving on, you can see that the video highlights two camcorders. Clearly designed and promoted together throughout the video. They BOTH feature the ability to change out the lens.
The LCD setup on the small one is nearly exactly like the FX1/Z1U, whereas the larger camcorder seems to have the same LCD/viewfinder as the recently promoted HD-1000U. I, for one, hope that a camcorder with what appears to be a true, professional level of features is not hobbled by what looks to me to be a poor eyepiece/LCD on the HD-1000u. It would be a clear shame if the bigger brother here has the smaller and far less useful LCD panel
Another feature mentioned in the press releases is 25p. Admittedly, the releases at IBC are European, so it is expected that they would highlight 25p. Will this translate into a 24p version for the US and othr parts of the world, I certainly hope so. These camcorders are taking HDV up a notch. Sony’s first removable lens HDV camcorder with 24p is a big step into the independent film production world, even if the cameras are limited with tiny 1/3″ chips. These cameras won’t provide that shallow depth of field you are used to seeing with film or video cameras with much larger imagers.
Lets take a closer look at each of these camcorders.
This is the little guy. It has a very interesting design in that the handle and LCD reaches soooo far forward over the removable lens. Then the microphone reaches even further forward. This incredible forward extension could pose imaging problems if you put a very wide prime lens on the front of the camera. Even if you remove the microphone, the LCD and the handle are clearly not going to be removable. That’s where the audio goes in. Both eyepieces are attached here. As much as it would be a mind-blowing feature that the handle would unscrew and take all that with it (for use on a crane, in tight enclosures- like Panasonic’s DVC30) I’m willing to bet that it is just not possible. You can’t see how the camcorder is powered here, but a Sony press release says that this little camcorder continues to use the Infolithium-L series batteries, introduced with the VX-1000 in 1995, and used with most every prosumer camcorder Sony has made since- including the Z1U as shown here in this comparison image from the video.
My. Sony sure does like their forward-leaning handles, don’t they. :)
It’s a shame that they don’t like to give us long lenses because the one lens pictured on both of the new camcorders throughout the video is, once again, limited to 12x optical. Hey Sony? What happened to the 20x love?
Oh well. At least this new lens does clearly give us a focus ring with distance markers, as well as dedicated zoom and iris rings on the lens itself. It is really had to tell from blurry YouTube video, but this looks like a genuine pro lens. (bye bye :( image stabilization )
An interesting side note would be that the higher-end XDCAM camcorders, namely the 330, come with the VCL-719BXS autofocus lens from Canon (also used on other Sony camcorders). While there is clearly a switch to set the lens to manual focus, the option is there for auto everything except zoom. Not so on these new HDV camcorders. They look to be manual focus only.
Getting back to our new camcorders, we can see that the big brother also gets this removable lens feature. Sony probably realized that JVC and Canon were getting quite the customer dollar for offering such a feature to the under $10,000 videographer. So now Sony tosses their hat into the removable lens ring with not one, but two well thought out options.
You can also see the very professional camera control and menu selections on the side of the body of the camcorder itself. As much as the DSR-250 was a PD-150 in “dad’s clothes,” and the HD-1000u was designed to be a consumer camcorder that looks professional but lacks any real professional controls, both of these camcorders look like they offer the controls you would expect to find on a $10,000+ camcorder. This is quite an amazing development. It’s like HDV got all growed’ up.
On the back of the camcorder, you can see the traditional monochrome LCD panel for time code, audio levels (apparently only two, even though the HDV specification allows for four and the Sony press release says it will record four, I see only two in the meters) and what looks to be quite a number of controls visible under the rear LCD. There’s the slanted rear which makes me wonder if Sony built provisions for using their wireless microphone receiver, or hard drive recorder which is designed to connect between the battery and the body of the camcorder and uses a small hot shoe at the base of the device to touch contacts on the camcorder.
But any way you look at it, this new camcorder will be the first HDV camcorder that records onto a full-size cassette. This alone wold have made it THE camera to choose for thousands upon thousands of event videographers, corporate video, legal video, really, anything that requires longer than 60 to 80 minutes of absolutely uninterrupted video, with the added advantage that the camera originals can be archived for just $18 a pop. (I repeat, 4.7 hours = 60g on one tape for $18. Try that with flash media.) I have shot four and a half hours of uninterrupted lectures on one DVCAM 184 in DV mode. Since HDV records at DV speed on DV tape, you should expect the same capability from HDV camcorders recording on large cassettes.
Personally, I look forward to it. the limitations of MiniDV cassettes have been mitigated by my acquisition of a hard drive recorder, but that’s an extra device connected to my HDV camcorder that I’d rather not have there. Even if Sony did little more than come out with a DSR-270 based on the V1U, I’m certain it would have been a blockbuster seller. It would have been the only full-size cassette HDV camcorder- period. But with the addition of the removable lens (even if the end user never changes lenses) more professional features, and the current updated Sony design, Sony has made it clear that they’re not letting HDV languish in the shadow of XDCAM or XDCAM EX. For high definition, HDV has taken the next step and I look forward to the arrival of these new camcorders when they are scheduled to arrive in early 2008, or before, if I can get my greedy little hands on them for a review. :)
Frank’s Thoughts on HDV also has information and Sony EU press releases on these new camcorders. I disagree with his thoughts that potential HDV buyers would be drawn to XDCAM EX instead. Admittedly, it can be a step up in image quality, especially with higher bit-rate 4:2:2 recording, but for many projects, long run-time and very low media costs are far more important factors. Documentaries are just one example that quickly come to mind.