October 22, 2009

Sony EXpands XDCAM EX range

Sony has updated its EX1 camcorder and added a new shoulder-mounted model with 2/3-inch sensors.

Improvements to the new PMW-EX1R are mainly the result of customer requests, and include:
• an improved hand grip (making it more comfortable for hand-held shots)
• easier to access switches (although the one-push auto focus button hasn't been moved, and is still in the wrong place for hand-held use)
• smooth handle zoom transitions (stop/start)
• HDMI output
• one-click S&Q (Slow and Quick) mode [button glowing in photo - right]
• a 15-second buffer for continuous pre-recording
• a higher-resolution viewfinder (the same as on the Z5 and Z7)
• an image inversion option that reverses an image upside down and left/right for a Cine-style depth of field adaptor
• a new IR-cut filter to give deeper (non infrared contaminated) blacks
• an improved audio limiter.

It retains the EX1's three half-inch 1920x1080 CMOS sensors, a Fujinon 14x HD zoom lens and a dual focus ring mechanism.

Besides its 35Mbps and 25Mpbs HD formats, it now has 25Mbps Standard Definition DVCAM recording – although given that the only difference between DVCAM and DV was that DVCAM used a faster tape speed (to reduce the impact of any tape drop out), why continue to call it the more professional sounding DVCAM for a tapeless system (other than that, of course)?

That Sony has added SD to its HD range shows that there are still plenty of people who still need to shoot SD but want to buy a tapeless/HD camcorder to future-proof their investment (although why Sony didn't realise this two years ago when it launched the EX1, who knows?). It has also added a 1440x1080, 35Mbps, recording mode for compatibility with users of its XDCAM HD optical disc systems (the EX1 already recorded 1440x1080 at 25Mbps for HDV).

It has two SxS memory card slots, which allow it to record up to 280 minutes of HD using two of the newly introduced 32GB SxS cards – there is also a new, lower-cost range of cards (the SxS-1 range), which trades off a shorter lifespan (five years of daily use – with life indication displayed in the viewfinder) for its use of cheaper flash memory, and has 800Mbps transfer speed. It should cost under £450 for 32GB, compared to at least £600 for a 32GB SxS PRO card.

A lot of EX1 users had been using a lower-cost SxS alternative – SDHC-to-ExpressCard/34 adapters, from the likes of Delkin, E-films and Hoodman (for lots more on these have a look at Guy Barwood's excellent site). Obviously, Sony would rather you use its own products, so it has responded with a new adaptor (MEAD-MS01) that will allow you to record to Sony's own 8GB, 16GB or 32GB Memory Stick Pro HG Duo HX cards (although not as reliably as SxS and at the expense of some features, such as high speed recording, and with lower transfer speeds). The adapter should cost less than £100. Current EX1 and EX3 models will also be compatible – through a firmware upgrade that should be available early 2010. Users can also add a 120GB hard-disk recorder, the PHU-120K.

The EX1R should be available in December for about the same cost as the EX1 (under £5,500).

PMW-350 shoulders responsibilityThe new lightweight PMW-350 will sit comfortably on your shoulder and has the extra quality (and shallower depth of field) of three 2/3-inch 1920×1080 CMOS Exmor sensors.

It has timecode in/out, genlock in, and HD-SDI and HDMI out, making it suitable for studio use, and records to the same HD formats as the EX1R (with the option of DVCAM).

It can be bought with a bundled 16x lens (as the model PMW-350K), and has automatic lens aberration compensation, independent focus, zoom and iris rings; auto focus mode, manual focus assist. However, the lens isn't particularly wide, with a focal length of f 8mm-128mm (which is the equivalent of 31.5mm-503mm on a 35mm lens).

It boasts good, low, power consumption (15W), giving it a longer run time on a single battery.

It should typically cost under £14,000 without lens and under £16,000 with lens, and will be available January 2010.

David Fox

October 11, 2009

Off-the-shoulder prompting

For reporters, doing a piece to camera is always interesting (translation: cause of abject terror…). There's a high likelihood that you'll forget something and have to do it again, and again, and again… or just feel red-faced and ridiculous if you're live on air and can't activate the Omega 13 device to jump back 13 seconds and do it properly.

A piece of paper, with a few bullet points scribbled on it, taped just below the lens is handy (unless there's a slight breeze that will inevitably blow it over the lens), but the ideal is to have a prompter, just like they do in the studio. Until recently this wasn't especially practical. Prompters tended to be big, heavy, power hungry, and expensive.

Now, there are several cheap, simple, lightweight units you can use – including your iPhone.

Autoscript's new Miniscript on-camera TFT monitor, has all the standard connectors of its larger prompter displays, but the 5.6-inch panel weighs only 455g, so that it isn't a burden on location or in the studio (it was actually developed in response to a camera supervisor who wanted something small for the increasing number of hand-held cameras for live and studio-based entertainment productions – where presenters can't be expected to work without a script [that's why they're paid the big bucks…]).

It uses the smallest of Autoscript's new range of LED back-lit displays, which have "eight times the life span of CCFLs [Cold Cathode Fluorescent Tubes]. The output of CCFLs diminishes over time and they need replacing. LEDs produce very little heat and that's a big factor in component failure. There are still fans to regulate heat, but they only come on if it is in a hot studio or outside in the sun," explained Autoscript's MD, Brian Larter (pictured). LEDs are more expensive, but Autoscript has taken a hit on its margins to offer them at the same price as CCFLs.

There's an app for that

Autocue's new Starter Series is an entry-level product aimed at users that previously couldn't afford it. It is taking on the likes of Prompter People head on, with prices below £1,000.

For portable prompting it has introduced an iPhone Prompter, designed for freelance cameramen. It costs £599, and is similar to the 7-inch Starter pack, but with an adapter plate for an iPhone.

It uses software available from the iPhone App Store, although not written by Autocue, but Frank Hyman, Autocue's CEO (pictured) promises that it will have its own Autocue App in the near future. Autocue has also launched Mac software for its other Autocue systems, "because this market is 30 to 40% Mac based."

David Fox

Tapeless takes over

For the first time, sales of non-tape cameras have taken a majority of camcorder sales in the European professional and broadcast market with sensors of 1/3-inch or larger. They already dominate sales of consumer camcorders.

The latest figures, for the quarter from April to June 2009, reveal that 50.84% of sales from all manufactures selling in the EU went to tapeless systems. This included 7.29% of hybrid camcorders that can record tape and tapeless (although sales of such cameras have declined since last year when they reached a peak of 24.23% of the market). Sales of fully tapeless systems have trebled over the same period, according to figures from Futuresource Consulting.

Panasonic appears to have been the biggest winner from this. Its HPX301 camcorder, introduced at Broadcast Video Expo 2009 (see our video here), has taken one third of the market for tapeless shoulder-mounted, 1/3-inch or 1/2-inch sensors under Eur10,000, in just one quarter. Panasonic already has an 85% share of broadcasters that have gone tapeless (using its P2 format – mainly for news).

"Everybody in the industry knows that solid state is the future. There is no question about it," said Jaume Rey, its Director, Provideo & Broadcast IT Systems, Europe (pictured).

He believes that the rapid change in broadcaster's purchase requirement is largely due to the recession. "People are very careful about spending money and are worried that if they don't buy solid state they will be left behind. Because access to finance is so hard, investments must last longer. So, what's the point in choosing a tape-based format when I know tape is declining?"

He talked to a broadcaster last year that had just invested in a lot of SD camcorders, who justified the purchase by the fact that they would be replaced in three years, now he doubts that any CFO would allow such a short term choice.

Hybrid systems may have seemed a good interim measure, but he believes that their decline is because broadcasters no longer want to "stay on a bridge. They either stay tape or go tapeless."

By going tapeless he maintains that broadcasters will benefit not only from a faster, more efficient workflow, but also help the environment through lower power consumption.

Ultimately, at least for news, he believes that the future is medialess, with wireless connections from the camcorder to the station and any media just being used for a backup in the camcorder.

David Fox

Making 3D a spectacle

The most common complaint when people watch 3D TV is that it gives them a headache. The cause, certainly when watching anaglyph images (red/cyan) is generally not the 3D, but the glasses.

Most cheap 3D glasses are made with whatever blue/green (cyan) and red gel a manufacturer has on the shelf. But "if you get the blue wrong you might get a headache, and if you get the red wrong you won't see 3D," according to Daniel Llovet (pictured), marketing director of broadcast filter maker, Cotech. It has launched a range of custom 3D glasses. "We can match any colour any 3D designer may wish."

With programmes like Chuck broadcasting 3D specials, and broadcasters (particularly Sky) intending to roll out 3D services. Such glasses will be the main way to watch 3D unless we buy new 3D sets.

David Fox