Newest member of the family / by Glenn Dixon

Please meet the newest member of my team, a PMW-200 XDCAM from Sony. Although I have only been shooting with this camera for two full days I feel it is a good time to share a few first impressions. Please bear in mind the format of these early shoots has been talking head interviews followed by filming overlay of students and teachers in school classrooms. The workflow of the SxS system is significantly more efficient in terms of footage ingestion time than the now archaic digital video tape based system I had used previously. After this mornings shoot I returned to the hotel, transferred two and a half hours of footage into Final Cut Pro 7 through the Log and Transfer tool, assembled a rough cut of the interviews and uploaded a sound file to the transcript service interstate. All before dinner! No more waiting for tapes to ingest in real time, I absolutely love this!

Another striking feature is the low light performance, compared with the Sony Z1P this new machine seems to be able to see in the dark! In classrooms where I would have previously shot wide open at f1.7 on the old camera, I can now shoot at around f4.0. The LCD is sharp, bright and seems true to the exposure and colour range. The large and easily accessible Iris ring on the lens allows the slightest of exposure tweaks to be performed without taking your eyes off the flip out screen.

The cameras ergonomics are considerably well balanced and arranged for shooting handheld. Even with a large U60 battery, a radio microphone receiver and a shotgun microphone mounted onboard, it feels very comfortable to handle and operate for long periods of time.

There are some things I have found initially frustrating although I acknowledge that many are perhaps the fault of the user rather than the camera:

Firstly, the manual zoom ring feels sticky and not nearly as smooth compared to the Sony Z1P’s . When performing a zoom operation during a take it almost seems to stagger forward rather than glide through the range. There is of course an electronic servo option however I find this useless for many of my personal shooting situations.

Secondly, I am not completely confident in the audio signal strength coming in through the XLR inputs. When I have a Sennheiser 416 microphone or other radio microphone configuration connected, I seem to be getting significantly weaker signals that I did when using the Z1P with the exact same configuration. I find I am having to push the audio level to seven or eight on the manual signal adjustment wheel when I would never go above 5 on the previous model. Not sure if this is introducing background noise noise? More experimentation needed I think.

Thirdly, the shooting formats have also required much trial and error. I can only seem to ingest footage shot at 35Mbit/s in FAT mode into Final Cut Pro 7. The Log and Transfer window does not seem to want to read the 50Mbit/s UDF format even with the most recent driver installed. I wonder if FCP X can bring in the 50Mbit/s 4:2:2 footage?

That being said, this camera is absolutely wonderful are more than meets my current needs. These early issues will undoubtedly be smoothed out as I become more familiar with this brilliant little camera.