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    Got a chance to put EX1 up against HVX
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    I talked someone into letting me come over and work with their EX1 for a day and a half. Brought some charts, some lights, etc. My main goal was *not* to do some exhaustive camera comparison shootout. My main goal was to find out what new things the EX1 brings to the table, and find out what it's like to work with. I've had a tapeless HD camcorder for two years now -- how does the EX1 compare? I also had an HVX so I had 'em side by side.

    I'm not going to post a bunch of stills because every time I do that, people just look at the pictures, and then they start calling me names and flamefests and stupidity ensue. So forget that. Plus, still frames will only show you still frames, and the EX1 *excels* at still frames, so what would be the point in showing us what we already know? We already know the EX1 is noticeably sharper than the HVX. What I wanted to know is: what does it DO? How does it do it? And what differences will it make to an actual shooter? And is it time to trade in the HVX?

    So the first thing I looked at was sharpness. And oh yeah, the EX1 delivers on that. 800 observable lines of horizontal res on a Chroma Du Monde. Fantastic. Er, just don't move the camera. Move it, and you get a noticeable resolution drop, more than can be accounted for through simple motion blur. And it's not due to the codec either, you can see the effect on the live output and you can see it on a scope. Heck, you don't even need that -- you can see it right on the (as already acknowledged, excellent) LCD! Just turn on peaking (especially in yellow -- excellent feature, that peaking-in-yellow!) and point at a high-detail scene; take it outside, put it on wide-angle and point at some trees. You should see a whole lotta yellow, because the peaking is showing all the sharp high-frequency detail, right? Now pan, and -- whoops? Where'd all the yellow go? You'll notice the peaking disappears whenever you move, and comes back when you stop. Well, so does your hyper-sharp resolution -- it all disappears whenever you move. The faster you move, the more it drops, and that may be attributable to motion blur, but even very minor moves cost you a couple hundred lines of res. So in motion, the sharpness advantage over an HVX is very little. I have theories as to why (I think it's doing some manner of aggressive noise reduction, perhaps through frame accumulation) but I don't know for sure and I couldn't find any other way to verify my suspicion.

    Sensitivity -- yep, the EX1 is more sensitive. How much? Depends on your tolerance for gain on the Sony, but overall, not a tremendous amount. It's about 1/2 stop more sensitive. I think I know why Adam Wilt said the camera is 320 ASA -- because it pretty much is. I didn't have my light meter with me, but based on what I know about the HVX I'd rate the EX1 more around 500, which is within about 1/2 stop of 320. Adam rated 320 off a pre-production model, so maybe the final model is 500? Anyway, what I tested is about 1/2 stop more sensitive than the HVX. Here's how you know -- set up a chart and set both cameras to render the image very comparably -- same gamma (HD NORM on HVX, I think I used Standard 3 on the EX1), same color matrix (normal on EX1, NORM on HVX), same recording format (1080/24p on both) and same shutter speed (180 degrees, or 1/48). Now set the iris so that you're getting exactly 50 IRE on both cameras, and then look at your f-stop. The HVX was at precisely f/2.8, the EX1 was at precisely f/3.4 That's 1/2 stop, folks. Not the outrageous claims I've heard elsewhere of "three stops faster" and such! (and to anybody who wants to dispute this, just test it! I've told you the exact procedure. Set 'em so they render the image comparably, set the gamma similarly, and adjust the iris to get equal brightness. It's a half stop different.)

    Now, the thing is, the Sony is quite a bit cleaner in noise, at least at low gain levels. You could go to 6dB of gain and the noise is about the same as the HVX, maybe a tad cleaner. Maybe you could go to 9dB of gain, although that might be pushing it. At 6dB of gain, the "effective" sensitivity improvement over the HVX is 1.5 stops. That's getting somewhere, that's noticeable. But you need to use gain to do it, so -- decide for yourself.

    Okay, noise -- at 0dB, no doubt the EX1 is cleaner. Combined with the sharpness, the clean image really gives you that "looking through a window" feeling. That's very cool, and may be exactly what some people are looking for -- if that's what you want, the EX1 delivers. Doesn't look anything like the film look, of course, but it does look like that super-sharp looking-through-a-window HD look that you see on DiscoveryHD, etc, and that's a very valid look. If you add gain it gets noisy, so don't do that... I mean, if you were not in your right mind and decided to go to 18dB of gain, it's incredibly noisy (looks about the same as an HVX at 18dB) but it also robs the image of a lot of detail. Resolution goes out the window as the noise comes in, sort of like the "oil paint" effect. So don't use a lot of gain. Didn't see any bad effects at 6dB, so I think that's probably just fine to use, but stay away from much higher.

    There were many things about the EX1 that were positives. The LCD is very sharp and the colored peaking is wonderful. The sharpness is great. The small size is nice. The delete-last-clip function is nice (although it's also MANDATORY on this SxS system, more on that later.)

    But there were lots of things that just flat-out suck too. How the **** are you supposed to mount a mattebox to this thing? Look at the onboard mic, it sticks out past the front of the lens by about two inches! I tried to put my Vocas on it, I couldn't even get it near the lens, and forget about trying to use 4x4 filters. The only way you could do it is to load from the side maybe? If anyone can use a conventional top-loading mattebox I'd like to know which brand. I've had Chrosziel, CAVision, and now Vocas, and I don't see how any of 'em could work with this EX1.

    Secondly, it's impossible to hand-hold one-handed. You just can't do it. The fatboy HVX feels as light as an HV20, compared to the EX1. The ergonomics are astoundingly bad for handheld. I can't describe it to do it justice, you just have to experience it for yourself. You can manage okay with two hands (and I use the HVX with two hands), but just get used to the idea that you'll have to use two hands with the EX1.

    Okay, now onto my main gripe: SxS SuXS! It was infuriating to use; for anyone used to P2 I don't know how you could stand this. It's like they totally missed the point on what solid state is supposed to be. It's so slow to actually work with the system, it's like using a tape camera, only worse. Okay, look, I've gone around the globe teaching people about the HVX and P2, so I'm used to talking to a lot of shooters and showing them how to use the system. One thing I do is I show how quickly you can go check your footage -- just pop into playback mode and play your clips. Takes about a second, maybe two. On the EX1 the same process takes 14 SECONDS. Count that out, folks. Think about it. "Let's play back that clip", the director says. Okay, count it out: one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand... all the way to 14 one thousand. Now, the camera's rebooted into playback mode and you can play a clip. 14 seconds? On a tape camera like the DVX I could toggle over, REWIND THE TAPE, and be viewing footage in less than 14 seconds!

    Okay, another thing I point out in training seminars is that even in the middle of playing back HVX footage, if something started happening that you need to record, you can just punch the record button and the camera will automatically jump into camera mode and start recording. Takes maybe 2 seconds. This is part of the revolution of tapeless, this is part of what makes going solid-state so darn cool, right? I mean, if you're fooling around showing off some footage outside the courtroom and suddenly the doors fly open and the defendant is marched out, you can punch "record" and by the time you point the camera at the scene, it's recording, right? On the EX1? Not possible. It takes about 12 seconds to go from playback mode back to record mode. Again, that's crazy. 12 seconds? The defendant would already be in the cop car and driven away in 12 seconds! How are people supposed to use this for ENG? You're setting yourself up to get screwed.

    Okay, here's where it gets worse -- let's say that you decided to show your friend a clip so you push to "playback" mode, and three seconds later the door bursts open. The camera's barely started booting up into playback mode, so you push the switch to camera mode -- guess what? You're out of the game for a full 25 seconds. It has to *finish* booting up in playback mode before it'll even register that you swapped to camera mode! So, you've waited three seconds, now you have to wait 11 more seconds for it to finish booting up, and then you have to wait another 11 seconds for it to re-boot in camera mode. 25 seconds, round trip. Ridiculous. 25 seconds is a long, long time to not be able to shoot. Makes that 7-second tape spool-up time seem instantaneous, doesn't it?

    Granted I was swapping back and forth a lot in my testing, so I experienced these delays proportionally more than an average shooter might, so it irritated me more than it may irritate you. But I wanted to drop-kick the thing after a while, and I seriously don't know how an ENG/news guy would put up with it. When you need to go, you need to GO, not sit around waiting for the camera to dawdle around for up to 25 seconds...

    Okay, more on SxS: it took 4 minutes and 20 seconds to offload an 8GB card. An 8GB P2 card takes 4:25 on this same laptop (Sony laptop with both ExpressCard and PCMCIA slots). So any claims of how the ExpressCard SxS system is "so much faster" are just marketing nonsense.

    Okay, what else... oh, the lens. Yes it has true manual zoom. Felt exactly like the HVX's. Yes it has manual focus. Other than hard stops it didn't do anything the HVX doesn't. Feels a little different, but gives the exact same result (but with less rotation). Iris ring was nice though, I do like that, everyone should have a proper iris ring. Saw plenty of chromatic aberrations, a tad more than the HVX (yes, more), but way less than the Canon or JVC. I'd rank C.A. performance as average. Interesting to note, practically the whole camera is lens; they have a film plane marker on it that's almost all the way back to the cooling fan slot. What looks like the camera body is actually all lens inside (or so I think). The fat butt on the end is probably where all the recording unit is, the rest (in front of that slot) seems to be basically all lens.

    Rolling shutter? Oh yes. Absolutely it has rolling shutter issues. People who say it doesn't have it either a) don't know what they're talking about, or b) haven't encountered it, but it's there in full force. The EX1 has a full complement of rolling shutter issues; it does skew and it does wobble and it does partial exposure.

    The menu system is an interesting mix of give 'n' take. Very extensive menus with wonderful controls, seemed about comparable to the Canon XHA1/XLH1 in that respect. But navigating the menus is annoying because the little spinny wheel sometimes goes up when you tell it to go down, and the menus don't loop through -- you can't roll off the bottom and back around to the top like you can on the HVX. DVX was that way and it was annoying; they fixed it in the HVX and I really missed it on the EX1. Level meters didn't have any witness marks at -12 and -20, that was annoying. The LCD is sharp and clear, but it also gets very cluttered with all the stuff that gets displayed; I appreciated the HVX's method of pushing that stuff outside the visible frame. Wish I could have both -- a 4:3 LCD so the "clutter" goes outside the 16:9 frame, but with the sharpness of the EX1's LCD. About that "clutter": with the EX1 they have a "direct" menu where instead of going into the menus through the "menu" button, you use a miniature joystick to navigate around the on-screen displays -- when you click 'em it becomes a menu. I thought that was kind of clever, but some functions that should be on switches, aren't (like shutter speed? Hello?) -- you have to change those things through the "direct" menu. So it's got some give and take, some things are definitely better, some things are a step backwards.


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    (PART II)

    As for the recording format: I didn't try to "break" the codec. It looks good on the still shots, but I was only really doing lab tests and the recorded images looked great in the lab. Someday I'll put it through some real-world shooting scenarios and see how it holds up. I suspect it won't hold up as well as XDCAM HD, because it has to handle 33% more data in the same bandwidth, but I'd like to find out for sure.

    Overall: if you want that looking-through-a-window grainless HD look, the EX1 delivers that, and it does so with a 1/2 stop more sensitivity too. There's no free lunch though, and it comes with a lot of penalties -- rolling shutter bullcrap, intolerable handhold ergonomics, and the goofy SuXS workflow (man I hated that... it's like amateur hour for tapeless... there's NO METADATA! No information about the clips at all, no text memos, no serial numbers or data tracking... the entirety of the metadata is a shot marker or two! SHOT MARKERS. Hello, we had shot marks on TAPE. This is supposed to be tapeless solid state, get with the program folks!)

    I can't explain why they limited their tapeless system so much. Only thing I can think of is they're trying to replicate the XDCAM disc workflow as closely as possible? If so, it's stupid -- they walked away from so much of the potential of what solid state recording can do. Is SxS better than tape? Yes. Is it better than disc? Well, not really -- it's more of an either-or choice; you get the same workflow as disc but in a smaller package -- is that meant to be appealing? I couldn't even edit directly! I had to "export" the MP4 files to "MXF" files before I could even bring 'em into Sony Vegas (granted, I'm using version 7, maybe that's been fixed in version 8?) What's the point of having a super-fast medium if you can't even edit from it? Had to do the same kind of thing with FCP. Goofy. Marcus should make a "Raylight" for SxS.

    I dunno, folks, I mean, I can see some definite advantages (sharpness & noise mainly) but the tapeless SxS just comes off looking half-assed compared to the P2 workflow (forgive the crass term). I just don't know what clients I would recommend this product to. Interviews? Yes, definitely. ENG? No way. Weddings? Absolutely not. Film production? Maybe. People who actually LIKE XDCAM-HD discs? Sure, they'll probably love it.

    I'm hoping to get some more time with it later in the month where I can put it through some more tests. Right now I'd say it's six of one, half dozen of the other. I think the HVX is a lot more workable and usable, and it's a lot less expensive. The EX1 is sharper, cleaner and more sensitive, but it's got some issues and working with it was a real pain in the patoot (comparatively; I guess if you've been using XDCAM discs then maybe this EX1 will seem sent straight from heaven but if you're used to P2 I think it'd be tough to swallow the limitations).


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    Senior Member marco0782's Avatar
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    Wow, nice review.


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    Senior Member ullanta's Avatar
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    Hey Barry! I don't know if you have an answer for this after the type of testing you did... but you specify that camera motion causes a drop in sharpness when the camera moves; how about when there's moderate motion in the frame, but the camera's still? And how bad are the rolling-shutter artifacts in high-motion scenes with a still camera?
    "I'd like to say that I've never come across two know nothing pretenders on the weird wide web before, but unfortunately it's all too common and is exactly why, according to the last government survey, only 5% of all internet users ever use forums or chats. And it's exactly why I'm done with this one. You two really need to get jobs and out of your mother's basements. You can't fix stupid. And I don't have time for stupid." -swoopie


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    Wish I were banned. Drew Ott's Avatar
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    Nice write-up.

    I'm not in the market for a camera but I still love reading about 'em.
    "You'd better cure all those personal problems that might be holding back something you want to say." -John Cassavetes


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    King of Australia tmnt's Avatar
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    Thanks Barry, very interesting.

    I don't understand how it can't have metadata though. Wtf? by the way I laughed when I saw you swear, albeit it was in asterixs. lol Could metadata stuff be added with a firmware update? (maybe the rushed the release, just guessing)

    The stuff about losing res when moving the cam was interesting too, would like to see some footage.

    The thing that first astounded me about the cam was how the hell you would mount a matte box? Kind of like having a house with 3 walls.

    Looking forward to a more detailed write up from you.... no pressure.
    Last edited by tmnt; 01-05-2008 at 01:50 AM.


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    Admin Luis Caffesse's Avatar
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    Nice write up as always.

    One question - what's the focusing like on the camera?
    You mentioned how much crisper the LCD is than the HVX, but I'm curious as to any 'focus assist' type of features.
    Or is the LCD so crisp that focus isn't an issue?


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    Senior Member PhantomVideo's Avatar
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    Hi Barry, Nice review

    I heard RED has a rolling shutter does it have these issues ?


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    Wish I were banned. Drew Ott's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luis Caffesse View Post
    Nice write up as always.

    One question - what's the focusing like on the camera?
    You mentioned how much crisper the LCD is than the HVX, but I'm curious as to any 'focus assist' type of features.
    Or is the LCD so crisp that focus isn't an issue?
    I believe the "perfectly sharp" areas show up yellow. I've only heard it explained, never seen.
    "You'd better cure all those personal problems that might be holding back something you want to say." -John Cassavetes


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    Admin Luis Caffesse's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Ott View Post
    I believe the "perfectly sharp" areas show up yellow. I've only heard it explained, never seen.
    Nice.
    Similar to the JVC 'everything in blue' focus.
    I really would like to see Panasonic adopt something like that.


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