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Great Outdoor Camera, but Poor Low Light and Audio
Jul 23, 2007
a Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Good zoom lens, high exposure latitude, lots of controls, picture profiles, great color.
Cons:Terrible audio frequency response, HDV artifacts, poor picture quality in anything but bright light.
The Bottom Line: Only suitable for bright lighting and where separate audio recording is in use. Complex scenery and poor lighting will produce substandard picture quality. Audio system needs help!
This camera is a mixed-bag in terms of performance. It needs a lot of light to produce its best picture. Shooting outdoors, with sunlight, it can produce nearly spectacular images. Indoors, even with natural light from windows, supplemented by artificial light from PAR floods, the picture can be noisy and lose detail. If you have the right lighting, this camera can produce excellent picture quality, rivaling some of the best broadcast cameras. Even when shooting in DV mode, for general use, the picture quality is noticeably superior to top of the line DV cameras that have standard definition chips. But lighting is key to producing a great picture with this camera.
Recommend this product?
The 20X zoom lens on the V1U is capable of bringing objects a ¼ mile away, up quite close. An object at 200 can appear as if it were only 10 away, at the long end of the zoom. The lens does exhibit quite a bit of chromatic abberation however, but its not as severe as the earlier FX1 model. It is also not wide enough on the wide end for much work other than ENG situations. For panoramic shots, the V1U will need a wide angle adapter. Without one, its field of view is almost tunnel-like.
From a features standpoint, its got a rich selection of user-adjustments, covering a reasonably-wide range of shooting situations. The Black Stretch and Contrast Enhancement provide a picture with nearly 10 f-stops of dynamic range. I was able to shoot a scene with the sun in the frame, yet still see the terrain below with good clarity and color. This camera has no lens flare, even with the sun shining into the frame. Id have to say that this camera will find a niche with outdoor sports journalists, because of its ability to handle adverse backlighting and resistance to flares. The controls for black stretch and knee point enable an impressive lattitude to be captured without clipping highlights. The color reproduction of the CMOS sensors is very accurate and not exaggerated. When presented with intense colors, it will produce vivid images, but skin tones are natural and there is nothing hyped about them.
The manual zoom is easy to use, and it is possible to do a slow creep with it. The lens shutter is a nifty feature that protects the lens without a lens cap. The picture profiles and the ability to save them to memory stick is a boon to us shooters who need to change personalities of the shooting style from project to project. Color control is reasonably flexible, although not up the the level of professional broadcast cameras. The ergonomics of the V1U are pretty good, and if youre already used to a PD150, it will feel natural immediately.
Once the camera goes indoors, its another situation entirely. This camera needs lots of studio lighting in order to produce a good picture.
If your application involves controlled lighting and separate audio recording, then the V1U should serve you well. The audio on this camera is unsuitable for anything other than synch reference.
While HDV has a whole set of pretty drastic compromises, one unexpected zinger this model threw at me was horrible audio frequency response.
This camera sports phantom-powered balanced XLR inputs, line/mic switchable. Sony even thought to put in attenuators for -8/-16dB. So you would expect this means you can use the camera with decent studio condenser mics, like the Neumann U87 and get decent enough audio for run & gun at an outdoor musical event where you cant drag along a laptop DAW, converter, mic preamp, batteries and inverter. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The audio sounds tinny, even with $1200 microphones!
I ran RightMark Audio Analyzer & found the response to be so seriously lacking that I am convinced Sony will have to recall this camera immediately to fix the audio. The reasonably-flat portion of the response measures 1,222Hz to 16,000Hz! Thats not a typo. The RightMark Audio Analyzer report can be viewed here:
As shown, it is down more than 32dB @20Hz. It got a very poor rating. The high end is okay. Theres no reason to limit the low end like this. This utterly destroys the value of the XLR audio inputs.
If youre buying this camera for the balanced audio, forget it. Youll still need to drag along a separate audio recording system.
I have forwarded the matter to Sony Technical, but 2 weeks have passed with no response from them. I am not sure that I want to keep these cameras, since I paid extra for the audio features and didnt get audio worthy of XLR connectors.
On the visual side, medium light response could be better. In our studio, using just the fluorescent overhead lights, the camera was gain up 6dB @1/60th shutter speed. Dark colored objects in the frame had dancing noise artifacts. There was also noticeable bandingthe color gamut seems compressed greatly with HDV. I have noticed this particularly on flat colored interior walls and on faces, particularly those in shadow. The banding takes the form of red, green and blueish tinted bands across color gradients. I own two V1Us and both do this.
I shot a talk at a library, assisted by daylight coming in from huge windows at the sides of the speaker. Despite using 1/30th shutter and +6dB gain, the brightest elements in the picture were only at 30IRE. The client noted that the picture looked very dark to her. I had to apply Levels in post to try and strike a balance between noise and proper illumination.
In a room, illuminated by 32 PAR flood lights the camera had barely enough light for 1/30th shutter speed and even a slow pan resulted in blurred video and some gain up, causing noise to enter the frame. This camera doesnt perform optimally until the lighting level reaches 20,000 lux. If youre used to the PD150s light sensitivity, then the V1U is like shooting with an ND1 filter on the lens at all times.
I love the V1Us ability to produce wonderful outdoor footage, but I feel cheated by the joke of an audio system that Sony put into this camera. I am convinced this is a manufacturing error, because no company would purposely roll off the low end at 1,222Hzespecially when there are no technical limitations on low end response of digital recording systems.
As far as the picture quality, HDV format hobbles this cameras abilities. Gain up noise causes HDV CODEC over-stress, with quantizing errors degrading the picture to unacceptable quality. Im reluctant to shoot an indoor wedding with this camera, for the noise may become an issue. The V1U in gain up lowers its resolution to around 500 lines, which looks like standard DV, rather than HD.
I think this camera will find its niche, but it will not be as versatile as the Sony PD150/VX2000, due to the inability to produce optimal pictures indoors without professional studio lighting.
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