EOSHD IFA 2011 DSLR Video Show Report
|Mamoru Yoshida, Senior Vice President of Panasonic AVC Network Company is interviewed by the Japanese press at IFA 2011|
Sony and Panasonic both have a large presence at the IFA consumer electronics show this year in Berlin. The Japanese consumer electronics giants have brought prototypes and pre-production models of yet to be released cameras including the Sony NEX-7 and Panasonic X10000 professional 3D camcorder.
At the show were enough 3D glasses and new TVs to make your head spin, but I was in search of new developments in 2D filmmaking. In my opinion high-quality DSLR video replicates the look of cinema to a greater extent than the best HD camcorders or 3D cameras, which have small sensors and fixed lenses. Critically for aspiring filmmakers they’re much more affordable than stand-alone digital cinema cameras as well...
Let's see what's in store for DSLR video in the near future.
New Sony SLT and NEX cameras
Relative to Canon and Panasonic, Sony was late to the DSLR video scene, preferring to concentrate on the lower end of the market. Only now has its enthusiast range had an update with the Alpha SLT-A77, A65 and NEX-7. The older NEX and Alpha cameras lacked the 'cinematic' framerate of 24p and full creative control over the image in video mode. Image quality was also hampered by an older version of AVCHD.
|An exploded view of the new Sony SLT-A77 camera|
Thankfully Sony has listened to filmmakers who need full creative control and the new range of cameras from the NEX-5N up feature all the essential video functionality relative to recent Canon DSLRs and the acclaimed Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2. They also feature AVCHD 2.0 recording for the first time, meaning faster frame rates up to 60p in full HD and higher bitrates of 24 and 28Mbit.
I believe that for 1080/60p, 28Mbit is not really high enough - when recording fast movement you get compression artefacts and blockiness. This is reduced in 24p mode, but still not as clean or as detailed as footage from the Panasonic GH2 especially after its (third party) 44Mbit firmware update. Turning down the bitrate of video gives an image like a heavily-compressed JPEG.
Whilst the Panasonic GH2 remains the only true hybrid stills and video model on the market, the new Sony NEX cameras offer something new for users of DSLR video modes to date; We’ve had APS-C sized sensors with 24p and manual control on cameras like the Canon 7D, and we’ve had mirrorless mounts on the GH1 and GH2 but never APS-C, mirrorless mount, 24p and manual control all on the same camera.
A mirrorless mount means much greater compatibility with a plethora of lenses, including the cinema standard - PL mount. These lenses cannot easily be used with traditional DSLRs or the Alpha SLT range since their mirror boxes physically obstruct the rear of the lens.
|The Sony area was the biggest of IFA 2011|
The Sony A77 gets a much better video mode than seen on its predecessor, the A55, but rather squanders the sensor size advantage over Micro Four Thirds by not using the whole sensor for video capture, cropping in quite severely. Therefore I recommend the NEX-7 over the A77 if you are interested in video. There's no such issue on the NEX-7 and 5N.
On the NEX-7 you can also use the new Sony SLT Alpha mount adapter to mimic A77 features like fast phase-detect AF whilst recording video. The new OLED Tru-Finder on the A77 and NEX 7 is the best ever EVF to be seen in a consumer camera. Honestly I could not tell whether I was looking through an optical finder or an electronic one, it’s that good. Only the display information and exposure simulation gives the game away.
The new Sony cameras also bring 1080/60p (50p in PAL countries) to DSLRs for the first time. This is useful for capturing action and then slowing it down for the 'super slow-mo' effect. Some people even prefer the smooth look of 60p over the cinema standard of 24p, but personally I don't. Lucky for me then that all the new Sony cameras have 24p as well (25p in PAL countries). These new AVCHD 2.0 progressive formats are far better to edit with and use on the web compared to the older interlaced 60i standard, which was designed back in the days of Trinitron TVs!
The NEX-5N is somewhat of a dark horse. Cheaper by quite some margin, and featuring a lower-resolution sensor (16MP compared to 24MP) it nevertheless has all the video functionality of the NEX-7 and even an edge on low light performance. The 5N is able to shoot at ISO 3200 in video mode whilst the NEX 7 and A77 are limited to a maximum of ISO 1600. It has a magnesium alloy body which feels very sturdy, but it lacks the useful extra dials on the NEX-7.
Panasonic professional 3D camcorders
Panasonic had a live beach volley ball court at its camera booth, in part to celebrate its sponsorship of the 2012 London Olympics and in part to give people something attractive to shoot! Also on show was a mock-up of the professional 3D ENG camera that will be employed to film the olympics - the first time that the Olympics has ever been produced in 3D. A preproduction Z10000 (10k is rather high for a model number!) was also on display. This is a powerful semi-pro 3D video camera that chews through a 4K2K resolution feed from a dual 3CMOS 1080p imaging system. That means it has no less than 6 sensors inside!
|The latest generation of 3D-camcorders was prominently featured at the Panasonic stand|
Would I rather have high 4K resolution over 3D? It depends on the kind of shoot - 3D can be used very creatively (as you'll know if you've seen James Cameron's Avatar) - but in my view the display technology, even cinema projection, just isn’t quite there yet. The 3D screen on the Z10000 is the glasses-free type and offers low contrast, relatively lower resolution and made me feel slightly as if I was going cross eyed. The Panasonic TVs on display with glasses are much better. Maybe I'm crazy but I'd rather shoot 3D video whilst wearing glasses and risk looking silly than get eye strain using a lenticular screen for hours at a time...
The maximum wideangle setting on the Z10000 in 3D mode is 32mm (photographic full frame equivalent) which isn't very wide but it does have a huge amount of manual control and cinematic 24p - though no less a figure than James Cameron himself recommends you shoot at 48p which is quite close to the 50p found on the PAL Z10000 for smoother results in 3D.
Panasonic Power Zoom X lenses
Panasonic has arguably made more strides with video on interchangeable lens still cameras than any other company, although the Micro Four Thirds sensor size remains a little on the small side. Panasonic's lenses have a lot of hybrid video functionality built in. Panasonic was the first manufacture to put a stepless, silent aperture in a lens, so the clicks of changing f-stop would not be picked up on the audio track whilst recording. Panasonic also offers silent optical stabilisation and AF, something Sony has now mimicked in its NEX E-mount lenses. In its X PZ lenses, Panasonic has gone a step further and put a camcorder-esq zoom rocker switch on the side, for much easier zooming during video recording.
The motorised zoom works very smoothly on the PZ 45-175mm X whilst recording video and is entirely silent. On the PZ 14-42mm X the inner barrel extends out of the outer lens barrel so the zoom is not as stable, noticeably you get a sudden shift in the image when you reach the end of the zoom range.
|The new Panasonic PZ 14-42mm HD X retractable zoom lens on the GF3|
This trade off is for a good reason. It’s the smallest zoom lens on an interchangeable lens camera ever made. It makes a GF3 system camera truly pocketable with a zoom for the first time, something that was previously only possible with a small sensor. This could tempt many high end compact users. Dpreview published a hands-on preview of this interesting new lens, which you can read here.
Also on display was a mock-up of the forthcoming 12-35mm HD X lens which will have a fast aperture. The mock-up was non-functioning and the aperture yet to be decided, but it is smaller than the equivalent Canon 24-70mm F2.8 L. This is just what the Micro Four Thirds format needs. Panasonic has quite a few lens designations now. X is the premium range. HD is video optimised and PZ stands for Power Zoom.
Last but not least - Samsung
Samsung's new NX200 features 1080p video with full manual control, but not the cinematic looking frame rate of 24p. Resolution in video mode, although 1080p, is not at the mark set by the GH2. The screen is a very bright OLED type, and the camera is extremely light with better styling than its predecessor. But for video I recommend it only for casual use, since the Sony NEX 5N is better specced at a lower price point.
Manual audio control - where is it?
All the new video capable interchangeable lens cameras lack manual audio control and the Sony cameras have a proprietary hotshoe mount for microphones. There’s no control over gain so in many circumstances a lot of background noise will be picked up by the camera. If you want to shoot video with proper sound you need to use a separate system to record audio and sync the sound and picture afterwards.
However Sony's new interchangeable lens camcorder the NEX VG20 has manual audio control and a much better built in mic. It is though much pricier than the NEX-5N despite being based on the same internals and image sensor. Build quality was not what I'd call robust, but it does offer a lot of video functionality for the price if you compare it to the next model up, the Sony FS100. That camera has a sensor which is better in low light, but is priced beyond the means of most consumers. I have posted a review of the 5N's video capabilities here.
Andrew Reid is the editor of EOSHD.com.