4K, HD, HFR, XAVC, XLR, 3G-SDI, Wi-Fi, NFC, 1” Exmor RS, small size, balanced, lightweight, affordable… With this collection of labels, what else can we possibly ask for?
Author: Luis Pavía
The collection of specifications -lengthy, despite the array of initials that we shall now outline- is what we expect from a modern-day camera, presented at the beginning of this year. However, one specification, in particular, marks a truly significant difference and makes this camera unique.
But before revealing which one it is, we will summarise that it is a handheld camera, with Sony’s classic style and appearance. All the controls are in the usual places to make the operator’s life that bit easier. It is small and lightweight, weighing in it at just over two kilos including the battery and all the necessary elements to perform properly. There has also been a significant makeover in performance compared to its predecessor, the PXW-Z100, albeit with very similar aesthetics.
Going back to that unique detail, that something that makes it so special… We are referring to the one-inch Exmor RS CMOS image sensor. It is special not only for its qualities (back illumination and more surface per pixel to improve sensitivity) but for its compact size. Warning – this “one inch” is not the real physical size, but the equivalent, like what we do with the focal lengths of optics. Let’s see the consequences it brings: Even before the appearance of high definition, most video camera sensors varied between 1/3 and 2/3 inch, so they have always offered quite a wide depth of field yet conveying a narrow depth of field was virtually impossible. Then came the revolution of the reflex with video functionalities and larger sensors, from “APS” to “full frame”, that offered the “cinema look” with the next to nothing depth of fields that excited us so much. Later on, this size increase also extended to video cameras and their new “Super-35” sensors.
The larger the sensor, less depth of field… so far so good. But then we were faced with reality: try to keep the focus on fast-moving subjects, or when the reporters, documentary makers and ENG operators have to move, and the area of interest becomes out of focus. We only have to see the newscast to realise how often this happens. Shooting a short film or an advert in cinema mode with a reflex and contained costs is all very well, but as soon as we don’t have absolute control of the scene and the subject’s movements, or unless we have an extraordinarily talented focus puller, our work becomes compromised.
Here is where the inch sensor offers a substantial difference and the balance you cannot achieve with other sensor sizes. With open diaphragms, we can offer a depth of field that is sufficiently narrow so as to keep the attention of the spectator where we choose, without critical margins. When closing, we have a sufficient depth of field to move in difficult circumstances, ensuring we keep the area of interest focused risk-free. We found this balance to be very desirable and more so in UHD cameras, where focus failures are even more striking than in HD.
Only for this feature, this camera marks a substantial difference. It is also true that there are cameras that use the same sized sensor (even the exact same sensor if we look at Sony), but we return to the difference in handling offered by a video camera with a more or less conventional body with readily accessible controls or a photo camera -compact in many cases- and their limitations as regards handling or performing adjustments while filming.
But let’s not let that single feature divert attention from other very interesting ones.
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