The Sony XDCAM EX-1 is bitchin’


About two weeks before the massive layoffs at The Spokesman-Review, a box from B+H Camera and Video arrived in my office. My excitement was like that of a five-year-old opening a Christmas gift. I gingerly lifted my new video camera—a Sony PMW XDCAM EX-1—from the box. I had been pining for this camera since it was released last year. Thankfully the capital purchase gods favored me this year–or maybe as the dark layoff clouds gathered– they were  just foretelling my moving out of management and  back into the photo department.

I digress. This is one bitchin’ video camera. And it’s a camera that I think could be a game changer for larger newspapers producing advanced video storytelling. The EX-1 is about the size of my Sony Z1U. It is a bit heavier and has enough extra buttons on it to keep me reading the manual on a constant basis. This camera is more pro than consumer. It has a feature list that that you’ll find more on the boat anchor cameras that our TV news shooting brothers and sisters use. The EX-1 features:

  • An easy to use manual iris ring
  • Separate manual focus and zoom rings
  • Uncompressed audio capture
  • A high quality 14X lens
  • Three 1/2-inch CMOS sensors

But what is the game changer you say? Well, It’s in the cards. This camera is tapeless. It captures to SxS Pro   (S by S) memory cards. It’s a new Sony developed format that fits in the narrow V.34 slot in the MacBook Pros and in newer PC laptops. These cards are wicked fast. Pop a 16-gig card full of an hour’s worth of hi-def video into your laptop and use Final Cut Pro’s Log and Transfer feature to convert the video into and editable format (.mp4.) In about nine minutes you can have all your clips in your browser and start rocking your edit quickly. The best part about using Log and Transfer is that you can convert and start editing your a-roll interview file first. While you’re laying your a-roll on the timeline the other clips are converting in the background. That was something you couldn’t do with tape capture. What this means is that you can start editing a breaking news story in seconds.

Time has always been the stickler with video production. By minimizing the capture time your productivity goes way up. Editing EX-1 video is just like editing HDV. You should have an Intel Core Duo based laptop or multi-core desktop with at least 4 gigs of ram. But that is really becoming the standard on any new computer purchase now. Also, Adobe Premire and Avid video editing programs now support the XDCAM format.

The other benefits of the EX-1 are that it shoots in progressive mode. This is not the highly compressed interlaced video that is HDV. It is true HD 1920 X 1080 video. Its quality is stunning on a HD monitor. For the frame grab crowd, this camera captures great stills when you need it to. OK, granted video frames are not up the color depth standards of a Canon 1D Mark III, but for newspaper reproduction, I’d be amazed if you could really tell the difference.

The cost of this camera right now is steep. It will set you back about $6500 and comes with an 8-gig card. A 16-gig card will cost you $800 bucks more. (The camera has two SxS slots.) Add wireless and shotgun mics, an extra battery and your looking at $8700.00 to get you started. I am hoping Sony will let the XDCAM format trickle down into the prosumer cameras. The current AVCHD tapeless format is slow and cumbersome to work with at times.

The day after my EX-1 arrived, Canon announced the 5D Mark II. I will admit it gave me pause. After shooting video last week with a new Nikon D90, I am confident that a full-featured video camera is still needed—a least for advanced video storytellers.

Now that I am back in a producer roll, I am looking forward to time behind the EX-1. It is forcing me to shoot more like a Lenslinger would. From now on, autofocus is for the point and shoot set. And yes—the tripod is going to be my best friend.

16 thoughts on “The Sony XDCAM EX-1 is bitchin’

  1. Colin,

    Last week I got a chance to take a 5D Mark II (Production version) out on an assignment. Our Canon rep was visiting the paper for the day and had a prototype version on her, and then had the production version shipped to her at our paper that day.

    I’d like to think I’m one of just a handful of photographers in the news biz that have gotten to “kick the tires” of the new body.

    The video? It’s impressive. I love the new sensor on the camera and the light sensistivity, the limited DOF, etc.. Much of the praise that you have read or heard about it is true, and stunning when you get to experience it for yourself.

    Here are the cons that I realized in just a short period of having the camera..

    – The camera is tough to use hand held. I shot with a monopod and with IS on the two lenses I had on me (70-200 IS & 24-105 IS)..

    – You can’t monitor the audio off the camera (no headphone jack.) We had a Sennheiser MKE400 on the hotshoe for a mini-shotgun.. It worked really well.. But I felt like I was shooting blind in the aural sense.

    – The video files (h.264) are tough to play on even my Macbook Pro (2.4ghz/Dual Core).. To edit on the video, I had to do a transcode on it to another format in FCP, and then I could get the piece edited..

    – Rep said 12 minutes of video was 4gb roughly.. I shot almost a 4gb card, with some still images/RAW as well.. I’d have to look back at the take to see what the data rate on it was. I know there was an option for 640×480 (D1) video.

    I’m not sure at this point I could do a quick turnaround on a video at an event or spot news.. Transcoding wasn’t quick and the video was too slow to work with before it.

    With all that being said.. I would love to have one of these cameras as a piece in my kit. I currently shoot with two 1D MKII-N’s, and a Sony HVR-V1U.. So that gives you an idea of where I’m coming from. The 5D Mark II would be a great second body as long as you didn’t need the motor drive, and the better AF performance.

  2. A few more things after I hit the submit..

    – It’s hard to track someone and manually zoom and focus. Our still camera lenses just weren’t designed for that motion like on a film/video camera.

    – I noticed a little bit of that rolling shutter issue (just was looking at a clip) when I panned really fast in a scene.. The building stretched in the clip.

    If you have any other questions, place them here and I’ll try to answer them from what I know!

  3. A big thanks Matt for the info. It seems we are treating the 5D Mark II like the second coming. My biggest beef with these type of cameras is that you still have to figure out how to edit the files in a program like Final Cut. All this transcoding is time consuming. The XDCAM EX-1 does it in a way that makes it simple. I believe it puts a .mp4 wrapper on the file thus making is easy for Final cut to read and edit the file. The files are still huge, but my MacBook Pro handles it just fine.

    Cameras like the 5D are going to have a place at newspapers. But there present limitations are not going to make the bigger, full-featured cameras like your V1U or my XDCAM go out of fashion for some time.

  4. Being a member of the “frame-grab crowd,” I’d love to see a real-world sample out of your camera if you ever get a chance. We publish Z1U frames all the time, but the interlacing is always a pain. Could you post a frame if you get a chance?

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  6. Colin — I’m with Peter.. We do occasionally use frame grabs from our Z1U’s and V1U’s.. I’d love to see some examples from it. I am envious of your EX-1, though I really like the size of my V1U. I’d love to quit using Firestores!!!! I hate dealing with them, but they help on quick turnarounds.

  7. Colin,

    I’ve had my eye on the Sony Z7U. It also offers progressive mode and records to Flash Cards (plus tape simultaneously). It also has an interchangeable lens system.

    Do you think the EX-1 would be a better choice? If so, why?

  8. Angela, It’s the weird files that come out of the Sony Z7U that made me nervous. Nobody could tell me if or how they work with Final Cut Pro. If the conversion time is real-time , then I would rather just stick with tape.

  9. Oh, that’s a good thing to consider!

    From this thread on DV Info, it appears that Premiere Pro has trouble working with the Sony Z7U’s .M2T format. But scroll down to comment by Henry Grevemberg, who says, “i know fcp uses m2t – ppro uses mpg.”

    Back in 2005 someone posted about problems importing M2T video from a Firestore … Someone responded that he could use a program called MPEGstreamclip to convert the M2T to MOV.

    Here’s a useful site I’ll probably experiment with before making my final decision. It allows you to download M2T video clips and experiment for yourself to see if they work with your editor.

    Finally, the most helpful link I found: Sony created a FCP plugin specifically for editing M2T files from the Sony Z7U.

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