23 Feb 2016

Sony's new PXW-Z150: the camera you should always take with you?

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Sony's new PXW-Z150: the camera you should always take with you? Sony/RedShark

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The versatile and extremely capable new 4K Sony PXW-Z150 looks to be just the sort of camera that every camera person wants to have with them at all times.

Porsche must be familiar with this problem. How do you promote a product that’s all-new but looks the same as your other products? It’s not Sony's fault. You can’t change the appearance (and hence the form factor) of a camera just to make it different from the one that went before it. If you’ve spent years evolving your product range into what you and your customers consider to be nearly ideal in shape and function, it would be ludicrous to change it into something that isn’t necessarily better just to make it stand out.

So, you can imagine how I felt when I first saw the PXW-Z150 sitting on a table in Sony’s press conference room, prior to the public launch of this new camera. My initial thoughts were that this is a minor release. From a distance it looked the same as all the other Sony XDCAM cameras.

But everything from this point on went to prove how wrong I was, because it its own way, this camera is very important indeed.

For a start, it uses Sony’s Stacked Sensor technology. This is quite different from Sony’s previous 1” type camera , the PXW X70, which is itself a very good performer. Stacked Sensor Technology means that all the processing is in a layer that’s parallel to and close by the light-sensing elements. This makes it fast. While it doesn’t mean that you can film bullets slicing through peaches, it does give you a very useful 120 fps in HD resolution (30 fps max in 4K). And there’s very little rolling shutter, unless you do things to deliberately provoke it. These are things that you mostly wouldn’t do in your everyday work as a video maker.

The new camera shoots in UHD 4K. It records to Sony’s efficient XAVC Long GOP codec up to a maximum of 100 Mbit/s in 4K.

The 1” type sensor is a good size for this type of camera. For a handheld, you definitely don’t want a full frame. That would confine you to world where you have to decide whether someone’s eyelash or the tip of their nose should be in focus, because everything else will be blurred. The sensor is has 14.2 effective pixels and the images are down-sampled from this resolution.

With the 1” sensor, you have some good choices: very deep depth of field for documentary shooting, and a much narrower range for, perhaps, interviews where the camera can be on a tripod.

I saw some images, and they looked detailed, colourful and contrasty. With only an HD monitor to view them on, I couldn’t comment on the ultimate quality, but in HD, the 4K acquired material looked very good indeed.

The pictures were’t particularly cinematic, but that’s not what you’re typically looking for with this type of camera. But what it did give you was some very good “broadcast-like” pictures that I can’t see anyone complaining about. The point is that you can get good, saturated pictures straight out of this camera, without needing complicated log workflows.

If you want to shoot for broadcast there's good old MPEG 2 HD, and a 50 Mbit/s mode which should satisfy most eligibility criteria.

The new camera comes with a Sony “G” lens, which is roughly the equivalent in marketing and build terms of Canon’s “L” glass. These lenses have a “premium” quality, which makes them a good fit for a camera with a fixed lens. I’ve always thought that there’s a very good case for using fixed lenses in lower priced professional camcorders because the lens is always there, you’ll never expose the camera’s innards to dust and grit, and because the camera can will be absolutely designed around the performance of the lens. In other words: everything is optimised around the fixed lens.

The PDX X150’s lens has a very useful 12 x optical zoom. There’s a four-step NDI filter.

The camera has WiFi including NFC for painless pairing. There’s 3G SDI, HDMI and XLR inputs for audio. Battery life is good with an optional larger battery giving four hours recording time.

Recording is to SDXC and SDHC cards. There are some clever touches that make use of the dual media slots. For example, while recording the whole event on one card, you can use a separate button to record (what you expect to be) highlights on another. Relay recording is also possible so that if you plan well, you’ll be able to record events of absolutely any length.

There are some very useful “proxy” modes that you could - at a stretch - use for immediate upload to internet streaming services.

It seems to me that this is a genuinely different and immensely useful addition to the XDCAM range. It’s a rugged, easily portable 4K shooter with good quality glass and which has less need for a plethora of accessories because so much is already built in. the 1” sensor is from Sony’s latest generation of imagers. The camera felt good to me: solid and with enough heft for basic stability, and yet small and portable enough that you can fit it in in the most basic luggage.

For high quality shooting at a very wide range of events, and for documentary and news work, the PXW-Z150 seems like a very good addition to Sony’s range.

You can read Sony’s full press release over the page.



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David Shapton

David is the Editor In Chief of RedShark Publications. He's been a professional columnist and author since 1998, when he started writing for the European Music Technology magazine Sound on Sound. David has worked with professional digital audio and video for the last 25 years.

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