Sony Z5 Review
Like most people I hate queuing for things. Queuing appears to be a British pastime these days. If there is a place left untouched by a queue the local council get together for a meeting and decide to create one, for example by digging up the road for no particular reason.
I took part on a Royal Marines assault course the other day, and there were even queues there. No part of British society has been left untouched. Unless you are an illegal immigrant queues are a fact of life in Britain today.
Queues take up valuable time. In an effort to create ever more gargantuan queues the Post Office has decided to close hundreds of branches. Queuing is one of the most pointless things in the entire world, made worse by our need as modern day Brits to fill out lots of paper forms, which in turn make queues at various institutions even worse.
Personally I hate them. I could be out working, or speeding down a hill on a mountain bike, or enjoying the views of the Welsh valleys. But instead there is always a need to go somewhere and queue, thus wasting valuable life time.
However there are a number of people who enjoy queuing. These are the people who do their Christmas shopping at a real shop instead of just going to Amazon.com or any other online retailer. These are the people who insist on doing the weekly shop at the supermarket even though places like Tesco offer delivery to all corners of the earth for the paltry sum of £4.
It can be pretty hard to get such people to do something in a more efficient way. Which brings me onto the new Sony Z5. It has been a long haul trying to get people to move away from tape to something more sensible in a digital age. But for those people who still like to ingest their footage at the same speed that they shot it the Z5 will tick all the boxes. Except that Sony has cunningly allowed the Z5 to be used with an optional extra device that could put an end to all of that.
Tape stalwarts will view this device with suspicion. “We’ve never used anything else but tape” they’ll cry. “I’m used to my existing workflow and I won’t change it” they’ll say as they munch on a peanut butter sandwich. “My father used tape, and so did his father, and so did his father’s father” they’ll shout as they listen to their CD’s of steam train audio recordings while drinking Bovril.
The thing is though that these people really should take a look at Sony’s device, the HVR-MRC1K. It fits neatly onto the back of the Z5 and covers the main battery so that it looks like it is part of the camera. It records to Compact Flash cards so it is cheap and easy to get hold of more storage space. For those who want the security blanket of tape it is even possible to record to the cards and to the tape simultaneously. It is even possible to set it to automatically start recording to the Compact Flash cards whenever a tape is changed over for uninterrupted recording.
Are there any drawbacks? Of course. For one thing unlike the Z7 and HVR-S270E you have to pay for it. You also have to remember to set the device and camera up so that it definitely records to the cards. The camera needs to be setup to the right mode to record to the unit, and the unit itself needs to be setup to synch up to the camera record button. As I discovered it can be easy to mess this part up.
The HVR-MRC1K has its own record button, which is used when it is attached to a standard HDV based camera such as the Z1. Sony has even produced a hot shoe mount with separate battery attachment so that it can be used with such cameras. This is highly commendable of course, but it would be nice if the unit detected when it was attached to a compatible dock based camera and simplified having to manually set it up in those situations.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved the HVR-MRC1K when I got around the niggles. Even the Bovril drinkers will like it. Clips can be deleted or played back through the camera too, which increases its usability even more. You can even record standard definition to it while recording HDV to tape. Fantastic.
The HVR-MRC1K is a very good idea indeed. Although I can’t help but feel that Sony will at some point need to grab the bull by the horns and just ditch tape for good. Existing tape systems won’t stop working just because no new tape cameras are being made. Which brings me onto the Z5 itself. The Z5 is the official replacement for the workhorse that is the Z1. The Z1 has long enjoyed a career with video journalists worldwide as they discover ever-inventive ways to find a new angle of an interviewees nostrils. It has also enjoyed a much more fulfilling career as the wedding videographers high def camera of choice. The Z5 has a hard act to follow. The Z1 was the camera that brought high definition to the masses. It singlehandedly revolutionised low budget video. As a result the Z1 creates a nice warm glow in the heart of many a camera operator.
Now the Z5 is set to update things further. It is cheaper than the Z1, and it is much higher performance. The Z1 used 960x1080 CCD’s. The Z5 uses three full 1/3” 1920x1080 ‘Clearvid’ CMOS sensors and is capable of true progressive scan imagery. According to Sony these new chips “use the technology of Exmor”, which I presume is a far off land inhabited by Hobbits.
True progressive scan is something that many users of the Z1 craved for. There are even two modes of progressive scan. Native progressive and progressive via Progressive Segmented Frame (PsF) which records to an interlaced signal. Much of a muchness really since true progressive scan display can be derived from either, but a nice touch even still.
These new Clearvid sensors really are superb. I know that there is a lot of discussion about vertical skewing on panning movements. However personally I have not witnessed any noticeable effect. Film cameras suffer from a similar phenomenon, but nobody whines about that. Perhaps if people stopped waving the camera about randomly and took the time to compose shots and movement (and yes this can even be done on the fly despite the protestations of some) they wouldn’t notice. Sorry, but while there is better compensation for such issues on more expensive cameras this is a ‘prosumer’ camera we are talking about here. It is a technical limitation of CMOS sensors, so live with it or sort out your camera movements.
Sensitivity of the camera is very good, with Sony claiming that it is on par with the PD-150. A bold claim indeed. Noise levels also appear to be very good. The Z5 has the usual HDMI connections, Component, etc, etc. Nothing to write home about here. All you need to know is that it works with the kind of display you want it to. Except HDSDI. But then if you had a monitor for that you wouldn’t be buying a Z5 for anything more than use as a B-camera would you?
Lens controls are functional. I still don’t know why true manual lenses can’t be put on cameras of this price range. After all they used to be. However since we are in the age of cameras that make films for people the Z5 has all the usual automatic features. Manual operation is actually very good. There is still some lag of the servos during some operations (this would be solved with a true manual lens!), but in general it works well.
In a change to the usual mode of manufacture the lens on the Z5 is now being made by Sony themselves. It has of course been given a cool name. The G lens.
The flip out LCD is very, very good, much like the EX1. But unlike the EX1 the viewfinder of the Z5 is also very good. The fact that the EVF on the Z5 is usable for focus is a huge step forward for this type of camera. Even better is that the Z5 features real peaking as opposed to the red splodges that attempted to pass themselves off as peaking on previous prosumer cameras. You can actually use it for practical focus much like its shoulder mount counterparts.
Other enhancements over comparable cameras include a histogram function that includes a guideline for telling you the brightness of the object you are pointing at; quite handy that. Negative gain to -6db, optical ND filters and smooth gain and white balance transition are also included. The picture profile setup is also very extensive, being almost on par with the EX1. You could pretty much obtain any look you desire from the Z5.
The bottom line is that I would highly recommend the Z5 if you didn’t want to commit totally to tapeless production. It produces extremely nice imagery, and offers such a difference in quality to the Z1 that it is a worthy upgrade to those users. But please, do yourself a favour and get the HVR-MRC1K with it if you do.
Product: HDV Camcorder
Reviewed by: Simon Wyndham
Review Date: 01-10-2008