A quick look at the Sony PXW-Z100 at IBC.

IBC is still in full swing and I’m very busy at the show, but I managed to spend a bit of time with the Z100 today. I was able to compare it with some of the other cameras on the camera set for comparison, but this is a very crude first look at a camera running beta firmware and picture settings. So it may not 100% represent the final product, but I do expect it to be pretty close.

Having played with the Z100 now, I have to say I am pleasantly impressed. It is not a sensitive as the PMW200 or an EX1, I estimate it’s about 1.5 stops less sensitive at 0db. But it is remarkably noise free with slightly less noise than a PMW-200 at 0db. Even at +9bd the (which brings it back up to similar sensitivity to a PMW-200/EX1 at 0db) the noise is not too bad. Fast pans at +9 or +12db will reveal some image smear due to the 3D noise reduction having to work harder, but it’s not too bad and usable for most applications.

I thought it would be worse than this. There must be a lot of noise reduction and processing taking place to produce this clean image, but overall the NR is very transparent and well executed. I estimate dynamic range at about 10 stops, maybe a little more but certainly nowhere near the 14 stops you can get from a camera like the F5 or FS700 in raw mode. .The PMW-300 on the Sony booth is showing more dynamic range than the Z100. I did expect this due to the small pixel size. The standard 709 gamma curve with knee works quite well. The Cinematone gammas don’t bring any more dynamic range as far as I can tell, but the highlight roll off is more pleasing and a little more natural looking with the Cinematone gammas.

My biggest reservation is focussing the camera with the built in viewfinder or LCD. The rear finder is really not up to the task of focussing for 4K. The LCD panel is better, but with no magnifier or monocular your going to have to have damn good close up eyesight to be able to use it for accurate focus at 4K. This is not an issue unique to this camera, as no camera I know of has a viewfinder better than 1080P and most are only 720P or 1/4HD (960×540 which is what I believe the Z100 is). But not having a magnifier makes this even worse than most. So, your almost certainly going to have to rely on autofocus to get the focus spot on in many situations. Fortunately the autofocus is fast and accurate. I think with these smaller cameras the use of autofocus will be common even for us old “I never use autofocus” operators, just as autofocus is now normal even for professional photographers. There is a good colored peaking function that works well and the deeper DoF from the small sensor does mean that focus errors are not quite as telling as on a large sensor camera. But even so the LCD, for me at least is far from ideal for good focus at 4K. I think your going to need to either add a 3rd part loupe or use and external finder such as the Alphatron with focus magnification.

Build quality is good, the camera feels very solid yet lightweight, even with a high capacity battery it is comfortably under 3kg. It uses the very common NP-F type batteries. Minor gripes are that the shoe on the handle in front of the LCD means that if you have a large light or radio mic attached to the shoe you can’t open and close the LCD panel.

The menu system is lifted straight from the PMW-F5 and F55 and most of the menu pages are very similar. Scene file settings are quite comprehensive and there is a lot of scope for fine tuning the pictures with matrix, detail and gamma settings. However as I said, no extended dynamic range Cinegammas or Hypergammas but you can adjust the knee and black gamma to fine tune your contrast range and dynamic range.

Overall, it’s better than I expected. The 4K images are sharp and clear, not overly sharpened and they look quite natural. At 0db the noise levels are very low and the image is quite clean, but sensitivity is lower than we expect from a modern HD camera (no big surprise). Dynamic range is also a little lower than you can get from a good 1/2″ camera but not significantly so. I think Sony have done a good job of squeezing as much as they can from this small size sensor with very small pixels. The 20x zoom seems to stay nice and sharp across the zoom range, even out in the corners. As an F5 owner there have been many occasions when I have longed for a sharp 20x zoom that I can use when shooting 4K. That’s probably something I’ll never be able to afford for my F5, but the Z100 opens up the possibility of having that wide zoom range and 4K. Providing the scene isn’t too dark or too contrasty the Z100 would allow me to get those shot for a lot, lot, lot less money than very big, very heavy PL mount zoom.

5 thoughts on “A quick look at the Sony PXW-Z100 at IBC.”

  1. Hi Alister:

    I saw your comment on DVInfo that is the same as this. Thanks very much for the evaluation, I am leaving a comment here since I haven’t been passed for registration on that site yet, and I don’t know when it could do it. Based on your comment my mind has been jumping frequently between getting either PMW-300 or this one, since professionals like you may have a deeper vision about it, that’s why I can’t hold myself but to ask here before I can log onto DVInfo.

    The first matter I seriously consider is the *noise*. I have a HVR-Z5U which is similar to this, and it gives me a picture full of noise, sometimes splotches when shooting under low light condition. Most of my shootings are concerts and interviews, and occasionally landscape in the field for documentary use. When I use it in the field, it works well as I thought; but when I am shooting indoor like concerts, the noise becomes not quite acceptable even in the afternoon. On Final Cut Pro X I see a lot of it on the picture, and I have to use post-processing filters like NeatVideo to render for a super long time to eliminate part of them. Not even saying when I use it during the night concerts when there’s little ambient light but strong light beams, it just looks terrible.

    Now I wonder if PXW-Z100 is capable of doing all of this. I have seen some demo videos of PMW-300 on Youtube made by Sony, which are impressive with scenes like bonfire and concert in late nights, making me biasing to PMW-300; but when I saw the demo video of Z100, I had the impression of ‘not too bad’ with noise (DR is a bit worse) in dark scenes, and its sharpness seems quite good. I don’t know about the recording time and storage capability when it goes onto 4K/60p, which may easily fill up the entire 64G card. After all, noise has been a bane of existence of my records and I wish to have as less of it as possible.

    The 2nd concern is broadcasting capability. As everyone knows, PMW-300 can be a major workhorse of broadcasting, yet such capability of PXW-Z100 is still to be determined. Recently and in the future I have a bunch of concerts to shoot along with live webcasting with at least 720p resolution, and most likely it will be 1080p with the allowance of bandwidth. Originally when I saw PMW-300, I thought ‘oh, this is what I want’ since it has 2 SDI outputs and Genlock interface, which means that it could be connect to most of switchers to perform multi-camera tasks. Suddenly, PXW-Z100 comes also with one SDI interface, and since ATEM 4K switcher does not even need Genlock connection, it strongly pulls my mind back in between. When the live task is finished, often I need to edit and post the record onto Youtube. Do I really need 4K to appreciate the online audience?

    Still, there is some more advantages of PMW-300 that Z100 doesn’t have: future wireless accessories that Sony provides for 300 does need dual SDI outputs; multi-camera switching and editing is unrealistic for 4K at some point (unless you can own or rent several Z100s), 1080p will still last for at least 5 years firmly in this realm. 4K live as a bandwidth thug can’t be carried out easily, and no one can even receive it online because of the bandwidth. Noise and DR still better than Z100 hence means better quality especially for broadcasting; Interchangeable lens (yet adds so much budget in the future, should I expect it?) makes more flexibility for later, but yet not feasible for 4K.
    So really, which one should I choose? I have last a few points that might be concerns:
    1. 1080/60p capability of PMW-300 after XAVC firmware update already included in Z100 out of the factory. Will 60p be included later?
    2. Budget concerns of lenses for PMW-300 later. This could be a big money hog. Is standard 14x enough, or can I find cheap deals on eBay?
    3. Post-processing time of 4K videos could be extremely long due to larger file size and render time.
    4. Is Genlock port still necessary with ATEM switchers everywhere?
    5. Will there be a PXW-Z500 or even Z700 later? Will it totally trump PMW-300?
    Thanks very much for your info. I will also post this onto DVInfo once I got approved.

  2. Camera Rental Company like us is having a hard time chasing technology. It used to be very clear cut but now we have to weigh pro and cons vs ROI before making purchase. Well, we must credit you guys for putting up articles like that to help us make decisions faster. We are currently hiring out the Sony F5 and then the smaller 4k cameras are popping up. Good job!

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