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Production Equipment Reviews: Sony Europe Ltd Professional Independent Certified Experts
ICE - Power of Images STAR Experience
(Review update for 2015)
This page is pretty much dated now, however, we continue to provide footage shot on XDCAM HD422 cameras for incorporation into the latest Sony Europe showreels. Certainly, there are many more cameras on the market today and Sony has added the new PDW-850 following on from the F800 & PDW-700. The following information will still be of value to those looking at older generation cameras such as the PDW-700, and XDCAM HD422 acquisition.
During the early years of high definition product technologies there was a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding within both the professional and amateur market place. Of course it's easy to understand why that was the case, even a casual glance back at the discussion boards reveal a never ending list of topics that displayed both excitement and frustration. While technology continues to advance, for the busy professional there is at last an element of conclusive production requirements.
In a bid to educate and inform, Sony Europe Limited began promoting a number of initiatives in various countries throughout the world known as “The STAR Experience Events” hosted by Sony and its dealerships, although the actual presentation itself would be delivered by an “Independent Certified Expert” (ICE).
What are Independent Certified Experts (ICE)?
These are individuals who are experienced professional users of High Definition technologies and each ICE member will have his or her own specialty with certain types of equipment and projects undertaken. Every ICE member has been trained at Sony's UK headquarters in Basingstoke, and has access to privileged materials which they can make available at the STAR Events.
DP Stewart Menelaws is an "Independent Certified Expert" (ICE) and, although a very busy individual, he makes himself available for STAR Experience events. While he has used and uses various formats, his main area of specialty is the flagship XDCAM HD422 format. Since the company, Studio Scotland Ltd, bought into XDCAM HD at the end of 2007using the F300 series cameras the company took delivery of the PDW-700 at the beginning of 2009. Working in various countries on a variety of projects that require a mix of skills, Stewart is able to give first hand working knowledge and expertise including the many tricks and tips learned when using these Hi Definition products.
Here are just some of his thoughts… you can read further reviews at the foot of the page.
“Ever since the digital revolution at the end of the century, I’ve had a love hate relationship with technology; when it’s working, you’re able to create wonderful imagery in very short timescales compared to the old ways of doing things. But when it’s not playing dice, it’s a most frustrating experience. As a veteran stills photographer of 25 years working in advertising photography, I come from a background of large format film and darkrooms filled with a concoction of chemicals, which I am glad to see the back of! I have been involved with digital photography since it made an appearance in the 90s – expensive, cumbersome, slow to use and no where near the quality of film.
At the turn of the century all that changed and it was not long before the revolution touched the video production market whereby the average individual or company could now afford these exciting technologies. In those early days we cleared out our video / edit studio and refurbished it with the new crop of HDV equipment – that was causing so much excitement in one corner and complete disdain in the other. From a commercial perspective it was a poor show; Indy film makers were in their element and generally happy to work for hours trying to find 'workarounds' but for a busy studio dealing with corporate, commercial, broadcast and other subjects it was useless. With future projects being stalled as long as we could, in the hope someone was going to bring a solid High Definition workflow to market, Sony revealed its answer with the all new XDCAM HD format."
"I was looking for a 2/3" high definition camera system but the first cameras available were the F300 / F350 ½" models and I was disappointed. However, after looking around at what else was available, and there was an entry level Hi Def camera in the form of the HPX500 from Panasonic, I was unconvinced for a number of commercial reasons. I took a look at the F350 once more and I was completely sold on the optical disc system which was without a doubt the natural evolution for tape based systems; the solid performance in editing XDCAM HD clinched the deal. We purchased the F350 and a U1 optical desktop drive and have never looked back.
While our F350 was always going to get replaced by the 2/3" model when it would finally make its appearance, I must say that I enjoyed using that particular camera for nearly a year. it was used for so many different projects. Its first, was where we put it into the hands of a fireman in a burning building and the footage was very impressive. When it came for the trade–in for the PDW–700 it looked as good as new and it had never let us down once. The XDCAM HD422 PDW–700 camera was what we were waiting for and this is the workhorse of our studio today. Over the years we have worked in various countries shooting in horrendous humid conditions such as deep underground caves or the burning heat of a desert and every time the camera and codec have been an absolute joy to work with."
"A favourite video camera test for me is the iconic panoramic scene of the City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, shot from the adjacent Mount of Olives. With its endless clutter of sandstone coloured buildings it really is a job for a film camera or at least something with a 35mm size sensor. Having shot that scene with the PDW-700, I and a number of colleagues were most impressed with the results. I have always shied away from wide vista shots using video cameras because of the obvious lack of resolution and detail but the PDW–700 and F800 cameras have changed all that."
"Because of this high detail image, the one thing you really have to be careful of is your focusing. I cannot emphasise this enough; you must develop a method by which you constantly check your focus particularly with images that are close. I am now using a follow focus attachment for a lot of work because I find it easier than trying to gauge things with the lens barrel. Don't get me wrong, the camera has a very good viewfinder and is easy enough to focus; it just requires a more disciplined approach."
"In the early days, Hi Def editing was a complete mess and not much fun, XDCAM HD422 is easy and quick to edit and the images are remarkably clean, so easy to grade without adding noise into the blacks. From our own perspective, the workflow is quite simply liberating and enables me to get on with the work in hand no matter what we are working on."
"I am most definitely not a 'fanboy' of any equipment manufacturer nor am I a rep for Sony… but I can say, without any hesitation, that XDCAM HD is a fabulous tool and it's a joy to work with. Of course, Sony has continued to add to the choice of camera systems available and the PDW–700 and F800 are firm favourites with professional camera operators and production companies the world over."