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F900 versus HDX900 why we had a shoot off.


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#1 TJ Williams

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 12:02 AM

This isn't directlly about Steadicam although many of us also are camera owners. Just wanta report on what happened to me and my partner. Should mention in passing that the Panasonic HDX is quite a bit lighter in weight., even than the F900R.

Regarding our Sony HDCam and what lead to our comparison test between the Panasonic HDX900 and an Sony Cinealta F900.

Here is a summary of a recent letter sent thru our West Coast Sony rep:
To: Sony of America management.

(The actual letter contains 5 pages of details. If you don?t care how Sony left us hanging out skip this part.)

We are very experienced camera people working in the Northwest US. We have each been in the business nearly 30 years. Our shooting includes work for most of the cable and broadcast commercial networks. Up to this point in our careers, We would have called ourselves ?Sony Guys?. We have used the whole series of Betacams and Presently own a 1080I HDCam. Since we have owned this camera we have experienced a number of cataclysmic failures. (Here we listed the different failures which they already knew about from our many repair instances). These failures have cost us huge amounts of money in lost clients. Lost days, and subrentals. Our world is small, this repuation for an unreliable camera has negatively affected our business and reputation.

Sony contested none of this. This camera has been a terrible lemon and they know it.
My partner and I have been repeat Sony Camera purchasers for over 25 year each.
So we asked Sony to help us out with some kind of good deal trade in.

Sony management offered to sell us a B stock F900 body for 80,000 and give us a trade in on our body of 25,000. Thus we would pay a $55,000 difference. I obtained bids from several full service Sony independent dealers. The best bid on an F900R was under 64,000 so actually Sony by boosting the retail price of the F900/3 which was B stock was willing to give us a real value trade in of of $9,000. If you think a B Stock F9003 is worth as much as an F900R. It was like working with a used car lot where they run up the retail price then offer you a big ?trade in? Where can you buy any Sony HDCam that works at all for 9K? Recently one that fell off a boat into sea water while running in South America sold on Ebay for more than this. Come on Sony Management ?be real?.

My partner and I are very disapointed with Sony. We have both at one time or another had to make good on a mistake. We thought Sony should to. This camera cost us tens of thousands of dollars, and they know it. So we were ready to shop. At this point we both felt our clients weren?t ready to accept the new technology card or hard disk cameras and would continue for a while to require tape.

As for our opinion that Sony should be responsible, did a reseller make this lemon ? so why should they loose money, by supporting it or make good on these many problems? Sony built this and stands behind it 0 %. Compare this with the Sony Z1U I bought from Amnon Band, when the screw recepticle fell out of the base of the camera, they got me a new body. Truly great service, much appreciated. I wish they were a Panasonic dealer.


Our Shoot Off:

We made arrangements with the regional dealer of Panasonic Pro. Gear and the West coast manager to provide a Panasonic HDX 900 for our evaluation. We also requested a large production house in our market to provide an F900 Sony. With the help of their engineer we set the two cameras side by side feeding a good sized HD monitor with a waveform monitor on the AB Switch.

The Panasonic was set up by the regional rep, the Sony was set up by the facility engineer, of the facility that owns the camera. Probably the Sony was therefore set up better. The Sony is not the latest software, but as I understand it the firmware is basically the same. The lenses were 18X Canon the same on both cameras. The monitor was a large Sony CRT about 26? like you see in edit rooms. The wave form was Tektronics Remember here we are comparing an 80K Sony camera with a 26K Panasonic camera. Even used, a Cinealta is twice the money! After the above outlined, experience with My current Sony HDcam, I'm understandably concerned about spending this kind of money on a camerea that shares many parts with my current camera. Of course I'm also concerned about factory support.

We hard lit a subject and looked at a facial closeup from both cameras. We also recorded and played back at each stage. We could not see any difference in the image quality between the two cameras.
We zoomed both cameras into the subjects red hair. Still no difference.
So in terms of basic image quality the cameras looked similar. In fact you could have easily cut between them with some slight tweaking.

Next we aimed both cameras at the roof of the studio which was quite dark. Not only were the blacks cleaner on the Panasonic but the camera was about a stop faster than the Sony we checked to be sure the shutter wasn?t turned on or anything set differently on the filters or gain settings. But the Panasonic was just a stop faster and cleaner looking.

Then we shined a light on the green wall of the cyc. This produced a green kick back tint to one of the subjects cheeks. The Sony camera showed us quite a bright green smear the Panasonic showed us about what we saw with our eyes. I?ve had the experience with the HD cam being sensitive to color changes from bright to shade. I know it is sensitive to green. It was pretty clear to both of us which camera we?d prefer to shoot green screen with.

Finally we set up a chrome c stand with a card to shield a 36? solid beside it from our hard light. We placed the Panasonic HDX900 brochure which is black greyish pictures and writing over the top of the solid which was carded out of the light. We set both cameras so the c stand reflection from our hard light was at 100 ire. Then we zoomed into the dark area. The F900 could read some white lettering and we could see something was written or printed on the brochure. The HDX 900 could see fairly clearly what was there. This certainly shows increased dynamic range.

My partner who was sure the F900 would absolutely sink the HDX 900 was frankly flabbergasted. Now both of us were a little miffed at the way Sony had treated us, so you might think we werent fair. I/ll tell you we still believed in the quality of the Sony enough that neither of us expected the HDX to match the F900. What we were doing was trying to find a tape camera to get us through these last years of tape before a fully digital workflow is worked out. For my money if the two cameras were the same price I?d be hard pressed to buy Sony. Bottom line here is that technology has advanced in the 6 years since the F900 was introduced.

Any camera I buy will become outdated and outperformed by newer cameras. The difference is that the Panasonic looks at least as good as the F900 and I will much more quickly recoup my investment. I sure understand the frustration that must accrue to folks who recently bought a Cinealta, thats a lot of money to get back before newer better 444 uncompressed technology eats the work!
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#2 Imran Naqvi

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 03:47 AM

That's interesting.

I was recently at Visual Impact near West London, who supply a lot of gear in the UK to major drama and film productions.

We had a 900R, HDX900, 750, and a Varicam up, plugged into a pair of matched HD CRT monitors. Visual had the cameras tweaked to their preferred settings and honestly the 900R blew the HDX out of the water.

Saturation was miles better, but you could also see the lack of detail coming from the 720 chip in both Panny's compared to the 900. In some ways the 900R was a touch too hard, and the Varicam was a great alternative being a little softer.

Now we only looked at a big bunch of flowers, we didn't do as many different lighting setups, but we did had Primes on both the 900R and the Varicam and Zooms on the 750 and HDX, and I think the biggest limiting factor to current HD cameras is often then glass.

Just my 5c
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#3 Dan Coplan

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 10:23 AM

TJ -

Thanks for the post. I always find tests like this very interesting.

Dan
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#4 Steve Fracol SOC

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 11:11 PM

TJ,

Thanks for the post comparison.

It stinks the way that the video manufactures treat buyers like us. We are the customer and they always make us feel like we owe them a favor. Both Sony and Panasonic could learn a lesson or two from Arriflex in terms of customer service and long lasting products. I ran my SR II forever. In fact the guy I sold it to is still making money with it. I actually wish I never sold it. At the time it made sense.

I own a VariCam and bought it from Fletcher Chicago. Tom and the gang have taken the absolute best care of me when anything has gone wrong. That is by far the most important thing to consider when buying HD gear...who your purchasing from!!! Go with a reputable company like Fletcher or Band Pro. They been doing it a while. THey know their stuff. I would never buy direct from a rep. no matter how good the deal is. I don't mind paying a little more for that incredible customer service that dealers provide.

I have also tested many cameras and it is important to note that they are all different format cameras although they are HD. 1080 vs. 720, etc. thus making it hard to truly judge in a side by side mode. More like different tools for different types of shooting. Even though I own a VariCam I still shoot with a CineAlta when it makes sense. I also still shoot film as often as possible....both Super 16 and 35mm. It is so hard to compare cameras side by side like the 2/3" chip world...because you can have so many variations in set up. From black levels, detail, matrix, gamma, knee point/slope, etc. You have to totally go through every menu in both cameras. Very time consuming.

I am however not surprised that you were happy with the HDX 900. It is a great camera. It is so close to the (Vid Rec) mode look of a VariCam it is unbelievable. Basically the same camera (- variable frame rates and Film Rec) with some stuff turned off or not accessible and 1/3 the price of what I paid. Now since I am a VariCam owner I was not at all that happy that Panasonic came out with that camera 1.5 years after I spent 65 grand for my VariCam body. Nearly all of my comp. bought the 900's. Hard to compete wiht that. Their rentals are so much cheaper and the camera looks very good. Glad I mostly work out of town these days.

I truly do not think they realize what they are doing to owner operators like us. I guess they just expect us to continue to buy new cameras every other year or so. I prefer the Arriflex approach. Build something that lasts. I like owning something that eventually makes me money...not something that is disposable. After all the point is to make money.

Best,

Steve Fracol, SOC
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#5 Dan Coplan

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Posted 30 January 2007 - 11:30 AM

It is so close to the (Vid Rec) mode look of a VariCam it is unbelievable.


Check the different film look modes. FILMLOOK3 gets it closer to the Varicam's FILM REC.

Dan
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#6 TJ Williams

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Posted 30 January 2007 - 01:18 PM

Imran interesting. Hard to believe that the local engineer for the company that owned the F900 didn't have it set up properly. What kind of monitor were you looking at. Looking at the pro Sony CRT we put on the ole reading glasses and stepped right up to 6 inches from the screen. Even on the zoom in on the kids red hair, I couldn't see any difference inf rez. Which I gotta say suprised me as I expected the Sony to be much better res as the Panasonic is doing some kinda pixel magic to get 1080P. Were you looking at the HDX900 in 1080? We noticed that running it in 720 it didnt look as good on the monitor. Also since you comment the F900 looked a little "hard" could the edge inhancement have been turned up a little. On a target like flowers edge inhancement might look a lot like more rez? Didn't mention in my earlier post we also shot an old rez chart they had laying around. On the chart esp when panning the camera back and forth I think the Sony may have edged it out. When both cameras were resting on the chart we couldn't see a difference. This is probably an artifact of the pixel magic in the Panasonic. It was impossible for us to see in an actual picture. In any case both cameras sure make nice pictures and I liket the HDX price a lot!

Steven
Not to worry Sony F900 buyers will soon enjoy the same feeling. Already Sony has brought out HDCam SR.(in a Cine look camera, but in 2/3" format) Gee doesn't that sound like Betacam SP. I remember how the early adopters got wrecked when the BVV5 decks and BVW400 betacam Sp cameras came out. So those who own F900s will have the same grand experience when Sony brings out the new HDCam format, and I'll bet in the ENG form-factor, and I'll bet it sells for about the same as the current HDCam cameras. I'll be looking to see it at NAB?

Hi Dan hope the Winter is treatin you good. Just got back fm skiin Stevens Pass, snow is a little popcorny up north.
The shootout was a real eye opener for us. I did several things I didn't write about including looking at the Cine setups, yes that is a good one, very similiar to the SDX which I shot a couple of spots with last year.
I think the look of the SDX which I liked has been carried forward well into the HDX

Steven an all:

Thanks for taking the time to look at the post. My feeling is that we only have as long left on any of these tape cameras as the producers prefer tape. Silicon imaging is delivering a $12,000 HD/2K camera and it looks like RED will be delivering a 4K/HD camera at NAB, for $17500 Basically these are both hotrodded still camera sensors with some software behind them, recording to flash or disk raids. So the price of HD+ cameras may be like the price of computers.

With the new larger flash cards and portable hard drives reaching down below the cost of similiar amounts of HD tape. it's hard to imagine that these tape cameras will not all be boat anchors in a few years, as producers get used to receiving this media instead of tape.

As a USA guy an maybe a little patriotic I'm pleased that these new camera companies are all here in America. Perhaps the dominance of Japanese cameras in electronic imaging is taking a hit. In the mean time I gotta deliver tapes to outa town producers.
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#7 Dan Coplan

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Posted 30 January 2007 - 08:46 PM

So the price of HD+ cameras may be like the price of computers.


Not only like the price of computers but they will BE computers! Would not be the least bit surprised to discover we're just a few years away from the 'Microsoft MegaCam' and 'Apple iHD CineCam'.

The merging of technology is pretty damn interesting and it's all up for grabs.

Dan
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#8 Imran Naqvi

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 02:05 AM

Imran interesting. Hard to believe that the local engineer for the company that owned the F900 didn't have it set up properly. What kind of monitor were you looking at. Looking at the pro Sony CRT we put on the ole reading glasses and stepped right up to 6 inches from the screen. Even on the zoom in on the kids red hair, I couldn't see any difference inf rez. Which I gotta say suprised me as I expected the Sony to be much better res as the Panasonic is doing some kinda pixel magic to get 1080P. Were you looking at the HDX900 in 1080? We noticed that running it in 720 it didnt look as good on the monitor. Also since you comment the F900 looked a little "hard" could the edge inhancement have been turned up a little. On a target like flowers edge inhancement might look a lot like more rez? Didn't mention in my earlier post we also shot an old rez chart they had laying around. On the chart esp when panning the camera back and forth I think the Sony may have edged it out. When both cameras were resting on the chart we couldn't see a difference. This is probably an artifact of the pixel magic in the Panasonic. It was impossible for us to see in an actual picture. In any case both cameras sure make nice pictures and I liket the HDX price a lot


We were looking at 2 matched 14" Sony HD Crts side by side, both in 1080 and for the way the cameras were setup the difference between the two 900's were night & day. This was a day organised for the benefit of GTC (Guild of Television Cameramen) members and so was geared towards owner/ops.

Visual Impact were very happy to share the settings for any HD camera we wanted from a variety of different productions, maybe you could ask them? they're on I am a link

To be fair the Varicam and the Sony 900 were close, but for the 5 ops we had we all preferred the Sony. What I meant by "hard" was that it was much more a "video" look than a "film" look presumably because we had a lot of DoF compared to what I would expect to see on film.

If money was no object I'd have the Sony, though I liked the Varicam a lot, but I wouldn't say no to the Panny 900 because it would make me money, and the editing workflow is much simple with FCP. For me the Sony 900 is/was a real attempt to bridge the video/film worlds(How succesful it was is upto you), where I think the Panny 900 stays, for me in the video world for now.

The Panny 900 was recently used on a BBC SF show called Torchwood, after 2 weeks they switched to the 750 and had to do re-shoots, the reason? The FX/Post house, The Mill rejected the rushes based on a lack of rez in low light for FX work.

Remember though we had a Zeiss Primes on the Sony 900 and Varicam and a Canon Zoom on the Panny 900, and I think that's where the biggest differences lay, but then again the likely production budgets each camera is destined for (the BBC wants to pay £220/day for a HDX900 kit i.e. camera, legs + 2 lenses), that the Panny will rarely have the goodies attached that the Sony 900 will.

It may sound like I'm putting the boot into the Panny, and I'm really trying not to, but I do think you get what you pay for in this business, more so with cameras, and whilst people like to bash Sony, they're not nearly as dumb as we might like to believe. I do like Panny's stuff as well, but the thing really slowing down camera adoption in the UK is the huge multiplication of formats. When we had SP, S16 and 35 to choose from stuff was much easier.
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