Filmmaker Matt Davis – a Sony Independent Certified Expert (ICE) and MD of corporate production company MDMA – takes a detailed first look at Sony’s stunning new PXW-Z100 4K camcorder.
The PXW-Z100 is Sony’s affordable entry-point to 4K and includes a lot of new technologies and features in a compact, reassuringly familiar package. Whilst the market is still weighing up 4K, the Z100 brings it into the reach of a far wider professional audience.
It sounds a little familiar when I think back: Long, long ago, in a time before HD…
Sony launched the HVR-Z1E - a remarkable camcorder that brought HD to the corporate, event and videography market. You could record HDV, but finding a method to play it back could be tricky - HD screens were hard to come by. We found that the HDV had some tricks up its sleeve: it could make great Standard Definition video, by shrinking blocky colour pixels you could achieve chromate, and we could make 720p video for playback on computer screens - the corporate world was introduced to HD through PowerPoint. At the same time, we got FireWire, SD features like anamorphic 16:9, in-camcorder down convert of HDV rushes so we could file away our HDV masters and continue to work in the comfort and safety of DV.
The Z1 is dead - long live the Z100
I feel the same way about the PXW-Z100 as I did about the Z1. It brings many new exciting technologies that seem to be ready for the long term. It certainly challenges my current workflow in the same way HDV did back then, and its headline feature - 4K - is deservedly the centre of attention at launch. We’ll look at what 4K can bring to the videography market, but we also need to introduce the alphabet soup of new abbreviations and acronyms that accompany the camcorder. There are some features borrowed from its bigger brethren that are new to this class of camcorder and present intriguing opportunities to the corporate and industrial market.
There’s one thing that this review isn’t able to provide in its first iteration - a review of the actual video. Sadly, this review was based around an early prototype and whilst many of the functions were up and running, the picture quality had been dialed back to allow ‘debugging’. It would be unfair to show the images I shot with its beta software, but I saw enough to be very enthused with the power of 4K. As time goes on, more and more examples of both 4K and 4K down sampled to 1080p will appear, but the first few samples have been impressive.
So, to start at the beginning, we need to establish whether the PXW-Z100 is suitable as a videographer’s tool. By videography, I refer to people who generally edit what they shoot, who tend to work alone or in a 2 person team, with a balance of ‘Run & Gun’, formal and lit interviews or pack shots, and voxpop or candid style filming. They mostly need to get a wide range of shots and lots of coverage in a short space of time. Generally speaking, videographers cannot control their environment and must ‘make do’ in terms of lighting, sound and even camcorder placement.
Because of the amount of rushes a videographer generates, and that most finished work is destined for the web or PowerPoint rather than the cinema or broadcast TV, there’s a preference for a compressed video encoding system, but the flexibility to use less compression and more colour resolution is certainly appreciated - especially when using chromakey or covering events with very strong coloured lighting setups (theatrical, music, event).
Videographers want a neat, compact camcorder that doesn’t consume lots of batteries or require the juggling of expensive media; something that can be pulled from a bag and be shooting in seconds; something that doesn’t have frighteningly shallow depth of field but can still generate a good quality image. So that’s a long, drawn out way of saying you’re probably not going to shoot a feature film or big TV drama on the Z100. The F5, F55 and F65 mop up that end of the market. You’re probably not going to find this the ideal camcorder for traditional Electronic News Gathering, high end documentary or sports coverage - though I’m sure it will be used in those categories usually given to Sony’s PMW and PDW range of camcorders. Beyond videography, the PXW-Z100 is great for independent documentary, and will crop up on general production too.