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A production camera that will suit the needs of documentary maker and short film aficionado alike
The power of a motor vehicle is usually measured in kilowatts (although still more easily identified by most in the "old currency" of brake horse power).
Sadly this is not always an accurate measure of grunt as other factors should also be brought into the equation such as power-to-weight ratios and so on.
Similarly, most non-professionals (and advertising blurb and salespeople) tend to measure how good a camcorder is by its zoom factor, number of megapixels or even its internal storage capacity.
While all of these are a small part in the total power factor they are by no means anywhere near the be-all and end-all.
Far more important are sensor sizes and their number and the quality of the "glass" - the lens that gathers all the information that starts the whole process rolling.
In this area, if you have 3 * 1/2" sensors and a renowned Fujinon lens at the starting gate, pretty much everything else should fall into place. As so ladies and gentleman, I present to you the Sony PMW-200 that has both of those things and more.
Brief Technical Overview
Recording at HD422 50 Mbps MPEG02 or HD420 35Mbps DVCAM, the PMW200 is a HandyCam style camcorder as against shoulder mount unit (although UK based Protech do make a 3rd party unit - see http://www.creativevideo.co.uk/index.php?t=product/protech_st-7j200). In fact I understand the PMW200 uses the exact same codec as used in the PDW-700, F800 and PMW-500 shoulder mount broadcast camcorders.
All of the professional features you'd expect in a top notch production camera are at your fingertips such as twin XLRs, three stage ND filter, zebra patterning and peaking indicators on screen and separate front mounted rings for zoom, iris and focus. The zoom ring can either be used manually or via the inbuilt servo. The server is understandably the slower option.
Depending on the mode chosen, shooting is at full 1920 * 1080 HD interleaved or 720 * 480 interlaced in DVCAM mode.
The lens as mentioned is a fixed Fujinon (not interchangeable) with a 14x zoom and focal length f=5.8 to 81.2 which is equivalent to 31.4mm - 439mm in 35mm terms. The iris is F1.9 to F16 automatic or manually selectable as is the image stabilizer.
There is a swag of input and output ports available for every possible known situation including AV, BNC (for SDI), timecode input and output, genlock, USB, headphone and speaker, HDMI and an 8 pin lens remote. Sony's iLink (Firewire) is also supported (This made Auscam senior writer Ben Longden very happy).
As well as the twin XLR mic ports, the PMW200 has an inbuilt front mounted omni-directional electret condenser mic.
Storage is to ExpressCard 34 cards. Either one or two can be mounted.
For those so inclined, the full specifications of the Sony PMW200 are at www.pro.sony.au/product/pmw-200.
To test the usage of the PMW200, we took it to a local football match (AFL) and shot the best part of two quarters of the game from just to the left of the goalposts. This allowed us to get action coming towards and also be able to follow the game zoomed in to the half way line. All shots were taken with the camera mounted on a Manfrotto tripod and audio was recorded via a mounted RØDE NTG-3 in favour of the on-board mic. (An adaptor was needed to make the mic fit the PMW-200's mic holder - see photo).
During shooting we used the black and white viewfinder instead of the flip out LCD. This allowed us to frame our subject(s) better and also to use the zoom focus capability. Additionally, it was a very bright warm May day, and whilst the LCD could be seen, it was nowhere near as clear as the viewfinder. We suspect 99% of people that buy this camera will also use the viewfinder as against the LCD in a shooting situation.
All controls were easily at hand and flipping from fully auto to manual was a simple exercise. The zoom was excellent and the ability to quickly pull back made catching the fast moving action a pleasure.
As with other XDCAM models the PMW-200 gives the end user the option to customise many aspects of the images it produces via the use of the Picture Profiles menu such as gamma curves to fine tune the dynamic range and contrast in the pictures, and from six preset colour matrices.
The only single issue that we came across is one of those minor but irritating ones we have seen before on other brands as well as Sony.
The rubber eye cup is designed for the right eye of the user. Being left eye dominant, turning it around made it very loose and also covered up the focus dioptre. Indeed, at one point while carrying the camera and changing location, it fell off and it was lucky that one of the officials saw it happen and alerted us to it! Sadly, on investigation we have since found that Sony don't make a left eye piece as a spare part or accessory - and as we said, they are not alone in this either.
The PMW200 is a proper production camera that will suit the needs of documentary maker and short film aficionado alike. Image quality is exquisite, it's easy to learn its operation and nuances (I only needed one look at the manual - ENG man Ben Longden didn't need one at all - and ingesting into Sony Vegas for editiung was almost a snap.
Almost because each clip is stored on the Express Card in its own folder which I found a tad annoying, but not insurmountable.
If you want to have a try of a PMW200, Videocraft I am told have rental units available at www.videocraft.com.au and the daily rate is $272.25 (inc GST and insurance)
The buy price is approximately $8000 (seen at Videopro for $6980) - www.videopro.com.au
Image quality, ease of use, features
Eye cup issue, each clip in separate folder
- Performance 9/10
- Documentation 8/10
- Features 9/10
- Setup 8 /10
- Value for Money 8/10
- Help Functions. 9/10
David is the owner and publisher of Australian Videocamera. He has a background in media dating back to 1979 when he first got involved with photojournalism in motorsport, and went from there into technology via a 5 year stint with Tandy Computers.
Moving back to WA, David wrote scripts for Computer Television for video training for the just released Windows and Office 95 among others, and was then lured to Sydney to create web sites for the newly commercial Internet in 1995, building hundreds of sites under contract to OzEmail including Coates Hire, Hertz Queensland, John Williamson, the NSW Board of Studies and many, many more.
David can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org