Camcorder Review:Sony DSR-PDX10 DVCAM

The professional Sony DSR-PDX10 is, in every important way, identical to the consumer DCR-TRV950, which received a very positive review from us in the October 2002 issue (read it at www.videomaker.com). The cameras have the same three CCDs, the same lens, the same data format and the same camera body. This review is going to focus on the differences between these two cameras. For some of you, the extra features will be a necessity. For others, the question is whether the extra features are worth the roughly $400 price difference between the two.

DVCAM

If you need to use the DVCAM tape format, then the consumer TRV950 is not an option. The PDX10 allows you to shoot on both DVCAM tape or consumer Mini DV tape. The quality of the video captured to either format is identical, since the Digital Video (DV) data is identical (both are DV25). The DVCAM tape format is theoretically more robust and durable than Mini DV tape, but millions of Mini DV camcorders and tapes have been sold and used without anyone reporting any inherent problems with the format. Another feature of DVCAM is that the audio is locked with every frame of video. While Mini DV video is not as precisely synchronized, real-world reports of problems (e.g. lip sync) as a result of not having locked audio are extremely rare (we’ve never encountered it here under normal shooting and editing conditions). Again, just to be clear: the video is identical in both formats. More relevantly, we like the fact that the PDX10 allows you to switch between DVCAM and Mini DV, but we don’t see anything wrong with Mini DV in the first place.

XLR

We would expect to pay roughly $200 for a compact two-channel XLR adapter, such as the one that is included with the PDX10. The adapter will allow you to jack in just about any audio source: line level from a mixer, standard microphone level or even an attenuated microphone level. In addition, the camera can supply +48V phantom power (which of course drains the battery more quickly) and has a Low Cut filter that can be toggled on and off (for reducing wind noise). The camera comes with a compact Sony shotgun microphone (ECM-NV1) that we figure is probably worth about $50. The quality of the microphone was fair, but no worse than others in its class and is the same as the included microphone on higher-end Sony products such as the PD250 or the VX2000. We tried three other shotgun microphones with excellent results: the convenience and integration of the Sony XLR adapter make it well worth the money.

16:9

Many consumer 16:9 widescreen Mini DV camcorder modes merely add black bars to the top and bottom of the screen, which we consider to be a waste of perfectly good pixels (you can add the bars in post if you want). The PDX10 shoots a true electronic 16:9 anamorphic widescreen format video. A lens adapter to accomplish this transformation would cost over $300. The image is very slightly cropped on the top and bottom, but a significant amount of image is added on the sides. The results are quite impressive on the camera’s large 3.5-inch LCD and were breathtaking on a 52-inch widescreen television. Footage shot in this mode is squashed and unnatural looking on non-widescreen televisions (with 4:3 aspect ratios), which account for the vast majority of televisions found in living rooms across America today. 16:9 widescreen is a very sweet feature, for those of you who understand what it is, have editing software that can handle it and are ready to produce widescreen video for broadcast or DVD.


Low Light

Since our initial review of the TRV950, a number of vocal users have reported very poor low-light performance in that camera. Sony’s reliably self-reported minimum illumination confirms, and we can verify with our tests, that the PDX10 does need adequate lighting. This is largely due to the compact size of the CCDs and the lens. We explicitly tested the PDX10 side-by-side with a Sony PD150 (a professional version of the VX200). In poor lighting conditions, we were able to manually get brighter images from the PD150, partially because of the larger lens, but also as a result of increasing the gain. If you frequently shoot nighttime or indoor video using only available light, you might consider a camera with better low-light capabilities than the PDX10. The PDX10 may not have the best low-light performance we’ve ever seen, but this is certainly not the same as saying that it has poor low-light capabilities. Under normal conditions, even the ambient lighting of our office was more than enough to produce very bright and sharp video. This camera will be just fine at weddings and banquet receptions.

If you’ve ever glanced at the rest of this magazine, you’ll know that all serious videography requires adequate lighting and, by extension, so do all camcorders. This is the number one difference between amateur home video and professional video. A single, well-placed light indoors or a bounce card reflector outdoors will make more difference in your videography than the finest and most expensive low-light camera ever produced.

More or Less

The PDX10 has a couple of other functions not found in the TRV950, such as user-settable timecode (which is not a minor feature) and a black and white viewfinder. Likewise, the TRV950 has some functions not found in the PDX10 (such as Bluetooth networking and a pop-up flash). With some of the clearest and sharpest video around, these are both excellent cameras. Deciding between the two is simply a matter of assessing your requirements (e.g. DVCAM) and whether the highly-integrated XLR adapter and shotgun microphone are worth the additional $400. The compact size, imaging quality and audio flexibility of the PDX10 will certainly not disappoint.

TECH SPECS

Format: Mini DV

Lens: 12:1 optical zoom, fl=3.6 to 43.2mm, f/1.6-2.8, 37mm filter, Sony Video Lens

Image Sensors: 3 (three) – 1/4.7-inch CCDs; 690,000 pixels

Image Stabilization: Optical

Viewfinder: 44-inch black and white

LCD Viewscreen: 3.5-inch color (246,400 pixels)

Focus: auto, manual, Spot Focus

Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/10,000 sec.

Exposure Control: auto, manual, Flexible Spot Meter

Iris Control: auto

White Balance: auto, manual

Inputs: i.LINK (IEEE 1394), S-video, composite, RCA audio, 1/8″ mini microphone, 2-channel XLR audio (line, mic, att. mic, +48V)

Outputs: i.LINK (IEEE 1394), S-video, composite, RCA audio, USB, headphone

Edit Interface: LANC, i.LINK (IEEE 1394)

Other Features: 8MB Memory Stick, 1,152×864 stills, touch panel, true 16:9 widescreen mode, low-cut audio filter

Dimensions: 3 3/4 (w) x 4 (h) x 8 (d) inches

Weight: 2 lb. 1 oz. (sans tape and battery)

STRENGTHS

  • XLR audio adapter and microphone
  • Compact size
  • 16:9 widescreen mode

WEAKNESSES

  • Default audio set to 12bit

SUMMARY

The XLR audio capabilities make this compact camera a serious choice for professionals on the go.

$3,100

Sony Electronics

1 Sony Drive

Park Ridge, NJ 07656

(800) 686-7669

bssc.sel.sony.com

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