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Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?

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Brian Tario
Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?
on Sep 12, 2008 at 7:18:47 pm

Hello world, I’m currently shooting (mainly corporate/industrial videos) with a Sony PD-170. I like it fine, but I’m thinking seriously of adding an HD option to my service list. One of the nice things about the 170 is the ability to Firewire into my MacBook Pro (current OS & FCP) for direct-to-disk recording (with a tape backup). And generally it’s a solid SD camera, great low light, etc.

But, I sometimes have the need for HD and renting is an expensive pain in the butt. It doesn’t make sense to me to go with anything below 1080 lines as this is the highest (readily available) resolution for displays (please don’t flame me about any RED products, Scarlett’s not available). And I really want to shoot progressive from now on if possible. Doing digital signage content progressively for years makes the idea of interlaced HD seem like a major drag. Hence, 1080p acquisition. Yes, I’m comfortable with the idea of going completely tapeless as I rarely recapture past footage and store virtually everything on hard drive or discs already.

So, I’ve done hours of research and have narrowed my options to 4 cameras:
Sony PMW-EX1 or EX3
Panasonic HVX200A or HPX170

I must stay under my $10K budget (this includes an extra memory card or two). Since I already have a decent EFP package with the PD-170 I won’t need to buy much besides the camera and extra media. So, here are some questions, thanks in advance for any insights:

1. Am I overlooking other cameras that might fit my criteria?
2. Sensors – bigger is better, but how do users feel about 1/2” CMOS (Sony) vs. 1/3” CCD (Panny)? I can only assume that when properly used any of these cameras will shoot excellent video. I’ve read about the “rolling shutter effect” with CMOS, but I’m curious how noticeable it is in real world situations.
3. Workflow/codecs – obviously overall workflow is critical, duh. I’m an FCP guy. Which experience is better, easier to implement, happier, etc. XDCAM EX or DVCPRO HD?
4. Media Cost – P2 is much more expensive than SxS. Is this is why the Panny cameras are cheaper? Once you factor in an extra card and consider the differences in record time at full quality, the cameras are basically the same price.

I’m cross-posting this on the Sony CineAlta – XDCAM forum and the Panasonic HVX – HPX (P2) forum. Thanks again, Brian


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Jeff Regan
Re: Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?
on Sep 12, 2008 at 11:04:31 pm

I recently had an HVX200A, HPX500, and EX1 next to my HDX900. The EX1 has the lowest noise of all the cameras, the most resolution at 1080/24p, but was the slowest of all at that resolution, down 1.5 stops from an HDX900.

At 720p, the 200A and and EX1 were down 1/2 stop from the 900, but the EX1 was clearly cleanest, you could shoot at +3db and still be clean.

I know you prefer 1080p, but the DVCPRO HD 720p Native mode is a very
good workflow for corporate. The media cost advantage you cite is negligible in that mode, SXS would be 50 min, 16Gb P2 would be 43 minutes in 720p Native, both at around $800 ea.

I like the 4:2:2 and I Frame nature of DVCPRO HD vs. Long GoP 4:2:0 of XDCAM EX. I have an HPX170 on order as a B camera for my HDX900 due to having the same workflow and very small form factor, but the EX1/EX3 has the best resolution of any camera under $10K, and better than a $30K HDX900 at 1080/24p while having a super clean noise level even in plus gain.

Jeff Regan
Shooting Star Video
http://www.ssv.com


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Brian Tario
Re: Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?
on Sep 12, 2008 at 11:40:02 pm

Thanks for your insight Jeff, I appreciate it. Can you tell me why you prefer the DVCPRO HD codec to the XDCAM EX? Is it simply easier to work with? Less steps to get into FCP? Or is it strictly the sampling and compression schemes? I'm used to working with analog (Beta SP mainly), HD SDI from HDCAM and DV/DVCAM so a lot of the workflow for these formats is only conceptual to me. I'm not used to having to transcode my media from its native format into an editable format for example. That's one of the big reasons I'm so concerned about workflow. I don't want to lose a lot of the time I gain by going tapeless to multiple new steps before I can begin editing.

I guess I should mention my edit bay is a Mac Pro with a Kona LHe connected via fibre to an XRaid. My field system is a MacBook Pro with a RAID0 FW800 drive (only used for DV). Thanks again, Brian



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Noah Kadner
Re: Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?
on Sep 12, 2008 at 11:50:07 pm

I'd rent both cameras for a day and play with the footage. Fact is they are quite evenly matched though each with its own strengths. IMHO the HVX200 is more robust and has been on the market much longer. That means a much more mature workflow and third party support. On the other hand the EX1 offers some additional manual lens features that come in handy and gives you cheaper media on a time/storage ratio.

But once you bite the bullet for the media on either camera you're set long term so it's a wash. Bottom line I think it's worth trying both cameras yourself so you can see their looks and their workflow first hand. Normally in this area there's a clear winner but I believe these cameras are a solid matchup.

Noah

My FCP Blog. Unlock the secrets of the DVX100, HVX200 and Apple Color and Win a Free Letus Extreme.
Now featuring the Sony EX1 Guidebook, DVD Studio Pro and Sound for Film and TV.
http://www.callboxlive.com


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Jeff Regan
Re: Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?
on Sep 13, 2008 at 12:00:05 am

Brian,

I'm not an editor, but an editor that I work with a lot has done a bunch of XDCAM HD projects and he is not a fan of Long GoP codecs.

I like 720p Quick Time Native because it is so easy to bring in to FCP. Almost every project that I shoot is recorded on an FS-100 with tape as a backup and I expect that with the HPX170 I will use FS-100's and P2 as a back up. It's a shame that I can't do P2 Native and QT Native simultaneously. Native is even more advantageous with P2 than FS-100 due to the shorter record times of the former.

Once the 64Gb P2 cards arrive in November, it will be interesting to
see how they affect the pricing structure of all P2 card lengths. It
can only be a positive for the cost of P2 media as well as convenience. I'm sure SxS will be getting more and more competitive as well and the 7X transfer rates when the SxS card is plugged directly into a computer is an advantage over the slower transfer rates of P2.



Jeff Regan
Shooting Star Video
http://www.ssv.com


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wil drake
Re: Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?
on Oct 16, 2008 at 4:40:51 pm

Did you ever receive a response regarding this post? I ask because I am about to buy an EX-1 but I am not sure I fully understand the codec issues involved in Long GOP format.

Please Help.

thanks

wil



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Brian Tario
Re: Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?
on Oct 16, 2008 at 5:50:07 pm

Hi Wil, I've received a number of responses in this and other forums about the Sony and Panny cameras I'm looking at. Basically I think the bottom line is they're all great cameras. The differences seem minor in the big scheme of things. I think it really depends on individual preferences/needs.

I'm going to rent each camera (EX1 and either the HVX200A or HPX170), "play" with them for an hour, shoot some footage and then run that footage through my workflow (FCP to AE to FCP). And with the economy in the toilet and the nature of technology in general, I'm certainly not going to buy any camera until a decent size job will help subsidize it. My PD170 works fine and the rental house is 5 minutes from here...

Good luck and please post your thoughts on whatever camera you go with, I'd love to hear how you like it.



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Matthew Romanis
Re: Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?
on Sep 13, 2008 at 11:31:10 am

Hello Brian,
I have used three of the cameras you are considering (EX 1 and EX 3, HVX 202(PAL)) , and in many different environments and for different outcomes from major free to air TV through to low budget corporate. They have been used as stand alone cameras, and additional's on programs shot with HPX 3000, Varicam, SD Digital Betacam, and HD Cam. I offer the following observations purely as my opinion, your own experience/opinion is something you should pursue before you commit to any of the cameras.

From a hands on "operational" view, I prefer the Sony's, particularly the EX 3. I find it the most convincing "Small format " camera to use. Button location, "Real" viewfinder, ergonomics, all make it a good choice.
However, there are some issues with the EX XD CAM codec, if there are going to be layered effects, compositing, even basic green screen.
Transcoding will help to resolve some of the issues, but there are some imaging artifacts from long GOP that cannot be resolved. If your editing is basically cut to cut with uncomplicated visual effects, then there will be little to complain about.
Some of this may come down to editor/compositor and the choices they make, not my area really. But I'm exposed to a lot more complaining about the codec than praise.
The rolling shutter (CMOS imager) shows up strongly in most cases with strobe lighting, accompanying flash photography, fast panning, and vibration. I haven't seen the issue too often in panning or moving the camera around, might be because of 25p/50i use, I might also have just been lucky.
I have seen it with vibration on a tracking vehicle (the wobble effect showed up, enough to make the shot look funky, but ultimately usable for the program it was used in), but mostly, and ultimately annoyingly, it shows up worst with strobe lighting.
I find the effect ugly, though I was the only one to notice it in the edit. When it was pointed out though, it became a point of contention. I'll never use that camera again in that kind of environment.

The 202 was for me awkward to use, but quite a nice picture, until it was used in low light, then the noise in under lit areas were a concern. The image quality was most satisfying in 720, I don't like the look of the scaled 1080, but that's a matter of opinion.
HD 100 is easy to use in FCP, as is EX XD CAM. Both are a transcode, unless you use a Quicktime rewrapping software package with the MXF files.
I have found no issues with either P2 or SxS, adapters make either one an easy format to work with.
I have never used the 202's SD DV tape format, I doubt I ever would, so to that end the 170 makes more sense to me.
The image quality from the EX1/3 is very impressive, though it doesn't have the same subtle registry of tonal colour as the 202, odd as it seems, I would have thought the more recent camera with "Cine Alta" processing (probably marketing glib) would have been more convincing. Once again though, I was the only one who thought so, other than the colour grader.
I found the idea of interchangeable lens's with the EX 3 to be very attractive, though availability of lens's to hire at the time made it a moot point.
My personal choice would be the EX 3, that's got more to do with using it than anything else.
The big thing for you to consider with any of these camera choices is archiving the P2 or SxS cards. HDD storage is becoming a concern with some studies revealing problems with long term storage, DVD's, Blueray, or whatever are an option, though I have experienced poor return use from DVD storage over a couple of years, let alone 10 or more.
We are trying out LTO 3a as an archive solution, and are mostly satisfied. Slow transfer speed is disappointing, but workable. Life time is the question at the moment, industry claims 30 years, but it always comes down to individual use and experience.
Just a few weeks ago we pulled a Betacam oxide tape form the library, shot in 1986, put it into the boat anchor (BVW VTR) and it played. A little ropey admittedly, but usable. Only time will tell if the newer archive formats will last the test of time.
Hope this is of some help.
Matthew.



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Scott Auerbach
Re: Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?
on Sep 16, 2008 at 7:24:00 pm

Hi Brian -
Most of the pros and cons are well-discussed already. That said, I'll add these:

The HVX (I own a 200 as well as the HPX2000) really doesn't deliver that great an image compared to the newer cameras like the Sony. It was revolutionary when introduced, but the mini-HD world has moved on. It's a very noisy image, and not especially sharp (as it's not a true HD sensor).

I find the ergonomics of the Panasonic to be vastly superior to the Sony, personally. Like many (nearly all?) reviewers, I found the balance of the EX1 and EX3 to be downright bizarre -- uncomfortable and exhausting to hold for more than a couple of minutes.

The Panasonic color palette is a bit warmer and richer... perhaps less true, but also more pleasing to the eye.

The Panasonic viewfinder and flip-out LCD screen are so low-res as to be nearly useless for judging critical focus without the Focus Assist feature. I believe the Sony has better specs on that. However, at the wide side of the lens at typical apertures, nearly everything is in focus anyway.

The smaller the sensor, the harder it is to control depth of field. The difference between 1/3" and 1/2" isn't vast, but every little bit helps. Basically all the small cameras look like Kodak Instamatics... everything from 3' to infinity in focus.

The EX3 interchangeable lens option is nice, though I'm not sure how often it will actually be used by most buyers.

The SxS cards are cheaper, and you're always going to end up wanting to buy one more card... And they fit directly into the current MacBooks without an adapter.

The problems with Long GOP encoding are well-documented and worth considering.

Finally, anything you buy will be effectively obsolete within 3 years, so make sure it makes financial sense.

Best of luck with your decision!
Scott Auerbach
http://www.sputnikpictures.tv


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Jeff Regan
Re: Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?
on Sep 17, 2008 at 4:07:37 pm

Scott,

I don't think comparing the HVX200 to a 200A or HPX170 is fair. Yes,
the imagers are the same resolution wise, but there is a big difference in noise and sensitivity. A 200A/170 is quieter than my HDX900 and your HPX200, it's only 1/2 stop down in 720p. Latitude and depth of field are inferior to our cameras, but colorimetry is close, resolution, while not comparable to an EX1/3 at 1080p, is enough to cut well with 900/2000's at 720p on non-wide shots. DOF is not good on any palmcorder, even 1/2" imagers, and the CMOS imagers of the EX1/3 have their own artifacts.

The LCD viewfinder in the HPX170 is superior to the 200 by virtue of a sharper peaking circuit and three focus assist options. The HPX170 has the best form factor by far vs. a 200/200A, nevermind the EX1/3.

The biggest driver for me is the workflow of DVCPRO HD and I-Frame, 4:2:2 advantages. I don't find the current pricing of SxS cards to be much of an advantage price wise or record time wise when comparing record times to P2 720/24P Native-50 vs. 43 min, respectively, both around $800.

Jeff Regan
Shooting Star Video
http://www.ssv.com


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Adam Mills
Re: Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?
on Nov 14, 2008 at 3:50:50 pm

The image of the EX3 is slightly better than the HPX-200, but the recording format of the Panasonics is more robust (and less compressed). You can't shoot concerts with the EX3 though!!! I learned that the hard way. With a CMOS sensor, there isn't a global shutter, so if you shoot strobe lights or flashes (like from cameras), you get segmented frames: that is, the upper or lower half of the frame is white while the other half of the same frame is normal. This is also true of the RED One and the Ikegami studio/OB CMOS cameras.

If you want a comprehensive comparision of these and a bunch of other HD cameras, I'd recommend going here: http://www.highendtv.com/ and click on their "Shootout 2008"


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Rob Burrows
Re: Panasonic P2 vs. Sony SxS - Which Camera To Buy?
on Jul 20, 2009 at 5:24:26 pm

HI,

You can shoot concerts with the EX3 - I have! The strobe effect shows as full frame if the Effects Manager sets the strobe to 1/25 of a second or more. This proved easy to sort out as I had to liaise with the Stage Manager etc and sound guys to obtain the sound track. However, there can be a case for allowing the cut-off flash effect as it can look good anyway (like a laser).

In terms of the media, I use Kingston Adapters with Scandisk SD cards and shoot full HD at 25p with no problem using 16gig cards. The media is cheap and reliable. There is one caveat: I only use SXS when overcranking (I have not need for full HD interlaced, but if I dod I would use SXS) as these modes can push the SD cards too hard causing a media error.

Ther are also filmic settings for the EX3 that out perform other cameras with ease making it better than the RED in practice and price.

Rob


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