Disc-Based Broadcast Camera, Sony,

Reviewed by Stephen Press

I'm in love. We meet at a Sony road show in Wellington NZ and I have to admit that although at first it was just physical, her classic good looks across the crowded floor that caught my eye, I only had to spend a few moments with her to realize she had a lot more going for her than just being well built. I wanted to take her in my arms and run away into the city.

Luckily for my wife I am talking about the new Sony PDW-530P XDCAM. Unluckily for my wife it's about the same cost as the new kitchen renovation she wants. Hmmmmm...

To be honest I haven't been this exited about a camera since I picked up my first one-piece Betacam. Just where to start is a problem, there is so much that is good about this camera and disc system, it's like someone asked me for a wish list and then went and put it all in one camera plus a few things I should have thought of. Best of all it is a cameraman's camera. If the bean counters want to get their moneys worth out of these puppies they will need to employ real cameramen and not the three-week wonders. The PDW-530P XDCAM has some very good arguments for News to bin those PD150 bunnies forever.

Lets answer the big question first. Is it tough enough? I know what you are thinking. Ok it looks good and it's disc system has got anti skip stuff and rubber damper things but even my home DVD sitting in it's cabinet jumps every now and then when the cat stamps past, so how can we trust Sony's scary not tape DVD technology? Well for a start it's not a DVD. Yes its blue lasers but comparing The Professional Disc system to DVD's is like comparing Digital Beta to VHS, they were both tape and that was it.

There is just too much information to tell here so you can go ask Ivan for all the specifications or this review will go on forever, but the bottom line is Professional Disc is more rugged, more reliable and cheaper than tape. It's X-ray and Manet proof. No more dropouts EVER and if you can make it skip then chances are you just wrote off the camera by dropping it of the side of a building. Hope you weren't holding it cause it's tougher than you are. I won't go into what we did to that poor lovely demo camera but the nice Sony people stood with fixed grins as we did our to utmost short of total destruction to get it to skip, lets just say that after we were finished I would looking to buy that demo camera at very well used price.

While we are at it, how does no more maintenance sound to you freelancers out there?

Sony claim that the lack of heads and moving parts in general means some of your camera techs could be looking for a new line in work. Maybe, maybe not but even so no tape damage, no tape jams, no bent rollers, no head clogs and no head wear, sounds very good to me and sounds even better to my accountant.

The PDW-530P XDCAM feels like a new Digital Betacam right down to having the latest EX CCD's. The back seems wider than normal but the small bay door for loading the disc may be the cause of that. It has a split filter wheel, proper solid construction and a reassuring weight that feels right. The balky lens on the demo camera did it no favors but still the camera balanced well on my shoulder. I felt I could just walk out and start shooting with no further prep. Even the new switches and menu buttons at the back are well labeled and intuitive in function. The flip out 2.5 inch color LCD screen seems like just a neat toy at first giving you pictures as well as all the info; timecode, disc space, batteries and levels for four of the eight sound tracks. But it also gives you thumbnails.

Thumbnails will change the way we work in the field forever. You find that hard to believe? Well I don't think Sony even realize just what a breakthrough for cameramen thumbnails are. Picture this. You are remote on another of the desks "Suck it and See" specials. After rolling 30 min of nothing special for a soft story that you haven't quite got an angle on yet you suddenly get the shot that defines the whole shoot. Now with a clear story in mind you get 5 min of tape that tells a good story. You know what usually happens next. As you get sent to a must have IV across town Joe Intern rewinds the tape and hacks together a quick RVO from the first 2 min.

Now the thumbnails are an index of all the shots on the disc and using the LCD on the side of my camera I can reorder the index so the best shots are at the top. If you like I can do a loose edit in the field on the side of the camera. Cool! In fact with a laptop connected to the camera by firewire I can do a proper edit.

But wait there's more. (In fact there is too much more for this review and I've got lots of work on and no time. I haven't touched on so much like proxies... oh hell I've said it now.) Proxies are low bit rate versions of everything you shot that can be transferred to a laptop at 50 times faster than real time, used to make an EDL that will suck in and final edit the full resolution version at up to 5 times real time. Editors will have to go back to instant coffee.

Does your station need the pictures right now? Don't have a live truck nearby? Well you can also send the proxies back to the office over the Internet while you are still in the field, quality drop yes but first with the pictures, oh yes. That has got to get every News organizations attention.

If News will want this camera then production houses will be gagging for it to. The camera is Format free. No more dubbing hassles. Sony says it will integrate with nearly any system, Avid, Quantel, Pinnacle, whatever it is IT based MXF open standard. NO MORE TAPES. Just cheap reusable discs that will work for everyone and at the same time speed postproduction up to the point that the only limitation is the operator.

Ok so maybe I'm being optimistic and the bean counters won't see the value in terms of both art and cost the XDCAM brings to our industry, but for me it means I can provide Digital Beta quality to all my clients, News, corporate and commercials, all at a Beta SX price.

There is still so much more I want to cover but I have to get some sleep if only to dream in blue lasers.

So lets just think about this. PDW-530P XDCAM. Up font we have basically next years Digital Beta Head, complete with split ring filter wheel, four assignable buttons and other coolness. At the back we have what is in all honestly a revolution in the way we work. Perhaps one of the most positive developments for the future of our craft in years. All for about the same as a SX rig but cheaper to run... I want one. Darling about your kitchen?

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