A Personal Review of the Sony EX1

The Sony EX1 solid state video cameraLast weekend Maximilian De Vree and I shot a short film. I will post details of the film a little later, but one of the main purposes of this shoot was to test the Sony PMW-EX1, an HD video camera that shoots to propreitary flash memory called SxS. Until last friday, my practical experience with video was tape only. I have always been wary of tapless shooting for back up reasons. I have realized, however that this is where the future is heading and it was time to jump in.

In the back of my mind, I always knew I would fall in love with tapeless recording once I tried it -- and I did. The benefits far out weigh the negatives. Shooting straight to sA still from the EX1 showing nice, shallow depth of field.olidstate memory allows instant replay of shots, the ability to delete bad takes, variable framerates, higher data rates, reusable media, easy and quick transfer to the computer, and so on. With all of these benefits, the main downside is you really need a computer on set to back up to (and an extra harddrive to be safe.) This makes shooting in the field a little more cumbersome. Also the media more expensive. I can carry 4-6 hours of Professional HDV tape for about $80. If I wanted to have 4-6 hours of SxS cards with out downloading first it would run about $2500. You can get away with one one set of cards that shoot for an hour or two, but downloading and backing up really slows down your shooting process. I can see this as a big problem for Documentary shooting. For short narrative work however, this was not a problem.

The camera we rented came with two 8 gigabyte SxS cards, each able to record about 20 minutes. I didn't even bother using both cards in the camera. When one would fill up, it could be downloaded while we shot the other. In this way, the workflow was similar to shooting rolls of film. Besides the solid state recording medium, which was the biggest new thing for me, I would like to point out a few other things about this camera:

  • The Lens
    The lens on the EX-1 is a Fujinon 5.8mm to 81.2mm zoom (this the 35mm equivalent of 31.4mm to 439mm.) What impressed me the most about this lens is that it has a constant maximum aperture of f1.9 all the way through the zoom range. This allows for very nice shallow depth of field and excellent performance in low light  conditions. On the downside, I often found myself wishing the lens was a little wider.
  • Focusing
    The EX-1 has two modes for focusing: AF/MF and Full MF. AF/MF mode is what most prosumer video shooters are used to. In this mode you can use autofocus and manual focus, but the focus ring will spin infinitely -- there are no fixed focus distances associated with the ring. In this mode you can turn on macro focus which allows for very close focus. However, the minimum focus distance changes as you zoom. Sliding the focus ring back puts you into Full MF mode. In this mode the ring physically engages the lens and gives you absolute focus readings from a scale on the lens. This is the kind of lens film shooters are used to. In this mode minimum focus shifts to about 1 meter, but does not shift when you zoom.
  • Cool onscreen readings
    There are quite a few nice onscreen readings on the EX1. There is a histogram, which is great for exposure. A spot meter that gives you the percentage of grey that is read in a box at the center of the screen. And lastly a depth of field scale, so you can know exactly where you image will be sharp. This is also great for getting hyperfocus.
  • Slow and Quick Motion
    The EX1 allows you to to Overcrank and Undercrank your image which they call slow and quick motion. If you shoot at 720p you can overcrank up to 60 frames per second which gives very nice slow motion. The really cool thing about overcranking on the EX1 is that you don't lose any light. I assume the camera is always sampling at 60fps and is just taking less when you are shooting 25 or 24.

Those are a few of the cool things I noticed with the camera. We start editing the footage this week, so I will have a better idea of what the camera can really do then. Feel free to ask any questions about the camera. I will post more still images and some video as the post-production progresses.