Sony PMW-EX1

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Sony PMW-EX1
  • Sony PMW-EX1
  • Sony PMW-EX1
  • Sony PMW-EX1

Pros

  • Unparalleled 'full' 1080p high-definition video, huge array of benefits offered by SxS Pro recording format, adjustable handgrip offers extra freedom

Cons

  • Technology still in its infancy, lens not interchangeable, no SD mode

Bottom Line

Like it or loathe it, the PMW-EX1 represents a turning point in the video camera industry; a gradual but indomitable shift away from the comforting familiarity of digital tape. If you're an industry professional, this is where your future will eventually lie.

Would you buy this?

The Sony PMW-EX1 is the world's first professional-level camcorder to use flash memory ExpressCard-based media. As such, it marks an interesting new direction for the digital video industry, which until now, has traditionally stuck to tape. Sporting a Fujinon Professional HD lens specifically designed for this unit, with a trio of 1/2in CMOS sensors and recording capabilities of up to 1920x1080p, it arguably offers the best image quality of any camcorder on the market. It will surely suit any industry professional or independent filmmaker – provided they're bold enough to adopt a pioneering (and unproven) technology.

The release of the PMW-EX1 coincides with Sony's 'SxS Pro' memory card format; a new form of flash media developed by the PCMCIA which complies with the ExpressCard/34 standard. The benefits of SxS Pro are substantial; including the ability to hot-swap between cards while recording, a zippy data transfer speed of 800Mbps, less power consumption (and thus longer battery life) than HDV cams, sound-free operation, and instant access to recorded footage via ExpressCard compatible notebooks. Another advantage offered by the SxS Pro format is the user-friendly way in which data is stored, with each recording appearing on the card as a separate clip. This not only makes playback a simple matter of selecting the appropriate thumbnail, but also ensures you never accidentally record over your footage.

To fit data onto the cards, the PMW-EX1 uses an advanced form of the MPEG-2 Long GOP video codec, capable of compressing high-definition data to a manageable size with almost no loss in video quality. The PMW-EX1 comes equipped with two SxS Pro slots, allowing for up to 140 minutes of continuous recording in SP mode. Currently, SxS Pro memory cards comes in 8GB and 16GB iterations, with larger capacities bound to appear in the future. Interestingly, there are no standard definition options available on this camera; with selectable resolutions limited to 1280x720, 1440x1080 and 1920x1080 (popularly known as 'full HD').

As it makes no concessions to last generation's technology, the PMW-EX1 is perfectly equipped to compete in the high-definition era. Without question, it produced some of the highest quality video we have ever encountered, with unprecedented levels of detail. Depending on setting adjustments, the colours in our test footage ran the gamut from realistically muted to stunningly vibrant; with very few instances of noise. The inclusion of three 1/2-inch Exmor CMOS sensors – each with a pixel count of 2.2Mp – offers a significant boost over most competing units, which typically sport inferior 1/3in sensors. While professional filmmakers are unlikely to be jazzed by the lack of an interchangeable lens, the professional 14x Fujinon zoom (5.8mm-81.2mm, f/1.9) remains a worthy performer.

When it comes to build quality, the PMW-EX1 is just as sleek and professional as you'd expect from a camcorder in this price range. With its overall dimensions of 311.5x178x176mm and weighing in at a hefty 2.8kg, there can be no mistaking its super high-end credentials (a fact bolstered by the saucer sized lens dominating the front of the camera). Like most professional units, the PMW-EX1 sports a serious, no-nonsense black finish with all functions highlighted in white.

Naturally, shooting video with the PMW-EX1 requires constant two-handed operation; not just to navigate controls but also to hold the heavy front-end in place. We were initially a little taken aback by the bulkiness of this unit, as flash memory-based cameras are supposed to be a lightweight format. While it remains relatively portable compared to other high-end cameras, lengthy shoots will almost certainly require a shoulder-mount (or at the least; Rambo-sized biceps). On the plus side, the adjustable handgrip, which swivels through 90 degrees, allows you to keep a solid hold on the camera while shooting at awkward angles. This is a huge boon for roaming freelancers and something that Sony's assorted competitors are sure to adopt.

Being a professional model, the PMW-EX1 is equipped with three independent rings along its lens barrel for focus, iris and zoom. Rather coolly, the focus ring can be pushed forward to trigger auto focus (for extra precision, depth-of-field is displayed in the viewfinder). Anyone who knows their way around a high-end camera should find the control interface a breeze to use.

For audio, a shock-mounted stereo microphone has been built into the carrying handle, along with a pair of professional XLR terminals, a 3.5mm plug-in socket and a sturdy attachment holder for external mics.

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