theCameraClass

with award winning documentary team tony wilson and leo sullivan

THE SONY HVR-Z7P - A MORE PROFESSIONAL CAMERA

Sony HVR-Z7 camera, a new layout
Sony HVR-Z7 camera

SONY HVR-Z7P HDV CAMERA BY Tony Wilson, ACS, AUGUST 2008

The following is a review of the Z7p camera and summary of what I see are the main differences between it and the Z1p. I wasn't such a big fan of the Z1 from an operator's point of view, though have always said the pictures out of the camera were exceptional. The Z7p I'm pleased to say is a major improvement, and its redesigned more professional layout should provide a less stressful transition for operators accustomed to larger broadcast cameras.

HVR-Z7P FEATURES

Whilst similar in size and weight to the Z1 there are many significant differences, the main one being a completely new and more professional layout of the camera controls, including eight ASSIGN buttons which can be set to access some of the more frequently used menu items.

With the more sensitive 3 x CMOS camera chips allowing you to shoot in half as much light as the Z1 (about a 'stop' faster), and a Zeiss lens which when fully zoomed in under low light conditions only closes down to f2, the Z7p offers significant advantages over all other cameras of this size which close down to f2.8, or in the case of the Canon AH1 (with a 20-1 lens) f3.4. In simple terms this means you can use the full extent of the zoom in half the light level of other cameras, which combined with the faster CMOS chips, means a two stop advantage in low light shooting compared to the Z1p.

With an interchangeable lens there is now the option to use other lenses, an option to record to a memory card unit (supplied, with an 8GB CF card), and an option to shoot in either Interlaced or Progressive (25p) scan. Other first impression are a slightly smaller but much sharper LCD (which shows the full recorded picture), more professional build quality, three levels of ND (Neutral Density) Filter and an HDMI out jack to more easily plug the camera into your 'telly'. If you are happy to accept lower picture quality there is a facility (as on the V1p) to record slow motion. It can be set to record for either 3, 6 or 12 seconds, from either the time you start recording or the time you stop recording. The playback screen time will be about 4 times longer than that recorded. Sound is not recorded when you use this facility.

The Z7 camera now comes with a camera mic and a battery charger that takes two batteries. The i.Link (firewire) output jack on the camera is now a 6-pin and not 4-pin as on the Z1, and there is also an HDMI out. Neither of these cables is supplied but Component and Composite cables are. A nice touch is that the lens shade can now be removed easily by pressing a button and turning, rather than the screw arrangement of the Z1. The downside of this is that the bayonet fitting is different to that on the Z1, so the Century .6X wide-angle adapter I have no longer fits! The lens still has a 72mm thread size so filters are no problem, but if you have the screw-on Sony wide-angle adapter I suggest you check to see if it fits correctly as there could be a problem with the thread depth and this could affect the focus.

IRIS CONTROL

One of the main issues I and many others found shooting with the Z1 was that the main exposure auto/manual IRIS button was set in a line with three other camera control buttons of exactly the same size and shape, the GAIN/SHUTTER SPEED and WHITE BALANCE. Now whilst Sony engineers may have been lauded for neatness and elegant design it made operating rather hazardous, as one could easily hit the wrong button by mistake, sometimes with disastrous consequences (oops, +18db), especially when hand-holding, and there are only so many times you can use the 'Oh that was the effect I was going for...' before producers got rather stroppy!

This issue has been addressed and the IRIS controls are now at the front of the camera handgrip, as on 'full-bottle' Betacam and DVC PRO cameras. It's a slide switch that alternates between auto and manual with an adjacent button to momentarily go to auto exposure when operating in manual. I still have an issue here in that with the way my right hand supports the camera with fingers being used to operate the rocker zoom switch, only my 'pinkie' little finger is free to operate this switch or press the auto iris button - and it doesn't have the strength to do this (perhaps Yoga can help)! But there is another option, which many 'pro' camera folk used to larger cameras (and me with my film background) may suit better This is an iris ring on the lens itself, as you have on film and vastly more expensive camera lenses.

Whilst discussing IRIS I should mention that in the CAMERA SET menu under AE WINDOW there are now five choices for what part of the picture area the light meter sets the exposure.

The GAIN, WHITE BALANCE and SHUTTER SPEED auto/manual control buttons are still together but set apart from the IRIS button, and less likely to be accidentally 'adjusted'. All three have additional facilities.

GAIN

The GAIN can now go to +21db and to -6db (useful in bright light). In the CAMERA SET menu you can also set a limit the GAIN can go to when using it in the auto mode, (there is the same facility for IRIS). In the CAMERA SET menu you can also find SMOOTH GAIN. Here you can set the level of how quickly or slowly the changes occur when you switch between different preset gain settings on the H/M/L GAIN switch.

SHUTTER SPEED

The SHUTTER SPEED now has ECS (Extended ClearScan) which allows you to finely adjust the shutter to avoid rolling bars when shooting CR computer screens. You get to this by firstly having the shutter in manual and advancing it one 'click' past its highest setting (10,000), then going to ECS FREQ. in the CAMERA SET menu and adjusting it with the menu wheel until you lose the bars.

WHITE BALANCE

The WHITE BALANCE also has a new feature set. Previously on the Z1 you needed to use up two of the ASSIGN button to conveniently set (without going into the menu) the + or - colour temperature 'off-sets' (up to seven 'clicks' each of 500K). This is now more easily achieved, by having the WB PRESET in the CAMERA SET menu set to daylight (Sony call this OUTDOOR!) and briefly pressing the white balance button you use to set a manual WB. On the LCD next to the daylight 'sun' icon a zero appears, which with the menu select wheel you adjust to set the picture 'warmer' or 'cooler' up to 3,500K either side of the regular daylight colour temperature of 5,600K. You need to be operating the white balance in manual and not auto to facilitate this.

You can also now set the colour temperature to a specific value between 2300K and 15000K by first selecting WB TEMP SET in the camera menu and adjusting as above, with the manual WB button and the menu wheel. As with gain in the CAMERA SET menu there is also a SMOOTH WB setting to adjust how fast the WB changes when operating in auto mode.

FOCUS

There are significant changes in how one now operates the camera FOCUS. The auto/manual focus button, a familiar control on earlier cameras is replaced by sliding the focus ring on the lens itself -towards you for manual focus and away to use auto focus. Missing too is the dedicated button to go to auto focus briefly when in manual. What I have done is set-up two of the (8) ASSIGN buttons to make up for this. The one on the lens (initially set to use the Digital Extender) I have set to go between auto and manual and another behind the zoom rocker switch (initially set to use the Expanded Focus) I have used to replace the push auto button. These controls only come into play when I have the lens focus ring set to the forward (auto) position.

Speaking of FOCUS there is now an option to set two focus marks on the LCD (or in the viewfinder). Using manual focus you can then 'pull' from one to the other. This FOCUS MARKING facility is linked to and uses the same A and B buttons of the SHOT TRANSITION facility - you choose between which one to use by going to S.TRANS/F.MARK in the CAMERA SET menu. This is quite a handy feature, especially as it is quick and easy to set up. You should note that to use FOCUS MARKING the FOCUS MACRO in the CAMERA SET menu needs to be set to OFF.

Review, Sony Z7P continued