theCameraClass

with award winning documentary team tony wilson and leo sullivan

THE SONY HVR-Z7 - A MORE PROFESSIONAL CAMERA - CONTINUED

Sony HVR-Z7 camera, a new layout
Sony HVR-Z7 camera showing radio mic mounted on top handle

SONY HVR-Z7P HDV CAMERA BY Tony Wilson, ACS - continued

ASSIGN BUTTONS

On the Z7p through the OTHERS menu there are a total of twenty eight camera functions that can be set to a total of eight ASSIGN buttons. What is annoying though is that whereas the Z1 had its own dedicated COLOUR BARS, END SEARCH and EXPANDED FOCUS buttons, these have been 'disappeared' on the Z7, so if you want easy access to these (without going into the menu) you have to set them up to (and use up three) ASSIGN buttons.

Of huge benefit though is that the END SEARCH functions now on both the CAMERA and VCR side of the camera whilst on the Z1 it only worked in VCR. Better still, after a tape has been removed and replaced, the Z7 seems to pick up its memory again after just shooting the first new shot. On the Z1 you needed to shoot for some time before being allowed to access the END SEARCH.

Another extremely useful addition (as on the V1 too) is the LAST SCN RVW which allows you to play back the last shot in its entirety, after which the camera stops at the last frame ready to record the next shot. If when using this you decide at some point you have seen enough, just press the last scene review assign button again which will momentarily stop the playback, then immediately hit the end search assign button, which will then fast forward to the end of the scene and stop, ready to start shooting again.

Other functions new to the Z7p you may opt to set to ASSIGN buttons are - EXPANDED FOCUS, which now has an option to show the enlarged image in 'white and black' (Sony 'speak' for black and white!), and ZEBRA and/or HISTORGRAM which can be displayed on the LCD/viewfinder. If you're a frequent user of these you may prefer to set them to show permanently through the DISPLAY SET menu, rather than use up an ASSIGN button.

DISPLAY SET

The DISPLAY SET menu is new to the Z7 and I especially like the DISP OUTPUT option used to access the CAM DATA (camera data) when playing back tapes to a television or monitor. Previously seeing the camera data was only possible when playing back through the Composite or S-video output jacks.

Now in DISP OUTPUT there is an ALL OUTPUT option. This allows you to view tapes at best quality with the camera data, (focus/f stop/gain/shutter-speed, white-balance), a useful tool to spot 'finger problems', especially when you see pictures of a 'quality' you weren't expecting. Unless of course 'That was the effect you were going for...'!

It is quite safe to leave this permanently on as you can still block it from displaying by pressing the DATA CODE button on the control panel under the LCD. By selecting the DISPLAY/BATT INFO button you can also block the time code from displaying too.

*TIP - having any MARKERS set to ON blocks the camera data from showing. Annoyingly the separate DATA CODE button on the Z1 remote seems to have been 'disappeared' from the new Z7 remote!

Another improvement is the choice when shooting to either display or not display camera data when using any of the FOCUS, IRIS, GAIN, SHUTTER SPEED and WHITE BALANCE settings in auto. This option CAM DATA DISP in the DISPLAY SET menu, when set to OFF only shows the individual icon or setting when it is being used in manual. In auto it doesn't show, like earlier DV cameras. Set to ON the data will always display, however when being used in auto will display an A adjacent to it.

PICTURE PROFILES

The PICTURE PROFILE settings are now quite different on the Z7. On the Z1 these factory suggested settings (for shooting particular formats or for shooting in different recording conditions) were PP1 for shooting HDV, PP2 for shooting DV, PP3 for people, PP4 for a 'film look' (pull the other one Sony), PP5 for sunsets and PP6 for shooting B&W. By going into the menu and selecting SETTING in any of these you then had access to a range of settings like 'Colour Phase', 'Sharpness', 'Skintone detail' 'AGC Limit' and 'Black Stretch' etc. **TIP - to see full detail of the Z1p PP settings go to http://www.thecameraclass.com.au/geartwo.html

On the Z7p these have changed, to PP1 and PP2 which can be set to user preferences, PP3 to PRO COLOUR (which according to the cameras operating guide - has pictures similar to those recorded by a professional shoulder camcorder with ITU709 gamma settings), PP4 to PD COLOUR (likewise but PD gamma settings), PP5 to FILM LOOK 1 (like pictures recorded on colour neg film) and PP6 to FILM LOOK 2 (colour of pictures screened with cinema colour print film). When I have had more time to explore all these I'll post something on the website - might be a while before I get around to it though, so don't hold your breath! As you may have gathered I'm a big fan of shooting 'straight' and doing all the playing around with the 'look' later in the grading sessions where it is easier to obtain a consistent look. If you like playing around with these settings - go for it - there is certainly plenty to play with!

AUDIO

A most obvious difference between the Z1 and the Z7 is that the Z7 does not come with an internal camera microphone. It does however come with a (quite good) directional camera mic, which on the Z1 was always an additional expense.

Conveniently the REC CH SEL switch to choose whether to send the XLR Input 1 sound source to just Channel 1 or to both Channel 1 and Channel 2 is now located externally on the camera body near the XLR inputs, and not in the AUDIO SET menu as was the case on the Z1. Adjacent to this are the switches to select between LINE, MIC and +48v phantom power for each of the two XLR inputs.

The first option in the AUDIO SET menu of the Z1 was the choice of audio monitoring, the main purpose of which was to select which sound source you heard in your headphones when recording. The headphone level of the Z1 was always too low, especially in noisy situations, so rather than using the default option of hearing channel 1 in one ear and channel 2 in the other it was often necessary to set it to hear the most important channel in both ears, often to the detriment of missing something important on the other channel. The headset level on the Z7 seems to be improved (with a 'beefier' new microphone too) but the option to select the monitoring input has disappeared. In the VCR menu however there is an AUDIO CH SEL that would appear to replicate this, unfortunately though the choices only relate to when a tape is being played back and not to when you are recording.

As was seen first on the Sony V1 there is now an option through the DISPLAY SET menu to choose to display the audio levels AU.LVL DISP on the screen even if both channels are set to record in auto - this is a very useful option.

TIME CODE

The usual time code options are still available however one extremely useful new addition in the TC/UB SET menu is TC COUNTDOWN. It's an option only available when operating TC MAKE in PRESET (and not REGENERATE which I normally advise people to use) and to use it you need to set it to an ASSIGN button in the OTHERS menu.

With TC COUNTDOWN it is possible now on inserting a new tape to (by pressing the nominated ASSIGN button) at the one time - reset the PRESET time code to zero, and advance the hour value (normally used to indicate the tape number) by one. This is a more professional way of setting the time code as the editor gets to see the actual tape number, as they do viewing tapes shot on Betacam or DVC PRO cameras.

Another new feature in the TC/UB SET menu is TC LINK which enables you to synchronise the time codes of multiple cameras. This is done via an i.LINK cable, setting both cameras to FREE RUN, and making various selections in the TC LINK camera menu.

CONCLUSIONS

Any new camera takes some getting used to and I don't expect the Z7p to be any different as the most frequently used controls, iris and focus, are in a very different (and better) place than I'm used to on the Z1. Once I get accustomed to this though I'm sure the camera will be a pleasure to use. The superior performance particularly in low light will certainly be a huge plus over the Z1 and the many features listed above will make shooting and reviewing footage a much more satisfying experience.

Review, Sony Z7P back