Sony HVR-Z5

Alright. I know it’s 2012. No one uses 1/3″ cameras anymore. You shoot your amateur short film with a 550D, a kit zoom lens and a cheap LED panel now, end of story. None of this 1/3″ 3-chip HDV tape-based, anamorphic pixel crap any more, to hell with tapes. But anyway. Despite my sweeping statements, I quite like Sony’s HVR-Z cameras, and when you’re covering events you’ll find these cameras along with (vastly superior) Ex3s and XF305s. But the Z5… the Z5 makes me angry. I’m fine with the Z1, I’m even more fine with the Z7, but the Z5 makes me want to kill people. I want producers, and non-camera people who organise shoots and often order cameras without consulting the camera operators to know that the Z5 is *not* just a better version of the Z1.

What’s changed? The introduction of a new “G Lens” with an extremely long 20x range. This sounds great in theory, but what I really hate (this will probably become a recurring theme on my blog) is that the focus ring is no longer mechanically connected to the lens — it’s all electronic. I don’t know why they do this, since it’s surely simpler to make it all mechanical, but you can turn the focus ring around and around forever without it hitting a hard infinity stop. Turning the ring must register sensors in the camera, which in turn electronically control the camera’s focus. “Why is this so bad?” You ask. If you’re used to shooting with DSLRs and Canon EF lenses, it sounds like just another day in the park (not sure where that analogy came from). Well, there’s more to it. As you zoom in, the camera automatically adjusts the sensitivity of the focus ring so that you don’t need to turn it around as much as you would if it were mechanical. The guys at Sony really are lovely people, making sure our wrists don’t get tired when we’re zooming in to focus. I’m sure some people must love this feature, but for me it perfectly epitomises the concept of “film rage”. You can’t turn it off. There’s a lag between your turning of the focus ring and the actual focusing happening. The sensitivity of the focus ring changes depending on your focal length which messes with my mind, and my most important point is that it is completely impossible to perform repeatable focus pulls on this camera! As soon as you zoom in or out slightly, the focus ring’s sensitivity changes and you’ve lost your marks. And if you turn the ring past infinity, again you’ve lost your marks. Yes I know, it’s only a 1/3″ camera and everything should be “pretty in focus”. And I know, the Z5 is designed for documentaries and events coverage where there are no repeatable focus pulls anyway. But it’s something to be aware of, and for me, a massive deal breaker. The wonderful “G lens” also stops down dramatically over the course of its zoom range, down to f/5.6 from memory, which severely limits it in low light situations. And my last point against this camera is (I think this is correct, if not please flame me) that the zoom ring has no nib that you can grab onto to quickly crash zoom and focus. If I was shooting a documentary, I’d want the process of getting critical focus to be as fast as possible, and the slow electronic zoom ring combined with the laggy electronic focus ring would frustrate me to no end. But that’s just me.

To anyone looking at shooting short films or advertisements on this camera (there won’t be many people in this boat but it’s possible), please look at using a Z1 or a Z7 instead. You’ll have real mechanical lens control in addition to the *optional* electronic “smart” AF modes, so focus pulls will be easily achievable, and no one will want to kill anyone.

Mission Statement

SO… This is a digital cinematography equipment review blog. Film Rage. by “film” I really mean “digital video content”. Or “digital cinema” if you’re a “REDUser”. But “film” had a nicer ring to it. And “Rage” just means “Rage”, but also refers to the potential for rage within my politically incorrect, sweeping reviews of cameras and equipment.

The purpose of this blog is not to provide an exhaustively reasonable and balanced review of any particular camera system or piece of gear. This is a place where I can be blasphemous, where cameras may be struck down in a heartbeat based on a shortcoming that may not bother a majority of people. There are plenty of even-handed reviewers out there who will weigh up the pros and cons of a camera and give you an ambiguous summation of its potential strengths — I think this is great, and I read many of these reviews on a regular basis. But there are times when I don’t want to read a 4-page review that breaks each camera down into “build quality”, “lcd”, “button layout”, “image quality”, and so on, only to end with an ambivalent “pros v. cons” conclusion. So this is a place for reviews in which I will only talk about features that “stick out” to me — where 90% of the camera was perfectly what I wanted, so I’ll skip all of that and get to grips with that last 10% that, in my opinion, really matters. Don’t expect rigorous lens tests, vectorscope-based colour analysis or discussions about how many “lines” a sensor can resolve. That stuff’s all online already, and people can do that far better than I can.

Oh. And don’t expect any reviews of actual film cameras or accessories here. I mean come on, if you’re shooting film you’re probably not blogging.

In addition to camera reviews, I intend to look at various DSLR rig components that I’ve acquired. So many people out there are building their own rigs and ordering items through ebay or cinegearpro, and it’s often a gamble as to whether the items are well-built and whether they’ll fit properly with all of your other rig elements. So I’ll attempt to provide some help here, at least for a few of my own pieces of kit.

That’s it, in a nutshell. I’ll be complaining about cameras that many people think are wonderful — that even I may think are wonderful — because this is 2012. Digital camera technologies are all fairly wonderful, and so I’m going to start with that assumption, take all of that for granted, and hate on the cameras anyway. Enjoy.