You may have read reports that the camcorder is dead. After all, the masses are now shooting video with their mobile phones, and the rest are shooting motion with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Even with vast improvements in DSLR technology, if shooting video is your primary function, a camcorder is still your best bet, offering features that most hybrid still/video cameras can’t provide, especially for ENG-style shooting.
Releasing a number of innovative mirrorless cameras this year, including the a7S and RX10, Sony has also extended its professional XDCAM camcorder line. The new PXW-Z100 captures 4K/60p to XQD cards, and the soon-to-be-released PXW-FS7 looks to be a revolutionary digital cinema camera for indie and documentary filmmakers, competing with the likes of the Canon EOS C300 and the ARRI AMIRA.
Targeting low-budget ENG shooters, Sony has released the PXW-X70 professional camcorder, which is their first XDCAM model that records full HD footage in XAVC—a more robust codec than Sony’s XAVC S, which the a7S uses. When recording in XAVC, the PXW-X70 records MXF files, compressing full HD (1920×1080) resolution using the MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 codec. XAVC image sampling is an impressive 4:2:2, 10-bit with high-efficiency Long-GOP compression at 50 Mb/s, 35 Mb/s or 25 Mb/s.
Unlike the a7S’ full-frame sensor, the X70 contains a 1-inch-type Exmor® R CMOS sensor, which is actually larger than a Super 16mm film frame and gives you more control over depth of field. (For broadcast or ENG shooting, large sensors are more of a headache due to focusing.)
Due to their long fixed lenses, many non-shoulder-mount camcorders are difficult to operate handheld because the weight of the body and lens typically rests on the wrist. Lengthwise, the X70 is no longer than a DSLR with a zoom lens mounted and has a much thinner profile. Because of the X70’s compact size (less than three pounds with handle and battery), it’s effortless to handhold for extended periods of time.
The X70 has a fixed Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* lens that contains a 12x optical zoom that can be increased to 24x using the camera’s Digital Extender feature. The camera also contains a nice zoom lever/rocker on the body, as well as on the XLR input handle for broadcast-style zooms. The lens is much shorter than your average broadcast lens, so there are some compromises. The lens contains only one ring that can be used for either zoom or manual focus, and you have to choose which feature you need more on the lens itself—you can’t have both. This wasn’t a big problem for me since I tend to use the zoom rocker when shooting ENG-style and prefer shooting in manual focus. It did take a minute to adjust to, though.