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F900 and HDX900 Shoot out


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#1 TJ Williams

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 07:23 PM

Regarding our Sony HDCam and what lead to our comparison test between the Panasonic HDX900 and an Sony Cinealta F900.


Here is a summary of a recent letter sent thru our West Coast Sony rep:
Sony of America management.

The actual letter contains 5 pages of details. If you don?t care how Sony left us hanging out skip this part.

We are very experienced camera people working in the Northwest US. We have each been in the business nearly 30 years. Our shooting includes work for most of the cable and broadcast commercial networks. Up to this point in our careers, We would have called ourselves ?Sony Guys?. We have used the whole series of Betacams and Presently own a 1080I HDCam. Since we have owned this camera we have experienced a number of cataclysmic failures. Here we listed the different failures which they already knew about from our many repair instances. These failures have cost us huge amounts of money in lost clients. Lost days, and subrentals. Our world is small, this repuation for an unreliable camera has negatively affected our business and reputation.

Sony contested none of this. This camera has been a terrible lemon and they know it.
My partner and I have been repeat Sony Camera purchasers for over 25 year each.
So we asked Sony to help us out with some kind of good deal trade in.

Sony management offered to sell us a B stock F900 body for 80,000 and give us a trade in on our body of 25,000. Thus we would pay a $55,000 difference. I obtained bids from several suppliers. The best bid on an F900R was under 64,000 so actually Sony by boosting the retail price of the F900/3 was willing to give us a real value trade in of
of $9,000. It was like working with a used car lot where they run up the retail price then offer you a big ?trade in? Where can you buy any Sony HDCam that works at all for 9K?

My partner and I are very disapointed with Sony. We have both at one time or another had to make good on a mistake. We thought Sony should to. This camera cost us tens of thousands of dollars, and they know it. So we were ready to shop. At this point we both felt our clients weren?t ready to accept the new technology card or hard disk cameras and would continue for a while to require tape.

We made arrangements with the regional dealer of Panasonic Pro. Gear and the West coast manager to provide a Panasonic HDX 900 for our evaluation. We also requested a large production house in our market to provide an F900 Sony. With the help of their engineer we set the two cameras side by side feeding a good sized HD monitor with a waveform monitor on the AB Switch.

We hard lit a subject and looked at a facial closeup from both cameras. We also recorded and played back at each stage. We could not see any difference in the image quality between the two cameras.
We zoomed both cameras into the subjects red hair. Still no difference.
So in terms of basic image quality the cameras looked similar. In fact you could have easily cut between them with some slight tweaking.

Next we aimed both cameras at the roof of the studio which was quite dark. Not only were the blacks cleaner on the Panasonic but the camera was about a stop faster than the Sony we checked to be sure the shutter wasn?t turned on or anything set differently on the filters or gain settings. But the Panasonic was just a stop faster and cleaner looking.

Then we shined a light on the green wall of the cyc. This produced a green kick back tint to one of the subjects cheeks. The Sony camera showed us quite a bright green smear the Panasonic showed us about what we saw with our eyes. I?ve had the experience with the HD cam being sensitive to color changes from bright to shade. I know it is sensitive to green. It was pretty clear to both of us which camera we?d prefer to shoot green screen with.

Finally we set up a chrome c stand with a card to shield a 36? solid beside it from our hard light. We placed the Panasonic HDX900 brochure which is black greyish pictures and writing over the top of the solid which was carded out of the light. We set both cameras so the c stand reflection from our hard light was at 100 ire. Then we zoomed into the dark area. The F900 could read some white lettering and we could see something was written or printed on the brochure. The HDX 900 could see fairly clearly what was there. This certainly shows increased dynamic range.

My partner who was sure the F900 would absolutely sink the HDX 900 was frankly flabbergasted. Now both of us were a little miffed at the way Sony had treated us, so you might think we werent fair. Neither of us expected the HDX to match the F900 what we were doing was trying to find a tape camera to get us through these last years of tape before a fully digital workflow is worked out. For my money if the two cameras were the same price I?d be hard pressed to buy Sony. Bottom line here is that technology has advanced in the 6 years since the F900 was introduced.

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#2 Walter Graff

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Posted 26 January 2007 - 11:27 PM

Simply aiming a camera at things and making critical judgments is not really a good way of testing. Many of the instances you mentioned could have been easily adjusted internally so as not to be the problem you made them out to be. From your descriptions your testing was flawed in terms of making good evaluations.
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#3 TJ Williams

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Posted 02 February 2007 - 12:42 AM

So Walter what whould you have done? The F900 Sony was set up by the guy who sets up the cameras in their in house shooting and rental fleet. Whenever you confront a dynamic range problem do you reset the camera?
I guess I don'tget it? Please explain?
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#4 Walter Graff

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Posted 02 February 2007 - 08:11 AM

First off, you did not mention that you had your camera set up properly. With so many people posting "tests" these days where they turn it on and look, I assumed you did. And this from a guy who says "never assume". But I will go through your posts and offer my take:


"We would have called ourselves "Sony Guys". We have used the whole series of Betacam's and Presently own a 1080I HDCam. Since we have owned this camera we have experienced a number of cataclysmic failures. Here we listed the different failures which they already knew about from our many repair instances. These failures have cost us huge amounts of money in lost clients. Lost days, and subrentals. Our world is small, this repuation for an unreliable camera has negatively affected our business and reputation."


So in those thirty years of shooting you never used an Ikegami camera? No HLV-55 or 79E? Man did you miss out! You must be in an out of the way small market as before Sony made their push into camera in the late eighties, you could not have given a Sony camera away. I don't say this facetiously, just as a matter of fact and to discuss another part of your post. First the fact.

Ikegami invented most of the circuitry that makes cameras cameras. During the days of tubes, and into the days of CCDs Ikegami was the only camera folks bought. That was until Sony decided to move into camera land in a big way. How did they do that? Two ways. First Sony offered their own bank. Try going to a bank to buy $60k worth of equipment and see how easy it is. Sony solved that. We'll give you the financing. Worked out great for them. Now you could get the camera and the financing from one place. And for Sony, if you didn't pay, they'd take the camera and sell it again at a good price. Sometimes selling the same camera three or four times.

That helped Sony quite a bit get into the camera business but in the US it was not enough to overthrow Ikegami. Frankly ask most folks and they would tell you that Sony cameras always looked like crap. They were pastel looking, didn't produce sharp pictures, and overall just could not compete with Ikegami. I know I have never purchased a Sony camera because of it. But Sony had one more card up their sleeve, Betacam. Up until not long ago Beta was pretty much the only format in town. It still is really. And who sold Ikegami it's Betacam decks to put into their cameras? Sony.

And what happened when digibeta came aroud and it was time to make the next generation of camera as in digibeta? Sony told Ikegami they would no longer sell them backs to their cameras. End of story for Ikegami. And on to Sony's tricks...

"Sony contested none of this. This camera has been a terrible lemon and they know it."

It does happen that there are lemons. I have dealt with them too.

"So we asked Sony to help us out with some kind of good deal trade in. Sony management offered to sell us a B stock F900 body for 80,000 and give us a trade in on our body of 25,000. "


Ah, did I mention Sony's tricks? You just touched on number one of their top ten selling tricks. It's call "b-stock". For all intensive purposes there is no such thing. Sony basically takes a new camera out of the box and calls it B-stock so you think you are getting value. They have been doing it since the eighties and every person who ever sold Sony cameras will tell you it's a gimmick. I mean go to NAB. There are five Sony cameras there, yet for months after all you hear is person after person getting a "deal" on a Sony b-stock camera from NAB. Ain't no such thing as a deal. They have a large margin to work with and they do what they have to to keep that margin as you found out as a customer.

"Where can you buy any Sony HDCam that works at all for 9K?"

From Sony with a trade in for B-stock? Only kidding. You learned the hard way that a publicly trades company is not about you or customer service but selling equipment.

"So in terms of basic image quality the cameras looked similar. In fact you could have easily cut between them with some slight tweaking."

And that would be the best difference between them. They are similar but different. And depending on who set up the camera they can look very different or very close. And here is a secret. I mentioned Ikegami. And today most folks say how life like Panasonic cameras look and how Sony looks pastel. Sound familiar? Well it turns out the folks who designed the Varicam and as a result it's offspring were two top engineers stolen from Ikegami. Now you have a reason to buy a camera again.

"Next we aimed both cameras at the roof of the studio which was quite dark. Not only were the blacks cleaner on the Panasonic "


What did I just tell you?


"My partner who was sure the F900 would absolutely sink the HDX 900 was frankly flabbergasted."


If all you could buy were red towels you'd get used to them. As I said Sony has never made a good camera (as most folks who purchase for such groups as networks and big companies would tell you) but only made a camera and cornered the market on selling them. When Panasonic made an Ikegami inspired camera they showed the world just how bad Sony cameras really are. I have never owned a Sony camera nor would I. It's such a pleasure to shoot with Panasonic. Just don't bring it in for repair.

Panasonics achilles heal is their parts division. You could wait up to month just to get the heads you need to replace. It's so bad as to have every engineer in this country fed up and users screaming because they are loosing work. But since Panasonic has made selling more important than support, they too suffer from a serious issue if your camera ever breaks.

"Neither of us expected the HDX to match the F900 what we were doing was trying to find a tape camera to get us through these last years of tape before a fully digital workflow is worked out.
"

First off, I don't think tape is going anywhere soon. Second it seems your reasoning was clouded because you simply never experienced a better camera. Now you have.
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#5 Jeff Regan

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Posted 07 February 2007 - 08:43 PM

Walter,

I think your dismissal of all Sony tube and CCD cameras as looking "pastel" is a sweeping generality and not very technical. If that means desaturated, there are simple means of addressing that such as chroma, matrix,
and gamma. There are certainly other differences between Ikegami, Panasonic and Sony cameras, such as;
detail enhancement, imagers, knee circuits, but if one is discussing digital CCD cameras and color points, I
believe that it is possible to duplicate the colorimetry from camera to camera and brand to brand. The original
poster said the he and his partner thought the two cameras looked pretty similar with some exceptions.

An example would be a DIT friend, who has always been a big Ikegami proponent, brought his HL-57 to my
shop and we put it next to a Sony BVP-550WS. When shooting a MacBeth color chart with matrix off on both
cameras, the color points on a vectorscope were exactly the same. Hue and chroma matched color for color.
I have done Ikegami and Panasonic colorimetry emulations on Sony camera scenefiles many times using the
matrix and multi-matrix circuits. This is one of the points of a digital processing camera.

The F900 in its various versions has a great reputation around the world. One need only look at the list of
commercials, episodics, sitcoms, documentaries and feature films to see the positivie impact this camera series has made. But it is 1999 technology vs. an HDX 900 with 2006 technology.

Just for the record, I own a video equipment rental facility in the SF Bay Area and have been in business for
25 years. I started with Ikegami HL-79DA and HL-79EAL cameras, which were great. You are right, it's the
tape built into the camera that made Sony successful in the camera business, along with the CCD era, where
Sony had the advantage of manufacturing their own imagers vs. Ikegami having to source them from other
companies such as Matsushita.

Panasonic did very well with the SDX 900 because they offered a 4:2:2 tape format for considerably less
money than Digital Betacam. The Varicam was successful because of lower price point vs. HDCAM and
variable frame rate.

Here's an Ikegami sales horror story:

A competitor of mine bought four HL-79E cameras from a Southern California dealer. An $18,000 deposit
was paid to the dealer who then went bankrupt. Ikegami USA would not even offer the four cameras at the Ikegami USA manufacturers cost. The rental facility was told to just find another Ikegami dealer and pay their price on top of the $18,000 they already paid to the original Ikegami dealer who Ikegami didn't stand behind.

Jeff Regan
Shooting Star Video
www.ssv.com
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