Popularity for the large sensor camera format has boomed over the last few years. Ever since release of the Canon 5D mark II nearly 5 years ago, filmmakers were granted access to systems with acute control of depth of field, giving them affordable tools to produce stunning images reminiscent of 35mm film.
We’ve seen this affect many industries; large sensor acquisition is now the standard for wedding videos, It’s incredibly popular with corporate and advertising and it’s presence within broadcast and documentaries is fast growing.
Where does this leave the small sensor market, is there still a place for it? Of course. A small sensor camera has many advantages over its large sensor counterparts. A smaller focal plane yields a longer throw from respective lenses; creating a ‘super zoom’ for this format is far more cost effective than it would be for a larger sensor. It’s therefore very common on this platform to have a lens in the region of 25-450mm f/1.9-2.8; add to this a servo zoom and image stabilisation and you have quite a powerful tool in your hands.
A smaller sensor provides you with less control over depth of field. However in many situations this can be to your advantage as it means less is out of focus, increasing your hit rate for useable footage. Correct focus is paramount to filmmaking, it comes first before any other technical aspect of video. Most other technical attributes can be saved – sound can be dubbed, exposure can be adjusted (within a certain threshold). An un-intentional out of focus shot is un-useable.
Add to this, the history of the small sensor format; it’s been around for years, far longer than LSCs. There’s a long track record of pre-existing technology for codec integration, sensor construction, auto focus systems; all contribute to often one of on the highest deciding factors of a camera, its cost.
Manufacturers acknowledge the demand, that’s clear with their continued investment in the technology; just see the new Sony 4k camcorders for proof of this. With this in mind, I want to highlight the new small sensor camcorder released by Sony, the HXR-NX3.
It utilizes three 1/2.8″ Exmor CMOS sensors, and records in AVCHD 2.0 up to 1080/50p. It’s equipped with a 20x Sony G lens (equivalent to 28.8 – 576mm on 35 mm lens in 16:9 mode), hosting a separate ring for zoom, focus and aperture. Further more to its hardware, it records to dual SDHC/Memory Card Duo cards, has an in-built LED light and has dual XLR for audio.
Looking at its connectivity you have Composite via BNC /RCA for video and audio respectively, 2.5mm stereo mini jack for remote, HDMI plus the usual headphone port, DC out and USB. I like the addition of a BNC port for Composite video, this is a nice touch as it’s a much more robust port. What would have been even better was if this was port was switchable between SDI and TC (time code) In and Out also. These latter missed features are essential in many professional outfits, and obviously a conscious choice by Sony to leave out to protect their XDCAM line.
The most notable feature in relation to connectivity with the NX3 is Wi-Fi capabilities in the form of NFC (near field communication). As the below video displays, with the touch of a smartphone on the dumb side, you can connect to the camera and operate start/stop recording, iris/zoom control, AF and monitoring.
Here’s the product video for the Sony NX3, followed by some in-the-field footage shot by Den Lennie in Istanbul.
The camera looks to be an update to the Sony HXR-NX5U (minus the SDI out on the NX5U, which is probably why the update drops two numbers), they share almost identical bodies; the in-built LED of the NX3 being the immediate identifier between the two. Having used the NX5U, I can imagine how the camera will feel. I reserve judgement partially as the unit I used was a seasoned hire camera and the servo was very sporadic. However, I have used similarly seasoned EX-1/3s in the past and they’ve never felt quite as aged. Of course, a newly released camera could feel quite different to 3-year-old one despite being in the same line; I don’t expect it to be XDCAM build though.
Sony has decided to implement their Clear Image Zoom feature in the NX3. This is effectively a smart digital zoom that creates new pixels by referencing adjacent pixels. It boosts the camera’s 20x optical zoom to an impressive 40x. On first look it’s perhaps one of those features that you’d overlook as a credible professional tool. However Sony is pushing this feature in the NX3 hard, and Den Lennie’s comments are quite positive:
“I’m not normally a fan of digital zoom. But with the NX3 I can push magnification right up to 40x with Clear Image Zoom that helps you get that all-important shot without sacrificing pixel count.”
It will be interesting to see more on this feature. Whilst a smart 40x digital zoom will never be a legitimate feature for true tele focal length work, it could be a nice tool to have in your arsenal for the odd occasion if it holds up reasonably; it extends the maximum focal length equivalent to 1152mm on 35mm.
The Sony HXR-NX3 provides a healthy amount of upgrades combining updates to bring the NXCAM line up to present, and new features to potentially test the waters for the more expensive camera lines. It’s nice to see the implementation of 1080/50p; this seems to be becoming the norm for new releases from Sony, and will work great inline with the cameras over and under crank options.
I don’t care too much for the in-built LED light; a small front light like this can yield some pretty harsh skin tones. I’m sure the primary target audience for this camcorder will find a use for it however.
The Sony HXR-NX3 is priced at $3,495.00. That puts it in line with the Sony PMW-100, which is the XDCAM equivalent. Due to my live events background, the PMW-100 would more get my vote due to its SDI and TC in/out connections. The trade off is the lens and sensor. The PMW-100 has a single 1/2.9″ CMOS sensor with a 10x lens, providing a maximum focal length that is half of the NX3. The PMW-100 also lacks that much important (and in my opinion hugely overlooked) lens remote port; essential for camcorders with these short ergonomics when considering moderate tripod use.