Review: Sony PMW-EX1R

If you have experience working with tape-based camcorders, you'll find the EX1R a real treat and it has an abundance of features to keep even the most demanding of users happy. It is very versatile and intuitive to use. Continue reading

Tue 29 Jan 2013

Stefan Stanciu

Firstly, I need to mention that Sony has now discontinued the EX1R and replaced it with the PMW-200.  We had decided not to review equipment that’s been discontinued, however the EX1R is still very much a sought after camera on the used market and since it has been discontinued it has become far more accessible financially.  So if you’re considering purchasing a used EX1R, feel free to read on and I’ll share our experiences.  In fact, come to think of it, we bought ours used too.

The EX1R is the successor of the EX1.  Its important not to confuse the two although esthetically they are virtually the same.  The EX1R features a better viewfinder, better ergonomics, better tripod mounting options, extra accessory mount on the top and an added HDMI output.  Feature wise, the EX1R has almost twice as many video formats compared to the EX1.  Slow and Quick motion has a dedicated button, there’s a new auto iris button and soft start/stop zooming.  One of the coolest additions is the Picture Cache which can record up to 15 seconds of footage BEFORE you hit the Rec button.  This is particularly useful if you’re shooting waiting for an event to happen, a person to appear or any other situation where you’re taken by surprise.  It works by constantly keeping 15 seconds worth of footage in cache and then moving that over to the file when you start recording.  That’s a brief overview of the main differences between the two.  I guess it would also be appropriate to mention that the EX1R is the ‘baby brother’ of the EX3.  The EX3 being a more expensive and versatile camera with interchangeable lenses as well as remote control capabilities.

Technically speaking, the EX1R features three 1/2″ Exmor CMOS Sensors, which is bigger than most camcorders in its class (which feature 1/3″ sensors).  Recording is in the XDCAM EX  (MPEG 2 Long GOP Codec) at 35Mb/s.  In addition to the HDMI output, it features the much desired HD SDI output allowing connection to professional video equipment.  For those not familiar with HD SDI, its the most advanced and professional connection method for high definition digital video.  It carries uncompressed video plus up to 16 channels of audio over one coaxial cable.

The camera features no tapes but instead records to Sony SxS cards (read S by S).  These cards are not exactly cheap however thanks to the progress of SD card technology it is possible to use a SxS to SD card adapter and a high speed SD card.  A word of warning, always make sure the speed of the SD card is much greater than the camera’s recording bit rate (35Mb/s) otherwise you’re in for all manner of disappointment!

If you have experience working with tape-based camcorders, you’ll find the EX1R a real treat and it has an abundance of features to keep even the most demanding of users happy.  It is very versatile and intuitive to use.  The Fujinon lens does a great job and images are very crisp.  I was pleasantly surprised just how wide this lens will go but part of that is also down to the larger chip.  Low light performance is similar to larger 2/3″ cameras.  It does a great job and very rarely did we ever have to add any gain.  Adding 3db of gain produces very little noise too, although as always I recommend adding extra light on the subject instead of using gain.  Audio is recorded uncompressed and there is a choice between the built in stereo microphones or the two XLR inputs.  The camera can do auto gain control or you can take over for full manual levels.  The levels are adjusted via two rotary dials on the rear of the camera ideally placed and easy to adjust.  When in manual mode, the level meters automatically appear on screen.

The LCD is nothing less than excellent both in terms of quality and useability.  The backlight can be switched off and being a Hybrid screen it features a mixture of reflective and transmissive panels making it usable even in direct sunlight.  It may be only 3.5″ in diameter but features an amazing 1920 x 480 resolution making it excellent for focusing.  In addition to the great clarity of the LCD, the expanded focus feature makes it easy to make sure your subject is in clear focus.

Professional users will feel at home too as the camera has physical zoom, focus and iris rings on the lens.  The focus ring can work in two different modes; the first being a ‘semi-manual’ mode where the ring turns endlessly.  The second mode requires the operator to physically slide the ring backwards, it then becomes fully manual with focus markings to suit.

Once finished shooting, footage has to be captured to the computer using Sony’s XDCAM Transfer application.  Much to my annoyance, its not possible to simply take out the SD card and transfer the contents.  XDCAM Transfer is actually pretty good because it encourages a professional workflow, by labeling clips to a set standard then arranging them in a folder ready to edit.

We’ve used the EX1r as a field camera, capturing footage for the two Olympic documentaries produced last summer and also as a system camera in live productions linked up via SDI to our OB Van.  We actually like using it on our micro jib as the wide lens gives particularly nice motion shots.  We’ve used it in our studio, we’ve used it in dark theaters, on busy London streets and in various churches all over the conference.  Would I buy another? Absolutely, although discontinued, its still current technology and a very well equipped camera which I don’t hesitate to recommend to anyone reading this.