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Sony XDCAM EX PMW-350 Review

Mar 8, 2010 12:00 PM, By D.W. Leitner

The beginning of a new Sony camcorder era, possibly.


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DayGlo orange behind switches on the PMW-350, left, and new PMW-EX1R, right, make settings easier to read.
Photo by D.W. Leitner

DayGlo orange behind switches on the PMW-350, left, and new PMW-EX1R, right, make settings easier to read.
Photo by D.W. Leitner

Note to Sony concerning future placement of Peaking, Contrast, and Bright dials and Mirror, Display, Zebra, and Tally switches at the front of the viewfinder: I know it's traditional—every shoulder-mount camcorder ever made has done it this way—but why exile these critical viewfinder controls to the one place least visible to the operator? Every time I adjust them, I, the operator, have to put down the camcorder and move around to the front to see what I'm doing. Why don't these dials have detents or setting markings like any pro monitor?

I suggest the following: Move these important controls around to the rear of the viewfinder block, in full view of the operator. (You'll be the first kid on the block to boast of having done this.)

Many noteworthy features and functions of the PMW-350 I've had to skip over in this brief review: genlock, timecode in/out, and HD-SDI for starters. In closing, I'll single out a few of my favorites.

As on the new PMW-EX1R, Sony has placed DayGlo orange behind all black sliding switches. Now it's a cinch to glimpse their position in dim circumstances. A simple improvement but terribly helpful.

Wonders never cease. A focal plane mark below the new electronic color temperature button. Photo by D.W. Leitner

Wonders never cease. A focal plane mark below the new electronic color temperature button.
Photo by D.W. Leitner

Also simple but terribly helpful: a focal plane mark! It's something no film camera would be without, yet it's as rare as hens' teeth on video cameras.

There are seven, count 'em, assignable switches, eight if you include the RET button on the lens handgrip. (I like to assign RET to "Focus Mag" to magnify the image 2X for fine focusing.) The seven include a mini-toggle, a sliding switch, two buttons on the handle, the electronic Color Temp switch, and two unassigned buttons on the side. The last three glow with an orange light when engaged.

As in other Sony CMOS camcorders, a useful histogram is available in the viewfinder, as well as a "Lens Info" indication which dynamically displays depth of field along the top of the image. (It worked great with the Canon eDrive zoom.) Both functions are assignable either to buttons or switches.

Dual SxS slots accept new Sony adapters that permit alternative use of economical Memory Sticks and SDHC cards.

Dual SxS slots accept new Sony adapters that permit alternative use of economical Memory Sticks and SDHC cards.

Lastly, Sony has recently announced adapters to permit use of cheap consumer SDHC cards and Sony Memory Sticks in XDCAM EX camcorders. The Sony MEAD-SD01 SD Card adapter and MEAD-MS01 Memory Stick Pro adapter will arrive in this month for about $120. A PMW-350 will require a firmware upgrade to use the latest Class 10 SDHC cards from Panasonic and SanDisk, but fortunately the PMW-EX1R and PMW-350 are Sony's first-ever user-upgradeable camcorders (via SxS card). For information on this and future upgrades, click on the Resources tab at Sony's XDCAM EX microsite.

At 20 years and counting, Sony's one-piece shoulder-mount camcorder remains a classic. Pointed squarely at the future, the new PMW-350 uniquely distills these decades of design and field use into a mature bread-and-butter product for the 21st century.

As for HDCAM cassettes, is it me, or are they starting to feel as outdated as VHS cassettes? If only someone could figure out how to archive the growing mountain of digital video files, to make them as secure and long-lasting as film ...


bottomline

Company: Sony
pro.sony.com
Product: PMW-350
Assets: Light, well-balanced; records to SxS solid-state memory as well as less-expensive SDHC or Memory Stick Pro cards with adapter; Exmor CMOS sensors offer unprecedented sensitivity and low power consumption; included 16X Fujinon lens is first-ever 2/3in. zoom with autofocus; color viewfinder one of the best yet; DayGlo orange behind switches improves readability.
Cons: None. State-of-the-art from stem to stern.
Price: $22,000 (list)

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