May 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By D. W. Leitner
On the road with the innovative new handheld camera.
I use a lot of different cameras and camcorders, from Sony HDW-F900s and Panasonic Varicams on down. I welcome the variety because it challenges my understanding of camera basics and builds my appreciation of the many paths that camera design can take. But there is a price to pay.
In the heat of battle, so to speak, my instinct for where certain camera functions might be found can fail: “Where's the friggin' auto/manual focus control? Where did they hide the headphone jack?” And let's not get into the origami of menu trees: “What does this cinema gamma do compared to that one?” Nor do manuals reliably provide meaningful clues. It is little wonder that many, even professionals, default to factory settings — always a safe choice, if not an artistic one.
The truth is, each sophisticated camera or camcorder is its own artistic toolshed, and there's no substitute for spending serious production time mastering its capabilities and eccentricities. You must develop a particular technique and set of instincts for each camera if you want to get the most out of them.
I was reminded of these truisms during my recent travels with Sony's new HVR-Z7U, a 3CMOS HDV handheld with interchangeable lenses that can uniquely dual-record to CompactFlash. In other words — a toolshed like no other.
From New York to Paris, rural Burgundy to rural Alabama, I put the Z7 through serious paces — and it put me through its own paces. On most shoots, I also had a Sony HVR-Z1U on hand as a backup — and sometimes even a PMW-EX1 too — so frequently, I was able to make direct comparisons.
The bottom line: The Z7 is, at first, an acquired taste — then an addictive one. Once you've learned to use it, it's nearly impossible to revert to previous HDV models.
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