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in Filmmaking
on Jan 23, 2008

Writer and d.p. David Leitner sent us this report about two new cameras that can be seen here at the Sundance Film Festival.

Located in the basement of a small commercial mall on upper Main Street across from the Egyptian theater, the annual Sundance technology showcase known as New Frontier on Main is particularly worth a visit this year due to two product introductions poised to rock the world of low-budget HD indie production. Word is already out about Sony’s EX1, a Handycam-type camcorder bearing both XDCAM EX and CineAlta logos for a strikingly low $7,790 suggested retail price. In a nutshell, EX1 features three 1920×1080 1/2″ CMOS sensors, a built-in Fujinon zoom with both mechanical and electronic control, choice of 25Mbps format (equivalent to HDV) and higher-quality 35Mbps format (full 1920×1080 recording), capture to new flash-memory PCExpress cards called SxS (half the size of P2), and a workflow already supported by Final Cut Pro 6.0.2 and Premiere Pro among others. OK, that would be banner news by itself, but Sony is also introducing at the end of February a follow-up (not replacement) to the Z1 (still in production) called the Z7 ($6,850), as well as a shoulder-mount version of the Z7 called the S270 ($10,500). The Z7 and S270 are shot through with breakthroughs: three 1/3″ CMOS sensors; HDV, DVCAM, and/or DV to both tape and — get this! — Compact Flash (i.e., simultaneous recording of HD and SD); interchangeable lenses including Sony’s new Digital SLR Alpha still lenses; and a sharper, finer-grained viewfinder than that of EX1. Moreover, all three of these new HD camcorders — EX1 and Z7/S270 — feature greatly improved sensitivity to light, fully matching Sony’s PD150/170 series. If you don’t believe me, put their sensitivity to the test in the dark, club-like environment of the New Frontier on Main.

So… why would Sony introduce two professional Handycam-type camcorders at the same time, at about the same price? Could it be that one was designed by the CineAlta design group that brought us the F900 and F23 while the other was designed by the prosumer division in a gesture of intra-corporate one-upsmanship? Speculation aside, the EX1 has been mobbed at New Frontier. For my money, however, the real showstopper is its smaller neighbor, a Z7 mounted with a 7mm Zeiss DigiPrime, Fujinon 2/3″. to 1/3″. optical adapter, and Chroziel follow-focus with matte box. All of these and more –including Sony’s remarkable new compact PCM-D50 flash-memory audio recorder, which I’m already using to record voiceovers for an indie feature I’m producing — will be on display through Saturday, the last day of Sundance. So work your way down to the basement of the mall on upper Main Street and check them out for yourself — and don’t forget to peek through that glorious Z7 color viewfinder! — David Leitner

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