No beating around the bush here. I wanted to know what the RX10 would do if pressed into service as a video camera. I had some time this afternoon, no models around, no ready subject matter and the ominous threat of rain so I pressed myself into service as on camera talent. That's probably why I'm showing you a still of the camera instead of some web compressed footage...
I put the RX10 on a tripod, fired up the florescent lights that were already set up and aimed through big, white diffusion, and got ready to shoot. I wanted to test the image quality, the ability of the camera to work autonomously by using face detection AF, and I wanted to see how it would handle sound. That's where the big Rode StereoMic comes in.
The video menu is straightforward and while I would have liked some options other than AVCHD for my high definition setting I didn't have much other choice so I selected to shoot at 24 fps giving me a data stream that hums along at 24 mbps. I set the shutter speed at 1/50th, left the white balance at AWB and stopped down one stop to f4. I wanted to use ISO 200 and as fate (and experience) would have it that ended up being the optimum setting.
I plugged in the mic, tossed on a set of isolating headphones and went into the menu to set manual sound levels. Easy as pie.
I pushed the magic red button and walked back around to the front of the camera. I spoke for about three minutes and moved around enough to present a decent challenge to face detection. Then I took out the SD card and stuck it into the card slot on my computing appliance. Wonder of wonders! Apple computers will now recognize and play back AVCHD files in QuickTime Pro.
I watched carefully at full screen on a 24 inch monitor and listen to the audio through a Tivoli audio system. Here's what I thought:
The visual image was very good. Not as rich as the Panasonic GH3 video. Not quite. But if you've shot video with a Sony a99 or a77 camera imagine twice as much fine detail and a very natural expression of sharpness. A big improvement. I haven't shot a Canon 5DIII in video but I did shoot several industrials with the older 5DmkII and I'd prefer the RX10 files over the stock 5D-2 files mostly for their cleaner appearance and greater impression of sharpness and detail.
I was shooting me in a dark cotton shirt against a dark gray canvas background so I didn't expect any moire or weird artifacting and I didn't find any. I know that AVCHD video has trouble with quick motion in shadow areas and I can see how that would be problematic for a lot of different narrative subjects but for the kinds of interviews I generally do it doesn't seem like it will be an issue.
Now, keep in mind that I like to light and my footage benefits from higher light levels and lower ISO settings (they go hand in hand).
The face detection AF worked as advertised and only got confused if I turned my face away from camera. I could certainly use the RX10 as a second, unmanned camera for an additional point of view in a static set up. Okay. So, video really pretty good. Not as perfect and rich as the higher level codecs in the GH3 but a generation better than Sony's previous still cameras.
What about sound? Taking into consideration the four foot distance between me and the microphone and the live nature of the room I'd say the sound was very good. I used the gain pretty far up on the manual level controls but I knew I'd be pretty safe as the camera has permanently implemented limiters which keep it from really nasty peaking noise. The overall impression was that the microphone inputs were nicely balanced but had a little bit of high end (hiss) noise to them. No problem while I was talking but just on the edge of "there" when there were silent spots. Yes, I checked. I was in manual.
If you were really picky about audio you'd have two other choices. You could choose to do "second sound" and run your microphones into a digital audio recorder and sync up everything later or you can buy Sony's XLR mixer that plugs into the multi-function interface in the hot shoe. The balanced XLR inputs would probably make a difference in noise while the (allegedly better) included pre-amps would also make a difference. It's an expensive solution and I suppose that I'll mostly choose to work with the standard input for stuff like PSAs that also have music beds, special effects and announcer voice overs that would cover any inherent noise. If you use one of these cameras to make a feature film with lots of dialog you'd probably (wisely) choose one of the first two options.
What else can I add about shooting video with the camera? Well, it has settable zebras which is like focus peaking for exposure, in a way. You can set the zebra's from 50% to over 100% and what happens is that when an area in the frame exceeds the level you've set the area over that level has what look like peaking outlines and fill in overlays in the overexposed areas. Why all the variable settings? Suppose you are shooting for good skin tones with a talent on a white background. If you set the zebras to 95% or 100% to show you when you are or are about to blow out the whites you really have no idea what the skin tones are doing. You might set the levels for 70% which would be just about right to trigger zebras when you are just about to go over for skin. By that point the background areas would be blinking like all hell. But you'd know where that exposure inflection point is and that's probably most important.
You also get focus peaking. I didn't force focus peaking into a death match with zebras but I can guess with both implemented at the same time things in the finder might get a bit confusing.
I also appreciate that the camera gives me level controls for the headphones. It's a nice touch.
So what about my twinge of hesitation? Just being a bit silly. I made the image above (Jpeg, no retouching or corrections) with a Panasonic GH3 and I used a venerable 70mm Pen FT f2.0 lens stopped down to f5.6. The file just looks so beautiful. And it reminded me that, with the exceptions of zebras and focus peaking that the GH3 has the same great video functionality but it also has nicer, richer files. It's all a trade off. I think the video review sites on the web are mostly correct. The RX10 is designed to be more of an electronic news gathering camera than a full on studio production machine while the GH3 is the opposite. Someone wrote that the RX10 was like the first Henri Cartier Bresson-like, handheld, reportage hybrid camera. I'll agree with that. It's very facile and quick and the quality is more than good enough---especially since I like converting most stuff to black and white anyway.
More to come as I work with it. Nice to run through the functions ahead of the paying jobs.
Have a nice weekend.
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