New Sony 4K Camcorder Sets Low Bar on Price, Improves Depth-of-Field Performance

Sony today has taken the wraps off the PXW-Z100, a $6,500 4K handheld camcorder that records in the XDCAM format and also has a single 1/2.3-in. Exmor CMOS sensor, making it suitable to live sports productions requiring a greater depth of field than offered by 4K cameras that, to date, have been designed to deliver a cinematic look.

New PXW-Z100 4K handheld camcorder is priced at $6,500.

New PXW-Z100 4K handheld camcorder is priced at $6,500.

“This puts a professional 4K camcorder in customers’ hands with no need for an external recorder,” says Takahiro Kagawa, product manager, Sony Electronics, adding, “It can be used to shoot HD today and then make the transition to 4K much easier.”

The sensor allows recording at a resolution of 4096×2160 at 50 or 60 progressive frames per second (fps).

Although the use of only one CMOS sensor makes it more suitable to corporate and event producers, it is an important step that at least hints at the potential for a more broadcast-friendly three-chip version in the future.

The PXW-Z100 camcorder, with the fixed 4K-compatible G Lens, weighs less than 7 lbs. and uses Sony’s XAVC recording format first featured in the PMW-F55 CineAlta 4K camera. Recording with 10-bit intra-frame compression, says Kagawa, the camcorder can capture images with rich color information. A consumer version using 8-bit Long GOP recording will be available.

Says Hugo Gaggioni, CTO, Sony Broadcast and Professional Solutions Division, “The XAVC codec is well-established and can be operated comfortably at higher frame rates where the user wants much higher quality than they can get from other options, and it allows a very gradual transition from today’s needs to 4K.”

Those at the professional level looking to use Long GOP compression will have to wait ’til the middle of 2014 for a firmware update that will support the Long GOP mode for extended 4K recording and also add support for AVCHD, a format that until now has been compatible with the playback environment of Blu-ray discs.

MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 compression is used for HD (1920×1080), QFHD (3840×2016), and 4K (4096×2160) content. Image sampling is 4:2:2 10-bit, with an intra-frame system that compresses each frame individually at a maximum bitrate of 500 Mbps or 600 Mbps during 4K 50- or 60-fps recording, respectively, and 223 Mbps during HD 50- or 60-fps recording. Users can also select QFHD (3840×2160) and HD (1920×1080) resolutions, both of which are compatible with most 4K TVs.

Sony says the built-in G Lens offers maximum shooting flexibility, including a wide angle of 30mm in 4096×2160 mode or 31.5mm in 3840×2160 and 1920×1080 modes and 20x powerful optical zoom (equivalent to 35mm).

The PXW-Z100 camcorder features two slots for XQD memory cards. Multiple cards can be used in various ways, such as for relay recording: when the first card becomes full, recording continues on the second card without a break.

As for recording format, XQD solid-state memory cards use the PCI Express interface and Sony’s camera processor to enable stable video recording at 500 Mbps or 600 Mbps (the use of new S Series XQD cards QD-S32E and QD-S64E, which support 180-MBps transfer speed, is recommended).

“With our technology, the media is constantly talking to the recording head so there is no falloff in performance,” says Kagawa. A 64-GB card recording at 600 Mbps (the payload for 60p) can store 14 to 16 minutes of 4K material.

The new camcorder also has an HDMI interface that can output 4K as a 50-fps/60-fps signal. When the PXW-Z100 is connected to a Sony PVM-X300 4K professional monitor or a 4K-compatible BRAVIA TV, the recorded 4K image can be displayed in 4K 50-fps/60-fps quality. A future firmware upgrade is planned to provide compatibility with the new HDMI standard (referred to as HDMI 2.0) and enable 4K 50-fps/60-fps output to a wider range of devices. Other features include a 3G HD-SDI interface that supports output to an SDI of up to HD 60p. It also supports HD output during 4K recording although it cannot output a simultaneous 4K and HD signal.

The camcorder’s paint function enables multiple image parameters to be adjusted, including gamma curve, black level, skin-tone detail, and color.  Along with other setting options, parameter settings can be recorded as a camera profile onto a memory card. The recorded profile can then be used to set the same parameters in another PXW-Z100 to match quality and image tones in a multicamera setup.

A user can remotely control focus, zoom, aperture settings, and “record start/stop” via the browser function of a smartphone or tablet. Simply plugging the supplied WiFi adapter into the camcorder enables the wireless feature.