D.W. Leitner has more than 50 directing, producing, and cinematography credits in feature-length documentary and dramatic films produced in the U.S. and abroad.

14: Sony HXR-NX5 Brings Choices

Sony HXR-NX5

Sony HXR-NX5. Think Sony HVR-Z5U with slots instead of tape, for 1920×1080 capture instead of 1440×1080.

Yesterday, Jan. 6, at 7 p.m., Sony announced a new tapeless handheld, HXR-NX5, the company’s first professional camcorder to capture video to AVCHD, also known as MPEG-4 H.264.

(Note: “prosumer,� that flimsiest of marketing categories, won’t be cited in this column, ever. How can a camcorder with SMPTE 292M full-bandwidth HD-SDI output be anything but professional? Give me a break.)

Sony also announced a list price: $4,950—same as the HDV-based HVR-Z5U, which it closely resembles.

I wrote about the upcoming NXCAM line in Leitner’s Cinematography Corner #8. If you read that column, you’ll remember I was astonished that this camcorder would dock to a detachable 128GB flash memory module the size of a MiniDV videocassette and record well more than 11 hours of full 1920×1080 at AVCHD’s highest-quality bitrate, 24Mbps (VBR maximum).

MSRP for the 128GB flash drive module, HXR-FMU128, is $800. Pricey, but no moving parts, nothing to break, and you’ll never buy media again. (Update: I’ve since learned that for the first three months of sales, Sony will offer a $500 rebate on the FMU128 when purchased with an NX5. Of course, why else would you buy one?)

Both NX5 and FMU128 will be available by end of this month.

And, as Steve Jobs likes to say, there’s one more thing…

Sony HXR-NX5 with Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo

Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo in upper slot. Note both SD and PRO Duo marques on slot cover door. (Click to enlarge.)

Most AVCHD camcorders on the market, consumer and professional—Panasonic’s professional handheld AG-HMC150, for instance—record to popular SD (Secure Digital) and SDHC (SD High Capacity) memory cards. Since SD cards are found in an endless line of consumer devices—still cameras, audio players, PDAs, cell phones, video games, small computers, media players—downward pressure on SD prices is constant.

The one holdout, of course, is Sony, which invented a rival consumer media called Memory Stick. If you own any Sony digital device—be it still camera, music player, VAIO laptop, or AVCHD camera like the point-of-view HXR-MC1 “snake camâ€?—there will be a Memory Stick slot.

And so it is with the NX5. At the rear left corner of the NX5, next to the battery, are two Memory Stick slots, stacked vertically.

But with a difference. In what must be a first, these Memory Stick slots also accept SD cards. Yes, you read that right. (When inserting a Memory Stick, the card faces left. When inserting SD, the card faces right. Will I remember this in the field?)

Memory Stick vs SD card

Record times to either Memory Stick or SD card. (Click to enlarge.)

In the case of Memory Sticks, Sony specifies PRO Duo Mark 2, PRO-HG Duo, and PRO-HG Duo HX. For SD and SDHC, Class 4 or higher.

Why record to Memory Sticks when low-cost SD cards are ubiquitous?

Sony argues speed advantages. The PRO-HG Duo HX, with a brisk 20MB/s transfer rate, is fastest. Per Sony, 175 minutes of 24Mbps (1920×1080) AVCHD recorded to a 32GB PRO-HG Duo HX card can be downloaded in less than 26 minutes compared to 73 minutes for a 32GB PRO Duo Mark 2. Although a SanDisk Extreme SDHC card is rated 30MB/s, Sony still claims a slight speed advantage for HX media. (By comparison, the HXR-FMU128 flash module is said to download a third faster than an HX-series Memory Stick.)

The larger point is that Sony gives you a genuine choice. Well done, Sony.

Other cool pony tricks: You can, of course, simultaneously record AVCHD to both flash card and 128GB memory module for instant backup. But you can also simultaneously record standard-definition video to a flash card and AVCHD to the 128GB memory module. Or vice versa.

Moreover, you can program the main record button and the handle record button to start and stop the flash card and 128GB memory module recording independently of one another. Don’t know why you’d want to do this—seems double the trouble—but hey, it’s a choice!

Sony HXR-NX5

Business end of NX5, featuring digital ports for HD-SDI, HDMI, and USB 2.0.

To recap: with its 3-CMOS Exmor sensor block and 20x G Lens, Sony’s HXR-NX5 outwardly matches the previous HDV-based HVR-Z5U, yet introduces full-raster 1920×1080 capture at moderate AVCHD bit rates along with a unique one-slot solution for use of different types of consumer flash media.

Two more performance bumps worth mentioning: Where the Z5 offers DV or DVCAM recording for standard definition, the NX5 offers 9Mbps MPEG-2 recording (equivalent to DVD). And instead of compressed MPEG-1 Audio Layer II per channel, the NX5 records to lossless Dolby AC-3 or uncompressed Linear PCM audio—your choice.

Stay tuned to millimeter for my field review.

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Leitner's Cinematography Corner is a new destination for reviews, blogs, notes, and opinions from longtime millimeter Contributing Editor David Leitner, who also happens to be an award-winning director, producer, and cinematographer of independent films showcased at film festivals like Sundance and Berlin. Leitner argues that since everything's now digital outside of cameras and projectors that shuttle celluloid, "digital" has lost its cachet. Leitner's Cinematography Corner will instead frame innovations in production gear as the latest advances in the long march of motion-picture technology, well over a century old. And never lose sight of the fact that technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself.


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