LIBRARY: Tutorials Reviews Interviews Editorials Features Business Authors RSS Feed

On Stage with the Sony XDCAM HD

From The Creative COW Magazine

Creative COW Magazine presents On the World's Biggest Stage with Sony XDCAM HD

Rick BronksRick Bronks
London, England UK

©2008 Rick Bronks and All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
When your corporate clients are as big as Wembley Stadium, a small camera won't do. Besides, Rick Bronks wasn't interested in HDV or in tapeless shooting that cost more than tape. Enter XDCAM HD.

A camera should be an extension of your body. Big cameras can become that for you in ways that small cameras simply can't.

It begins with the fact that stance is every bit as important to getting the shots as the settings on the camera. Whether you carry the camera underarm or on your shoulder, your whole torso is used to create the movement and the stability.

If I buy a camera, I don't want to also buy more kit to stabilize it. I don't want to wear a harness to mount the camera where it should be 90% of the time - on my shoulder.

Shoulders are for carrying things. If you're a cameraman, your shoulders are there to carry a camera. When you're training to be a cameraman, your shoulders are there to carry other people's cameras...and whatever else needs carrying!

This is why, with major manufacturers pushing new, small HD cameras, we were so stoked to discover the full-sized Sony F355 XDCAM HD.


When a friend from uni and I formed Forcefed Media, we were determined not to go the Handycam route. We're still not sure how, but we've only worked for large clients like HP, Hilton, Maxell, Coca Cola and the like.

They dictate a simple formula for our camera choices that is simple: we can't walk into a multi-billion dollar company with the same kit that they saw at their daughter's wedding.

To tell the truth, I almost think sometimes that we could put a smaller camera inside a hollow plastic shell and have what we need. It's not true of course, but...

DVCAM was the next reasonable step up from DV - affordable, higher quality, but not out of reach for a small shop. After a couple of decent jobs, we bought a Sony DSR-570, alongside a PDX10 and a 3 head lighting kit.

We shot on the 570 for a good year, and found that we were getting a feeling from the large camera's image that we just couldn't get out of a smaller camera - but we'd gone as far as we could with the OEM lens. It was just fine for starters. But you will not get the best out of any camera until you shell out some dollars for some decent lensware.

After much deliberation and testing, we settled on the super-wide Canon J11, about $30,000 at the time. It made the DV footage look absolutely phenomenal. It changed everything we shot.

Then we hit the HD era. Inevitably the first question that we were asked was "Is this HD?" We mumbled away to change the subject. So yes, our DVCAM looked wonderful, miraculous, but SD wasn't cutting it anymore.

What next? We already had a Sony HVR-A1 HDV for sneaking into places where it's helpful to look like a tourist, but HDV isn't really our bag.

HDV left us feeling that we wouldn't be sticking with Sony. We told ourselves, "There has to be another way."


For all our determination to look elsewhere, we found XDCAM HD by chance. I knew the SD version of XDCAM had been around for a while, but when we saw it in HD, it was amazing.

The heart of the system is the XDCAM disk. It uses the Sony Professional Disk format, an encased disk similar to Blu-ray that is tough as old boots. There are YouTube clips of people freezing one in a block of ice, thawing it out in a pan, drying it with a hair dryer and putting it back into a camera.

Sony Rewritable

The price is fantastic. We get an hour of 35 Mb/s HD on a 25GB disk, basically a pound per gig -about the same as we were paying for SD tape, in a far more durable format.

What really sold it that completely solves the archive issue: stand it on its end in shelves, just like tape. It's a proper piece of tapeless tape! We can reuse the cartridges if we want to, but we're no more inclined to do that than we were to reuse tape.

Compared to this, P2 cards or SxS sticks are just too expensive. More important than the expense was the way we work. We couldn't see ourselves going tapeless if the only way to do it was to use a small capacity stick or card.

Camera Shoot

Say, I'm on a shoot, I need more space on the cards to keep shooting. I'll take my MacBook, slot in the card and dump the footage to my laptop. Or maybe have an assistant load cards into a reader just to shuffle media off the cards so I can keep shooting. Then transfer to my RAID back in the office.

It's not exactly advantageous to go tapeless if you have to spend hours with the media after you shoot with it.

Archive XDCAM HD? We have a physical disk with the same amount of footage we would have stored on tape. It costs the same as tape so no need to reuse. The disk stands on a shelf. End of archive issues.

The XDCAM editing workflow can also be a great timesaver. The browsing software shows the thumbnails for lo-res proxies. You can play back clips, mark in and out, yes/no, label each clip – then import those clips with logging and metadata intact.

If you want to, you can also export the proxy files for the client to review, or send them to the office over broadband and start working on the edit before the full-res files arrive. The full-res media automatically replaces the proxy footage as it's available during copying.

For us though, even when editing onsite, we tend to work with the full-res files from the start.


The camera choice was easy, but the lens choice was far from settled.

Our first question was whether we wanted to shell out big money on an HD lens when we'd had such a good experience with our J11 SD lens. Here was the additional pain as we started looking at lenses: the XDCAM HD F355 has a 1/2-inch mount, instead of the 2/3-inch mounts on the DSR-570 and so many other cameras.

With a significant investment in the 2/3-inch Canon J11, we found this alienating to say the least. We could have used an adapter, but that would have reduced the wide-angle-ness. It would have come out to the same focal length as the OEM lens.


After going back and forth for 3 weeks ("Nobody will be able to tell that we shot HD with an SD lens." "Don't be stupid. Of COURSE we need a new lens"), everything always pointed back to what we knew and what we were familiar with.

We settled on the 1/2-inch, HD version of the J11, the KH10. It was another $25,000 or so, and worth it: Canon all the way and the nice wide to boot.

The KH10 is physically a 1/2-inch longer than J11. Together with the 355 and battery pack,the rig is HEAVY, but it feels balanced. And we deliver something that looks good. Actually it looks better than good. It looks amazing.


The corporate video stereotype: fat guy, cigar, leather chair, says, "Our company is brilliant."

The reality is that we are often given free reign to come up with ideas, a narrative and a structure for the films. The values we put into these films are no less that what would go into a broadcast piece. Our clientèle is savvy. We cannot get away with shoddy work.

Our most recent client is Wembley National Stadium, home to the England national football team, as well as the venue for major pop concerts including two sold-out shows by the Foo Fighters this summer.

The "new" Wembley was completed in 2007 for roughly 798 million pounds (just under $2 billion at the time) and at 90,000 seats, the world's largest stadium with every seat under cover.

On an event day, there can be up to 5000 people working at the stadium. At the moment, they're inducted with a PowerPoint presentation and some photography to show how things are done. We were called in to revolutionize the way this happens, starting with an introductory video.

We're treating it as a documentary, shooting over several months to create a single "day in the life" of the whole machine. From the catering staff to the stewards to the groundsmen who mow the pitch (we have real turf!), everyone needs to be shown procedures for health and safety.

Mick Jagger 1

Mick Jagger 2
In addition to Wembley Arena, Forcefed's corporate clients include MySpace, for whom they interviewed Mick Jagger, using both the F355 (top) and the EX1.

More important, they need to realize that whether they are flipping burgers or working in the medical center they are all part of one big team.

This is the first major job that we're using our EX1 XDCAM EX alongside the F355. We used this approach on a smaller scale when MySpace hired us to interview Mick Jagger for MySpace TV, a new "channel" oriented approach they're taking on the web. The F355 was the main camera, locked down, shooting color. The EX1 was handheld, shooting black and white.

Wembley Arena

Yes, we shoot XDCAM HD for the web. It looks fantastic. Search "Mick Jagger: Two Minutes on MySpace" to see for yourself. And in case you're wondering, Mick was extremely pleasant to work with. Couldn't have been nicer.

As part of our Wembley documentary, we're using the EX1 for time-lapse, a feature built in to the camera. We've stuck it on a magic arm and left it running for the crowd filing in, the stadium roof retracting, etc., and gotten fine results.

A big problem: the two cameras have different HQ frame sizes! The data rate for both is 35 Mb/s, but the frame size of the F355 is 1440, compared to 1920 for the EX1. This makes multicam editing using footage from both cameras in Final Cut Pro impossible. One workaround is to drop the EX1 to SQ mode: the frame size is 1440, but the data rate drops to 25 Mb/s.

The lesser evil is to shoot the EX1 in HQ, and downscale in Compressor. But surely the reason why you use the EX1 with the 355 is because you expect basic compatibility!

It's worth remembering that frame size doesn't equal image quality. The EX1 might come near to the 355 in good light, with the wind behind you, but it never surpasses the 355. Certainly not with the kind of glass we have on it.

The EX1 image is still wonderful in its own right, and its portability has its place in our productions -- always in the service of the larger camera.

Shooting with the EX1 is truly tapeless, but the SxS cards don't hold enough. Each 16GB card holds just under an hour. We often come back from a decent shoot with 4 hours of footage. For four 16GB cards you'll be paying almost half the cost of the camera!

Here's the good thing about all of this. The good folk at Sony will soon open up the architecture on the XDCAM HD disks to allow anything to be written to them.

Sony Camera Software
A standalone app for both Mac and PC allows clip review, setting in and out points, and managing metadata. All changes carry through to the full res clips.

At the moment, there's 500MB of space to store "things" - files, scripts, edit logs etc.. But in a few months we've been promised that the whole 23 or 50 gigs will be available. Then we'll finally be able to write back the EX footage from the SxS cards to the XDCAM disks in the field, using the updated PDW-U1 drive.


Life was so much simpler in the good old days of PAL or NTSC. A few issues came up with 16:9, but other than that, everything was easy. Now, just look at how many "easy" setups there are in FCP to see what "easy" means today.

We're currently shooting 1080/50i at 35 Mb/s, but XDCAM HD422 is on its way: 50 Mb/s, along with dual-layer disks for twice the capacity. But who knows how many more frame sizes and rates are ahead of us? It seems like we're still a few years from settling down.

In the meantime, our heavy investment in state of the art HD kit will keep us in the top league of media agencies in London, and keep us around for many years to come.

The F355 is a fantastic camera. XDCAM offers us extremely durable HD media with the capacities we need, dead easy archiving, and the same cost as the SD tape we were using before – with the full extent of benefits that tapeless production provides.

Rick BronksRick Bronks
London, England UK

Before starting Forcefed Media ("Not bitter. Just twisted"), Rick worked his way up from fetching tea, to being a runner, to producing one of England's morning TV shows. The COW forums he visits "depends on the kind of help I need," he says, "or wherever I can start a debate!" You might try starting in the Sony Cinealta-XDCAM forum.

Find more great Creative COW Magazine articles by signing up for the complimentary Creative COW Magazine.

Re: On Stage with the Sony XDCAM HD
by Samuel Adebari
Excellent insight into the world of XDCAM. Thanks

Related Articles / Tutorials:
Sony CineAlta - XDCAM
The Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer LookThe Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX Camera: A Closer Look

Creative Cow Contributing Editor Dylan Reeve says that the EX1 is another Sony breakthrough. A truly professional camera, the XDCAM EX1 offers format and workflow advantages previously unseen in other small cameras. Dylan will show you how the camera works, and how the footage works with your favorite NLE, while also looking ahead to the PMW-EX3.

Dylan Reeve
Sony EX Series XDCAM
Mastering the Sony PMW-EX1

Mastering the Sony PMW-EX1

In this review, CreativeCOW's Jim Harvey takes a hard look at Mastering the Sony PMW-EX1 from Vortex Media. See why he says: ...''if you are planning on purchasing a SONY PVM-EX1, or want to learn more about tapeless workflow and acquisition, this Workshop course will be an invaluable addition to your knowledge base.''

Jim Harvey
Sony EX Series XDCAM
A Creative Cow Real-time Report: EX1 vs. PD170A Creative Cow Real-time Report: EX1 vs. PD170

In this Creative COW Real Time Report, Don Greening puts the Sony DSR-PD170, long-acknowledged to be a low-light champ, against the newcomer, the PMW EX-1 head to head in a low-light test. Will the upstart unseat the champ? Read on....

Review, Feature
Don Greening
Sony EX Series XDCAM
On Location with the Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EXOn Location with the Sony PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX

In this Creative COW Real Time Report, Don Greening takes us along on his very first shoot with his brand new Sony XDCAM EX camera on location in British Columbia. Upon return to his nice warm studio, Don also takes us through his very first look at the footage on his plasma TV, and his first edit in Final Cut Pro.

Review, Feature
Don Greening
Recent Articles / Tutorials:
Audio Professionals
Perfecting Audio: Professional Audio Add-ons For Your iPad

Perfecting Audio: Professional Audio Add-ons For Your iPad

You're going to be amazed how easy it is to turn your iPad into a professional audio powerhouse for a variety of applications: a field recorder, a front end for controlling your DAW, MIDI keyboards and turntables for musicians and DJs, and more. Whether you're a filmmaker, a podcaster, an audio engineer, or a musician, there are surprisingly affordable and powerful options for pro audio with your iPad.

Adorama TV
Adobe Creative Cloud
Increase Productivity with Adobe Motion Graphics Templates

Increase Productivity with Adobe Motion Graphics Templates

Motion Graphic Templates created in either Adobe Premiere Pro or Adobe After Effects are a great way to work with clients. They help you keep a consistent look and feel while protecting your project from inadvertent changes as it passes through different hands. Here are the steps you can take to share work across teams and organizations, quickly and powerfully.

Rod Harlan
Apple Motion
Apple Motion 5: Animating Raindrops On A Window

Apple Motion 5: Animating Raindrops On A Window

Ready to have your mind blown? Longtime VFX artist, editor, software developer, and business owner Simon Ubsdell is inspired by an Andrew Kramer AE tutorial to combine Apple Motion's particles, displacements, 3D compositing, and advanced blurs to create an incredibly realistic animation of raindrops on a window. You're not going to believe how fast and fun this effect is to create, and how realistic it looks.

Simon Ubsdell
RED Digital Cinema
RED TECH: Black Shade Calibration: When, Why, and How

RED TECH: Black Shade Calibration: When, Why, and How

Learn how (as well as why and when) to run a Black Shade Calibration on your RED Digital Cinema camera to ensure clean and consistent pixel sensitivity across your entire image.

RED Digital Cinema
Panasonic Cameras
Pansonic AG-CX350 First Look: 4K, HDR, Streaming, and more

Pansonic AG-CX350 First Look: 4K, HDR, Streaming, and more

Introducing the new Panasonic AG-CX350 4K HDR 10-bit 60p camcorder, featuring Enhanced Network Capabilities for live events,, sports, and news gathering. The CX350 is equipped with the RTMP/RTSP/RTP protocol for live streaming and NewTek NDI | HX-ready for IP Production. In addition, it offers future P2 capability (via a free firmware update). At only 4.2-lbs. (body only), the CX350 is also the lightest 4K 10-bit fixed-lens camcorder in its class -- all for under $4K! Check out the details here.

Adorama TV
Adobe After Effects
What Are Adobe Motion Graphics Templates?

What Are Adobe Motion Graphics Templates?

A Motion Graphics Template, referred to as a MOGRT, is an animated sequence that is self-contained and can be used in Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Premiere Rush and Adobe After Effects, combining graphics, text, audio and video files, as well as vector or still images (including logos), to create a still or animation that can then be customized by the MOGRT user. The result is a dynamic creative tool that provides design freedom and is consistent to its users across apps and devices. Reuse, share, and even sell them!

Rod Harlan
© 2019 All Rights Reserved