Sunday, April 17, 2011

F550EXR versus ZS3 / TZ7 – Which one is the better video camera – Bruce Cockburn and Jenny Scheinman again – Review Part 37

Those who read part 36 know already that the F550EXR is an amazing concert camera from the perspective of still images. And they know that I am working to figure out how to shoot videos with it that are as good as the ZS3.

So far, the comparison between the two cameras goes like this (and against the newer cameras, most of the comments remain accurate since Panny has done little to improve the still quality except handle some of the chroma noise by smoothing things a lot):

Fuji F550EXR Panasonic ZS3 / TZ7
Stills are quite clean and detailed to 3200 ISO Stills are quite clean and detailed to 400 ISO
Video is somewhat high contrast, leading to somewhat dark mid tones – aggravated by its response to compensation settings for stills (as pure video cam that would not be a problem) Video tone is excellent , contrast a tad hard at times but mid tones clear and visible.
Center video AF works, but requires the shutter press at max extension to set max focus range, no hunting at all after that but not flexible when subject moves, refocus is quick and accurate after zoom No Center AF
Continuous AF hunts at 1080 and 720, but at 720 hunting is mostly invisible Continuous AF hunts, but eventually achieves perfect focus, and there is no 1080
Zoom can be fairly smooth if camera handled correctly (zoom level has two speeds) Zoom is slow in video
Clips 30 minutes in MP4 Clips 2 hours in AVCHD, much shorter in MP4
Audio is excellent Audio is excellent

Now, that looks like the F550EXR is in the running for a decent video camera, and I think it is. But it is painful to use as a video cam while also shooting stills. I’m still working out the appropriate protocol for that, and I think it will require a minor compromise.

I like the SN mode with –2EV compensation for concert shooting, as SN mode makes amazingly clean shadows. But the –2 works against you when shooting video, and if you are in stealth mode, it can be terribly awkward to swap these settings all the time.

So as a compromise, one can leave EV at 0 or even + settings and then shoot manual for stills, which is not affected by the compensation settings as video sometimes is. I say sometimes because the F550EDXR responds in certain light and not at all in other light. Typical Fuji feature confusion.

So I still need to test two things under concert conditions that will really tell the tale:

  • Shoot video in continuous focus at 720
  • Shoot video at +EV to see how the mid tones respond

Meanwhile, I am not at all unhappy with the quality of what I brought back from the Bruce Cockburn concert on Friday evening. The sound quality is awesome from both cameras, and I think the Fuji actually outdid the Panny with its own stereo microphones … a very pleasant surprise.

So here are a pair of videos that have similar content … judge for yourself … but more importantly, enjoy this amazing Canadian folk singer and guitarist. He’s recognized as one of the best in the entire world …

Remember that I was having great difficulty because of an extremely awkward shooting position caused by the need to shoot in stealth mode … so forgive all the movement.

Bruce Cockburn and Jenny Scheinman – Wondering Where the Lions Are, Arrows of Light, If a Tree Falls
Fuji F550EXR (-EV applied)

Bruce Cockburn and Jenny Scheinman – Radiance (I think – Anyone Know?), Called Me Back
Panasonic ZS3 / TZ7

The Panny has more opened tones but has burned his hair. The Fuji has closed tones but I applied some –EV for stills. So the results are equivocal.

Both sound great. Both look pretty great. To be continued …

Update: I mastered the first F550EXR video of the night, which shows the struggle you have when using center focus, you must get focus lock at max zoom with a subject on which you can focus before the real action starts. Here, I struggled and had to do it in the early part of the song. Bummer. But this video at least shows that the mid tones are not doomed to be super dark. I started without negative exposure compensation and the vid is pretty good.

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