First thing: This camera is pretty old! The last major Standard definition hurrah and the jewel in the crown of standard definition shooting. The model was released in 2004 and it definately shows its age in no uncertain terms! The camera is no handycam in weight terms but in pro terms its pretty much a feather. The control layout is pretty simple to get to grips with if you put the effort in to learn the camera. There are a good few brilliant youtube tutorials that talk through how to set up, run and use the camera to get the best out of it. One of the major advantages of this camera is that it has a 3 CCD sensor system which is a bit better than the current CMOS style sensors which still haven't entirely caught up with in terms of quality. The CCD sensors also mean that there is no rolling shutter effect on the camera. The footage that comes out is at 50i in the UK so is a full SD interlaced picture. There is no option to shoot progressive which is very disappointing but the camera isn't short on options, most importantly, the option to use 1.77:1 (16:9) aspect ratio. The screen is ok for its time but compared to modern screens its utterly mediocre. The viewfinder however is superior to a fair few modern ones as it is black and white so you can form a picture based on luminance value through it. It has a full zebra function to show when highlights are clipping due to massive overexposure. The picture quality is pretty impressive for standard definition and you SD footage will have never looked so good in interlaced before but low end pro HD cams make the picture quality of this look average. The microphone they give you with it is utter tripe so I recommend using an external to do the job. This camera is a great introduction to how to work with pro gear although tape takes a bit of work to get used to and is quite restrictive in terms of editing options as you always need a tape deck or 9 pin IEEE1394 cable but this camera won't be dead yet although it has been outclassed by many since.
When I started university I had Film Production as part of my degree (a subject I later dropped) and when we started the course this was the camera we had to use and I'm so glad we weren't made to buy it.
The Sony PD170 is a standard camera that's used to introduce users to the world of film making, I imagine by other camera's that are used in the business this is considered simple but if all you've used in the basic camcorder then you might want to steer clear of this unless you really want to try and get into the movie business.
So what's wrong with this camera? Well, where to start? First of all we weren't given too much instruction on how to use it but I figured it should be straightforward, how wrong I was!
First of all, the battery is separate to the camera so you have to figure out how to attach it into the part that's at the back of the camera and make sure it's secure. Second, this camera uses DV tapes, which are similar to the old telephone machine tapes but a bit bigger. These have to be bought separately and can be quite pricey. These can also be difficult to insert into the cassette holder and it takes a while to work out how it all fits together.
Once you've worked out the battery and DV tape, you're over the first hurdle! Hurrah! Now you can go out, shoot some footage and go back to the editing software to put your masterpiece together.
There are some downfalls though to being 'on set', the camera isn't light! It comes in it's own bag which is around twice the size of the old camcorder bags that you used to get and they can be quite difficult to carry if you've got a tripod as well and no one's there to help.
Then it comes to the editing. This camera only works with a mac computer and you can only do really good editing with a programme called Final Cut. For this you need to find the part on the camera for the firewire.
This review probably sounds a little confusing but that's because this camera is confusing! Unless you have a really good teacher then I would steer clear. If you want to make homemade movies, use a regular camcorder, even if you want to make a short film then a camcorder might work just as well, especially if you don't have access to a Mac.
So some things to consider:
To use this camera, you need the following:
- DV Tapes (around eight pounds for two from Argos!)
- Firewire cable
- Final Cut Pro
The camera itself costs around 1,500GBP and if you need all of the rest on top then it's going to set you back a small fortune.
I imagine though that this camera can work wonderfully well if you know how to use it, are a wizz with the software but if you're a newbie you are going to struggle.
So overall, if you really want to use this camera, then I suggest you find someone who already knows how to use it if you don't already, you get aquainted with the software and hardware and be prepared to be separated from some serious pennies.
Otherwise, just get yourself a cheap camcorder that doesn't need so much fuss!