Canon XF 305 versus Sony PMW 200 and JVC GY-HM650 comparison

People are always asking me what camera they should buy for broadcast, small camera, self-shooting. Should it be a DSLR? And if not what exactly should it be?

First off, let's deal with the DSLR issue. I see countless young self-shooters and video journalists putting themselves on the market, armed with a Canon or Panasonic DSLR, a couple of lenses and a Maplins lapel mic. And quite often, they turn out fantastic shots.

But self-shooting is tough enough without a sound or lighting guy helping out. Make the step up to Video Journalism and you need real editorial savvy and experience. (And for this criteria, it's a desert out there). Then throw into the mix the added skill of operating a DSLR to shoot video whilst 'run and gun' ob-doc shooting and then your looking at the kind of scarcity more associated with the search for life on other planets. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but it's a tough shout. If you have an editorially experienced, video journalist, running and gunning with a DSLR on your books, get them tied down on a bullet-proof, ten year contract!

Me, shooting with my 5D mk2 and my mad old rig.

On my 5d I can only run and gun with any degree of competence with just one lens (16-35mm f2.8). So for me, unless I have the time to do some stylish shoot, over which I have some level of control, I'll always pick a camcorder over a DSLR.

So which one? Well if size isn't an issue, but I'm still looking for a small, broadcast spec (50Mbs 4:2:2) camera ( as opposed to a larger shoulder cam), then, for me, there's only two real competitors on the market; the Canon XF 305 and the Sony PMW 200. (The JVC HM650 only pumps out 35Mbs and 4:2:0)

Now if you want to compare technical specs etc and blah, geek-blah, there's plenty of be-bearded types out there writing about this. I'm more interested in the real world stuff, what's it's actually like to use and the day by day quality of the shots.

Having used the 305 and 200 extensively now, the 305 beats the 200 in terms of use-ability. For run and gun shooting this camera is a joy to use ( as long as you're not struggling for light). I worked with an engineer at the BBC that claimed his department had a real input into the design and layout of this camera, and whilst I'm not entirely sure of how true this is, it could well believe it, because everything falls to hand and ergonomically it's really been thought through. As an evolution of the PD150, Z1 with a bit of EX1 thrown into the mix, this camera makes perfect sense.

Which is strange really because that is exactly what the Sony PMW 200 is - a direct evolution of the PD 150, Z1, Z5 and EX1.

The truth is that the layout of the buttons on the XF 305 makes more sense. It's bigger body means they are less cluttered. If you're struggling to find a button, just stop for a moment, think where you would put it if you we're designing a camera, and that's where it'll be. The 305 has a wide array of self-assign buttons, scattered around the body of the camera. The Sony has self-assign buttons too, but not as many and not, seemingly, giving access to such a wide range of useful facilities as the Canon.

I think the Canon has a nicer piece of glass glued to the front. Certainly it's more usable, with an 18 times zoom and a macro of 20mm. The Sony by comparison has only a 14 times zoom and wont go quite so wide. But one plus for the Sony is that the iris doesn't ramp when zooming like on the Canon.

The Canon seems to have a better screen than the Sony, which seems to have inherited a slightly ( and only slightly) better version than the one that stops the Z5 being the kick arse camera it should be. However, both the Canon and the Sony screens are the same resolution, and whilst the Canon screen seems more flexible (flipping under the handle to pop out either side) it also, apparently hinders the attachment of some third party kit - matte boxes, etc.

The Canon allows you to quickly and easily dial in a manual white balance setting, something Z1, Z5 and DSLR users take for granted. The Sony will allow you to do this, but only by accessing a sub-setting in a sub-setting in the picture profile option. Which effectively means you can't. This is something I miss the most when shooting with a 200.

The Canon has an incredible three position image stabiliser. It's unique design gives amazing results, especially in powered mode and this alone makes it a great self-shooting, video journalism camera.

The Sony, by comparison is a much less user friendly camera. Side by side, it's also smaller, looking slightly 'toy like' next to the Canon. Turn up with a Canon to the shoot and it looks like a proper piece of kit. The Sony, when you pull it out of the bag, looks a bit of an anti-climax. Another issue you may feel you have when you shoot with a PMW200 is that some people (clients) mistake it for a Z1 - not necessarily the image you may be trying to communicate!

Another bonus for the 305 is that the BBC use them, and use them extensively, having turned their backs on Sony a while back. I've seen job ads that specifically ask for 305 camera experience. I've yet to see one that specifies the PMW 200.

The 305 also has a 'tricky-dicky' face recognition system that locks the focus and tracks people as they move around. It sounds cool, and it is cool, but the reality is this system isn't bullet proof. If the person puts a hand over their face or turns away the auto-focus function will snap the focus to the back ground, or at best go hunting. For this very reason, the Sony has no such gimmick.

The Sony PMW 200 doesn't seem to have the same simple - 'common sense' approach to it that the 305 has. But if you can get beyond all of the above the 200 is worth some serious consideration.

On the surface of it, the 305 uses cheaper media cards than the Sony. A 32Gb extreme card costing about £70. A 32Gb SxS card for the Sony costs around £300! But the Sony will also record onto 32Gb XQD card, costing around £170, or if you drop down to 35Mbs you can use much cheaper SD cards (32Gb for £25).

Being smaller makes it more portable. A large petrol back-pack will take a PMW 200, mac laptop, 3 (160 element) led lights with zipshot tripods, gun mic, radio mic, headphones and batteries. You'd struggle to match that with a 305.

They say the heart of a car is it's engine and that it defines everything about the car. Equally, the heart of a camera is it's sensor and this does define everything about the camera. The Canon 305 has three third-inch sensors. The Sony has three half-inch sensors. However you try to dress this up, three half-inch sensors will always give a better picture quality, more control over depth of field and better low light performance than smaller chips.

The 305 is a camera you can just switch on and start shooting some kick-arse stuff with straight away. The 200 will, I believe, give nicer pictures but you earn them, they don't come so easily. But once you master your 200, get all the settings and profiles just where you want them, adjust to that screen, the 200 will take you further and I suspect to a higher level.

Bottom line, when I had to put my own hard cash on the table, I bought a 200.
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