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Streaming Media's Gear of the Year, 2014-15

The 12 products and technologies described in this article reflect what four of our writers found when they unraveled the industry developments of the past 12 months and picked Streaming Media's Gear of the Year.

Shawn Lam's Picks

Camera: Sony PXW-FS7 With FE PZ 28-135mm G OSS Lens

Two Sony video cameras made it on my Gear of the Year 2015 list. Both were late-2014 releases that weren’t announced at NAB 2014. It’s significant that the groundbreaking Sony α7s, a full-frame 4K output video camera that redefined what is possible in terms of low noise at high ISO values, wasn’t one of them. As much as I didn’t want to start my selections by stating which products I didn’t select, I would be remiss if I didn’t justify why the α7s didn’t make my list, especially given that I own one and use it in my own video production company.

As groundbreaking as the α7s is, in a live switching and webcasting application, its consumer format micro HDMI terminal is a weak link that I just can’t overlook. Ultimately this feature limits the camera’s usefulness in my business. Also, with the release of the Sony α7II that features five-axis stabilization, it’s reasonable to assume that a α7sII is in the works—ideally, with rolling shutter improvements and internal 4K recording. I bought my α7s as a fourth camera for my arsenal, but it didn’t replace any of my existing three cameras; that shows that it is a specialty-use camera and not as significant in my day-to-day workflows as my other two selections.

Another Sony camera line I really like is the FS100/700 series of large-sensor video cameras. Because of their outstanding image quality, the FS100/700 cameras have been my go-to HD cameras since the FS100 debuted in 2010. But they leave a lot to be desired in terms of ergonomics and 4K output. I have no idea who at Sony thought it would be a good idea to put the LCD on the top of the camera, limiting its ability to be used while filming at eye level, especially since the original prototype of the FS100 that made the rounds of trade shows had a more traditional side-mounted LCD screen.

The PXW-FS7 model Sony released in 2014 (Figure 5, below) fixes the screen placement snafu and adds an innovative telescoping handgrip with zoom, record button, and a custom assignable button. The handgrip allows the FS7 to be shoulder-mounted, and this alone will entice many FS700 and Canon C100 shooters to consider investing $8,000 in an FS7 body. I know I am considering replacing one or both of my FS100 and FS700 with an FS7.

Figure 5. The Sony PXW-FS7

The internal 120 fps 4K recording or 180 fps HD recording on the new XAVC codec and options for upgrades to add external RAW or Pro Res recording, along with S-Gamut3Cine/S-Log3 encoding, fulfill the rigorous requirements for fast action, broadcast, or for serious color grading.

While on its own the Sony FS7 merits inclusion as a Gear of the Year selection, Sony’s new video-friendly α system lens options address their biggest outstanding weakness. The flagship α video lens is the FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 G OSS lens. At $2,500, this designed-for-4K lens—with its 4.8x full frame parfocal zoom, with constant f/4 aperture; discrete zoom, focus, and iris rings; optical stabilization; and power zoom—means native E-mount lenses are now a strength and no longer a weakness for Sony E-mount video cameras.

Camera: Sony PXW-X70

Small-sensor cameras are boring to me. Ever since I moved to large-sensor video cameras in 2010, I have had a hard time working with footage from traditional professional camcorders. The footage often looks very noisy to me, even when the gain is set to 0dB. Regardless of what lens fronts these cameras, the limiting factor is the small 1/3" sensor. There are 1/2" sensor cameras available, such as the Sony PXW-X200 and its processors, the PMW-X200 and PMW-EX1, but the additional 0.17" to the sensor size isn’t significant enough.

It would be nice to film everything with a large-sensor video camera. To some extent the Sony FS7 paired with the flagship E-mount 28-135mm lens extends the types of shoots and the ease with which you can film on a large-sensor camera. But there is still a need for a sub-$2,500 camcorder for multiple-camera productions that require smaller or more affordable camcorders.

What impresses me about the Sony PMW-X70 (Figure 6, below) is that its sensor is neither large nor small—its 1" sensor is large enough to outperform many more expensive small-sensor video cameras in terms of image quality and a clean image at high ISO values, while adding the ability to extend the 12x optical zoom to 24x with what Sony calls clear image zoom technology. Moreover, its sensor is still small enough for when you actually want a deep depth of field. You might notice I haven’t mentioned the advantage of a shallow depth of field that you would expect to be able to achieve with a 1" sensor, but that’s because in this case, there isn’t one. The X70’s f/2.8-4.5 lens negates some of the depth of field advantage when compared to an f/1.8-2.8 lens.

Figure 6. Sony PMW-X70

The time and date stamp in 60i mode means I can use the X70 on legal video depositions, and the addition of three ND filters, the dual XLR inputs required of any professional video camera, the higher-bitrate XAVC codec, the option to use either a full-size HDMI or 3G HD-SDI output, and both NFC and Wireless LAN support bring some much-needed technological advancement to the under-$2,500 camcorder market. I felt the additional features and performance improvements were significant enough that I sold my Canon XA20 and bought a Sony X70.

Field Recorder/Monitor: Atomos Shogun

It used to be that you bought an external HD recorder, such asthe venerable AJA Ki Pro, when you wanted to record with a higher bitrate, chroma subsampling ratio, color bit depth, and intraframe codec.

It used to be that you bought an external HD monitor (such as a SmallHD or Marshall model) when you wanted to monitor your live video on a larger screen, with a higher resolution, brighter nit count, and with the support of monitoring features such as zebras, peaking, histograms, and guide frames.

Now you can both record and monitor 4K video on a signal device with all the above features and more. The Atomos Shogun (Figure 7, below) was chosen as the featured external monitor and recorder by Sony for its α7s launch, a testament to how much trust Sony has in Atomos, a relatively new company that launched at NAB 2011 with Ninja and Samurai external HD recorder prototypes.

atomos shogun

Figure 7. Atomos Shogun

While competitors utilize expensive and proprietary recording media, the Shogun gives its users the option of recording on single or RAID-configured 2.5" HDDs or SSDs from an approved list. The savings can be significant, ranging from 50% on lower-capacity SSDs to $970 savings compared to a competitor’s $1,400 1TB SSD.

With its Rec. 709-calibrated 7" 1920x1200 IPS touchscreen display, 3D LUT support, 4K HDMI and 12G HD-SDI video inputs, and XLR audio input via supplied LEMO breakout cable, the Atomos Shogun packs a lot of punch in its $2,000 package.

Webcast Solution: vMix 4K with vMix Social

Vertical integration is when two or more stages of video production are combined in a single product. You might say that the first camcorder was the original vertically integrated video production product, as it combined the video camera with a video recorder. Combining the ability to switch, webcast, play back video and slides, add titles, and record HD video definitely qualifies the vMix product as an example of software that successfully and professionally vertically integrates hardware together to perform video production functions that would otherwise require multiple discrete hardware and/or software solutions. The company’s hardware support list ( is a who’s who of hardware that supports DirectShow-compatible drivers (meaning vMix plays well with others) and you can buy preconfigured systems or build your own.

In 2014, vMix took vertical integration one step further with the vMix Social plugin (Figure 8, below) that allows video switcher and webcast operators the ability to composite real-time social media from Twitter and Facebook interactions as onscreen titles. The vMix social plugin allows the producer to view, queue, and send tweets and Facebook posts to the vMix title software. This task can be assigned to a social media producer and operated from a phone, tablet, or network-connected laptop or computer, enabling or freeing the switcher operator from that function.


Figure 8. vMix Social

In a day and age where paid SaaS subscription models are popular (and expected) pricing strategies, vMix is winning a lot of fans with a freemium strategy that starts with a very capable Basic offering and extends to four different paid perpetual license options, costing between $60 and $700 with free upgrades for a year. Incredibly, vMix social is a free plugin, available in both free and paid versions.

Related Articles
Rather than tempt you with the Next Big Thing, in this "Gear of the Year" feature we invited three contributing writers—and producers in their own right—to choose four products each, all released in the last year, that have proven themselves indispensable to professional online video production and webcasting workflows, or represent the best currently available choices in their particular category.