Sony HXR NX30 Production Report

I’ve now used the NX30 in several productions including music and corporate.

Last week I completed an 8 minute fund-raising video in Los Angeles which I thought would be a good video to elaborate on the NX30s capabilities in “run and gun” production.

Rather than go into the subject of what I mean by “run and gun” at any great length here, I’ve decided to take that up separately in a later blog. But to be clear, it’s in this type of shooting that the camera shines. It’s a rather competent “wing man”.

This production “The Locke High School Project” was definitely run and gun. Despite requests for various things to be lined up in advance of my arrival, very little was planned. Some things that were planned were faulty in terms of permissions, and some things planned simply fell through. It was up to me to pull it all together in a relatively short period of time to accomplish the objective of a video capable of appealing to a particular prospective donor of parting with $2,550,000.

If you can, watch the video in Full HD in order to evaluate the performance of the NX30.

You can watch the video now if you’d like and then read the comments below, or visa versa (or watch it twice).

1) It starts off with a sunset beach scene. That wasn’t planned. That was an off-the-cuff solution to a celebrity endorser to introduce the video who wasn’t able to be scheduled due to other commitments.  I didn’t want to have Sidney (the client making the appeal) to be bragging about his own accomplishments in order to position himself in the beginning of the video, but when the celebrity fell through and time had run out on my stay, I told him to grab his french horn and race down to the beach with me for sunset as a back-up to the original plan.

We got there in the last minute, and, as you can image, with no time for dilly-dallying, I just parked him on the sand and told him to start playing while I shot the footage.

If you’ve read my earlier blogs or seen any of the videos, you’ll know that I’m not a tripod or camera support system fan. In the old days working with crews, I’d have an assistant who took care of all that stuff giving me the time to plan angles and so forth.  When you’re solo, and in a rush, there’s little time for all that. Plus it’s a pain in the backside to clean out all the sand off your equipment after a beach shoot.

That’s why I love the NX30. Those shots are all hand-held. Not a speck of sand on any of my equipment.  But more than that, I could just turn the camera on in full intelligent auto mode and start shooting. It locked focus on the face and set its own exposure and colour balance.  What you see there isn’t even altered in post.

2) The sit-down interview with Sidney was shot on a tripod (as were the later interview scenes) because even I’m not masochistic or stupid enough to hold the camera for a 30 minute interview.

But here again, look at the beautiful clarity of the image. No, it’s not that shallow depth-of-field DSLR look. But with nice lighting, composition and tonal separation, what difference does it make for the purpose?  That’s a serious question. If it was shallow depth of field would it make it any better in terms of communication value?

I like shallow depth of field too. But that immediately taxes your attention that much more in terms of setting and maintaining focus. In this type of shooting, I’d much rather have more of my attention available for other things and not worrying about focus. Once I start that camera rolling, I’m no longer looking at the camera or the monitor. I’m chatting with the person. Nice to know the camera isn’t going to let that face go out-of-focus if he happens to shift or move.

3)  Shooting in the school.

This video was almost a disaster. I knew it was vitally important to get permission to shoot and interview in the school which was on the list of things I required to have set up in advance of my arrival.  When we got to the school we luckily got the athletic director to take us around. Here again, the little NX30 did not get a lot of attention due to its size. Could have been a different story with a larger “professional-looking” camera.

So what I did was tag along during the tour and just kept the camera running constantly. I had a radio mic on the athletic director and wore headphones so I could hear what they were talking about, but my main objective was to grab as much footage as I could.

Later we did the sit-down interview after which we stole over to the music department for about 40 minutes and obtained what the footage there on a similar basis.

Our time was up and we had to leave even though I wanted more. Interviews with sports students for example. But when it came time to go back to the school for that with fingers crossed, we ran head-on into the full bureaucracy of requiring written permissions based on submitting script, list of shots, video distribution plans, etc.

And since the marketing arm of the school would not be keen to show what needs to be shown in a FUND-RAISING video for the school’s inadequacies, I knew that road was closed. And we were out of time anyway.

So how did the NX30 perform?  I had it in Active Mode, Full intelligent auto. None of those “steadicam shots” were processed in post. Even though one shoots that sort of shots in wide angle for obvious reasons, there’s still the chance that the camera will decide to focus on something stupid. But the NX30 was set to keep track of faces and I could see it boxing in the faces as I moved, so my confidence was high (and not let down) in terms of focus. Or exposure, for that matter.

Short anecdote:  After we left the school for the second time without permission to shoot inside, I walked around outside to try to get a shot that showed a lot of students. Unfortunately the school was fenced like a prison. Nowhere in the entire circumference of the school was I able to see inside. Then, as I completed my walk around I noted an electric driveway gate opening. I stood ready, and as soon as the vehicle left and the gate started to close, I planted myself in the opening and grabbed a slow panning shot that showed a large group of students changing classes. I had one chance and only a few seconds. One shot.  And the NX30 backed me up by taking care of all the technical details.

3)  As I was leaving we got our hands on an old year book. I needed some historical shots. I used my Canon 600 to take stills of most of the shots I wanted out of the book (animating them in editing), but there are a couple of panning shots in there I did with the NX30 in Active Mode. That’s kind of difficult to do smoothly so close up, so in this case I further stabilised the shots in post to a very nice result.

AN IMPORTANT DISCOVERY ABOUT THE NX30

In some of my earlier corporate productions (and on this one too), I would come home to find to my horror that some of my interview shots were soft on focus. It was both unnerving and baffling.

Then it happened on this production on the interviews with both the original music teacher and the current one. As I watched these interviews I could see the camera slowly drifting from foreground to background over and over. I had NO IDEA what caused this and thought I might have a camera fault to be fixed.  (this is why the interview with the current music teacher starts with an unusually long amount of B roll before we actually see him talking. Likewise, near the end of the video the original music teacher is coming out of a dissolve which hides the moment when the shot is coming into focus and cuts to B roll just before it rolled out-of-focus)

The next day when I was setting up to do the interview with Sidney, I put the camera on the tripod and did what I usually do: shut off the stabilisation. As I did that I noticed something flash on the viewfinder screen. And a little notice came up that said something like “turn off intelligent auto”.  I looked closer and saw that what had flashed on the screen was the little intelligent auto icon turning off (greying out; going inactive).

Ah ha!  Intelligent auto only works in Active Mode! Makes sense too. That’s when you really need it.

So the lesson learned is: When shooting on a tripod with stabilisation turned off, you MUST set focus manually. You can either turn off auto-focus once it’s focused on the subject you want, or just turn it off and manually focus it on the subject.

Ok, that will be my last word on the NX30. Hope it helps any of you who are looking to buy a camera.

And thanks to the 50,000 of you who, at this writing, watched the 2 Part Sony HXR NX30 review making it the most watched and highly rated video review of the NX30 on the internet.

Yeah, I heard some of your complaints about it too and agree with you, so I’ll  incorporate those points next time.

(hey, what do you know–this is my 50th blog post!)

34 Responses to “Sony HXR NX30 Production Report”

  1. Hi there, – just received nx 30u – took some amazing video, but had one problem – playback in camera fine – also fine hdmi to tv – but when I try to go from camera to computer – or put sd card in computer – I get only video no audio – any idea of what’s going on?

    • Hi Jeff, Hard to say without knowing what program you’re using. FCPX imports the AVCHD file automatically and knows what to do with it. If you had audio on camera playback, it’s in the file. So, depending on your editing program, you may have to take an extra step to break down the AVCHD file. I forget off=hand, but on the original “Pure Frickin’ Magic” post, I named the program that will transcode the AVCHD package if your editing program won’t do it automatically. Just search for that article and you’ll find it there.

      • Thanks for the advice – really appreciate it – I will definitely try that. The 2 programs I have tried it on with no success were windows media player and adobe premier pro css 5.5 – It does work with sony programs like play memories, and the utility pgm that comes with the nx 30. Will let you know what happens.

      • Hi there. – Well I found the answer to the audio problem with windows. The default was set to lcm audio format – windows and adobe premier pro don’t recognize this format. But if you go into the camera menu and change the audio format to dolby digital – everything works. Wanted to let you know, in case someone else has this problem (windows 7)

      • Three cheers! Glad you got it sorted!

  2. hyperperception Says:

    Hi,
    The for the follow up, I can totally relate to your experience. I did purchase 5 nx30 for a non profit doing videos in West Africa and I must admit : they were amazing and saved us few times then the locals had to use them in school, this camera help you so much when you need to, but can also leave you a fair amount to of manual control. But tracking in face focus, stabilisation and even the projector (it’s hard to find a computer there) were absolutely amazing….

    So now, my question is… That was few years ago.. What’s the new game in town for running and shooting in 2014? Or is the nx30 is still the kind? (I could easily imaging using it with one of those new Sony mirrorless camera that are providing an amazing dynamic range), but what’s your take in this?

  3. Antonio Luz Says:

    Hi Joe. I bought NX30 and it records the noise while I’m moving my hand on the handgrip of the camera. Any tips to reduce this type of interference? Thank you so much!

    • Hmmm. Sounds like you’re holding the camera in your right hand with your fingers through it’s leather strap. I used to do that with my Canon XHA1 which is slightly bigger, and certainly with the larger shoulder-mounted cameras, but that NX30 is so small I always hold it with two hands in front of me and use the LCD screen. I mainly do that as it’s easier to get steadier shots, but also my hands never move on the camera or grip, so there’s nothing mechanical to transmit to the microphone.

  4. Just let you know that the video introduction with your beach scene and the french hornist is a creative art of videography. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  5. Hello Joe.

    You’ve sold me! I just bought both the sony NEX EA50UH, for the sit-down shallow depth of field interviews & the Sony HXR NX30 to run and gun. These will replace my Panasonic HVX200A and get something that shoots 1080p and 1920×1080. Your blogs, video reviews are excellent and have really helped. Thanks!. Hopefully you’re on retainer to Sony $$$$. Keep communicating… Like you, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years and still amazed that people pay me to do this for a living and I do it as a hobby. Nothing like enjoying what you do with practical hands-on knowledge from the viewfinder to the heart. I’ll let you know what I find in a couple of weeks.

    • Hi Rick, Wow! You’re all set! Funny I was just thinking to do something similar myself–a full format camera for interviews and NX30 for the rest. I’m interested in some of the smaller Sony large sensor cameras and hopefully later this summer I’ll have some time to test them. No retainer from Sony, but interesting this week alone I’ve had several people like yourself writing in to say they bought either an NX30, EA50–and most recently, TWO NX30s. Looking forward to your report in a few weeks. Joe

  6. Hey Joe! Quick question… you wouldn’t happen to know the color sample rate for this camera? I have searched my owners manual, as well as the Sony website, and can’t find this in the technical specifications anywhere. I want to use the camera for green screen work, and a workshop I recently attended at this year’s NAB conference suggested that, in order to get good keys, I really need to use a camera with no less than a 4:2:2 color sample rate. I have seen a couple online forum posts where one person said the NX30 had a 4:2:0 rate… but then someone else said that it had a 4:2:2 rate. I even talked to the tech guys at the Sony booth at NAB, and no one seemed to be able to give me the answer (which I thought was quite odd). Have you used your NX30 for any green screen work? If so… how did it work out? Any help you might give to find this info would be much appreciated! Thanks a million!!!!!! :)

    John – Detroit, MI

    • John, Oh boy. You’re above my pay grade there! I don’t do green screen work and am unfamiliar with these sorts of specs. I do suspect however (I have been on green screen shoots in my past career with both film cameras and video), that those specs are a little pedantic. I say that because I’ve seen green screen done on consumer grade cameras and I know modern editing programs are pretty good at processing green screen shots–much better than they used to. Arguments about 4:2:0 rate versus 4:2:2 seem a little bit silly to me. If you’re asking the question and are considering a $2000 camera, my guess is that there won’t be much difference between what you could do with the NX30 and one twice it’s price. Undoubtedly, if you were using a high end pro camera for dedicated green screen work, the question wouldn’t even come up, but you’d be in a completely different ballpark in terms of price and in terms of your own command of green screen shooting. In short, I wouldn’t worry so much about it. But don’t take my word for it. You’re going to have to ask some people who know that subject well. I’d be interested to know in the end how it all turns out and if what I suspect is the case actually is the case.

  7. Thanks for all the great information on this camera. I can’t find any detail on the viewfinder though. What’s it like? I’ve been using a JVC GY HM150 which is a good camera but the viewfinder is awful – like looking through a tunnel and distorted. I’m interested because I find myself wanting to use a viewfinder in bright sunlight or is the LCD screen so bright not to have to worry?

    • It’s a small camera, so its viewfinder is correspondingly small. It pulls out (which starts the camera) and flip up at about 45%. I never use it. As a note, if you get the larger capacity batteries which protrude rearward more, the pull-out viewfinder won’t flip up. You’ll generally find the flip out viewfinder usable in daylight. And if you find yourself in a super bright situation where you’re uncertain, the intelligent auto system will handle it for you (focus, exposure, colour temp)

  8. Great post Joe! I enjoyed the play by play on the NX30u. I enjoy learning from you. I send well wishes and success to the “Locke High School Project”.

  9. Mark McIlvena Says:

    Hi Joe… Now THAT’S a great idea.
    Please kick off an NX30 fan club sometime soon?
    In the meantime… Is there a user forum for these cameras that you know of? I recently purchased an NX30p as a replacement for my much loved, but sadly… long in the tooth, DSR-PDX10. My purchase decision was made much on the strength of your now famous ‘Pure Freakin Magic’ vid.
    Absolutely love the camera, BUT… I find the included operation manual really hard to fathom in parts. Problem is, I think, they’ve got the tech wizards who invent these cameras also writing the manuals! (Tho granted… this is a better option than really good manual writers designing our cameras.)
    For example – ‘Fixed Shot / Photo’.
    I’ve read the section on this button over and over, and had extended ‘plays in the field’ and I’m still in the dark. With the ‘on camera’ button label, are they implying that a ‘fixed shot’ is just another word for a ‘Still’? Surely not. What I’ve discovered so far is that the ‘mode’ button appears to have an effect… tho I’m not sure what/when. Obviously in photo mode the button simply takes a still photo… easy! However in video mode, a little ‘fixed’ icon appears on screen and toggles on and off. So does ‘fixed shot’ have something to do with a short cut for disabling the optical block/digital stabilisation system in video mode as in ‘fixed’ meaning on a tripod? It also appears, going by the manual, that I can’t take stills on the fly, (whilst REC-ording) when set to best quality HD 1080/50p.
    The reason I’m VERY curious to nut this out? In an attempt to secure a slightly thicker slice of an already minuscule budget on an upcoming job, I’ve offered to take the stills while shooting the live action (Against my better judgement)
    So just wondering if you’ve had a tinker with this feature, and may be able to shed some light. I’m sure it’s a smart camera… and I’m just a ‘challenged’ reader.
    Thank you Joe… (See… if you had your NX30 fan club up and running someone else could take the trouble to answer my Q)
    Best regards and thank you for a really cool, funny and informative website.
    Mark M – Airle Beach, Queensland Australia

    • Thanks Mark,

      I couldn’t figure out which great idea you were talking about and had to assume it was one I made to someone on the NX30 Production Report post on writing an ebook (which I just started researching last night in terms of what platform to use. I think I’ll start with Apple’s iBook as it allows interactive content more easily; then I can export a text-only version to Kindle). Anyway, YOUR idea is a great one too. For either one I’m going to need a little downtime, something I’m reluctant to wish for!

      As to that “Fixed Shot” mode, I couldn’t figure it out either for what little time I put into it out of curiosity. Again, need a little downtime.

      If it won’t take stills in best quality, just export some stills out of your editing program. I’ve done that occasionally (twice) for clients who asked for stills. If you shoot in 50p, you’ll have a good chance of getting stills without blur during moments of the least camera movement. They seem to come out pretty good, though I haven’t compared them directly with the stills that the camera can produce.

      My dirty little secret is that I almost always shoot in full intelligent auto now. I explained that also in the comment section of “Sony HXR NX 30 Production Report” recently.

      Can always count on the Aussies to appreciate a dry sense of humour!

      • Mark McIlvena Says:

        Hi Joe,
        We Aussies have to keep laughing or we’d run away. It’s hot, there’s no water, lotsa flies… and pretty much everything living in the bush is trying to kill us (I even got attacked once by a Koala!)
        The ‘great idea’ I was referring to was a short response you made to another recent NX30 purchaser along the lines of, “Welcome to the NX30 fan club”. So Joe… please drop everything and start one!
        Re the ‘fixed shot’ button mystery, I too thought of just exporting Hi Res stills from the FCPX timeline. The client has requested a ‘companion’ booklet with the DVD, (It’s a river users safety project), so for print quality the images need to up to commercial standard. I’ll chop a couple out and see how they look.
        And on your closing comment, my very own ‘dirty little secret’ is that I’ve ALWAYS shot pretty much everything on whatever auto setting my old, but extremely capable, PDX10 offered up. When I started out making Corporate Videos pretty much by accident, I had no idea how to drive the camera. Funny thing is, that when it came to ‘Popcorn Night’ and the client had the first look at their fully finished DVD… Amongst all the cheers, tears, back slapping and offers of naming their first born after me… not once was I ever asked ask about my F-stop settings. It harks back to everything you wrote about ‘unshackled camera work’ on which I wholeheartedly agree. When my eye is in the viewfinder… my head is at the Premiere. And as a solo act I need ‘auto everything’ to pull that off. Hopefully my funny little NX30 will help me keep my secret… secret.
        Thanks for your reply Joe. Keep up the good work.
        Regards Mark – ‘Astraya’

      • Now there’s a real cameraman.
        And like I’ve said somewhere on this blog, the NX30 is a capable wingman. Tight lipped too.
        Perfect combo.

        Best regards, Joe

  10. Hi Joe, the image quality of this video is very good, even with YouTube compressing it to 25fps.
    Can you tell me what file type you render your videos to ?
    Thanks.

    • Hi Ger, I upload out of FCPX direct to YouTube. I used the full HD output setting 1920 X 1080 and select “better quality”. That way, for those who have the broadband capable enough, it’s still selectable in Full HD (even though it’s now 25p). Looks good enough at 720P in YouTube too.

  11. Hi Joe, I am a first time visitor to your blog. I found you because I did a search for “best low light camcorder” and the Sony NX-30 came up which led me to your excellent YouTube videos and this blog.

    I just watched the high school video and wanted to ask if you used an external mic for the interviews and if so, which one?

    Also just an FYI for Ger or anyone else that is interested but I looked on Amazon and it said the PJ790 is being replaced by the PJ810. Not sure if this is considered a little brother to the NX-30. This makes me wonder if you’ve heard about a replacement for the NX-30 coming out this year.

    • Hmmm! Hadn’t heard about the PJ810. Thanks for the heads up!
      As for microphone, because ALL the locations interviews took place in were noisy (including the close-up interview of Sidney), I used my Audio Technica 8031 (cardioid) which is like a reporter’s mic. You can hold it right up to the lips and practically cut out all external noise. I didn’t want to go that far (which is why you see the tip of it in some shots), but that the relatively close distance I had it at was a significant improvement over what I was getting from my omni-directional Rode lapel .

    • Hi Scott, the problem with PJ810 is that it will have a smaller sensor than the PJ790 / NX30.
      The real upgrade at this price level is the HDR-CX900, it has an 8 times larger sensor.
      See Video→ http://YouTu.be/RXY6bywzF2M

      The replacement for the NX30 will probably be similar to the
      new FDR-AX100, this camera actually has functional control buttons and dials Focus/Shutter speed.

  12. Hi Joe, the first time I watched the beach scene I was sure it had to be a $20k pro camera it was so good, and was surprised to see it was your NX30.
    Can I ask what frame rate you shoot at ?
    I have the consumer version HDR PJ780 (it has no XLR imputs)
    and I’ve noticed when panning the image can be very jerky at 24/25p, but at 50i or 50p it’s perfectly smooth.
    Example from your video→http://YouTu.be/zcTXAP-wxis?t=1m43s
    1:43 – 1:48
    Thank you for the blog and videos, I’ve learnt quite a bit :)

    • Sounds like you watched it in full HD? Big difference!
      I might be getting that PJ780 myself as a second camera (fingers crossed a certain commission goes through). Only need one with XLR inputs, so it’ll be like having 2. What a deal!
      I always shoot at 50p. Some like 25 (better, 24) for that “filmic” look. What a bunch of hogwash! When I shot film I felt it was a distinct dis-advantage! You pointed out the obvious advantage of 50 which is smoother motion as there are twice as many pictures per unit of time. No reason to shoot inter-laced by the way (if you’re shooting for web).
      You’re welcome for the blog and videos. Check out the one I just uploaded on “How to Get Rid of WD Smartware”. It’s a gag. Hoping it catches on with those who have had that problem. But should give a chuckle even if you have no idea of what the problem is. (unique to Western Digital external drive owners, particularly Mac people). Cheers!

      • Maybe take a look at the US version PJ790, if the video is for YouTube, you could shoot at 60p and drop it down to 30p which is YouTube’s max frame rate at the moment, also the slo-mo is nicer using 60p and is even more dream like when going from 60p to 24p a perfect 60% reduction in speed.

      • You’re quite right. I’d totally forgotten that YouTube maxes out at 30fps, but it just goes to show that their compression software really has come a long way from the old days. I’m truly impressed with the result they give with my 50fps footage in full HD, not to mention the several other rates they provide at the same time.

  13. Well done Joe. By now I’m not surprised anymore by the stunning results of the NX-30. Like you, I too am madly in love with this little wonder of a camera. In late January I began shooting a feature length documentary in Hungary. Given the weather (-15 C on the first shooting day – it snowed horizontally due to a strong wind), the circumstances and my decision not to use ‘classic’ or ‘sit-down’ interviews, almost all of the material was shot handheld. The results so far are little short of AMAZING. In one scene I followed a group of people working in a wood, the snow was knees deep, but the tracking shoots look like taken with a steady-cam. At one point I decided to keep some distance from them, not to influence the group dynamics with my presence, so I stood a good 15-20 meters away, zoomed-in, and carefully panned from face to face or took details of people working, again, unbelievable results. I did encounter one little problem, due to the freezing temperature, the ‘blinds door’ in front of the lens will not close down when closing the LCD panel. I had to warm up the camera’s front in the car while the warming system blew hot air before it will close down. I doubt if one can find a better ‘run & gun’ camera out there.

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