Pure Frickin’ Black Magic–Sony PXW X70

Pure Frickin’ Black Magic

Well, I had to title it that way so you know it’s me.

The Sony HXR NX30 review (Pure Frickin’ Magic) got 80,000 views between its two parts at this writing and became the top search result for that camera within a few months of it’s upload and has been ever since. Thanks to all of you who watched it, commented and shared.

This PXW X70 review is a bit long (24 minutes-yikes!). I hope it’s worth your time.

Many have asked if the stabilisation is as good as the NX30’s. In this review you’ll find a side by side comparison with both cameras on the same mount during long, sustained walking shots both from behind and from in front of the subject. The answer to that question will be obvious.

This is a 1″ sensor camera with a fixed lens. It’s ‘4K ready’ meaning Sony plans to release a future firmware upgrade (for a fee).

It’s slightly bigger and heavier than the NX30, but is still a small camera, perfect for run and gunners.

You will get nicer interview shots in terms of depth of field, but it won’t be as nice as some of the more expensive 1″ sensor cameras with interchangeable fast lenses or DSLRs. You’ll see samples of what your interview shots can look like in the review.

Personally I haven’t bought into the whole ‘cinematic’ look as being a vital commodity in corporate video production. Whether ‘cinematic’ or otherwise, if a video producer gets the message across with clarity and impact resulting in increased name recognition or sales or whatever the objective is,  he’s done his job and the client is happy. Technical rendition will never trump message and too many people are so into their technical rendition that they forget the main reason they’re producing a video in the first place. That said, for those pros who innately apply that principle (and many do), nothing wrong with ‘cinematic’.

This camera is ideal for the lone shooter for its size, ease of operation, intelligent auto systems, stabilisation, and now, more of an edge on shallow depth of field than smaller sensor cameras in this class. Not to mention its price at £1800/well under $2500.

Due to it’s larger size, it’s got a lot more easy access buttons for various aspects of manual control.

The menu is easy to access and is loaded with features.

It can shoot in AVCHD mode like the NX30, but also in XAVCHD which takes full advantage of the full HD information. It’s a format designed to handle 4K.

With shooting modes capable of 50mbps, the camera qualifies for broadcast quality. I can’t speak for the BBC, but I’ve already gotten a green light from another national station that may use some of my footage for a program being done on Belvoir Castle on which estate I live.

But as with the NX30, the reason I bought this camera is for the corporate videos I do as a lone shooter.

As I talk about in the ebook ‘Run ‘n Gun Videography–the Sole Shooters Survival Guide’, I like to travel light and fast.

Where some walk into a corporate video loaded down with a truck load of armaments,  I walk in with a 6 shooter and get the job done. A friend recently told me you have to impress them with your fancy cameras. In his case he brings along the fancy cameras along with his small ones. In the end, it’s the small ones that get used in his edits. Why go through all the trouble? I’ve never once had anyone comment on the size of my camera. No, I take that back…when I used to travel with the big ones, I got a lot more trouble from security and police. But that’s because I was alone and didn’t have an organisation working ahead to clear everything.

And when you’re alone, you need a camera that’s ‘got your back’.

It was uploaded in full 1080 HD, so be sure to select that in the YouTube drop down menu for best evaluation of the footage.

The second video below is simply a 2 minute excerpt of the first one and features the side by side comparison of the X70 to the NX30 in Active Mode stabilisation.

The third video there is Sony’s promo for the camera mentioned in my review. The detail shots of the artisan glass truly showcase the image quality the camera is capable of.

There are a few of points where the audio dropped low and/or I forgot to add a filter to a bit I added. Unfortunately it was late and I didn’t catch it before the 22 hour upload, so sorry about that!

(UK videographers/photographers see note below the videos)

UK BUYERS:

When I bought the NX30 I bought it from Jigsaw24.com out of Nottingham. I was so impressed with their courteous and helpful prompt replies to emails and lightning fast delivery (paid one afternoon and it was on my doorstep next morning), I added a link on the blog. I did note that many people clicked on it but have no idea if any sales resulted.

This time I contacted the Sales Manager Andy Crawford and asked him if were to do mention it on the blog again if he would offer any incentive. He said he would. How much, I don’t know. But these guys were so upbeat, knowledgable and service oriented, when I bought the X70 I didn’t even shop for prices. I just went back to Jigsaw 24, bought it, and received it next day again.

Check out their site for all they have to offer in professional video and audio equipment (and more).

But if you want to buy the X70, Andy says to contact him directly at:   andyc@jigsaw24.com

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60 responses

  1. I’m finding your videos and blog the most useful so far in my search. Sometimes when shooting video, I or a client will request stills from the shoot. I understand the Sony XP30 has a still mode, that you referred to in your review. I also read above that the X70 does not have this feature. Are stills grabbed from video equal? Are they good enough to compare with a decent DSLR still? Thank you.

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    • You can grab stills from any video footage (and I just supplied a client with about 30 frame grabs from NX30 footage), but frame grabs will never be as good as a DSLR still because: 1) video footage frame rates are designed to help impart the illusion of motion. In actual fact, most video footage–even if shot at 50fps–will have a slight motion blur. The trick is going through to find relatively still moments from which you can grab a still. I find the section I want and frame by frame go through it to find a suitable still. Of course you can use the NX30 as a still camera and there you have the option to manually set a higher ‘shutter speed’. When shooting on a DSLR your shutter speeds for shooting people and motion are generally no slower than 1/60 sec, but usually much higher, say 1/125 second or faster. At 50p, your individual frames are 1/100th second. Most people shoot at 25 or 30 fps and the purists shoot video at 24 fps. Double each of those and you get the respective ‘shutter speeds’. So while you can shoot stills on the NX30, when shooting a video production one rarely takes the time to change modes and shoot stills. Might as well have a real still camera along with you. But for practical purposes, you can grab stills off the video footage with the above caveat.

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      • Thank you for your fast response, and also for overlooking my clumsily calling the NX30 the wrong name! It seems like the cost difference between the two has come down to virtually nothing. Is there any other benefit to purchasing the NX30 over the X70? Aside from the differences in weight (slight) and image stabilization (another reviewer claimed the NX30 handled some motion better), I can’t really think of any reason, although those (weight and stabilization) are both critical areas to me. The only other area of concern would be easy of keeping everything manual. I do some video blog posts and my wife kindly operates the camera, but it is better if I can simply hand it to her with minimal set-up.

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      • You’ll find the X70 easier to use in manual. One simple switch and several others which allow you to control shutter, iris and gain. You can even leave one or more in auto (such as setting your iris but letting the camera set its own gain (iso). I think you saw my X70 video. In there was a side-by-side comparison between the NX30 ad X70. There’s no discernible difference. The only caveat being that the NX30 will shoot slightly wider than the X70 because the X70 does it all with image processing and so crops your field of view slightly. That said, I think by your own criterion, the X70 is your better choice. It little more money, a lot more features–including 4K (a paid-for upgrade)

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  2. Someone somewhere said that X70 has an automatic face-smoothening e
    effect that cannot be turned off. Have you noticed this or know what this is about? I was thinking of purchasing DX 70 today from B&H. Thanks for your help.

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    • No, that’s false information. It has ‘face recognition’ which works really well in intelligent auto mode for recognising and focusing on faces. Plus you can touch the screen to give priority to a certain face if there are more than one. Other than that, there is no special software for faces.

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      • Thank you for the reassuring (and quick) response.I’m also curious whether you are as impressed with the x70, now having used it more extensively,as when you first reviewed it. Has it maintained its luster?

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      • If you’ve followed my blog or read my book ‘Run and Gun Videography’, you’ll know that I’ve been in the biz over 40 years and used just about everything in terms of cameras and support equipment–stuff that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. When I went solo, I went for the least amount of stuff that was top quality and could fit in two cases. I could care less about ‘impressive-looking’ cameras and fancy sliders and all the rest. I found I could do with the NX30, just about anything I wanted to do in terms of motion shots (short duration slides, booms, walking shots, etc. And I could hold it as steady as a tripod for all intent and purposes. I still use the NX30 a lot do to its size and weight. To answer your question, the X70 hasn’t lost its luster. I use it exclusively for interviews and interchangably with the NX30. I will soon get around to doing the 4K upgrade which will increase its value in post production (still out-putting in 1080). So, for someone doing the type of shooting I do, it’s perfect. It’s smart and light and small. I don’t like big. I don’t like shoulder mounted cameras or long ones that you can’t whip around in small spaces or hold very long without getting tired. Both these fit the bill. Their best features are the intelligent auto-systems and stabilisation. Picture quality is great and they’re reliable. The X70 is much easier to quickly switch back and forth between auto and manual, and also lets you easily select WHICH thing or things you want to manually control while letting others stay automatic. Or, of course, you can go total manual–but then that’s not my style of shooting which is fast (so I utilise auto features a lot). Check out this one for example. Even the opening shot is hand-held with titles. The ONLY thing in the whole video that’s on a tripod is the interview with Phil Burtt. All else, even the interview with the Duchess, is hand-held on the run…all shot over 2 days and edited in one. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUxfITxwuKI

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      • Thank you again––thank you very much, really––for the time and energy you put into your response, a response that has reassured me that my purchase of the x 70 was on the mark. I have now gone on to thinking about which editing software I should purchase and I spoke with Apple, who told me that my mid-2014 MacBook Pro running Yosemite 10.1 0.3 would not run the current FCP X and that I would need El Capitan, the new OS––all this from the person at Apple who was an expert in Final Cut Pro X. I’ve not seen any posts about this before.

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      • It won’t run the new FCPX 10.2 (whatever it is) but it will run everything before. Don’t worry about it yet. Though when you can, El Capitan (which I’m not even running yet) apparently does wonders with memory management and power consumption. I don’t think there’s anything else really major with the lastest FCPX that you won’t have on your current system. Update when you can, because when FCPX does have major upgrades–which is bound to be soon–you won’t be able to run them.

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  3. For those looking for an incredible easy way to manual white balance your Sony PXW-X70 by using an assigned button push please read:
    Please go to your menu, others, assign button, choose assign 3 (the picture profile button since it’s right next door to WHT BAL), choose WB set. Go to camera’s manual / auto mode next to EVF & make sure you’re in MANUAL, find a white surface, hit WHT BAL, choose A or B with scroll wheel next to your menu button, then hit button 3 (picture profile) while in the white and bingo, you’re manually white balanced. The lambs have stopped screaming.

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  4. I must be missing something. I now have an x70 and love it. Just for fun I was looking through the manual re a still picture and could not find how to do it. You are doing a great service to us all with your blog.

    Thanks Bob

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  5. “There’s an article on the Run and Gun Videography blog under audio solutions where a pro does a comparison with many of these mics.” Couldn’t find the article. Please provide the link. Thanks.

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      • Please recommend a good external mic; not too wide angle recording and reasonably priced. PS are you familiar with the Rode Videomic Pro?

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      • I’d go with the Audio Technia 8035 cardioid ‘reporters mic’ or the Audio Technica 875R super cardioid short rifle mic. They have better side cancellation than the Rode. There’s an article on the Run and Gun Videography blog under audio solutions where a pro does a comparison with many of these mics. The AT mics are great quality at a much lower price than the prized Sennheiser mics. As to ‘not too wide angle’. The cardioid pattern is fairly directional and the super cardioid pattern is very directional.

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      • The same software upgrade one can make already with a file named “Update_PXWX70V102” – downloadable from Sony’s “secret” web page? BTW, how one does this software upgrade at home, so to speak?

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  6. Hi Joe

    Do you know if the PXW-X70 will imbed time and date . I shoot depositions and have to have that running as overlay on final edit. Also can the camera run of mains power through the charger

    Thank

    Bob

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  7. Hi there, I enjoyed your x70 review. I was just wondering if you think the x70 is worth the extra money over the NX30. Right now there is about a $1,000 US dollar difference between them. Assuming someone doesn’t need or care about 4K, would you suggest just sticking with a NX30? If not, why? (Maybe this can be the subject of a future blog post or video?) Also, will your Run and Gun book focus mainly on the x70, the NX30, both or neither?

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    • It’s worth the extra money, but that said, you’d be quite happy with the NX30 as I still am. The book mentions both in the context of being compact, high quality, easy-and fast-to-use high quality cameras, but focuses on neither. I’m in France now, and the NX30 is the one I carry around for fun. It also takes great stills which the X70 can not. Speaking of the book–getting close now. Working on the formatting which turns out to be very particular for ebooks and we’re hoping to get it right the first time…

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  8. Catalyst Browse now allows multiple files transcoding (ver. 1.1.0.87)
    problems:
    1- XAVC to XAVC intra (full) get the files 5times bigger. But at least the mxf can be edited.
    2- if you transcode directly from the card then wait until all the files are fully analyzed (it takes forever), before selecting. Otherwise it will not perform the multiple transcoding

    This is the first answer after months of useless Xavc on x70. It’s free so I applaud and thank the guys @browse , but this is still NOT the answer for the (now a little frustrated) X70 buyers who just want to use the files without going crazy with this idiotic transcoding.

    Like

    • I really wonder if the end result is worth dealing with files that are 5X bigger. (doesn’t pro res make them 4X bigger–and do you mean 5X including the transcode to pro res?) Anyway, heard FCPX will have a plug-in for XAVC-L in January. Just a rumour, but stands to reason. Any reason by those of us working for web export should trouble with XAVC-L that you know of?

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      • No reason, at least at the moment . But things are changing fast and you want to produce at the best quality possible. The problem with the XAVC is kinda serious: I’m ok with the size on the card, less ok with the transcoded size but the real question is “which one do I want to store and backup?”. the original (XAVC from the card) or the transcoded? For example my needs are like this: I shoot 2hrs games twice a week for a living and the size of 2hrs transcoded is next to absurd. considering that I have to keep the footage saved somewhere . I don’t care of the edited version, but I do care of the original footage and at the moment I can’t use XAVC not only because of the size but also because I don’t know if in 2 years will be workable. and if things go on like this I have a bad feeling about it. That said I still wanna see how this joke ends: like 60p that works only on youtube but in chrome. But we (all) shoot in 60p hoping that things will change… same thing with XAVC. Nobody knows the real value of it and why it was so poorly implemented.
        Anyway my distribution is now MP4 on DVD (data, not DVD video). I try to stay away from the web, for obvious reasons LOL

        Like

  9. I shared your frustration with the XAVC S files until I discovered “Wonder Share.” It’s $59, but well worth it. Great with 4k too.

    Like

    • They’re not XAVC S Bill, they’re XAVC Long GOP. Are you using the X70? Or do you know if Wonder Share works with the XAVC Long GOP files? Many programs will handled XAVC S ok. It’s this new one that’s not fully covered yet.

      Like

  10. REMOTES
    Thought I’d bring forward some helpful comments from Mark at Village Voice posted in an earlier blog on this subject. Here they are:

    The vivitar 8 button works fine, and actually is one of the best that I have. The loud click of the rocker is fixable : 3 screws in the back, open , locate the switch of the rocker, put a piece of paper on it, then seal with a gaffer tape, close, screws back and voila’: silent rocker and soft too!!! : functions that work on both AX100 and X70 : zoom speed (8 constant speeds plus a variable on pressure via a dial right on top of the remote). Info on screen on/off. Focus +/-, camera on/off , start/stop recording. The Varizoom VZrock should work as well (not tested by me but somebody has it and said that works). So the camera does read all the serial (RS232) commands from the remote. It depends on the remote. The vivitar (or ebenk) is complete (has it all). The vivitar comes with the female 2.5mm to sony av/r cable. What I like about the vivitar is that is cheap, reliable (I use it for more than a year) and the zoom rocker is vertical (which I like way more than the horizontal ones because is more intuitive). Now for what I do having a constant zoom speed selectable on the fly is priceless: a variable rocker on pressure can be a disaster if I push it too much by mistake while panning (I shoot sports , twice a week). So the vivitar stays in glory. No problem whatsoever on AX100 and X70.
    more about the vivitar (ebenk) : in studio or posed/staged interviews I use 2 remotes (on a tripod with two handles). A simple adapter /splitter for 2.5mm allows the connection of two lanc remotes in chain: so I have the zoom on my left handle and the focus on my right handle (again using 2 remotes). so I stay on the focus with my right hand all the time and on the zoom rocker with my left. (I am left handed) . As it should be in studio, actually. The cost of a setup like that is ridiculous using two vivitar, considering what it offers.

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  11. Thanks a lot for taking the time of doing this review, it came just the day I’m ordering my X70 and it’s cleared some doubts I had.
    I don’t know what’s the deal with Sony but I’m sure they owe you a few sells of this camera and the NX30.
    I’m waiting for that book, as a one man crew I’m sure I’ll learn a few more tricks.

    Like

    • As I told Gary, I don’t think I’ll be doing any more reviews unless the manufacturer gives me the camera to keep, but despite typical English headlines, I don’t think hell will be freezing over anytime soon.

      Like

  12. Another great review Joe. Looks a great camera and I just wish it did 4K out of the box, I would have bought it tomorrow. Your hand held stuff is usually super smooth anyway as your an excellent cameraman (I remember that cricket training footage you did with me, very impressive), but with these cameras it was like being on a steadicam pilot! But without the hassle!

    Loved the Belvoir castle footage, a great test for any camera and the results make the video even more spectacular.

    Wish you did a review like this on the Panasonic X1000 4K camera. It has everything going for it hardware wise, except a tine sensor and people are reporting the image is a letdown. A review from you on that would clear it up one way or the other.

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time on this and I hope your video gets as much attention as your previous one!

    All the best
    Gary Greenwood

    Like

  13. Thank you for your reviews. I have an NX30u and was wondering how you keep the image from jerking left and right.
    I know it has to be the way I am holding the camera and walking. The camera is in Active mode.
    Thanks Michael

    Like

    • Michael, Yes, it does take a steady hand and walk, but it occurred to me that there’s an old post on this blog called ‘A Key to Professional Camerawork’ that covers an aspect you won’t read about in texts. It’s something that comes to most with experience, but knowing about it theoretically might help you improve your handling skills. You see, it’s not just about how you hold the camera; it’s how you use the camera as a tool. The important part is to keep your attention outward as much as possible (not fixated on the camera and mechanics). Anyway, read the article. Other than that, I do hold the camera with two hands in front of me for the most part. Certainly not at shoulder or eye height. I use the screen, not the rear viewfinder. Let me know if this helps. P.S. Glad you reminded me of this because I need to add that as a chapter to the book!

      Like

      • it takes a “cameraman” 🙂
        now a steady take with a canon XL1 in SD with look much much better than a shaky take with an arri alexa XT

        Like

  14. excellent review, down to the important things that count. That glass at the end closed the moment beautifully. This X70 is closer to the EX1 than the AX100 in my opinion. For example it gives the profiles good to limit the blur panning simply decreasing the detail (sharpness), exactly like the EX1. The WB is as complicated as the EX1 used to be LOL . The WB of the AX100 is much easier to set, giving (by the way) a real life monitor in case of manual kelvin (I always do that). on the X70 (after a complicated sequence of keys) you get to change the value but you can’t see the effect on screen while changing it. All minor things. This is a production camera in my opinion good for both handheld and tripod. I did study the advantages of XAVC compared to the AVCHD : let’s say that XAVC shoots @46/47mbps while the AVCHD goes down to 28. But I can’t see any difference (after comparing frame by frame for one entire evening). No difference even grading the colors (one is 10bit and the other 8bit). The difference is about the file size, and if you use catalyst prepare/browse (that nonsense mandatory to produce anything in XAVC) the size becomes ridiculous (5times bigger.. something like that). Broadcast was fine with the 35mbps of the EX1 and is fine with the 28mbps of the X70 in AVCHD. Unless you go live but in that case the output will be SDI , or interlaced. Ive noticed that your style (excellent) for interviews is the good old “closer is better, wider is better). This camera allows more distance . Great surprise: the AF stays, being very difficult to screw-up going to the back like all my previous cameras used to do (the FX1, few panny, the EX1). It’s hard to make the AF of the X70 fail. So now I’m shooting interviews in autofocus (and it feels great) LOL. Plus the pictures are stunning. Great Job, Joe. Thanks.

    Like

    • Mark, thanks. You’re right about the white balance. Seems to me the NX30 shows you the shift in the viewfinder. That’s something they could fix in a firmware update and we should let them know we want it.
      That’s good info on the XAVC vs AVC. Hmmm. I was expecting that there might not be a visible difference, but thought there would be more latitude in post processing–like RAW format in DSLRs. Hope some others pipe up on their experience with this.
      Maybe it’s just the BBC that requires 50mbps–or I could be out-of-date. Not that I shoot for broadcast anyway.
      Note: Be careful about using autofocus in interviews. If you have good separation of subject to background (lighting contrast), you’ll be fine. If you don’t (poor lighting, little subject to background contrast or similar tonal values) you might find the camera every now and then in a quandary, depending on what the person’s face does (in terms of movement). For a sit down interview there’s no reason to not set it manually, but for vox pox and impromptu stuff, it’s definitely a life-saver.

      Like

      • interviews and AF.
        yes of course (my bad, I didn’t specify) I was referring to the interviews on the fly after a game, going on the field or sideline where I have to take care of both the interviewer and the talent. Often there is chaos all around, and no time to setup pretty much anything. Before I used to manual focus on the face or chest of the talent and take it from there -and counting on a long enough depth of field, mostly shooting on wide angle: but I have to keep an eye to the lights, the iris and other stuff as well. now that we produce in much better definition and short DOF a fixed focus for moving targets may not be good enough anymore. So that’s what I do : I use face recognition, it gives a box or two to choose , lock on the face that I want and the X70 starts tracking. If I have to switch to the other face (of the interviewer for example) move the joystick and lock again on the other box, and so on. It works plus I have tracking which means… well you know…
        The idea came to me using a GH2 a couple of times that gives touch focus on the LCD. Brilliant (for these kind of things) but having the fingers on the screen all the time was not practical. still it gave me the idea… LOL
        In studio or when there is time to setup than I use 2 remotes on the tripod handles with one dedicated only to focus, and I go in manual (focus) but I can adjust right from the remote. Like the “real” cameras do LOL

        Like

      • face recognition (and priority)
        Joe that works for free shots with lots of faces, and works very well. But it does more : if you press the joystick on the box/face that you want then the box with the face in it is locked (the color of the box becomes red) and the camera starts tracking. But the other faces will stay boxed (white) while tracking the red one only. Press the joystick again and the red one is unlocked. And you can go from box to box and lock the one that you need if you want to track that one only. With lots of faces (and white boxes) and none locked (red) then the camera decides based on priority. This is by far the best tracking system that I had the pleasure to work with in YEARS.

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      • I read about that in the manual but forgot I guess. Good info. I find a good process is to read the manual, use the camera, and then go back to the manual at which point it makes more sense and you can get more out of it. Haven’t gotten to that step yet!

        Like

    • They have their strengths and their weaknesses. Probably they’re just too big and trying to do too many things in too many areas without granting enough autonomy to the different divisions. Just a guess.

      Like

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