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Preview: Sony HXR-NX5U 1/3” 3-CMOS AVCHD Camcorder

The solid-state cousin to the HVR-Z5U: is HDV dead?

By Adam Wilt | January 04, 2010


Sony's HXR-NX5U, the first in the "NXCAM" line, is a close cousin of the HDV HVR-Z5U, but it records full-resolution AVCHD to Memory Sticks and/or a snap-on 128 GB Flash Memory Unit. I've put a prototype NXCAM NX5U through its paces; let's see how it does, and what it suggests for the future. [Updates: 6 Jan 2010: model #s, prices, availability, SDHC cards, commentary; 7 Jan 2010: FMU price is $800.]



All the prototypes are serial number 0.


Although the camera I saw was a protoype, it looked as solid, polished, and finished as any shipping Sony product. Still, I should warn you that what I'll describe may not match the final product exactly. Sony's protos are normally quite complete, but changes may occur before the production NX5U is delivered.

Overview



The HXR-NX5Uis a handheld camcorder recording 1080i, 1080p, and 720p AVCHD, and standard-definition MPEG-2, on solid-state storage. It weighs about five and a half pounds and is generally the same size as other HD handycams; in particular it's very, very similar to the HVR-Z5u, being about an eighth of an inch taller and wider but an eighth of an inch shorter than that tape-based camcorder.

The HXR-NX5U uses the same lens, sensors, and many operating controls of the HVR-Z5u, but differs by adopting solid-state recording and dropping all pretense of backwards-compatibility: its HD images are recorded as AVCHD and its SD pix are stored as MPEG-2; there's no HDV or DV/DVCAM recording, and there's no FireWire port on the camera since there's no use for it.



NXCAM: AVCHD and MPEG-2. HDV? DV? Fuggedaboudit!


This camera looks forward to the tapeless, data-oriented future; the past simply doesn't matter as far as the NX5U is concerned. If this distresses you, Sony (and Canon and JVC) still offer a diverse selection of HDV and DV/DVCAM camcorders. If you're willing to leave the past behind, though, AVCHD recording offers advantages over HDV, both in picture quality and in operational flexibility.

That the NX5U appears to be a solid-state counterpart to the tape-based Z5u makes it all the more interesting: when the camera ships, we'll be able to see very clearly whether the market votes more for the tape-based Z5u or for the tapeless NX5U, since the cameras are very close in all other respects. But don't think the NX5U is a solid-state copy of the Z5u: the NX5U lacks some of the features of the Z5u, and adds some new ones of its own. Cousins? Yes. Twins? No.

Design, Controls, and Handling




The HXR-NX5U is 6-7/8" wide, 7-5/8" tall, and 17-3/4" long, including its removable shotgun mike; it's 13-3/8" long without it. It tips the scales at around five and half pounds with the mike and the stock NP-F750 battery. (Readers accustomed to sensible metric measurements will find the camera is about 173 x 193 x 449mm, or 340mm long without mike, and it weighs two and a half kilograms.)



The operator's side of the HXR-NX5U.


If it reminds you of the HVR-Z5U, that's no surprise:



The operator's side of the HVR-Z5U.



The Z5U is fronted with a hefty, 20x Sony "G" zoom, which appears to be the same one used on the HVR-Z5u except for the addition of a gold stripe. It starts at 4.1mm and zooms to 82mm; in 35mm still-camera terms, Sony says that's equivalent to 29.5mm - 590mm. Compare that to Sony's figures for the HVR-Z7U (32mm - 384mm) or the EX1/EX3 (31.4mm - 439mm). In side-by-side tests I found the wide end to be virtually identical to the EX1's in practical terms, and noticeably wider than the HVX200's 4.2mm wide angle. Of course, the Z5U beats them all on the telephoto end.

The lens has three free-spinning servo control rings, for focus, zoom, and iris. These lack endstops or external scales, though the camera's displays will show you focus in feet or meters (in manual-focus mode only, alas), zoom setting as a bar graph or numbers from Z00 to Z99, and apertures to the quarter stop. Action on all rings is silky-smooth, instantly responsive, and consistent, with little lag and no overshoot; I never felt disconnected from the lens using these servos.

The focus and zoom controls use grippy, ridged rubber rings; they have similar textures and I often mistook one control for the other when finding them by feel. The iris ring is a thinner plastic "gear", readily distinguishable by touch alone.

The focus ring can be set to allow manual override when autofocus is in use; this "AF Assist" mode is quite helpful when the autofocus decides to track the wrong subject.

The iris ring's direction can be reversed (clockwise brighter or clockwise darker as you prefer), but unlike the HVR-Z5's ring, it can't be set to control overall exposure.

The lens takes a 72mm filter and comes with Sony's excellent shutter-equipped lens hood: a lever flips open top and bottom shutter panels serving as a built-in lens cap. The hood bayonets in place, locking with a pushbutton instead of a thumbscrew, so it's latched securely in place yet can be removed with a minimum of fuss when necessary.



The NX5U's 20x G-series lens and its frontmost controls.



Just behind the lens, a four-position slide switch controls three levels of ND filter: 1/4, 1/16, and 1/64, or 2, 4, and 6 stops of compensation. Conventional focus-selection controls follow: a manual/auto selector with a momentary infinity-focus position (which, like the same control on most other handycams, is too easy to accidentally activate when toggling from auto into manual), plus a "push auto" momentary autofocus button.

Six of the camera's seven assignable buttons are arrayed above and behind these lens buttons. Three run across the upper edge of the left side, three run down the side, and the one remaining sits atop the handgrip just behind the zoom rocker. Auto/manual pushbuttons for gain, white balance, and shutter speed run along the lower edge of the body. Below them are the iris auto/manual pushbutton, three-position flip switches for manual gain and white balance selection, and a white balancing pushbutton.

A molded vertical line divides these frontmost controls from those on the rear half of the body.



Controls on the rear half of the NX5U's left side.


Audio controls sit behind a protective flip-down panel, which surrounds the two input gain dials without covering them: you can mash your finger down on the dials and rotate them, but they're recessed below the cover so that you won't bump them by accident.

An auto/manual switch toggles the camera between all-auto operation and set your-own-controls mode. Beneath it, there's a thumbwheel for menu operation; it pushes in to select things, and left/right arrow keys on either side let you move into and out of submenus easily. The feel of this thumbwheel is much improved over that of the Z5u's, mostly because it's not tucked under the edge of a protruding tape door.

Behind the thumbwheel, there's the MENU button to show and hide the menus, a MODE button to bring up the mode-selector touchscreen menu (yes, this camera uses a touchscreen, in addition to hardwired buttons) so you can choose whether to shoot, edit, play, or manage clips. Finally, there's a PICTURE PROFILE button to call up the Picture Profiles (a.k.a. Custom Presets, or "look" setup and selection menus), and a STATUS CHECK button that brings up eight pages (!) of useful data, like how your assignable buttons are set up, how audio is configured, how much time is left on your battery or any of three possible recording media, and which record buttons do what (more on this later).



Audio level and channel selection controls behind a flip-down guard.


Flip down the cover on the audio controls, and you have easier access to the gain dials, which have knurled sides for secure gripping. Each channel can be set for auto or manual gain, and for input source: the internal stereo mike, or an XLR input. Channel 2 can also be set to take its sound from input #1, handy if you have a mono source and want to lay it down on both channels simultaneously.

While we're here, notice that graphic at the top of the camcorder's left side:



The NX5U has a built-in GPS receiver.


Sony has made GPS-enabled Handycams before, but this may be the first professional video camera with geotagging as a standard feature.

There's a 1/8" stereo headphone jack at the base of the carrying handle, above the Sony logo.

A flip-out door on the left rear corner reveals two slots for Memory Stick PRO Duo cards (either PRO Duo or PRO-HG Duo can be used, but full-sized Memory Stick media can't be).


I hear you: "Oh, no, not Memory Sticks! Why is Sony forcing me to buy their weird proprietary media?"

Well, come on. It is a Sony, after all. What did you expect: P2 cards? At least Sony's not making you shell out for SxS on the NX5U! And you can choose SDHC cards, if you prefer.

I dunno 'bout you folks, but I've long since given up on being able to stock one card type exclusively. I have four still cameras, each of which uses a different type of card (CF, SD, Memory Stick, and MS Pro Duo; two of the cameras are Nikons, and there's no prize for guessing who makes the other two). I own one video camera that uses solid-state media (P2), and we have five video and digital cine cams at work that use three media types between them (SDHC, CF, and SxS cards).

I tend to buy memory cards of a specific type to fill the slots of the camera that needs them, and maybe one or two spares to allow swapping and data wrangling while shooting, and that's it: a momentary pain, and then years of productive use. The cards just stay with their cameras, and their initial cost is soon amortized. It's not a big deal.

Furthermore, MS Pro Duo isn't the oddity it once was. It's available from SanDisk and Lexar as well as Sony. And while it's still about 50% more expensive than CF or SDHC cards of comparable speeds and capacities, it's not likely to bankrupt you; if you can afford this camera, you can splash out another $120 for a couple of 16 GB MS Pro Duo cards, which will hold nearly three hours of the NX5U's highest-quality AVCHD.

Again, keep things in perspective: that's $40/hour, which is a darned sight cheaper than either SxS or P2; and memory cards are reusable thousands of times, so it's more like a capital investment than an expensive expendable. Quit whining.

Don't let MS Pro Duo scare you off from the NX5U.

Even if you really don't want to buy Pro Duo cards, read on: the NX5U has a couple of other tricks up its digital sleeves...


The shipping camera will also accept SDHC cards; I'd assume it'll want Class 4 or faster cards.



Card loading slots with activity LEDs and slot-select buttons; I/O port covers on the right.


Each slot has a bicolor LED (green when the slot is selected, red when reading or writing data) and a button to select that slot and make it active. The door, which is spring-loaded to stay open or closed, has windows making it easy to see when a card is loaded in each slot and whether its LED is illuminated.

The stock battery, an NP-F770, fits deep within the central well at the back of the camera. I also popped in the bigger NP-F960, and it filled out the well flush with the back of the camera.

The right rear corner of the camera holds most of the I/O connectors, behind two hinged panels and a tethered, pop-off cap.



Back-panel connectors, and input controls on the XLR pod.


Standard RCA plugs behind the first panel supply composite video and stereo audio outputs. The second panel covers a mini-D-shell analog component video output, a mini-USB connector, and a full-size HDMI output.. The pop-off cap covers an HD-SDI connector, which includes embedded audio and timecode.

Conspicuous by their absence are i.Link (a.k.a. FireWire, IEEE 1394) and Y/C connectors. The camera shoots no FireWire-compatible formats, and if you need better monitoring than composite gives you, well, these days monitors with component and/or SDI connectors are readily available and increasingly affordable.

While SDI and HDMI jacks may be used simultaneously, they're the only ones: HDMI/SDI, component, and composite outputs are mutually exclusive.

The backside of the XLR pod, mounted at the front of the carrying handle, has switches to set each of the two sockets to mike or line level and to enable +48v phantom power. These are protected behind a flip-open cover. The right side of the pod has two XLR jacks, each with its own tethered cover.

A channel-select slider under the EVF sends channel 1, channel 2, or a stereo mix to the headphones and the monitor speaker.

There are two slide switches on the right rear of the camera, a GPS ON/OFF switch, and a RELEASE slider for the HXR-FMU128 Flash Memory Unit, an $800 option.



The NX5U's optional HXR-FMU128 Flash Memory Unit docked to the camera.


The HXR-FMU128 is a 128GB solid-state drive. It snaps onto the right side of the camera and lets you capture 688 minutes of 24 Mbit/sec AVCHD and two channels of linear audio: that's over 11 hours! Drop down to 5 Mbit/sec video with Dolby compressed audio and you can cram over 51 hours of media onto the FMU. The mind boggles.



The FMU has a multipin camera connector and a USB 2.0 port for computer I/O.


Pop the FMU off the camera, and plug it in to a Mac or PC via its mini-USB 2.0 port, and it mounts as a USB-powered drive, ready for use in the NLE of your choice.



The FMU connects to a computer via a single USB cable.





The right side of the NX5U, with the optional Flash Memory Unit.


The camera comes with a blank panel covering the FMU's mounting point.



The right side of the NX5U, without the FMU.


The right side of the camera has the usual molded handgrip and handstrap, surmounted by a proportional zoom rocker. The rocker allows steady zooms of at least 70 seconds duration, with a smooth ramp up to a top speed of 2.5 seconds in the default setup or 1.5 seconds in "speed zoom", which allows faster travel at the expense of a bit more motor noise. I found the zoom rocker quite usable, although it has a fairly large "deadband", requiring a fair amount of rocking before the motor was engaged. The need to traverse the deadband before getting any actual zoom action made it tricky to engage a slow zoom on demand. I don't know if my prototype camera was atypical in this respect, or if it's just that the very slow zooms this camera is capable of made it more frustrating for me to engage those slow zooms on a timely basis.

Assignable button 7 sits just behind the rocker, beneath your index finger; its default function is EXPANDED FOCUS. Just to the right of the button there's a LANC remote-control jack.

The camera sits happily (if a bit heavily) in the hand. It's perfectly balanced front to back, and though it's side-heavy, it's not intolerably so. The handgrip has a sort of faux-leather texture on the palm area that provides good traction.

The front of the handgrip has another RCA jack, concealed behind a tethered cap:



TC LINK lets you jam-sync timecode between cameras.


This TC LINK jack lets you sync one NX5U's timecode generator to that of another. Sony cautions us that this isn't a genlock function: the slave camera's TC generator is set to the timecode of the master camera's generator, but the slave camera doesn't continuously lock to or chase the master camera. It's designed so you can sync up the timecode clocks of two or more cameras that then go their separate ways. Sony tells me that the TC LINK port can accept input from any SMPTE LTC source—not just another NX5U.



The NX5U from above, with its LCD flipped out to reveal a control panel.


The camera's carrying handle is fronted by a fixed stereo microphone pod with an accessory shoe on top. Yes, if you want to strip the camera down, you'll always have sound.

Behind it sits the 3.2" (8cm) flip-out LCD, which when flipped out can be rotated from forward-facing through 270 degrees to facing straight down (and then folded back on top, facing up, if you wish). The LCD covers a top-mounted control panel with playback and menu keys. Compared to the HVR-Z5, the HXR-NX5U loses index-marking buttons (which the NX5U lacks the ability to do), and adds MENU, MODE, and a four-way menu selector keypad in their place.

To the right there's a shockmount for the supplied ECM-XM1 mono directional mike; it lacks the stereo imaging of the built-in mikes, but it's more directional, and somewhat better isolated from camera handling noises.

Aft of the panel, there's a START/STOP trigger with a rotating HOLD switch to prevent inadvertent activation, and a small zoom rocker with its own three-way switch: it can be turned off, set to a fixed speed (any of eight fixed speeds can be assigned in the menus), or set to variable mode—yes, this top-mounted zoom rocker gives you fully-variable zooming, though it's a bit twitchier than the larger, handgrip-mounted lever (I wasn't able to get a slow zoom any slower than 30 seconds end-to-end, for example). Sony put a similar zoom lever on the HVR-Z7 and HVR-Z5, and quite frankly I don't see a good reason not to have a fully variable zoom rocker on top of the handle: if you're going to have a zoom control there, it should be goodfor something, darn it! Here's hoping Sony makes these rockers standard across all their future Handycams, at least those big enough to have a carrying handle in the first place.

Towards the back of the handle there's a 1/4"x20 tapped socket for screw-in accessories, and the NX5U comes with a second accessory shoe with four tiny screws you can affix atop this socket, if you have two things that need shoes or just prefer the rearward location.

The NX5U's EVF brings up the rear. It can pivot up 90 degrees, in case you want to scrunch up your eye to the EVF in low-mode shooting.

It's worth talking about the MODE button and navigation before we move on. MODE is as important as MENU on the NX5U; many functions accessed on other cameras through the MENU key reside under the hierarchical MODE system on this camera.


At the top level, MODE presents you with five choices:


  • Camera: video shooting; either normal movie mode or smooth slow recording.

  • Play: playback of clips in sequence or from a playlist.

  • Edit: define playlists; divide clips in two; extract stills from clips (photo capture); protect clips from deletion; delete clips.

  • Dub/Copy: dub clips from memory cards to the FMU.

  • Manage Media: format cards or the FMU; set up USB connections; repair a damaged media database on card or FMU.





The top-level MODE screen.


Note that the choices are arrayed as buttons or touch targets, not as linear menus. MODE is fully touchscreen enabled. If you're not a fan of poking at your LCD, no worries: you can also navigate MODE just as you do MENUs, with the four-way pad on the top panel of the camera, or with the left/right buttons and the thumbwheel on the left side.

Menus on the NX5U will be familiar to current Handycam users, although the menu display has been updated with an elegant, shaded 3D look.



The NX5U's menus add a shaded 3D look without sacrificing functionality.




Picking an item from a submenu.




Next: Performance and Features...

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Comments

lang: | January, 04, 2010

Adam:

Does the NXCAM Prime have a macro focusing mode? If it does, what are the specs?

Also, what shape is the iris? I dislike diamond-shaped apertures that really screw up the appearance of out of focus highlights.

Lang

Allan T: | January, 04, 2010

Adam,

Wonderful camera review, as all of yours are!

You wrote that the NXCAM “Prime” is “Sony’s first professional AVCHD camera”. Since you yourself reviewed Sony’s HXR-MC1, I guess you didn’t consider it to be very professional smile (I wished the HXR-MC1 would have had progressive modes.)

You also wrote that NXCAM “Prime” is “The solid-state brother to the HVR-Z5”. Then later you called it a cousin. In English, the words “cousin” or “sibling” don’t indicate gender, although the words “brother” and “sister” do. Perhaps in some languages “camera” may be masculine, but in Castilian (“la cámara”), it is certainly feminine, so it would be a “sister” smile

Since you didn’t cover anything regarding the 25p/50i/50p in the 50Hz version… or in the WorldCam upgrade, anyone interested in those specs are welcome to check out them in my (much shorter) introduction to the NXCAM.

Burn-E: | January, 05, 2010

Does it have touch-sensitive screen? If so, does it has spot focus feature? I missed this from the article. This can partially replace shot transition.

Is it possible to record SD to the same card as HD? Seems like it is not, Sony probably wanted to preserve clean AVCHD file structure on a card. What about HD to one card and SD to another (not to the FMU)? Or two copies of HD onto both cards?

“you could record an entire event to the FMU, and trigger the recording of selected shots to the memory slots”—Does it keep timecode in sync to match those shots on the cards with the long shot on the FMU?

Ditching DV in favor of DVD-video SD is a big mistake, IMHO. I wish you expressed your opinion on this subject more loudly, not just as an observer. I think that DVD-video @ 9 Mbit/s has no benefits over DV besides bitrate, and progressive modes are still recorded with pulldown. This is not a consumer camera after all, Sony has to add DV recording option, especially considering that Panasonic’s HMC150 does not have SD recording option at all. I hope Sony fixes this issue before releasing the final product. Sony already has implemented tapeless DV recording in numerous products (XDCAM and tapeless HDV recorders), so it would cost nothing to reuse this technology on the Prime.

After Sony has come up with two HDV tapeless recorders (both with different directory structure and with different media), switching to AVCHD seems backwards to me. I rather expected something like “tapeless HDV” (on Memory Sticks or on Compact Flash) or a lower-grade XDCAM EX @ 25 Mbit/s. I think that Sony’s format policy is not thought out well, it lacks clean strategy for upgrading from one format/camera to another. For a DV user, the Prime is not an upgrade as it does not handle DV. For an HDV user, it is no upgrade either, because of different media and codec. For an XDCAM EX user, it is a side step, with different media and codec, but the cards at least can be reused in the EX via an adapter.

By the way, I’ve seen some MicroSD-to-MSPro adapters, they seem to work in still cameras, but do not work in Sony’s consumer AVCHD cameras. Apparently, Sony somehow locked them out. I wonder do they work in the Prime, I suppose that they don’t. At least the Prime does not require new “secure” batteries, so one can use no-name knockoffs.

Adam Wilt: | January, 05, 2010

Lang: yes, there’s a macro mode, which bring near focus down to under an inch for 80% of the zoom range (I’ve added that info to the article). Otherwise, near focus is 2.6 feet.

The iris appears to be six blades with a slight curvature, like most pro-level handycam lenses use.

Allan: I’ve added a mention of the HXR-MC1 to address your point. And yes, in English a camera is of unspecified gender. Sony has not told me whether the Prime is a brother, a sister, a cousin, a son, or a daughter, so I picked two relationships and left it at that… maybe when the part number of the camera is made public, its gender will be, too!

Burn-E: There is no touch-to-focus mode.

You can record SD, HD, and extracted stills to the same card; all have their own, separate directory trees, so they don’t interfere or collide. 

I haven’t tried separate recording on two media, so I don’t know how timecode is handled. If I get a chance, I’ll try and let you know.

I agree that ditching DV is very unfortunate. If you want DV and HD, stay with the HDV/DV line from Sony or Canon, or get a Panasonic P2 camcorder.

As to HDV vs AVCHD, I was skeptical at first, but I’ve found that Canon, Panasonic, and Sony all can record AVCHD with considerably higher quality than HDV allows. 21/24 Mbit AVCHD is roughly equal to XDCAM EX HQ; I consider that a significant upgrade over HDV—at least if you have the CPU power to handle it.

Burn-E: | January, 05, 2010

“I consider that a significant upgrade over HDV-at least if you have the CPU power to handle it.”—Exactly. My first HD camera was AVCHD. The second one too. Then I sold one and bought the V1U. Yes, the quality may be worse, but HDV is so much easier to edit. I can edit HDV with live playback on my quad-core machine, while AVCHD overheats the CPU, bringing it almost to a halt. Considering that Sony already has the technology, I cannot understand why it does not offer DV, MPEG-2 HD and AVCHD in the same product letting the end user to make a choice.

J. Aaron Holmes: | January, 05, 2010

Great review.  Can’t wait to get my hands on one!  I’ll confess to being bummed about a few things, though.

For starters, it’s a bit of a bummer that the FMU must be removed to be emptied.  I’m generally a bit annoyed by any equipment that must be removed/reattached frequently.  That just implies wear and tear.  The battery is bad enough.

It’s also a bit of a bummer that 1440x1080 cannot also be provided at 24Mbps, it being much closer to the native resolution of the sensor.  When you’re bandwidth-constrained, why suck it up with a third more “fake” pixels?  That really seems senseless.  1440 is well-supported; even Blu-ray Disc supports it (in AVC modes, which is fortunately what we have here).

Cheers,
Aaron

wsmith: | January, 05, 2010

Hi Adam, Thanks for this highly informative review.

I have a coupla questions:

1) I recall recently seeing somewhere that this cam outputs 10bit 4:2:2 video on the HDMI. Can you confirm that?

If so, I would naturally assume it also outputs same via SDI but maybe if it does it only does on the SDI.

2) The menue system: Sony seems to be all over the place on its menu nav system. Without referring back to your review of the forthcoming PMW-350, I believe it was you who said that Sony has implemented the menu system previously found only in their ‘real’ pro cams.

I’m not sure which of the newest cams Sony has released (EX1 or EX3) or the forthcoming NXCAM that they are positioning as a ‘suitable’ B-cam for use with the PMW-350.

If you talk to the most respected retailers in the industry they’ll readily suggest that the EX1/EX3s will be great B-cams. Maybe the NXCAM is an even better B-cam.

I think it’s a good question and I really hope to get to the definitive answer here and I understand that we need some realworld testing on the matter.

The lack of convergence on menu systems on these cams really makse me question how Sony can postion any cam as a B-cam to another.

Your review doesn’t mention it but I naturally assume that settings are transferrable between two or more NXCAMs via the memory cards, ala the EX1/EX3s.

More importantly we must be able to transfer settings between cams like the PMW-350 and the EX1/EX3s if such A-cam/B-cam compatibilty is realistic. We should at least have that much - even if the menu systems are different. 

“Workflow, Workflow, Workflow!” is my mantra to the consulting clients I make presentations to and recommend camera purchases. It certainly is for me personally, as I think it must be for the other habitues of this site.   

In my opinion Sony has no business hyping such positioning without addressing this issue (if indeed they are actually trying to do that to their dealers in the first place.) Are the masterminds at Sony in need of a dose of reality? Or is the retailers who are illegitimately hyping this aspect without the blessing of Sony?

Thanks again!

wsmith

Setiawan Kartawidjaja: | January, 06, 2010

Nice review Adam Wilt!
This really describes a whole thing, as usual to other camcorders you reviewed too.

All is left is price, real on location production review, and a true NXCAM sample available for download, for personal judgements.

I wonder, what is the cheapest camcorder that has SDI outputs? Usually I found SDI-featured camcorder will be a bit higher price.

“but unlike the HVR-Z5’s ring, it can’t be set to control overall exposure.”
> Too bad this feature is removed, I hope they re-add this function again later on final product. In several run-and-gun situations, this feature is really helpful, where I don’t have to think too much for brightening the image.

Is there any Pre-record / Pre-roll mode available?

Will look forward for more info then…

RonEvans: | January, 06, 2010

I have been waiting to upgrade my FX1 and I am sure a camera in this family will be the one. I love my SR11 and XR500 and was waiting for a more capably unit from Sony with lots of the features of the XR500 and the FX1. This cam seems to have most but I too would like the spot focus feature, AE shift on a control, and don’t understand why Sony would not put the R sensor. I might just wait a little longer to see if this is going to be in one of the family as the difference between the SR11 and the XR500 is very significant.

Ron Evans

J. Aaron Holmes: | January, 07, 2010

@RonEvans:  It’s not clear to me what Exmor R means to a three-sensor system where the pixels are so much larger than those in a consumer cam like the XR500.  These consumer cams have 1/3” or smaller sensors with 6+ Megapixels.  By contrast, in a three-sensor system like this cam, you’re talking about three 1/3” sensors with only just over 1 Megapixel.  The pixels are enormous next to the consumer cam.  Unless the electronics vary as a function of the physical pixel size, which I don’t believe is the case, then the degree to which they obstruct incoming light (what “R” was designed to avoid) is greatly reduced.  In short, I’m guessing “R” probably wouldn’t make much of a difference in a system like this, or else they’d be using it in their pro cams.  I don’t see a single pro cam using it, however, and that does say something.

RonEvans: | January, 07, 2010

They are using it in their Pro cameras. The EX1R has just been announced and likely an EX3R to follow.

Ron Evans

Adam Wilt: | January, 07, 2010

Setiawan Kartawidjaja: Prices have been announced (and the article edited to include ‘em): $4950 for the camcorder, $800 for the FMU.

This may be the lowest-cost HD-SDI camcorder around, based on list price. There’s also the Panasonic POV combo, the AG-HMR10/AG-HCK10G, which lists for $4400, but it is a POV camcorder and not a conventional handheld form factor.

There is no preroll / pre-record on the NX5U.

J. Aaron Holmes: | January, 07, 2010

@RonEvans:  Not to carry this on for too long, but according to what?  Unlike the consumer cams, the EX1R doesn’t have “Exmor R” anywhere in the product literature (that I can find) or printed on the side of the camera.  Also, consensus is that the “R” in “EX1R” is for “Revised” or “Redux” or something of that nature.  That it stands for “Exmor R” would certainly be a new one!

Cheers,
Aaron

Cristi Olariu: | January, 07, 2010

Adam, I think there will be more good news.

I noticed on the SONY AX2000’s presentation page there are present some of the features you described as missing compared to Z5: Histogram, shot transition, marker.
It seems logical that all the functions will be present from the Z5 to the NX5U. I don’t see the point to remove the shot transition, color correction or Extended clear scan options.
So there is a strong possibility that we’ll see all the features present on the final product. Unfortunately NX5N page doesn’t show any details, neither an proper image of the camcorder, just the view from the right side. Probably there’s some details to be finished before the real launch of the product.
This is the AX2000 page: http://www.sonystyle.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10551&storeId=10151&langId;=-1&productId=8198552921666078180#features

RonEvans: | January, 07, 2010

Thanks for the input Aaron. Typical Sony confusion!!! I stand corrected.

Ron Evans

Burn-E: | January, 07, 2010

New 2010 consumer models can record to MemoryStick and to SDHC. The NX5 can record to MemoryStick and to SDHC. But the AX2000 can record to MemoryStick only. Huh? What they were smoking?

Adam Wilt: | January, 08, 2010

Cristi Olariu and Burn-E: There’s a lot of stuff on the AX2000 product page that contradicts what Sony has told me directly. My guess is that both the feature sets and the marketing communications for both cameras are still evolving, even at this late date.

Remember, I had a prototype camera (and a prototype operating manual), so what actually ships may differ from what I reviewed.

If, in fact, ECS and a histogram display were to make their appearance in the shipping NX5U, I’d be very happy indeed. But we’ll just have to wait and see what actually gets delivered, both for the NX5 and for the AX2000.

Burn-E: | January, 08, 2010

Adam, I am sorry for posting the same question/remark twice. Thanks for the reply, I hope the information you have is correct.

Adam Wilt: | January, 10, 2010

Burn-E: you asked:

“you could record an entire event to the FMU, and trigger the recording of selected shots to the memory slots”-Does it keep timecode in sync to match those shots on the cards with the long shot on the FMU?

The timecode is in sync. The camera has one timecode generator; if you’re in REC RUN mode, it runs as long as either destination is recording. So even in REC RUN mode, the two media’s timecodes will be in perfect sync, though the started and stopped medium’s clips will not have continuous timecode across multiple clips. Since the normal post workflow for the NX5 involves ingesting and transcoding the clips as data files, not as a video stream, timecode breaks between clips is not as big a deal as it is in a tape-based workflow.

IEBA: | January, 12, 2010

Adam, phenomenally detailed review. Quite nearly wanted to make me upgrade from my CCD based FX1. Yes, I still use it. A few thoughts:

iLink / FireWire. Why is the issue limited to “the camera shoots no iLink compatible formats? It’s a faster data connection than USB 2.0. You can also run TCP/IP over FireWire, so you’d gain functionality like the broadcast gear that offers ethernet ports.

The section on the sensitivity rating, versus, gain, negative gain, and such was a bit confusing. The sensor seems as sensitive as the EX1, but at a different gain level?

Can the camcorder record the same file to two media cards at the same time, mine and the client’s? Or the SSD & a media card? This would be great for concurrent backup, and for freelancers.

Lack of Clearscan is baffling, especially in the Pro model.

It would be nice if the SD was indeed fully DVD-ready and DVD authoring apps could just load it in as “ready to burn” media. Has this been tested?

Lastly, Sony needs to step up the game and keep the histogram, or include Waveform displays because it is becoming rather commonplace in professional gear (camcorders, LCD monitors, etc) and a bit of a surprise that this “Prime” model lacks it.

Does recording PCM audio instead of AC3 dramatically limit the data rate for video, or is the video rate capped at a set figure regardless? Using AC3 could be like the advantage shooting 24p gives the video at 24 Mbs versus 30p or 60i, maximum data rate available to each frame.

All in all, it finally seems like AVCHD is living up to its potential, and, as each of the formats before it, will get better as processors and systems learn to maximize its capability. Of course, editing it means we’ll all have to buy new computers.

Burn-E: | January, 12, 2010

Reading on the AX2000 on sonystyle.com: “In addition to 1080/60i recording, the HDR-AX2000 offers a 1080/24p and 1080/30p Progressive Scan mode that enables shooting with film-like results. Signals scanned at 24p/30p are converted to 60i (using 2-3 pulldown for 24p) and recorded on MemoryStick PRO Duo™ media.”—Adam, so you are saying that Sony’s website is wrong on MemoryStick and both NX5 and AX2000 can use SDHC. Maybe the site is also wrong on 24p-in-60i? New consumer Canons have native 24p, the smaller HMC40 has native 24p/30p, it would be really unfortunate if the AX2000 used 60i wrapper for progressive footage. Or maybe Sony is going to update Vegas to handle 24p-in-60i as true 24p, just like it handles footage from the V1U?

Adam Wilt: | January, 18, 2010

IEBA: Using i.LINK as a non-isochronous transport (i.e, TCP/IP) is certainly possible, but it is rarely done in practice; I don’t see the non-geek contingent picking up on using FireWire for FTP any time soon. USB is considerably cheaper at the hardware level, and drivers are universally installed. I am pro-FireWire and anti-USB on general principles, and I dislike the trend to move away from 1394 towards the less-elegant USB, but I understand why Sony is going that way.

The sensor is rated at EX1 speeds, but I think that speed rating digital sensors is something of a free-for-all; you can base sensitivity on the clipping point (in which case the NX5 sensor may be a stop slower than the EX1), on the noise floor (however defined), or on some arbitrary point trading off speed against noise. My impression, given that the NX5 can be gained down to -6db with no loss of highlight headroom, is that it’s been rated a stop faster than it “normally” might be, to make it more competitive in the low-light arena. The larger photosites on the ClearVid diagonal sensor allow a lower noise floor than a true full-res sensor with smaller photosites, so this sort of gain-boosting can occur without as much noise increase.

The NX5 cannot record to two cards at the same time: only one card at a time simultaneously with the FMU.

I have not tested DVD compatibility of the raw files.

Recording PCM audio does not affect the video data rate, which stays the same: 21 Mbit/sec in highest quality mode. You just use up your storage a bit faster!

Burn-E: “Adam, so you are saying that Sony’s website is wrong on MemoryStick and both NX5 and AX2000 can use SDHC.”

Not exactly; the website says one thing, and my contacts at Sony say something else. I have no concrete proof of which one is actually correct. We’ll have to wait and see what the shipping cameras actually do before we can declare one source an unimpeachable purveyor of unparalleled veracity, and the other a scurrilous and untrustworthy prevaricator!

I don’t suspect any malign intent; rather, the official specs for the cameras were changing up to the last minute, and I simply think that one source isn’t as up-to-date as the other. Even in small companies, it can take quite a while to get everyone singing from the same sheet of music; in a giant company like Sony, where similar products are being released by two different divisions with different product management and marketing groups, I’m not the least bit surprised that there’s some disagreements about the features and functions of still-to-be-released cameras.

olav: | February, 19, 2010

Adam,
As the new Sony NXCAM comes closely to Panasonic’s HMC150/151, which itself is in many ways similar to the HPX170, I was wondering if you could give some comparison thoughts between the two cameras as you have extensively reviewed them both.
I am not so much after the technical details and differences here but rather image quality. When I understood it correctly, both cameras are using image sensors, which are roughly half the size of 1920HD. Sony calls it ClearVid and Panasonic calls it Pixelshift in order to achieve the full HD resolution. So in theory both image results should be similar. From your image resolution charts it appears to me that the NXCAM has superior horizontal and vertical resolution. Is this because they have the better algorithm to “guestimate” the missing pixel?
Furthermore, it seems that the NXCAM records all frame rates as “native”. This sounds to me as a big plus over the Panasonic, which actually has only the 24P as native and all other formats are being converted from 60i (or 50i).
As I live in the UK, the 24p Panasonic camera is not available for me. So I would have to shoot in 25p to get a similar result. Whereas I do understand the theory of “pulldown”, I have actually no idea of the potential image degradation caused by this. In other words should the lack of the native recording mode for 25p in the Panasonic really bother me or is this more a theoretical discussion where differences can be seen only under lab conditions?
Your views and comments on this are greatly appreciated.
Many thanks

Cristi Olariu: | February, 19, 2010

olav, about the Panasonic camcorder: In UK I think it’s available the AG-HMC151E model which is PAL/NTSC switchable from the menu, and has all the framerates: 24p, 25p, 30p.

olav: | February, 19, 2010

Cristi, thanks for the info. That was initially as well my state of info and I did indeed have a brochure which stated exactly that what you mentioned. The latest brochure on http://www.panasonic-broadcast.com/en/products/high-definition/avccam/AG-HMC151E.php does not mention anything about other recording formats except 25p and 50i.

Cristi Olariu: | February, 19, 2010

The operating manual of the AG-HMC151E says it has PAL/NTSC framerates and gives more details on how to work with them.

olav: | February, 20, 2010

Cristi, thanks for clarifying this.

Adam Wilt: | February, 20, 2010

olav: The NX5’s sensor has a somewhat higher resolution than the HPX170/HMC150 sensor, and the NX5’s images are quite a bit sharper. Sony’s diagonal photosite array and pixel interpolation does a better job of synthesizing “missing” samples than simple H & V pixel shift on a non-diagonal array, though it’s not perfect; I’d rate it better a bit better than half the difference between 960x540 with pixel shift, and true 1920x1080 sensors.

The NX5 may also be a bit lower in noise, but it’s hard for me to say without doing a side-by-side. 

Aside from that, the “looks” of the cameras are different; it’s hard to characterize precisely, but in broadly subjective terms, Sonys have a punchier, more “Kodachrome” look, while Panasonics have a somewhat less saturated, more naturalistic look. Gammas differ as well; Panasonic ‘s Cine-like V gamma does an especially good job of handling highlights on skin tones, in my opinion.

olav: | February, 22, 2010

Adam, thanks for the detailed info. Much appreciated.

Burn-E: | February, 23, 2010

Adam, it is interesting that you regard the Panasonics as more naturalistic while the Sonys as more saturated. I thought that with default settings these cameras produce quite the opposite look: the Panasonics being more saturated and yellowish/reddish, while the Sonys being less saturated, more hard-contrast and with bluish “natural” look. Maybe I am off-base here.

Adam Wilt: | February, 23, 2010

What’s naturalistic and what’s not is, of course, a subjective judgement! I agree on the contrast and the blue vs red bias; I guess I saw the saturation more in the blues & greens, and you see it more in the reds, and thus we differ in our feelings of which cameras are more saturated overall.

But that’s what makes it fun, eh?

Gerry Fraiberg: | February, 23, 2010

I love technology.  Six months after I bought my PD170, Sony released the first of the HDV camcorders.  Last July I traded my venerable five year old PD170 for a Z5U rather than repair the headphone jack, feeling it was to switch to HDV.  And now the NXCAM.  I love technology.  I just can’t afford to keep up.  As always, excellent review.

Xandria: | March, 02, 2010

Hi Adam (and everyone!)

I’m just wondering if you would have any recommendations as to which camera would be best for TV production?

I realise, after reading this page, that the NXCAM is probably the most superior. But which cam has the best value in terms of quality of visuals?

Any advice would be much appreciated!

jose: | March, 04, 2010

Adam:
Im new to solid state cameras and considering buying one soon. My concern regarding this Sony HXR-NX5U 1/3” 3-CMOS AVCHD Camcorder is the following:  If I was to use this camera with the 128GB Recorder, how will the workflow with my nle editing system be?  I use a MacBookPro, OSX 10.4.11, 3GB RAM, 1TB Hard Drive, editing in Final Cut Pro 6.0.1
Will the transfer of files be possible? If yes, how fast or slow? Or will I have upgrade anything?
I appreciate your comments, thank you.

Adam Wilt: | March, 04, 2010

“wondering if you would have any recommendations as to which camera would be best for TV production?”

I’d suggest the Panasonic AG-HPX3700, Sony SRW-9000, or perhaps the F23 or F35 depending on your shooting style. Or even 35mm film; it’s a bit old-school and expensive, but the pix sure look sweet (grin).

Once you start coming down below the $65,000 price point, though, it’s a question of tradeoffs, and I can’t make those tradeoffs for you. You have to look at your budget, your needs, and the look you’re going for, and make up your own mind.

“If I was to use this camera with the 128GB Recorder, how will the workflow with my nle editing system be?”

IF (and that’s a big IF) FCP 6.0.1 is able to interpret the NX5’s AVCHD, then the workflow is simple: power down the camera, detach FMU, plug FMU into MacBook Pro with a USB cable. FMU mounts on Desktop as a removable drive and appears as a clip source in Log & Transfer. Use the usual Log & Transfer workflow to ingest and transcode clips, and edit normally.

However, 6.0.1 may not work with NXCAM; I don’t know (I did my testing on FCP 7.). You may need to update to 6.0.3, or even to Final Cut Studio 3 / FCP 7.

Xandria: | March, 04, 2010

Thanks Adam, I really appreciate it!

Burn-E: | March, 04, 2010

“If I was to use this camera with the 128GB Recorder, how will the workflow with my nle editing system be?”—AFAIK, FCP needs complete AVCHD file tree to open the files. It will not open bare MTS files. With 128GB of data this is a challenge. You may want to transfer long video segments first with Sony utility, merging MTS files that belong to one video fragment. Then you would use something like MultiAVCHD to create AVCHD structure for those MTS files you are interested in. Alas, MultiAVCHD does not work on Mac.

jose: | March, 04, 2010

Thank you Adam and Burn-E for your comments,
Adam, in your article you state that “Pop the FMU off the camera, and plug it in to a Mac or PC via its mini-USB 2.0 port, and it mounts as a USB-powered drive, ready for use in the NLE of your choice.”  But Im I understanding then that NXCAM and AVCHD files are not then for every NLE system.  Therefore, Sony is not making this camera accessible for “use in the NLE of your choice”.

IEBA: | March, 04, 2010

Burn-E, Why is 128 GB related to a difficulty of opening bare MTS files? Maybe I’m missing your concern here, can you rephrase it?

jose, NXCAM and AVCHD are for “the NLE of your choice” as much as all the AVCHD video and still cameras already on the market are. It is a standard codec. It is up to the software makers to incorporate this functionality, just as it was for HDV. Which NLE are you concerned about?

jose: | March, 04, 2010

Hi IEBA,
Maybe I was missing a point but Im clear now I think.  Im working on FCP 6.0.1
I just checked Apple´s page and they say that on the Log and Transfer Window you can transcode the AVCHD clips with a few restrictions that maybe I can work around.  If you have any comments that will be of great help.  Thank you,

Burn-E: | March, 04, 2010

“Burn-E, Why is 128 GB related to a difficulty of opening bare MTS files? Maybe I’m missing your concern here, can you rephrase it?”—FCP needs the whole AVCHD file structure to open MTS files, it does not accept bare MTS files. If you work right off the 128GB module then fine. But if you want to clean the module then what? You have to copy all your data onto a computer, preserving full directory structure. Ok, with modern high capacity drives you can do that too, but what if you only need 5 clips out of 100? You cannot just copy them onto a computer, FCP will not open them.

IEBA: | March, 04, 2010

Okay, so it’s not an issue with the 128 GB of storage device. That’s what I took from your post.

Yes, the issue you raise is the same with all MXF “wrapped” files before they get wrapped. Sony offers an XDCAM import software package that wraps the files, but, like you say, it’s annoying to have to go through this step if you just want to quickly hand over a few files out of all of them.

In reality, FCP has an importer, and FCP handles files that have been properly imported fine, and it handles files in other codecs that don’t have MXF wrapping issues, so I don’t think it’s a FCP issue (exclusively) Yes, FCP could be made to play the MTS files alone. But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Till then, probably best to be knowledgeable on how to re-create the colder structure on the destination drive (rehearse it on your own) for file handoffs, or bring along a tool that will wrap the files and make them more universally handleable.

Anthony Burokas
IEBA Communications.

wannabe: | March, 17, 2010

Nice article on a nice looking camera.  However I recently upgraded my workspace to a HP Quod core 64bit platform and I read that NXCAM5 doesn’t support or operate on 64bit platforms?  Interestingly Sony offers Sony Vegas Pro9 as a bundled item when purchasing the camera new.

Can you please enlighten me on the AVCHD codec used in the Sony NXCAM5 and its usability on a 64 bit platform like mine?

I recently asked a Sony outlet sales guy about this issue and he replied that he didn’t know.
cheers moza from OZ

RonEvans: | March, 17, 2010

I have a NX5U and edit with both Vegas Pro 9 that came with the camera here in Ottawa. Edius 5.12 will also edit native. My system is Q9450 Quad core, 8G RAM running Vista 64. AVCHD files can be edited in both Vegas Pro9 32 or 64 bit versions. Edius is only 32 bit.

Ron Evans

Cristi Olariu: | March, 17, 2010

wannabe, where did you read that NXCAM doesn’t support 64bit?
NXCAM doesn’t have to support anything. It is about the Content Management Utility software, it doesn’t support Microsoft Windows XP SP3 64bit. Both Windows Vista and Seven 64bit are supported.

wannabe: | March, 18, 2010

Hi Cristi,

That info came directly from a pdf downloaded from Sony:
http://www.sony.com.au/product/hxr-nx5p
http://www.sony.com.au/product/resources/en_AU/images/Brochure/NX5P_web.pdf
Page 13 says:
Windows Vista sp2 and Windows 7
*64-bit editions and Starter (edition) are not supported.

Operation is not assured if above OS has been upgraded or in a multiboot environment (whatever that means)

So I’m a bit confused, and probably not understanding the specs right.  So could you please read and interpret for me?

cheers smile

Setiawan Kartawidjaja: | March, 18, 2010

Hi wannabe, almost surprised reading this.

Anyway, a copy-pasted from the brochure:
OS:
Microsoft Windows XP SP3*
Windows Vista SP2**, Windows 7
* 64-bit editions and Starter (Edition) are not supported
** Starter (Edition) is not supported.

The Content Management Software will not work in Win XP SP3 64 bit and starter edition. Also won’t work in Vista SP2 of Starter edition (the most basic version of Windows Vista).

There will be no problem on installing this software on 64-bit edition of, for instance, Vista Home Premium or Professional.

BTW, just asking, can I copy from memory media directly without the use of this software? will there by any issues? How about long recordings, where, the files is divided due to FAT32 2-GB limit? will there by any problems on putting them to timeline or loss of frame?

RonEvans: | March, 18, 2010

I have been editing AVCHD from my Sony SR11 and XR500 with Vista 64 Home Premium for several years now. Just got the NX5U and loaded the Content Manager software and it works just like the Motion Browser software for the other Sony’s. In fact the Motion Browser software will also transfer from the NX5U and stitch together the FAT32 files into a single clip too. All these programs run in a 32 bit form on the 64bit OS. I am not sure if it is possible to run 32 bit apps on the starter edition and this may be what the issue is in compatibility. Home Premium and Proffessional also have the capacity for more RAM etc.

Ron Evans

wannabe: | March, 18, 2010

many thanks for the feedback re: 64 bit platform.
I’ll upgrade my Vista Home premium 64-bitedtion to Pro asap. and hopefully that’ll solve my compatibility issues.
HP Pav Elite m9500a Intel Core 2 Quad processor, 2.66GHz 8gig Ram, 2 T, drives, 5400rpm plus 2 Tig WD books. coupled with 2 22inch Hd Lg monitors. Logitech surround system.

SO I thank you for validating my system to be able to fully utilise the benefits of the Sony NX5.
This is a powerful forum.
Thanks for the enlightenment

gs17: | April, 06, 2010

Hi Adam, excelent report on the preproduction NX5U. I just received some footage shot with a NX5U in 108060i for use in a TV commercial that has to be downscaled to SD and sent in Betacam SP. My question is how do I go to convert to widescreen 480i ? I’m planning to edit the whole commercial in HD and then export final movie to HD file and then convert to SD; I’m using Premiere Pro CS4 in windows and in the past I had problems getting HD footage converted to SD, it always looks flat and soft, losing a lot of detail or simply looking bad. I had tried this with shots made with my Canon XH A1S HDV Clips and always shoot in DV if the final output is SD TV. When I first saw the NX5U I thought it will be perfect to replace my canon but I’m worried about converting from AVCHD to SD and getting the overall look and feel of the HD.

Thanks

dmowbray: | April, 28, 2010

Hi Adam
Thanks for the review and good to be in touch with you again after so many years (original DV list).
Two questions:
1: Why, if the sensor and lens system is the same as the HDV camcorder would the picture quality of the NX5U be better than that from the Z5U?

2: Many broadcasters (CBC in Canada for example and to some extent PBS) will not accept content that originated on HDV for their High Definition program streams. They insist on EX 35 meg at least. An advantage of the NXCAM is its light weight for traveling to remote locations for Doc work. Is there any word on acceptability of the NXCAM AVCHD to the broadcast world?

Cheers
David

Adam Wilt: | May, 12, 2010

dmowbray: Hello again!

The NX5U’s live image should be roughly the same as the Z5U’s, but the recorded image is better because (a) it’s a full 1920x1080 recording instead of 1440x1080 and (b) 24 Mbit/sec AVCHD is cleaner looking than 25 Mbit/sec HDV.

I have NO idea what the broadcasters are saying about the NXCAM… and each one will have its own take on the format and on the camera anyway! The NX5U’s high-bitrateAVCHD looks more like XDCAM EX than it does HDV, but close enough for the CBC? That’s something only they can say.

No more comments, sorry. PVC’s display engine can’t handle more than 52 comments per article, and this is the 52nd comment. That’s all, folks.

VidMan42: | May, 15, 2010

Does the HDX-NX5U have remote zoom LANC for comfortable live event tripod use?  I am researching tapeless video cam options for church use.

Interestingly the HDR-AX2000 does not have LANC though spec sheets says it does.  The PDF manual makes no mention of it and Sony tech support says it does not have LANC or a simple remote zoom controller.  The only option is the wireless remote and that has too many buttons for ‘in the dark’ use.

If not… any recommendations for decent low light live event video camera?  No stage lighting is available.  Camera is always at the back of a long room where a Canon GL-2 zoom is nearly maxed out.  Live video must be displayed with 4:3 aspect projectors onto screens.

Is the SD MPEG-2 file compatible with DVD without transcoding?

Thanks in advance
Howard

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