Review: the Sony PMW-150

Handheld camcorders

ony's 1/3-inch, PMW-150
Producer’s choice: Sony’s 1/3-inch, PMW-150. Picture: Sony.


Scroll to the end of this article for our video samples

When it comes to Sony’s handheld camcorder line-up the Sony PMW-150 is the middle child.

The company offers the entry level, single-chip, PMW-100. The PMW-200 and PMW-300, for their part, are three-chip, half-inch sensor designs that sit just below Sony’s full broadcast ENG cameras.

The PMW-150, though, is a three-chip, 1/3-inch sensor camcorder. This places it above the PMW-100 in image quality terms, but without the low-light performance and depth of field control of the PMW-200 and PMW-300. Nor does it have the latter camera’s interchangeable lenses.

Until quite recently, of course, 1/3-inch camcorders were used for everything from news and documentaries to sports and corporate work: anywhere where a fairly compact camera was needed, or where the budget could not justify a 2/3-inch ENG model. For standard definition video, cameras such as Sony’s Z1 became the standard.

Sony, though, turned its own market on its head by launching the EX1 and EX3, both 1/2-inch chip camcorders using solid-state recording. The more recent PMW-200 retains a very similar sensor, but adds 50mbps 4:2:2 recording, making it suitable for long-form, as well as news, HD broadcasting.


Sony PMW-150 rear
Connection options: rear view of Sony’s 1/3-inch, PMW-150. Picture: Sony

Like the PMW-200, the PMW-150 too is broadcast standard.

The European Broadcasting Union’s esoteric sounding Camera Tiering and Measurements document, or R118 for short, classifies broadcast cameras according to their application, and sets out the standards the organisation uses for camera testing.

A key criterion, for HD programming, is whether a camera can record video at 50Mbps, with 4:2:2 colour. Cameras that achieve this and also have three sensors of at least 1/3inch are considered suitable for long-form broadcasting such as documentary making, or in EBU-speak, tier 2L. Cameras that only record up to 35Mbps are restricted to the news-gathering tier, 2J, where colour can also be at 4:2:0.

On this basis, Sony’s PMW-150 should really be considered its entry-level HD broadcast camcorder. The smaller PMW-100, useful because of its compact size, does boost 50mbps recording. But it only has a single chip. Canon’s XF300 and XF305 also qualify for tier 2L. JVC’s GY-HM600 and GY-HM650 are limited to tier 2J, as they only have 35mbps recording – unless they are connected up to an external video recorder.

But thousands of camcorders are sold every year which never produce a second of broadcast footage; equally TV stations do air footage from non-broadcast rated cameras, from GoPros to DSLRs. Commissioning guidelines typically allow a quarter of footage to come from non-qualifying cameras.

There is also, of course, more to image quality than a set of technical standards, and ergonomics, coupled with the ability to “get the shot” can be as important as any other feature in a camcorder.

That is especially the case in the “run and gun” camcorder market targeted by models such as the PMW-150 and PMW-200. Other cameras, especially those with larger sensors, will produce more pleasing images. But they are frequently less effective at doing quick turnaround video work, whether it is for news, corporate video or even weddings. And this, of course, is why they continue to sell in large numbers.