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The Planning Process for New Cameras

Sony customers play a key role in the development of new models – here's how filmmakers heavily influenced the design of recent camcorders

The Planning Process for New Cameras

The Sony PMW-300

Sony has just launched the latest of its professional cameras, the PMW-300, which follows hot on the heels of the PMW-400. In common with many of Sony's recent camera launches, both these new additions to the XDCAM HD422 range were designed following extensive feedback from customers to find out exactly how the camcorders could best fulfill their needs.

One of the best examples of where Sony has relied heavily on customer input in the product planning stage was during the design of the innovative NEX-FS100 camera back in 2011. Sony had absolutely no desire to work in isolation when planning such an important new model, which had the ambitious aim of taking DSLR-style shooting to a much more sophisticated level of filmmaking.

Opening up the doors

Sony therefore opened up its doors and invited groups of filmmakers in to discuss the things they loved and hated about DSLRs and see if there was a way to collaboratively design a new camera that offered similar benefits while eliminating all the things filmmakers hated about shooting with DSLRs.

One of the filmmakers who played a key role in consulting on the development of the functionality and feature-set of the FS100 was Den Lennie, of F Stop Academy.

The Sony PMW-400

“On 31st March 2010 I was invited to Sony's Offices in Basingstoke as part of Sony's customer-focused design process,” says Lennie. “I ended up contributing to the design of the camera – they asked me to explain the pitfalls of the DSLRs I was using to help them understand how we could make it better.”

“One of the things we were very keen to do at the design stage was to make it very familiar to use, we also had it designed so it had a really small form factor so you can get it into small spaces,” he explains. “Something else we talked about in the design process was how to reduce noise in the picture.”

During the session at Basingstoke, which was held at a very early stage in the camera's development, the group of filmmakers taking part were encouraged to make suggestions about every aspect of the camera's design and functionality. The intention was to try to incorporate as much of the feedback as possible in the finished product design.

Making an impact

It was staggering to see a company such as Sony wanting to hear from us filmmakers and take on board what we suggested. It's a huge, huge compliment,

Den Lennie, Filmmaker, F Stop Academy

“When we did the consultancy with Sony we said it was really important to have the ability to strip the camera right down as there are times when you want to shoot really covertly and times when you want to shoot in a more configured way,” explains Lennie. This was another suggestion that made a huge impact on the overall design of the FS100.

Lennie says he was taken aback by the level of influence he and his fellow filmmakers were able to have over the specification of the camera, and feels privileged to have been given such an opportunity: “It was staggering to see a company such as Sony wanting to hear from us filmmakers and take on board what we suggested. It's a huge, huge compliment.”

Meetings with customers

Fast forward two years to the development stages of the PMW-400 and it's a similar story, says New Products Manager Yoshini Nakako: “I met with many customers while designing the PMW-400, and found that customers who were using the PMW-500 requested lower consumption of electricity, while customers of the PMW-350 asked for MPEG2 HD422 50Mbps in MXF file recording, mainly for broadcast operations.”

Another request he frequently came across was for the camera to include “a codec for production in higher resolution, which will be available as the XAVC codec on the PMW-400 in future,” says Nakako.

I met with many customers while designing the PMW-400,

Yoshini Nakako, New Products Manager, Sony

Furthermore, he adds: “Customers of the PMW-500 commonly said they needed a colour viewfinder of higher resolution for HD production where more accurate focusing was required. In addition, wireless operation was strongly requested for more efficient workflows.”

Based on this extensive customer feedback, the PMW-400 ended up incorporating many of these suggestions and more, and is another example of a key Sony product that's been hugely enhanced by customer input. Nakako now says: “I designed the PMW-400 as a door opener of creative possibilities with flexible shooting styles, to acquire high quality, clean images especially in low-light environments. It’s very ergonomically-balanced, easy to operate and includes features that make it fit seamlessly into various types of productions and workflows.”

Bringing customer ideas to market

For the PMW-300 development, I've visited many customers worldwide and taken their feedback into deep consideration when deciding the specifications,

Isao Matsufune, New Products Manager, Sony

The development of the PMW-400 took less than a year, and this quick turnaround was partly to ensure the incorporated customer suggestions came to market as promptly as possible: “We challenged ourselves to do the development in a much shorter period of time, as the market changes rapidly and so do our customers’ businesses,” says Nakako. “We needed to move quickly to catch the business opportunity and to realise the market demands for our customers. Engineers, product planning, marketing and manufacturing all worked as one to achieve this goal without any compromise on quality and completeness.”

Meanwhile, New Products Manager Isao Matsufune says customer feedback was absolutely essential for the development of the PMW-300, too, especially as it replaces the long-established PMW-EX3. “Since Sony introduced the predecessor to the PMW-300, the PMW-EX3, I've visited many customers worldwide and listened to their feedback,” he says. “For the PMW-300 development, I've taken this feedback into deep consideration when deciding the specifications.”

The Sony NEX-FS100

“The PMW-EX3 was well accepted in the market because of the high quality image produced by the 1/2-inch Exmor sensors. One of the challenges with the PMW-300 was to further improve the picture quality from the PMW-EX3. So we improved the signal processing and drastically reduced picture noise to ensure the PMW-300 creates a cleaner image,” says Matsufune.

Like the PMW-400, the PMW-300 is able to record 50Mbps HD material in MPEG HD422, meeting broadcast standards around the world, including the European Broadcasting Union’s requirements on HD broadcast acquisition for long form programme making. And, in common with the PMW-400, the camcorder can also be upgraded in the future to support Sony’s revolutionary XAVC codec, extending the lifecycle of the product to ensure maximum return on investment.