Sony HDR-MV1 Camera

Sony HDR-MV1Trying to video a live band in low light is a challenge! Grainy footage, crappy sound, dying batteries… the list goes on.

At this year’s NAMM show, I saw a new camera from Sony which intends to improve and simplify this- the HDR-MV1.

In addition to playing guitar and running the sound for my band, I’m also in charge of the cameras and making the videos.  So I picked up an HDR-MV1 and have been using it for a few months to record some rehearsals and gigs. 

With a 1/2.3” CMOS sensor and F2.8 lens, this camera should perform better in low-light than my old Canon 1/4” sensor camcorder. And in my experience, it is better, but it’s still not great.  It has a low-lux mode intended to improve its low light performance, but it still suffers from some graininess.  Here’s an example, in difficult stage lighting:

HDR-MV1 with wind coverThe HDR-MV1 has a nice built-in X/Y mic- the audio in that video clip is directly form the camera’s mic. The audio quality is great, but the mic is extremely susceptible to wind noise at outdoor gigs. The placement of the mic under the lens prevents using a furry wind diffuser. So, I ended up buying a regular mic cover, cutting it in half, and rubber-banding it over the mics. It’s ugly but it works.
The lens is super wide-angle which can be both good and bad.  Here’s an example in a garage rehearsal.  The camera is right behind the drummer, but captures the entire room without issue.

On the other hand, the lens is so wide-angle that if the camera is too far from the subject, they will be dwarfed by the surrounding scenery . Sometimes it’s not feasible to get the camera that close, and there’s no way to zoom.  Of course, if you film in 1080p, you can crop a bit in post.  But basically, it won’t work well unless you can get the camera without about 15 or 20 feet of the band.

PlayMemories Mobile AppThe camera has wi-fi, and you can use the PlayMemories Mobile app to remote-control from an iPhone. Neat! However, the only time I tried to use that on stage to frame the shot and start recording, it caused the camera to hang. Bad luck. The band was about to start its set, and I wasn’t clear-headed enough to pull out the battery, which would have rebooted the camera and resolved the hang.  So we have no video from that gig.

Needless to say, since then I haven’t tried to use the wi-fi on stage again.

The battery charges using a regular micro-USB cable and USB charger.  On a full charge, it can record for a couple hours.  But some of our gigs are really long, and I just want to set it and forget it.  Officially, you can’t record on the HDR-MV1 while on external USB power.  If you plug in the charger, it’ll disable the recording features. But I’ve found a workaround: first disconnect the charger cable, then start it recording.  After the recording is underway, you can plug in the charger cable, and it’ll work fine, recording on external power until your memory card fills up.

Overall, the HDR-MV1 is a useful addition to the camera setup, but I still need a better low-light video solution.

Update September 27, 2015: My new Panasonic Micro 4/3 cameras provide much better low-light performance!

Update: Works well when paired with a Joby GorillaPod to mount in difficult situations

Joby GorillaPod and HDR-MV1