April 12, 2010

From NAB: Panasonic's DSLR-killer (UPDATED)

Anyone currently shooting with a DSLR should know that this is a very particular time in digital imaging history, a time when inexpensive still cameras are shooting prettier video than more expensive dedicated video cameras. This won't last. DSLRs have two main advantageous features over similarly-priced video cameras, which are: big chips and interchangeable lenses. Surely those two features can be adapted to a dedicated video camera, while eliminating some of the annoying ergonomic DSLR issues. RED has been working on this at DSLR pricepoints with their SCARLET system, but the question remains: how soon will inexpensive video cameras from mainstream manufacturers adopt these DSLR features, and which companies are going to be the first to do it? Panasonic has announced their first entry into the forthcoming post-DSLR video camera market (UPDATE: Sony also has a similar entry).

The smart money, it seemed, was on Canon to announce such a camera themselves, but it seems that is not the case: their two latest cameras have 1/3" chips, which won't give you a shallow depth-of-field unless you attach a 35mm adapter. But today, in steps Panasonic with the announcement of their AG-AF100, a video camera with a Micro 4/3 chip and interchangeable lenses. A Micro 4/3 chip is not nearly the size of the 5d Mark II's full-frame sensor , but it is dramatically larger than 1/3" chips (see illustration). Also, by the specs alone its 24Mbps codec datarate is low for my tastes, although the proof will come when we can see it in action. But the AG-AF100 has some key features missing from the current DSLR camp:

The AF100 maximizes the potential of its high-resolution imager with built-in ND filtering and dramatically reduced video aliasing. Standard professional interfaces include HD-SDI out, HDMI, time code recording, built-in stereo microphone and USB 2.0. The AF100 features two XLR inputs with +48V Phantom Power capability, 48-kHz/16-bit two-channel digital audio recording and supports LPCM/Dolby-AC3.

The two points that jump out to me are "dramatically reduced video aliasing" (see more about aliasing in the DSLR guide) and the HD-SDI/HDMI-output. With the 5D, the video output drops to standard-def 480p while recording, and this is a massive shortcoming when it comes to focus pulling and real-time monitoring in general. Much remains to be seen with the AF100 -- including the actual camera and pricing -- but Panasonic claims it will ship by the end of the year.

UPDATED: Rumored pricing is about $6k. With video:

freshdv_nab10_Panasonic

The key tidbit in the above video: uncompressed out. Hook the AF100 up to an external drive to record the uncompressed HD-SDI signal, and you can bypass the AVCHD codec.

Sony has also announced (via a Tweet) an entry into the post-DSLR market, shipping "before NAB 2011":

Your Comment

5 Comments

Wonderful but the 4/3's chip? The whole point of the DSLR is the BIG chip. Isn't it?

April 12, 2010 at 2:33PM, Edited September 4, 10:26AM

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The 4/3 chip is not as big as a full-frame sensor -- which is itself significantly larger than 35mm motion picture film -- but it is still EIGHT times larger than a 1/3" chip. This is still very capable of the shallow DOF many guerrilla cinematographers are after -- see the video embedded here, the GH1 has a Micro 4/3 sensor:

http://bit.ly/2alhUZ

April 12, 2010 at 2:49PM, Edited September 4, 10:26AM

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

Why did it take this long for Sony and Panasonic to create this?

April 15, 2010 at 8:58PM, Edited September 4, 10:26AM

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I don't think anyone knew how big the DSLR revolution was going to get -- Canon's added movie mode was originally designed to appease photographers who wanted to also shoot some video for, example, a newspaper's website. But with movie-capable DSLRs selling like hotcakes and so many great DSLR videos out there, it became clear that independent filmmakers were a sizable market.

RED's Scarlet is stil unreleased, and they announced a very similar product to this Panasonic a year and a half ago. These things take time.

April 16, 2010 at 5:38PM, Edited September 4, 10:26AM

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Ryan Koo
Founder
Writer/Director

What is the weight of the camera? Does it use a CCD or CMOS? If CMOS does it have the aliasing problems associated with that?

January 5, 2011 at 5:42PM, Edited September 4, 10:54AM

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Larry Bossone