New details have emerged about Panasonic's "DSLR killer" (my words, not theirs), the AG-AF100. First announced in April, the forthcoming camera will be priced around $6k and will use a Micro 4/3 sensor paired with an interchangeable lens mount. While the leaked document is marked "preliminary," I'd imagine that the specs listed in the document are all but final:
- 1080p frame rates: 60i, 25p, 24p
- 720p frame rates: 50p, 25p, 24p
- Codec: AVCHD PH (around 20Mbit, I believe)
- Recording medium: SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards
- Inputs/outputs: XLR Audio, HD-SDI
What does all this mean? It's a pro camera with a good chip -- I say good, not great, because the sensor is Micro 4/3 and not APS-C (which approximates the size of a 35mm motion picture film negative closer than Micro 4/3 -- or even full-frame 35mm, for that matter). However, don't sneeze at Micro 4/3. Below is a comparison of a Micro 4/3 and 2/3" chips -- the 4/3 is on the left and the 2/3" (which you can find in high-end $200k cameras) is on the right. The rainbow-y sensor is the important part:
When it comes to sensors, for the most part, bigger is better. For a further comparison of sensor sizes, check out the DSLR Guide's choosing a DSLR section.
The AG-AF100 will also have real audio inputs, "dramatically reduced video aliasing," and perhaps most importantly, an uncompressed output interface (HD-SDI). I bolded HD-SDI above because, instead of relying on Panasonic's AVCHD codec, filmmakers looking for the best possible quality can bypass AVCHD and record the HD-SDI out to a flash recorder like the NanoFlash, AJA Ki Pro, Cinedeck, or something from Focus (or, even better, something that hasn't come out yet!). Here's a closer look at the camera:
As evidenced by the mounted Zeiss Ultra Prime, Panasonic is clearly aiming this camera at filmmakers. This prime -- and really any extant lens -- will operate at a different effective focal length on the Micro 4/3 sensor, but because the 4/3 sensor is smaller than a 35mm motion picture negative, there won't be any coverage problems. The camera's ergonomics will obviously be far superior to DSLRs for filmmaking, and other pro features like timecode will help alleviate some of the workflow headaches currently out there.
The source of this information is a brochure that appeared briefly online at Panasonic's site before being taken down; it's now available at DPreview [PDF]. No updates on availability, but I'm assuming Panasonic's original claim that it would ship by the end of this year still holds true.
What does this mean if you're currently thinking about buying a DSLR? Not much if you're planning on shooting in the next year. If you're planning on shooting stills in addition to video, I'd fire away with a 5D, 7D, or T2i. They're great still cameras in addition to their obvious benefits as cinema-style camcorders. Ultimately, if you have something you're itching to shoot, get a camera and shoot it -- there will always be a better camera around the corner, and nothing's stopping you from selling your current camera in a year and upgrading (my 5D purchase marked the fifth time I've flipped my camera on eBay and bought a newer camera, each time at a minimal loss). Furthermore, while Panasonic claims the AG-AF100 will "Achieve Digital Single Lens Still Camera Images," the resolution of the Micro 4/3 chip for stills is presumably lower than that of their GH1 (and not as good for shooting stills). If it's the same resolution, it probably means they're adapting a DSLR sensor (well, technically the GH1 is an EVIL camera) for cinema use by developing a new body and new software to house an extant sensor. I'm hoping this is a newly developed chip, but we might have to wait for a future camera from Panasonic (or RED, or the forthcoming Sony models) to get a proper cinema-sized sensor at this price point. And nothing will touch the 5D anytime soon when it comes to sensor size -- at least, not anywhere near this price point.
Finally, despite announced specs and intentions, no one knows how the camera will actually perform when it's released. Plus, even if the AG-AF100 lives up to expectations, something else might trump it 6 months later. In the meantime, valuable experience can be had shooting on a low-priced DSLR! We can't make good movies with cameras that don't exist.