February 9, 2011

The Panasonic AF-100 Reviews Are In. Is It a True HDSLR-Killer?

The Panasonic AF-100 (AF-101 in PAL countries) has been out long enough for the speculation about the camera to be replaced by actual videos (and reviews). We've taken a look at some footage from the camera, so now it's time for a review roundup. To me, here's the issue with the AF-100: if the camera is to be considered a "true" HDSLR killer, it needs to bring to the table a full complement of real video camera features -- and lack any glaring shortcomings -- in order to justify its $5k sticker price. Is the AF-100 worth it?

For the uninitiated, a video overview of the AF100 from CreativeVideo, who took the camera out on a shoot with the pricey but beautiful Zeiss CP.2 Primes:

The footage looks very pretty, and there is no shortage of overwhelmingly positive reviews of the AF-100 out there. However, I'm far less interested in reviews that only heap praise on a camera; every device has its strengths and weaknesses, and the AF-100 is no exception. I hadn't read a great in-depth review of the camera until Art Adams at ProVideo Coalition published his evalution:

The AF-100 has a lot of potential, and I’d definitely go with it when the alternative is an HDSLR. Its layout and controls are familiar and it’s designed to do what it does, so it’s much faster and easier to program, judge focus and expose than an HDSLR. It also doesn’t moire like an HDSLR will. On the negative side, though, it’s still basically an HVX-200 with a larger sensor. It clips roughly the same way, which is not a good look in a large sensor camera, and it’s noisy too.

Art also docks the camera for its 8-bit AVCHD codec and notes the HD-SDI output is not 10 bit. It is worth noting that this is a new camera, and users have not necessarily figured out the camera's quirks -- Art was reportedly shooting with the HD Norm-Low gamma setting, which may not be optimal for the high-contrast outdoor setting of the shoot. But other users also report clipping issues (where highlights don't roll off smoothly, but rather clip to harsh "electronic white"), and as a lover of filmlike gamma curves, this is certainly an issue that concerns me. Art does note that "under controlled lighting this camera looks great."

All in all, it seems the AF-100 is a worthy replacement for a DSLR on a film shoot, because of its extensive video controls, better monitoring options, superior audio, and better ergonomics (not to mention its lack of aliasing issues). But the Micro 4/3 mount brings with it issues finding fast, wide lenses, and the limited AVCHD codec of the AF-100 (which some will circumvent with an Aja Ki Pro Mini or NanoFlash) -- along with the aforementioned clipping issues -- means the door is certainly open for a competitor like RED or Sony to capture the "one step above the best DSLR" large-sensor camcorder market.


Your Comment


I struggled with the highlight clipping issue as well, until I learned (via Barry Green's book, free with the purchase of any AF-100) that the "Cine" settings have no knee. This also contributes to discolored highlights. After creating my own custom setting, in which I set the knee to 90% rolloff, the highlight clipping is much ameliorated.

The AVCHD codec has blown me away with its quality. Will it satisfy purists who compare it to HDCam? No, but those guys are never happy. Compared to the MP4 artifacts and noise I've gotten used to from the 5D, the AVCHD footage looks fantastic.

February 9, 2011 at 11:20AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Alex, I would love to see some sample footage of your custom setting! The highlight clipping is an issue that keeps me from buying an af101.

It would be quite an investment for me with lenses and all, so I'm waiting for the other brands to catch up, if for example Canon would produce a largesensor videocamera with EF mount, that would be a no brainer for me since I own a lot of canon lenses. But I do need an upgrade in the near future...

February 9, 2011 at 12:21PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Stefan, here's a writeup of my scene file settings: http://wp.me/pXO0c-6O

February 22, 2011 at 1:30PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Good job Alex. I got the AF103 (same thing, but Asian) as that's what an Australian vendor was selling.

My first impression with this camera is that it's a sophisticated beast that you really need to learn before drawing any conclusions about image quality. I don't have the Barry book and I was not aware that it come with every purchase of the camera.

I looked at your screenshot comparrisons, looks to me like your scene file blows highlights earlier than the Cine setting but you get the benefit of the softer rolloff if you shoot at lower exposure than you would with the Cine setting. To be honest, this thing is currently blowing my mind with all it's settings because I've only had it for a week. I will have to get that book and get some more experience with it before writing a review. I agree with Koo that it's not much use writing a review that does nothing but lavish praise on it. I have a 5DII and a 7D for which I can make comparisons.

October 10, 2011 at 11:07PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


The footage looks good, but I can't really see any difference in picture quality to my GH2. What I think is important to note is that using the AF-101 at any location without permits will always be a problem. Using the GH2 in any situation is easy. I guess what I'm saying is the stealth factor of say a GH2 or 7D is, for practical filmmakers, essential.

February 9, 2011 at 12:56PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


That's an interesting point. Kind of ridiculous that one form of photography is more "acceptable" than another. But, what's impractical about obtaining permits?

February 10, 2011 at 9:44AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


"On the negative side, though, it’s still basically an HVX-200 with a larger sensor."

Uh, how is that a bad thing??

February 10, 2011 at 9:32AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


i do a lot of 'run and gun' style shooting and honestly, if this camera was actually an "HVX with a larger sensor", I would buy it. but its NOT.

the main reason is the lenses. m4/3 - at least based on what's come out so far - must still primarily be a photographers medium. put out a VIDEO m4/3 lens and then we'll talk. that means 1. fast lens. no more f4-5.6 BS. think f2.8, with at least a 5x zoom range), constant aperture would rule, but i wont get too picky. oh and no stair stepping aperture as you zoom. terrible. 2. fluid manual zooming (the 14-140mm panny lens is verrry mechanically sluggish), i want to be able to just flick my finger and smash zoom, like on the HVX. 3. please please please give us another codec option besides avc. what was wrong with DVC pro HD? not saying avc is bad, its more just an issue of the inconvenience.

i dunno, i was just hoping this camera could handle the run and gun style of shooting a bit better. my biggest issues are all lens based, so maybe theres still hope down the line. OR just get me a 5d with some freakin audio functionality. come on mark iii!

February 10, 2011 at 7:48PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Dave, firstly, if you're gonna be picky about the codec, record to an outboard recorder via HD SDI as obviously suggested. While not 10bit, the 422 higher and bitrate is worth it.

2ndly, you can use stills lenses on the thing but then you gonna get all the problems of stepped adjustments etc. At least with MFT you can get pretty much any lens adapter, so go ahead and use EF lenses manually. You can get an adaptor witha built in aperture, or you can wait for birger engineering to bring out their EF lens controller (with optional FF remote) to come out. I'm looking forward to using that with my EF lenses.

October 10, 2011 at 11:32PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


By the way, I agree with you about 14-140, it's a terrible lens really. They say in film school that it's bad to zoom in video, but you should have the option, and the zoom ring on that lens is attocious - way too stiff/sticky. I'm hoping it will loosen up with a bit of use. Seems to have done so a little. The 7-14 is not bad, but I think both these lenses have a bit of chromatic abboration that better lenses don't show as much of.

October 10, 2011 at 11:34PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Art Adams points out that the AF-100 has the unfortunate highlight saturation just like the HVX200 and the HPX500. From my experience the HPX500 handles overexposure really badly, even worse than the HVX200.
With neutral settings and "news gamma" the problem is bearable, but with other settings and especially cine gamma you can't shoot well in uncontrolled lighting. Just a little overexposure is enough to make the colors go pop-art.
Caucasian skin exposed to 80% shouldn't be a problem to correct in post, but not when its color is suddenly neon-pink, which is what happens in the HPX500. For me, this has always made the HPX500 a much less desirable camera than it could have been.
Sadly this problem seems to have been inherited by the AF-100...

April 2, 2011 at 6:26AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Bottom line, I think, is that it will require a lot more experimentation with the settings to get good results. But a hand full of presets isn't a good way to evaluate any camera's full potential. If anything, it says more about the camera's ease of use.

October 10, 2011 at 11:37PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


At the xmas tree with the blue light i see some wave in the image exactly where th camera tilt up and later again with the blue light tilt down ?

But the image is nice i will like to see more action shot and more camera move pan on tripod and pan on dolly.


February 26, 2012 at 3:41PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Pierre Samuel Rioux