September 22, 2013

Panasonic 4K Varicam Will Sport 120FPS, Eventually

Video thumbnail for vimeo video Panasonic 4K Varicam - No Film SchoolEver since 'digital' became synonymous with 'cinema,' digital motion picture cameras have held a kind of dual citizenship. Now, any such camera can be considered either a video camera or a digital cinema camera. The only difference is how the camera's used. Manufacturers such as JVC and Panasonic have mostly stuck to professional broadcast and prosumer video solutions -- leaving the expressed digicine market in the hands of peers like Sony. Regardless, the push for 4K and UHD has leaked into broadcast and prosumer realms, leaving some folks (such as myself) wondering: when will Panasonic get to the party? And, in what way? Read some details on Panasonic's upcoming 4K Varicam, and reasoning behind its 4K hesitancy, below.

This info comes to us from Cinema5D's coverage of IBC 2013, accompanied by a write-up by Nino Leitner. Over the course of the material, both Panasonic and Nino outline the company's leap into 4K -- or lack thereof, for the time being at least.

It's interesting to hear that Panasonic neglected the market so far because they say "the demand for 4K isn’t there yet", especially in Panasonic's core market – which is still broadcast. They are focusing on developing solutions that allow for faster and more efficient 4K workflow, and -- an entire pipeline [for] producers and broadcasters -- especially using their new AVC Ultra codec.

Codecs always have been Panasonic’s strength and I think they are doing right in taking their time to get everything ready for 4K -- I just hope they are not giving away market share that they won’t be able to regain.

As reported earlier at Cinema5D, the 4K Varicam will image with a Super35-size sensor, boast "wide dynamic range, extended colour space, and support for Log," and shoot AVC-Ultra onto new Ultra P2 cards and recorder. As far as the question of timing goes, I think both Panasonic and Nino bring up good points.

There isn't much point to Panasonic rushing a 4K camera out the gate for the sake of earliness, especially if a proper infrastructure isn't in place in its target market. The question is, of course, will Panasonic's new Varicam 'miss the boat,' as it were?

It seems like we as filmmakers have been talking about 4K for quite some time already, but broadcast is a whole other animal. (An animal which, in my eyes, could still use some time to iron-out over-the-air HD.) The adoption of 4K in broadcast will likely be more gradual, and arduous, than in the realm of cinema. This, I think, will work to Panasonic's advantage.

Panasonic AG-AF100

Again, though, just because a camera is geared towards certain applications doesn't mean it can't be appropriated for others. Despite Panasonic's positioning towards broadcast and prosumers, its AF100 (left) did in fact see some action on set. Its variable frame rates and outboard 4:2:2 HD-SDI feed are apparently desirable qualities, though somewhat overshadowed by the camera's Micro 4/3" sensor. The Raid, for instance, shot on AF100, but adapted for PL glass.

sony f3 no lens

The prosumer market is admittedly a strange one: consider that the 3-chip EX1R is still going for $6K on B&H and the $4K AF100 is a single/larger chip camera. If Panasonic had been able to put an APS-C sensor in the AF100 and keep the price within its original range, the company could've really shaken things up. It could have carved out a good slice of the (at left) Sony F3's pie, and at that rate, muscled a few slices away from the more expensive Canon C300.

As we know, this was not to be, but I don't think the Varicam will be 'too late,' in its target market or otherwise. The real question is, when the 4K Varicam does become available, will you be shooting with one?

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24 Comments

They're probably still trying to wrangle the HEVC based codec for their production products, including but not limited to the processing power, sensor specific software instructions, final user and the infrastructure compatibility, etc. The broadcast industry - from ENG to scripted - doesn't have anything 4K ready at the moment anyway and Panasonic, without a toe in the top tier Hollywood production, is in no hurry to fit all the puzzle pieces together by itself. It's a risk-averse strategy but, at the same time, a fairly understandable one. At some point, they will have a full list of 4K products, from cameras to camcorders to TV's. Given what they do, however, there's no need for them to be the first out of the box.
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Insofar as the OTA broadcast goes, it will never be 4K capable unless the FCC re-hauls its technical specs, currently based on the twenty year old MPEG-2 codec. There is allegedly some movement there but, most suspect, the updates are not on the horizon yet. A totally different subject is the online streaming. In that case, it's sort of here already but, referring to the above, will greatly benefit from HEVC implementation and faster broadband. In either scenario, Panasonic is not late to the party because the party hasn't started yet.

September 22, 2013 at 6:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Have you heard if YouTube is waiting to go back to 4K until H265?

September 22, 2013 at 7:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

YouTube wants to use its own open source codec VP9, which is allegedly almost as good as HEVC, according to Google itself. Considering the zillions of hours they stream, it certainly makes sense for them to go royalty free.
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The big thing on the YouTube front is their new policy (literally unveiled yesterday) which allows the offline viewing. It's purported to be aimed at the mobile market - download now, watch as you're driving - but I don't see how they could prevent their home based audiences from doing the same. And, if so, anyone will be able to watch a 4K video, even if it buffers incessantly live at the currently available broadband speeds.
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PS. There are a lot of GH-3 replacement/update rumors on the web. The next on the docket is the humongous New York based Photo Plus Expo, taking place a month from today. One has to assume that there'll be either new products or, at worst, new announcements. Free PR and all. A GH 3/4/5 line would obviously feel more at home there than at IBC.

September 22, 2013 at 11:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Thanks for the reply.

Now that you talk about that YouTube codec I vaguely remember reading about it. It may have been in a nfs post.

Like I said a couple weeks ago, I was told there will be a 4K Panasonic camcorder using the GH3 sensor coming out in November. Maybe they'll have a demo at the show you talk about. I hope it's fairly low priced.

I think the next GH will be a 5. I read in Japan they don't like to use a 4 like in America there is no 13th floor in hotels. Don't know if that's true or not. I'm wondering if it will have 4K.

September 23, 2013 at 1:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

If they don't like to use a 4 that means there will be no 4K, probably only 3K or 5K.

September 23, 2013 at 8:23AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Jeremias

Hotels have a 13th floor even though it's called the 14th.

September 23, 2013 at 9:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

the number 4, pronounced Shi or Yon depending on circumstance is thought of as unlucky because Shi is also the pronounciation of the sign for death... Though this hasn't stopped Sony (another japanese el company) from announcing, and soon releasing Playstation4 .... So I doubt that Panasonic is going to skip a version ;)

September 24, 2013 at 9:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Thanks Johan, so what I read was partly right.

September 25, 2013 at 8:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

Pretty amazing that the makers of the DVX100 and HVX200 both completely revolutionary cameras for the high end prosumer and lower end professional cinema market have been almost completely silent (the GH serious does not count) in a market which seems like it has been growing faster and bigger than ever.

September 22, 2013 at 7:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Actually I suspect the GH cameras success (and the AF100's limp response) has been partly why they haven't tried harder to bring more cinema oriented cameras to market. The GH3 specifically added features to cater to filmmakers, and I've heard a lot of rumors of even bigger steps in the next GH.

September 22, 2013 at 7:38PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gabe

Yep... the GH3 counts for me. 60fps over-cranking than even the C300 lacks. Plus, I actually like the image better.

September 22, 2013 at 8:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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bwhitz

I understand the GH3 argument but in my opinion DSLR's are still a temporary patch to get us over the hump until the actual video market can catch up (I use them all the time). In the DVX and HVX segment of the market Panasonic was the frontrunner, in the DSLR era it's hard to argue that they weren't just piggybacking Canon and just did a slightly better upgrade a little sooner.

September 27, 2013 at 4:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Yes, I will shoot 4K---when the price comes down a little. The Sony 4K at $4500.00 is very attractive. The next Nikon V1 is supposed to have 4K, at some frame rate, for the full 30 minute limit, not just bursts. Just hope to find a hack to override it. The price is supposed to be less than the previous V1 at $900.00. If YouTube does go back up to 4K streaming, and if they do start producing their original content shows in 4K then YouTube may become the hotbed for 4K viewing, and upload. YouTube must already be the leader for 4K upload now. Shooting 4K is just a matter of a short time for me, and those (few) I am assisting.

Here's the latest 4K I've seen on YouTube. Download the 108.88MB file from YouTube and watch it in your own player for best viewing. Watching it on YouTube, even in "Original", is not as good as downloading it to watch.

[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDMP3i36naA ]

September 22, 2013 at 7:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

"These pros and cons seem to be illustrated by The Raid – the film shot on AF100, but used a 35mm adapter." Not sure why that's listed on IMDb... PL adapters were used, not 35mm adapters.

September 23, 2013 at 2:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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JangleFunk

Word, thanks. Will correct

September 24, 2013 at 2:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dave Kendricken
Writer
Freelancer

There's another article circulating around the web about the camera manufacturers expecting a 30% drop in shipments this year (down to ~ 70 million units) due to the popularity of smart phones (new iPhone sold about five million units over its introductory weekend) and the downward price pressure that the two dominant Japanese conglomerates (Canon and Nikon split 80% of the market in between them) are experiencing. Thus, they're moving into other areas such as the medical imaging, auto and even into the higher end pro photography (medium format). Using these trends, it's interesting to see that Panasonic is not rushing into a 4K broadcast market yet, Canon is sticking to its DSLR/EOS lineup throughout and only Sony is releasing one model after another.

September 23, 2013 at 2:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

I don't understand how sony pushed 4k, you can use a Red for commercial work, cine work, web work, I use it on all of them (not so much cine personally but I certainly could for low budget independent ones). That is utter nonsense that Sony pushed 4k at all. I have worked with and owned Reds before they even shipped a 4k model at all. Utter nonsense! Red was what made 4k 5k 6k go mainstream, Scarlets are much cheaper then f5 or f55 and are a pretty awesome fully raw solution. What makes Sony have anything to do with 4k was a response to Red. The little guy excelled, and has sold lots of cameras while big companies and high end companies aren't doing so well. The funniest part being Red gives me better service and lets me trade my camera in for the newest mode at full or almost full value... over and over, new sensors, the works! some red owners have traded cameras from red one m to red one mx to scarlet to epic to epic dragon...without depreciation for the most part... its not a bad ride

Scarlet to Epic to Epic Dragon is how my journey is going...

So you guys can try to portray 4k any way you want but a camera is a camera.. You can kit a Red anyway you want, do fast transcodes to any codec or aspect ratio you want or use a third party recorder and capture 5k or 4k raw while still shooting baked in. If all that makes a "broadcast camera" is a shoulder mount format, and shooting baked in or lossy, then you can easily accomplish this with Red. It kits any darn way you want it to, its a lego set. Lots of really great third party solutions for capturing proxies while you shoot. You get super high fps at lower resolutions, but you can even over crank in high res too! The new Dragon will let you dial in an aspect ratio/pixel line count and shoot whatever you want, not just standard ones like on the current firmware for Epic and Scarlet.

So I am quite happy with Red and I can kit it any way you need basically. Its really a great system and I would argue for owner ops its a much better system. We can't just buy and replace expensive cameras, trading in sensors and things of this nature is not only green for the planet but also green for your wallet. I like standardized pieces and things carrying over for generations, that is business loyalty right there to keep our accessory parts open source or multi generational as possible.

So I hope I am not too over the top, but I just love the system and I think it can work for any solution. I shoot tons of web content and tv on it, so I think for broadcast it can do just fine. Same with Alexa, Phantom, C500, F5, F55, lots of good high end 4k solutions out there these days. I think these specs don't add up to the Epic specs, much less the Dragon specs...Panasonic is kind of late to the 4k game. If you want affordable 4k look to blackmagic design, but affordable doesn't always equate great image quality, as one moves up the high end spectrum of price points the quality tends to increase dramatically...ps 4k gopro 12fps, use that on a shoulder mount LOL

September 24, 2013 at 10:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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brian merlen

Brian, I have read the sentiment many times re RED being first to go 4K, even though it isn't strictly true. Jim Jannard and the company showed courage and determination in the face of a cozy fat cat system (cartel?) being run by the other companies. RED seemed to be regarded initially as some sort of troublesome insect that could be swatted in due course, but came up with a revolutionary 4K digital camera which ended up challenging the companies and embarrassing the critics who wished the project ill, sending prices tumbling in the process. A tremendous, tremendous achievement (hey, I wrote that twice).

For some years there developed a bit of a sneering attitude from some of the camera's users on their site who were effectively saying, "We're throwing a 4K party, when are the other guys going to turn up, heh, heh ?" At times the head honcho was equally guilty. However, I understand they were testing their images on a Sony 4K projector, and eventually the big boys did finally turned up. Indeed, after years of being ridiculed and poked with a stick Sony kicked the door in with the F5/F55 and a new 4k infastructure. Now the arrogance from some in Red seems to have been replaced by a certain amount sour grapes, as if "Boo hoo, but it was Red who invented 4K; how can anyone be allowed to forget that !?" Their own projector and distribution platform have gone very quiet. I have no clue how RED runs, but Mr Jannard appears to have sent his last post and there has been a significant staff departure recently, leaving some of their own users speculating.

RED are rightly proud of their achievements but why keep on reminding everyone, given how fast technology is changing now. You're probably familiar with Canon's new ultra-low light sensor, and also the vector based tech looking to replace pixels altogether. Presumably, in some dark cellar, a tycoon of Y-fronts underpants is plotting a GREEN or BLUE camera company.

September 24, 2013 at 2:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Saied

One way for Panasonic, Sony, etc., to steal some thunder back is to get to 8K before Red does.

AstrodDesign/NHK already have an 8K in the works.

http://www.cinema5d.com/news/?p=20105

September 24, 2013 at 6:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

The problem with Red - or with the newly kitted F-55 Broadcast - is that the turnaround time from shooting to airing is very limited in the OTA/cable ENG industry. Thus, a huge infrastructure update is needed to fully implement 4K. On the creative side, where post-production can take months, the investment is significantly less intensive but, even there, a normal computer cycle is in effect. In that regard, a new model, if not packaged properly, can become an obsolete model in a hurry.
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PS. Speaking of Red - one of its ex-bigwigs, Ted Schilowitz, just got a technology related gig with Fox. An article from Variety - http://variety.com/2013/digital/news/ted-schilowitz-departs-red-takes-fo...

September 24, 2013 at 5:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

Would that be an indication FOX may be heading toward 4K like ESPN?

September 24, 2013 at 7:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Gene

Fox will have the US World Cup broadcasting rights for 2018 and 2022. In WC'14, Sony will attempt a few 4K matches but, obviously, the penetration of the 4K equipment will be pretty low by then. Generally speaking, Fox will probably seek an alternative to Sony made products, of which Red is definitely one.

September 24, 2013 at 11:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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DLD

September 25, 2013 at 4:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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M

I kind of don't get the direction of the conversation considering it's been known since all the way back to the 2K era that acquisition at 2K-8K still has HUGE benefits in the dynamic range department when downscaling to 1080p. Even though many cameras have improved dynamic range 2k cameras and even many 4k cameras either have great DR in the shadows or great DR in the highlights, but not both. 4K with Varicam, given how good the HD image is, could really do a great job on both sides.

November 3, 2013 at 2:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Butch