Panasonic has done a tremendous job with the video quality on their mirrorless photography cameras (especially when hacked in the case of the GH2), but their video options in a dedicated camera have lagged behind both Sony and Canon, who chose to go with larger sensors for their dedicated video cameras. Now, it looks like Panasonic is trying to come back at the game at the lower end with a 4K-shooting camera, and give excellent capabilities in a small form factor.
Thanks to 4/3 Rumors, here is the rundown of the possible 4K Micro 4/3 camera:
1mil dot OLED screen
21mm OLED viewfinder, 3,000+ dot.
200mbps mp4 All-i/100mbps IPB
4:2:2 10/8bit output
3G-SDI and XLR adaptor (An adaptor that the camera sits on with XLR x2, HD-SDI x4)
They have given this a very high rating, but as with all rumors, everything has to be taken with a grain of salt until it's announced. 4/3 Rumors also mentioned that the camera is a bit bigger than the current GH3, which apparently will be even bigger with the SDI and XLR adapter underneath. If there does turn out to be some truth to this, I would imagine that this will represent a new line in the Panasonic lineup. Since it seems like it's going to be coming in a mirrorless/DSLR form, it's not going to interfere with the high-end video in their lineup.
Panasonic was at the very forefront of high-end digital cinema with the Varicam (which still looks great, by the way), and at the lower-end with the DVX (and then the HVX), but the AF100 never took off the way their cheap mirrorless cameras have, possibly due to the fact that it had a smaller sensor than Sony and Canon's products. This meant it wasn't as good in low-light, and there was a crop factor on lenses you probably already owned. When the GH2 was hacked, the very good image quality compared to other DSLRs at the time (like Canon), combined with the inexpensive price of the camera, meant that people were more willing to overlook sensor crop issues, and it did very well in the low-budget filmmaking world. Now they could be trying to capitalize on some of that following with a slightly more expensive product.
As much as I prefer the ENG style for video cameras, this move would make a lot of sense. This new line wouldn't cannibalize their higher-end the way that the GH2 did to the AF100 because the larger and more expensive cinema-oriented camera they've been showing off at a few NABs will have a Super 35mm sensor. There was a second rumor source over at 4/3 Rumors who mentioned that this would be all of Panasonic's best tech and would also compete with the C300 (probably on image quality and form factor). It's unclear if it will have ND filters, but there have to be subtractions in order to make it affordable and still leave something for the their higher-end.
Not all the specs are perfectly clear at the moment, like the part about the 10/8-bit output. Up to 4K 30fps (and presumably good downscaled 1080p) and good bit rates would be welcome in a small form factor, and it would not be surprising if Panasonic has also noticed what a certain Australian company (Blackmagic) has been doing with their cameras. While the latter company has faced a few delays getting their products out, they have been in very high demand, proving that sensor size can be less of an issue when the image quality is there and you're getting RAW and ProRes formats. Blackmagic has worked to give the highest possible quality in the most affordable package possible, and the fact that two of the cameras can utilize Micro 4/3 lenses makes for more directly competing products than they otherwise would have been.
I wouldn't mind seeing them put this new sensor into a body like the AF100 with ND filters -- and we very well could get that at some point. For now, all we've got is rumors, so we'll just have to wait and see what they've got up their sleeves come NAB time.
What do you think? How much would you pay for a more professional GH camera with 4K and presumably better image quality than the GH2 and GH3 -- something close to the C100/C300?