The Panasonic VariCam35 Has Two Native ISOs and is a Low-Light Monster
We've already seen that the Panasonic VariCam35 can produce some stunning images. However, did you know that it also features a unique sensor technology that allows the camera to operate at two separate base ISOs, thus turning the VariCam35 into what is perhaps the best low-light cinema camera in existence?
If you didn't know that, don't feel bad. I didn't either until I came across the following video, which shows a demonstration of the Panasonic VariCam35 at an event held by the Digital Cinema Society. So here's Michael Cioni to show you how Panasonic's new cinema camera can pull off some delightful sensor voodoo.
I'm not sure about you guys, but I for one am absolutely blown away by this technology. Traditionally, the native ISO of a camera is the singular point at which the analogue signal does not need to be electrically amplified before being converted into a digital stream of information. Basically, the native ISO is where the camera performs best in terms of its signal to noise ratio and its dynamic range. When you raise your ISO beyond the native setting, you are artificially boosting the signal by adding decibels of electronic gain, which adds more noise to the boosted signal the higher the gain is pushed.
Hence the reason that this is such an amazing feat. Panasonic may be the first company to make a camera that looks significantly better at 5000 ISO than it does at 4000. How exactly they're pulling off this bit of engineering magic, I have no clue, but I assume that the change from 4000 to 5000 ISO triggers a dramatic shift in the way the raw sensor data is being processed, and there's likely some kind of intensive noise reduction involved.
To me, the 5000 ISO image still looks a bit noisier than the 800 ISO images, which calls into question the idea that the camera truly has two native ISOs. However, there is no denying that the VariCam looks amazing at 5000 ISO, especially in comparison to how terrible it looks at 4000. That, in and of itself, is an absolutely incredible engineering feat that will likely cause cinematographers working with low light levels to choose the VariCam.
What's perhaps even more exciting about this is that you can be certain that competing high-end manufacturers like RED and Arri are going to take notice and look for ways to implement this technology - or a similar proprietary technology - into their cameras. Essentially, unless they're content to watch the VariCam35 take over the low-light cinematography niche, RED and Arri are going to have to innovate and come up with a way to compete. That means that in the near (ish) future, we may see dual native ISOs as a standard feature on high-end cinema cameras. That also means that this technology might one day make its way into our inexpensive cinema cameras.
What are your thoughts on the Panasonic VariCam35's dual native ISO feature? Will it spur other high-end manufacturers to innovate in order to keep pace with Panasonic? Let us know down in the comments!