Watch: Panasonic Varicam LT 'Beats Out Other Camera Systems'

A No Film School reader took the Panasonic Varicam for a spin—and loved it.

[Editor's Note: Ben Meredith, a No Film School community member, filmed this review. The following words and images are his own.]

I'll let the review speak for itself, but overall, this is a very great camera that beats many competitors in a variety of ways. It does have its pros and cons, but ultimately I fell in love with the image and usability of the Panasonic Varicam LT right away.

The camera has an extremely natural, organic, filmic look, probably to be compared to the likes of Arriwhich is why, for me, it beats out many of the RED/Sony/Blackmagic/Canon systems. The Canon c300 Mark II comes close for the price range, but it still has that "Canon" look and lack of certain options (Varicam offers even more).

"It beats out many of the RED/Sony/Blackmagic/Canon systems."

Video review sections

Overview: 4:07
Control Panel: 10:18
Image: 16:02
Slo-mo: 16:47
(Switching) Codecs: 21:09
ISO: 23:51
Looks/Dynamic Range: 30:19
From Dust: 36:35
Final Thoughts: 41:05

5 Pros

  1. Image quality very filmic (to my eye) and great color reproduction; fine noise texture
  2. 800 and 5000 ISO is amazing
  3. Robust codecs as well as ProRes
  4. Built like a tank
  5. Slow motion options

5 Cons

  1. A bit on the bulky side once you build it out, but still a tight enough package
  2. Restarting the camera when changing codecs/frame rates can be time-consuming
  3. No internal microphone for scratch audio (definite bummer)
  4. P2 cards—solidly built, but quite expensive
  5. Cropped 240 FPS slow motion displays noticeable quality loss

For more information and specs on the camera, read this interview with Panasonic Varicam's product manager.      

This review (and myself) is not affiliated with Panasonic in any way. These are my opinions; it's a matter of taste! I think any camera that works for you is the right choice. They all do amazing things. I just happen to like this one extra. Also, rent it! Rent cameras, especially when they are this expensive, before you make the choice to purchase. All footage was shot using the Sigma 18-35. The review portion filming me was shot using the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

Your Comment

19 Comments

I'd love to have this camera, but with the latest price drop on the C300 Mark II it's hard to say it's worth the money.

July 7, 2016 at 2:32PM

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I don't know. I like the C300 Mark II, but it can't handle highlights like this camera can, both in terms of dynamic range, and also in terms of hard clipping. I think the Varicam image is in the same league as the Alexa image while also giving you native 4K, which makes the seemingly expensive price pale in comparison to the starting price for an Alexa mini package. I think it's worth it, and I think shooters will keep it around for a very long time.

July 7, 2016 at 4:47PM

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Steven Bailey
Writer/Director/Composer
1104

what? same league as the alexa image? I mean dynamic range is nice, but color, motion cadence, highlight falloff, skin tones, is something else

July 9, 2016 at 11:38AM, Edited July 9, 11:38AM

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Agreed - also need to see a shoot-out to see how it stacks up to Alexa, Red, C300ii, all that. Just costs a bunch of cash. I think CML may have some DPX files to play with.

July 7, 2016 at 2:40PM

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Ed David
Director of Photography
1745

I got you guys! Here is some footy to play with, most of it 4k: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/kuob6f0x4ec1tkw/AACWBldY6E_rjXKLpOeEKTKSa?dl=0

To my eye I liked it more than the RED image and c300mii straight out of cam, but honestly all of those systems produce great images.

July 7, 2016 at 2:44PM

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Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
1574

This looked closer to RED MX footage than Dragon footage...

July 7, 2016 at 7:15PM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
2021

I downloaded the files and they do indeed look lovely. Very organic and clean but without losing mojo. Seems hard to beat the C300ii for usability though. The varicam is going to need more to support it so depends if the trade off is worth it.

July 7, 2016 at 3:38PM

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Liam Martin
DP, editor, part time director
1209

I'm sure we will hear more and more about this camera. I don't really understand the color grading choices of the uploaded Varicam images I saw here and there. In fact it looks super good and Alexa-like by just working basically on the levels from the Vlog. Takes 10 seconds. It's the third time that I download some AVC files and it looks 10x better by just leveling shadows and highlights than the posted CC result. Work one minute more and it's gorgeous.

July 8, 2016 at 2:03AM, Edited July 8, 2:16AM

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JoachimV
502

Glad you downloaded the footage to play with it yourself! I don't want anyone to take my stylistic grade as a starting point to what this camera can do, as I am not a colorist and will be the first to admit I overdid it on some shots (it's easy to, the image is THAT flexible!). I would love to see what you did with the images, thank you!

July 8, 2016 at 8:35AM

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Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
1574

Yes, so much freedom in post. Definitely something I've never experienced before. My Red raw footages are breaking faster than that. I pushed the Varicam images quite far and they were still amazingly clean and gorgeous. It's like quitting a 15 tons truck to drive a kart. Red looks nice on paper, 16+ stops of DR (.....), 6k, 8k, etc, but disappointing at the end. Let's face it, Red is constantly releasing upgrades and people are constantly paying some crazy amount of money to get a bit more of DR and better colors. If it was as perfect as people scream it on Reduser they would not run after every upgrade like they do. The Varicam LT is the opposite. It was laughable at first looking at the specs and price. Then you try to grade it for real (not just repeating forum guys nerdy words) and you see you were screwed.

July 10, 2016 at 1:58AM

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JoachimV
502

If I wanted to be niceI'd say the colors of the varricam, especially on skin tone is a big let down. But if I was more honest I'd say they're horrendous. Please look at the black girl skin and tell me you'd be happy with that.
I thought I was a lighting problem until I saw the footages of the c300.

July 8, 2016 at 3:22AM

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Martin Brewer
Director, DOP
654

I was, but that wasn't correction it was stylistic grading. I'm of course NOT a professional colorist and don't ever intend to be, which is why I provided native files for everyone to download and play with. I encourage you to download them and see what you can do in the grade to get a better understanding of the colors in this camera. As I stated in the review, do not take my opinion or my stylistic choice as accurate facts about the camera.

July 8, 2016 at 8:32AM

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Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
1574

Crikes mates! 27,500 $$$$!!! Plus expensive rigging cards and unwieldy. Sure it is nice but most customers won't see any difference. Canon 300 mark ii at $11000 is also less difficult to use, bomb proof, and easy in post production. It also usable on gimbal.

July 8, 2016 at 11:05AM, Edited July 8, 11:08AM

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Bernard shaw
Owner operator
152

Very true, it is a great camera and very flexible. For documentary work specifically I would say the c300mii is the one to look at.

July 8, 2016 at 11:20AM

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Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
1574

Hats-off to Ben for a great review. It certainly makes sense for small companies or one-man operations who understand the gear landscape to test these cameras.

But I've never quite understood why manufacturers don't push their new cameras in larger productions. Surely it would make sense to loan a camera to a documentary team or mid-scale short film project. We hear so much about 'Arri-like' look/latitude - let's see what these cameras can do with art production, lighting, actors, post-production, etc. And maybe hear from the crew?

I guess nobody wants to take risks with unknown gear? Or maybe it would be seen as too much interference from a manufacturer?

July 8, 2016 at 11:31AM

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Thank you, and I was thinking the same thing! I know the bigger brother Varicam has been used on some high-end professional stuff, and unfortunately I had the camera for such little time all I could really do is shoot outside with natural light and talk everyone to death about its features haha.
I hope it gets in the hands of professional high-end projects. I'll be using it again quite frequently and try to provide more footage with more controlled shooting environments, better lit, etc.

July 8, 2016 at 11:35AM

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Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
1574

Just get an Alexa if this price is a bit much for you.

July 8, 2016 at 4:09PM, Edited July 8, 4:09PM

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Ricardo Nunez
Wannabe Cinematographer
128

If you know what you're doing, this is a great tool. Otherwise, God help you.

July 10, 2016 at 4:01PM

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Terma Louis
Photographer / Cinematographer / Editor
1584

Concerning the price we should not forget about the warranty. I don't know if it's worldwide, but in Europe it's a free 5 years Panasonic Premium warranty. They send someone to pick up your camera wherever in Europe and will repair it in 5 open days. If it's more they lend you an equivalent camera. Red and Arri offer 1 year warranty and it's super expensive if you need more. 1500$ for 2 more years @Red, 1000$ per extended year for the Amira, between 2000 and 4000$ per year for an Alexa ..... Worth to be considered.

July 10, 2016 at 11:51PM, Edited July 11, 12:00AM

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JoachimV
502