REVIEW: Panasonic EVA1 is a Triumphant Return to the Cinema World for the Digital Pioneer
Panasonic storms back into mid-level cinema space with a camera that has only the smallest of flaws.
The Panasonic EVA1 is undoubtedly the most exciting camera of last year. This is at least partially the absence of announcements from Panasonic in this space for, well, a long time. While some would argue that, on paper, the Canon C200 or the Sony FS7 Mark II or the Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro are fairly similar cameras, all of those companies have been busy in the $5-10K space rolling out a lot of pretty useful units. Panasonic, on the other hand, has not.
Panasonic dropped the ball (hence its near-complete lack of presence on lists like "cameras of Sundance," which it should dominate), the company knows it, and the EVA1 is intended as its "We're back in the ballgame here, folks" camera. Since many of us remember fondly the DVX-100 and the HVX-200, the EVA1 has caused a lot of chatter—hopeful talk that some might consider in outsized proportion to what's on offer.
In reality, what actually is on offer would be impressive even if we weren't so starved from an offering from Panasonic in this space: 4K internal recording with 5.7K RAW to an external recorder; Panasonic ergonomics, build quality, and color mapping, which is beloved by many; best of all, a version of the dual native ISO that has made the Varicam so popular (though this camera offers ISO 800 and 2500 instead of ISO 800 and 5000). ISO 2500 is still incredibly fast for a native ISO, however, and should offer a tremendous amount of usable low-light footage with very little grain.
Getting the review unit
After seeing the EVA1 announcement at Cine Gear, we've been pestering Panasonic for a review unit for months, and the company thankfully came through. It arrived the best packaged of any review unit we've ever received, in a perfectly sized case with a perfectly sized Portabrace, and even a photo map to the contents of the case. Every manufacturer should aspire to this level of packaging for its review units.
While $7,500 is a lot of money, it's just barely within the range where indie filmmakers can conceivably find a way to purchase or lease a camera long-term if they are working often enough. RED, ALEXA and Varicam cameras are wonderful, but their full package prices tend to put them out of the realm where most of us would end up owning them; they are rental items when needed. But if you can put together a camera and lens combo for under $10K, you get to a world where many regular shooters, directors, and small production companies can find a way to snag one to use on client jobs and then on their own jobs in between client work. It's the top end of "approachable" cameras.
Hence the excitement when Panasonic announced the EVA1 at an event at Cine Gear back in June. Choosing Cine Gear for the announcement instead of NAB was also noteworthy (though Panasonic did have the body under a sheet at NAB). NAB is for "broadcasters," and while the film world attends NAB, "broadcasters" is in the name of the show. Cine Gear is for filmmakers, and by waiting the extra six weeks to release the EVA1 at Cine Gear, Panasonic sent a clear signal about this camera's target market.
The specs of the camera on paper are fantastic: RAW to a recorder; the popular AVC implementation of H.264 to SD cards; dual native ISO; 2.6lbs body only. There was buzz about this camera based purely on specs. We were definitely excited to get our hands on the EVA1 to see if those specs lived up to reality.
Panasonic has long been known for its high quality construction, with DVX and HVX cameras giving users years of long life. The only item we've personally broken on one of those cameras was the microphone mount, and conveniently that microphone mount was replaceable with two small screws. You get the camera body in your hands and it has echoes of the brand's history of quality. Our only current worry is how light the body is. That lightness is amazing—when you first take it out of the case, it feels like air. The lightness is great for gimbals, handheld, maybe even drones (though the X7 will give comparable quality and you would need a Matrice to fly the EVA1, at which point, why not get an Alexa Mini up in the air if you are spending that money).
But as with any ultralight product, we have to wonder where the sacrifices were made to get the weight down that far. Wherever it came from, though, we couldn't see any visible sacrifices. For instance, the handheld mount, plastic on so many cameras, is metal here. The plastic outer body is the same we know from other Panasonic models. Maybe Panasonic fills the bodies with helium?
The biggest thing we tend to focus on with cameras is image quality, which makes sense: we are using them to make images, how do those images look? However, as image quality parity becomes something we're getting closer and closer to (it's going to be harder and harder in the coming years to make one Super 35mm sensor "better" than another; sensor size will matter more), other factors start to be a bigger deal in camera choice. Weight. Button placement. Adaptability. These become larger and larger parts of the equation once you can reasonably say, "With a bit of work, you can grade these two cameras to match, so which is going to be easier to work with every day?" The body style of the EVA1 blew us away, especially for a camera that could create such great footage.
Beyond the obvious benefits of button placement matching the "Panny" house style, making it easier to remember them in the dark or when you are in a rush, there are many other ergonomic benefits of the design that play out primarily when thinking about rigging the body. Our two favorite design choices are both clearly about rigging on gimbals and other compact situations. First is the deep battery pocket. This forces you to set up the gimbal balance and clearance specifically set to the largest battery possible, even if you only have a small battery mounted for the setup stage while your big unit charges. Nothing is worse than locking yourself into small batteries by rigging to a small battery and having to tweak settings in the middle of a busy shoot day because you run out of small batteries and need to go big and that big battery hits your support arms.
The other design detail we really appreciate is the removal of the rear viewfinder. This is the clear moment when Panasonic tells users, "This camera is for filmmakers, not broadcasters." If you need a viewfinder, you can get one, but by removing it, Panasonic makes it easier for the unit to clear gimbal arms for freedom of movement, which opens up a wider array of different, and often smaller, gimbals that are compatible with the camera.
One small niggle is we wish that the three columns of screws on the top were matched on the bottom, C200 style. You'll mostly want to use the middle row of screw holes on these types of cameras, but it would certainly be nice to have the option of mounting your plate to the right or left if you have somehow rigged it with a lot of weight to one side. It's great to have three columns on top, however, and we'll enjoy that for now.
Latitude used to be the big battle: video was super contrasty, with as little as six stops of usable range with something like a 5D Mark II, and you needed film to capture wide latitude with nice rolloff, or the high-end cinema cameras. You used to have to really bump up to the ALEXA to get this kind of latitude, which we would say this is something like 10-11 stops on the EVA1 based on over/under tests. These tests generally give a bit less latitude than something like a Xyla, but are a good way to rough in where your usable latitude lives especially if you don't have a chance to put a camera in front of lab equipment. That 10-11 stops is bit less than the Varicam, which comes in around something like 12-14 stop range. Maybe a stop less, maybe 2 stops less.
Will this affect you in the real world? As you can see in the footage and stills below, overexposed highlights roll off smoothly, and you still get nice, clean detail. If you want to go out on a Varicam show and use the EVA1 for action/C camera work, we think you'll be completely satisfied with what you get from the camera in terms of matching in post. There are real world situations where you need 13 stops and up of latitude, but for 98% of shooting scenarios, 11 stops will be plenty to capture a wide variety of lighting in the scene.
Note: all this footage was processed with the standard Panasonic V-log to Rec 709 LUT. Grading could take this footage further, but since many users will pop on a LUT and go, we thought that was a nice neutral place to work. We found we liked a hair more contrast and saturation than the base LUT gave us, as you might see in our review video, but this video focuses just on the simplest evaluation of the footage with the default LUT.
With every product, there is always a feature or two you are giving up at the expense of another. Good design is about balance, and as engineers work to create a camera, they make sacrifices to provide certain features that often don't perfectly line up with each individual user's needs. This typically leads to at least one feature in any review being a "possible deal breaker," such as the prominent rear viewfinder of the C200. The decision was made to benefit a certain customer base, but it will frustrate others. We kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting to find that with the EVA1, and it just never appeared, for us. There is a flaw, but it doesn't affect our workflow personally, though we do need to flag it. It, strangely, is a flaw that might get worse with time.
Yes, the EF mount was initially a bit of a disappointment, but by the end of our review period, it was obviously the right choice. There are just so many lenses available in EF of such high quality, but at a price point that matches the EVA1, that it just felt right. While out in the field, we were even swapping lenses with our still photographer in a way that felt fluid and organic. EF works. And if it doesn't, Wooden Camera already has you covered with a PL adapter.
We were also worried about power supply options since the EVA1 only runs on small camcorder batteries, which aren't going generate enough power to supply a follow focus or external video system adequately. Here again, this feels like the absolute right choice. To bulk up the power supply would have added more weight (going from the C300 to the C700, which in some ways is just a C300 with more power outputs, increases weight from 4lbs to 7.9lbs and nearly triples the price), and is frankly something better done in other ways. For instance, with the Ronin 2, you get power for items like monitors, Teradek, and even the camera from the gimbal unit, keeping weight off the camera head. So, to waste space and weight on the EVA1 body with power distribution makes no sense if you are going to be flying it frequently in a gimbal. If you need that power on the ground, again, Wooden Camera (and many others) have nearly infinite options in a Gold mount plate with P-tap outs to supply whatever power you need for accessories.
With such a healthy and competitive accessory market, Panasonic wisely freed itself up to focus on just the purest of camera experiences, assuming rightly that if it packs as many of the main features as possible into the body, and let the special use cases sort themselves out in the accessories, the company would have a winner, and we think it does.
Auto focus is changing
One of the first things most teachers have long taught their students is that professionals don't use auto focus. Professionals make choices about focus, where to put it, how to change it, and auto focus is for home video. However, in the last few years, that's rapidly started to change, and with the amazing advances in auto focus abilities with still cameras (the best of which, the A9 from Sony, seems to be nearly magical or psychic), we're getting closer and closer to a world in which auto focus is a tool used by pros as well. With the C200, those sophisticated auto focus tools are arriving in motion cameras, and our relationship with how we focus cameras is changing.
Both of those cameras, of course, depend on a close relationship between the design of the lens and the camera body, which both Sony and Canon do in-house. Panasonic, of course, doesn't have a major lens business or its own custom lens mount. While the EF mount was the smart choice for this camera, by not building its own custom mount and its own custom glass that all works together as a tight unit (thank god Panasonic hasn't), the company doesn't have the integration that Sony and Canon have. This means that auto focus is still not particularly sophisticated on the EVA1. It doesn't feel like the future. It's the push button autofocus we've all known for years, but it's not magic.
This isn't a huge deal in 2018. Most shooters we know, even when they use the A7S for video, still use a metabones for EF lenses, not Sony glass with the amazing auto focus pairing. It's not yet the year of auto focus. However, we hope to get two to three years out of a camera platform (or more), and by 2019 or 2020, auto focus might well be the hole in this system. Of course, that's assuming that we think of this as a C200 competitor. If it's a complement for the RED and ALEXA systems, a little buddy to go along with those platforms, auto focus isn't an issue. But as you consider this camera for "one-mule team" productions, it might not be your first choice if you shoot a lot of live sports solo. Of course, in the next two to three years, some amazing aftermarket external auto focus systems might hit the streets, in which case internal auto focus won't be a worry at all.
The picture feel with the EVA1 is just amazing: nicely wide latitude; pleasantly gradable; color reproduction we felt we could trust; a really robust image. One note was that, when properly exposed, the 2500 ISO footage was very clean and the noise was mild, but when underexposed, the 2500 ISO setting added a lot of noise quite quickly. Not unusable, but something to note while shooting. The AVC-Intra codec is a bit processing heavy, however, so the footage still requires some form of processing to DNx, ProRes or CineForm in post to be easy to work with, but then again, so does every other camera at this point.
As you can see in the still above, rolling shutter is exceptionally minor (the blur on the right as opposed to the clean propeller blades on the left). The shutter rolls, but it's well controlled and doesn't leave you with the unpredictable artifacts we see on some other platforms.
The EVA1 is a major statement from Panasonic that it is serious about the indie filmmaking world in search of an excellent camera under $10K. The Varicam is making big inroads into television and episodic production, but hasn't really gotten a big crop of attention in features or indies yet. The EVA1 is the perfect antidote to that, to get Panasonic gear back in the hands of filmmakers who might not use it on their indie feature, but will use it on all their BTS/fundraising/promo videos and then upgrade to the Varicam for the big show. The colors feel great, the resolution feels solid, the camera rigs up however you want it, and the price feels right. Will auto focus be the feature that makes you look to Canon or Sony? That's up to each user and use case, but for us, the EVA1 checks basically all of our boxes. We didn't get to test RAW workflow yet, but will do so when it's operational.
- Amazing all around camera that will fulfill a bunch of needs
- Forward thinking design that makes it ready for cinema, gimbal and rigging applications
- If there is a flaw, it's auto focus, but that isn't really a deal breaker for most
- EF mount, EIS capable
- 2.6lb camera body
- 4K up to 60p, 2K up to 240p
- 5.7K RAW output via future firmware upgrade
- V-log & V-gamut
- 400 Mbps recording
- Dual SD card slots
- 4:2:2 10 Bit
- 2/4/6 stop ND filter wheel
- Removable IR filter via wheel