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27 Apr Thoughts on the new P2 Varicam (Panasonic AJ-HPX3700)

We have the new Panasonic Varicam and it rules!   Really, this is the ULTIMATE digital cinema camera…


Almost seven years after the debut of the original groundbreaking Varicam, Panasonic has released a new, and much improved, Varicam – the 3700.  It includes all of the features of the original with the addition of P2 card recording, a new imager and paired with a new 10-bit “Master Quality” codec (AVC-INTRA), this camera is what we’ve all been waiting for.

I have always been a big fan of the old Varicam – it shoots great images.  It always had the most “filmic” look of any “digi-cinema” HD camera without the digital noise of video.  Back in the day, the Varicam made me believe in HD, when I was just starting out in the biz.
We can talk about image quality for days on end and make comparisons to other cameras but, really, do I have to?  Can’t we just agree F-900 looks great, RED looks great and this camera stands up to or stands above these other cameras.

So, to sidestepping comparisons, I want to talk about the other benefits of the 3700, namely the workflow.  It’s the workflow that truly makes me love this camera.  I always hated digitizing tapes; it just took so long and could give you major troubles and headaches – tapes get eaten, aborted ingests because of time code breaks or tapes ingested at the wrong frame rate.  And to make it worse, digitizing required an expensive VTR machine.  Now you can turn this footage around fast, with an inexpensive card reader and three clicks of the mouse.  In Final Cut Pro, which we use here at Studio B, all you need to do is slide your shot cards into the card reader, open up Log and Transfer, choose the clips you want to import – and then hit the button. Walk away for an hour or so, and all of your clips will be sitting in FCP as QuickTime files, ready to edit.

People are often worried about tapeless formats. They worry about archiving and losing footage or just running out of space on a shoot.  All of these are legitimate concerns and can stand for some improvement and streamlining, for sure. But the benefits of tapeless far outweigh these concerns for me.

Just like any tapeless camera, every time you start and stop recording on the 3700, a new clip is created.  So, you have this non-linear recording going on, with each clip treated to its own name and place on the card.  This gives you the option, in the field or when first beginning post-production, to make choices.  You can delete clips or whole strings of clips. It is a good way to stay organized and save a lot of time for you or your editor when pulling selects.  Right there in FCP’s Log and Transfer or in Panasonic’s clip browser you can view clips, rename clips, erase clips or add notes.  If you have a long format shoot or simply a shoot with a lot of takes, you can easily ditch the bad takes.

Many people also are hesitant to go tapeless while shooting documentary work or perhaps while covering a live event.  With this Varicam, you need not worry.  There are five P2 slots, if you fill them with 32gb cards (or soon 64gb 128gb cards) you have hours and hours of time before you need to off load.  But if you really think you’re going to run out of space, the good news is the cards are hot-swappable, so you can trade out shot cards with empty ones without losing a frame.

If you are shooting green screen, this camera is ideal.  The resolution and virtually lossless recording will give you great keys or composite shots. Here at Studio B, we do a great deal of green screen work and since receiving our Varicam 3700 about two months ago, we have done a lot of green screen shoots with it.  When we have brought it back to key and color correct, it has been a breeze, it’s so crisp, there isn’t a lot of clean up to do.

This camera isn’t for every project or for every budget.  But it is THE camera to use for any high-end work or when you want its great ‘film look.’  I recommend it to anyone who has shot with the HDX900 or Sony’s F-900. With Panasonic’s legendary film-like gamma options, “film rec” mode, coupled with a new imager, this camera is sure to uphold the legendary status of the original Varicam.

Make the switch, GO TAPELESS!

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17 Apr EX1 vs. HVX, so what’s the big deal?

Lately, a lot of people have been calling and asking me about the differences between the Sony EX1 and the Panasonic HVX. What are the advantages and disadvantages of these two cameras? What benefits do I get from Sony vs. Panasonic?


This is what I tell ‘em:

It’s certainly not a comparison of apples and apples, but it’s not quite apples and oranges either. The cameras are as similar as they are different. To begin, the Panasonic doesn’t have a great imager, but it records at a high rate (100mb/sec) and has a trusted codec, DVCPRO HD, that’s “known” and used across the industry. The Sony has an amazing Fujinon lens and a fantastic 1080 imager, and although it uses a different logarithm to get to it’s record rate, it is ultimately recording at a lower rate than the Panasonic (35mb/sec). So, the Panasonic records a mediocre image at a high rate and the Sony records a great image at a more crushed rate.

So, where does that leave us? Are they the same? No. No, they are not the same…

Panasonic has been around, P2 has been around, DVCPRO HD has been around. It’s tried and trusted. DVCPRO HD has become, at the very least, the 720p standard and it has a clear foothold in the industry. Many networks and stations work in DVCPRO or DVCPRO HD; and all NLE’s support DVCPRO HD. So, there are general compatibility advantages while working in this format.

On the flip side XDCAM HD, Sony’s codec, is new and there isn’t the broad based support, yet, across the industry.However, Final Cut Pro has full support, along with Avid – you can make XDCAM become whatever format you need for delivery.

Panasonic’s P2 card system started this whole tapeless thing off, and Sony took a long time to catch up, but now they have done it right. The workflow for the EX1 has been nicely streamlined to work with new Macbook Pros and Final Cut directly. If you don’t have a Macbook Pro, you can use a slick card reader on any machine. Panasonic’s workflow is a bit “clunky” still, but works nicely in Final Cut Pro or Avids, just the same.

When deciding between the two cameras, the most important consideration is your project.Your camera selection depends on your comfort level with workflow, your preferences and your familiarity with certain brands.If you worked a lot with the old DVX-100, or other Panasonic cameras, the HVX will be easy to operate and navigate.If you are familiar with Sony gear, then the EX1 is a breeze to use.It’s a matter of preference and familiarity.

At this point, Sony’s EX1 is certainly giving Panasonic’s HVX a run for its money. But I would hesitate to disregard the HVX just yet. If you’re delivering to ABC, ESPN or Disney, the native DVCPRO HD is a great choice, as they operate on 720p and/or DVCPRO HD.

In terms of image quality – again, it is a matter of trading one thing for another.To my eye, and many others agree, that the color sampling of HVX is better.On the HVX, the colors out of the box are more vivid and easy to manipulate.However, with the imager’s resolution being less and a stock lens, the sharpness is reduced on the HVX.

This is where the EX1 comes in. This camera is super crisp and more sensitive to light overall. With its amazing Fujinon lens and its CMOS sensor, it is much sharper than the HVX. But the colors don’t pop quite the same. You can manually get in there on an EX1 and change a lot of this color, changing the matrix and white shading, etc. But for a ProSumer camera it’s not as straight forward, you need to know a bit more about broadcast and about video imaging in general.

Overall, I think both of these cameras have their place and have their purpose.There is an application that is appropriate for both cameras, for sure.The EX1’s workflow is sleek, but manipulating the camera is not as straight forward. The HVX is older and more established, and is a bit more user friendly, but its work flow is not as clean.

This decision is up to you as a camera operator. You have all types of factors – your general preference, the budget, the computer gear and workflow you have available, and your desired final deliverable. I think a general rule is: the EX1 is for those operators familiar to larger broadcast cameras like the F-900 or Digibeta, that need to take it down a notch; while the HVX is for those who are used to shooting with DVX or HDV and need to step it up a notch.

All of these things determine what is right. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, right now. Talk to me in a year or two and I may have a stronger opinion one way or another. For now, give a call and we’ll have a chat about your project and figure out which is best for you.