has announced the AG-HVX200, and it’s obvious that they’re
playing for keeps. They want to win it all. With this camera they’ve
combined some of the most-sought-after features of the two most
popular digital cinematography cameras, the $70,000 VariCam and
the $100,000 CineAlta, kept all that was great about the DVX100,
and packaged it into a $5,995 wunderkam that does it all!
start, the HVX200 becomes only the second camera in Panasonic’s
lineup to employ true variable frame rates! The “Vari”
in VariCam comes from the fact that the VariCam can record at
almost any frame rate from 4 to 60 fps, and the HVX is similar
in that it provides a wide variety of frame rates to choose from.
When shooting high-definition video at 720p, it can record at
24P, 30P, and 60P, but also at a wide variety of frame rates in-between.
This means the camera is capable of recording superb frame-accurate
film-style slow motion, better slow-mo than any other video camera
on the market (excepting only the VariCam)!
addition to the incredibly flexible 720p recording mode, the HVX200
becomes the first camera under $100,000 to record high-definition
1080/24p. Previously, if you wanted to record 1080/24p, you had
to use Sony’s CineAlta, a $100,000 digital cinema camera
used for theatrical feature films such as “Star Wars Episode
II” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”. Panasonic
has now lowered the bar of entry for 1080/24p from $100,000 down
to under $6,000. And not only 24P, but also 30P and 60i, just
like the CineAlta.
1080/24p, one could be forgiven for nicknaming this camera the
“MiniAlta”, but that wouldn’t do justice to
its variable frame rate capability (inherited from the VariCam).
So I think I’ll nickname it the “VariAlta”.
frame rates and resolution aside, what is this camera like? It’s
basically everything we’ve come to know and love about the
DVX100, only “more”. It looks very much like the DVX100
but physically bigger, and it retains all the best features of
the DVX100 (including CineGamma, CineMatrix, the Scene File Dial,
the true manual zoom, the precise manual focus, the excellent
stock wide-angle 4.5mm Leica lens, and the best audio subsystem
on any prosumer camera). It even uses the same batteries. But
to this great pedigree it adds more: a longer zoom range (13x,
as opposed to 10x on the DVX, for a focal range of 4.5mm to 58.5mm,
which will help provide for shallower depth of field); 16:9 CCDs
for native 16:9 recording in either high-definition or standard-def;
more recording formats (in addition to DV, there’s DVCPRO50
and DVCPRO-HD); more recording mediums (in addition to miniDV
tape, it offers the revolutionary P2 solid-state memory cards,
and may also record or transfer footage directly to optional external
1394 hard disks); more audio (it can record up to four tracks
of audio at once); more remote control capability (in addition
to the familiar remote zoom jack, the HVX provides for remote
focus and -- get this -- remote iris control!), more feedback
(in addition to the familiar distance scale for focusing, it now
reads out the focus distance in feet & meters); and there
are other bonuses in store as well.
how does it handle?
If you’re familiar with the DVX100 series of cameras, you’ll
feel right at home. The HVX has all the same familiar manual controls
and switches, and uses a familiar menu system. In short, this
is an excellent-handling camera! It fits well in the hands, and
you may not even notice just how big it is until you see it side-by-side
with a DVX100 – it really is quite a bit larger, although
it’s even more ergonomically designed. For example, the
support pillar that attaches the handle to the body is now curved
– it angles away from the body. This means that when you’re
looking through the viewfinder with your right eye, your left
eye is free to see the entire frame in front of you: it’s
no longer blocked by the vertical pillar. Other changes are small
but smack-yourself-in-the-forehead simple, such as the audio channel
control switches. Panasonic’s combined the phantom power
switch and the line/mic switch into one comprehensive switch,
making the camera cleaner, leaner, yet providing all the same
of the nicest ergonomic changes they made was with the higher
viewfinder. The viewfinder is placed higher on the body of the
camera. It may look big, but it has a huge impact on user comfort.
When handholding the camera, with your eye pressed to the viewfinder,
you'll find that your elbow is nicely nestled in to your body,
making for much more comfortable operation for longer periods
while they were at it, check out what they did with the flip-out
LCD screen. The LCD is a 3.5” 4:3 LCD panel. Why 4:3? We
asked ourselves that same question – 4:3 seems like an awfully
silly choice to go with, on a native 16:9 camcorder, doesn’t
it? And then you actually use it, and it all MAKES SENSE! The
camera displays the full 16:9 image on the LCD, and uses the area
above and below the image (the “letterbox” area) for
all the stats, readouts, and displays. This means no cluttered
image! No more trying to “guess” what’s hidden
under the timecode display, or what’s being covered up by
the aperture display, etc. Sheer genius – and greatly improves
the usability of the camera. Now you can have full monitoring
of all camera functions, and full picture display, simultaneously.
Why didn’t anyone think of this before? Add to that full
underscan (for viewing the entire frame edge to edge) and a Focus
Assist function (for easy, precise, pixel-accurate focus even
without an external high-def monitor, which is available during
standby AND recording), and peaking and zebras available simultaneously,
and you’ve got one incredible camera experience. And the
4:3 shape is perfect for displaying the thumbnail previews of
all the clips when previewing P2 card content.
for the shooting experience, Panasonic’s re-organized the
buttons somewhat. The Mode Check button now lives outside the
LCD panel, making it accessible even if the LCD’s closed
(thanks!) And the Color Bars now have their own button, instead
of taking up one of the User buttons. The User buttons have a
very familiar set of choices, including Spotlight, Backlight,
Black Fade, White Fade, and 18dB Gain, and some new choices including
ATW Lock, Shot Mark, TC Stamp and Slot Sel. And where the DVX
offered an “auto” button for putting the camera in
fully-automatic mode, the HVX improves on that by turning the
button into a hard sliding switch. No more accidental “auto”!
workflow, there’s now a shot marker button that allows you
to mark a take as “good” right in the field, so when
you’re reviewing the P2 clips you’ll see at a glance
which takes you thought were the best when shooting. The focus
ring is huge now, and located right up by the front of the lens.
And the LCD panel’s been given a wider range of travel,
so it seems a lot sturdier and more rugged. Another nice integration
is the slow shutter speeds – the camera the same shutter
range as the DVX, from ¼ up to 1/2000 (depending on what
mode you’re shooting in) but the convoluted path to access
the slow shutter speeds on the DVX now yields to complete seamless
integration in the HVX. Of course, the HVX also includes the excellent
Syncro-Scan shutter speed system, giving you access to nearly
any shutter speed from 1/24.0 to 1/250.0 in 24p, 1/30.1 to 1/250.0
in 30p, or 1/60.3 to 1/250.0 in 60i or 60p.
On DVXUser.com, we kept a comprehensive list of new features that
we wanted to see in a revised camera – and boy, did they
listen. Other than pie-in-the-sky requests, it looks like Panasonic
is delivering almost every item we requested. We’re incredibly
impressed that Panasonic is obviously listening to its users,
and going out of its way to design a product that does exactly
what we want. For example, now there's an SD memory card slot.
Now you can save your scene file settings to a memory card, re-load
them from card, or transfer your scene file settings to other
cameras. Setting multiple cameras to match is now a much, much
simpler process. Kudos to you, Panasonic!
Thousands of pages have been written on the merits and costs of
recording to P2 media. Having worked with P2, all I can say is
“you’re in for a treat.” P2 changes the way
you work. Moving from tape-based linear acquisition to random-access
nonlinear acquisition is as big a revolutionary change as moving
from tape-based linear editing to disk-based non-linear editing.
With the introduction of P2, and with Sony’s introduction
of XDCAM, and with JVC implementing onboard hard disk recording,
tape’s days are coming to a close. Once you’ve worked
with random-access P2, it’s very, very difficult to go back
to the limitations that tape imposes. It’s like the old
saying “you can’t keep them down on the farm after
they’ve seen Paris.”
making a major marketing push for P2, so we won’t spend
much time in this article discussing it, other than to say that
it’s absolutely a revolution. Furthermore, it’s the
very nature of P2 that even allowed this camera to come into being,
and to support the various frame rates, resolutions, and recording
types that it does. A DVCPRO-HD tape deck costs over $25,000 by
itself. By choosing to record to P2 instead of tape, Panasonic
brings full-fledged DVCPRO-HD to a camera that costs less than
$6,000. Brilliant. We recognize it’ll take some users a
while to come around to the idea of recording to memory instead
of physical tape, just like it surely took time for typewriter
users to get used to the idea that their words lived “electronically”
rather than on an actual physical piece of paper. But P2 is to
tape as the word processor was to the typewriter: it’s out
of the bag, and once you get a taste of it, there’s no going
great feature that's possible because of the P2 system is pre-record.
The camera can be set to start recording *before* you press the
record button! It automatically caches whatever the camera was
looking at, so when you press the "record" button, it
commits that buffered recording to memory, and continues recording
from there -- very handy for times when you're whale-watching,
for example, and the whale breaches, catching you unaware. While
other shooters are scrambling to press their record button, the
HVX will already have captured the shot! Pre-record buffering
provides for 3 seconds in high-def mode, and 7 seconds in standard-def.
Perhaps even more interesting is the "loop record" mode,
which lets you pre-record for the entire duration of a P2 card.
It's like pre-record buffering, but it allows you to buffer the
entire contents of the card, less the duration of your actual
recording. I know that sounds confusing, so let me explain by
example: if you had an 8gb card installed, and were recording
720/24p, you'd have a total record time of 20 minutes possible.
The loop record mode will record continuously, buffering up to
the last 20 minutes. If you then press "record", it
will start recording from that moment forward, and will continue
to record over the pre-recorded buffer. If you record five minutes
of "live" video, on the card you'll have the prior 15
minutes plus the current five. If you instead record for 18 minutes,
the card will hold the current 18 minutes plus the two minutes
prior to when you pressed "record".
camera can also do real-time downconversion from the P2 card to
DV tape. Buttons on the back of the camera let you control dubbing
from the card to the tape, converting from the high-definition
DVCPRO-HD image to standard-definition DV, even preserving timecode.
And, get this – you can shoot in 720p at variable frame
rates, and downconvert that to DV, so you can get the great slow-motion
and fast-motion capability even in standard-def! It can also dub
footage from the P2 card directly to an iPod, or to an external
USB hard disk.
What an embarrassment of riches. At this time last year, there
was exactly one low-priced high-definition camera on the market,
the much-berated JVC HD1/HD10. Last July the Canon XL2 was introduced.
Now, just 9 months later, we have the Sony FX1, the Sony Z1, the
JVC HD100, and now the Panasonic HVX200 to choose from. How do
they stack up?
comparison is ultimately meaningless until we get the footage
to compare. But that doesn’t mean people won’t spend
months debating statistics, so we’ll throw in some info,
(or, “fuel for the fire”):
The Sony FX1 and Z1 use HDV at 1080i. The JVC uses ProHD at 720p.
ProHD is basically HDV, except with an extension to allow 24p
recording. The Panasonic uses DVCPRO-HD. HDV is a brand new format,
whereas DVCPRO-HD has been around for at least four years. ProHD
is even newer than HDV.
are numerous specifications and “number arguments”
that people can get into. We prefer to ignore that, and instead
focus on the actual ramifications involved with each camera. We’ll
wait for a shipping camera to perform a three-camera review, side-by-side,
so we can find out what “really matters,” i.e. the
footage, versus arguing statistics and specifications.
All three cameras offer uncompressed high-definition output on
the component video outputs. The Sony offers 1080i, the JVC offers
720/60p (which can also be cross-converted to 1080/60i), and the
Panasonic offers native 1080/60i and 720/60p (as well as the ability
to cross-convert 720/60p over to 1080/60i). For uncompressed output
the Sony is the most limited, the Panasonic the most flexible,
but recording uncompressed output is no trivial task: it requires
the ability to capture and record approximately 166 megabytes
per second, or about 70x as much data as gets stored on an HDV
tape. For the vast majority of users, uncompressed output is likely
to be completely irrelevant. For live studio switching it could
be quite handy.
The Sony FX1 and Z1 shoot 1080i only. That means interlaced-only
video, or “the video look”. They have some in-camera
modes to simulate progressive-scan for 25p or 30p at lower resolution,
and a poor in-camera 24p simulation that results in unnatural
motion rendition. The Sony interlaced footage can be processed
in post to simulate 24p, and some very good programs exist to
do that, but all require sacrificing resolution, and the end results
will not match true 24hz progressive-scan.
JVC HD100 shoots progressive only, at 24p or 30p. No provision
is made for the “video look”, which would require
60p or 60i. It’s not clear why they didn’t provide
for 60p recording, as 60p is supported by the HDV standard, but
in our view it’s a huge mistake on their part not to include
it. The HD100 can make filmlike footage at 24p, but won’t
be able to shoot the “reality” look for reality TV,
news, event coverage, etc. Very curious limitation. This means
there will likely be many types of paying jobs that the JVC will
not be able to be used on.
HVX200 supports everything the other cameras do, and much more.
It supports both 1080i and 720p, and also 1080p (utilizing 2:3
or 2:3:3:2 pulldown within the 1080i recording, similar to how
the DVX and XL2 implement 24p and 30p). It supports many more
frame rates, including 60p, as well as variable frame rates in
the 720p mode. And using DVCPRO-HD instead of HDV means it can
record twice as much color information, and doesn’t suffer
from any MPEG motion artifacts, unlike the other two cameras.
In addition, perhaps one of the most exciting and most underrated
features is that the Panasonic also offers a low-compression (3.3:1)
high-color-resolution standard-definition recording format, DVCPRO50.
DVCPRO50 is approximately equivalent to Digital Betacam as a recording
medium, and offers 4:2:2 color sampling and very mild compression,
for exceptionally clean, rich standard-definition recording. (for
more info on DVCPRO50, see pages 134-143 of the SMPTE/EBU paper
The HVX can record 24P and 30P in all modes, and 60i in all modes
except high-def 720, where it instead records 60p.
The HDV format specifies that two tracks of audio (one stereo
pair) are recorded in 16-bit 48Khz, and then compressed at a ratio
of 4:1 using MPEG-1 Layer II audio compression. The Sony and the
JVC both adhere to this specification, and as such, when shooting
high-definition video, they can only offer compressed audio.
Panasonic offers the ability to record four tracks of audio (or
two stereo pairs) in 16-bit 48Khz quality, completely uncompressed.
Considering the HVX’s predecessor (the DVX100) was consistently
praised for its audio quality, it’s a fair bet to say that
the HVX will match it, and providing two additional tracks puts
the Panasonic squarely at the forefront. We’ll have to test
the cameras to make sure they’re delivering “the goods”,
but as far as specifications on paper go, the Panasonic is far
ahead of the other cameras.
The JVC HD100’s main claim to fame is that it sports an
interchangeable lens, something neither the HVX nor the Sony cameras
offer. The HD100’s lens choices are currently limited to
two Fujinons, although a ½” bayonet mount adapter
will be made available which will let you use ½”
lenses. We wonder if JVC hasn’t totally stolen Canon’s
thunder – what’s left for Canon to do with an “XL3”,
now that JVC has made a (relatively) low-cost interchangeable-lens
camera in the HDV format? Perhaps Canon will respond with a 1080i
or 1080/24p version? That would be curious, seeing as HDV makes
no provision for 24P, and JVC had to invent their own format (ProHD)
to provide it. Maybe Canon will adopt ProHD?
the Sony and Panasonic cameras all share a similar handheld form
factor, as opposed to the JVC camera’s shoulder-mount form
factor. The Sony sports a Carl Zeiss 12x lens, the Panasonic offers
a Leica 13x lens. The Panasonic offers true mechanical manual
zoom, whereas the Sony offers a servo-driven zoom with a simulated
manual zoom ring.
The Sony offers recording to tape, and only to tape. The JVC offers
recording to tape, and also an optional onboard hard disk recorder.
Both cameras can also be fitted with an external FireStore HDV-compatible
hard disk recorder, but that FireStore is not the type of device
you would hand over to a client at the end of a shoot, it’s
more for personal use and in-house recording.
Panasonic offers miniDV tape for recording, and P2 memory cards
for high-def (and standard-def DVCPRO25 and DVCPRO50) recording.
It can also transfer files from the P2 card directly to an off-the-shelf
USB 2.0 external hard disk, or to a potentially-forthcoming FireStore
type of device.
That’s the eternal question. As for answers, it’s
hard to give one until we know what the footage looks like from
each camera. To even continue this discussion, we have to presume
that the footage from the cameras will at least be competitive
with each other. Without making that assumption, no amount of
conjecture makes sense.
one thing seems clear to us: with only a $49 difference in price,
it becomes much more difficult to understand why someone would
consider the Sony Z1 over the HVX200, unless you absolutely positively
have to record some type of high-definition footage on tape, or
you absolutely cannot wait for the Panasonic to come on the market
(sometime in the fourth quarter 2005). When compared head-to-head
with the Sony, the Panasonic also offers 1080i recording (but
with twice the color sampling and no MPEG artifacts or dropouts).
Additionally it offers genuine 24p and 30p recording, and 720p
recording in variable frame rates. In standard-definition the
Sony offers regular DV, and so does the Panasonic – but
the Panasonic also offers 4:2:2 DVCPRO50 recording (which should
make for superb DVDs). The HVX200 has a longer lens, true manual
control of the lens instead of Sony’s “simulated”
manual zoom, records true uncompressed audio (and twice as many
tracks, at that) and costs virtually the same. If you’ve
absolutely got to have high-definition recorded to a miniDV tape,
and it’s got to be 1080i interlaced video, and you don’t
mind the lower color sampling, then the Sony still makes sense
for that purpose. And the Sony FX1, at a roughly $3,200 street
price, is clearly the value leader. But otherwise, the Panasonic
does everything the Sonys do, and an unbelievable amount more.
For 24P or 30P users, filmmakers, commercial producers, etc.,
there’s no question, the Panasonic has the Sony beat all
around (on paper).
the JVC, the question is more open. The JVC offers features the
Panasonic doesn’t, primarily a shoulder-mount form factor
and an interchangeable lens system. And the Panasonic offers things
the JVC doesn’t, most primarily the higher-definition 1080
recording mode, and the ability to shoot “reality”-looking
footage at 60i and 60p, something the JVC cannot do. So the question
becomes: do you absolutely have to have an interchangeable lens
and/or a shoulder-mount form factor, regardless of all other considerations?
If so, the JVC may be the camera for you. It certainly is a “looker”,
and its form factor will definitely be appealing to some customers.
But if the fixed lens and form factor of the Panasonic are enough
for you, you’ll get twice the color resolution, “reality”-looking
video at 60p, variable frame rates, plus the ability to record
1080i and 1080p, and no MPEG artifacts, all for about the same
price. Why would someone settle for a camera that can only record
720/24p and 720/30p at 4:2:0 color sampling with compressed audio,
when they could instead get one that does 24p and 30p at 4:2:2
color sampling, in both 720 and 1080 resolution, and also offers
60p and 60i and variable frame rates and uncompressed audio with
twice as many tracks? Finally, pricing is as yet unknown; we don’t
know what the JVC’s price is so we don’t know how
the two cameras compare on a value basis.
that’s left is to view the footage. On that aspect, the
ball is squarely in Panasonic’s court. If the footage is
not competitive, it doesn’t matter what the features are.
But if the images keep the promises that the rest of the camera
is making, well… obviously the consumer is the one who will
determine the winner, but based on the features we’ve seen
on paper, the consumer may very well say “The camcorder
wars are over. Sony, JVC, Canon, thank you for playing.”
click to enlarge