Turn the volume down on the vimeo player (the little bars towards the right on the controls) and play the commentary. It’s MUCH longer than the film so start audio first and follow instructions as to when to hit play and pause on the video. You can download the commentary if it makes it easier for you, just follow link below the waveform. Loads of info not in the review. I really recommend you listen to it…
Travel is not glamorous. Ok, that is not strictly true. If you are billionaire with your own jet and crew then I am sure it is! I travel a lot, especially this year I have been away from home for most of it…no matter how nice a hotel you are staying in there is nothing like home. Now I am not complaining…far from it. I am lucky to be in this position and I know it. I am lucky to be offered awesome opportunities, both in my capacity as a DP and as a teacher.
I have just finished a very intense week of teaching DSLR cinematography in association with Vistek in Canada. Very rewarding and very fulfilling but absolutely knackering as I would do a full day workshop then go to airport to fly to another city in Canada. At the end of my last workshop in Ottawa I flew back to Toronto then back to London. I went home briefly to unpack and repack and then I flew out to Japan at the request of Panasonic Europe.
Now I used to be a Panasonic owner, I used to own an HVX200 but never really loved it. Part of the issues was the then huge expense of P2 media and I struggled in low light with it and much more. I did review other Panasonic cameras since, the HPX171 which I thought was much better than the HVX, the HPX 300 and the far superior HPX 371 earlier this year. But, the only Panasonic cameras I currently own are the GH1 and GH2 as well as a couple of point and shoots and a consumer camcorder.
It was my review of the HPX 371 and GH1 that made Panasonic Europe get in touch with me about taking a look at their new camcorder, the potential game changing AG-AF101 (101 is the Europe model, a different number for every region, but the good news is all the cameras have the same multi region functionality) Why game changing you may ask? For these reasons…this is the first affordable professional camcorder to come out with a large sensor, all because of the DSLR revolution. It’s a micro four thirds chip. Essentially half the size of a full frame 5Dmk2 sensor but not hugely smaller than a S35 sized sensor. So still big. The thing is this baby is priced at under $5k. In camcorder terms that is really aggressive pricing. Sony recently announced their S35 sized EX style camcorder and the specs look great but the price is way more than this. This camera is directly targeting the DSLR user. As a big fan of the DSLR movement (I own all the Canons, two Nikons, two Lumix cameras) and someone who uses them professionally for about 2/3rd of my work I really wanted to see if this camera was any good. It also helped that as a GH1 owner I already own a few micro four third lenses.
I had the camera a couple of weeks back for just 3 days but was only able to shoot with it for 1 as I was working the rest of the time. The camera was just 75% finished so a lot was not working but I still enjoyed shooting with it and was happy with the results….not ecstatic but happy. The main issue being simply the expected bugginess of the pre-production camera caused me issues.
Panasonic prior to this had invited me to come to their factory in Osaka, Japan to give them feedback directly. A really lovely invitation that I did not think I would be able to do due to my insane schedule, but with a bit of work I was able to make it happen. It also meant I was able to check out an almost finished camera.
15 hours of flying later (I had to fly via Frankfurt) I made it to Japan and met up with my European colleagues….and of course DVXuser main man Barry Green who is going to produce an AF100 book. Barry is the man when it comes to Panasonic cameras. He knows them inside and out, so it was fortuitous for all of us that he was there.
First day I arrived I more or less slept as we arrived in the morning as I was f*****! Big mistake as this screwed up my sleep pattern for the rest of the trip!
Next day we went to the Panasonic Osaka factory where we had the most wonderful friendly welcome, so nice, and everyone there was great. We got to speak to the people who actually designed and made the camera and gave them the feedback we had so far from our limited experience with the camera. They listened intently and we were told to me as frank as possible. They didn’t want to hear just the good, they wanted to hear everything that we had issues with and how what could be improved. A really awesome breath of fresh air. I was worried about how frank I could be but after Barry told it like it was so did I!
They took everything on board which was great. Barry and I were in agreement for most of the things. Of course what we wanted from them was a perfect camera, which is naturally unrealistic. There is only so much that can be done with a camera which about to go into production, but for any future version they know exactly what else could be added to improve it.
We had a tour of the factory which was fascinating. Seeing how their big cameras were made and tested and the attention to detail was amazing. Utterly painstaking work. No way would I have the patience to do that!!
Then the thing that we had been waiting for, we were each given an AF101 to take back to the hotel with us for a test shoot in Kyoto the next day. I took one of their Vineten Vision 5 tripods and an Olympus F2 14-35mm. An amazing lens. So fast and sharp…but not cheap. I brought my own lenses too. A Zeiss ZF 50mm. 85mm F1.4, Sigma 20mm F1.8, Nikon 35mm F1.4, Nikon 80-200mm F2.8 and my Leica M lenses, the 35mm F2, my Voigtlander 35mm F1.2, Voigtlander 50mm F1.1. I also of course had my Lumix 20mm F1.7, 14-140, and the awesome 7-14mm F4. So a LOT of lenses. They had some CP.2 Zeiss M43 mount but I only played with them, I didn’t shoot with the…
I didn’t bring my Kessler Crane pocket dolly as I wanted to travel as light as possible, but I brought my Gitzo traveller stills tripod and my metal Gorillapod.
I did plan on doing some low light shooting that night in Osaka but was simply too shagged and we had an early start. So just one day of filming with the camera again. Not ideal. To really get the best out of any camera requires knowing it and shooting with it…so we were flying blind here mostly and made the best of it!
We went off in two buses 3 shooters in each and some Panasonic engineers too…
We went from place to place, not really spending much time in each and tried to shoot as much as we could. Everyone has a very different shooting style so when the others post their stuff I will embed it here so you can check it out. All my shots were on the tripod apart from in the bus, for that I adapted my gorillapod into a shoulder rig.
At the first stop, the temple, tripods were a big no, so I left the Vinten behind and did my best with the Gitzo but was kept on being told off, so I swapped it for the gorillapod and did most on that.
Settings wise I simply had no idea is what I had the camera set up for was best, even Barry was not sure. I has the sharpness up higher than for the previous shoot, this time at -3 as opposed to -7. Detail set to 0 had nasty halos. Barry tweaked a few more of my settings but he said he was guessing, the key one though was Cine Gamma D which gave me a nice flat curve, I used cine gamma V last time (or was it other was around?) whichever one I used it was the flattest.
I did have a Panasonic P2 gear so I could record onto P2 cards but I simply did not use it. Far too awkward to mount with the zero accessories I had. It’s about the same size as the camera…for the last shoot I used my Nanoflash….I came close to getting to try an Atomos Ninja but I just missed the guy from Atomos by a day so was not able to get a unit to use with it. This would have been cool. It’s HDMI only at moment but records directly into high bit rate pro res, perfect for me as an FCP editor and it doubles as a monitor AND is cheap! But I did not have it, so I simply recorded at 24mb/s AVCHD. Which is fine, but a real shame as I wanted to see how much better the SDI output was. Filippo Chiesa did use his Nanoflash so hopefully we will get a comparison soon…
I filmed everything in 1080p 24p and a hell of a lot of it at 60fps within 24p. I love that you can simply access this mode by a button at the back and more importantly I was not limited to 720p as I have been with every other camera I have used with overcrank. This is huge to me. Full HD 60fps looks beautiful as you can see in the edit I did.
I tried out the timelapse a couple of times, both at normal shutter speeds and at ½ second exposures. Would be good to have more options for intervals as the model I used went from one frame every 1 second to 1 frame every 10 seconds. This may change. It was one of the things we asked.
Have a listen to the commentary for my thoughts whilst shooting the piece and to get an idea of how and why I did stuff. There is a lot of info in there so I thoroughly recommend it!
Everything has been graded with Magic Bullet looks and it graded well. I have little experience with AVCHD and was concerned as the bit rate seems really low to me, but it’s super efficient and not far off XDCAM EX codec.
So here are my thoughts on the camera, based upon this pre-production model so some of this may change!
It was a real pleasure to shoot with, despite not being overly familiar with Panny menus I got used to them pretty quickly. I did not record any additional sound other than the camera mic so I cannot comment on the audio quality but I am sure it’s great as it is a proper camcorder after all. For me this is what stood out…
I saw no moiré on any shots. Check out the artist in the park at around 1:40 or so, look at his jacket. That would moiré on my Canons, not here. A joy! I also saw no sign of aliasing.
Rolling shutter issues as expected were still present but way less pronounced that DSLRs. I did shoot out the side of the bus whilst moving and there was still some skew, enough for me not to use it but a lot better than what I have become used to.
LOVE that 1080p overcrank.
LOVE the ability to stick on just about any lenses. I didn’t use any of my Canon lenses as I don’t have a mount with iris control yet but I hear it is coming…
LCD was good. Detail enhancement and peaking helped focus enormously. One thing I really missed though was a digital punch in to help me get focus which the other Panny cameras have, I hope they put it in. Exposure was pretty easy…there are zebras, waveform and vectorscopes which are spot on and a very nice little addition that the previous model did not have, a meter like a DSLR has. Neat.
SDHC media is cheap and all you need is Class 6, even with overcrank. Class 4 is fine but won’t record overcrank. I used Class 10 as I like the fast offload speed.
Battery life was good with the big chunky ones.
Great to have 4 ND filter wheel. What a joy!!
Proper audio…a headphone jack too!
Things I didn’t like….
Coming from the EX3 with it’s awesome viewfinder and using a Zacuto Z-Finder on my Canons, looking in the EVF was like looking at a small screen at the end of tunnel. It was hard get focus with it. I have no idea what the resolution is of it but if it was magnified it would be a lot easier to use. BUT, this is simply due to me being spoilt by the Z-Finder and EX3 EVF. It’s looks to be about the same as the HPX 371 quality EVF, not bad then!
Button placement was odd. Because the hand grip is removable and has no electronics there is no record start stop where you expect it…there is also no record button at the front. That’s the AWB button so annoyingly when you go to hit record you accidently change your balance. Oh well, something I would get used to.
I need more timelapse flexibility. Something more akin to the EX1 and 3 with more interval choices and better slow shutter.
It would be nice to be able to overcrank to 60fps in 25p mode like the EX1 and 3 but you are limited to 50fps, 60fps is only available in 60hz mode.
AVCHD seems OK but for broadcast work I really need at least 50mb/s. The nanoflash fixes this but it would be great for it to record on a better codec than this. Would I prefer P2? Probably, despite the cost as it would most likely mean AVC intra 100 which is an awesome format and would propel this camera into the big leagues.
Ergonomics are horrible, but then I find that with all handheld camcorders. The only cameras I have ever used with good ergonomics are the shoulder mounted cameras.
3200 ISO is noisy and should only be used when absolutely essential. 1600 was pretty good. Just be careful of the 3200, you can of course clean it up a bit. The noise is a different sort of noise to the Canons and easier to clean up. It doesn’t suffer any of the vertical banding that plagues the GH1 at 800 ISO and above.
What I found with this camera is it likes your exposure to be pretty damn close to spot on. Underexposure I found did the image no favours…getting it right helped a lot and with all the help it offers you it’s a lot easier to get it right than DSLRs which also suffer the same issue with getting exposure right.
The 2x crop means I am limited on the wide end. That Olympus lens was a godsend as was my 7-14mm, but that distorts on movement and is slow at F4. What is great is all those lens choices though..it’s just most are more telephoto than I am used to. I have recently ordered a Voigtlander 25mm F0.95 This is going to be a great standard lens for this camera and whilst in Japan I bought the 100-300mm F3.5-5.6 zoom lens. It has autofocus and is super long on that 2x crop, giving me effectively 600mm. Sure, a constant aperture would be great but for that focal length, weight and price I wish I had had it for the Kyoto shoot! I found my old 80-200mm F2.8 to be a bit soft…
The compression was evident is some of the shots and I really need to nail that picture profile as it makes a huge difference to the image. But with good grading you can get a very filmic image out of it. My first grade I did very quickly as we had no time to edit before showing our footage to the Panasonic team so I regraded on the plane back home. Much better and evens out the shots a lot more and gets rids of a lot of those blown out highlights from the first grade. I am very happy with my new grade (Magic bullet looks preset I created my self…you can get 20% off Magic Bullet looks with code bloom20 when buying it from RedGiantSoftware.com), it’s way more filmic looking and more flattering and soft.
So…is it better than say a Canon 5Dmk2? Image wise yes and no. Aesthetically the 5Dmk2 is in a class of it’s own, nothing comes close but it has many issues like moiré and aliasing. The M43 sensor gives a totally different look, it a totally different aesthetic. A bad one? No..just different. Shallow DOF is still very easy to get and as you saw it is capable of beautiful bokeh with the right lenses, check out the artist again, shot with my Zeiss lenses.
It’s not as good as the 5Dmk2 in low light either but has all those functions which make shooting so much easier. Focus assist, exposure assist, proper audio, proper overcrank. Don’t like the EVF at all though….much prefer my 5Dmk2 with a Z-Finder on.
It’s a small camera, but obviously bigger than a DSLR. So if you want to shoot in places and get away without permission, this camera will be harder to use successfully. I travel with 3 or 4 DSLR bodies. If I get an AF100 I will travel with just one of them and it won’t go in my photographic carry on, it will need a proper camera bag.
So overall…really good and very powerful camera and prices so aggressively I am sure it’s going to sell bucketloads. Is it perfect? Nope, then again no camera is. Is it good value for money? Yep! Will it replace my DSLRs? Nope and Yep. I am definitely going to buy one, although I will be at the back of the pre-order list now as I have waited so long! This camera is going to be great for my documentaries and lots of other work where the DSLRs are just so much harder to use in those situations. But I am still going to shoot on them, I will most likely end up shooting most of my work on both…The AF100 is good in low light, but it’s not 5DmkII good.
This camera is not a DSLR killer. There won’t be…I believe there will always be a market for DSLRs as the price point and convergence factor cannot be beaten AND they will get better and better, the issues of moiré and aliasing will be reduced and hell we may ever get raw recording at some point out of those massive sensors. It is just a lot easier to use than DSLRs and is a proper video camera! Don’t underestimate how important having a proper video camera can be. After all I run full day workshops on how to make your DSLR work like a proper video camera!!
Next up is the new Sony…what will that be like. Things are moving fast. Great times to be a shooter! I don’t know if I will be able to get my hands on it though. There is an event I was invited to on the 17th but I cannot make it. A real shame, hopefully at some point I will be able to try it out and report back!
Enjoy the photos of the trip. The black and white ones are from my Leica M9…man I love that camera!!
But first is footage from 3 of the other shooters, good to look at as they all have very different style of shooting to me. First is Filippo Chiesa’s footage from the same day..as well as his fun video blog. Below that is Vicenc Ascensio‘s footage from the same day and then Emmanuel Pampuri’s.