3 days with the Panasonic AG-AF100


DAY 1:

Well I just got back from Boston/ NY and am knackered. First thing I did was go to Panasonic HQ in Bracknell. Drop off the Gh2, the review of which is delayed as I have a faulty sample am afraid, and then picked up the AG-AF100 pre-production model (so image quality may not be same as retail version)

First off I need to point out this is a totally independent review/ analysis of the AF100. Panasonic are being completely hands off and letting me have free reign here. Hats off to them for this.

I will be updating this blog as I play with it and get to grips with it. It’s a funny looking camera and certainly looks better proportioned with a nice PL lens on it rather than still lenses but I am not interested in how sexy it looks. I care how well it performs in the following areas.

Low light

Moire

Aliasing

Rolling Shutter

Resolution

I will do as much testing as I can, unfortunately the timing is not ideal as I have a shoot tomorrow so I won’t get a chance to do anything with it. But first impressions are good. I have shot a little footage at 3200 ISO and it looks pretty damn good! Great to have features on the camera that I miss SOOOOO much on my DSLRs.

Great to have a 4 setting ND filter wheel. Great to have a really good quality waveform, XLR inputs, zebras, headphone jack (!), the list goes on and on…stuff I struggle with not having on my DSLRs.

First thing I did, despite my hideous jet lag was a quick and dirty low light test. In the devastation that used to be my kitchen I set the camera to 3200 ISO, stuck a Leica M mount Voigtlander 50mm 1.1 with Fotodiox adaptor (costs around $900 for the lens, an amazing lens), used a box of matches and a fat cuban cigar (smoking is bad, only lit it for the piece…mostly!) Unfortunately I have found out that it was ISO 2000, the 3200 ISO just said it was on this pre-production camera…have to wait to Japan to see it now.

One thing I noticed straight off is if you are serious about your filmmaking you will need to invest in a Nanoflash, Ki-Pro type device. 24mbs AVCHD is fine for most things but you simply are not getting the best out of the camera. The HD-SDI of the camera may only be 8-bit but with a nice I-Frame codec you will get a much better image out of it…this camera with a higher bit rate using an external recorder will be much more powerful.

3200 ISO Panasonic AF100 from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

A qucik and dirty test of the low light of the AF100.

Voigtlander 50mm F1.1

3200 ISO

3 days with the Panasonic AG-AF100


Ungraded

Music by Aphex Twin

DAY 2:

Unfortunately i have been working all day today on a proper shoot on so the AF100 stayed at home. Tomorrow is when i will do as much shooting as I can, with only 1 battery!

I have prepped the gear for what I need.

Got my Philip Bloom Kessler Crane Slider
Miller Compass head with Solo sticks
Zacuto counterbalanced handheld rig
Nanoflash with powerbase 70
Adaptors for Leica M, Canon EOS and Nikon lenses
7-14mm F4 M4/3 lens
Kit lens from my GH1
Various vintage Nikon lenses
Zeiss ZF 50mm, 85mm and 100mm
Canon 70-200 F4

So am am all ready to shoot tomorrow. I am not planning on making a “film” as such. I feel it’s more important to test out the different options, see how well it performs etc…I just hope that battery lasts!

Wish me luck!

Day 3:

It was a bumpy start! I put the one battery I had, ones which are designed for the HM150, on charge and when it was done that night to make sure I did not forget it I put it back on the camera before I went to sleep. That was a mistake as I had left the camera on so when I woke up and started fiddling with the camera. It was dead. The only day I had to shoot. The only battery I had. FLAT. Not good. I put out a desperate tweet, no joy. I emailed Panasonic who had no spares when I saw them two days earlier, got back to me saying they had two spares with chargers and they would bike them to me. THANK GOD! Although when they arrived they were the small batteries and both flat! Still we managed to make it work!

I met my good friend Suresh Kara from Documovie.co.uk, currently a 5DmkII shooter/ director but also an HPX 171 and prior to that an HVX owner so he was very keen on seeing this new camera.

Suresh from www.documovie.co.uk

Now this camera is only 75% finished. I get to play with a production version at the Panasonic factory in Osaka, Japan in November and will be shooting with it in Kyoto. For now I had to work within it’s limitations. Yes, it was buggy and fiddly but not enough to stop me shooting with it. Proper white balancing is part of the missing 25% as well as lots of other things including facial tracking focusing which is one of the tests I wanted to do with my kit lens from the GH1 which works so well on that camera.

We started off at a company called Livity in Brixton to see how well it worked under mixed lighting, fluorescents and daylight. I shot a small sequence in there before venturing onto the roof to get some nice high shots of the South London skyline. My 7-14mm lumix lens is a stonking lens. Minimal distortion and just bloody wide. Equivalent of a 14mm on a full frame camera. One downer is it’s F4, which caused me issues later on in the shoot. I also used the 80-200mm F2.8 Nikon push pull zoom and I did a few rolling shutter tests with it. Yes, skew is still present but pretty minimal with this lens. This you can see on my test footage. The camera with the 7-14mm lens on looks ridiculous. It’s so small! It looked SO much better with the big zoom on it!

We used my Kessler Crane Philip Bloom special edition Pocket Dolly inside the office. Worked a treat with the camera!! Again, this is on the test footage at the bottom of the blog.


7-14mm F4 lumix lens
80-200mm Nikon F2.8

From the roof onwards I shot dual AVCHD and Nanoflash XDCAM 422 160mb/s. I will show the footage side by side later this week in a separate blog with full frame screen grabs, right now I just concentrated on the native 24mb/s AVCHD footage.

After that I did some handheld stuff with an absolute frankenrig I knocked together from some of my Zacuto parts. Using the counter balance weight, an arm for the Nanoflash and a Switronix Powerbase 70 to power the Nanoflash.

Handheld


Although I did bring with my a Canon EOS lens I didn’t bother. With no way to control the aperture I stuck with my full manual lenses I understand someone is making an aperture controllable EOS mount at the moment. I need that! Mostly I used some really old Nikons that I own. In particular a 50mm F1.2 I picked up from ebay for about $250 and a 10 year old 80-200mm zoom. These lenses performed really well and I was swapping a lot as Suresh will tell you! I also used the Sigma F1.4 30mm. It’s a four thirds lens so needs an adaptor, but it’s the same glass as I recommend for T2i/ 7d users. A cracking lens!

I got some cracking shallow depth of field with the 50mm and the joy of this camera is I was able to maintain the perfect shutter speed for optimum film motion and more or less be at the aperture I wanted due to the 4 wheel ND filter. No need for a Vari ND here. Something I have become use to with my DSLRS and it does work a treat. But coming from a video camera background having proper NDs built into the camera was a real joy.

Between two NDs

The menus are more reminiscent of the HM line than the HPX line, a bit more basic but still got lots of tweaks in there for picture adjustment. To be honest I did not take not of the exact settings I had in there. I don’t know Panasonic cameras as well as my Sony or Canon cameras. I did set it to Cine V gamma and had the sharpness down to -7 as well as some other things.

I set the camera to 50hz as I shot at 1080p 25p, you can set to 59.97hz for the US frame rates and 24p. I also set it to film mode so instead of gain I had ISO. It was slightly odd in that you have 3 settings on the gain switch low, medium and high and you can assign one in a set range for each one. I am so used to gain on video cameras, for them to suddenly become different ISOs was interesting. The lowest ISO is 200, the highest is 3200 (but not working on this pre-prodution camera) Not 5Dmk2 good but better than the 7D for sure. In film mode you can set your shutter to 180 degrees for perfect film motion, so even when you change frame rates it stays at 180 degrees. One thing you need to be aware of you can only shoot one format per card. So if you switch between 50 and 59.97 hertz use separate cards.

The waveform/ vectorscopes are fantastic, 100 times better than what the histogram on the Canon DSLRs. A very accurate way of judging exposure. The viewfinder on the other hand was not good, but that because this is not the one that will end up on the final camera. Just a temporary one. So I used the LCD screen all the time and sometime my Marshall 5″ HDMI monitor. The LCD screen is actually pretty good. You can help get focus by adding detail on and there is a peaking option too…No digital zoom in that I could tell, but that may be added in the 25% to come, or not!

I actually did not record any XLR audio. It’s there, I am sure it works a treat. It’s a proper video camera after all with XLRs, levels, a headphone jack. The thing that REALLY excited me was the overcrank mode. I could record 1080p 25p at 50FPS or 60FPS in 24p mode!! Wonderful, no more limited to 720p mode here! The overcrank in this camera is simply beautiful. I used to shoot so much slow motion with my EX1/ Letus combo but obviously not possible with my 5Dmk2 and the 720p 50p/60p of the 7D has so much moire and aliasing that it gets me down, shoot shallow depth of field and it works fine as demonstrated in my film “As the water”

Being able to shoot full HD overcranked to 50FPS or 60 and the ability to record high quality audio in camera has totally sold me on this camera.

Other upsides of the camera. It takes just about any lens with the right adaptor. Everything from PL to Leica M. Really useful that! Loads of really accessible and useful buttons on the outside include the ability to easily switch to overcrank at the touch of a button. I have heard rumours that you can change the speed during a shot but I was not able to do that. This may be because of the 25% or you simply may not be able to!

The US list price is pretty damn good too. It’s a lot of video camera for the money! Here in England we are a bit screwed as always. So frustrating that.

Yes it is a bit ugly, especially with little lenses…but I would rather have a camera that performs really well and was a bit odd looking than a beautiful camera that shoots ok pictures. But still a nice manly lens on there and she looks WAY better!

It has an interval record feature, but like all the other Panasonic cameras it is not as good as the Sony EX1/ Ex3 as there is no slow shutter and undercrank only goes to 12FPS. But still it is there and that is a good thing. Being the timelapse junky that I am in does not come anywhere near the power of a DSLR for timelapse though. NOWHERE NEAR…

Downsides, UK price…ugly, menus a bit fiddly (but this may improve with the production version), sensor size being micro four thirds means most of your 35mm lens are a bit telephoto. With a 2x crop from a full frame 35mm sensor you lose a lot on those lenses. So my 50mm gives me a field of view of 100mm. That is the biggest issue. On the wide end I have my Lumix 7-14mm, not the cheapest lens in the world but pretty DAMN good. Sharp and rectalinear. SO minimal distortion. BUT it’s F4 so at night it was a struggle. I was trying to get a good shot of the London eye and I simply could not get it all in. My F4 at 3200 ISO was too dark and my next lens from that is my 30mm F1.4 Sigma which is like 60mm EFL.

Ergonomics…it’s awkward handheld. More so than the other cameras of this size due to still lenses being used. It needs a handheld rig. I used a big zacuto one but I think I may adapt one of my smaller DSLR rigs from them instead…

Panasonic urgently need to bring out some fast wide lenses. it’s the single biggest issues with the camera. Now there is an Olympus 14-35mm F2, now that’s bloody fast for a zoom. It’s pricey but this is the next best lens to use for this camera.

It was a real pleasure shooting with this camera, wide lenses and pre-production aside. The low light was really good, not full frame DSLR amazing but MILES better than my GH1. User friendly. Great exposure assistants like waveform and zebras. Two features to help you focus. Proper sound. Minimal rolling shutter but best of all. I could not see ANY moire or aliasing in things that would show up with my DSLRs normally…this is a big deal. I would actually like to see this camera in front of a chart and i HATE charts!

The AVCHD 24mb’s is OK… My short “South” below is totally ungraded. I think something like the Atomos , Nanoflash , P2 gear or the KiPro mini are going to be essential for serious filmmakers. AVCHD is fine for a lot of stuff, just don’t expect it to hold up to too much…

The real question…and I loathe this question but get asked a lot. “IS IT A DLSR KILLER?”….the answer is simply no.No camera is a “killer”, cameras can quite happily and should co-exist! There is a market for them all. Sure when this type of thing becomes more common when Sony and Canon do something similar more pros with larger pockets will start using them but they are different to DSLRs, bigger and more expensive and this camera is priced pretty aggressively am sure the Sony and Canon offerings will struggle to match this price point.

It’s another tool for a cinematographer like myself to use. I would choose this over my 5Dmk2 for many things, I would also happily use it in conjunction. For recording sound in camera, filming actuality (this is a great documentary camera and great for wedding shooters too, great for one man band and great low light) , getting easier focus and amazing slow motion this wins hands down. But the DSLRs are cheaper, lenses are less of an issue, are smaller, less conspicuous, shoot better timelapse, I can take multiple bodies with me…there are loads of reasons why I will continue to shoot with my Canons or whatever other DSLRs I end up buying. Will I buy this camera the moment it comes out? Bloody right. It performed so well, despite being 75% finished, and was a joy to shoot with but more importantly I was very happy with the images I got. I still could get my beloved shallow depth of field, sure not 5dmk2 or 7d shallow but not far off the APS-C. i cannot wait to go to Japan and shoot with the finished camera!

At the moment I am purely guessing the latitude, i need to get the camera set up better so anything i say could be wrong so I will stay quiet on that for now!

So…should you buy an AF100 instead of a Canon DSLR?  Well it has many plusses, the lack of moire and aliasing. Less rolling shutter skew, proper sound, better focusing and exposure assist. Proper SDI and HDMI clean outs and loads more. But it’s just different…it’s a video camera. This is not a convergence camera! Don’t expect to be taking awesome stills and video with this. THIS IS A VIDEO CAMERA! That is not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. I have missed video cameras. Welcome back, but I will still have my 5D or two in my bag. There is so much I love about my DSLRs still! This is like a replacement for my EX1 and 35mm adaptor.

I am looking forward to getting a production GH2 as the pre one I had was very buggy, it could be a killer B-camera for the AF100…especially as you can shoot awesome time-lapse with it! 😉

Below is the test short film I shot called “South”. I am currently editing together a few test shots of handheld, rolling shutter etc that I will upload straight after so keep an eye out for that too!

The short is very much one of my snapshots of people and places that I love to do…very much like my older 35mm adaptor work.

South: Test film shot with Panasonic AF100 from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Shot in South London and the South Bank with a 75% finished Panasonic AF100 and Lumix and Nikon lenses.

Read more on my blog here! http://philipbloom.net2010/10/19/af100/

Music by Shigeru Umebayashi
“George’s Waltz”

Here is a commentary….don’t press play on video until I tell you to and then press pause on video when I say…

Commentary for South: AF100 test film by PhilipBloom

AF100 test shots from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Here are some tests by other people to check out!!!

Panasonic AG AF-100 01/02 evaluation footage by CREWS.TV from Yves Simard on Vimeo.

Panasonic AG-AF100 test II from Filippo Chiesa on Vimeo.

New video filmed on Panasonic AG-AF100 (last release), mixed with Canon 5D MK II BTS footage.
NO GRADING!