Gear Review: Panasonic AG-AF100

18 08 2011

Panasonic AF-100 stock photo

Make: Panasonic

Model: AG-AF100

My use: We ordered one of these during my time at UNC-Greensboro’s Office of Online Learning.  Before I left, we used it to film several marketing campaigns.  In addition, I have also had the opportunity to shoot one short film on this model camera.

Average Price: $4,795 (body only)

My thoughts: Having owned an HVX-200 since 2006, the menu system and generalized area of where various buttons are on the AF-100 are familiar.  They are not exact replicas, but if  you know one, it won’t take long to learn your way around the other.  The AF-100 shoots onto SDHC cards in the AVCHD format at up to 1920×1080 resolution and contains a micro 4/3 CMOS sensor.  In relation to size, the micro 4/3 sensor is very similar to the size of a 35mm motion picture film frame.  Because of this, the depth of field is quite comparable.  However, in relation to lenses, the AF-100 is more like a 16mm camera.  A 50mm relative 35mm full frame lens will crop to the approximate equivalence of a 100mm lens field of view on this camera.  The ACVHD compression is definitely more compressed than the DVCPRO HD format of the HVX, so this is one point of contention considering how much newer the release is from its predecessor.  Another thing I was not happy about is that the max Mbs onto your SDHC card is 24Mbs, which is a fairly low bit-rate considering the 5d and 7d will capture footage at around 35Mbs.  However, I have to admit, that the image itself is quite appealing.  There are several HDR modes, but at a normal setting, you do have to watch your highlights very closely.  I personally own a Lumix GH2 (which is a DSLR), also micro 4/3,  and was surprised that the sensor on it holds highlights better than the much more expensive AF-100!  The AF-100, in turn, though has the functions of a camcorder that are sorely missed on DSLRs, such as: multiple XLR mic inputs, multiple IN/OUTs, built-in ND filters and a more ergonomic and friendly design.

Technical Specs from the Manufacturer: 

Image Device 4/3-type MOS Fixed Pickup
Picture Elements Approx. 12.4MP (Effective) (16:9)
Video Recording System NTSC/PAL
4:2:0 Color Space
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds
Horizontal Resolution 800 TV Lines
Built-in Filters Neutral Density 1/4, 1/16, 1/64 or OFF (rotary switch)
Gain Selection VIDEO CAM mode: −6dB to 18dB (3dB step)
FILM CAM mode: ISO200 to ISO3200
Color Temperature Control ATW, ATW LOCK, preset 3200K, preset 5600K, preset VAR, Ach, Bch
Sensitivity F8.0 normal (2000lx, 3200K, 89.9% reflex, 1080 59.94i)
Recording Format AVCHD Compliant (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264) @21Mbps (max)
Recording Modes PH:
1920 x 1080 / 1280 x 720
21Mbps (average), 24Mbps (max)
LPCM/2ch or Dolby Digital/2chHA:
1920 x 1080
17Mbps (average)
Dolby Digital/2ch

HE:
1440 x 1080
6Mbps (average)
Dolby Digital/2ch

Audio Sampling 48kHz (16-bit Encoding)
Maximum Recording Time Using Two 64GB SDXC Cards
PH Mode: approx. 720 mins
HA Mode: approx. 960 mins
HE Mode: approx. 2880 mins
Video Formats 1080:
1080/60i, 1080/50i
Only in PH mode: 1080/30p (over 60i), 1080/25p (over 50i), 1080/24p (native)720 (only in PH mode):
720/60p, 720/50p, 720/24p (native), 720/25p (over 50i), 720/30p (over 60i)
Frame Rates 12p, 15p, 18p, 20p, 21p, 22p, 24p,
25p, 26p, 27p, 28p, 30p, 32p, 34p,
36p, 40p, 44p, 48p, 54p, 60p
Inputs/Outputs HD-SDI: BNC (x1 Output)
HDMI: HDMI Type A (x1 Output)
Composite: RCA (x1 Output)
Line/Mic: XLR +48V (x2 Input)
Audio L/R: RCAx2 (x1 Output)
Headphone: 3.5mm Mini Jack (x1 Output)
USB: Type B Mini v2.0 (x1)
Remote: Super Mini Jack (x1 Input)
Memory Card Slot (2) SD/SDHC/SDXC Slots
LCD Monitor 3.45″ Wide LCD (approx. 920,000 dots)
Viewfinder Wide 0.45″ LCD (approx. 1,226,000 dots equivalent)
Power Requirements 7.2VDC
Power Consumption 12.4W
Dimensions (WxHxD) 6.4 x 7.7 x 11.4″ (16.3 x 19.5 x 29 cm)
Weight 2.9 lbs (1.3kg)


Bottom Line
: There are some wonderful things about this camera and it can produce a very admirable image, especially for the price range.  However, it is not a DSLR killer and there are definitely attributes that Panasonic could improve on to make this an even better model in years to come.  Also, don’t be too fooled by the price!  To take full advantage of this camera, you definitely need a good lens set and that makes this camera much more expensive package-wise than it originally appears.

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Recent Shoot Log: UNC-Greensboro “Viral” #2 – Textris

16 07 2011

Our second entry into the UNC-Greensboro “Viral” campaign was released yesterday.  To recap on the campaign ideas itself: in a world where text-on-a-page Web sites, documents, etc. are taking over our lives in this digital age, we were commissioned to design a marketing campaign promoting our multimedia-infused alternative.  The end result are a series of videos that will show text literally bombarding everyday life.

In this installment, a young woman is playing the iconic puzzle game “Tetris” on her computer in a public park.  After some intense play, she unlocks a secret level called “Textris”.  In this bonus level, the blocks form the word “TEXT”, but more interesting than that, they literally have invaded the young woman’s real life space.  These giant blocks of “TEXT” are not only coming down on the screen, but piling up in the park in front of her.

We had a bit more planning time for this one than usual and our Multimedia Lead, Patrick Griffin, was able to fully shot list and plan out all the shots he wanted.  It turns out that this was a lucky thing, because on the day we ended up shooting it was miserably hot at nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Knowing that mid-afternoon would only see the heat get worse, we planned to meet at the office to load gear at 6 a.m., so that we could be at our location (Center City Park in downtown Greensboro) by 7 a.m.

Upon arrival, our small four man crew, which in addition to Patrick and myself included our Editor Bryan Higgins and Audio Specialist Jon Fredette, began unloading gear from the two vehicles we brought.  We found a park table that suited our needs with a proper background and foreground, and started setting up the equipment we needed, primarily a 12×12 overhead silk and a 16 ft. Snapcrane with MC-100 remote head.

The sun was beating down hard that day, so the 12×12 silk was up to help diffuse the harshness of the sunlight.  However, I did want her to have a bit of a controlled backlight, so we set up a 1.2k ARRI HMI off our actress, Lilly Nelson’s, back left corner.  That one setup was all that we used for the entirety of the shoot with several adjustments throughout the day on the overhead and HMI.

Our first shots were a series of crane shots that then moved into a series of shots on a tripod, mainly for inserts.  Though it was a hot, difficult day in the morning, by about 11 a.m., the heat was bordering on unbearable.  We were all going through entire bottles of water in minutes and energy levels were falling fast from the heat.  This strain was especially compounded by the fact that we only had four people doing double duty on a multitude of set positions.

We finally wrapped in the early afternoon and were packed up and back at the office by 3 p.m.  I think we all left early that day to get some much needed rest and re-hydration.  Though we were originally going to shoot the piece on the RED One Digital Cinema camera, we opted for the smaller, more durable Panasonic AF-100 with Nikon Primes.  With the heat and small crew, we knew we needed something more mobile than the bulky RED package.

This was our first time using the AF-100 on a shoot.  I think it came out with a good image, though in retrospect, there are a few things I would have done a bit differently.  Primarily, I would never use the SnapCrane again with a camera that uses interchangeable lenses without some kind of remote focus unit.  The Depth of Field was constantly an issue and we had no way to control focus on that crane without a remote unit.  Because of this, several of the crane shots were scrapped because of an ever so slight soft focus issue.  I did my best to remedy the situation with wide lenses, high f-stops and DoF calculations via the pCam Digital, but the calculations were hard to get precisely accurate because of the crane’s vertical fluctuations.  Secondly, some of the crane shots blew the highlights on the camera a bit.  I will admit, I like to push digital cameras because I like an image that has some bright highs and low blacks, but on several of the crane shots, I pushed it a bit much and got some blooming.

But, you live and you learn.  Also, to be completely honest, I think by noon when it was 100 degrees and humidity was at like 77%, we just wanted to wrap out for fear of getting sick from the immense heat.  Following the shoot, Bryan Higgins, our editor and vfx supervisor took the piece, cut it, and then started layering in the elements from After Effects and Cinema 4D.  Jon Fredette, our Audio Specialist, took the project from there and did an awesome rendition of the classic Tetris theme using both an 8 bit and metal mix on the iconic Russian folk song.

Our third entry into the series, which was shot on a Bolex H16, is currently awaiting processing and HD transfer at CineLab in Massachusetts.  Look out for it next month, but for now, here’s our “Textris” entry:

 





My First (D)SLR

8 04 2011

Panasonic Lumix GH2

So, I’ve worked with DSLR cameras pretty much since they came out.  Most of the projects I have worked on have been with members of the Canon line: 7d, 5d and T2i.  There are definitely some drawbacks to these stills cameras being using for motion capture; however, the quality you get for video is really inspiring in a lot of ways on another level.  They, quite inexpensively, give you the opportunity to utilize a shallower depth of field compared to standard ENG cameras, are better in low-light situations and are compact and durable, though not quite so ergonomic.

I bought my Panasonic HVX-200 in January of 2007 and it’s been a great camera for me.  It’s a solid, prosumer ENG style camera that, at the time I bought it, was a real workhorse for independent productions.  I’ve shot many industrial, commercial, Web promos, live performances, weddings and everything in between on the HVX.  In addition, I’ve lensed seven short films, many award-winning, on this camera.  Yet, I’ve never been necessarily enamored with the picture quality and performance of the HVX.  It’s not bad by any means, but it does leave something to be desired.  For one, you can only truly shoot 24p in 720 mode, not in 1080; the kit lens on the HVX is not high quality; I hate, hate, hate that you can’t manually dial in a color temperature based on Kelvin increments and the LCD and LVF are complete crap.  As with any camera though, there will be downsides.

In working with many DSLRs, I have really come to appreciate the distinctive “look” to some degree.  However, with the Canon line, there have been enough setbacks of one form or another (limited continuous capture, overheating issues, aliasing, bad moire), that I have not yet purchased a DSLR of my own – at least until now.  I caught wind of the Panasonic GH2 late last year when it came out.  It’s a micro 4/3 sensor camera which in sensor size is extremely close to a 35mm motion picture film frame.  In addition, Panasonic had made some major changes that give it an edge over some of the other DSLRs on the market including: the ability to continuous capture indefinitely, no overheating issues and much improved handling of problematic patterns that cause aliasing and moire.

As with anything before I buy it, I spent many an hour watching sample footage, looking at camera tests and reading reviews.  Finally, I was sold; this was the DSLR I had been waiting for (it’s mirrorless so in some regards its not a true DSLR, hence my (D)SLR title).  In looking on Amazon, B&H and other camera suppliers, however, I noticed that this camera is basically impossible to get ahold of right now.  Everywhere had them backordered!  So, of course, I checked eBay to see what they had to offer, but everything was price gouged by about $300.  I wanted the camera, but not that bad.  Finally, a camera company in Washington state listed one with the 14-42mm kit lens on eBay and since they were a Panasonic dealer, they couldn’t gouge the price.  So, I jumped at the auction when I saw it up for a “Buy it Now” at retail value.

I just got the camera in yesterday and have only been messing around a little with it last night and this morning.  I have to say though, I am pretty damn impressed.  Here in the office, I’ve been shooting under available light at 1600 ASA equivalency and the image is way less noisy than the HVX even at that high an ASA.  The color space is impressive, the aliasing and moire have been greatly reduced for a DSLR and it really has a pretty damn good dynamic range.  It was holding highlights at a solid 3 stops over and even holding pretty well into 4 stops, which is not bad for the price.  I’m not getting rid of the old HVX just yet (I did list it prematurely, but then took it down) just because some clients would probably rather see the larger, more impressive looking HVX on a commercial shoot than this little still camera.  All in all, I am very happy I bought this camera.  I can’t wait to outfit it with a Kessler Pocket Dolly, Shoulder rig, follow focus, mattebox and extra lenses.

The HVX still has its place for the time being, but this little camera has a very impressive picture and I can’t wait to test it more.  I’m glad I have the extra camera and have long considered a DSLR; its definitely been well worth the wait for the added video improvements that have come along.  Just for anyone out there considering, with the 14-42mm kit lens (worth getting now as there aren’t a lot of micro 4/3 lenses on the market yet and with the sensor size, 14mm is closer to 28mm, 42mm to 85mm, etc.) this camera is $995.95.  Yes, that’s definitely a big bang for the buck.








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