Strategy Insight Creative

// Testing the new Panasonic AF-101 – Video Production in the Field

This week we were excited about the delivery of the new Panasonic AF-101 large sensor video camera for a trial shoot. With an increasing percentage of our video production work concentrated around high-end interviews, brand/product films and music videos we wanted to test this new breed of camera for ourselves to see what advantages it could offer over the more traditional 3-CCD HD ENG cameras we already own.

There’s been a huge buzz around shooting video on DSLR cameras since Nikon released their ground-breaking D90 model a few years ago. Since then, Canon has led the market with their 5D and 7D models, which are now hugely popular for video production. Whilst there’s no doubt DSLRs can produce stunning imagery with the much desired shallow depth of field (due to their large image sensors), the ergonomics of the comprehensive DSLR shooting rig just didn’t appeal to us. Once you attach an XLR input audio interface, monitor/viewfinder, flash recorder, follow focus etc., the rig quickly begins to look like a Frankenstein concoction of lots of different parts! Not really the fault of the DSLR camera – after all, they’re primarily designed to take still images!

After hearing about plans Sony and Panasonic had for developing large sensor video cameras at BVE2010, we decided to hang on a bit a see how the playing field would look and what models would materialise. The Panasonic AF101 and Sony F3 (and FS100) were the first mainstream models to be released and have become increasingly popular with film makers and video production companies alike. The AF101 (a micro 4/3rd sensor) is around half the price of the Sony (s35 sensor) and does offer great value for money although field of view (and sensor resolution) are compromised (that’s a whole new blog article!).

So, what was the AF101 like to use? In short, great! The most positive features of this camera are size, ergonomics (even better if you’re used to using other Panasonic models, such as the HVX200 or similar) and high resolution LCD panel. We tested it with a Canon 20-70mm zoom lens using an adapter and the images were superb – clear, sharp and nicely coloured using the great Cine Gamma curves supplied on many Panasonic models. What was most striking was the sensitivity of the sensor – just the smallest amount of light is required to expose an image. Very useful, then, is the on-board 4-way ND filter switch which allowed us to open up the iris even on a bright, sunny day and achieve a great looking interview shot with extremely shallow depth of field.

Image sharpness looked good, there was mild moire patterning on some textured surfaces, but nothing to be too concerned about. The ability to over/undercrank the frame-rate in 1080p25 was quite unexpected (other Panasonic cameras only offer this at 720pn) and yielded some stunning results when filming a water fountain. Another very welcome addition on this camera is the built-in waveform monitor – extremely useful for acurately exposing shots when without a decent monitor and not relying on zebras!

The only complaints I had was that the OS menu and command-wheel was a bit fiddly; only seeing 2 or 3 menu items in view at a time was a bit annoying, but then I suppose the menus aren’t quite as deep and complex as workhorse ENG cameras such as the HPX500. Annoyingly for HVX/DVX owners – the batteries for the AF101 are exactly the same size/spec as the HVX/DVX cells, but the connection collars are slightly different, meaning a new set are required.

Importing footage to Final Cut Pro 7, shot natively to SDXC cards in AVCHD 1080p25 worked seamlessly – straight into the Log and Capture window and straight on to the timeline without any rendering or stuttering. The images looked great – there was some vignetting on the close-up footage due to the Canon lens/adapter combination, but it actually looked very appealing in the most part.

In conclusion – an appealing camera with some fantastic, pro features for the price point. A good range of native Panasonic zoom lenses also make it a sensible purchase for any video production company!

Equipment was kindly supplied by the lovely folks at VMI HD video production hire in London.



On Twitter @rawprouk

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