Saturday, November 25, 2006

Review: Panasonic AG-HVX200


Equipment and software reference for this post:

Panasonic AG-HVX200 HD Camcorder (review)
Red Camera 4x Digital Super 35mm Camcorder (info)
Panasonic AG-DVx100 Camcorder (review)
Hybrid, multiformat camera (list)
Canon EOS 1DS Mkii (review)
Nikon D2XS (improvements)
Final Cut Pro 5 (review)
Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD (info)

We just received a Panasonic AG-HVX200 DVCPro HD camcorder and I tell you, it's got more menus than a powerhouse Chinese restaurant. It's not for people who enjoy the pyro-friendly camera; there are menus with the depth of a 15-layer cake. The reason is because the camera can be configured into over 100 different ways of shooting!

The HVX200 gives the new user a challenge to sink or swim, because it thrusts you into deep water. If you've ever shot with the DVX100, you'll adapt to the HVX quite well, from other reviews I've read. Being a still shooter for a major city daily newspaper, we're moving towards high definition gear to shoot movie clips and pull frames for news print. With this in mind, the camera's color retention are quality. But I wish the configs were a bit simpler. It's taken months of time to learn this new format of news-gathering, but I see the potential with this gear.

One big drawback that I see is that the menu buttons are on top of the camera, beside and beneath the handle. Try shooting in the field and change your recording format, and it's an awkward feat to accomplish, since you're looking through the viewfinder (or watching the fold-out screen) as you scroll through the layers to figure which is the best recording format.


Would I consider giving this camera up? Hail, no. It's a powerful tool, and the result is what the image quality is about. The color shift with reds and greens and blues are minimal, unlike other samples from competing cameras that I have seen. This, coupled with the ability to drop files into a PowerBook with Final Cut Pro makes it a fast and efficient companion to get files changed to .mov format to drop them into ftp for web publication.


Delete unwanted files as you record. Drop the files onto a hard drive and wipe your P2 card to shoot some more. But you'd better have your software and hardware in order before you plunk down $6,000 retail,, just for the camera (and no mounted boom microphone - sold as an acc). A 4gb card sells $600, the optional 100gb Firestore costs $2,000 (which is about the same price as a couple 8gb P2 cards), Final Cut Pro 5 costs $1,000, and you aren't even talking about the need for a GOOD fluid head tripod ($500), wireless microphone system ($700), Blu-Ray or HD/DVD burner (for the multitude of gigs of recording files), extra batteries and perhaps a large external drive to store clips as you figure how to keep all the hundreds of gigs of files from overloading all your open drive space. The HVX eats drive space like a great white eats people. It doesn't think, it just does, and at up to a gigabyte per minute.


Even with working for a newspaper, we still have to adjust our budget royally to get what's needed for one HVX camera. Add filters and a 4x4 filter system and, yeesh. Or, kerching. It's bling bling for the developers, while you've just spent the same amount for your camera, just to get it up, and running.

**Rule of thumb, boys and girls: plan to spend double the camera's cost to outfit a system; aka, you'll have to fork out over $11,000 to effectively shoot in the field and edit in-house.**


For those in the pro field, it's probably worth it. For the casual user, or someone just getting into indie film making or trying to make money off the business, it might be worth it to wait. The HVX200 is a groundbreaking camera, like digital cameras revolutionized photography. Tapeless production will be adopted and will change the face of video production in the coming years. The price will drop as others compete for market share.


Hopping on the new gear bandwagon can kill your budget. Think about it: If you plunk the five grand for the camera alone, and it happens to be updated or significantly changed, you suddenly have a dinosaur on your hands. Some suggest that you should get the gear whenever you're ready, and I tend to actually subscribe to this. The big question you should ask yourself is, when do you truly feel you're fully in the market for such gear? Because there are already more significant gains being created and developed now, that are making this equipment primed for obsolescence. The Red Camera, for instance, can shoot digital Super 35mm movies, which add up to 12 megapixels per frame. Its projected cost is $17,500, while it claims to shoot in UHD (ultra high definition) that could be more than the best high definition sets can ever project. But the interesting thing is that such quality is perhaps, better than the Nikon D2HS and D2XS, including some of the Canon digital 35mm cameras.


Technological history very well should follow the same pattern: Technology results in price cuts as the first generation UHD cameras yield to next-generation camcorders, with subsequent models achieving better quality, more compact sizes, and deeper price cuts. So I plan to go on a limb and predict that the UHD camera will become widely available within the next 5-7 years. The price cuts will drop the retail cost to somewhere in the $7,000 window.

So, here's where the clash will come:
  1. $7,300, the Canon EOS 1DS Mkii, with a 35mm full frame CMOS sensor, shooting 4 frames/second for up to 32 shots before it must pause to write.
  2. $4,700, the Nikon D2XS, with a 12.4Mp, shooting 5 fps in full size mode, with a 60-frame buffer at cropped mode (8 fps, too).
  3. Many entry-level cameras are gaining popularity as hybrid cameras, able to shoot stills or video, on the fly.
  4. More and more people will want to see high quality video on their high definition monitors, which are also gaining popularity, just like video.
  5. The HD and UHD camcorders, dropping in price, will gain critical options, like interchangeable lens systems.

traffic light

We're on the edge of a big and sweeping change in the next generation of hybrid cameras, which currently boast decent still image quality with a wide zoom range (between 8x and 12x, average) while able to capture standard definition movie files with sound, at 640x480. As these hybrids get ramped up to their own next-generation quality, the widescreen format will be addressed in the video files, while the quality issue MUST be addressed in order for them to be considered as the NTSC television sets are phased out and HDTV is phased in. This means that the video quality must shoot in some kind of HDTV, either 1280x720, or 1920x1080.


The issue we faced was that it was time back in March, to choose a camcorder that shoots in high-def. At the time, the HVX200 was the choice, and we've ordered another one since. The time to choose is now, but it's wrong to speculate and wait, when you're ready to purchase. You have to go with a choice, because there will always be gear waiting in the wings, ready to replace the most brand-spanking new gear that just replaced the latest obsolete equipment.

In closing, here are some clickable thumbs, shot in different resolutions from NTSC standard (640x480) to HDTV (1920x1080).

mans-best-friend Shoot voting 1080i-72dpi-a navy-tight DEMOLITION19P3 waiting bromo-tower country-rail-fence 1920x1080-200dpi worker lamp vertical-volleyball casting

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