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Panasonic's HVX: pro-level HD digital video camera under $6000

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June 27, 2007

Panasonic's AG-HVX200 digital video camera, with Zacuto accessories.

Panasonic's AG-HVX200 digital video camera, with Zacuto accessories.

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June 28, 2007 Panasonic's AG-HVX200 digital video camera exploded onto the pro-sumer scene 12 months ago, cramming the features and high definition picture quality of a $100,000 movie camera into a US$5,995 package with some key advantages of its own. A truly ground-breaking product, the HVX featured variable frame rates between 24 and 60 frames per second for true slow motion, 4 channel audio, multiple resolutions and formats, and a solid-state P2 flash memory system to replace tape and disc recording and revolutionize the editing process. Enthusiastically received by TV producers, film schools and independent filmmakers worldwide, HVX units have also been snapped up by Oscar-brandishing directors like Peter Jackson, James Cameron and Francis Ford Coppola. Gizmag takes a look at what makes this camera so special, and some accessories that take the Panasonic HVX well into pro video territory.

Panasonic went all-out with the release of the AG-HVX200 (or simply the "HVX") in 2006. The inclusion of the company's fast-transfer P2 flash memory enabled the HVX to capture resolutions and framerates well out of reach of tape or disk media, which let Panasonic include key features of top-end cinematic cameras in a US$6,000 pro-sumer unit whose pricing made it attractive to high-end independent users as well as established media producers.

In the last 12 months, the camera has been adopted by a number of broadcasters; Australia's ABC use the HVX for all news and current affairs programming, Japan TV uses it for field shooting, and Ron Garcia uses it in the hit TV show "NUMB3RS," to name but a few examples. The unit has been a hit among documentary makers and has even been used, though sparingly, in feature films such as Clint Eastwood's "Letters From Iwo Jima" and Martin Scorsese's "The Departed." In fact, the list of who's using the HVX is quite an impressive one for a $6k camera.

While the HVX's class-leading color reproduction, great picture and ease of use may count for many of its sales, there's no doubt it stands out from the pack on features alone. Here's a few key ones:

Multiple recording modes, including true high-definition 1080/24p

In addition to the flexible and popular 720p hi-def recording mode, which renders very smooth motion, the HVX200 is the first camera under $100,000 to record in "true high definition" 1080/24p - the resolution used for films like Star Wars: Episode II. More common 1080i recordings render beautifully crisp detail on still shots but moving shots tend to suffer from interlacing artefacts as the split shot has to be reconstructed upon display - 1080/24p recording does not use interlacing, so its hi-res picture doesn't suffer in moving shots. While HD-DVD and Blu-ray formats are stored in 1080p, there's currently no broadcasters using the format.

Variable Framerates

The HVX can record in a range of framerates between 24P and 60P, meaning that it's able to capture true, cinema-style slow motion better than any other camera on the market bar the $70,000 Panasonic VariCam.

Recording Media

The HVX uses Panasonic's P2 solid-state flash media card, designed for professional A/V usage. Each P2 card basically comprises four 2GB SD cards, striped as a RAID 0 array, giving the P2 card four times the capacity and four times the data transfer speed of a single SD card. The P2's lack of moving parts makes it virtually impervious to temperature, vibration or shock, and it stands up to over 100,000 rewrites without loss of data quality.

While P2 cards are very expensive, and 8GB will only hold around 20 minutes of hi-def 720/24p footage, the flash memory recording system opens up some amazing features:

- True random access media means no more forward and backward searching for takes on a tape. P2 is spoken of as a film editing revolution, allowing producers to tag great shots as they happen in the field and making for a super-fast editing process. While a DV tape sits in a machine for an hour transferring data before it can be edited, a P2 card can be used immediately.

- Automatic pre-caching - the camera automatically begins recording to blank spots on the P2 card as soon as it's switched on, effectively meaning you have access to footage up to 7 seconds before you hit the record button in standard-def mode. So if something unexpected and amazing happens, you don't miss the start of it as you're scrambling to get recording.

The HVX also has a built-in DV tape drive for longer shots at standard definition.

Audio

The HVX has unrivalled professional-level audio capabilities in its price range, featuring four channels of non-compressed 48khz/16-bit PCM audio, recorded as two stereo streams. Two XLR-3 audio jacks with 48v phantom power let you connect quality boom microphones, and additional sound sources can be added using RCA, composite and S-video connections.

Zacuto Professional Accessories

Zacuto have come out with a range of specialised accessories for sale or rental that take the hand-held HVX and beef it up it for professional use from studios and newsrooms to field documentary shoots and filmmaking. Packages include:

- Docu package, with 6x wide-angle adapter, tripod and baseplate, matte box/brow, polarizer and remote controls

- Cine Package, with all Docu package features plus a 7.5" onboard HD monitor, with mounts and articulating arm, a Petroff follow focus, a repeatable focus ring and quick battery charger

- DOF studio handheld package, a burger-with-the-lot package including balanced, padded shoulder mounting with articulated arm grips, multiple Zeiss lenses and RedRock/Brevis Depth Of Field adapters.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
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