Panasonic HPX-300 in America (UK HPX-301)

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By Mark Shepherd  (Creative Cow blog entry, USA)

I would like to thank Panasonic for showing off their cameras at special events so potential customers can get a hands on demo of their performance, not just reading spec sheets. I was blown away with the quality of the HVX 500 camera, and was very impressed with the “noise free” picture at high gain. I saw this camera demo’d at both Birns and Sawyer and at a HD green screen studio in Santa Monica. The 500 camera is a IT chip camera, but the chips will only produce 1440x 1080 at 24p, not the “full” 1920×1080.

The IT chips (I have been using IT chips for years Sony broadcast cameras, both SD and HD) in this camera produce an astonishing picture. I am looking for a “full” 1920×1080 24P camera in the $10,000. range with interchangeable lenses, so I went to see the new Panasonic HDX300 camera, a 1920×1080 3CMOS chip camera with 24P with a 17x interchangeable lens retailing for about $10K. People were already writing on the internet that this camera could be the “IT” camera for 2009.

They weren’t talking chips… I had high expectations. Upon viewing the displayed pre-recorded “African” footage shot with the HDX300, I noticed a lot of “noise” swimming around in the bright blue African sky. How could this be? Daylight, bright sky, noise? Shot most likely with no gain? I asked the Panasonic reps if I could take the HDX300 camera outside and shoot a test and they agreed. When I played back the 32gig card on an SDI input monitor, there was that “noise” in the blue sky, and in the all the shadow detail in other of my shots. My setting were 5600K preset with 0 gain. We made some other tests indoors with the tungston setting, in a dim part off the set with 0, 3, 6 db gain and the noise was extreme and at 3 and 6bd unusable. The Panasonic rep said that I should have used the -3db setting outdoors, and that my shot of the sky was “unprofessional” because I had underexposed it.

I intentionally used the manual iris to expose the sky so I would not blow out the sky, and why I panned the camera, the sky might have been a half or a quarter of a stop underexpose. My point to all this is that I am unhappy with the performance of CMOS chips, especially in this new HDX300 camera. Why can’t manufactures spend a little bit more and use the IT, or god forbid the holy grail FIT chips. I know that CMOS chips are cheaper, use less power and have “rolling shutter” but these are no excuses. The quality of the Panasonic HVX300 is unacceptable. Panasonic should not release this camera until they resolve this CMOS issue.

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Reply by Jan Crittenden Livingston (Product Manager, HPX500, HVX200, DVX100 Panasonic Broadcast & TV Systems USA)

[Mark Shepherd] “but now that you are here I would ask you something. My question to Panasonic is why a company that has such a great history building professional cameras such as the Varicam, SDX-900, HDX-900, HDX2700, HDX-500, (all with IT chips) now start using CMOS, noisy, chips in there new shoulder mounted camera, the HDX300? Are there any other reasons but saving money? Noise, less sensitivity, rolling shutter are not good reasons for using the CMOS chip. The only good thing I have heard about CMOS is less power consumption.” 

You need to understand the camera market a little more thorughly to see why we did what we did. We have the HVX200/HPX170 at $6,000 the next step up for us is at $20,000 for the HPX500 with lens. There is a real sweet spot in camera purchasing world at $10000. So how do we make a camera that competes with other cameras in that range? Well with CMOS, yes I do get lower power consumption,in the 1/3″ domain I can’t get more resolution with a CCD, a CMOS can get the camera there. We could have put the HVX200/HPX170 chip in there but our feeling was that would not compete with the Sony EX3 that well, resolution-wise. CMOS also eliminates the streaking from light sources that do indeed happen with CCDs. There is no perfect solution. We couldn’t make a 1/3″ 2.2 million pixel CCD as it just wouldn’t be low light sensitive at all. This is another benefit of CMOS, more low light performance. 

Now in that low light sensitivity there is a gain in the noise department but as I mentioned the camera is not yet finished. Yes the rolling shutter is there, but you know CMOS imagers are in a lot of cameras these days, and if it could be used as an effective creative tool then there a good number of manufacturers that wouldn’t be able to sell cameras, starting with RED, Sony, Canon , Grass Valley and Phantom. 

[Mark Shepherd] “I rather change my battery more often than have bad quality. Don’t skink on the chips! The HDX-500 is an extraordinary camera (with IT chips) doesn’t downgrade the quality of your product line.” 

Frankly I think you are prejudging the camera. The tough part is that in order to make the price point the camera uses CMOS and I do fully believe that it will be very competitive in its market. We are not making it to compete with $20000 cameras, but $10,000 ones. Look at the field of cameras in this price point and I think you will see where we are going with it. The cooll part with this camera is the main competition uses CMOS as well, but this camera uses I-Frame codecs including a Master Quality codec called AVC-Intra, 4:2:2, 10 Bit. 

CMOS can be worked with, many do. Technology has driven shooting decisions for the last 50 years, starting with film. Wait till it is a finished camera to make your judgement and if you still feel adverse to the CMOS, then we do have a very nice line up of CCD cameras to choose from. 

Best regards, 

Jan

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