Philip Blooms findings on using the Panasonic AG-AF101

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Philip Bloom “So here are my thoughts on the camera, based upon this pre-production model so some of this may change!

It was a real pleasure to shoot with, despite not being overly familiar with Panny menus I got used to them pretty quickly. I did not record any additional sound other than the camera mic so I cannot comment on the audio quality but I am sure it’s great as it is a proper camcorder after all. For me this is what stood out…

I saw no moiré on any shots. Check out the artist in the park at around 1:40 or so, look at his jacket. That would moiré on my Canons, not here. A joy! I also saw no sign of aliasing.

Rolling shutter issues as expected were still present but way less pronounced that DSLRs. I did shoot out the side of the bus whilst moving and there was still some skew, enough for me not to use it but a lot better than what I have become used to.

LOVE that 1080p overcrank.

LOVE the ability to stick on just about any lenses. I didn’t use any of my Canon lenses as I don’t have a mount with iris control yet but I hear it is coming…

LCD was good. Detail enhancement and peaking helped focus enormously. One thing I really missed though was a digital punch in to help me get focus which the other Panny cameras have, I hope they put it in. Exposure was pretty easy…there are zebras, waveform and vectorscopes which are spot on and a very nice little addition that the previous model did not have, a meter like a DSLR has. Neat.

SDHC media is cheap and all you need is Class 6, even with overcrank. Class 4 is fine but won’t record overcrank. I used Class 10 as I like the fast offload speed.

Battery life was good with the big chunky ones.

Great to have 4 ND filter wheel. What a joy!!

Proper audio…a headphone jack too!

Things I didn’t like….

Coming from the EX3 with it’s awesome viewfinder and using a Zacuto Z-Finder on my Canons, looking in the EVF was like looking at a small screen at the end of tunnel. There was no way I could get focus with it. Too damn hard.  I have no idea what the resolution is of it but if it was magnified it would be a lot easier to use.

Button placement was odd. Because the hand grip is removable and has no electronics there is no record start stop where you expect it…there is also no record button at the front. That’s the AWB button so annoyingly when you go to hit record you accidently change your balance. Oh well, something I would get used to.

I need more timelapse flexibility. Something more akin to the EX1 and 3 with more interval choices and better slow shutter.

It would be nice to be able to overcrank to 60fps in 25p mode like the EX1 and 3 but you are limited to 50fps, 60fps is only available in 60hz mode.

AVCHD seems OK but for broadcast work I really need at least 50mb/s. The nanoflash fixes this but it would be great for it to record on a better codec than this.  Would I prefer P2? Probably, despite the cost as it would most likely mean AVC intra 100 which is an awesome format and would propel this camera into the big leagues.

Ergonomics are horrible, but then I find that with all handheld camcorders. The only cameras I have ever used with good ergonomics are the shoulder mounted cameras.

3200 ISO is noisy and should only be used when absolutely essential. 1600 was pretty good. Just be careful of the 3200, you can of course clean it up a bit. The noise is a different sort of noise to the Canons and easier to clean up. It doesn’t suffer any of the vertical banding that plagues the GH1 at 800 ISO and above.

What I found with this camera is it likes your exposure to be pretty damn close to spot on. Underexposure I found gave me noise…getting it right helped a lot and with all the help it offers you it’s a lot easier to get it right than DSLRs which also suffer the same issue with getting exposure right.

The 2x crop means I am limited on the wide end. That Olympus lens was a godsend as was my 7-14mm, but that distorts on movement and is slow at F4. What is great is all those lens choices though..it’s just most are more telephoto than I am used to. I have recently ordered a Voigtlander 25mm F0.95 This is going to be a great standard lens for this camera and whilst in Japan I bought the 100-300mm F3.5-5.6 zoom lens. It has autofocus and is super long on that 2x crop, giving me effectively 600mm. Sure, a constant aperture would be great but for that focal length, weight and price I wish I had had it for the Kyoto shoot! I found my old 80-200mm F2.8 to be a bit soft…

The compression was evident is some of the shots and I really need to nail that picture profile as it makes a huge difference to the image. But with good grading you can get a very filmic image out of it. My first grade I did very quickly as we had no time to edit before showing our footage to the Panasonic team so I regraded on the plane back home. Much better and evens out the shots a lot more and gets rids of a lot of those blown out highlights from the first grade. I am very happy with my new grade (Magic bullet looks preset I created my self…you can get 20% off Magic Bullet looks with code bloom20 when buying it from RedGiantSoftware.com), it’s way more filmic looking and more flattering and soft.

So…is it better than say a Canon 5Dmk2? Image wise yes and no. Aesthetically the 5Dmk2 is in a class of it’s own, nothing comes close but it has many issues like moiré and aliasing. The M43 sensor gives a totally different look, it a totally different aesthetic. A bad one? No..just different. Shallow DOF is still very easy to get and as you saw it is capable of beautiful bokeh with the right lenses, check out the artist again, shot with my Zeiss lenses.

It’s not as good as the 5Dmk2 in low light either but has all those functions which make shooting so much easier. Focus assist, exposure assist, proper audio, proper overcrank. Don’t like the EVF at all though….much prefer my 5Dmk2 with a Z-Finder on.

It’s a small camera, but obviously bigger than a DSLR. So if you want to shoot in places and get away without permission, this camera will be harder to use successfully. I travel with 3 or 4 DSLR bodies. If I get an AF100 I will travel with just one of them and it won’t go in my photographic carry on, it will need a proper camera bag.

So overall…really good and very powerful camera and prices so aggressively I am sure it’s going to sell bucketloads. Is it perfect? Nope, then again no camera is. Is it good value for money? Yep! Will it replace my DSLRs? Nope and Yep. I am definitely going to buy one, although I will be at the back of the pre-order list now as I have waited so long! This camera is going to be great for my documentaries and lots of other work where the DSLRs are just so much harder to use in those situations.  But I am still going to shoot on them, I will most likely end up shooting most of my work on both…The AF100 is good in low light, but it’s not 5DmkII good.

This camera is not a DSLR killer. There won’t be…I believe there will always be a market for DSLRs as there price point and convergence factor cannot be beaten AND they will get better and better, the issues of moiré and aliasing will be reduced and hell we may ever get raw recording at some point out of those massive sensors. It is just a lot easier to use than DSLRs and is a proper video camera! Don’t underestimate how important having a proper video camera can be.  After all I run full day workshops on how to make your DSLR work like a proper video camera!!”

HDW : My thanks to Philip Bloom for allowing me to share his findings, very interesting and very honest.

I am disappointed in Philips findings about the viewfinder, Jan Crittenden Livingston, Panasonic Broadcast & TV Systems Product Manager USA told me at IBC that Panasonic were changing the viewfinder for a hi-rez model, I hope this is going to happen before a production model hits the UK.

So there you have it a first hand review of the new Panasonic AF101 and I would say Philip was happy enough with the camera so much so that he is planning to buy one himself.

You can see Philips full report here and some extra footage from Filippo Chiesa :
http://philipbloom.net/2010/11/11/japanaf101

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