I admit I had a very good feeling about this launch but what happened was way beyond my expectations.
I’ve shot and continue to get asked to shoot a lot of live events, including the award-winning ‘West Street Story’ with Martyn Ware of The Illustrious Company. (The Human League and Heaven 17) [http://noiseabatementsociety.com/2011/09/16/sounding-brighton-innovative-sonic-eexperiments-at-brighton-hoves-white-night/ ] Periplum’s ‘451’ and ‘Homecoming’ [http://www.periplum.co.uk/content/home/] in 2015. I also create my own artist moving image such as the White Night commission 'The First Raindrop, The Last Teardrop' for Silent Cinema, and 'Swim to Land' which need speed, flexibility and quality in an out-of-studio context.
Exasperated at the high price of camcorders equipped to do live event filming properly, and, unenthused with budget cam solutions, along comes Panasonic to finally deliver us a big-sensor camcorder (four thirds”) in the shape of the AG-DV X200. For under $5k ( about 3.5 k in British money) it’s able to record broadcast UHD 3840 x 2160 pixels (16:9) at up to 60fps and Cinema 4K mode at 4096 x2160 (17:9) pixels at 24fps. Quality!
It’s also got a plethora of features that seem to be borrowed from the top-end of Panasonic Broadcast Division’s flagship cameras such as the Varicam HS/35.
If anyone remembers the famous DV X100 camcorder (which are still used today) they’re in for a treat. It gets a real makeover with the DVX200’s massively upgraded specs.
I previously filmed a lot of my live events with Sony Exmor-based EX3 and EX1R. Then I found myself switching to the Panasonic micro four-thirds GH2 camera after pioneering my own 154Mbps ‘Quantum’ All Intra settings on it. The quality of the bigger sensor on the GH2 with its supercharged bitrates gave me breath-taking DOF pictures and a choice of lenses at a fraction of the cost of the Sony cams – so I went and bought 3 more GH2s!). I’ve been using the GHx M4/3 series ever since.
However, I still felt something was missing from my armoury: namely a decent large sensor with a smooth, slow zooming lens package that I could instantly hit record without having to worry about complex focus and exposure setups, plus, tricky monitor and audio operations. When you’re shooting live you need everything to just click and work, and that's where a camcorder really comes into its own.
Here, with the DVX 200 it looks like we have a really cool cam with a huge newly-developed 4/3” large-format MOS sensor, beautiful black and red livery designer look, tough ‘woven carbon-fiber-like finish’ and recording abilities to suit all needs.
It’s got a much-needed shallow depth of field (bokeh) with a specially crafted Leica Dicomar 13x optical zoom lens and at an aperture of f2.8 the DV-X200 promises to keep ghosting and flare to a minimum. It offers 12 stops of latitude and gamma curves that include a lite version of the Varicam 35’s powerful V -Log (called V-Log L) for beautiful colour tonality and stock film-like rendition. For VaricamHS/35 owners looking for a B camera this could well be the make or break deal.
Now whilst some of you may not like fixed lens camcorder systems its important to remember that you haven’t always the time to mess with interchangeable lenses and camera settings. The DV-X200 has an extremely good quality piece of Leica glass - together with built in ND filters. It appears to be f/2.8 at the wide end and to f/4.5 at the other so its not constant aperture – but then again the camera would probably be overweight and much more expensive if it was. Nope, I want it lightweight. Panasonic say the Leica Dicomar 4K F2.8~F4.5 zoom lens drives 4K/24p at 29.5 mm ~ 384.9 mm and HD at 28 mm ~ 365.3mm at 35 mm equivalents.
There are three manual operation lens rings—13x zoom (Cam driven), focus and iris, and the zoom control on the handle enables variable speed zoom, allowing fine zoom control even for low angle shots. The DV-X200 also features an enhanced Image Stabilizer, including a five-axis Hybrid Image Stabilizer and 4x correction-area Image Stabilizer that produces clear images without blurring, and a micro-drive focus unit that improves focus speed, tracking and capture performance, facilitating 4K focusing and shallow focus shooting.
The 72mm lens screw mount will allow for a variety of lens and filter attachments such as RedRock’s decent (and cheap) 72mm Diopter 5x Magnification for precise macro photography or Tiffen’s fantastic range. Budget-priced Single element close-up lenses or the better double element close-up lenses (dual element or achromatic close ups) which correct the aberrations of the first element giving an excellent spread of image quality whilst reducing chromatic aberration to a minimum. Canon’s double element 250D (+4 Diopter) and 500D (+2 Diopter) or Tiffens close up lenses spring to mind here as they have a 72mm thread. Close-up lenses work better with telephotos than shorter focal lengths. The longer the focal length of your lens, the more magnification you will gain by fixing a close-up filter.
You could also think about buying Tiffen variable NDs, polarizers/circular polarizers and UV protectors to help produce deeper skies and minimize reflections.
The DV-X200 will record cinema quality 4K 24p at 17:9 aspect ratio (4096 × 2160 pixels) and UHD TV compatible 16:9 aspect 4K (3840 × 2160 pixels) at upto 60p plus, HD (1920 × 1080 pixels) at 60p / 50p / 30p / 25p / 24p in either .MP4 or .MOV file formats. In HD record mode there will be a variable frame rate option in FHD mode offering up to 120fps (the Panasonic GH4 has a similar mode but only goes from 2fps to 96fps) so this increase in frame rate will be fantastic for slow motion fx lovers like myself.
There are two SD card slots (which will require UHS speed class 3 U3 for 4K recording) facilitating backup and relay recording. For professionals working abroad, the camera’s master frame rate is selectable between 59.94Hz (23.98Hz) NTSC and 50.00Hz / 24.00Hz PAL. I’m suspecting a AVC Intra High Profile compression implementation will be in the codec for HD and a Long GOP for 4K for SD card recording.
There’s also HDMI v2.0 output included to offer up to 60Hz 4K at 422 10-bit (so you can add a Pro Res SSD Recorder/Monitor such as derivatives from Atomos or Convergent Design) plus there’s 3G HD SDI features for hi-quality HD output and monitoring.
The DV-X200 incorporates a flip out LCD as well as OLED viewfinder, programmable user buttons and audiophiles will love the fully featured professional XLR audio options, plus, the unit’s power pack is unobtrusively tucked away at the rear.
The camcorder also features an enhanced Image Stabilizer, including a five-axis Hybrid Image Stabilizer to handle 5 types of movement – horizontal, vertical, axis of rotation, vertical rotation and horizontal rotation and 4x correction-area Image Stabilizer to minimize motion blur – the bane of Long GOP prediction and compression!
All in all what we have here is a Varicam Mini in a handheld 4K guise! If so, it’s very reasonably priced. It may also suit GH4 owners wanting professional camcorder features. I believe the new camcorder will be extremely appealing to live event and auteur ‘run and gunners’ like myself. It will definitely find its niche with ENG, concert shootists, wedding filmmakers and budget filmmakers alike.
I’m really looking forward to giving it a full test. More news soon.
Preview by Nick Driftwood (May 2015)