Panasonic AG-AF101 Dubai-based cameraman Andrew Clemson delivers his verdict on the new Panasonic AG-AF101. HDSLRs such as the Canon EOS series can be found in all areas of production these days, from music videos and TVCs to TV shows and feature films. While the cameras provide great filmic images by utilising their 35mm full frame […]
Dubai-based cameraman Andrew Clemson delivers his verdict on the new Panasonic AG-AF101.
HDSLRs such as the Canon EOS series can be found in all areas of production these days, from music videos and TVCs to TV shows and feature films. While the cameras provide great filmic images by utilising their 35mm full frame sensors and razor-thin depth of fields, the cameras often need additional support to make them ready for full production.
This can come in the form of support rod systems, handheld rigs, monitors, matte boxes, follow focus and countless other products that have sprung up from third party manufacturers.
On the side though, a silent revolution is seeing cameras get back to the basics with less dependence on accessories and the rest of the rigmarole, and this is making the art of video production exciting once again.
Delivering the 35mm look and feel in a video camera body is exhilarating.
The AG-AF101 (or AF-100 as it is known in the US) is Panasonics answer to this new trend. Running at a cost of around $5000, it offers full HD video in a video camera body that mimics the familiar HVX/HPX series in style, sports a Micro 4/3 sensor and an almost limitless option of interchangeable lens mounts (from third party manufacturers). The camera is capable of shooting full HD in an AVCHD format down to dual SD cards at 1080P at 25FPS, as well as 50FPS at 720P.
The SD cards can be hot swapped during shooting, but a typical 16GB card will record about 90 minutes of footage at 1080P (at 24mps).
The one drawback I have noticed in this camera is that formatting your SD cards can take quite some time, (45 seconds in my case). I would advise formatting your cards in advance so you are not making your talent wait around or missing important shots whilst you format a fresh card. This should be standard practice anyway, but is particularly important with this camera.
The picture quality of the AG-AF101 is superb. Whilst the Depth of Field is not as razor thin as in the 5DMK2 (which can be a burden than a blessing at times), it still maintains an impressive cinematic look. This can be manipulated in the cameras extensive menu system, wherein you can alter the gamma and other settings to tweak your look in-camera. The AVCHD format is easy to use, and works like a dream in Final Cut Pro after importing the clips via log and transfer.
The camera exhibits virtually no skew, and very little moire or aliasing, especially when compared to a typical HDSLR. This is because, unlike its competitors, it is not line skipping when scanning. In this respect, it is light years ahead. Noise-wise, the sensor operated very well in low light conditions, and I was very happy with its performance at higher ISOs as well.
Alternatively, the camera can output a clean image (No menu/display information) out of the SDI port on the back, which allows the user to utilise external recording media with an SDI or HDMI input.
I tested this with an AJA KiPro Mini recorder. The KiPro Mini is much smaller than its older brother, and records 10bit ProRes 422HQ down to Compact Flash cards at much higher data rates (I used 100mbps) than offered by the onboard SD reader/writer. This option is absolutely fantastic as it allows for great quality images to be recorded straight to ProRes for incorporation into an offline or online edit. I use it to create dailies from our RED cameras as well as the AG-AF101.
The camera itself is surprisingly light. Despite its size, it does not feel any different to holding a typical Pro SLR. It has a side handle and a top handle (both removable) which has incredibly useful mounting points along it for 1/4 and 3/8 screws allowing monitors to mount as easy as you like. An absolutely fantastic feature of this camera is that unlike the HDSLR market, it offers ND (2, 4 and 6 stop) built in to the body, which means you need not attach a matte box unless you feel the need for FX filters.
I used the AG-AF101 with my Cineroid Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), which provides an image from the camera via its onboard HDMI out port on the rear of the camera and can loop the signal out to another HDMI-capable monitor for video village or a director monitor. The image from the Cineroid is more clear than the image from the cameras onboard viewfinder, which, to be honest, feels a little bit like looking at a tiny screen at the end of a tunnel.
The cameras onboard LCD, however, is great. It offers waveform, vectorscope, zebras and the like, and will serve you fine if you do not want to spend the extra $800 on the EVF.
The AG-AF101 also incorporates full audio support, which as anyone who has been shooting on HDSLRs will know, is a huge plus. The camera records full quality uncompressed 16bit Dual channel audio via two onboard XLR inputs which can provide 48V phantom power and has full manual control and onscreen monitoring of the levels.
The camera ships as standard with the Micro 4/3 mount, which will support full electronic control of all of Panasonics Lumix lenses, the Olympus M4/3 line lenses, as well as any other manufacturers who support the universal Micro 4/3s system. Zeiss currently offers both its SLR lenses and also the Compact Prime cinema lenses in M4/3 mounts.
I tested the AG-AF101 with the LUMIX 14-140 and 100-300mm lenses which provide really clean images, and also support the lens inbuilt stabilisation, but are relatively slow, (both F4-F5.6) and also feature a variable aperture.
The other main lens choices come in the form of Canon, Nikon and PL mounts available from various third party manufacturers. I already own an Olympus PEN M4/3s camera, and as such, had a Canon EOS adapter which I had picked up from EBay for around $25. These Dumb mounts have no electronics, and, as such, simply open the Iris of the lenses to its maximum stop and offer no Iris manipulation once it is mounted. However, for those of us who have invested heavily in EOS lenses since the 5D boom, it means we dont necessarily need to spend yet more money on new lenses. Other manufacturers are working on electronic EOS and Nikon mounts that will offer Iris control and Auto Focus with third party lenses, but at the time of writing this review, they are still not available.
The sensor itself is close enough to 35mm in size, and roughly four times the size of the traditional 2/3 chip. However, using 35mm lenses on it does cause a slight crop factor of around 2X, so your 50mm would act more like a 100mm. This is not great if you need super wide, but Panasonic and Olympus make great super wide lenses designed specifically for the M4/3 format.
The PL mount (www.hotrodcameras.com) from Hotrod Cameras offers the ability to use any 35mm PL Cinema lenses on the AG-AF101, all the way up to the monster Angeniux Optimo 24-290mm zoom.
This camera is highly recommended especially for those shooting on HDSLRs in a non-studio (run and gun) environment. Panasonic has taken the aesthetic of an HDSLR and reworked it into a compact, affordable, easy-to-use camera with brilliant ergonomics and almost limitless options in terms of lens choice and onboard/ offboard recording mediums.