If you are shooting with an HVX200 or a DSLR you might want to take a look at Panasonic’s HD camcorder. The AG-AF100, is the first professional micro 4/3-inch video camcorder optimized for high-definition video recording, and it has some advantages over an HVX 200, or DSLR.
If you have a HVX 200, there will be a lot of features that you are used to. The AF100 has about the same body size as the HVX 200 and a similar menu, time code recording, built-in ND filtering, a built-in stereo microphone, presets, color balance, etc…
The two XLR inputs with +48V Phantom Power capability, and 48-kHz/16-bit two-channel digital audio recordingare also about the same, except that the AF100 supports LPCM/Dolby-AC3 audio.
There is also built in Iris control, and if you have a Varizoom controller left over from your HVX200, the Iris, Focus, and Record buttons will work on the AF100 as well. However, since there is no servo zoom on the camera, the zoom control has no job to do, and can take the day off.
The AF100 is very flexible, and that excites me. The first cool thing about the AF100 is that you can change lenses. The 14 to 140 mm zoom works pretty well for most applications, but you can use older SLR lenses that have an iris control on them, or even primes for cine work.
I tried a 20mm f1.4 lens, which worked well indoors with available light. Since old SLR lenses are inexpensive, I also tried a Dotline Corp. micro 4/3 adapter and Nikon Nikkor Ai lenses to get a really nice look for not a lot of money.
If you are a DSLR owner, the reason to upgrade to this camera is the micro 4/3-inch, 16:9 MOSimager. With its dramatically reduced video aliasing, the AF100 delivers the shallow depth of field, and wider field of view of a DSLR large imager, with professional HDMIand HD-SDI outputs that can connect to external recorders or monitors.
Thiscamcorder records 1080/60i, 50i, 30p, 25p and 24p (native) and 720/60p, 50p, 30p, 25p and 24p (native) in AVCHD’s highest-quality PH mode (maximum 24Mbps) codec. It is 60Hz and 50Hz switchable for use worldwide.
Part of the AF100’s charm is its vast recording ability. The built-in AVCHD recorder can record a full native 1080/24p or 720/24p recording, at variable frame rates, with professional audio capabilities, to SDHC and SDXC media (which supports memory capacities from 32GB to 2TB).
With two SD slots, the AF100 can record up to 12 hours on two 64GB SDXC cards in PH mode. The built in recorder is fine, and very handy, but the true capabilities of this camera are found in external recorders.
The Atomos Ninja recorder for ProRes recording is a10bit Production Weapon for HDMI-equipped cameras like the AF100.
Ninja preserves the pristine uncompressed video quality from the AF100s camera’s sensor, by encoding it directly into the Apple ProRes format in 422, LT or HQ. Then it goes straight to the timeline of your NLE.
It’s a fast, and high-quality workflow with just a few simple steps.
First, connect the Ninja Docking Station (which is included in the kit) to your Apple Mac using the Firewire 800 port (USB 2.0 will also work). Insert the Ninja Master Caddy containing the SSD with your footage into the Docking Station, and you will see the drive appear in your Finder window.
Start FCP and open your project (or start a new one).Go to the File menu and select Import > folderso that FCP will show you a “browse” window. Look for the Ninja drive, and click on it so you can see the folders in the Ninja drive.
Select the folder containing the footage you want to import and click on Choose, and go back to your FCP project window.
Your Scene, Shot and Take folders now appear in the project window, ready for use in your FCP project.
With your Ninja loaded with an SSD, you have instant, random (“Non-Linear”) access to your material, eliminating the need for log-and-capture using a standard capture card. Keep in mind that HDMI can’t support 24Fps, so the Ninja will record at 60Fps, and you can convert the footage on the way into your editing system.
You can edit right from the SSD drive in the Docking Station, and export a finished movie. However, be aware that the media is still only on your SSD, so you will want to copy your files to another drive before erasing your SSD.
My goal is to have my footage archived in at least 3 places.
My Thermaltake BlacX 5G Duet Docking Station will accept two 2,5 or 3.5 hard drives, so it’s easy to pop in a couple of raw drives (no case needed) and make two copies of my data. Another way is to pop in the SSD, and a second drive and make a copy of the SSD.
In addition, there is my Seagate SAS RAID, and GSpeedQ RAID for additional backups. With the AF100, the bad news is that you have to keep track of your data, the good news is that you don’t have to purchase or deal with videotape.
The Ninja arrives as a complete system, so you don’t have to add anything except a 2.5” SSD and some cables to suit your set-up like HDMI.
All other parts necessary to use the Ninja are included in a very nice carrying case.
Disk drive data rates tend to be given in megaBYTES (MBps) per second, and codec data rates are normally given in megaBITS (Mbps) per second. All you have to do to convert megabits to megabytes is divide by 8.
So if you set the Ninja to record at 220 megaBITS per second, instead of the AF100’s AVCHD’s highest-quality PH mode (maximum 24Mbps), that’s going to result in 220/8 megaBYTES per second, which is 27.5 megaBYTES per second. This takes up some memory.
Luckily, SSD drives are Flash memory devices that come in the same form-factor as 2 ½ ” disk drives, and they are fully supported by the Ninja. The Crucial SSD drive that I use records 512 MB, which is much more space than the 112 MB that are available inside the camera using two 64 GB cards. When you have filled up an SSD, you simply pop it out and plug in another one, much like a giant P2 card.
The reason that you use SSD drives instead of regular 2 ½” HHD disk drives is that regular drives are particularly sensitive to motion. If you move too quickly while the drive is spinning, you may get a small gap in your recording. While 90% of your production work will most likely be OK on a standard drive, SSDs are the way to go while working in a challenging environment.
The Ninja’s standard one year warranty on all parts and accessories is upgraded to three years on the Main Ninja Unit alone, (excluding TFT/LCD) by registering your Ninja online.
The Ninja mounts in the hot shoe on top of the camera, and provides a monitor for viewing and playing back your recordings.
The touch screen controls are very handy and easy to navigate. Changing codecs is as easy at touching the icon on the screen.
This product rocks on the AF100 camera. It is lightweight, portable, has built in SSD formatting, and the ability to plug in the Ninja directly into your editing computer for editing.
The touch screen monitor is easy to use, and recording is rock solid. Add in the fact that this device is less expensive than other similar ProRes HQ recorders, and you end up with a great value for your money.
If you like working in uncompressed, and have a RAID big and fast enough to handle the format, the HyperDeck Shuttle is for you.
You can also improve the quality of the AF100 with BlackMagic’s HyperDeck Shuttle. This time the uncompressed signal from the AF100 is not compressed into AVCHD (24 Mbps)in the camera, or ProRes HQ (220 Mbs) in the Ninja, but rather is recorded in uncompressed 10 bit HD(1280 Mbs) in the HyperDeck Shuttle. The camera is an 8 bit camera, so there is a bit of waste recording at 10 bits, but hey…its Uncompressed.
Compression always destroys some image quality, so this is a great option if you need to get the most dynamic color range for color correction, and perfect, clean keying without jagged edges. The downside is finding storage space. My Crucial 512 GB SSD will only hold about an hours worth of data.
The HyperDeck Shuttle bypasses your camera’s compression and records from SDI or HDMI, in the universally compatible uncompressed QuickTime files. These files can be used with all popular software packages like Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Resolve and Apple Color.
Like the Ninja, you can edit directly from the SSD media itself, the difference is that you will need to pop the SSD out of the HyperDeck Shuttle, and use your own Docking Station to connect to your editing computer.
I use a Thermaltake BlacX 5G docking station. It works with all Standard 2.5” or 3.5” SATA /SSD to USB 3.0 for Transfer Rates up to 5Gbps. It is Compatible with SATA I / II / III & SSD HDDs. I use the latest Mac OSX, but it’s also compatible with Windows 7, Vista, XP, 2003 / 2000. This model holds one drive at a time, so I can be editing on this docking station while its brother the 5G Duet, is making backup copies.
The HyperDeck Shuttle has standard deck style function buttons, clearly marked and easily accessible along one side, as well as LEDs that indicate recording status, battery status, and input signal lock. I find it very easy to use. It’s like operating a VTR.
Since this device has no built in monitor, you will need to buy a pair of SDI or HDMI cables. One cable will go from the AF100 into the HyperDeck Shuttle, and one will feed the signal out of the HyperDeck Shuttle to your monitor.
The HyperDeck Shuttle works well for a quick on-set QC or client preview. I either use my Plura PBM-070X7” on-camera monitor with its built-in Waveform and Vectorscope, or my 2s2 17” monitor.
Connected to the HyperDeck Shuttle via HDMI or SDI cables, the uncompressed signal looks awesome. The Plura PBM-070Xis great for indoors or camera mounted work, and 2s2 monitor can be seen from 6 feet away with no hood, even outdoors in full sunlight.
The HyperDeck Shuttle is compact, and battery powered so it’s perfect as a field recorder. If you are looking for an affordable uncompressed 10bit recorder, look no further.
Here are some other helpful accessories that you might find useful.
The AF100’s ability allows you to choose a focus point within your depth of field. The problem is that you must see what you are shooting very clearly to make good focus decisions. I had a hard time with fine focus using the built in viewfinder, so I tried something else.
I used a Zacuto EVF Flip, which is a 3.2” high-resolution monitor connected to a Z-Finder, which is an eyepiece with magnification.
The result is a perfectly clear view of what the camera sees.
When mounted to a 15mm rod system, you can move this viewfinder where it most comfortable for you to use.
You can also use an arm for low mode shooting, or a long cable when detached from your rig for dolly, crane, or car shots.
The EVF is compatible with all cameras that have an HDMI output including the Panasonic AF-100, Sony F3, RED ONE, RED Scarlet and RED Epic.
The EVF Flip has a Z-Finder frame built into the unit that can be flipped open to 180 degrees. You just flip up the Z-Finder eyepiece to show a producer or director the shot without having to have them get their eye in your viewfinder.
Zacuto gear is the Roll Royce of support systems. They cost more, but they are made to last, and have a solid feel to them. The EVF Rod Mount arm that connects the EVF Flip to the rods is so strong that it stays in place when you push against the viewfinder…there is nothing cheesy here.
The Zacuto EVF Flip with a Z-Finder is just an amazing addition to the AF100.
I also tried their EVF Filmmaker Kit with great results. With their Z-Focus follow focus system, a single knob allows you to disengage the gears when you change lenses, making the job painless.
You could probably pound nails with the Baseplate, but it securely holds your camera on the top, and has a separate, sliding mount on the bottom for your tripod plate to aid in balancing your rig.
The ZipGear Prime Lens Kit (set of lens gears) lets you easily wrap the focus rings on your lenses with a strip of gear material to use with the follow focus.
The two Zgrips Beefy handles are infinitely adjustable so that you can set the grip length and position to where you feel most comfortable for a stable and balanced AF100 rig.
The Zwiss Plate cheese plate on the back of the rig allows you to mount virtually anything with the provided 1/4 20″ and 3/8 16″ holes, including batteries. You also get your choice of a V-Mount, or 3-Stud battery plate allowing you to mount your pro batteries for counterbalance.
In summation, true to its name, the EVF Filmmaker Kit gives you the tools that you need to turn the AF100 into a very usable film style camera.
The LitePanels MicroPro Hybrid on-camera light works well with the AF100. Six, AA batteries power it for hours, and it has enough power to add Fill, or become a Key light for an interview.
Since the AF100 does so well in low light with a fast lens, you can even take the MicroPro Hybrid off of the camera, and use it like a studio light.
Being a Hybrid, it also works as a flash for your DSLR.
The LitePanels MicroPro Hybrid is a great little addition to your rig.
I am not one to trust something as delicate as an AF100 to the baggage monkeys that seem to inhabit most airports, which means that I use a carry-on case for my cameras.
SKB makes a perfect little case for the AF100, and it’s called the 3i-1914-8B-D. It is Military-standard Injection molded, with a foam liner and adjustable panels. The movable panels make it easy to re-configure as you add new gear. The cool part is that it comes with wheels and a pull out handle, so it looks like an ordinary carry-on, yet it has military grade strength, and it’s waterproof. This SKB case will help your camera arrive alive.
I find it amazing that the AF100 can go from web video, to ProRes, to high end, uncompressed 1080p by simply using external recorders to leverage its pristine micro 4/3 sensor.
The same holds true for lenses. With adaptors, you can mount anything from old $50 SLR lenses, to $12,000 primes.
The AF100 is truly a shining example of an adaptable camera whose time has come.
MSRP: Panasonic AF100 Street price about $4500.
MSRP: Atomos Ninja $999.95
MSRP: HyperDeck Shuttle $349
MSRP: Crucial 512 GB SSD $700
MSRP: Zacuto EVF Filmmaker Kit $4052.50
MSRP: Thermaltake BlacX Docking Station $49.99, BlacX Duet 5G Docking Station $69.99
MSRP:LitePanels MicroPro Hybrid Street price about $475.
MSRP: SKB Cases 3i-1914-8B-D $384.99 street price about $220.
Contact: Steve Sanderson 800.783.0087 or www.skbcases.com
MSRP: 2s2 17” Monitor MMR-B170w.V098.LAR1817.16 $4253 Special for P3 readers $3828