Building The Panasonic AG-HPX250 Camera Rig

by David Hurd

I loved my Panasonic HVX200 cameras. They were money making cameras that easily shot good looking footage, allowing for a fast and economic work flow. They paid for themselves quickly, and never let me down in the 5 years that I owned them.

When the new AG-HPX250 model came out I called up Able Cine in New York www.abelcine.com and bought one. I’ve now bought 3 Panasonic cameras from these guys and there are reasons. In addition to actually knowing what they are talking about, they are an authorized dealer. On the web you will see the camera for less money, but these “Grey market” cameras don’t have the USA 5 year warranty, and unless you want to wait for your camera to come back from Japan if something ever breaks, it’s well worth getting a solid camera from a solid dealer.

The AG-HPX250 www.panasonic.com/hpx250 is Panasonic’s first P2 HD handheld camcorder with master-quality 10-bit, 4:2:2 independent-frame, 1920 x 1080 resolution AVC-Intra 100 recording. It is lightweight, with a high-sensitivity 1/3″, full-HD 2.2 megapixel 3-MOS imagers and a 20-bit Digital Signal Processor to capture very high-resolution images. Basically it processes at 20 bit, and records to 10 bit, which is great.

The HPX250 includes updated professional features, like genlock, timecode, HD-SDI and HDMI input/outputs for multi-camera operation and monitoring, as well as a color viewfinder.
The HVX200’s lens was wide, but not long, which meant shooting close to the stage when doing corporate work. The HPX250 changed that. Now, with a 22x wide zoom that goes from 28mm to 616mm, you can usually get the framing that you need from the back of the room.
Since shooting hand-held, zoomed-in footage is difficult, the 22x lens also features an Optical Image Stabilizer (O.I.S.) function that ensures stable images during hand-held shooting.
I have always fumbled around trying to find the iris control on camcorders, but the HPX250’s HD lens comes with 3 independently adjustable rings that make it feel like a bigger camera. It has Zoom and Focus like most camcorders, but Panasonic added an Iris ring right on the lens, just like broadcast cameras… very handy, and very nice.

The Dynamic Range Stretch (DRS) feature varies the gamma within the image to help in shooting situations that quickly vary from bright to dark. In addition, with the 2X Focus Assist function, you can zoom the center section of the screen to determine if the focus is correct.

The HPX250 can record in international HD/SD formats and frame rates. In addition to AVC-Intra 100 recording, the HPX250 also records in AVC-Intra 50, industry-standard DVCPRO HD, as well as standard definition in DVCPRO50, DVCPRO and DV.
On two 64GB cards, the camera can record for over 5 hours in AVC-Intra 100 at 720/24pN (which is perfect for the web), almost 3 hours in AVC-Intra 100 1080/24pN, or 2 hours in other AVC-Intra 100 or DVCPRO HD formats. To create fast-motion or slow-motion effects using under or over-cranking, the HPX250 offers a variable frame rate capability in 1080p up to 30fps (17 steps) as well as 720p up to 60fps (25 steps).

If you want to keep the camera very light, then P2 cards are the way to go. If not, then there are external recorders that you should know about. Since the HPX250 has both SDI and HDMI streams coming right out of the chip, you can record uncompressed 10 bit 4:2:2 onto external recorders.
Most recorders can be rigged to start and stop recording along with your camera. This makes it easy to shoot on both a P2 card and an external recorder at the same time, creating an instant backup.

Being a fan of Black Magic Design’s HyperDeck Shuttle recorder, I was anxious to try out their second generation HyperDeck Shuttle 2 www.blackmagic-design.com. It looks the same, but in addition to recording 10 bit uncompressed .mov files, it can now record AVID’s DnxHD files as well. Since they are compressed, I got about 5 hours of the 220Mb/sec DNxHD codec on one 512 GB Crucial SSD www.crucial.com . I used a hot shoe mount from K-Tek www.ktekbooms.com/ to mount the recorder on top of the camera where I could easily see the recording and playback controls. Since the internal battery usually lasts less than 2 hours, you will want to power it externally. I connect mine to an Anton Bauer Gold Mount battery.

When it was time to edit, I just popped the SSD into my Thermaltake BlacX Duet, www.thermaltakeusa.com which is plugged into my Mac, and the files were seen by CS6, MC6, and FCPX.
The Ninja recorder from Atomos www.atomos.com records ProRes files at 100,150,or 220Mb/sec, and has a small monitor to watch while recording and playing back. It records to a hard drive or an SSD, with the SSD being the drive of choice. It is small, light-weight, and can be powered from a pair of batteries for several hours, or externally powered.
I also tested the KiPro Mini from AJA www.aja.com . It records to ProRes and DNxHD codecs on Compact Flash cards, which are available everywhere. It has both SDI and HDMI inputs and outputs, and analog ins and outs for SD recording. Since it works on a Mac OS, it’s kind of like having a mini computer on your camera rig. It only powers externally, but it works really well.
To use it with a PC, you will need a copy of MacDrive software www.macdrive.com , which lets PCs read Mac hard drives. Keep in mind that the bigger your rig gets, the more you will need both a shoulder mount camera support system, and a power solution.
Berkey System www.berkeysystem.com makes some really high quality camera support hardware. For my rig, I used their CiniCity shoulder pad, 18” rod system with a camera base, and a Dual handle assembly. This allowed me to carry around the HPX250 on my shoulder for hand-held work, then, slide it right onto my Miller www.millertripods.com for tripod shots.
I have used Anton Bauer www.antonbauer.com products for years with good results, and my HPX250 rig is no exception. I mounted their Cheese plate on the Berkey System rods, and attached an Anton Bauer quad Gold Mount. I also tested their Ultralight on-camera light with each of the three recorders, while monitoring via a Plura 7” monitor www.plurabroadcast.com , or Small HD’s DP4 electronic viewfinder www.smallhd.com.

To power all of this I only used one Anton Bauer HCX Dionic battery. The HC stand for high current, which allows it to power up a big load without damaging the battery, which would be a bad since it’s sitting next to your head. Seriously, when building your rig, add up the total wattage of all of your accessories and make sure that the battery that you select can handle the load.
The other things that you will need from Anton Bauer are the cables and step-down adaptors to connect the battery to your accessories. The nice thing is that when you are finished, you will only need one battery to power everything, so if the shoot goes long, you will still be covered.
Since brick-style batteries hold a huge charge, I also use one of them to power my 17” DIT monitor www.dithd.com in the field. The monitor is so bright that I can see it from 6’ away using no monitor hood, and since it is battery powered, I can take it anywhere.
As far as audio goes, the HPX250 has all of the professional features that you would expect. It has four channels of 48kHZ/16 bit digital audio recording, two locking XLR inputs with switches for mic or line, two RCA audio outputs for your monitor, and +48V Phantom Power for your mics. This system allowed me to record two lav mics on ch1 and ch2, and still have the on-board mic recording on ch3 and ch4. I found that these extra channels were helpful for listening to the director and client comments that were happening in the room at the time of the recording, while still getting clean audio on ch1 and ch 2.
By plugging a single mic into ch2, you can set the mic input switches so that your single mic is recorded on both ch1 and ch2. In a run and gun situation with no audio guy, you can set ch2 to a lower volume so that you will still have clean audio on ch2 if someone yells into your mic.

The HPX250 is also equipped with features such as instant recording startup, clip thumbnail view for immediate access to video content on all cards, and a host of time-saving recording modes including continuous recording, card slot selection, hot swapping, loop, pre-record (three seconds in HD and seven seconds in SD), one-shot and interval recording.
I also like the User buttons.The 4 User buttons on my camera are used for quickly selecting Backlight, Spotlight, Erase last clip, and Iris Gain. I also use the Bars and OIS buttons a lot, and when things get too bright, there is a 4-position ND optical filter switch.

For run and gun situations there is Auto focus with face detection, White balance, Mode display, Zebra display, Color bar, Tally lamps, and Slow Shutter and Synchro-Scan shutter functions. I actually went full auto on a job with a lot of people in a poorly lit room, and everything worked well.

If you are just using the camera, a couple of RF mics, and a battery powered LED on-camera light, then the SKB Case www.skbcases.com 3i-1914-8B-D works great, and it is small enough to qualify as a carry-on when you fly. If you choose to make a full-blown rig, then their larger iseries case is big enough to let you keep most of the rig assembled. Both are waterproof, foam lined and solid.

With so many clients wanting footage for the web, the HPX250 camera makes a lot of sense. It is a simple camera with a fast workflow that works with CS6, FCPX and Avid’s MC6. The footage looks great right out of the camera, so there is little need for grading, or even color correction. The HPX250 has the lens reach to get the framing that you want, and the recording quality to get the results that you need. It is easy enough for beginners to use, and versatile enough for professionals. This camera rocks.

My review system for testing the footage consisted of a MacPro 12 core 2.93 GHz with 24 GB of www.lifetimememory.com RAM, an LSI 9750-8e SAS controller card connected to two, CI Design 8 bay RAID cases, loaded with 16 Seagate 450GB
SAS drives, a BlackMagic HD Extreme 3D card with output viewed on a
TVLogic 17” HD monitor. An nvidia Quadro 4000 card connected to a 24” Eizo ColorEdge monitor and a 2s2 24” monitor, mounted on Monitor in Motion stands.
A G-SPEED Q and Thermaltake BlacX Duet 5G for backup and small projects, two Genelec audio monitors, a Mackie mixer, an intuos tablet, an Apple Color panel,
and KB covers for various programs.

About david

I have been in the Audio/Video production business for over 35 years, and I still enjoy using all of the latest production gear, and reviewing it.
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