Panasonic to Filmmakers: Quit Bitching, Here's Your Camera.

Sony’s interchangeable-lens, NEX-VG10 Handycam may have been the first shot fired in the 35mm Video wars, but Panasonic’s presentation at IBC 2010 of the AG-AF100 signals the beginning of full-out conflict.

Panasonic has clearly been listening to the complaints about DSLR video. Here’s what’s significant about the new Panny.

1) Lens-Compatible. According to Panasonic, adapters will allow the use of virtually any 35mm cinema or photo lens on the AF-101. This means that filmmakers with serious cash invested in Canon, Nikon or PL glass will be able to continue to use their existing arsenal.

2) HDMI & SDI Out. HDMI out means that field monitors and inexpensive flatscreen TVs used for DSLR video will still work. SDI means that high-end pro monitors will also work, and – more importantly – that the camera’s pre-processed signal can be fed to standalone recorders, allowing users to record in higher-quality formats than the camera’s AVCHD codec. This is welcome news for anyone who needs to do heavy post-production, particularly chromakey work.

3) Pro Audio. Variable-gain XLR inputs have been standard on pro camcorders for decades, and including pro audio functionality on the AF-100 means an end to dual-system sound, third-party preamps, firmware hacks, and the other workarounds that DSLR shooters have spent the last two years complaining about.

4) Variable Frame Rates & Resolution. If anything, Panasonic has a penchant of offering too many options. However, by providing a smorgasbord of 1080p, 1080i and 720p frame rates, the AF-100 may come close to providing something for everyone.

5) Useable Form Factor. One of the advantages of DSLRs is that they’re small. One of the drawbacks is that they’re horribly balanced for handheld work. This has spawned a small industry specializing in support rigs designed to make DSLR operation more comfortable. By keeping the AF-100 fairly small, but allowing it enough bulk to look “pro,” and to plausibly allow use off-the-shoulder, Panasonic seems tohave tried to make the AF-100 all things to all people. Once the camera hits the streets, we’ll see how successful the design actually is.

6) Anti-Aliasing. The huge, beautiful sensors of DSLRs have come with an ugly price: aliasing and moiré that can ruin shots containing textures like brick and ribbed fabric. By explicitly stating that the AF-100 includes anti-aliasing technology, Panasonic is addressing one of the most common gripes about DSLR video.

7) No Jello. The same image processing wizardry that eliminates aliasing has allegedly been put to work resolving the rolling shutter, “jello-cam” effect that plagues DSLRs. Fans of whip-pans and shaky hand-held shots everywhere will rejoice, if this turns out to be true.

The AF-100 will cost significantly more than a DSLR, and its Four-Thirds sensor is not quite as close to 35mm as Panasonic makes it sound. However, by delivering so much of what shooters have been requesting, Panasonic has fired a resounding salvo in the 35mm Video wars. Sony and Canon will be sure to bring their own innovations to the fray, and – with any luck – filmmakers will be the ultimate winners.


POSTSCRIPT. If I may be permitted a moment of shameless self-promotion, I’d like to mention that the rapid emergence of 35mm video cameras will mean that filmmaking knowledge – as opposed to technology – will become more important than ever. To address this need, I have spent the last couple of months creating an eBook called “Make Movies Without Money” that discusses the principles behind 35mm-style microbudget filmmaking in general, as opposed to any particular camera. It is very modestly priced at $9.95, and available from my website, here:

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