Panasonic DVX200 camera review: What you need to knowMonday, November 2, 2015 2:00 PM
WTS production specialist and freelance cameraman Patrick van Weeren was among the first to take an in-depth look at the new Panasonic AG-DVX200, a large-sensor, 4K hand-held camcorder announced in April at NAB 2015. Here he gives an in-depth assessment.
The Panasonic AG-DVX200 is the Japanese giant’s new 4K hand-held camcorder, offering 4K, UHD and 120 fps HD with high frame rates and high dynamic range at a very nice price.
It’s also the first larger sensor camera which can be operated fully automatically – should you wish to – when shooting ‘point and shoot’, something most DSLR video and interchangeable-lens, large-sensor camcorder users may well want to have in their arsenal.
The designers of the Panasonic DVX-200 seem to have gone for a different approach here. Perhaps taking inspiration from Panasonic’s history as sponsors of the Toyota Formula 1 team, they’ve adopted a carbon fibre look and the unit has been streamlined as if it were a race-car version of the Panasonic HVX-200, with most of the plugs, the monitor, the SD card-slots and the audio panel all safely hidden behind latches and covers.
Panasonic DVX200 brings 4K to semi-pro market
Panasonic has decided that there was a need for an instant run-and-shoot fixed-lens camera, bringing 4K shooting within the reach of the semi-professional market. The DVX200 is equipped with the fully automated functions that we’re used to seeing on camcorders: image stabilizers, ND filters, autofocus, and motorised zoom, if you need it.
While the camera has a fully automatic mode, making it a point-and-shoot camera, it can easily be set up in manual mode when you want more specific control over a shot.
DVX200 zoom lens and new-style digital zoom
The 13x zoom lens on the Panasonic DVX200 has a different angle depending on the crop mode utilised in each recording format:
- HD 28mm
- UHD30p 30.6mm
- UHD60p 37.2mm
- 4K 29.5mm
(NB there is a light drop from F2.8 at its widest to F4.5mm at its longest).
While we've seen a ‘semi-destructive’ digital zoom in many cameras, the Panasonic DVX200 takes full advantage of its higher resolution sensor to offer a new ‘i zoom’ capability, which extracts an HD (1080 lines) image from the higher resolution (2160 lines) sensor.
The ‘i-zoom’ digital zoom can only be used in full HD and is not available in VFR (variable frame rates), nor, obviously, UHD/4K recording, due to the lack of ‘spare’ resolution.
Panasonic DVX200 4/3" sensor balances depth of field with ease of focus
Taken from the highly rated Panasonic GH4 stills camera, the micro 4/3” sensor in the Panasonic DVX200 gives the en vogue shallow depth of field, without being as extreme as an S35 full-frame sensor. Shallow depth of field can be a double-edged sword, so the DVX200 offers a great ‘intermediate’ option. You’ll reap the benefits of a nice bokeh, while also being able to keep someone in critical focus while moving the camera/subject, or at low light levels, as the depth of field is a bit more forgiving.
The 4/3” sensor is used in 16:9 or 4K crop mode but could potentially be used as a full 4:3 anamorphic system – although Panasonic hasn’t promised anything despite adding this feature to the GH4 and VariCam 35. The built-in lens can’t do a real anamorphic squeeze, but a front element adaptor could achieve part of the effect.
Recording modes in the Panasonic AG-DVX200
Panasonic made its name with variable frame rates, and this feature is still very popular with the manufacturer’s larger cameras such as the Panasonic VariCam 35.
The Panasonic DVX200 is restricted to 24p when filming in 4K (aimed at the cinema/NTSC market) but in UHD it performs considerably better – up to 60p, including 25p and 50p frame rates for the PAL market.
In HD, the DVX200 can record up to 120fps for 24p and 25p projects. There’s an important caveat though – the variable frame rate blocks you from using several of the camera’s assisting features.
Impressively, the DVX200 records up to 200Mbps in Intraframe HD. .MOV or MP4 and AVCHD are available. Panasonic recommends Class U3 memory cards for 4K and high frame rate recording and for full HD the recommendation is a minimum of Class 10 memory cards. The camera records in 4:2:0 but has the capability to output 4:2:2 10-bit via the HDMI port.
Slow motion options with the DVX200
Like many other cameras, the slow motion function in the Panasonic DVX200 works with a crop factor. The camera will be able to use the full 28.0mm from 2 to 96fps, and is cropped to 35.2mm when shooting at 100 to 120fps.
When even slow motion isn’t slow enough, the DVX200 provides a freeze frame function, even though the camera can also capture stills from recorded motion pictures.
Panasonic DVX200 has innovative inputs and outputs
While some manufacturers only give you time code in/out via an external back, the Panasonic DVX200 features TC in/out as standard, along with 3G-SDI-out (HD only), video out, HDMI 2.0 (60p max),a udio out via 3.5mm mini-jack, and focus and zoom control connectors. The audio channels can be fed via classic professional XLR plugs.
Using an external recorder with the Panasonic DVX200
If you want to record the DVX200’s signal with an external recorder you can. However, to get the full 10-bit output you have to forego simultaneous internal recording, which only works in 8-bit output mode. There is a USB 3.0 port for transferring data to a computer or even directly to an external hard drive. Copying one SD card to another is also possible.
Audio options with the DVX200
The Panasonic DVX200 offers the classic line/mic/+48v inputs, and both channels can be monitored and adjusted manually or automatically. A third internal microphone can be used as a scratch mic. In .MOV or .MP4 mode, the camera records in Linear PCM and in AVCHD in Dolby Digital.
Achieve 12 stops of dynamic range with the Panasonic DVX200
The Panasonic DVX200 has a V-Log L function similar to the V-Log which we’ve seen in the VariCam series. You need to colour grade this footage to achieve the full benefit of the camera's 12-stop dynamic range.
There’s an element of risk in the method, which cameramen need to be aware of: The log footage will not perform as well in a 4:2:0 8-bit codec, compared to a 4:2:2 or 4:4:4 10-bit codec. Therefore if you’re using the on-board 8-bit mode, precise exposure is still key – once grain has entered the footage it will be harder to lift it, or to lift the shadows.
The latitude of a 10-bit signal (which you can capture via the HDMI output and an external recorder) is the preferred method when working with the V-Log L mode in the DVX200. If you do need to record internally with a wide dynamic range, try one of the eight other modes with fewer Log style options, ie the so-called filmic modes.
DVX200 allows in-camera image quality adjustments
Apart from the V-Log options and wider range of colour grading in post, you can adjust the image quality in-camera as well, with common ENG-style features such as master detail, detail coring, skin tone detail, vertical detail and knee adjustments.
The camera also has a dynamic range stretcher (DRS) function, though you should note that the DRS cannot be used in high frame rate shooting. The DRS expands the dynamic range by adjusting the highlight video signal (knee). The compression of the highlights can be adjusted by using DRS effect function.
Dual recording modes in the Panasonic DVX200
The Panasonic DVX200 has double SD card slot recording. The camera can be set to continuous recording (switching automatically between slot 1 and slot 2) or dual recording. When in dual recording mode, you cannot choose different frame rates for each card, they both have to be the same. But you can combine different recording modes, or record the same format simultaneously.
The following limitations apply to dual codec recording:
Panasonic have also included a background recording feature in the AG-DVX200 – in this mode, the second card records from when you first press the record button and continues to record even when you press the stop button, meaning that you don’t risk missing key footage – handy for wedding filming and similar jobs.
The DVX200 can also record in Interval rec (time-lapse), Pre rec (cache recording 4sec (3 sec in AVCHD)) and Freeze frame mode (still images with audio).
DVX200 has improved optical image stabilizer
Panasonic has given the DVX200 a five-axis image stabilizer, with an improved system compared to the previous image stabilizer found in the AG-AC160A camcorder. The optical stabilizer uses the higher resolution from its 4K and UHD capabilities, which means it’s not available in these recording modes, only in HD.
Manual focus, auto focus and focus assist functions in the Panasonic DVX200
The DVX200 4K camera has several auto-focus and focus-assist options. Even in the focus-assist modes, you remain in control of the shot as you can adjust the AF speed and sensitivity settings.
One of the nicer AF options is the AF touchscreen mode. The area function touchscreen can also be used for iris, Y get (read % in luminance) and focus control.
The DVX200 has a focus assist button which can magnifies a part of the image digitally. The operator can easily see the focus point this way, or it can be set to a peaking mode which highlights the focused area with a colour.
DVX200's automated focus pull and adjustable focus transition
With the DVX200, Panasonic has given users an automated focus pull system that can pre-select three different focus points, which the operator can then switch between using the touchscreen. You can set the speed at which the camera performs the transition, and there is also a record-delay option to help prevent wobbles from pressing the REC on/off button. This is especially handy when using a long lens or in situations when the optical stabilizer cannot be used, such as in UHD/4K mode.
Macro function in the DVX200
The DVX200’s Leica lens can be set to macro mode for extreme close-ups.
Panasonic DVX200 batteries
The battery supplied with the Panasonic DVX200 camera will last about 3.5 hours in standard operating conditions. IDX have announced two larger batteries, in 6.6 amp and 9.6 amp versions, with IDX 7.2v external output for accessories (this requires the cover to be open).