April 14, 2010

Pan pipes in micro 4/3 video camera

The HD DSLR revolution has taken an unexpected turn with the introduction of the first video camera based on a stills camera system – albeit not the one many people were wishing for.

Panasonic launched a few new cameras at NAB, most notably the first professional micro 4/3-inch HD video camcorder. Micro Four Thirds stills cameras with interchangeable lenses are available from Panasonic and Olympus (and will record video too, although at lower bit rates), but the new AG-AF101 (or AG-AF100 in the US) will give users a shallower depth of field than even the larger sensor broadcast cameras (which use 2/3-inch chips), plus the benefit from being designed primarily for video rather than stills.

It is aimed at digital cinematography, and will be able to use any micro 4/3-inch lenses, filters and adapters (for access to other 35mm lenses). It will record AVCHD (up to 24Mbps 4:2:0) in 1080 60/50i, 30/25p and 24p (native) plus 720 60/50p, 30/25p and 24p (native), with variable frame rates and professional audio, on to SDHC and SDXC cards (two slots – allowing it to record up to 12 hours on two 64GB SDXC cards at best quality). It will be 60Hz/50Hz switchable for use in any country.

The micro 4/3-inch 16:9 MOS imager will give a 2x crop compared to 35mm stills (so a 50mm 35mm stills lens is effectively 100mm – although the chip size isn't much smaller than a 35mm movie frame).

It will have built-in ND filtering and promises "dramatically reduced video aliasing" thanks to an optical low pass filter, and will have HD-SDI out (for uncompressed 4:2:2), HDMI, USB 2.0, time code recording, built-in stereo microphone, two XLR inputs with +48V Phantom Power, 48-kHz/16-bit two-channel digital audio recording (LPCM/Dolby-AC3). As the mock-up pictured above shows, it should be easier to hold than a DSLR-style camera, being about the size of Panasonic's HPX200 camcorder (but a little taller).

It should be available by the end of 2010, with the price expected to be under $6,000. Of course, by then, Canon could have announced its own repackaging of a larger sensor HD DSLR in a video body….

[UPDATED: Have a look at our report on the AF100 / AF101 from IBC - with pictures of the engineering prototype (there will be changes to some of the buttons and they'll make some of the dials bigger), plus a mini-review of the first videos made with it.]

By David Fox

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