June 06, 2010

Hands on with the new AG-3DA1

As mentioned in the French Open Tennis post, there are 100 engineering samples of Panasonic's new AG-3DA1 3D camcorder being made available for evaluation, testing, training and demonstrations at the moment.

Panasonic had one of them at the opening of its new Experience Centre at the Pinewood Studios, near London, last week, and I got the chance to handle it briefly.

It is certainly light, feels reasonably well balanced, and is probably about as simple as a 3D camcorder could be without removing your ability to control it.
The trickiest thing will be getting the convergence right. Although you can select to view the left or right lens output, or a mix of both, in the LCD and viewfinder, watching everything in 3D as you attempt to shoot it isn't really practical – and evaluating a mixed output in the viewfinder with one eye will take a lot of experience. You can't expect to wear your polarised glasses and watch the 3D on the LCD all the time, as you'll generally have to have one eye to the viewfinder and the other available to spot cables, steps, and other hazards, and to see where you should point your camera next.

Besides, convergence is not something you play with during shots, as that could be disorientating and possibly nauseating for the viewer (although I'm sure that someone will use that with the zoom to create some kind of 3D trombone shot for some production where unsettling is exactly what they want to be). Of course, setting the convergence may not be the job of the cameraman. It can also be set remotely, although that requires two HD-SDI wireless links (or cables if you're in a studio), to someone with a large 3D monitor (such as Panasonic's new 25.5-inch 3D LCD, the BT-3DL2550, for field or edit suite use arriving September for £7,750 - pictured right). It would probably be possible to use a single HDMI wireless links system, but no one makes one yet….

The camera has a fixed inter-axial distance (between the centre of each lens), so you can't move the lenses to give a better 3D effect for extreme close ups (anything less than about 1m for this camera) or for wide landscapes. But then, it isn't intended for that kind of work, no more than it is designed for cinema productions. The lenses are just about the right distance apart for television use. One of the problems with 3D is that you have to think about how you will deliver it when you create it. So, a movie that is meant to be seen on a big screen has to be remastered for the TV so that the parallax is correct for your living room.

The AG-3DA1 is due to start shipping in September, for about £15,520, but the first month's orders have already sold out. According to Adrian Clark, general manager, UK and Ireland, Panasonic's AVSE business unit, "the advanced order book has gone nuts," with demand just as strong in Europe as it has been in the US. Its new AG-HMX100 audio and vision mixer (£4,600 - pictured left) will also work with 3D.

For editing, there are already ways to do 3D for all the main edit systems. Final Cut Pro, for example, has plug-ins from Dashwood Cinema Solutions and Cineform that allow you to work with the two channels as a single stream on the timeline.

Hands-on experience

The Panasonic Experience Centre offers visitors the chance to explore file-based workflows before they spend money on them. It includes a room where users can test and experiment with P2 workflows, from acquisition to transmission, including content management on location and back at base, metadata, editing, archiving alternatives and playout.

There are also rooms for testing Panasonic's box cameras and vision mixers, an AVCCAM area (for its AVCHD range of cameras), where users can shoot and edit, and a 3D room, for the AG-3DA1 and 3D displays.

Panasonic already had a P2 Experience Centre at Shepperton Studios, which it opened last year. That now forms the core of the Pinewood centre. It had more than 900 visitors in 11 months and "the feedback has been absolutely fantastic," said Clark.

"It provides a safe environment for people to find out about tapeless workflows or to prove workflow concepts without crashing their own facility. It gives them the opportunity to play with tapeless workflows."

"We're not saying that this is THE workflow. Every one is different," added Rob Tarrant, European technical manager. "The good thing about this place is that we can actually try the workflow out before you go on set."

About 60% of the equipment in use at the centre is from third parties, such as Adobe, Apple, Avid, Cinegy, Quantum, Rimage, HP, Object Matrix and others. Avid, which is also based at Pinewood, has opened its own Experience Centre.

New products

Panasonic has also introduced new cameras, including the AG-HPX371, which replaces the successful HPX301, and costs £8,750 including lens. It uses new, more sensitive, ULT, sensors. There are also new AVCCAM cameras (besides the AG-3DA1) including: the AG-HMC81, which replaces the HMC71 shoulder-mounted camera this Autumn; and the AG-AF101 micro 4/3 HD video camcorder.

It has also expanded its range of P2 media card devices with: the AJ-PCD2 single-slot P2 card reader (£245); the AG-MSU10 transfer/backup device, which offloads P2 cards onto removable 3.5-inch drives at 4x speed so you don't have to hand over the media (£1,950 in October); the AJ-HPM200 field recorder/editor/transfer station (£11,920); and the AJ-HPD2500 VTR replacement P2 recorder, which can also be a back-up playout device (£19.205).

Anyone interested in visiting the Experience Centre should email: p2live [at] eu.panasonic.com or phone +44 (0)1344 706 913.

Related posts: Panasonic 3D camcorder gets AVCHD and Panasonic unveils HD 3D camcorder

By David Fox

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