April 19, 2011

AF101 wins BBC HD approval

Panasonic has had three of its cameras approved by the BBC for HD use, although all of them have features that are not what the broadcaster would normally consider desirable for HD production.

The most notable camera approved is the AG-AF101 large sensor camera, although it can only be used with an external recorder, as the internal AVCHD (24Mbps) codec doesn't survive the rigours of the broadcast transmission chain, particularly when dealing with demanding material, as it can exhibit artefacts. [UPDATE: The new AF101A can record up to 28Mbps internally - still not good enough - and output 10-bit 4:2:2 via HD-SDI to an external recorder]

The AF101 has already been used for HD production by broadcasters, including the UK's Channel 4, and for many commercials. It was used by the award-winning producer/director Fiona Lloyd-Davies, of Studio 9 Films, to shoot a documentary in the Congo for Al-Jazeera Europe, where it recorded to a Convergent Design nanoFlash external Compact Flash recorder at 50Mbps, the minimum bitrate that the BBC also insists on. [See story: AF101's first broadcast production]

"The 101 has been a big hit for Panasonic right across the world. Its picture quality, and particularly its control over depth of field, are excellent for a camera at this price point. It is a leap up from a DSLR with its professional controls, ergonomic handling and broadcast interfaces. To be on the approved BBC HD list is a real feather in its cap," commented Allan Leonhardsen, of Panasonic distributor Holdan.

DoP Paul Lucas, who recently completed a number of TV and commercial shoots using the AF101, believes that "the AF-101 represents a serious step forward for cameras in its class. For those who've been shooting professional video on DSLRs, this is unquestionably the way forward. For mid to higher budget shoots - promos, drama, commercials, there's no reason not to use a 101 next to more expensive cameras, and spend money on glass instead."

The AF101 can be used with a wide range of lenses, from Zeiss Compact Primes, to Canon and Nikon stills lenses via an adaptor.

Panasonic's HPX371 has also been approved for HD broadcast use. It records on P2 cards using the H.264 MPEG4-based AVC-Intra format, and is the most affordable shoulder-mount camera, offering the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, on the BBC HD list (it costs about €8,000 with a 17x HD Fujinon lens). It uses three 1/3-inch CMOS sensors, although the BBC previously stated that sensors should be at least 1/2-inch chips – however, it had already moved away from this requirement by approving Canon's XF300/XF305 1/3-inch cameras late last year.

The AG-HCK10 point of view camera and its AVCHD recorder/controller the AG-HMR10 is also BBC approved, although the miniature camera must also be used with an external 50Mbps+ recorder (the HMR10 has SDI and HDMI outputs). The camera has a 12x optical zoom lens, Optical Image Stabilizer, and a 1/4.1-inch progressive 3MOS sensor. The package costs about €3,500 and is approved for such applications as in-car use or wildlife photography.

Sony too

The cameras are joined on the newly updated list by several Sony cameras, including the new PMW-F3 (along with Sony's EX1R, EX3, PMW-320 and PMW-350, it gains official approval only with a 50Mbps+ external recorder), and the Sony PMW-500 (50Mbps 4:2:2 SxS camera - pictured above), which has apparently been bought in large numbers by BBC News.

The full BBC HD list

Studio Cameras
• Sony HDC1500
• Sony HDC1550 
• Sony HDC1400 
• Sony HDC1450 
• Sony HSC300 
• Sony HXC100 
• Grass Valley LDK8000 Elite Worldcam 
• Grass Valley LDK8000 Elite Standard 
• Grass Valley LDK4000 Elite 1080i

HD Handheld
• Canon XF305 
• Canon XF300 
• Sony PMW-EX1R - with external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above 
• Sony PMW-EX3 - with external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above

HD Shoulder Mount
• Panasonic HDX900 
• Panasonic HPX371 
• Panasonic HPX3000 
• Panasonic HPX3100 
• Panasonic HPX3700 
• Sony PMW320 - with an external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above 
• Sony PMW350 - with an external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above 
• Sony PMW500
• Sony PDW, 700 & F800 
• Sony HDW F900R & 900 
• Sony HDW 790, 750 & 730

HD Specialist
• Panasonic HPX2700 HDC27F & H 
• Panasonic AF101 - with an external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above 
• Sony CineAlta F35 
• Sony SRW 9000 
• Sony PMW F3 - with an external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above 
• Arri D21 
• Arri Alexa 
• Panavision Genesis 
• Thompson Viper
• Red

Mini Cameras
• Iconix HD-RH1 
• Panasonic HCK10/HMR10 - with an external recorder using a bitrate of 50Mbps or above
• Toshiba IK-HR1S
• Toshiba IK-HD1

It also adds that "cameras should be chosen in consultation with the DoP and post production facility."

It may also accept other cameras, possibly under special circumstances or newly-released cameras it hasn't listed as approved, but if you shoot for the BBC it's always best to ask them first.

Related post: What makes an HD camera? 

By David Fox

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