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, writes David Fox.
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.
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 (pictured), 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. [Read, download or print the full feature on Lloyd-Davies’ production from the TVBEurope April 2011 Digital Edition (pages 56+57).]
“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 recorder/controller the AG-HMR10 have also been BBC approved, although the miniature AVCHD 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 newly developed 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.
The cameras are joined on the recently 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, which has apparently been bought in large numbers by BBC News.