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I could see shooting a variety of projects with this camera
Panasonic has a new camera, the AG-HPX255. Let's take a look at their new hand-held P2 camera offering, as well as their new monitor, the BT-LH1850.
Panasonic lent a friend of mine the AG-HPX255 to test out. I happened to be in town, and he invited me to come try it out with him.
But before we dive in, I want to talk about a book. Terry Bisson is a Kentucky-born sci-fi writer who lives in California. He's written several books, but the one I want to focus on is called "Voyage to the Red Planet." It's about the first manned expedition to Mars, but not for science. No government sponsors the trip in his book. Instead, it's being headed by a slightly crazy producer who has found a way to send a manned mission to Mars in order to make a movie - Filmmakers In Space. I bring this up because in the book he wrote about a camera called the Demogorgon. Bisson describes the Demogorgon as "a hand-held digital video-image synthesizer that had just been developed in England. Like all modern video synthesizers, it could store and reshape light and scenery, but the Demogorgon went one step further. It was capable of digitizing, storing, editing reshaping and even reconstructing a living actor's image." Picture a camera with After Effects and Maya built-in. The book was published in 1990, twenty-three years ago. It was one of the factors that made me interested in cameras and film work. While the Demogorgon does not exist, what was then science fiction is inching closer to reality with each new generation of cameras - which is why I love playing with new cameras.
The AG-HPX255 is a hand-held 1/3 2.2 megapixel 3-MOS camera. It uses P2 cards. It records full 1920x1080, 10-bit 4:2:2. It is also capable of being used in a studio environment, thanks to a remote terminal compatible with Panasonic's AG-EC4 Paint Box remote control. Not bad for a camera that lists at $6,995.00.
I've shot with a variety of hand-held cameras. I bought a Canon GL1 (yep, I go back that far) and used it for second-unit and documentary work. I spent a year shooting news with a DVX100, including doing live-shots with them. I spent another year shooting news with the Sony HVR-Z1U, shot commercials with a Sony A1U, and currently work with Canon DSLRs.
I showed up and we unboxed it. I've never understood the fascination with unboxing videos on the web. One unboxing looks a lot like every other: there's an insanely cool piece of hardware and some accessories wrapped in plastic and cardboard. I think it would be more fun for those videos if there was a chance that something completely different would be in the box instead - like Amelia Earhardt's forwarding address, or maybe a fruitcake. Anyway, we unboxed it. It came with the basics - AC adapter, battery and charger, AC and DC cords, eye cup, strap, remote control, cd-rom with the P2 drivers, and the camera. The camera looked like basic black, hand-held form-factor camera. We spent the better part of the day playing with it.
Here's what I thought while shooting with it. It feels good. It's not too heavy, weighing in at under six lbs. My biggest complaint with hand-helds has to do with arm fatigue in situations where a tripod, for whatever reason, is unavailable. Also, it's not too light. I've tried a couple of cameras that picked up every muscle flex and arm jitter there was to be had. No problems like that with the AG-HPX255. The optical stabilization built into the camera also helps with that. Button placement is similar to other Panasonic cameras. Run-and-gun shooting demands muscle memory - your fingers need to know where the buttons are. If you've been using other Panasonic cameras, this won't be a problem. The picture quality is excellent. As we played with it, we found the low-light capabilities are very good. Gain is getting cleaner with each new camera generation. I like having a separate focus ring, iris ring and a zoom ring on the fixed lens. Shooters used to more traditional lenses will appreciate this. There are four settings for ND filters - 1/64, 1/16, 1/4, and Off.
The camera has seven different preset Gamma modes. There are HD Normal and SD Normal (two different settings depending on what format you're shooting), to two cinema-styles: Cine-Like D, emphasizing dynamic range, and Cine-Like V, emphasizing contrast. The camera has variable shutter speeds from 1/6 to 1/2000, and also features synchro-scan.
Focusing has long been a problem with shooting with hand-helds. The camera features an Expand function, which enlarges the center of the picture for the shooter to get a more accurate focus on the subject. For run-and-gun emergencies there's a one-push auto-focus. The lens is a 22x zoom, giving shooters a 35mm equivalent of 28mm to 616mm.
The camera shoots a variety of formats: AVC-Intra 100, AVC-Intra 50, DVCPRO HD, DVCPRO50, DVCPRO, and DV. AVC-Intra 100 is a maximum of 1920 x 1080, 10-bit 4:2:2. AVC-Intra 50 is 1440x1080, 10-bit, 4:2:0. Shooting AVC-Intra 100 or DVCPRO HD gives a max recording time of 64 minutes to a single 64 GB P2 card. Dropping down to AVC-Intra 50 or DVCPRO 50 increases this to 128 minutes on the same card.
This camera also has multiple frame rates for both overcranking and undercranking. In 59.94 Hz mode at 1080p you have 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 30 fps available. In 59.94 Hz at 720P you have 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 40, 44, 48, 54, 60 fps available. In 50 Hz mode at 1080P you have 1, 2, 4,6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24,and 25 fps available. In 50 Hz at 720p you have 1, 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 40, 44, 48,50 fps available.
All in all, this is a capable camera. I could see shooting a variety of projects with this, from news and documentaries to commercials, industrials, weddings, corporate events - anything you need a capable fixed-lens camera to do. And a note to tv studios out there: this hand-held can be used with Panasonic's AG-EC4 Paintbox remote, which can control all the gamma functions, setups, menus, etc., that the camera has. So if you were doing a newsroom live and needed to use your one-man-band's field camera to do it, you could while still letting your engineer handle color reproduction to fit the color profiles of the other cameras in your studio(s). This camera also features HD-SDI output, genlock in, TC I/O, a type-A HDMI, Firewire, USB 2.0, and 2 XLRs.
So, a fun afternoon. We played, filled P2 cards, and had a general good time with the new Panasonic camera. Then we went back to his house and unboxed a new Panasonic monitor. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Panasonic sent a new monitor for us to take a look at - the BT-LH1850 HD/SD LCD Widescreen Monitor.
The BT-LH1850 is 18.5" monitor. It does have a resolution of 1366 x 768. It's big enough for multiple people to look at, while being small enough to carry around to shoots. It has a built-in vectorscope, as well as a waveform monitor for RGB signals. It has 2 SDIs, a DVI-I, 1 HDMI, 1 RS-232C, and both an RS-485 in and out, and a GPI. There is also a stereo analog pin jack pair for external audio. Power can be either AC, or DC via a 4-pin XLR. There is a mono speaker on the unit. There are several markers available, including safe area, center mark, a wide range of aspect ratios, and a cross hatch overlay to help check the camera's tilt. It also displays timecode, and has an on-screen audio meter.
We hooked up the camera to it and shot some things inside. The color was dead-on, and we both liked the weight of the thing. I could imagine taking it with me to use with a DSLR shoot - or any camera for that matter. It is a little on the pricey side, though. It has an MSRP of around $2500. I looked it up and found street prices of around $2150.00 - $2200.00.
He thought it would make a good portable monitor for an ENG shooter. I think it's a bit too big to use as a reporter monitor on a live-shot. I could definitely see it used for EFP, DSLR filmmaking, anything where an external monitor - either for shooter, director or talent - would be useful. The downside to reviewing a monitor is you, the reader, can't see it. If you're in the market for a monitor of this size, go to your nearest Panasonic reseller and ask to take a look. The same goes for the camera. If you are in need of a fixed-lens hand-held camera, especially one that can be integrated into an existing studio, go take a look at the AG-HPX255.
While the AG-HPX255 isn't Bisson's Demogorgon, it is a stepping stone in that direction. Check it out.
Jeremiah Hall has been a writer, videographer, editor, journalist and filmmaker for over 14 years.
He has worked across the midwest and southeast for several news organizations.
Currently, he resides in Cincinnati, OH with his family, and is developing a feature film to direct.