Field Testing the Panasonic AG-HPX500
As previously reported and discussed by Panasonic at its NAB presentation this year, the company has been aggressively promoting the use of its P2 solid state memory cards and camcorders in a wide range of applications, particularly the high-profile 2007 Iditarod race project. The company even made a documentary about crews using P2-based camera systems in Alaska''s frozen tundra for that event. That coverage largely revolved around the use of AG-HVX200 and AJ-HPX2000 PD HD camcorders in concert with 150 8GB P2 memory cards at the Iditarod.
But as recently reported in HD Focus (Looking Ahead to the HPX500), Panasonic also permitted cinematographer and author Barry Green, a familiar face in the Panasonic user group world, to field test a prototype of the company''s newest P2 camcorderthe AG-HPX500, which was only officially unveiled to the world at NAB. Until now, Green wasn''t allowed to say much about the experience, but HD Focus recently caught up with him and got an update on his impressions of the cameraa full-size, shoulder-mountable, 2/3-in., 3CCD, DVCPRO HD camcorder capable of recording in multiple frame rates and using interchangeable lenses.
Green, whose user manuals are packaged and delivered with every HVX200 purchased from Panasonic, was initially invited by Panasonic Broadcast Product Business Line Manager Jan Crittenden Livingston to help train crews on the use of the P2 cameras during the Iditarod project. That opportunity, however, led to another oneCrittenden Livingston offered him a chance to check out the HPX500.
“I brought up my [HVX200] to use because that's what [Panasonic] said we were going to be shooting with,” Green says. “And then, Jan came over and said, ‘No, you get to use this,'' and she brought out what is probably going to be the most sought-after camcorder this year.”
Some characterize the HPX500 as a big brother to the HVX200. It was, after all, developed by Panasonic to offer the same capabilities as the HVX200, but with the three 2/3-in. progressive CCD chips, the system has improved low-light sensitivityabout a stop and a half faster than the HVX200meaning it can achieve equivalent brightness in about one-third the amount of available light.
Green points out that the HPX500 also has two stops more dynamic range, which allows the camera to see further into both highlights and shadows than the HVX200. But, he adds, the HPX500 also has the flexible options and connections some hoped would have come on the HVX200HD/SDI, timecoding in and out, genlock, as well as a DC power outlet, which gives shooters the ability to drive Panasonic's new 7.9-in. BT-LH80W LCD monitor directly off the camera without having to use a second battery unit.
One feature Panasonic transferred directly to the HPX500 from the compact HVX200 was the ability to shoot 720p onto the P2 cards using the pN mode, something the higher-end HPX2000 currently can''t do (although, wait until August, Green says...). The pN mode (“N” for native) gives Panasonic P2 cameras the ability to economize card space without compromising image quality. Currently, recording devices on Panasonic''s tape-based cameras require the imaging of 60 frames each second, no matter if they are shooting 24fps or 30fps, which results in the recording of each image in the 30fps-mode twice, and for 24fps, each even frame is recorded twice and each odd numbered frame three times.
The pN mode, on the other hand, captures only the 24 or 30 images per second. This gives Panasonic cameras with pN mode the ability to hold two to 2½ times more footage on a P2 card versus their standard progressive mode, which can make a sizeable difference on an 8GB, or newly available 16GB, card. Ultimately, this allows you to capture up to 160 minutes of 720p24 DVCPRO HD footage in pN mode on the HPX500''s four P2 slots without having to change media.
Green was also impressed that Panasonic developed the HPX500 to be format flexible. It''s equipped to shoot both PAL and NTSC, so the camera acquires in both 1080 and 720, DVCPRO and DVCPRO50, at 24fps, 30fps, and 60fps for NTSC, as well as the PAL versions of those frame rates, with 50i and 25p to boot. This, along with 11 steps of variable frame rates between 12p and 60p for overcranking and undercranking, makes the camera a flexible tool for cinematographers on a wide range of projects, Green says.
Thus, it''s no surprise that Green was excited to test the HPX500''s limits and durability during his time in the field with the camera.
“I was a bit more adventurous with the [HPX500] than Jan probably wanted me to be because this was the only one in the world at that timeI mean this was a hand-built prototype,” Green says. “And so I took it on a job at the start of the race when the dogs come barreling down the road. I''d run out into the road, jam the camera down in the snow, and wait for the dogs to get as close as they possibly could. I got yelled at a few times by the security guards, but I still wanted the shot. So, I got down in there with a camera lens on there that went to 122mm, and then put the optical doubler on there, and I got some pretty good reachI was able to get right down those dogs throats.
“I''d pick up the camera and there''d be snow jammed in the ports, and Jan would just be looking at me, shaking her head. And I''d just blow it out, and we''re as good as new. We''d keep going and no problems whatsoeverthe thing performed like a champ.”
Just as important, Green was happy with the footage he acquired.
“I think it looks fantastic,” Green says. “I was sitting there trying to calibrate the [HPX500 and HVX200] together, and it was a little tougher to match because the [HPX500] has one more stop further of dynamic range than even the [HPX2000]. [The HPX500] has 10 stops of dynamic range, so when you''re matching up eight stops to 10 stops, the tonality was spread out a little bit. But the same gamma settings and the same color settings were all there. So, I was able to take all the basic scene files we''d come up with for the HVX200, and then adjust the knee and the master pedestal a little bit to get them to match better.
“But I think a lot of people would be very hard-pressed to tell the difference [between the two cameras imagery],” Green says. “Nobody''s going to look at the footage and say, ‘Oh, that's a 200'' and ‘Oh, that''s a 500 shot.'' There''s no way somebody can say that. They all are from absolutely the same family and intercut very well. Now, where you would be able to tell some difference is if you were shooting in a low-light interior scene or something like that. Then, yes, the 500''s really going to shine, and the 2000 will, as well. But, where we were at, in the sunlight, they all matched well and looked fantastic.”
Panasonic displayed some of Green''s imagery captured with the HPX500 in the company''s booth at this year''s NAB, as well as cut some shots into a portion of the videos used on the company''s Iditarod micro website, with about eight to 10 videos using some of Green''s footage.
The HPX500 is now available for delivery from Panasonic. Check out Panasonic's AG-HPX500 page for more information on the camera.