There have been a few landmark digital video cameras in the history of electronic cinematography. The introduction of Panasonic’s AG-DVX100 in 2002 was a true breakthrough for low-budget filmmakers, as it was the first affordable non-interlaced camcorder that could capture 24 progressive frames per second. In 2005, Panasonic raised the bar with the AG-HVX200, which offered HD at 720p and was one of the first camcorders to offer file-based (P2 card) recording. At the time, a 4 GB P2 card let you capture approximately 10 minutes of DVCPRO HD 720p24 —similar to a 400-foot 16mm film mag.
NOT YOUR FATHER’S DVX
In 2015, Panasonic went back to its DVX roots with the release of the AG-DVX200, a handheld camcorder that shoots 4K/60p, contains a 4/3-inch large-format MOS sensor, and offers 12 stops of latitude with its V-Log L gamma curve.
Although this may turn off a few indie filmmakers with their camera bags filled with lenses, the DVX200 contains a fixed 13x optical Leica Dicomar zoom lens. Another key feature: the camera is able to record true 4K (4096 x 2160), UHD (3840 x 2160) and HD as MOV, MP4 or AVCHD files to low-cost SD cards. Though the camera supports both SDHC and SDXC cards, you’ll need to use a UHC Speed Class 3 SDXC card if you want to capture 4K footage.
The shallow focus and bokeh effect of its 4/3-type large-format sensor and the wide dynamic range are combined with full HD 120 fps variable frame rate shooting, dual-codec recording and an OLED EVF to complete the package. As a whole, the DVX200 is an entirely different beast from its predecessors and, in my opinion, is one of the most versatile camcorders on the market.
BODY AND HANDLING
One of the best things about the DVX200 is its good looks, especially when compared to Panasonic’s boxy AG-AF100. With its carbon matte finish and a shiny red mid-section, the camcorder has a body style that’s similar to its predecessors but looks and feels sleeker and sexier. It sort of reminds me of a modern Aaton XTR Prod 16mm camera (although you can’t mount the DVX200 on your shoulder).
For most indie shooters, the DVX200’s rectangular form factor and fixed lens are currently out of fashion, since you can’t shoot completely unobtrusively like you can with a DSLR, and it isn’t long enough to be shoulder-mounted like a traditional ENG-style camera. For handheld shooting, the camera has a good side grip that lets you operate comfortably, although your right wrist and arm will start to feel the camera’s weight (5.95 pounds, body only) on long takes. To help counterbalance, there’s a protruding lip at the base of the camera on which you can rest the palm of your left hand while keeping your fingers on the barrel of the lens.
The integrated lens is a Leica Dicomar zoom with a 13x zoom range. The broadcast-style lens on the DVX200 comprises 17 lenses in 11 groups, including five aspheric lenses. The lens has a variable aperture of f/2.8 to f/4.5, depending on focal length, and features optical image stabilization. The additional five-axis hybrid image stabilizer, which combines optical and electronic image stabilizers, can be used only when shooting resolutions less than 4K/UHD.
Around the lens are three individual control rings for mechanical (cam-driven) zoom, focus and iris. There’s also a power zoom rocker on the side handle for servo-style zooms.
The majority of the controls are on the left side of the camera, including ND filter (off, 1/4, 1/16, 1/64), focus assist, push auto, four assignable user buttons, gain control, white balance, shutter, and access to the menus, which can be controlled via a push-button dial or via the retractable touch-panel LCD screen.
In the red section of the camera are the two SD card slots and audio controls. The camera has two XLR audio inputs.
On the opposite side of the camera are SDI out and video out, as well as USB Host and Device to transfer files to and from the camera. On the back of the camera is a battery hatch cover that protects the battery and prevents it from being dislodged if the camera is bumped, as well as an HDMI out, which lets you output 4K/24p and UHD/60p.
For monitoring your shots, the DVX200 offers both an OLED viewfinder (0.39 inches) with a video display area of about 1,770,000 dots and an LCD monitor (4.3 inches) with about 2,760,000 dots. The articulating LCD is a touchscreen that can be conveniently slid into the camera’s top handle if you plan on looking through the EVF. I particularly loved this feature.
The first thing I noticed when I started using the DVX200 was that the LCD screen kept going to black. My investigation revealed that the EVF has an automatic eye sensor, so if you momentarily cross or block its view, the camera defaults to the EVF and shuts down the LCD. You can adjust the eye sensor sensitivity or just turn the EVF upwards to solve the problem. That’s a little annoying but obviously not a deal breaker.
For cinema shooters, the DVX200 offers a V-Log L function that’s equivalent to the flat, neutral gamma setting on VariCam cameras. Although it’s not a raw file, the V-Log L function provides 12 stops of dynamic range, giving more flexibility for post-process color grading and retaining more detail in the extreme ends of the exposure range.
V-Log L has a more “raw-like” look than Canon Log or Sony S-Log, taking down contrast, color and sharpening to the sensor’s basic elements. For feature film cinematographers, or for shooters who are working in environments where lighting cannot be controlled, V-Log L is a great option.
If you know in advance you’re not going to have extended time in post, you should probably ditch V-Log L and set your look manually with one of the camera’s six scene files. For my review, I stuck with Scene1, since its default setting was appropriate for standard recording. When in a Scene File, you can choose between several gamma settings: Cine-Like V, Cine-Like D, Filmlike 1/2/3, HD and SD. For my purposes, I liked the look of Cine-Like V, as it offers a cinematic look appropriate for viewing on conventional monitors. If you want a more natural look with less contrast, the Cine-Like D gamma curve gives you a bit more dynamic range. You can also make adjustments to your picture using settings for detail, skin tone, chroma level, chroma phase, color correction, master pedestal level, gamma and knee.
Panasonic has been installing 4/3-inch sensors in recent cameras like the AF100 and GH4. The DVX200 gets a new 4/3-type sensor that’s a good compromise between broadcast and cinema. (The DVX200’s new MOS sensor is not the same one found in the AF100 and GH4.) The 4/3-type sensor is much larger than full-frame or Super 35-sized sensors, but it has a big drawback in terms of low-light performance. I shot a night exterior scene lit with a tungsten outdoor lamp in my backyard, with a night cityscape in the background. When adding gain, I was getting a usable image, but anything over 12 dB delivered noticeable image noise. Still, the sensor represents a huge improvement over 1/3-inch CCDs.
I generally stuck to manual focusing. Achieving critical focus on a small LCD monitor is a very difficult task, especially in 4K. The camera has a number of good focus assist functions, including expand, peaking, one-push AF, focus transition and area function. The first option expands a section of the frame for critical viewing. Peaking colors subjects in focus for display emphasis. One-push AF temporarily activates auto-focus when shooting in manual mode. With focus transition, the focus can be shifted to a preset focal distance with a single touch; up to three focus positions can be set. Finally, area function activates auto-focus for a subject that is touched on the LCD panel.
I found the percentage scale of MF00 to MF99 that you can use to obtain rack focus marks particularly helpful. Auto-focus was good, but not when compared to technology like Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF.
Like most professional or high-end prosumer camcorders, the DVX200 has waveform and vectorscope displays and zebras. For navigating menus, I found that the camera’s touch panel works much faster and more efficiently than the small dial button, which should be ditched for future models.
I was impressed with how the DVX200 resolved 4K when compared to other cameras in its class. Looking at the uncorrected UHD Cine-Like V footage on my 5K Apple iMac, I was blown away by the subtle gradations of blue skies and clouds, as well as how the green foliage in the foreground of my frame popped.
What’s even more impressive is that you can convert 8-bit 4:2:0 3840 x 2160 files into 10-bit 4:4:4 1920 x 1080 files in post, making the DVX200 an incredible 1080p camera. Although I didn’t shoot with the camera in every environment or situation, I did not notice any rolling shutter issues. (I normally don’t pan the camera quickly on a typical shoot.) I also didn’t notice any ghosting or breathing from the fixed Leica lens.
Even with the overall excellence of the DVX200, Panasonic has a tough road ahead. Interchangeable lenses and Super 35mm-sized sensors are what most filmmakers are now looking for in an “indie-friendly” camera. Because of this shift, I believe the DVX200 would be a great run-and-gun broadcast camera that’s well suited for use on documentaries, industrials, event videography (weddings, sports) and ENG. It’s also a great camera for a filmmaker who might want to make a living as a shooter but isn’t ready to spring for an expensive camera package with multiple lenses and accessories. With a street price of less than $4,200, you can’t go wrong with the DVX200.