2D, 3D and AVCHD: Panasonic's 'Consumer' HDC-Z10000 Is Actually A Pro Camcorder Contender

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The Panasonic HDC-Z10000 is marketed as a consumer camcorder, but I beg to differ with that targeting. The Z10000 is a truly professional unit, with even a few features not usually found in cameras of this size and at this price point (list price $3,495).

The Z10000 is Panasonic's latest entry in the field of compact 3D camcorders. It has a dual lens system with dual 1/4" 3MOS sensors. It records to dual SDHC or SDXC cards in Panasonic's AVCCAM codec in 2D as well as in the newly standardized AVCHD 3D/Progressive codec in 3D. In 2D, it will record all SD and HD frame rates up to 1080 60p. In 3D mode, it will record 1080 in 60i, 30p and 24p frame rates.

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Like other cameras in this range, the Z10000's flip-out touchscreen displays a glasses-free 3D image. An easily accessible convergence control coupled with on-screen distance/convergence read-outs varies the 3D effects and warns when the convergence is out of range relative to focal length and distance.

Speaking of focal length, the lens has a 10x optical zoom in 3D and 12x in 2D. A digital zoom can take the camera up to 120x.

Another feature that places the camera above the consumer level is its dual XLR inputs. The only output is HDMI, but this HDMI outputs 3D to a compatible 3D display as well as 2D.

Before discussing the other features of the camera, I will note that it helped me out of a potentially disastrous situation. I was shooting a pro bono event for a non-profit and intended to use two cameras: one of my own as A-camera and the Panasonic loaner Z10000 for some B-camera shots. I got both cameras set up and had my assistant roll the A-camera. It didn't roll. I shot the entire event with the Z10000 in 2D. A little color correction in Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Lite and the organization was thrilled. And I was really impressed with what it delivered.

I had a few whip pans to get audience shots for cutaways. There was negligible "jello-cam." CMOS sensors have come a long way, and the Z10000 demonstrates that level of development.

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Back to the feature set.

The camera controls are as one who has shot Panasonic cameras would expect, with some welcome enhancements. Panasonic engineers have resolved an issue I've noted in smaller cameras, that many of them control aperture with some kind of dial on the side of the camera. The Z10000, however, has three distinct rings on the lens: focus, zoom and aperture. This camera has what feels like a real lens that makes manual control much more natural. The focus ring does turn infinitely, but this issue is no doubt endemic to small-camera glass.

White balance can be set manually, with presets or automatically (ATW). Gain can be applied, but as one would expect with a small-sensor camera, extremely low light and extremely high gain can produce some noise. Shutter can be set to off, auto or as high as 1/8000th sec. There is also a slow-shutter mode to help in low-light situations.

The menus are accessed via touchscreen. I am not a fan of touchscreens, seeing a somewhat lower resolution. Additionally, a touchscreen can smear, and I fear my heavy finger could damage it. In two weeks with the camera, though, there was no damage and I easily wiped any smears with an LCD cloth.

Delving into the menu structure, you will discover that the Z10000 shares scene files with its higher-end Panasonic siblings. Many shooters just love that "Panny look," and I confess a certain attachment to the CineD and CineV gammas. The scene files can be copied, modified, saved and recalled just like on the bigger kids.

The requirements of 3D production raise some issues specific to the format. First of all, there are 3D techniques and best practices. Do shoot low. Don't shoot window violations, where a subject walks into frame from the edge.

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That brings me to one of the greatest uses of this camera. It is so fully featured for its price point that it is an ideal unit on which to learn to shoot 3D. I could strongly recommend it to film schools, for example, to put a true 3D camera with convergence adjustments and interocular distance adjustments into students' hands.

The AVCHD 3D/Progressive codec shoots MVC files. A complication arises in editing these files: rather than writing separate right-eye/left-eye streams to the dual cards, the codec writes a 3D muxed file. In fact, it is the Blu-ray 3D codec.

The 3D footage may be displayed on the touchscreen or played out via HDMI to a 3D television or monitor that decodes MVC side-by-side 3D.

The MVC files themselves need to be transferred to computer via an included application. The application is currently Windows-only, meaning there is no way at the moment to transfer 3D information to a Mac. Furthermore, the only NLE that currently edits MVC files is Sony Vegas 11. All other PC NLE users and all Mac users are left without any way to edit the footage.

Since AVCHD 3D/Progressive is an extension of the official AVC standard, though, I would expect this lack of editing capability to be only temporary. I expect to see NLE developers add MVC capabilities in the coming months.

I was sad to return this loaner unit to Panasonic. I found it a great vehicle for learning to shoot 3D—this camera will produce images that look good on YouTube in 3D, for example. The image quality far exceeds what I would have expected from a 1/4" sensor camera, and the strong AVCCAM codec was easy to edit (in 2D, of course) and held up well with basic grading.

In addition to being a great camera to learn 3D on, it would be great for documentary work and guerilla video production. Its sturdy construction, compact size, excellent ergonomics and full feature set make it a camera that a professional could use as well as an advanced amateur.

My hope is that the MVC format can be opened up so that all NLEs will be able to edit the amazing 3D footage that's possible with this camera.

Camera Specs
Panasonic HDC-Z10000
Image Sensor: Three 1/4.1" MOS sensors x 2
Total Pixels: 9.15 megapixels (3.05 mp x 3)
Effective Pixels (motion image, 2D): 6.57 megapixels (2.19 mp x 3, 16:9)
Effective Pixels (motion image, 3D): 6.21 megapixels (2.07 mp x 3, 16:9)
F Value:f/1.5 - 2.8 (2D), f/1.5 - 2.7 (3D)
Optical Zoom: 12x (2D), 10x (3D)
Focal Length: 2.84 - 34.1 mm (2D), 2.84 - 28.4 mm (3D)
Recording Media: SD, SDHC, SDXC Memory Cards
SD Memory Card Slot: Two slots
Recording Format: AVCHD 2.0 Standard (AVCHD 3D/Progressive) Compliant
Compression Method: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (2D), MPEG-4 MVC/H.264 (3D)
Power Supply:  7.2V (battery) / 12V (AC adapter)
Power Consumption:  Max. 16.7W (recording)
Dimensions:  5.7" x 7.68" x 13.8" (WHD)
Weight (without battery and SD card): 3.53 lb.
LCD Monitor: 3.48" 16:9 Wide 3D LCD monitor (1,152,000 dots)
Viewfinder: 0.45" 16:9 Wide EVF (Approx. 1,226,880 dots)

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Panasonic HDC-Z10000

SCORE: 4.5 Diamonds

PROS: Ergonomics. Strong 3D and 2D features. 1080 60p in 2D. 3D convergence controls and on-screen display. Excellent 3MOS sensors. Scene files for controlling the look and light sensitivity.

CONS: A tad pricey. Limited ability to edit 3D files. Touchscreen subject to fingerprints and smearing.

BOTTOM LINE: A very competent camera for 2D work and a useful 3D camera for both learning and small 3D productions.

MSRP: $3,495




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