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Panasonic AJ-PX270: An Elegant and Effective ENG/Documentary Camcorder

Nobody seems to notice traditional HD video cameras any more. In a large-sensor, DSLR, 4K world we too often are drawn by the hype, forgetting that there are simply applications where the traditional video camera is the appropriate tool.

The Panasonic AJ-PX270 is an appropriate tool for ENG, documentary, run and gun, corporate and event video. This is an affordable, compact, lightweight and feature-rich camera.

ENG camera users will appreciate that its control layout replicates traditional ENG devices. With battery, it weighs a tad under 6 lb. and is balanced well for both handheld shooting and mounting on a tripod.

And the feature set—all I can say is amazing. This is Panasonic’s first “popularly priced” handheld camera to include AVC100 I-frame recording with resolution and frame rate as high as 1080 50/60p. And yes, this one camera is universal. Just set up for NTSC or PAL region and all 24/30/60 or 25/50 frame rates are available. To save media space, it can record AVC Intra 50, AVC Long GOP 50, Long GOP 25, and Long GOP 12. To maintain backward compatibility, it records DVCPRO HD, DVCPRO 50 and DVCPRO 25. An optional upgrade raises the stakes to AVC Intra 200.

With its three 1/3” CMOS sensors, the 270 can record to standard P2 (one slot) or the new microP2 cards (two slots). Its 22x fixed lens has a variable servo zoom and three rings: focus, manual zoom and manual iris. One small gripe I have is that the manual iris, like many cameras in this price range, is a continuous rotation and no f-stops are indicated on the lens barrel. The viewfinder display, however, does indicate the f-stop. And speaking of displays, the top flip-out viewing screen is sharp, but, like most viewing screens, is inadequate in direct sunlight. But the eyepiece viewfinder is a stunning OLED display that you simply have to see to believe.

Other Panasonic cameras have been criticized for servo zooms that did not stop/start smoothly. This issue has been remedied in the AJ-PX270. The variable servo zoom is a little touchy and since it is based on simply depressing the zoom rocker all or partway, it is virtually impossible to repeat a zoom. The 22x zoom f/1.6 lens is sharp and remarkably free of chromatic aberration.

Continuing its ENG layout, the PX270 has an XLR input on both the front and rear. Unlike other cameras in this price range, it features a front audio level dial, where it would be expected. The I/O choices are extensive with HD-SDI, USB 2.0/3.0 and HDMI. For wired LAN use, there is an Ethernet port, and an optional Wi-Fi dongle enables wireless connections. This enables streaming a lower-res proxy file while simultaneously recording a beefier codec to cards. Metadata can be attached to all files, even to those proxy files streamed via wireless LAN or Ethernet. HD files are recorded in one of the included AVC files in the traditional P2-MXF file structure. Footage imports flawlessly into any NLE that supports the P2 format.

The variable frame rate features were particularly impressive, with rates in menu-selected increments from 1 to 60 fps—even in 1080p recording.

Full automatic or manual functions are selected by a two position switch. This choice can come in very handy in high-paced run and gun scenarios such as news coverage.

Users have long appreciated Panasonic’s color science, and this camera follows that path. Picture profiles are familiar—with the CineGamma V and CineGamma D profiles. By the way, profiles may be modified or custom profiles loaded like any other Panasonic camera. But the 270 adds three film-like gammas. Combine this with camera-painting options like a VariCam and you can create video or film looks in camera. I particularly liked the film-like gammas combined with the camera’s extended DRS (dynamic range system). It wasn’t like shooting with a digital cinema camera with 14 stops of dynamic range, but it produced very pleasing cine-like images. This is important for documentary shooters not wishing a video look.

In the short time I had the camera for evaluation, I was pleased at Panasonic’s implementation of the CMOS sensors. Flash-band compensation is built in. Aliasing seemed much less pronounced than in other CMOS cameras I own or have tested, but anyone experienced with these sensors knows that you simply have to do your best to avoid patterns or textures in a shot that will alias. The same goes for rolling shutter effect. It is much less pronounced than I would have expected it to be. These features of the CMOS chips also makes the PX270 stand out in the field.

I was unable to test the wireless camera remote functions and the streaming functions will be implemented in a future firmware update. But the fact that this camera will have such features available again makes it ideal in today’s news gathering environment.

The release of the PX270 is an opportunity for Panasonic to show that it has been listening to its users. The camera can record in Panasonic’s most powerful AVC codecs, it can be painted like a VariCam, it will eventually have wired and wireless LAN connectivity, and it just feels comfortable to hold. Images in video (Rec. 709) mode are sharp and look like video (which you might want if you’re shooting the evening news). Images in any of the CineGammas reprise Panasonic’s film looks going all the way back to the DVX100. Don’t expect the 14-stop dynamic range from this camera that high-end single-sensor cameras can deliver. If you need 14 stops of dynamic range, wait for Panasonic’s newly announced VariCams. And expect to pay a lot more than $6,000. The PX270 isn’t a digital cinema camera; it is a video camera that can deliver both video and film looks.

And indeed, in every respect, the Panasonic AJ-PX270 delivers.

It was a delight to shoot and a worthy compact yet powerful tool. Small gripes aside, Panasonic has a winner on its hands that in turn will allow the success of its end users.

Panasonic AJ-PX270
Pros: Strong codec options from AVC Intra 100 to DV. Optional AVC-Intra 200. Stunning OLED viewfinder. Extensive camera control and painting options. Lightweight and well balanced. Sharp 22x fixed zoom lens.
Cons: Wireless connectivity not yet implemented and wireless dongle will be extra cost option. Variable speed zoom is touchy. Continuous iris ring.
Who should shoot with it: New crews, documentary filmmakers, corporate videos and particularly run and gun event shooters.
Summary: A powerful addition to Panasonic’s product line with Panasonic’s highest codec available. You can produce a video or cine look in camera requiring much less manipulation in post.
MSRP: $6495