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Production with Panasonic’s AJ-PX380: Smart Compression, Streaming Capabilities, Sensible Price

This camera will allow many less financially endowed organizations to get into the game and produce professional-grade content. 

The Panasonic AJ-PX380 is the latest entry in Panasonic’s lineup of professional broadcast HD camcorders. The unit fills a niche for a more affordable alternative and is designed to lower cost without sacrificing image quality. It records an extensive range of formats on less expensive microP2 cards, including the high-quality AVC-Intra and AVC-LongG codecs, and includes features such as wireless connectivity.

Features

The Panasonic AJ-PX380 has a long list of impressive features that are unprecedented in a professional ENG-style camcorder at this price. The AJ-PX380 records in all of the video formats expected in its class: 1080 60p/50p, 1080 60i/50i, 1080 24PsF, 720 60p/50p and 480 60i and 576/50i.

The AJ-PX380 records an extensive range of formats on microP2 cards, including the high-quality AVC-Intra and AVC-LongG codecs, and includes features such as wireless connectivity.

The camera is engineered for 21st century newsgathering and is equipped with multiformat wireless streaming capability. It retains a traditional design, with essential on-camera controls like white balance, gain, ND filters and audio levels, but is lighter and unusually well balanced. The camera body weighs only about 6 pounds, or about 40 percent less than most higher-end shoulder-mount cameras. A broadcast zoom lens and viewfinder add another 5 pounds or so.

The camera can accommodate two microP2 cards and one standard P2 card. Panasonic has moved more in the direction of microP2 cards, which are the size of SD cards but are engineered for a higher transfer rate. They are considerably less expensive than P2 cards, further reducing the cost of owning the camera.

The AJ-PX380 is engineered with image quality as a priority. It incorporates high-sensitivity, low-noise, 2.2-megapixel 1/3-inch 3MOS imagers. The 1/3-inch 3MOS sensors achieve the same maximum 600 percent dynamic range level as other high-end shoulder-mount models, preserving image data from very dark areas to bright highlights.

The camera employs Panasonic’s outstanding intra-frame compression method, known as AVC-Intra, which was developed to produce nearly lossless image compression with manageable file sizes. In addition, the AJ-PX380 offers a wide range of other codecs that achieve much smaller file sizes while preserving high image quality. AVC-Intra 100 can be used when the highest quality is desired, for applications such as television program production, and is particularly well-suited for editing. AVC-Intra 50 produces very high quality at half the data rate. For applications such as documentary or reality TV, the AJ-PX380 offers more compressed codecs that enable much longer recording times. These include AVC-LongG50, 25 and 12, which are Long GOP MPEG-4 formats based on H.264. Using two microP2 cards, one can simultaneously record a high-quality codec and proxy files that can be uploaded easily for editing or off-site footage review.

The AJ-PX380 records in all of the video formats expected in its class: 1080 60p/50p, 1080 60i/50i, 1080 24PsF, 720 60p/50p and 480 60i and 576/50i.

The Panasonic microP2 cards have high capacity and offer long recording times. One 64 GB microP2 card can hold 64 minutes of video while recording in the highest quality codecs of AVC-Intra 100 and DVCPRO HD. The same card will hold 128 minutes of AVC-Intra 50, AVC-LongG50 and DVCPRO 50. If you need extended recording times, a 64 GB microP2 card will hold 480 minutes of AVC-LongG12 footage. And all of these times can be doubled by recording to two cards in the available slots.

A big selling point of the Panasonic AJ-PX380 is its capacity for wireless connectivity, which has emerged as a practical way to transmit video for live streaming to the web, instant file sharing, and uploading proxy files for editing. With some additional accessories, the AJ-PX380 can be configured for data transfer and streaming over wireless LAN or 4G/LTE, and can perform FTP server uploading and streaming. Via wireless LAN, it is even possible to preview and edit recorded clips and metadata with a laptop, smartphone or tablet device, and the camera can be controlled remotely with an iPad. The AJ-PX380 is designed to integrate with the Panasonic P2 Cast cloud-based news system, enabling a wide variety of shared, file-based workflows.

The AJ-PX380 is equipped with all of the desired inputs and outputs, including SDI, 3G-SDI out and HDMI out.

In Use

I tested the Panasonic AJ-PX380GF package, which includes an AG-CVF15 color viewfinder and an XT17x4.5 BRM 17x Fujinon lens. MSRP of this package is $11,995, while the MSRP of the camera body alone is $8,395.

At 6 pounds, the camera is incredibly lightweight. (With lens and EVF, the weight goes up to just 10.5 pounds.) It is easy to lift and feels especially well balanced on the shoulder, yet it has enough mass to allow for very stable shots.

A big selling point is the AJ-PX380’s capacity for wireless connectivity, which has emerged as a practical way to transmit video for live streaming to the web, instant file sharing, and uploading proxy files for editing.

For its capabilities, the camera has a fairly low price point. My mission in this review was to ascertain whether the image quality of the AJ-PX380 stands up to its more expensive competitors, making it appropriate for professional newsgathering and television production.

I recorded identical shots for each setting that incorporated camera motion, panning from indoor to outdoor light, and focusing on distant detailed elements.

The AJ-PX380 makes it easy to change formats and does not require shutting down and repowering to make changes—even for major system settings such as moving from 1080/23.98pN to 480/59.94i. I just selected the desired format and the camera updated the settings within a matter of seconds.

I proceeded to shoot through a roster of clips at different settings: AVC-Intra 100 1080/60p, 1080/60i and 1080/24pN; AVC-Intra 50 1080/60i; AVC-LongG50 1080/60i; AVC-LongG25 1080/25pN; AVC-LongG12 1080/60i and 1080/24pN; and DVCPRO HD.

I reviewed the results on two editing platforms: Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro X. I found that accessing the files on the microP2 card on Avid requires a downloadable plug-in. Overall, the process using Avid was a bit bumpy, but it worked fine once I figured out the details. Accessing the microP2 cards on Final Cut Pro X was a breeze. FCP X instantly recognized and listed all of the file types, and they were ready for viewing and importing.

I carefully examined each clip on a large Mac monitor. The AVC-Intra 100 and DVCPRO codecs were outstanding and delivered a stunning image, rich in color data and faithful to fine detail, even when the camera was moved quickly during recording. I found the best image was recorded when shooting AVC-Intra 100 in 1080/60p.

Then the remaining question was how the more compressed codecs would hold up. To this end, I found that AVC-LongG50 compared favorably to the highest bit rate codecs. I could see some minor detail loss if I froze a frame and studied it, but the difference was hard to notice in a normal-motion shot. Then I examined the AVC-LongG12 footage—AVC-LongG12 is a low bit rate 4:2:0 codec. I expected it to look clearly inferior, but was surprised at how well it held up. I had to look very carefully to see any substantial difference between AVC-LongG50 and AVC-LongG12.

The AJ-PX380 is designed to integrate with the Panasonic P2 Cast cloud-based news system, enabling a wide variety of shared, file-based workflows.

After reviewing footage, my conclusion is that the AJ-PX380 combines a high-quality sensor set with the best compression codecs in the industry to produce video files of high enough quality for applications ranging from newsgathering to program production.

Summary

The Panasonic AJ-PX380 is a lightweight and durable ENG-style camera that offers outstanding image quality, a full menu of high-quality compression codecs and robust wireless connectivity at a groundbreaking price point. It is ideal for newsgathering and television production, where budget constraints are a consideration. This camera will allow many less financially endowed organizations to get into the game and produce professional-grade content. 

Quick Take

Product: Panasonic AJ-PX380

Score:

Pros: Excellent image quality, wireless connectivity and a wide range of recording formats and codecs. ENG-style form factor with significantly lighter weight than comparable models. Low cost.

Cons: Maximum resolution is 1920 x 1080. P2 file structure is not as NLE-friendly as some other formats.

Bottom Line: This is an outstanding camera that offers wireless connectivity, a durable, lightweight design, and an array of superb compression formats at a groundbreaking price.

MSRP: $8,395 (body only), $11,995 (AJ-PX380GF package with viewfinder and lens)

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