4K camcorder that punches above its weight
Cinematographers praise the Panasonic AG-DVX200's many features in such a compact package
By Mark Dillon
Cinematographers specializing in documentaries, TV news and reality series will tell you there’s more to the Panasonic AG-DVX200 4K camcorder than immediately meets the eye. Although small and nimble enough to pass for a prosumer offering, it offers all the features one would expect of a professional camcorder and then some.
The AG-DVX200 arrived as the first 4K/60p camcorder with a 4/3-type sensor that features an integrated lens. That F2.8 Leica Dicomar 13x zoom lens is a game-changer, according to Gurjeet Mann, director of photography on the CBC reality series Hello Goodbye and OLN’s Storage Wars Canada.
“I’m usually not a big fan of stabilizers, but I was surprised how well this one worked. It took away 90% of the shake.”
“I was shocked by how far it can zoom in,” Mann says. “It’s 28mm to 365mm [in Full HD] in terms of equivalent 35mm range. I don’t know any other camcorder like that.”
That functionality can eliminate the need to carry other glass, making it ideal for run-and-gun vérité shooting. The DOP adds that the lens’ range is maximized by its optical image stabilization.
“You usually need a good tripod to keep anything steady over 200mm,” he elaborates. “But you want a low profile with small cameras. You want to go somewhere and shoot fast without a big kit and still get a good picture. That’s where the stabilizer kicks in. I’m usually not a big fan of stabilizers, but I was surprised how well this one worked. [In my tests] I was handholding the end of my lens and got usable footage. The stabilizers took away 90% of the shake.”
Camcorders such as the AG-DVX200 are capturing at 4K to keep pace with the growing demand for Ultra HD content. But an inherent challenge of such high resolution is too much image sharpness. But that’s another area where this camera stands out: it combines 4K capture with shallow depth of field, providing Bokeh effects (some parts out-of-focus) for a more cinematic look.
“In the past, many camcorders with 1/3-inch sensors kept everything sharp, no matter how long a lens you were on,” Mann elaborates. “It’s nice to have a zoom range, but if everything is in focus, you don’t have any visual layers. But with the DVX200′s larger sensor, you get some rack-focusing on the long end of the zoom. You can see the benefit of the 4/3′s attributes.”
“The ability to establish sharp focus and accurate exposure instantly in a changing scene and then immediately revert back to manual shooting is an essential feature.”
In a recent review on the website of documentary publication POV, cinematographer Jason O’Hara notes the variety of the camcorder’s features in such a compact package (under 7 lbs. including lens hood, battery, and eye cup.) O’Hara, a docmaker whose work has appeared on CBC’s The Nature of Things and The Fifth Estate, points to the camera’s programmable buttons that allow easy access to often-used functions.
He offers particular praise for the Push Auto function, writing, “Even for experienced camera people, who are typically shooting all-manual, the ability to establish sharp focus and accurate exposure instantly in a changing scene and then immediately revert back to manual shooting is an essential feature.”
He adds that the camcorder’s 4/3 sensor provides “exceptional low-light performance,” although the lens is limited to a F2.8 aperture at the wide end and F4.5 in the 85mm-167mm range.
The camera’s V-Log L function offers 12-stop wide dynamic range for images that will be graded in post-production. Mann color-corrected his test footage using Apple Final Cut Pro X software on his laptop. “I imported the footage natively and didn’t have any problems running it. It played back smoothly – even the 4K UHD,” he explains. “Other palm-sized camcorders don’t shoot V-Log. This is one of the camera’s strengths.”
O’Hara notes that those aiming for a less stylized look can shoot with a flat color profile that helps insure against over- or underexposure and white balance errors. The V-Log L profile is maximized when capturing in the 4K 10-bit 4:2:2 format, although the file sizes necessitate the use of an external recorder. It’s a good option for imaging versatility, although shooters requiring minimal set-up time and camera weight may want to forego the extra hardware.
Mann ultimately sees the AG-DVX200 as ideally suited to “adventure shows where you travel to another country or fly-on-the-wall documentaries where you need to be hidden and can’t take a lot of gear. I would consider the camera for those over a DSLR because you can’t change lenses in the field.”
Meanwhile, O’Hara, despite quibbles about the positioning of some controls and inputs and some awkwardness to the menu navigation, concludes that the AG-DVX200 is “an excellent 4K-capable camcorder for documentary, offering perhaps the best value for money of any camera in its class.” Pull quotes: “I’m usually not a big fan of stabilizers, but I was surprised how well this one worked. It took away 90% of the shake.”