Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Panasonic may be making the biggest news at NAB

A few years ago, I was at NAB when Panasonic announced its P2 flash memory camcorders and media. They were models under glass, not even working prototypes. The P2 media was going to be very expensive, capacities were low, and the whole idea of using flash for professional video production was untested. Sony had recently introduced its XDCAM optical disc technology, and the company laughed at Panasonic for moving to P2. Flash forward a few years, and flash memory has become the standard for most video production; even Sony has jumped in with both feet. In a few years, I think that we'll look back and see that Panasonic is doing the same thing this week.

The first big news is the $21,000 AG-3DA1 3D camcorder. There are a number of things that make the AG-3DA1 interesting: First, it's a one-piece 3D AVCHD camcorder that records in 1080p and 720p at frame rates up to 60fps, depending on resolution. It can adjust and track convergence points and horizontal/vertical alignment from within the camera, without using a separate computer. It uses dual SDXC cards for storage and weighs just over 6 pounds (2.8 kg). In short, it's a professional 3D camcorder that you can take out and start shooting with immediately. 3D production is much harder than shooting in 2D, but the AG-3DA1 could make 3D both easier and faster.

The second major announcement is the (estimated) $6,000 AG-AF100, which I wrote about earlier this week. The AG-AF100 takes the guts of Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds digital still cameras and puts them in a camcorder body. The biggest single complaint that cinematographers have with DSLRs is that their ergonomics are designed for photography, not video, so they have to kludge together eyepieces, external monitors and mounting hardware to make DSLRs handle like camcorders. The AG-AF100 offers the sensor size and interchangeable lenses of DSLRs together with the ergonomics and features of a professional camcorder.

The AG-AF100 is a harbinger of what's to come. Consider what would happen if Canon put a 7D, 5D Mark II or 1D Mark IV, or if Nikon put a D3s, in a camcorder body: High resolution, big sensors, multiple frame rates and interchangeable lenses (including some new killer prime lenses from Zeiss.) If you've been following the DSLR shootout that Zacuto's been doing, you know that the new DSLRs can do things that motion picture cinematographers have dreamt about for years. Put that capability into a familiar package,  and you redefine the professional camcorder business.

The AG-3DA1 and AG-AF100 are both game-changers. Even if they don't go on to be big sellers, they're establishing new directions for professional camcorder design that will fully play out over the next few years.
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