by Andy Leonard
On first look I have to say I was impressed with the Panasonic HVX 250 Camera. It is technically a very well specified camera for one in this particular class of camcorder with fixed lens 1/3inch MOS sensor chip. Currently retailing at about £3500 + VAT (Price May 2012.) It has more AV outputs than you would expect of a camera at this price point:
- BNC HD SDI OUT
- HDMI OUT
- DVC Pro Firewire 400 on 6 pin out
- SD AV out on Phonos
- Full 10 bit 422 1080 X 1920
It is BBC approved being able to record at rates at 50MB and above and has the added advantage that if you have a corporate project, which doesnít require being shot HD, you donít have to and can record DVCpro25 (SD) and can therefore save on data storage in your post. Giving you the versatility to chose the right quality and recording medium for the job at hand.
All fixed lens camcorders in this class have drawbacks; the biggest usually is chip size and ergonomics. Personally I still have an issue with this type of non-shoulder mount camera design; Historically 1/3 inch chip cameras have been difficult to operate, even for the most advanced cinematographer. It is very refreshing to see that Panasonic have gone some way in improving the layout of this camera, with the switches and camera functionality now where you would expect to find it, and not buried deep in menus.
There are some drawbacks, but overall for a camera of this price and design itís minor and the camera with a 1/3-inch MOS chip sensor packs a punch well above its class.
Not all of my concerns have been addressed and these issues could really have been avoided.
The biggest in my opinion is the combined frame rate and shutter switch being on the same wheel as a multi function selection. This is surely not a good idea when youíre in a rush, as this would be a very easy thing to get wrong, in the heat of the moment.
**The current price of P2 cards is still far too high and limited data speeds for media transfer via USB 2.0, however there is some good news on this point so please do read on.
One of the biggest issues for me is No side mount monocular, WHY NOT? But this applies to most of the cameras in the price bracket except the much more expensive EX3.
Also the camera is not a shoulder mount camera and no matter how good you are, you cannot hold this camera steady for any length of time. Yes it does have inbuilt image stabilisation but thatís not the point.
The fact that it is not a shoulder mount camera meant when testing, I tried to use a small photographic shoulder brace. My arms however were aching trying to hold the camera steady, when hand held, These concerns can be applied across the board to virtually all of the cameras in this price bracket and above, including the Canon 305, Sony EX1 and EX3.
There is no end stop to focus or iris. Yes thankfully they are on rings and at last both controls are on the lens where they should be, but trying to do an accurate focus pull on this camera would take time and some luck to get it right first time.
The AVC intra codec is a fantastic codec and unlike XDCam has some future proofing by allowing you the facility to up the data rate.
*The lens range is awesome, packing in a whopping 22:1 optical zoom, which is the equivalent of 28mm-616mm zoom on 35mm!
However note there is some lens ramping on the zoom from 1.6 (wide) - 3.2 (tight) effective f-stop
The P2 Format is a robust and tried and tested media system.
The flip out LCD screen is a vast improvement on previous models particularly the one on the original forerunner HVX200.
Focus is possible on this screen with care, especially with the added peaking and focus assist feature. The facility to be able to flip in and out a waveform histogram for checking on exposure was also very useful.
Overall I did find the LCD screen a great improvement, but when testing mid May the weather was poor. I am presuming like any LCD screen for effective use, the use of a ĎHoodmaní or similar sunshield needs to be used with the LCD screen in very bright exterior sunny conditions. The rear monocular I didnít like as much as the LCD screen, it wasnít as easy to see focus in my opinion, but this could be because of the physical position on the camera, which I found awkward. But like any new kit you get used to using it with time.
White Balance; preset and manual WB is what I would recommend using where possible at all times.
Please use with caution.
The Auto white trace facility? Mmmm! Whilst useful, this should be used with caution.
A similar statement can be made of other cameras having this facility as well.
If you know you are filming on the fly and wonít have time to white balance or do not know exactly where you are going to be filming as you are on an OB doc going from interiors to exteriors all the time, then by all means use it. But when you know you are either outdoor or indoor for a length of time you should go to preset or do a manual white balance. Several times I found that the auto white trace (ATW) would suddenly change, this wasnít a gradual change whilst recording it was a dramatic colour shift. This happened to me several times during the day whilst on shot, the camera was relatively static at the time.
Considering the 1/3 inch MO sensor, I found the colours on the HPX-250 camera very realistic and the picture quality overall very good. Colour wise with out any grading I would say the camera gives very natural colours akin to Fuji film as opposed to the warmer slightly high chroma look of Kodak gold.
Having looked over the camera, the audio layout seems to be what you would expect. One good thing is like the vision side, the fact that most all of the standard audio controls you want to have to hand are on switches rather than buried deep in menus.
Also, unlike the Sony Z1 you can split the built in camera mic so that the audio from the internal mic can just go to a single track (CH 1 or 2). This ability to send the internal mic on a Z1 to a channel was not available when using the XLR connections. This means you can put an xlr mic into the other input, particularly useful if you are having to use this camera as a one-man band, as I suspect a large number of these will be used by production departments, researchers and AP's.
XLR Access is only to track 1 and 2, however there are 4 tracks of audio, Altering what goes to 3 and 4 is buried in the menus and audio can be defaulted to gang across from either 1 or 2 channels.
With regards to camera operation the only thing that was somewhat time consuming was trying to find out how to make the audio level indicator larger, (Referred to as Audio Level meter Magnification) when lining up audio levels. In standard mode the level indicator isnít much use as there are no incremental markings until you enlarge the scale. The audio level in normal mode is OK purely to say yes there is audio going into the camera.
If you haven't used the camera before and I hadnít, trying to find this audio magnification facility can be time consuming. 1st off check that it hasnít already been assigned to one of the 4 user assign buttons. We actually found the 'MAG A. lvl' as it is known was already assigned to assign 4 conveniently tucked away at the back of the camera bottom rear LHS.
However for the benefit of those using this camera for the first time switch the camera on into camera mode. Press the menu button and scroll down to position 3, SW mode and look under user assign for the abbreviation MAG A.lvl
Overall though the audio side of this camera seems to have been well thought through and once you have found the facility to magnify the metering indicator to line the camera up, you can set this to an assign button and wont have to got through this pain ever again.
My thanks go to Mary Milton Sound Recordist [www.marymilton.co.uk] who kindly had a brief look at the Panasonic camera and its audio layout, and helped find out how to enlarge the audio metering display for line up!
My review from a post workflow on this camera is very limited partly due to time available with the camera. I had limited options as no cables or card reader was provided so that meant using the camera as a device and down loading the Panasonic free viewer.
Info can be found on Panasonicís web site, see links at the end of this article.
Familiarity is the key, its one of those things that once you have done this it is fine, but the manual isnít that clear.
First you need to decide if you are going to dump off to a computer or direct to a separate hard drive, as the camera will allow you to down load to a drive without a computer.
I would suggest even though Panasonic do have a verify system, that down loading to a lap top which then lets you visually check your clips* does give you the operator more piece of mind, especially if you have to erase rushes from P2 cards on location.
[*Provided you have down loaded the Panasonic viewer, otherwise it means launching your edit system and converting from MXF]
The down side of either of these systems is currently the speed over other solid-state systems as you are currently stuck with is USB 2.0. [This will change in 2013 see end]
Connecting the camera as a Device to your laptop.
After selecting the camera as a device by using the USB lead, switch the camera to clip thumbnail mode and leave for a second and then push lever over to the right again as viewed from the back of the camera and hold down. This will after about 5 seconds force the camera into USB device mode. The LCD screen on the camera will go black and show this on the screen; at this point the P2 cards will appear on you computer desktop.
From a safety point of view it is important to copy the entire P2 card across into one folder in one go. Do not cherry pick, and try and rename any files at this transferring point, as this could effect the meta data file structure and potentially lead to you inadvertently corrupting your video clips.
Once the files have copied across to your hard drive, I would suggest you then keep those safe as RAW MXF files. At this stage the MXF wrapper is still intact and the file can be imported into your chosen edit system, FCP Avid, etc.
I would then make a 2nd copy of the MXF files on a separate drive for security and label the folder they are in for editing with either FCP or AVID etc. At this point you can start importing and logging within your edit system from this folder.
You can also view and log within Panasonics viewer which is free to download.
Panasonic Pro: https://pro-av.panasonic.net
**Whilst finishing writing this article I have just learnt that Panasonic have announced that in spring 2013 they will be releasing a P2 card adapter for class 10 SD cards. Recording up to 50Mbps.
**Verification is on the Panasonic web site.
[All new Panasonic Broadcast products. The new P2 / SD adapter is 33 minutes into the video]
This opens up a whole new avenue of cost effective media recording and also potentially faster data transfer speeds from media cards to your computer hard drive.
Fantastic news and about time!
I would like to pass on my thanks to David Furmage for some of the stills he took for me of the camera.
Simon Tagney Lighting Cameraman for help with the online video filming and the Mackin family for their tolerance whilst I tested the camera.
Lighting Cameraman and Director-Cameraman.
Examples of my work can be seen on line.
One site, which is also useful to know about, is Alan Roberts camera settings page.
Alan worked for the BBC in their research department for many years and his reports have become the defacto standard that camera technicians turn too for camera settings on digital video cameras.
Sadly he hasnít tested the HPX 250, but it is a useful resource and you can see the earlier Panasonic camera the HVX 200 here, plus lots of other cameras, which he has tested thoroughly.