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Posts by Noah Kadner

Topics Panasonic

 

In Part Two of his review of the Panasonic AC160, Noah Kadner discusses the camera’s audio recording options and post workflow. In case you missed Part One, you can read it here.

Audio

As I mentioned in part one of this review, the Panasonic AC160 gives you uncompressed PCM audio, in addition to the AC130‘s Dolby Digital AC3 audio. I’m a huge fan of uncompressed audio. AC3 sounds fine in-camera and in raw footage, but a decent ear can start to hear the compression artifacts as soon as you try to do major filtering and/or mixing. It’s just one of those things that separates ‘pro’ from ‘prosumer,’ and if you’re working with footage for potential broadcast you’ll want to cross that ‘t’ with uncompressed audio.

With the AC160, you have automatic audio level control (which I recommend never using) and also really great manual audio level controls. This is where Panasonic’s having made so many camcorders over the years really pays off in the little details. For example, the mic audio power switches are recessed just enough so that you really can’t accidentally switch them off (thereby ruining your audio) unintentionally. And this would be an easy thing to do, as the switches are located right on the top handle that you’re constantly grabbing to pick the camera up.

You get two audio inputs, which can utilize the onboard mics or any desired combination of outboard mic or line-level audio inputs via a of pair XLR jacks. I heartily recommend either recording double-system sound outboard with a digital audio recorder or running a mixer and boom/lav mics directly into the camera. The onboard pre-amps are solid if not the greatest in the world; but you’ll definitely never want to rely on the onboard microphones at all.

I almost wish camcorder manufacturers would remove onboard mics completely to force shooters into recording better sound. All you get from the onboard mics are the close-up sounds of the camera itself and the operator. The really important audio action is much closer to whatever you’re filming. So get in there close with a wired or wireless lav/boom and get good audio routing to your camera. Your audience will not only appreciate this quality, they will expect it.

Post-Production

Working with the AC160’s footage in post-production is very straightforward. It’s well supported in most modern NLEs, as the AVCHD format has been around for a couple of years now and is pretty much the de-facto consumer/prosumer HD codec. It looks great in post-production, very filmic if you want it to look that way, and it holds up pretty well to extensive compositing, filters and color grading.

And, even if you’ve dialed in a more than a slight amount of gain, you’ll discover the AC160 exhibits a very non-electronic, film-like grain structure at higher levels that no one will really scoff at. Although, I always recommend using gain as judiciously as possible regardless of how well it works; better to light shots that really need it whenever you can.

I ingested footage from the AC160 into Final Cut Pro 7 and X as well as Adobe Premiere and had no problems at all in any of them. Each of these NLEs take a slightly different approach to dealing with AVCHD. Final Cut Pro transcodes AVCHD into ProRes during ingest, while Adobe lets you edit AVCHD natively on a timeline.

Now, a lot of folks are champions of native AVCHD editing because you can literally drag footage directly from a card onto a timeline and start editing. But I’ve found that unless you have very high-end hardware, the trade-off is reduced performance and a consequently lower quality editing experience. So if you have a less-than-top-end computer (and that’s a lot of us), you may find that spending a bit of extra time doing the transcode to ProRes upfront in FCP results in a much more enjoyable editing experience down the road. And by more enjoyable I mean less dropped frames as you edit, less rendering required for filters/transitions and faster outputs of sequences as you complete an edit. ProRes is just a great format and totally optimized for efficient and high-speed editing. (And forgive me for assuming you’re editing on a Mac, but I’m sure there’s an equivalent Windows workflow out there as well).

Conclusion

I truly love the AVHCD format and the SDHC media, as they hit a real sweet spot of price and performance. In practiced hands (i.e. do spend some time with the manual), the AC160 is capable of producing imagery that’s nothing short of state-of-the-art in prosumer HD video. Considering its reasonable price of around $4,200 ready to shoot out of the box, this camera should knock ‘em dead in the ENG, documentary and event videography worlds.

The AC160 might even make some new friends out of indie filmmaker types who’ve been on the DSLR/interchangeable lens train for the past few years and found it too expensive, complex and/or difficult to deal with. This camera is a solid, old school workhorse that won’t let you down and is a real pleasure to use. I give a very enthusiastic thumbs up to the Panasonic AC160 camcorder.

 

Noah Kadner is a contributing writer for American Cinematographer magazine and wrote RED: The Ultimate Guide to Using the Revolutionary Camera for Peachpit Press. He also produces and hosts Call Box, a digital series of training courses aimed at indie filmmakers. Call Box offers The AC130/AC160 Guide, for owners wanting to get the most out of their cameras.

 


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Topics Panasonic

 

In part one of his hands-on review of the Panasonic AG-AC160 1/3” AVCCAM HD camera, filmmaker Noah Kadner discusses its features, controls, ergonomics and available recording formats. He also discusses applications and benefits of a fixed lens camera.

In part two, coming next week, Noah will review the camera’s audio and post-production workflows.

Introduction

In an era of interchangeable-lens digital cinema cameras from companies like RED and ARRI (along with HD video-enabled DSLR cameras with large image sensors from Nikon, Canon, Sony and Panasonic), it’s becoming increasingly rare to find a new fixed lens camcorder like the Panasonic AC160. But in my opinion, they still very much have their place in the production world. Say you’re working in news, documentary, event or corporate videography, where having extremely shallow depth of field can be counterproductive. You only have a single chance to get a shot in focus and can’t repeat actions the way a narrative film shoot could. In that case, you may need the deep-focus depth of field that you’d get with a fixed lens, smaller sensor camera.

Or, perhaps you just don’t want to deal with the technical considerations and sizable investment needed to build up a robust set of interchangeable lenses. That’s another case where having a fixed lens camera would serve your needs better. If that sounds more like you read on, because the Panasonic AC160 represents the state-of-the-art in fixed lens, 1/3” sensor high-definition cameras

AC160 vs. AC130

One question to consider before I get into the full review is: do you need the AC160 or can you get by with its little brother, the AC130 (which costs about $600 less than the 160)? There are four primary differences: the 160 offers HD-SDI out, PCM uncompressed audio, 50Hz/60Hz system switching, and variable frame rates over the 130.

If you need to capture footage to an outboard recorder (such as a Blackmagic Hyperdeck, ATOMOS Ninja or AJA Ki Pro), perhaps for critical compositing work, you’ll want the HD-SDI port of the AC160. If you feel that Dolby Digital AC3 audio sounds a little too compressed vs. uncompressed linear PCM audio (which is what most DV, AVC-Intra and DVCPROHD camcorders record by the way), you’ll want the 160. If you’re planning to shoot in a number of different countries with different video/electricity standards (i.e. NTSC 60Hz vs. PAL 50Hz), you’ll also want the 160. If you want to shoot slow motion or sped up variable frame rate shots in-camera, you’ll need the 160. If you don’t truly need any of these features, you might just grab the 130 and save yourself a little dough for other key accessories.

For the purposes of this review, I used an AC160. Personally, I think it’s worth the extra money as the difference in cost is not really that much, and it’s always nicer to have a feature and not need it than vice-versa. That said the overall image quality and operation is identical between the two cameras – outside of the aforementioned differences. So, let’s dive right into some specifics.

…continue reading A Hands On Review of the Panasonic AC160, Part One

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In this exclusive 3-part online series, indie filmmaker Noah Kadner takes a first look at Panasonic’s revolutionary AF100, the first professional camera to combine the interchangeable lenses of a digital SLR still camera with the ergonomics of a camcorder.

Part 1 – Introduction and Pre-Production
Part 2 – Production

Part 3 – Post-Production and Conclusion

My week’s time spent with the AF100 went by very quickly and before I knew it, it was time to send the camera and lenses back to Abel Cine Tech. Now I had the chance to work with the footage in post-production. I wanted to see how shots that looked great on the camera would wind up on my monitor at home. I was also very curious to gauge how the camera’s codec would hold up to extensive grading and effects.

Although the AF100 I used was a hot-off-the-factory-line prototype, it used the same Panasonic AVCHD codec that’s been in use for the past couple of years, most notably on the HMC-series and GF/GH cameras. I had no trouble ingesting footage into my NLE of choice, Final Cut Pro. I’m not sure what the codec support is like in Premiere, Avid and others, but I’d imagine you wouldn’t have any major issues bringing it in.

…continue reading Noah Kadner’s First Look at the AF100: Part 3

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Topics Panasonic

In this exclusive 3-part online series, indie filmmaker Noah Kadner takes a first look at Panasonic’s revolutionary AF100, the first professional camera to combine the interchangeable lenses of a digital SLR still camera with the ergonomics of a camcorder.

Part 1 – Introduction & Pre-Production

Part 2 – Production

With arrangements set for the loan of an AF100 camera from Panasonic and an assortment of lenses and support gear from Abel Cine Tech, I looked forward to the imminent FedEx truck. The gear arrived on a Friday afternoon, and by then I had at least one and possibly two projects lined up to shoot with the camera. The first project turned out to be shooting a documentary at my day job. I can’t say much about the subject matter or the participants because that would get me in trouble, but I can tell you about the workflow and my camera handling experiences.

…continue reading Noah Kadner’s First Look at the AF100: Part 2

Print This Post
Topics Panasonic

In this exclusive 3-part online series, indie filmmaker Noah Kadner takes a first look at Panasonic’s revolutionary AF100, the first prosumer camera to combine the interchangeable lenses of a digital SLR still camera with the ergonomics of a camcorder.

Part 1 – Introduction and Pre-Production

If you’re an indie filmmaker type like me, you’ve probably long been chasing the ‘film look’ for your projects. Unless you happen to be independently wealthy, this is a nebulous and elusive way to describe the image-quality divide between most indie projects shot on video cameras and the 35mm-originated films created with Hollywood-sized budgets. Putting aside production design, actors, make-up visual effects and other important creative qualities of big-budget features, there are other purely technical differences that contribute to this gap.

…continue reading Noah Kadner’s First Look at the AF100: Part 1

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