Small Sensors Still Thriving

Walking the floor at NAB 2011 was an eye-opening experience. In the camera arena, it seemed that the majority of excitement was generated in the lower end by large-sensor cameras like the Panasonic AG-AF100 and the Sony PMW-F3 and in the higher end by cameras like the ARRI ALEXA. Since the recent DSLR revolution, does anyone even care about small-sensor cameras anymore?

As it turns out, the large-sensor trend invading the video camera arena is significant, but not all-encompassing. Lest you think that the era of the small-sensor camera has passed, Panasonic introduced four new 1?3-inch-sensor cameras at NAB 2011. Let’s take a look at these new models and the features that make each of these cameras unique in the market.

HEIR APPARENT: PANASONIC AG-HPX250

As the owner of an AG-HPX170 camera, I’ve often wished that Panasonic would make a version of the HPX170 that would record Panasonic’s superb 10-bit AVC-INTRA codec to P2 cards in a small, lightweight handheld form factor. Up until now, the smallest AVC-INTRA-capable camera in Panasonic’s lineup was the shoulder-mounted AG-HPX370. Enter the new AG-HPX250, Panasonic’s first P2-format handheld camcorder capable of recording 10-bit, 4:2:2 AVC-INTRA.

Weighing in at just 5.5 pounds, the HPX250 features three 1?3-inch, 2.2-megapixel 3MOS (CMOS) imagers paired with 20-bit DSP. The 3MOS imagers acquire native 1920×1080-resolution images. Besides the hot new codec options, Panasonic has upped the feature set to compete with other new offerings from Canon and Sony like a new 21x zoom lens, variable frame rates in 1080 (up to 30p) and 720p (up to 60p), and unlike previous handheld Panasonic offerings, the HPX250 will ship as an international HD and SD camera, capable of shooting 50 Hz and 59.94 Hz frame rates. The AG-HPX250 also offers genlock and timecode input, as well as SDI/HDSDI and HDMI output for interfacing with a variety of multi-camera, external-monitoring and external-recording solutions.

Rounding out the feature set, the AG-HPX250 has a 1,226,000-pixel LCOS (Liquid Crystal On Silicone) color viewfinder and a widescreen 921,000-pixel, 3.45-inch LCD color monitor, Dynamic Range Stretch (DRS), a waveform monitor, a vectorscope display, two focus-assist functions and a picture-expanding function, as well as a focus bar. The AG-HPX250 will be available in Fall 2011 at a suggested price of less than $6,500.

The AG-AC160 (above) and AG-AC130 (below) are Panasonic’s latest AVCCAM camcorders that accept SD and SDXC cards. The AC160 offers variable frame rates in 1080p and HD-SDI output.

The Fastec TS3Cine shoots up to 720 frames per second at 720p resolution. It also contains a seven-inch, ultrabright monitor that covers almost the entire rear of the camera.

THE AVCCAM DUO: PANASONIC AG-AC160/AG-AC130

At first glance, Panasonic’s newest AVCCAM camcorders seem to strongly resemble the new AG-HPX250. The AG-AC160 and AG-AC130 represent a quite advanced feature set while recording to Panasonic’s well-regarded AVCCAM format. The cameras feature two slots that accept SD, as well as higher-capacity SDXC cards. Both cameras share a 21x zoom lens, the same as the AG-HPX250.

But what are the differences between the list price $5,500 AG-AC160 and the $4,000 AG-AC130? For the $1,500 premium over the AG-AC130, the AG-AC160 offers variable frame rates in 1080p, LPCM Audio and HD-SDI output, and is 50 Hz/60 Hz-switchable. Other than these features, the two cameras appear to be almost identical.

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