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Panasonic AG-DVX200 4K Handheld Camcorder Review

Panasonic's AG-DVX200 4K Handheld Camcorder with Four-Thirds Sensor and Integrated Zoom Lens brings professional features and familiar camcorder ergonomics to the Four Thirds sensor format. It features a single MOS sensor with 4K resolution that captures up to 12 stops of dynamic range with Panasonic's V-Log L gamma curve. The camcorder supports DCI 4K production at 24 fps, UHD 4K at up to 60 fps, and HD at up to 120 fps, providing you with a camcorder that is at home in a variety of production environments.
 
 
Overview
Recording 4K to MP4 or MOV and offering AVCHD recording of 1920 x 1080 HD video, your footage can be easily integrated into most modern postproduction workflows. The integrated 13x Leica zoom lens features three lens rings that give you manual control over focus, zoom, and iris. The camera records to SD cards and requires U3 speed class cards to record 4K video. The camcorder features timecode in / out, a 3G-SDI output for HD video, and an HDMI connector that provides 4K output.
 
  • The integrated LEICA DICOMAR lens features a 13x zoom range, which when shooting DCI 4K is equivalent to a 29.5 to 384.9mm lens on a 35mm camera. The lens has individual lens control rings built into the lens for focus, zoom, and iris as well as a power zoom rocker.
  • Including a five-axis Hybrid Image Stabilizer and 4 x correction-area Image Stabilizer that produces clear images without blurring, and a micro-drive focus unit that improves focus speed, tracking and capture performance, facilitating 4K focusing and shallow focus shooting.
  • The V-Log L gamma curve allows you to capture 12 stops of dynamic range. Capturing in V-Log L will produce a flatter looking image that provides more lattitude for post color correction. The V-Log assist function allows you to adjust the look of your video on the output to a more normal looking image without affecting the recorded footage.
  • The dual SD card slots allow you to record in relay, backup, and simultaneous modes. Relay allows you to swap a full card out for an empty card so you can record virtually endlessly. The backup mode allows you to record continuously on one card, while you start and stop recording on the other card. Simultaneous record duplicates your recording on both cards, and dual doced recording allows you to record using a different codec to each card, so you can record 4K on one card and HD on the other. Please note that dual codec recording is not available when recording 4KDCI or UHD 60p 

Review: Panasonic AG-DVX200 4K Handheld Camcorder

 

Panasonic’s AG-DVX200, with its carbon fibre ‘effect’ plastic, and its metallic red styling, seems to be a pimped version of a really great camera, the DVX100 – a standard definition, progressive scan, prosumer camcorder that was used to film the live action basis of the Keanu Reeves film ‘A Scanner Darkly’.

 
 
Unlike Pimp My Ride – which generally left the wheezing mechanicals of their restyled cars untouched – the DVX200 is a 4k beast, with a Leica Dicomar 12.8–167mm, f/2.8–4.5 fixed lens and a ‘four thirds' sensor. The camera records to SDHC or SDXC cards in a variety of formats, from 4096x2160 24fps down to 1920/1080 at 120fps. The CODEC used is generally H.264, packaged as MOV or MP4, but there is an option for AVCHD, and internal recording is always 8-bit 4:2:0. It is possible to record 4:2:2 externally, either 8-bit or 10-bit, though selecting the latter prevents simultaneous internal recording.
 
It’s worth a brief look at how the sensor is used, before we get into the ergonomics of the camera. The Four Thirds sensor is 4:3, so each of the recording formats windows the sensor in different ways. 
 
4k at 24fps reads approximately 5032x2654 pixels from the sensor and down-samples them to 4096x2160. Don’t ask me why they use the term ‘approximately’ – surely they know? At up to 30fps, the UHD setting reads ‘approximately’ 4787x2692 pixels, again down-sampling to 3840x2160 for recording. UHD at 50 or 60fps reads a slightly smaller patch – around 3934x2213 pixels, so your angle of view changes with frame-rate!
 
1920x1080 recording actually uses more of the sensor than any of the frame sizes above – at least up to 60fps - reading ‘approximately’ 5248x2952 pixels and adding blocks of 2x2 pixels together to form “superpixels”. Above 60fps the camera has to start using different windows and line-skipping to get the data off the sensor fast enough.
 
Panasonic AG-DVX200 4K Handheld Camcorder Review
 
The lens has optical image stabilisation, as you would expect, and the sensor window is adjusted to adjust for X and Y shake, as well as roll, pitch and yaw from the lens optics. Except this correction doesn’t work if you are shooting 4k/UHD – I know its a hardware limitation, but that seems a shame on a 4k/UHD camera.
 
Despite the use of a lot of plastic, the DVX200 feels pretty solidly put together, as well as having some typically Panasonic design flourishes. I really like the shutter style lens cover on the detachable ‘matte box’ – no more lost lens caps – and the run/stop button on the top handle has a little sliding cover, as if it also releases nuclear missiles, so should not be pressed by accident.
 
The ‘Leica’ lens has a mechanical zoom ring (manual or powered) and ‘endless encoder’ type focus and iris rings. I usually hate these, but the focus ring in particular has a great feel and I found it was extremely fast and accurate to get good focus – aided by the excellent focus aids (of which, more later). Behind the lens rings are Panasonic’s usual set of controls, with ND (1/4, 1/16 and 1/64 exposure), manual/auto focus, manual/auto iris, manual/servo zoom and so on. There are four user assignable buttons here (and many more, scattered usefully about the camera’s shiny, red body) as well as the focus assist button. This is configurable in software, but the most useful setting enlarges the central portion of the viewfinder display, and turns on peaking. Best of all, you can move the part of the frame that is being enlarged, using on-screen controls or just dragging it about on the touch-screen with a finger. Just in case you didn’t notice that you are in focus assist mode, the edges of the frame turn red. Other manufacturers could do with implementing this (I’m looking at you, Blackmagic!). All-in-all, this is the best focus assist implementation of its type that I’ve seen.
 
There are two viewfinders – a distinctly average eye-level finder and an excellent, touch-screen LCD, which slips neatly into the front of the handle when not in use. The LCD has a resolution of 2.76 million dots and a diagonal of 4.3”. Touch response is good, though overall I found the speed of the user interface a bit disappointing – there is a noticeable lag between the menu background being drawn and the text appearing for instance. There are a couple of other annoyances as well. It is possible to display an on-screen waveform monitor, but this turns off all the other on-screen information. So you can use it to adjust iris, for instance, but you can’t see the f-stop you are actually setting whilst you are doing it. Grrr. Fortunately, there is a histogram function buried in the menus which doesn’t have this problem, so I simply reassigned the WFM button to turn on histogram instead.
 
There is also a sensor which turns off the LCD when you put your eye to the EVF. It’s irritatingly sensitive so, in a camera of this form factor which you are often holding in front of your body, it will flick the LCD off and on. You need to remember to swing the EVF up as far as it will go when you aren’t using it.
 
Remembering the DVX100
 
These small irritations are more than made up for by the other feature borrowed from the old DVX100 – the fantastic array of manual controls. Display mode, gain and white balance are all on proper, pro-style toggle switches, just where you would expect to find them. That focus assist button is fine where it is, but I also assigned it to the user button next to the zoom rocker where I could hit it without looking. Audio controls are comprehensive – there are two XLRs for external mic or line inputs as well as a stereo mic on the front of the handle, and the controls are hidden under the the pimped plastic panel on the side of the camera. One of the XLRs is on the top-handle, for a suitable camera-mounted shotgun mic, and the other is on the rear of the body, where it’s out of the way – for instance if you are using a radio receiver.
 
The DVX200 is not light, but it balances well with your hand through the grip, and the power zoom rocker has a pleasing and linear feel. There is a tiny zoom rocker on the top handle – next to the missile launch button – but it’s a simple switch with the zoom speed set in software.
 
That Four Thirds sensor is an interesting choice – large enough to get the benefits of bigger sensors (more light capture per pixel, shallow depth of field etc.) without the costs of a huge sensor, the lens to cover it, and the need of a focus puller when using wider apertures.
 
Entertainingly, the infra-red filter in front of the sensor can be withdrawn, at the touch of a button. The resulting low light (or IR illuminated) performance is great – and a lot of fun. I’m pretty certain that’s wildlife or obs doc productions will buy the DVX200 for this function alone.
 
With the IR filter back in place, the images the camera produces are very fine indeed. I’m sure the choice of recording to cheaper SD cards has compromised the CODEC bit-rates, but 100-150Mbit/s is good enough, and you are hard pushed to find obvious compression artefacts. The lens/sensor combination produces images of incredible sharpness, given the price of the camera. Leica only allow Panasonic to use their name if the lens passes stringent performance criteria, and I’m sure the down-sampling of a larger window of pixels to produce the final image boosts resolution as well. We didn’t have the camera for long enough to do a full suite of performance tests, but MTF scores at the centre of the image, mid-zoom and mid-aperture were so good we had to do the test again to make sure it wasn’t a mistake.
 
The only slight disappointment was shooting with Panasonic's new V-Log L mode – intended to get the best of the 12 stops of dynamic range from the sensor. Whilst colour reproduction and dynamic range were fine, there was a lot of noise present. There is a very strong possibility that this artefacts were due to not having a Panasonic approved LUT for this ‘Lite’ version of V-Log (they suggest using the VariCam 35s V-Log LUT), as noise wasn't as objectionable with the standard shooting modes. Panasonic’s V-Log L upgrade to the GH4 seems to suffer from the same issue. It’s also likely that selecting V-Log L turns off any in-camera noise reduction, which isn’t a terrible thing – I would rather do it in the grade where I have control.
 
In many ways, the DVX200 produces images not unlike the GH4 – which has many fans – but in a camera with exceptional handling for its class. At a street price of around £2800 plus VAT, you’ll forgive the few idiosyncrasies the first time you throw footage up on a 4k monitor.
 
And I’m not ashamed to say that I kinda like the fake carbon fibre, and the electric crimson panels.
 
Specifications
Sensor 1 x 4/3-type MOS
Effective Pixels 4K: 1335 MP
UHD (29.97p): 1289 MP
UHD (59.94p): 871 MP
FHC: 1549 MP
Resolution 4K
DCI: 4096 x 2160
UHD: 3840 x 2160

HD
1920 x 1080
Dynamic Range 12 stops
Frame Rates DCI 4K: 24p
UHD 4K: 60p / 50p / 30p / 25p / 24p
1920 x 1080: 60p / 50p / 30p / 25p / 24p
Shutter Speed 59.94 Hz
60i/60p mode: 1/60, 1/100 , 1/120, 1/180, 1/250, 1/350, 1/500 sec, 1/750 sec, 1/1000, 1/1500, 1/2000, 1/3000, 1/4000, 1/8000 sec
30p mode: 1/30, 1/50 sec, 1/60, 1/100, 1/120, 1/180, 1/250, 1/350, 1/500, 1/750, 1/1000, 1/1500, 1/2000, 1/3000, 1/4000, 1/8000 sec
24p mode: 1/24, 1/48, 1/50, 1/60, 1/100, 1/120, 1/180, 1/250, 1/350, 1/500, 1/750, 1/1000, 1/1500, 1/2000, 1/3000, 1/4000, 1/8000 sec

50 Hz
50i/50p mode: 1/50, 1/60, 1/100, 1/125, 1/180, 1/250, 1/350, 1/500, 1/750, 1/1000, 1/1500, 1/2000, 1/3000, 1/4000, 1/8000 sec
25p mode: 1/25, 1/50, 1/60, 1/100, 1/125, 1/180, 1/250, 1/350, 1/500, 1/750, 1/1000=, 1/1500, 1/2000, 1/3000, 1/4000, 1/8000
Slow Shutter Speed 59.94 Hz
60i/60p mode: 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30
30p mode: 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15 sec 24p mode: 1/2 , 1/3, 1/6, 1/12 sec

50 Hz
50i/50p mode: 1/2, 1/3, 1/6, 1/12, 1/25
25p mode: 1/2, 1/3, 1/6, 1/12 sec
Synchro Scan Shutter 59.94 Hz
60i/60p mode: 1/60.0 to 1/249.8 sec
30p mode: 1/30.0 to 1/249.8 sec
24p mode: 1/24.0 to 1/249.6 sec

50 Hz
50i/50p mode: 1/50.0 to 1/250.0 sec
25p mode: 1/25.0 to 1/250.0 sec
Shutter Opening Angle 5.0 to 360° in 0.5 deg steps (displayed in shutter angle)
VFR Recording Frame Rate 59.94 Hz
60p mode: 2, 15, 30, 40, 55, 58, 60, 62, 65, 75, 90, and 120 (frames per second)
30p mode: 2, 15, 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 45, 60, 75, 90, and 120 (frames per second)
24p mode: 2, 12, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84, 96, and 120 (frames per second)

50 Hz
50p mode: 2, 12, 25, 33, 45, 48, 50, 52, 55, 62, 75, 100, and 120 (frames per second)
25p mode: 2, 12, 21, 23, 25, 27
Minimum Subject Illumination High Sens mode: 0.2 lx (F2.8, gain 18 dB, [1/2S] manual slow shutter)
Lens
Focal Length 12.8 to 167mm
Zoom Zoom Range
13 x optical zoom
20x iZoom (in FHD Only)

35mm Equivalent
DCI 4K: 29.5 to 384.9mm
UHD 4K/30: 30.6 to 397.8mm
UHD 4K/60: 37.2 to 483.6
FHD: 28 to 364mm
ND Filters 1/4
1/16
1/64
Memory Card Slot 2 x SD (UHS speed class 3 compatible)
Inputs Timecode: In / out
Audio: 2 x 3-pin XLR
Outputs 1 x 3G-SDI
1 x HDMI (supports HDMI 2.0)
Filter Attachment 72 mm
Packaging Info
Package Weight 12.7 lb
Box Dimensions (LxWxH) 19.1 x 14.8 x 11.2"
 
 

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