(SECAUCUS, NJ -- May 9, 2006) Toronto-based FrameBlender has put the versatility of its Panasonic AG-HVX200 to the test in the two months since it purchased the hand-held DVCPRO HD camcorder. The full-service production and post-production company has tapped the HVX200 to shoot insert elements for broadcast design, greenscreen footage for the short feature Chip, Scrape and Throw and, most notably, an orientation video and library material for Toronto’s University Health Network, one of the world’s largest medical research institutions.
This summer FrameBlender will supply its HVX200 to the documentary Raising Valhalla about Toronto’s new opera center and its mounting of Wagner’s Ring cycle.
“We initially thought we’d use the HVX200 for in-house branding or experimental projects, some corporate work and low-end commercials,” says Tim Martin, a partner in FrameBlender. But viewing footage, side-by-side, of the HVX200, Panasonic AJ-HDC27 VariCam and Sony F900 led Martin to think otherwise. “We were pleasantly surprised by the HVX200’s image quality,” he reports. “And clients were extremely satisfied with the price-to-image ratio. So the HVX200 has become our go-to camera for most projects.”
The HVX200 uniquely combines multiple high definition and standard definition formats, multiple recording modes and variable frames rates, and the vast benefits of P2 solid state memory recording in a rugged, compact design.
For the University Health Network (UHN), which is comprised of the Princess Margaret, Toronto General and Toronto Western Hospitals and their affiliated research institutes, Martin shot B roll of UHN interiors and 25 interviews at the 1080/24p frame rate collecting 35-40 hours of material for what will ultimately be a 15-20 minute video. His footage will also enable UHN to create a library of generic images.
“Research labs with three-foot aisles are not the most spacious places. The HVX200’s small size really helped in those situations,” Martin recalls. “In operating rooms, where lights are specifically positioned to cast light onto an object, we were surprised by how well the camera handled the contrast, leaving information in the whites and not completely crushing the blacks. Obviously, the HVX200 doesn’t have the latitude of film, but we were extremely happy with the latitude it had for one-third inch chips.”
While Martin had prior experience shooting with all of Panasonic’s 24p cameras on a rental basis, the HVX200 marks FrameBlender’s first Panasonic investment (purchased from Abel Cine Tech, NY, NY). “I’ve shot primarily with VariCam and the SDX900,” he says. “I personally enjoy using Panasonic cameras because of their color response and how the chips show color. We had been thinking of biting the budget bullet when Panasonic announced the HVX200. It looked like it would fit our market and give us what we needed: similar color response, gamma curves and the flexibility we liked in Panasonic 24p cameras; multiple frame rates; the DVCPRO HD codec; and a post workflow we were used to.”
Martin notes that “a lot of other cameras have used new codecs so post-production is usually playing catch up. But the DVCPRO HD codec is more well-known and is integrated into most software platforms. So from day one, the HVX200 accepted the post solutions out there; even more post options will become available over time.”
Martin emphasizes that “to shoot properly you don’t just need a camera, you need the whole package” which, for him, encompasses a Chrosziel 4x4 matte box, Chrosziel DV Studio Follow Focus and Cartoni Focus tripod. He plans to acquire Focus Enhancements’ Firestore FS-100 portable DTE recorder shortly.
Martin currently has five 4GB P2 cards. His production workflow varies according to the shoot “depending on what makes sense,” he says. “Sometimes, when I’m interviewing, I may plug the camera into my 15-inch Macintosh PowerBook and capture on the fly into Final Cut Pro. Sometimes, when I’m shooting B roll, I’ll fill the five cards, then take them to the laptop and offload. Or I’ll cycle the cards, popping out a full card, popping in a new one and having an assistant offload the full card.” In all cases, the P2 cards are offloaded in the laptop to a FireWire drive.
Martin considers the time between getting the FireWire drive back to FrameBlender analogous to the time between removing a film magazine from a camera and shipping it to the lab. Upon arrival at FrameBlender, the drive is plugged into a PowerMac G5 and all of the data is copied to an Apple XServe RAID. “At that point we’re a lot more secure,” Martin says. “The camera randomly names clips, ensuring that each clip has a very specific title. But we also log and rename the clips the way we want them so we can later match project files and EDLs.”
Concerned with finding “a good solution to manage and back up this amount of data,” Martin consulted with friends who are IT professionals. They recommended the LT0-3 tape format. “It’s not a new technology; it’s one of the main tape formats used by IT professionals. But it was very new to us,” Martin admits. “It’s already in its third generation, and it keeps gaining capacity and speed while remaining backward compatible with the previous generation. We believe LT0-3 is the archiving solution, and it has a low cost of entry.”
When renaming the raw footage is complete, the native DVCPRO HD clips are transferred from the XServe RAID onto LT0-3 tapes for archiving via an Exabyte 1x7 autoloader connected via SCSI to the G5 in the edit suite. “The transfer is faster than real-time and, per minute, LT0-3 tape is extremely cheap. Cheaper even than DVCPRO HD tape. We can put 400 minutes on an LT0-3 tape for under $100 U.S.,” Martin reports.
With all the media now properly named and archived, FrameBlender edits in Final Cut Pro in native DVCPRO HD. The offline is recompressed into 10-bit uncompressed HD for color grading with Silicon Color’s Final Touch HD. Then it is brought back, in 10-bits, into Final Cut Pro through XML files for titling, effects and rendering.
Martin hears people saying the HVX200 has “features they really wouldn’t use” such as multiple frame rates, slow motion and interval shooting for time lapse footage. “But the truth is, you’d use them once you had access to them,” he says. “The HVX200 has a lot of features you don’t really appreciate until you start using them. Then they spark your creativity, and you start asking yourself, ‘what can I do with this?’ Any time technology pushes creative forward, it’s a good thing!”
The DVCPRO HD P2 camcorder offers production-quality HD with independent intra-frame encoding, 4:2:2 color sampling, and less compression, making HD content easier and faster to edit and more able to stand up to image compositing versus long GOP MPEG-2 systems.
The ultra-versatile HVX200 records in 1080i and 720p in production-proven 100 Mbps DVCPRO HD quality, with the ability to capture images in 21 record modes. The HVX200 offers users cost-effective, intra-frame compression, where each frame stands on its own for editing, and its full 4:2:2 color sampling allows the image to hold up under color correction. The camera records video on a P2 card as IT-friendly MXF files in 1080/60i, 30p and 24p; in 720/60p, 30p and 24p; in 50Mbps DVCPRO50 and in 25Mbps DVCPRO or DV. The HVX200 can capture fast or slow action in 720p at various frame rates--the first time this function is available in a hand-held camera. The shooting frame rate in 720p native mode can be set for any of 11 steps between 12fps and 60fps including 24fps and 30fps. For more information on the AG-HVX200, visit www.panasonic.com/hvx200.
About Panasonic Broadcast
Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems Co. is a leading supplier of broadcast and professional video products and systems. Panasonic Broadcast is a unit company of Panasonic Corporation of North America. The company is the North American headquarters of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (NYSE: MC) of Japan, and the hub of its U.S. marketing, sales, service and R&D operations For more information on Panasonic Broadcast products, access the company’s web site at www.panasonic.com/broadcast.