DP/Cinematographer Chris Bell Mixes Panasonic's AG-HVX200 Solid-State HD Camcorder And Varicam In Post-Katrina Video


Shoots Both Formats on Location along Gulf Cost for Safeco Insurance

Last Updated: May 22, 2006 4:09 pm GMT
(SECAUCUS, NJ -May 22, 2006) Freelance DP/cinematographer Chris Bell found his new Panasonic AG-HVX200 solid-state HD camcorder to be an able companion to his VariCam® HD Cinema camera during a recent shoot covering the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast.

Teaming with Matt Billings, managing director of Seattle's leading visual communications agency Eyeplay, Bell combined the VariCam and HVX200 to create a five-minute video documenting how Safeco and its independent insurance agent helped get a customer in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi back on his feet in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The HVX200 proved to be a powerful tool, helping them capture footage quickly, decrease production and editing time as well as produce high-quality and appealing images for Safeco's marketing video.

For the project, Bell taped interviews with the Safeco agent, a customer and the head of Safeco's national catastrophe team using the VariCam. It was also used to capture more-scripted B-Roll footage. He and his team used the HVX200 to capture the widespread damage in the area, grabbing shots for the final video even during a busy location-scout day. Eyeplay's Billings estimates that the HVX200 enabled them to get twice as much B roll as expected.
"We used the HVX200 far more than we originally planned," says Bell. "We had limited time and budget and were able to move extremely fast with the camera because it's so small and light. We had a minivan and got great dolly shots out of the sliding door. And I overcranked to 60fps for a nice slow-motion look.

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. 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 HVX200 served us well as a run 'n gun camera and as a B camera for the VariCam," he continues. "While we were capturing footage with the HVX200 I knew it would integrate well with VariCam in the edit. Viewers wouldn't be able to tell the difference."

By using the HVX200, Bell was able to significantly reduce time spent in post-production editing. Instead of directly transferring the P2 cards' MXF files to the P2 Store and then into the PowerBook, Bell imported them directly into his Apple Macintosh PowerBook in the field using Apple's Final Cut Pro.

Final Cut Pro converted the files to QuickTime Movies so the material was immediately available to Bell for editing. "Matt and I were so excited about the footage we got that we started cutting on the PowerBook in the airport when we were delayed a couple of hours on the way home," he reports.
"It was pretty exciting to be able to transfer from the P2 cards at the end of the day or between set-ups into the PowerBook and look at the shots immediately," Eyeplay's Billings notes. "We had an idea of what we got and what we still needed to get."

Back in Seattle, Bell transferred the HVX200 footage and all the VariCam footage to a G-RAID then brought it all into Final Cut Pro via FireWire in its native DVCPRO HD codec.

Bell was an early advocate of Panasonic 24p production solutions and made extensive use of the DVX100 and then the SDX900 DVCPRO50 camcorder when it debuted.

"As a cinematographer, I spent years trying to make projects shot with broadcast video cameras not look like TV news," Bell explains. "No one wants a ‘Live at 5' look for their productions. Suddenly, Panasonic's DVX100 came along and transformed a certain segment of the industry; people loved the 24p look. The DVX100 made video truly appealing and cinematic."

When VariCam gained a FireWire option (through the AJ-HD1200A DVCPRO HD VTR), "it finally made sense" for Bell's clients who were interested in HD acquisition but wary about "how to manage the media" for postproduction. Now, they saw how it meshed with the Final Cut Pro editing solution.
"For me, VariCam, with its variable frame rate capabilities, was the culmination of Panasonic's 24p products," Bell says. "It gave me all the tools to be creative in the camera and raised the bar on image quality, even if 90 percent of the end products were still viewed in standard definition. VariCam has been a home run. I've never seen a format adapted so quickly by my clients, to the point where it was really the only video format that I shot."

Experiencing the benefits of the HVX200/VariCam combination
Bell uses the HVX200 either handheld or on a Sachtler tripod. He records DVCPRO HD to a pair of 8GB P2 cards and has an AJ-PCS060G P2 "Store" portable hard-disk unit for offloading data from the cards in the field.

Bell believes the HVX200 "held up very nicely in comparison with VariCam" on the Safeco project, but points out what he felt was a distinct difference between the two cameras. "VariCam is still a high-performance, high-fidelity, high definition camera. You get your money's worth with VariCam. But in its price range the HVX200 produces a sharp image, offers good color rendition and has a very nice dynamic range. It also cuts in seamlessly with VariCam."

It's the HVX200's variable frame rate capability that "is really the feature that's so revolutionary for a product in its class," declares Bell. "It allows you to do in-camera effects instead of post effects. For the Safeco video I shot the still lifes at 24 frames, and moving footage and portraits at 60fps for dramatic effect."

Bell also likes the ability to share shots he's just captured via the LCD viewfinder. "It's a great way to communicate with the director in the field and create a dialogue." It is especially helpful to be able to view overcranked and undercranked footage, he adds. "With the HVX200 you can see those effects played back in real time. It makes the process more fun!"

Bell feels that the P2 medium also allows video pros to do easy self-editing. "By deleting unwanted shots you don't waste time in post. You improve the post workflow," he added.

Bell, who also shoots commercials and high-end corporate enterprise videos, has two different messages for colleagues about the HVX200.
"To VariCam owner/operators I'd say the HVX200 is an indispensable part of their VariCam package. It offers more options for your clients but doesn't bog you down since it's very much a plug-and-play camera," he reports.

"To others, who aren't shooting VariCam, I'd say the HVX200 is the leader in its class in image quality. Panasonic has brought a professional-level recording codec to a small, handheld product. It's definitely the best bang for the buck."

About the HVX200
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 video formats. The DVCPRO HD format 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 http://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.


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