Thoughts On The Panasonic HC-WX970 4K UHD Camcorder

This is a great time to be a low-budget filmmaker because of the advancement of higher-end features on lower-budget cameras. Although NAB is the big cornucopia of goodness for filmmakers, this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show) has many treats for filmmakers.

Take, for example, the Panasonic HC-WX970 4K UHD Camcorder with Twin Video Camera.

Ultra HD (3840×2160 pixels) is fast becoming the next step in home entertainment, and Panasonic has thrown their hat into the home 4k(ish) ring in a big way. I say “4kish” because there is a technical difference between true 4k resolution (4096×2160 pixels) and UHD (3840×2160 pixels) – UHD is more the standard for home entertainment listed as “4k Televisions”, for example.

Panasonic-HC-WX970Panasonic HC-WX970 4K UHD Camcorder

Panasonic has seemingly pulled out all the stops for this camcorder by adding some amazing features formerly only found on high end (and I’m talking $20,000+ RED) cameras. Besides the UHD resolution at 30 frames per second, it will shoot 1080P at 120 frames per second and can use interpolation to reach 240(!) frames per second.

That is CRAZY good on this camcorder, even if you only ever use the 120 because of the interpolation (interpolation is the camera “filling in” missing frames to achieve a higher apparent frame rate – we’ll have to wait and see how good it does).

It also has a “high dynamic range” mode.

If you’ve read some of my previous articles, I’ve pointed out that one of the main shortcomings of HDSLRs is the limited dynamic range – the difference that camera can see between light and dark areas. Former Panasonic handicams (which I’ve used before) top out at about 8 stops of dynamic range – useable if you know how to work within the limitations, but by no means outstanding.

Greater dynamic range was achieved in early RED cameras by shooting dual exposures – basically rapidly switching between a darker exposed image and a lighter exposed image and combining them into one image that “sees” further into shadows and retains more highlights.

Panasonic has added a similar capability to this little guy, and the results are impressive.

One of the reasons I chose to go with the A7s is the higher dynamic range (and I don’t regret it for a second) – but the sample video from Panasonic shows the dramatic impact of higher dynamic range on the final image quality:

While it is not perfect, but it is many times better (and more filmic looking, in my opinion) then any consumer camcorder that I have seen before.

There are a some other notable features, as well. It includes an 20x optical zoom with a 50x digital zoom (and digital zoom in UHD might be workable…maybe) as well as 5-axis image stabilization.

It is wifi enabled for remote control and liveview, and it includes a second camera capability. You can use either your smartphone (via wifi, I’m sure) or an attached second camera on the flip out screen that can be rotated to allow for what appears to be a picture-in-picture effect while shooting.

It’s an interesting feature, but the sample video makes it look very Skype-ish in my opinion:

I know I probably won’t be using it, but someone might find an artistic use at some point.

The Good On The Panasonic HC-WX970:

– UHD resolution up to 30fps, 1080P up to 240fps (with interpolation)
– impressive High Dynamic Range feature
– Wi-fi remote operation and live view
– $1,000 – available around March 2015

The Not-So Good On The Panasonic HC-WX970:

– Still a small sensor (difficult to get high depth of field)
– no 24p recording at UHD (I hope that changes with an update)

The What On The Panasonic HC-WX970:
– Second camera capability (looks Skype-ish to me)

The Panasonic HC-WX970 is a great looking camera for the price. While the small sensor and second camera function seems just ok at this point, the lack of 24p shooting makes me scratch my head.

Having that option would bring a lot of low-budget filmmakers to this camera, but maybe Panasonic is trying to not cannibalize it’s higher end camera market.

The high dynamic range and extremely high frame rates are remarkable for a consumer aimed camera, and those might bring many low-budget filmmakers back for a second look especially if Panasonic adds 24p shooting – Are you listening, Panasonic?

Recent Blackmagic Design Updates Provide Good News For Filmmakers

Blackmagic Design Updates by Michael Head

Consumers sometimes claim that manufacturers ignore their customers and leave out key features that could be implemented. On one hand, this has led to great programs like the Magic Lantern group for Canon DSLRs – On the other hand, some manufacturers seem to ignore consumer requests and produce cameras each year with only minimal software and hardware updates. However, this cannot be said about Blackmagic Design.

Blackmagic Design has shocked the filmmaking world with a series of low-cost, high quality cameras ranging from the cellphone sized Blackmagic Pocket Camera, through the Cinema Camera, the 4K Production Camera, and the recently released 4K URSA and Studio cameras. So what can Blackmagic Design add now?

Listen to consumers and add in features that make already good products even better.

Blackmagic Design Updates

Blackmagic Design Updates

Blackmagic Design has been rolling out firmware updates rapidly over the last couple of months, and the additions they have offered fall on the spectrum from good to exactly what consumers asked for.

Beginning in late June, Blackmagic Design not only rolled out 4K raw recording for the 4k Production camera, but also improved their already great color science with better debeyering and autofocus on the Cinema camera and more lens support for the Pocket camera.

Only a few weeks later, Blackmagic Design added audio gain control to their family of cameras. While this does not improve the, frankly, poor recording circuits in the cameras, it does give filmmakers options while recording.

Two updates in a few weeks?

That might sound like a lot for some companies. But Blackmagic Design wasn’t finished pulling rabbits out of their hat: instead of only including Prores HQ for non-raw recording, Blackmagic added multiple “flavors” of Prores from 422 Proxy to LT to regular 422 – all of which mean that a filmmaker can choose to save some recording space.

But this still didn’t address two of the seemingly most commonly requested features – displaying remainging recording time and audio meters. But surely after three updates, they were done, right?

Wrong! Blackmagic Design just rolled out firmware update 1.9 for the 4K Production camera.

Not only did this update improve image calibration and add a histogram (an invaluable tool for a DP), but users now can see how much recording time they have left on their cards and see audio meters for monitoring audio coming into the camera. Wow!

But owners of the Cinema camera and Pocket camera looking on longingly at the announcement, until they realized that included in the announcement that their cameras would soon see their own audio meters and remaining recording time.

No one can claim that Blackmagic Design has been gathering moss, and they are definitely still making waves in the filmmaking community.

The production company Status Media & Entertainment is shooting their feature film “Checkmate” on two 4k Production cameras and a Pocket camera. Citing affordability and image quality, director Timothy Woodward Jr said, “we were able to use multiple cameras while staying in budget, which allowed for more coverage and faster shooting.”

Blackmagic Design has been gaining momentum and now it seems Hollywood is taking notice.