Great new Panasonic video camcorder with 1/10th-inch sensor

Started Mar 20, 2013 | Discussions
Francis Carver
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Great new Panasonic video camcorder with 1/10th-inch sensor
Mar 20, 2013

Okay, so now that we have your attention... the sensor on this $2,250 list priced AG-AC90 camcorder is not exactly 1/10th of an inch, but pretty well close to it: 1/4.7-inch -- well, with rounding error, 1/5th of an inch diagonal size. Man, that is so utterly small, it makes the old standard 8mm film frame size look like 65mm film.

By now, most of the camera manufacturers -- Sony in particular is the undisputed leader here -- have pretty much abandoned tiny sensors in favor of 1-inch, APS-C, Super 35, and FF 135 sensor digital cameras and camcorders. Even JVC is moving from 1/3-inch sensor camcorders to the larger, 1/2.3-inch sensor form factor models with their latest pro-class and prosumer models. In fact, just about everyone is doing that -- except for Panasonic.

Panasonic's micro-sensor pro-class camcorder (MSLP $2,250)

Same thing at B&H Photo Video

What's wrong with this picture, you might ask? Well, maybe nothing.... if you want everything you shoot forever to be in total deep focus, whereby anything and everything from say 1 cm subject distance to infinity is going to be always and simultaneously in-focus. Frankly, I have no clue why Pana had even bothered with an electronic "manual" focus ring and AF with this particular camcorder. Chances are you will never need it, unless you are shooting with the extended zoom at full telephoto AND at maximum wide open aperture, perhaps.

How does a footage such as that looks? Well, here is a very high quality video that was shot w. the AG-AC90 in France:

Ultra deep focus music video from France shot with Panasonic AG-AC90

Just curious, how many video shooters here find the "ultra deep focus all the time"approach out of this particular camcorder the way to go for videography today? In my view, it is rather lacking aesthetically by not having the ability to fix focus on things. Although on the plus side of things, you can save on labor costs by not having a dedicated focus puller with you all the time, I suppose. 

Cy Cheze
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Re: Great new Panasonic video camcorder with 1/10th-inch sensor
In reply to Francis Carver, Mar 20, 2013

Okay, so now that we have your attention... the sensor on this $2,250 list priced AG-AC90 camcorder is not exactly 1/10th of an inch, but pretty well close to it: 1/4.7-inch -- well, with rounding error, 1/5th of an inch diagonal size. Man, that is so utterly small, it makes the old standard 8mm film frame size look like 65mm film.

The camerea has three of those sensors, not one.

By now, most of the camera manufacturers -- Sony in particular is the undisputed leader here -- have pretty much abandoned tiny sensors in favor of 1-inch, APS-C, Super 35, and FF 135 sensor digital cameras and camcorders. Even JVC is moving from 1/3-inch sensor camcorders to the larger, 1/2.3-inch sensor form factor models with their latest pro-class and prosumer models. In fact, just about everyone is doing that -- except for Panasonic.

Panasonic also makes a m4/3 sensor videocamera, as well as the m4/3 cameras that also shoot video.

Panasonic's micro-sensor pro-class camcorder (MSLP $2,250)

Same thing at B&H Photo Video

What's wrong with this picture, you might ask? Well, maybe nothing.... if you want everything you shoot forever to be in total deep focus, whereby anything and everything from say 1 cm subject distance to infinity is going to be always and simultaneously in-focus.

Focus matters, even with small sensors, especially at short distances.

Frankly, I have no clue why Pana had even bothered with an electronic "manual" focus ring and AF with this particular camcorder. Chances are you will never need it, unless you are shooting with the extended zoom at full telephoto AND at maximum wide open aperture, perhaps.

Manual focus is important if the auto-focus drifts because of ambiguous distances or if it fixes on something too close or too far. When tracking birds, aircraft, or weaving players, manual focus (or to fix the focus at a preferred length) can be very helpful.

Videocameras with small sensors often have wide apertures too, so the need for focus is greater than you might suppose.

Large sensor DSLRs tend to capture too much light, demanding either that the aperture be narrowed (bye-bye narrow DOF), the shutter speed be too high (choppiness), or use of a neutral density filter (often not on hand) in bright light.

How does a footage such as that looks? Well, here is a very high quality video that was shot w. the AG-AC90 in France:

Ultra deep focus music video from France shot with Panasonic AG-AC90

Could it also have been shot with a $225 camera?

Just curious, how many video shooters here find the "ultra deep focus all the time" approach out of this particular camcorder the way to go for videography today?

Between deep focus and wrong focus, the choice is easy. You are supposing that studio-perfect narrow DOF is simply an algebraic alternative to deep focus. That is not so.

In my view, it is rather lacking aesthetically by not having the ability to fix focus on things.

Aesthetically, it can be very annoying to have DOF so narrow that your subject is constantly going out of focus. Since video involves action, this can happen all the time, and there is no way to un-do it afterwards.

If shooting a wedding, machinery demonstration, corporate event, or sports contest, any goof in the focus will earn complaints, and attempts at narrow DOF may simply defocus what another viewer should be in focus.

Videocamera AF tends to do a better job of keeping things in focus, but can miss from time to time.

Imaging shooting an interview, or a scoring shot, which you can't repeat. Imagine a subject that you can't monitor carefully on a large monitor in a dark room, which you may have a hard time seeing on the LCD at all, and which moves too quickly to track through an OVF.

Although on the plus side of things, you can save on labor costs by not having a dedicated focus puller with you all the time, I suppose.

Even a highly skilled focus-puller will opt for deeper focus if the subject requires or if there is no room for mistake or re-take.

There are tools in video editing software to blur peripheries or foregrounds of a video shot.

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Francis Carver
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Re: Great new Panasonic video camcorder with 1/10th-inch sensor
In reply to Cy Cheze, Mar 20, 2013

The sensor on this $2,250 list priced AG-AC90 camcorder is.... 1/4.7-inch -- well, with rounding error, 1/5th of an inch diagonal size. Man, that is so utterly small, it makes the old standard 8mm film frame size look like 65mm film.

The camerea has three of those sensors, not one.

Like I said, Cy.... the sensor or sensor triplets are 1/4.7-inch in size.... at least, according to Panasonic.  Even if Panny uses 3 of them or 33 of them inside this camera, the imager's form factor size is still only gonna be close to right around 1/5th of an inch, won't it be, though?

Panasonic also makes a m4/3 sensor videocamera, as well as the m4/3 cameras that also shoot video.

Panasonic used to have a M4/3 inch sensor video camera before, AG-AF100. Not they have basically the same thing with a different video output signal capability, called the AG-AF100A. Not quite sure who is buying this one, though, it seems to be levitating in some black hole.

By the time you take that small size M4/3 sensor which of course is a 4:3 aspect ratio sensor, and derive a 16:9 or let alone wider aspect ration modern video image out of it, you will have lost plenty of pixels on top and bottom portions of the sensor, so I guess maybe that is why the Super 35 and HDTV AR sensors in modern video cameras are more popular.

Frankly, I have no clue why Pana had even bothered with an electronic "manual" focus ring and AF with this particular camcorder. Chances are you will never need it, unless you are shooting with the extended zoom at full telephoto AND at maximum wide open aperture, perhaps.

Manual focus is important if the auto-focus drifts because of ambiguous distances or if it fixes on something too close or too far. When tracking birds, aircraft, or weaving players, manual focus (or to fix the focus at a preferred length) can be very helpful.

Not when you have a 1/4.7-inch sensor recording images to start with. Just basic optics and physics.

Videocameras with small sensors often have wide apertures too, so the need for focus is greater than you might suppose.

I would think about focusing with this one in full telephoto and at wide open or close to wide open apertures only, like I said. Not everyone is into critical focusing all the time, or enjoys slow AF and out of focus drifting, so if you always want your images to be tack-sharp, this is the camcorder to do it, definitely. Cannot do that with a Sony S35 sensor video-cam or with an Alpha 99 DSLT, that's for sure.

Large sensor DSLRs tend to capture too much light, demanding either that the aperture be narrowed (bye-bye narrow DOF), the shutter speed be too high (choppiness), or use of a neutral density filter (often not on hand) in bright light.

Great observation, unlike with almost all other Panasonic pro-line camcorders, the AC90 does not seem to have a built-in 3 position or 4-position ND filter. I guess they figured you do not need it? So, an adjustable ND or CP filter must be a must-have for those who want to have the iris in the F1.5 to F2.8 range all the time.

How does a footage such as that looks? Well, here is a very high quality video that was shot w. the AG-AC90 in France:

Ultra deep focus music video from France shot with Panasonic AG-AC90

Could it also have been shot with a $225 camera?

Good question -- do you have the answer? If the answer is a "yes," then I need to find that $225 alternative, and pronto.

Just curious, how many video shooters here find the "ultra deep focus all the time" approach out of this particular camcorder the way to go for videography today?

Between deep focus and wrong focus, the choice is easy. You are supposing that studio-perfect narrow DOF is simply an algebraic alternative to deep focus. That is not so.

I had actually meant between deep focus and normally adjusted focus, not necessarily ultra shallow DOF type of shallow focus.Folks not being able to adjust proper focus on a camera should perhaps be composing sonnets or ballads instead. 

In my view, it is rather lacking aesthetically by not having the ability to fix focus on things.

Aesthetically, it can be very annoying to have DOF so narrow that your subject is constantly going out of focus. Since video involves action, this can happen all the time, and there is no way to un-do it afterwards.

Panasonic AG-AC90 cannot do shallow focus.... or even regular focus. Only deep focus, at least based on the clips I had watched out of it.

If shooting a wedding, machinery demonstration, corporate event, or sports contest, any goof in the focus will earn complaints, and attempts at narrow DOF may simply defocus what another viewer should be in focus. Videocamera AF tends to do a better job of keeping things in focus, but can miss from time to time.

Imaging shooting an interview, or a scoring shot, which you can't repeat. Imagine a subject that you can't monitor carefully on a large monitor in a dark room, which you may have a hard time seeing on the LCD at all, and which moves too quickly to track through an OVF.

Like I said before, folks who cannot keep their subjects in focus somehow should probably not be shooting films and videos in the first instance. For those, the AC90 will probably be a Godsend -- I mean, how exactly are you gonna screw-up focusing with this one, even if you try, hmmm?

On the plus side of things, you can save on labor costs by not having a dedicated focus puller with you all the time, I suppose.

Even a highly skilled focus-puller will opt for deeper focus if the subject requires or if there is no room for mistake or re-take. There are tools in video editing software to blur peripheries or foregrounds of a video shot.

Usually the focus puller's job is simply to adjust the focal ring, the DP would be making those deep focus versus shallow DOF decisions instead and independent of the AC focus puller, I would have thought at least. Yes, you can fine-tune and massage each and every shot you take with a camera/camcorder and try to add blur and add OOF areas to the FG and BG -- if that indeed  what you want to spend your supposedly precious and limited time with in post.

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Francis Carver
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$2,000 video camcorders fromPanasonic & JVC
In reply to Francis Carver, Mar 20, 2013

Interestingly, the JVC will have this brand new one out soon with a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, which is actually about 4x the physical size of the Panny AG-AC90's minuscule sensor. Nor surprisingly, whereas the Panasonic's minimum illumination requirements is given in the specifications as 5 lux, the JVC's is given as 1 lux. In other words, about 5x as sensitive in low light.

JVC GY-HM70U AVCHD SDXC Card Pro-Line Shoulder-Mounted Camcorder Brochure

Too bad Panny could not at least stick with the traditional 1/3-inch sensor in the AC90, but of course then it would have collided with its own AC130A and AC160A models.

The AG-AC90 looks like a more professionally equipped unit though, with balanced XLR phantom power audio inputs, etc. The type of sensor (backside illuminated), type of codec used (AVCHD), frame rates, video signals (NTSC only here, as there are separate Euro-versions for 50 Hertz models for both camcorders), the front element size of the fixed lens, etc. are very similar or identical. Both the Pana and JVC use 2 x SDXC cards, although the JVC also has a dual-battery design for virtually limitless duration recordings on distant locations.

Obviously with a relative much larger sized sensor, the operator will be able to control DOF better with the JVC HM70 than with the Panasonic AC90.

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Francis Carver
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Power consumption dilemma
In reply to Francis Carver, Mar 20, 2013

Re. the respective power consumption of these 2 dedicated, around $2,000 priced pro-class camcorders.... maybe someone can help me out here?

JVC's is a full sized camcorder with a significantly larger sized sensor, but the GY-HM70's specs giver power usage at 3.6 Watts in Full-HD 1080 mode.

Okay, so then how come the little Panasonic Handycam with the smaller sensor needs 12.9 Watts? I mean, that makes it about 3.5-times as power hungry as the JVC's new shoulder-mountable model. I assume both manufacturers give power consumption with OIS turned "OFF," etc.

With the dual battery capability of the JVC GY-HM70, that thing can be running like forever. Cannot wrap my brain around why 2 new model camcorders with obviously similar feature sets and abilities would have such vastly different power consumption. Anyone?

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Raymond Bradlau
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Re: Great new Panasonic video camcorder with 1/10th-inch sensor
In reply to Francis Carver, Mar 27, 2013

Not all the time but I do think it would be great for dolly and jib shots (as long as the camera is moving I like the extra DOF)  If I could only have one video camera it would be super 35, but having a second camera like this would make for a nice combo.

No lens swapping

compact size looks like it would be great on steadycams and jibs

1080 60p for slowing down the the moves (pans, jibs, steady cam......)

good zoom range (servo zoom? that would be nice)

a handle!

dual card slots (wish Sony had duals)

XLR inputs

image stabilisation

digital zoom... depending on how its implemented (I dont use it for video but my D4 is better cropped than in full frame)

I think it would take a bit of practice setting up and lighting shots when you cant just blur our ugly backgrounds and having huge DOF could make for boring footage after a while if your not careful.  I am actually looking for a smaller sensor camera for just these reason and had considered the Gh3 but the cost seems a bit high for my use (more than this camera once you add a lens, several batteries, and a handle of some sort)

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lancespring
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Re: Great new Panasonic video camcorder with 1/10th-inch sensor
In reply to Raymond Bradlau, Mar 28, 2013

Since this thread started, B&H Photo has since dropped the price on this camcorder down to only $1,799, which is quite an amazing value considering all of the great features the AC90 has.  
In my opinion, it is a much better option than either Sony's NX30 or Canon's  XA10, which are slightly more expensive, but in the same price range, and also have XLR support.

Although I have heard rumors that Sony is close to announcing some new camcorders soon.   But as of right now,  I don't see anything else in the sub $2000 price range as good, as useful, or as full featured as the AC90.   Certainly no one else has anything even remotely close to it in price with 3 manual control rings for iris, focus, and zoom.

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Francis Carver
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Panasonic AG-AC90
In reply to lancespring, Mar 29, 2013

lancespring wrote:

Since this thread started, B&H Photo has since dropped the price on this camcorder down to only $1,799, which is quite an amazing value considering all of the great features the AC90 has.  
In my opinion, it is a much better option than either Sony's NX30 or Canon's  XA10, which are slightly more expensive, but in the same price range, and also have XLR support.

Although I have heard rumors that Sony is close to announcing some new camcorders soon.   But as of right now,  I don't see anything else in the sub $2000 price range as good, as useful, or as full featured as the AC90.   Certainly no one else has anything even remotely close to it in price with 3 manual control rings for iris, focus, and zoom.

Agree with you in general. At $1.8K, it is not a bad deal -- for those who can swallow the crazy 1/4.7-inch sensor size. I cannot. I mean, even a Nikon V2 has what, a sensor that is like 15 to 20 times the surface area of the AC90's minuscule sensor. And the Nikon V2 can also be gotten with a removable power servo video-style 10x range zoom lens that does its zooming internally, like the AC90's zoom does.

If you look at the current Panasonic camcorder line-up.... pro-line and consumer.... they have camcorders with 1/3-inch sensor, 1/4-inch sensor, 1/4.1-inch sensor, and now, 1/4.7-inch sensor. All other seems to be making their sensor larger, or at least keep therm the same size... just not Panny.

Everyone is going to be announcing something new at NAB in just a few days' time.

Regarding the manual control rings... well, they are basically electrical control rings that have a tactile manual feel to them. They supposed to be very stiff to operate, and good luck attaching rod-mounted follow-focus gear here.

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piecoro
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Re: Great new Panasonic video camcorder with 1/10th-inch sensor
In reply to Francis Carver, Mar 31, 2013

Francis Carver wrote:

Okay, so now that we have your attention... the sensor on this $2,250 list priced AG-AC90 camcorder is not exactly 1/10th of an inch, but pretty well close to it: 1/4.7-inch -- well, with rounding error, 1/5th of an inch diagonal size. Man, that is so utterly small, it makes the old standard 8mm film frame size look like 65mm film.

By now, most of the camera manufacturers -- Sony in particular is the undisputed leader here -- have pretty much abandoned tiny sensors in favor of 1-inch, APS-C, Super 35, and FF 135 sensor digital cameras and camcorders. Even JVC is moving from 1/3-inch sensor camcorders to the larger, 1/2.3-inch sensor form factor models with their latest pro-class and prosumer models. In fact, just about everyone is doing that -- except for Panasonic.

New Panasonic x920 has 3 BSI sensor 1/2,3"!!!! No one in this class has too.

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Francis Carver
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Panasonic HX-X920 camcorder
In reply to piecoro, Mar 31, 2013

piecoro wrote:

New Panasonic x920 has 3 BSI sensor 1/2,3"!!!! No one in this class has too.

I agree, there certainly does not seem to be anything like this out yet on our planet. Consider the following published specifications of the Panasonic HX-X920.

Pixel Gross: 38280000

Effective Pixels: 8490000 @ Video 16:9

7620000 @ Photo 3:2

6780000 @ Photo 4:3

Okay, and then this:

20.4MP Still Photographs

Okay, so the best I can figure, this is a 1/2.3-inch 38.28MP sensor camera (!!!!) that takes your usual 2.2MP 1080-line Full-HD videos at 8.49MP, and also takes your 6.78MP stills at 20.4MP.  Or is it the other way around?

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