Phil Peel

Film, video, photography, sound and story

Panasonic AF-100: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Posted by Phil On February - 10 - 2011
Here’s a really interesting article by Art Adams on his first use of the AF-100
Art Adams | 02/08

Director Ian McCamey, Adam Wilt and myself take the AF-100 out for a spin in real world conditions.

The Panasonic AF-100 is getting a lot of buzz as a possible HDSLR killer. We used it in the real world in place of an HDSLR, and now we know. And soon, so will you. Read on…

The two cameras that get the most buzz at the moment are the Panasonic AF-100 and the Sony F3. In particular, the AF-100 seems to be Panasonic’s response to the HDSLR craze, and for that reason it has been widely anticipated: the industry wants 35mm depth of field for the price of an HDSLR but in the form factor of a traditional video camera. HDSLRs have been great tools for the price, but as they aren’t designed to be video cameras they fall short in a number of areas.

There’s a lot of money riding on the projects that we shoot, and traditional video cameras acknowledge that fact. They offer us tools with which to judge focus and exposure, and they allow us to tweak the camera so that it responds optimally to the shooting environment and reflects the look we want our footage to have. HDSLRs have, over time, come to offer some of those options, but they don’t do any of them particularly quickly or well. The industry has been eagerly awaiting cameras that offer the HDSLR look but with video camera speed and functionality.

The AF-100 does all that. It’s basically an HVX-200 with a larger sensor, which is both good and bad.

Recently director Ian McCamey landed a spot about which I can say nothing as it’s not finished yet. (I hope to show the completed piece in a week or so when it’s been cut and approved.) The budget was not a healthy one, and initially there was talk of shooting with a 5D or 7D. While I can make very pretty pictures with those cameras they do slow me down a bit, and the location we shot at offered limited prospect in daylight. Speed was of the essence, and we managed to get a brand new AF-100, from Shooting Star Video, on the job, along with a brand new Arri Alura 18-80 T2.6 zoom.

PVC’s Adam Wilt gets focus marks as director Ian McCamey hits his stride.

The AF-100 can be configured with a number of different lens mounts. Jeff Regan (owner of Shooting Star Video) opted for a PL mount in order to show off his new Arri Alura zoom, a “low cost” lens for 35mm sensor cameras. (He also offers the camera with Nikon mount and primes.) Although I’ve heard reports of pin cushioning from one person, I haven’t checked the lens on a chart to confirm or deny whether that issue exists and I didn’t notice anything during filming. It handles very smoothly and has a nice solid feel to it, and we had zero issues with back focus. (The Alura, like most film-style lenses, does not have a user operated back focus control.)

While the AF-100 can be configured for use with still lenses, those lenses aren’t very camera assistant friendly. The focus markings aren’t accurate and the distance markings are too close, so if the assistant wanted to quickly throw focus to 8’9” they couldn’t find the proper spot on the lens, and even if they could find it the focus wouldn’t fall at 8’9”. The Alura is a proper film-style lens with a big lens barrel and large, nicely spaced and accurate markings that’s great for action and drama, where we’re constantly following people and objects around. Still lenses are great for interviews and doc-style projects where the operator has to find their own focus, but that wasn’t the kind of project we were shooting.

While I can’t show you moving images from the spot until it’s finished (except for one short clip) and I can’t tell you what the concept is, I can show you stills from the shoot and give you a rough idea of the story. I hope to be able to publish the final spot within the next couple of weeks.

Let’s take a look at some images, both in front of and behind the camera, on the next page…

Behind the scenes photos are provided courtesy of gaffer Luke Seerveld.

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