Phil Peel

Film, video, photography, sound and story

One of my earliest students was Andy Portch, whose gone on to have a distinguished career as a news cameraman for Sky. He’s recently taken to using the Panasonic GH2 and has written a really interesting report on using it and the AF101.


Size matters: By Andy Portch

A full size HD broadcast camera is picture perfect and looks impressive. The large camera also screams “TV Crew” and too often gives a ‘warped’ view as people react to the big camera or simply turn it away.  Twelve months ago the Micro four thirds (MFT) system caught my eye. The Panasonic AF101 and smaller GH2 stills/video hybrid cameras are cross compatible, sharing lenses and shooting the same AVCHD format. The AF101 is also significantly cheaper and smaller than the alternative Sony F3.

I went ahead and purchased the AF101 (AF100 in the USA) because it has all the video camera features: Neutral Density (ND) filter wheel, XLR audio inputs, Variable Frame Rate, SDI output and a dial in white balance. The AF101 ND filter wheel is the critical plus factor for me. I would not recommend any video camera without built in ND filters.

In the bureau with the Panasonic GH2

Working alongside my AF101 I have the GH2 which is small and discrete, with improved video functions over my old Canon 5D mkII. The GH2 has a crisp EVF with image magnification which means you don’t need an LCD loupe. Depth of field is shallow, but more manageable for video than a full frame sensor. I can still use manual full frame lenses with low cost adapters. In fact the beauty is I can carry the same creative stack of lenses for use with my GH2, GF2 or AF101 video camera.

I’ve used the combination of GH2 and AF101 extensively this year and to illustrate various points and lessons learned about the cameras’ use I’m going to refer to a portfolio of five news stories which I’ve done. Each is shot with Holly Williams, my correspondent in the Sky Beijing bureau. She has supported my tireless and sometimes tiresome quest for better imagery:-

Andy’s blog full report

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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