While some filmmakers may be drifting away from DSLRs as their tool of choice (see “Rethinking DSLR Filmmaking” from our February issue), the “DSLR look” is still prized. Panasonic’s AG-DVX200 is a bid to win the disaffected DSLR shooter’s heart by pairing the shallow depth of field and dynamic range of a larger image sensor with the ergonomics and feature set of a professional video camera. The DVX200 is the camcorder, evolved.
The heart of the DVX200 is a 4/3-sized MOS sensor with up to 12 stops of dynamic range when shooting in VLOG-L, Panasonic’s desaturated color profile. The camera has more video quality and frame rate settings than we have space to list. Among the highlights is cinematic 4K (4096 x 2160) at 24 fps with a bit rate of 100Mbps. You can also record 4K in 3840 x 2160 (also called UHD) at up to 60 fps. Full HD can be recorded at up to 120 fps. All 4K and full HD footage is captured in either the .MP4 or .MOV formats. You can also record full HD up to 60p using the AVCHD format. Footage is saved internally to a pair of SD cards as an 8-bit 4:2:0 file. A 4K file can be output through the HDMI port as a higher quality 10-bit, 4:2:2 file. If you choose the SDI output, your 4K file will be downconverted to 1080p.
As for the lens, it’s a fixed 13x Leica Dicomar f/2.8 lens (28-364mm equivalent) with optical image stabilization. When shooting in HD, you’ll have the opportunity to use a 5-axis hybrid stabilizer system that combines both optical and electronic shake reduction. There are three built-in ND filters (1/4, 1/16 and 1/64) accessible with the flip of a switch.
Footage can be previewed on a 4.3-inch touch screen display or an OLED EVF. You can view a histogram, waveform and vectorscope data on the display, and access focus peaking, zebra stripes and a focus assist mode to quickly magnify a portion of your scene to confirm focusing. On the audio front, the camera has a built-in stereo microphone, a pair of XLR inputs and a headphone jack.
The camera has a definite plastic feel to it. It’s physically rather large and heavy for a camera in its class at just shy of 6 pounds (before any accessories). However, it’s not so heavy that you can’t handhold it for minutes at a time and it’s comfortable to hold. In addition to a hand strap off to the side, there’s a large top handle that you can use to bring the camera down low or, using its mounting threads, add extra accessories to your rig.
Three manual rings control zoom, focus and iris. While focus and iris transitions are smooth and the focus ring in particular has a nice long pull, we found the manual zoom ring a bit less fluid.
There are ample external controls on the DVX200 so most of the key recording settings can be accessed without having to poke around the touch screen menu. You also have four user-programmable buttons to bring more features out of the camera and under your fingertips. That’s good, because we found the on-screen menu to be a bit confusing to navigate.
The DVX200’s pull-out LCD can rotate around, giving you a number of vantage points to preview your scene. We did have issues with the eye sensor on the EVF, which appeared to be super sensitive—it would repeatedly black out the LCD when we were adjusting settings on the display if our arm even fleetingly crossed the EVF sensor’s path. It’s hard to avoid triggering the sensor unless you tilt the EVF up or disable the eye sensor completely.
The DVX200 absolutely delivers on Panasonic’s goal of more DSLR-like video. Video quality is generally solid, though depending on your settings, the colors can be a bit muted at times (excluding VLOG-L, where that is the intent). Sometimes, skin tones also appeared a bit washed out (shortly after our review concluded, Panasonic released firmware for the camera that promised to address this). Color reproduction is consistent and accurate and noise is generally well contained at low gain/ISO settings.
There are several color profiles/gamma curves available to you such as FilmLike 1, CineLike-V and the aforementioned VLOG. Unfortunately, there’s no easy well to tell in camera what each effect will do through the preview, with the exception of VLOG, which noticeably dampens color on the display. (There’s a helpful VLOG View Assist mode that introduces more color back into the preview, not the recorded footage, to give you a sense of a final, color graded version of what you’re shooting.) About the only on-camera help you’ll get, outside of peaking and zebra stripes, are on-screen warnings to use the ND filter, which popped up when we were shooting outdoors or toward a brightened window.
You’ll enjoy the best dynamic range, up to 12 stops, using VLOG-L. While we found more noise in this file than in other settings, it’s easy to clean up. Our version of Davinci Resolve didn’t have 3D LUTs specifically for the DVX200, but we did apply some stock film LUTs to the VLOG footage with nice results.
The Leica Dicomar lens does an excellent job resolving detail and even when shooting toward the sun, picked up very little flare. When shooting at its widest aperture, we did enjoy almost DSLR-like shallow depth of field, with the background gently falling off behind the subject. It definitely doesn’t have the sharper focused look that most small chip camcorders are associated with.
Autofocus locks rather quickly, even in low light. If you’re focusing manually, there’s a useful “one-push AF” button that temporarily and quickly turns AF on to confirm you’ve locked onto the right subject. We liked that the servo zoom rocker doesn’t lurch when you press it—and you can program the zoom speed of the rocker to suit your preferences. However, when zooming manually, we found it a bit tougher to achieve a truly smooth zoom.
While the DVX200 is packed to the gills with features, it’s also fairly complicated to use and the learning curve is rather steep. Not everything about the camera is as intuitive as it could be, especially for anyone migrating from DSLR land. For instance, the camera has a slew of frame rate and quality options grouped in a single menu, but to access faster 120 fps shooting, you have to go hunting around in entirely different section of the menu to turn it on. When reviewing clips, you can’t see everything you’ve recorded—the camcorder only displays thumbnails by file type, and when you hit “all” it only displays all of the images of that file, not all the clips you’ve recorded.
Mitigating this, somewhat, is the wealth of resources Panasonic makes available for the camcorder. In addition to an owner’s manual, there’s also a free 250-plus page e-book that explores the DVX200 in depth, alongside more general filmmaking tips.
The touchscreen display is responsive and easy to read even in bright daylight. We had a harder time framing through the OLED viewfinder. The EVF is super sharp, but small and set back in the eye cup enough that it’s not always easy to make out camera settings or confirm focus. There is a bit of a frame delay so the DVX200’s display isn’t giving you a precisely real time view of what the camera’s recording, but it’s not a serious impediment to shooting (though it may be slightly jarring to anyone peering over your shoulder or observing footage on an external monitor).
Panasonic isn’t the only company to have cottoned onto the notion of stuffing larger image sensors into pro-oriented, fixed lens camcorders. Sony’s PXWZ150 4K camcorder, for instance, has a 1-inch sensor plus Wi-Fi, something lacking in the DVX200. At $3,595, Sony’s camera is also less expensive, but doesn’t capture cinematic 4K and doesn’t support 60 fps shooting in 4K. Canon took a slightly different approach with the XC10, bundling a large sensor, fixed lens and camcorder-like controls into a DSLR-shaped body.
We think Panasonic has succeeded in its over-arching goal of creating, for lack of a better word, a cinematic camcorder. It can be a bit bewildering to use, but it packs a wealth of features and delivers video quality that its target users should appreciate.
PROS: DSLR-like video quality; extensive feature set; lightweight, ergonomic design; high quality lens.
CONS: Cumbersome menu; frustrating eye sensor on EVF; a bit bulky; pricey.
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