Posted on

The New Panasonic AG-3DA1 3D Camcorder

Rule Boston Camera just received the Panasonic AG-3DA1 camcorder which I decided to take out this long weekend for a test drive.  The camera is similar in shape and weight to the Panasonic HPX170 camera with the exception of its dual lens and longer lens hood. The camera is lightweight and has the core features of most camcorders with the exception that it shoots 3D and has dual HD-SDI outputs.  The 3DA1 uses dual SDHC cards to record media with one card for left eye and one for right eye.  One of the great things about choosing SDHC cards is that they fairly plentiful and inexpensive.  Tracking down an HD deck with dual HD-SDI inputs is difficult and expensive so this camera embodies simplicity and ease of use by going with common media.  Since the camera records AVCHD codec (MPEG4/H.264), SDHC cards are more than fast enough to write to and even a class 4 card will work.   Each card is given a channel and fed time code so it stays in sync in post when locking up left and right channels. The camera has three methods of output, dual HD-SDI, HDMI 1.3 and cards via a card reader to transfer.  There are no analog outputs for composite, component or S-video.  Audio is handled via the on-board stereo mic or via two XLR audio inputs.  Audio is embedded on the HD-SDI and HDMI and can be monitored via a 3.5 mini headphone jack on the back of the camera.  The built-in mic picked up a fair amount of noise during testing so an external mic is essential especially if used on-set indoors.

Panasonic AG-3DA1 head on

First, I would like to say that if you have ever shot anything in 3D before with either a side-to-side or beam-splitter rig, you’ll find that this camera is very easy to use.  Unlike the aforementioned rigs, you don’t need to worry about adjusting two lenses simultaneously for focus, zoom and iris.  Left and right eyes must match in focal length, focus and zoom or the 3D effect is blown, so a lot of control is required with traditional rigs.  The 3DA1 lenses are electronically and mechanically linked so focus, zoom and iris are tied automatically without the need for external hardware.   The AG-3DA1 allows you the freedom to focus without the technicalities of 3D inhibiting the creative process (to an extent).  With all that being said, this camera is not a run-and-gun camcorder.  If your shots are not locked down but stationary, it will work fine.  If you plan on Steadicam, dolly shots, zooming or any movement with the camera, you must plan for it in advance.  You have the ability on the camera to dial in convergence (where the optical axes of the left and right lenses converge) which allows you to dictate what is in the foreground and what is in the background — providing a sense of depth. While this ability is great, if it goes unplanned your shots could become unusable because the left and right eye are separate channels and not multiplexed together.  This can be corrected later (to a degree). Something else to consider is that the convergence adjustment utilizes the same dial as iris and is switchable, so you cannot adjust iris and convergence at the same time.  As long as you plan for this it should not be a problem, but if you are shooting from room-to-room or outdoors-to-indoors, for example, you should plan on remaining equidistant to the subject at all times so you can adjust exposure without affecting convergence.  There is a mix feature on the camera that will allow you to display left and right channels superimposed onto the swing-out viewfinder.  This allows you to see any convergence adjustments you make that you might not otherwise see when monitoring on a single channel.

AG-3DA1 on Kessler Revolution motorized head.

The Panasonic AG-3DA1 features I’m bringing to light are not to dissuade you, but to keep you informed so you can plan properly.  The camera features a slower boot time than most camcorders (approximately six seconds).  This could potentially be an issue but doesn’t really pertain to commercial work or feature work where the camera is turned on well in advance to shooting.  The camera features two 3CCD 1/4.1″ chips, so if you are planning to shoot indoors, you will need to consider a light kit due to the nature of the smaller sensors.  Noise in 3D is not pretty and can be very distracting, so it is imperative to have as much light as possible so you are not shooting at the lower threshold of the lens and sensors capabilities.  The sweet spot seems to be f/5.6 and higher on the lens.  Because the lenses are smaller there seems to be a bit more chromatic aberration than on an HPX170 for example.  This can have a large impact if you plan on shooting for Anaglyph Amber Blue or Cyan Magenta as it will pop on the screen.  There are post tools to reduce this, but, again, well-planned shooting and monitoring on set are probably the best ways to combat any potential issues.  You should plan on using a Kesson 50′ measuring tape or equivalent on location as the minimal focal distance of the 3DA1 is only 3’97” but the reference plane adjustment range for convergence adjustment starts at 7’2″ and goes to infinity.  You have to keep this in mind when shooting in order to maximize the 3D depth control as much as possible.  The camera does a fair amount of control on its own but the convergence adjustment is on the user to adjust if you want your footage to have any real depth to it.  There is a convergence display on the LCD that shows C00-C99 as a guide but its is only for rough estimation, and it is not accurate.  It also does not correlate to any system of real measurement.  The higher the number, the further away it is.  I tried to figure out a way to calculate based on these numbers but it never seemed accurate when using the camera day-after-day.  I used the shot marker whenever I racked convergence so that I would have a reference point in post when viewing in 2D single channel.  The convergence dial that shares Iris is small but usable and takes some getting used too.  After the second day of shooting, I got the hang of switching from iris to convergence and using the dial for both without taking my eye off the viewfinder, but it took a fair amount of practice.  There is also a button that will turn on 3D guide display, but, again, this is only for rough estimation, and it has no accurate distance of measurement built in. Zooming with the camera requires manual convergence adjustment to keep your subject depth accurate.  This is not automatically handled in the camera. It is highly recommended that you rent a 3D capable monitor if you rent this camera.  If you plan on shooting well and if you measure everything out, this is less of an issue, but realistically there is more to consider than just distances and convergence.  Another potential issue:  reflections and highlights which in the 3D world really pop on the screen and can be distracting, ruining your shot.  There were several shots I did that in 2D looked great, but when shot in 3D they were blown.  If I had monitored on location with a 3D monitor like the Panasonic BT-3DL2550, a 25.5″ 3D LCD I would have caught these highlights immediately in order to see which adjustments could be made to correct them.  This monitor will be available in the Rental inventory soon.  This next point might seem obvious, but, because both cards record simultaneously, you cannot eject a card while shooting or your shot will be lost. In a world of cameras that shoot dual solid state media, many people forget that you must treat the two cards as one card. Luckily the cards are located behind a locked plastic door which will keep you from accidentally pushing into and ejecting a card. The next major consideration when using the camera is post-production.  In my test case I used CineForm Neo 3D via FirstLight rather than as a plug-in on a MacPro 8-Core with 16GB of RAM.  A decent amount of RAM is a good idea especially if you are making adjustments and want to have real-time playback in the viewer.  Neo 3D works directly with the AG-3DA1 and allows you to bring in right and left channels independently. The main benefit of Neo 3D is that you can work with your footage in post without having a 3D monitor if you choose anaglyph and if you have the appropriate 3D glasses to match.  Luckily 3D glasses are trendy again and you can find them almost anywhere! My local gas station sells cyan magenta glasses for $1.  I picked up a pair and they worked perfectly.  Once in Firstlight you can select side by side, stacked, fields, onion skin, difference, anaglyph cyan magenta, anaglyph black and white, anaglyph amber blue, etc.  You can also swap eyes, monitor in 2D or just use left or right eye views.  In passive mode you can adjust parallax using the built-in vectorscope which you can also burn into the video. Working in the 3D tab of Cineform Neo 3D, you can adjust horizontal and vertical which can correct any convergence mistakes that might have been made in addition to depth tilt. This is all keyframe-able as well. There is also correction for primary curves on the encode and decode as well as Debayering and basic looks that can be assigned to the footage. If you do not have Cineform Neo 3D there are other solutions that will work such as the Quantel Pablo, Avid Media Composer (3.5 and up), Final Cut Studio (with plug-ins), Iridas, Dashwood 3D toolbox, Adobe and others.  A plug-in for CineForm Neo3D for Adobe will be released within a few months.

CineForm Neo 3D FirstLight stand alone application.

To sum up the experience, the Panasonic AG-3DA1 was great to work with.  Again I cannot reiterate enough the importance of being prepared in advance with pre-production, production and post-production well thought-out before shooting.  This should be the case with any shoot but more so with the special considerations of 3D.  The idea of a 3D camera that can be used with little to no crew is unheard of and the 3DA1’s small form factor allows for shots you could only get with a SI-3D rig.   If you are planning to shoot 3D but have no experience with 3D beam-splitter rigs or side-by-side rigs, and if you have a small budget, you really should check-out the AG-3DA1 camera.  You, too, can make a 3D feature, short, commercial, web project or spot without significant training or budget.  The Panasonic AG-3DA1 is now available in Rentals. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

Posted on

Expendables for Students at Production Outfitters!

As the school year approaches, the Production Outfitters store here at Rule Boston Camera is gearing up for the influx of new and returning students! With a wide inventory of expendables such as light meters, American Cinematographer Manuals, and many different technical books on Video, Audio, and Film, students will receive a discount on all light meters with a special discount on autographed copies of David E. Elkins, book, “The Camera Assistant’s Manual” during his Learning Lab “Nuts & Bolts of the AC Position” held on Wednesday, August 25th from 10am to 12n. Visit the Production Outfitters store for all the essential items a student needs to round out their film classes! Gen Andrews, Production Outfitters Store

Posted on

Nikon To Enter The Fray With New Video DSLRs?

According to the various rumor sites, Nikon might be close to announcing a new video DSLR camera (D3100) in about a week, with another to follow in mid-september (D95).  While there is a multitude of speculation as to what will come out in press releases before Photokina from Canon and Nikon, we should digest our rumors slowly, and with several grains of hopeful salt. Adam Van Voorhis, Equipment Technician

Posted on

Convergent Design NanoFlash

There are multiple field recorders currently on the market with several that stand out from the crowd. The NanoFlash holds a unique position in this area as it is smaller than most units and is completely solid state with no moving components. The NanoFlash is a huge step up from Convergent Design’s first model, the FlashXDR, with regard to size, ease-of-use and flexibility. I think of the Nano as a bug-free version of the XDR, a sort of evolution of the product that was much needed. I want to preface the fact that the NanoFlash is a 100% improvement over the XDR. Not only is the NanoFlash (as it’s named) small, but it’s packed with features that exceed most field recorders. I have used the NanoFlash numerous times on Steadicam shoots as an on-board recorder and back-up for the camera; and it’s always been rock solid — never failing me in terms of functionality or expectations. Eventually I started requesting it on commercial jobs strictly as a secondary (and in some cases as a primary) solid-state back-up recorder.

I recommend the NanoFlash for any camera that has an HD/SD-SDI output or HDMI output as a fail-safe or as a way to rejuvenate life into a tape-based camera that has a great block and sensor. In most cases you can achieve higher quality than the codec in the camera itself (example Sony PMW-EX3 or EX1). Both the EX1R and the EX3 are 35Mbps solid state cameras which are already of a fairly high quality to begin with due to their 1/2″ sensors. They do a pretty decent job with green-screening for example but when coupled with the NanoFlash at 100Mbps the keys are significantly better and require less feathering and tweaking of the image. There is a visible difference between footage shot onto the SxS card versus the NanoFlash. Many field users use the Nanoflash as the primary recorder and the SxS cards as a back-up due to the bump up in quality of the recording. Outside of cameras that have lower bit rates, the NanoFlash also helps retain the value of your higher-quality, tape-based cameras and keep up with current tapeless work flows. Another prime use of the Nanoflash is for POV camera heads like the Iconix HD-RH1 and Toshiba IK-HD1 that do not have a recorder built-in. Because the NanoFlash has a Hirose 4-Pin power connector there is a host of powering options from Hirose, Anton Bauer P-Tap, XLR4 Pin, etc.

Highlights that stand out immediately are the selectable bit rates that vary from 18 to 280Mbps and 4:2:2 sampling. 100Mbps is of course the perfect balance of bit rate and storage availability. Footage can be recording in Quicktime, MXF, or MPG (Sony MPEG2 Codec) formats which work with the majority of NLEs out there including Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Studio. The unit records to compact flash cards which are off the shelf items these days, which is a huge benefit since they are readily available in most cities and towns. You can use two Compact Flash cards in the NanoFlash, but right now you can only record to one card at a time. This will be changed in a future firmware update which, of course, will then allow for you to hand-off a copy to your editor and then vault or archive the second copy. The other benefit over a built-in hard drive is that you can bring a pile of CF cards with you and continue to shoot without the need to dump the media. All-day shoots are possible as the card spans to the next slot allowing you to swap out the card not being used. Hot-swapping is a feature that is going to be added in a future firmware upgrade. The NanoFlash has an on-board LCD display that features recording format, input format, time code, card capacity, battery voltage and audio levels. Both the HD/SD-SDI and HDMI feature loop-thru and can be used as a playback recorder when hooked up to a monitor in the field or studio. The unit features several methods of Timecode input like Embedded via HD/SD-SDI, LTC in, internal record run and Time-of-Day. I should mention audio — the unit features a 3.5mm mini jack which in most cases will not be used if you are using embedded audio. This feature is handy, however, if you want to feed from a field mixer instead of using the on-board camera audio. When recording to 720 and 1090i the NanoFlash has limited capture frame rates but when recording 1080P or 1080PSF most common rates are covered like 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97 and 30. I should mention there is a NanoFlash 3D which is comprised of two synchronized units for stereoscopic recording and playback. The NanoFlash 3D features a combiner function to mix left and right frames to either side-by-side, top and bottom or line-by-line onto one HD-SDI cable. If you are looking for a handy field recorder that will increase the quality of your work for under $3200 you should seriously consider the NanoFlash. The company offers 24/7 support, and in my own experience with the unit, I have never had an issue with the product. Convergent Design has issued numerous free firmware updates over the past year, each adding significant functionality to the product. As a cinematographer, Steadicam operator and editor the benefits of the unit are strong for its price point. For Steadicam, in particular, there really isn’t anything that comes close in regard to size and versatility. I can see hundreds of other applications for the unit like helmet cams for skydiving, covert applications in law enforcement / military use, etc. Wrapping up, if you have space constraints like shooting in a car or a jet, helmet cam, Steadicam, etc., the NanoFlash is a great choice for you. If you are using a lower-end codec or your camera has an HD/SD-SDI spigot or HDMI output the NanoFlash can allow for higher-quality work. If you simply need a simultaneous copy of what you are shooting or just do not have a way to record your footage, the NanoFlash could be the right choice for you. Mike Sutton, Senior Account Manager Twitter: @MNS1974

Posted on

Waiting for Alexa

As a rental house, we have supplied the lineage of ARRI cameras for close to 30 years.  The transition from film to digital cinema has introduced many players into the camera production game, but for the most part ARRI has been in the digital shadows with the limited mainstream success of their D-20 and D-21 cameras.  The Alexa is the first ARRI Digital Camera that holds great promise for a wide range of cinematographers and a variety of productions.  Our Rental Department is  very excited about the release of this new camera system, and we anticipate the camera quickly becoming the first choice for commercial as well as feature productions.  Its compact design, light-weight and well-conceived accessories along with its affordable price will serve to make it a versatile tool right out of the box. The Alexa is the ideal camera for both the rental house and the shooter because it takes all of the same lenses and accessories which former ARRI cameras used.  The Super 35mm chip size will afford a level of DOF and Field of View familiar to cinematographers.  The Alexa offers multiple options for recording images.  Commercial productions will be attracted to the camera’s ability to record Quicktime/ProRes files to two onboard SxS cards for an easy post workflow.  The Camera also has the ability to record ARRIRAW files to a third party solid-state recorder which will be an attractive option for features demanding the full potential of the 35mm sensor. We will be receiving our first two cameras hopefully as early as this August (yes, next month!).   We’ll quickly offer them to the rental market and host a session in the Learning Lab to detail the production potential of the camera. Brian Malcolm, General Manager

Posted on

Arctic Butterfly® 724 Sensor Brush & Amp, BriteVue Sensor Loupe 7X

We had heard about this cleaning brush/loupe combo for CCD/CMOS sensors before.  So we eventually got it, and we’re glad we did.  I’m happy to report that it’s an excellent tool and it works great! We got the Arctic Butterfly® 724 (Super Bright) equipped with 2 super bright LEDs Sensor Brush & Visible Dust BriteVue Sensor Loupe 7X. First, you look at the sensor with lighted loupe, find the dust particles and clean the brush, rotating it (electric motor is built-in) while simultaneously charging the fibers (electrostatic charge).  You then swipe the sensor clean with it and confirm it’s condition with the loupe. Rotate the brush again to get rid of the dust.  Done. Zbigniew Twarog, Chief Engineer

Posted on

Rule Tech Expo is just around the corner

I am really looking forward to next week’s Rule Tech Expo.  To see a formal description go to http://www.rule.com/TechExpo For those of you that are not aware, Rule is hosting its first annual mini tradeshow along with several 1 hour presentations in our Learning Lab. Our entire office will be filled with several dozen “booths” featuring many of the manufacturers that we work with every day.  You will be able to see their latest offerings and ask lots of questions.  Additionally Rule’s sales and rental teams will be out in force with equipment set up for you to poke and prod as well. Many of the items that you may be interested in purchasing will be in stock for purchase at the show – just visit our Showroom or Production Outfitters areas during your visit if you are interested in carrying home a goody or two. This year presentations in the Learning Lab will include: Panasonic’s Michael Bergeron will be in to show and talk about their upcoming 3D camera along with professional 3d monitoring, switching and more! AJA and Gary Adcock will be in to discuss how the Kona3 can work in 3D and show some examples of 3D with Cineform. Cinematographer Brian Heller and and our own Tim Coughlan will be showing off our BRAND NEW Phantom HD Gold high speed camera. If you are worried that you didn’t RSVP in time, there is still time and we are happy to have you! We look forward to seeing you on Tuesday June 22nd from 5:00pm to 9:00pm at our facility in Brighton or on Thursday June 24th from 10:00am to 3:00pm in Manchester, NH. Tom Talbot Director of Technology

Posted on

13 High-Speed Phantom Cameras Used at 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa…

Eight Vision Research Phantom v640 and five Phantom HD cameras are currently being used in South Africa to shoot the 2010 World Cup Soccer Tournament.  I watched a few games already, and noticed that the slow motion was used very frequently — and not just for replays of the latest goals, shots or fouls, but also to show the audience dancing, singing and enjoying the show.  I  specifically liked the close-up shots of the athletes’ faces in slow motion with muscles rippling under the skin, showing all the effort and emotion and delivering quite a new visual quality… Zbigniew Twarog, Chief Engineer

Posted on

Phantom HD Gold at Rule…

…the first high-speed HD camera arrived at Rule yesterday.  With up to 1000 frames and 2K resolution, it’s quite easy to use, especially with laptop and controlling software (although more difficult with on camera controls).  It requires some learning! This camera has firmware v.661.  It is controlled by v.687 of Phantom Camera Control (PCC) software (on laptop) now. The newer software is available – v.689, but we have to make sure, that it works properly. There have been some issues reported.  We’ll keep you posted! Zbigniew Twarog, Chief Engineer