Thoughts on the AF100 after 1.5 days

Overall, it feels absolutely frick'n fantastic to be shooting with a video camera again.  I think I never want to pick up a DSLR for video again.  Having a moveable viewfinder is priceless, The flip out monitor is beautiful and in conjunction with the focus in red, is easy to use for critical focus.
Audio, Duh.  Feels like I'm back on the HVX, audio controls and inputs are straightforward and require no workarounds.
1080 Variable Frame Rates.  In a word, stunning.  Goodbye 720.
Push button waveform monitor.  Awesome.
Slow shutter during time-lapse (up to 1/2 sec), thank you.
The four thirds chip feels like a great middle ground in terms of depth of field control.  If you need shallow, open up your stop, crank the neutral density wheel and you've got it.  Need deep focus for more uncontrolled situations?  Crank the ND wheel to 0 and stop down.  Compared to the 5D where I always was sweating about focus, unsure if I was focused or not, particularly on a wide lens where the fall off is not as obvious.  With this camera, I will never feel that way again.  Also the ND wheel is something I will never take for granted.  It's so fast and easy, this will be a HUGE timesaver.
One surprise was that the autofocus with the lumix 14-140 lens is actually quite useable!  I had no intentions of ever using it, but when testing it out, I thought it performed quite admirably and I'm now sure I'll find myself using the manual mode with pushbutton auto quite often.  One slight bummer is that auto focus for some reason cannot be used if you have VFR turned on.
Another nice surprise was the function knob.  It's main use is to move a box on the viewfinder to set where you want autofocus and auto iris to take readings from, but the nice surprise is that you can use it to adjust the whitebalance in kelvin.  Just set the whitebalance switch to preset, toggle from 32, 56, to VAR.  Then the function knob can be used to adjust it manually!  Very cool, I'd love to see the use of the function knob expand to allow other things like switching scene files without going into the menu.
The image itself is fantastic in my eyes.  It's not noise free, but it has that panasonic "mojo" look.  It's not crispy clean like the sony's, it's got some character to it, and that's a positive in my book.  I'm not looking to eliminate every tiny bit of noise, to me it's just texture and character.  I wasn't afraid of grain in the film days, and I still prefer an image with a bit of character, I'll take this over the plastic look of grain free images.  That being said, I think the 3200 ISO on this camera is very clean for the sensitivity it gives.
Another positive is the wide range of tweakable settings in the menu to dial in the look you want.  If the small amount of noise the camera generates bothers you, you can dial it out.  See editman's tests at http://theeditman.com/blogg/2011/01/01/PanasonicAF101NoiseTest.aspx.

There is one big drawback and a few minor ones that I want to mention after using the camera for a day and a half.

First up, the big one.  Perhaps this won't matter to other folks, but to me it's a MAJOR problem.  When VFR (variable frame rate) mode is on, no audio is recorded.  That's not a major surprise.  BUT AUDIO METERS AND HEADPHONE AUDIO ARE ACTIVE WHEN RECORDING IN VFR, BUT NO AUDIO WILL BE RECORDED, EVEN IF YOUR FRAME RATE IS SET TO 24.
In other words, if you have VFR on, frame rate is set to 24, you start recording, you will hear audio in your headphones, the audio meters will be responding to audio, but when you stop recording and play back the shot, there will be no audio.  YOU MUST TURN VFR OFF TO RECORD AUDIO.  That's gonna catch a few people.

The minor problems are more just growing pains on my end.  The main one is that I really really miss the scene file dial.  That thing was a piece of engineering genius.  It made it so easy and fast to switch frame rates.  It seems like they traded it on the AF100 for the shutter/frame rate wheel.  I can get use to it, but I'll always have a place in my heart for the scene file dial.
Another bummer is that you only have 3 sensitivities to choose from at one time.  You have to go to the menu to set the sensitivities you want to use as high, medium and low.  It would be nice to have it work like the whitebalance does where you can use the function knob to set it manually.
Another minor complaint is that the time-lapse mode only allows intervals of 1 sec, 10 sec, 1 min, 2 min.  It would be nice to have more options between 1 and 10.  Also, once you turn interval recording on in the menu, it only lasts for one shot then turns itself off.  It would be nice to have it remain on until you turn it off.

Overall, I'm super happy.  As a documentary/ sports shooter, I am so stoked to be moving on from the SLR world back to a video camera that feels like the right tool for the job.  Thanks to Jan and Panasonic for taking this step into the large sensor video cam world.

All the best, Tim


Todd Sansom said...

Yup, best review I've seen. Great insight on the camera Tim. You're my wizard and sensei. Thanks

McMarkle said...

you sound like a happy camera dude :)