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Panasonic AG-AC90 Review

With loads of professional features, excellent image quality and an affordable price, the Panasonic AG-AC90 is a great value.

With so much attention placed on DLSRs and interchangeable lens camcorders today, Panasonic has continued to focus a great deal of effort on improving an old design.

The Panasonic AG-AC90 full HD, 3MOS AVCCAM handheld camcorder packs a number of very nice pro features into an extremely well balanced, lightweight and reasonably-priced prosumer level piece of equipment. The level of improvement and detail given to the automatic features will appeal to the run-n-gun, single-shooter types among us, while the ability to switch to manual controls will put a smile on the face of pretty much everyone else.

Familiar Design


Though not an interchangeable lens camera, the lens it comes with is quite capable. The fast lens (f1.5 fully open) allows loads of light to hit the sensor, always a good thing - particularly in low light situations. Optical zoom is a respectable 12x and controlling it the middle of the three rings on the lens barrel or one of the two zoom rocker switches - one at the top of the handle and the other atop the hand grip on the right side - each near its own thumb-accessible record button. The rocker switches are right-now responsive, while the zoom ring is much smoother, allowing you to ease in and out and vary the speed of your zoom.

 

The focus ring allows you to achieve manual focus while Push AF (assigned to a User button) lets you switch temporarily to auto for a quick assist from the camera. Two buttons on the control panel affect your focusing options: Focus A/M switches between auto and manual focus, while Focus Assist outlines the areas in focus with red (the only color choice). Older eyes will find this a very welcome feature.
        

There are no neutral density or video gain switches or dials on this camera. These tasks are instead integrated into the iris ring. At one end of the exposure spectrum, the iris is fully closed. It begins to open at f11 and continues to open wider until it reaches f1.5 - fully open. At settings wider than f2.8 neutral density filtering is automatically applied in increasing degrees. Continue to rotate the iris ring beyond fully open and gain is applied in 1dB increments up to a maximum of 30dB. The tradeoff here is that as gain is added, noise increases. The AC90 however has some of the cleanest gain we have seen, with increases to 20dB being relatively noise free and very usable. Exposure assist features include a Zebra button on the control panel with two zebra settings and a marker function.
        

The placement of the LCD represents an interesting design change to this otherwise familiar format. Most LCD panels fold up flat against the side of the camcorder, covering frequently used buttons. The AC90’s LCD panel slides out from a crosspiece at the front of the handle then rotates vertically up to 270 degrees for high and low angle, or self, shooting. The high-res panel is sharp, crisp and touch sensitive. The touchscreen controls menu and playback options, all of which are nicely responsive and easy to navigate. The retractable nature of the LCD provides a high level of protection to the screen when safely tucked away, but care should be used when the screen is out and while putting it away, so that it isn’t struck or forced at an angle.

Attention to Audio


Of course, a huge part of the success of any video production is the quality of its audio and the AC90 includes numerous options to enable you to achieve that goal. Its built-in mic is capable of 5.1 surround sound or two-channel stereo capture with both focus and zoom functions.
        

Although this audio is certainly usable, we know it is better to get the microphone closer to your subject than the camera as often as possible. To this end, the AC90 includes two XLR inputs on the right side of the crosspiece at the front of the handle. Opposite the inputs, at the other side of the crosspiece, is a hinged plastic cover, housing line/mic and phantom power switches. A second cover at the rear of the control panel protects the input source selection switches and gain control dials. These dials can be accessed through holes in the cover, without having to open it first, for gain adjustments on the fly.

Peak Performance


Three 1/4.7 type MOS, 1080p image sensors (one for each primary color - RGB) combined with highly sensitive backside illumination (BSI) and dense pixel shifting technology delivers extremely sharp pictures without aliasing, excellent color reproduction and a broad dynamic range. Shadows and highlights are right where we like to see them. The AVCHD format records at a color sample ratio of 4:2:0[MH2] - nice for high quality chromakey work. 
        

The Intelligent Auto Mode and Hybrid Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS) will likely appeal to run-n-gunners in particular. The auto mode automatically detects shooting conditions and adjusts every parameter accordingly. Of course, we like our manual controls, but for those times when it’s shoot it or lose it, Intelligent Auto Mode does an excellent job. Hybrid OIS combines the best of both optical and electronic approaches to image stabilization, analyzing motion along five axes for excellent results - some of the best we’ve seen in fact.
        

In addition to awesome video images, the AC90 also takes very nice 3MP still photos, recording everything to SD cards. With dual memory card slots, your recording time can be extended by automatically switching to the second memory card when the first becomes full. Backup recording records the same material to both cards simultaneously for safety. And, if at any time one card fails, recording continues on the second card so you don’t lose the shot.

With excellent image results, reasonable pricing, all these features and too many more to mention, the Panasonic AG-AC90 has a lot to offer enthusiasts and prosumers alike.
        
Contributing Editor Mark Holder is a video producer and trainer.

 

Panasonic

www.panasonic.com

Price: $2,250

 

Strengths

Excellent image quality
Highly effective OIS
Very clean gain
Backup recording on second memory card

Weaknesses

No magnified focus assist

Tech Specs


Pickup Devices: 1/4.7 type 3MOS image sensors
LCD: 3.5” wide
Viewfinder: .24” wide EVF
Lens: Auto Iris optical zoom (full range AF)
Focal Length: f1.5 to f2.8 (2.84mm to 34.1mm)
Filter Diameter: 49mm
Zoom: 12x optical, 25x i.Zoom, 2x/5x/10x digital
Image Stabilizer: Optical (hybrid optical image stabilizer, active mode)
Microphone: 5.1 ch surround (with zoom/focus function), stereo microphone
Recording Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC Memory Card
Recording Format: AVCHD version 2.0 compliant, AVCHD Progressive
Motion Picture Compression: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
Audio Compression: Dolby Digital (5.1ch/2ch)
Still Picture Recording Format: JPEG
Video Output: AV Multi, HDMI
Audio Input/Output: Line (2ch - AV Multi terminal), HDMI (Dolby Digital), headphones, XLR (2)
Input/Output: USB, camera remote
Weight: Approx. 3.3lb. - main unit only; Approx. 3.9lb - with battery and SD card
Dimensions (WxHxD): 6-5/6”x7-11/16”x13-1/16”

 

 

 

 

 

Tags:  June 2013
Mark
Holder
Tue, 04/23/2013 - 3:45pm

Comments

There are a few limitations to it though and I highly recommend doing some detailed research before you purchase, because for some folk (especially pro's) some of the limitations could be deal breakers.  The biggest (but somewhat expected) limitation I know is the low light capabilities.  I have yet to see a side to side of cameras in its price bracket, but its definately nowhere near as light sensitive as the cameras in the $5k market.  Since you can't interchange lens you get what you get.  I do agree the gain is very very clean so its not easy to compare cameras just based on spec's.  There is a side by side (but not really that well done test) of it vs the AG-AC130 (a $3300 camera) on You Tube and its obvious the limitations.  Guessing since the tests I have seen are far from scientific you are talking about 2-3 stops.  So that may mean when you are used to shooting at say 2.8 the AG-AC90 will be at 20db.  What is needed is someone who can compare cameras adjust them both to look about the same with the AG-AC90 at 20db, 30db, 8db, etc.   Another thing I would love to see is how the 30db footage when run through Neat Video looks.  Comparisons with other cameras using that software would be quite interesting.

 

On the other hand, I would love to compare this cameras video image to others (even DSLRs) when there is plenty of light.  The built-in ND has its limitations and for most folk you will need to purchase at least an ND2.  I would recommend you spend a little more and look at NDs without the IR problems the cheaper ND's have.  The built-in ND's are also problematic with IR.

 

Lack of mounting points other than at the bottom and the hot shoe mount at the top.  For instance I wanted to be able to hold a 7" external monitor, and a 312 LED (about 7") light panel on mine at the same time and I that its not something I can simply do.

 

Many of the features though are awesome.  The image stabilization, dual SD recording, automatic functions are quite solid (though they have many limitations too), the feel, battery life, SD card recording time, 60 fps shooting speed, mutiple side buttons. LCD display, built-in XLRs all make this a valid purchase to those who are very price conscious.

steve4505's picture

I am seeing NEX-VG30 and the HXR-NX700U are both around $2,700.  Either of these "might" be better in some ways, but not in others.  Yes there is a difference of almost $800-1000..  The HXR-NX700U is the closest of the 2 to compare, but you really are not comparing apples to apples.   For instance, look at the sensors.

Thomas C's picture

Thanks, Steve. Actually, as I'm an accomplished rookie (burned off lots of tape and worked with Pinnacle Studio for years, but don't know my head from my ass when it comes to real videography and equipment!), almost any info helps. There are sooooooooooooo many camcorders available about the only way to compare is by price. I'm finding out, as you mentioned, that price is not a very good way to compare different models and brands. So, thank you. (Tom)

TomB's picture

Can the camera switch between cards without a break in recording and can you change SD cards while recording?

 

I only ask because I have seen the camera has a 25min record limit because of its FAT32 make up, for live events such as football match this is a deal breaker.

Thomas C's picture

TomB - I am no expert so I went to Panasonic's website (link = http://www.panasonic.com/business/provideo/ag-ac90.asp) and found this statement in their description of this camcorder:

 

"With two SD slots for continuous recording, the AC90 can record up to 12 hours on two 64GB SDB cards in PS mode,. (There will be a skip in the video as it changes to the second card) The two slots can also be utilized for simultaneous back-up recording. Additionally the camera can be set up to record video on one card and the Stills on the second card."

 

Hope that helps answer your question.

steve4505's picture

The camera will switch automatically to the hopefully empty, formated and unprotected card. There is no loss in video but a 1/2 second loss in audio.  Recognize that one $50 64 gig card can hold almost 6 hours of video though so you should have been able to avoid this 1/2 second of audio issue anyways.  If you were using much smaller cards yes you can pull out the one not being written to while still recording.  I wouldn't do that because you will bump the camera so you might as well loose the 7 seconds it takes to power down the camera swap SD and start it up and hit record again (I just timed it).  The camera tells you how much time is left on the SD card so a smart operator should be able to figure when to swap cards even during a football game.

 

There is no 25 min recording limit.  The limit is actually 12 hours.   However, when importing files you must carefully follow the procedure your NLE needs with bigger files.  What happens is it will break a long recording into 4 GB files.  There is metadata that links these spanned clips together.  Some NLE and software do not correctly handle these pieces (I've not heard of any specifically) and FCPX handles them just fine.  

joelmmh's picture

Well the question is if this camera can send HD QUALITY VIDEO from the AV MULTI connector, what I want to do is to send the image from this camcorder to a TRICASTER 40 by a long (100 ft) component cable, if I do this would it all be in HD? Thanks

Suagrmedic's picture

I have an AG-AC90 and love it. Mainly do work related conferences and training videos with it. The battery life is unbeatable. The 4GB issue with premiere pro (ect) is no problem you must transfere the entire folder named "private" over and there will be no bumps or drops unless you make an entire card switch out.