As new tech results in a smaller, lighter, HD video camera, the form factor gets more difficult to manage while shooting handheld. Panasonic dusts off some old tech and comes to the rescue with a new camcorder with a shoulder mount, the AG-AC8.
With the advent of DSLRs, smart phone cameras and pint-sized HD video camcorders, we have seen an explosion of new stabilizing devices hit the market. At the same time we have had to adjust our handheld techniques accordingly. Back in the good ole' days, a 25-pound camera perched firmly on your shoulder made it relatively easy to get rock solid handheld shots, but today's featherweight devices seem to almost float and are susceptible to every bounce and bobble that comes along.
Combining today's camcorder technologies with yesterday's tried-and-true shoulder mount form factor, the 5-pound (not 25, thank goodness!) AG-AC8 should be a great performer at weddings, documentaries, sports events and more.
Checkin' It Out
Shooting with a shoulder mount camera is about as solid as it gets. You've got four points of contact to form a solid base: the shoulder, the side of the head, the left hand on the lens and the right hand wrapped firmly around the hand grip with the thumb and fingers at the zoom, shutter release and record controls.
The AG-AC8 doesn’t have a lot of buttons, but it does make it easy to get to the most-used features. On the side of the lens is a Camera Function button, which cycles through white balance, shutter, iris and zoom. Rotating the lens ring in any function changes the associated settings. For example, WB lets you select between auto, manual and several presets while iris options range from f/12 to f/1.8. Continue to rotate the ring past f/1.8 and gain is added in 1dB increments to a maximum of 30.
Shooting with a shoulder mount camera is about as solid as it gets. You've got four points of contact to form a solid base.
An LED ring located where the fixed lens barrel joins the body glows blue when in standby and red when recording, for easy verification of the current shooting status. A switch on the lower body selects between video, still and playback modes, and below that the O.I.S. button quickly switches the optical image stabilizer on or off. To the right of these is another three-position switch for selecting between intelligent auto and manual settings. The third position toggles between focus and zoom, allowing the lens ring to be used to make manual focus adjustments. Directly below this switch is a button for accessing the menu, with a four-position navigation pad and enter button to its right. Within the menu, you can turn on or off the very handy red-highlighted focus peaking function and histogram.
The battery plugs into the rear of the AG-AC8 alongside the AV and component outputs. On the right side are three hinged flip-down doors that access the charging, headphone, host, device USB and HDMI ports. Lastly there are SD/SDHC/SDXC media card slots that can be set to dual relay for auto switching, or simultaneous recording.
We found the AG-AC8 to be quite a capable camcorder. HD video color reproduction is very accurate, resulting in truly beautiful images. Even in fairly low light, colors come through nicely. The unit's overall low light performance is good with low levels of noise throughout. The dynamic range is average for this price while contrast and detail capabilities are quite good.
The optical image stabilization system is very effective for stationary handheld shooting, less so while walking, but still noticeably better. We tested autofocus response time by focusing on something very close then moving away to an object in the distance and then moving back to the nearer object. Each time the response was acceptable. We panned back-and-forth across a tall tree to check out the rolling shutter effect and were surprised to see among the least distortion of any CMOS based camera we've tested so far.
The built-in stereo microphone sits directly above the lens and picks up audio signals quite well. Like all such microphones, however, it is very sensitive to handling noise. The mic gives some dominance to sounds coming from the front with slight rejection to those coming from the sides and rear. Happily, the AG-AC8 comes with a separate external stereo microphone and windscreen with built-in shock mount that attaches to one of the two accessory shoes and plugs into a nearby 1/8-inch port. While not a pro shotgun mic with XLR connectors, it does offer some improvement over the built-in mic.
The AG-AC8 combines quality HD video and still capture capabilities with a form factor well suited to anyone seeking those rock solid handheld shots.
Panasonic Corporation of North America
Imaging Sensor: 1/4.5-type MOS
Lens: Panasonic Lens, f/1.8 (wide), f/3.5 (tele)
Zoom: Optical 21x; Intelligent 50x; Digital 60x/1500x
Focal Length: 2.8-59.2mm
LCD: 3” wide LCD; 460,800 dots
Recording Formats: AVCHD MPEG4-AVC/H.264
Recording Resolutions: 1920x1080 (60p, 60i, 50p, 50i) 1440x1080 (60i, 50i), 1280x720 (60p, 50p), 720x480 (60i), 720x576 (50i)
Media: SD/SDHC/SDXC card
Minimum Illumination: 2.0 lux (Low Light scene mode); 1.0 lux (Color Night View)
Image Stabilizer: HYBRID O.I.S.+
White Balance: Auto/Indoor1 and 2/Sunny/Cloudy/White set
Interface: HDMI Type A, stereo mini mic, stereo mini headphones, USB 2.0, AV, Component
Weight (without battery): 5lb.
Dimensions (WxHxD): 8.1” x 8.5” x 18.9” (20.6cm x 21.6cm x 48cm)
- Stable, shoulder mount form factor
- Focus peaking
- Great HD video and stills
- Hollow, plastic feel
Contributing Editor Mark Holder is a video producer and trainer.