AVCHD Goes Pro
The Panasonic AG-HMC150 is a sign that the AVCHD format has matured from a cumbersome consumer format to a nimble HD choice for event videographers and burgeoning pros.
While editing the content still has its hurdles, the new data-based workflow, even in worst-case scenarios, has its benefits. But it’s not for everyone. Shooters who need long record times, extreme durability and a lightweight camcorder will rejoice. Beyond the obvious advantages, the AG-HMC150 delivers stunning image performance and a proven camcorder design. We think this camcorder is one of the most notable of the year. Let’s take a closer look with our Panasonic AG-HMC150 review to see why it’s a standout camcorder.
Form and function matter to a shooter. The Panasonic AG-HMC150 has carried over a well-thought-out design from the Panasonic AG-DVX100 and AG-HVX200. For owners of these camcorders, the design will look very similar. If you’re new to this design altogether, we think you’ll find it to be a good blend of manual controls that are easy to reach and not too many buttons to clutter the camcorder’s housing.
Most notably, the AG-HMC150 camcorder is very light. The AVCHD format allows for less weight, as there’s no need for a tape transport. This is a great quality for handheld shooters or anyone lugging the camcorder around long hours. Additionally, we don’t see Panasonic skimping on AG-HMC150’s design volume. The camcorder itself is fairly large, which makes it much easier to stabilize and control. That’s an important point of interest to professional shooters. In the end, we experienced only one slight design hiccup. The audio gain controls are a little challenging to get to with the protective shield in place. This shield is there to limit the chances of bumping the gain pots. Avoiding that chance is great, but it annoyed us when we wanted to make gain adjustments. The good news is that you can easily remove this plastic shield and possibly file it down a bit, should you choose to take the risk.
The AG-HMC150 should appeal to a broad category of shooters, with its variable frame rates and several different recording quality options. Formats include 1080/60i, 1080/30p, 1080/24p, 720/60p, 720/30p and 720/24p to choose from. The 720/60p stands out for its ability to work as an over-crank frame rate for smooth slow motion on 30p or 24p playback. Other than that, it’s standard fare of interlaced and progressive formats. Things get interesting, however, with the inclusion of a new, high-quality recording setting.
The PH recording mode is set at 21Mbps. That’s an increase in previously-released AVCHD camcorders that should see benefits in the camcorder’s ability to compress motion more accurately. We’re appreciative of these improvements in quality, but keep in mind this also means more heavy lifting on your processors in editing. You’ll have to balance quality with efficiency if you’ve got a slower system. Otherwise, Panasonic offers a free utility that will convert the AVCHD files into the DVCPRO format. This will reduce the responsibilities of the processor, but will dramatically increase file size. The AVCHD format has its tradeoffs. The clear benefit of the format is the data-based workflow and the native file format’s small file sizes.
Let’s Get Optical
The first thing we noticed about the AG-HMC150 was the wide-angle lens. This zoom lens starts at 28mm (35mm equivalent). That’s a decent wide-viewing angle, perfect for small rooms. And while the 13x zoom doesn’t seem like a great deal of telephoto power, the experience of moving through the lens length from the 28mm starting position reveals lots of wonderful lengths in which to compose compelling shots. All this means there’s a lot of shot lengths for Creative Directors and DPs to choose from. You can also put away your wide-angle converter; it’s 28mm right out of the box, and it has enough on the telephoto side to get you up close and personal.
The Panasonic AG-HMC150 also features color and gamma controls similar to those of the AG-DVX100 and AG-HVX200. The color reproduction of this AVCHD camcorder, despite being a higher compression ratio of 4:2:0, looks great. The progressive scan CCDs also help the AG-HMC150 capture clear images before passing that data through AVCHD compression algorithms. We were pleased with the resolution and details in the images at the higher bitrates. This includes the ability to handle motion as well, which is where the increased compression bandwidth really pays off.
Pro Sound Up Front
Beyond the look and feel of the AG-HMC150, the professional features extend to the audio controls. Two XLR inputs equal two channels of audio that can be controlled independently. We found the gain controls to be heavily guarded (in a good way) by a clear plastic shield that made it unusually difficult to get a good handle on the control. This helps keep the gain pots from being bumped accidentally. Fortunately, you can remove this shield or modify it if you’re clever with a file. To do so, of course, will be modifying at your own risk.
On top of the camcorder, there’s a shotgun microphone holder for the obvious reason of adding said mic. Or the on-board mics will also do the job for the casual shooter. All these options give the shooter some flexibility. You’re limited, however, with the Dolby AC3 audio recording format as the only audio codec. The AC3 audio performed quite well, though.
Finding a Home
Following the footsteps of the AG-DVX100 and AG-HVX200, the AG-HMC150 is set to move right in and find itself at home with a unique set of shooters. Creative videographers who need an HD camcorder with professional controls at a reasonable price will be most interested. The AVCHD format could turn some folks away, as tape still gives us a sense of comfort by familiarity. But, as processing and memory technologies increase, the cost efficiency of the tapeless workflow will ultimately improve and will be the most compelling in the end. The Panasonic AG-HMC150’s superb performance and proven design make it one of the first prosumer-level camcorders poised to cross that tapeless line.
Image Sensor: 3 x 1/3″ CCDs
Interchangeable Lenses: No
Lens f-Stop: f1.6-3.0
Optical Zoom: 13x
Focal Length: 28-368mm
Filter Diameter: 72mm
Iris/Gain Control: Auto/Manual
Shutter Speed: Auto/Manual
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/2000 (60i), 1/1000 (30p, 24p)
Minimum Shutter Speed: 1/15
Image Stabilization: Optical
Internal ND Filter: Yes
Manual White Balance: Yes
Zebra Stripes: Yes
Viewfinder: Color .44″ 235k pixels
LCD Monitor: Color 3.5″ 211k
Progressive Scan: Yes
Video Out: HDMI, component, composite
Audio Modes: Stereo
Microphone In: Yes (XLR)
VU Meter: Yes
Manual Audio Level Controls: Yes
Headphone Jack: Yes
Wireless Remote: Yes
External Battery Charger Provided: Yes
Battery Type: Info Lithium Ion
Form Factor: Standard, horizontal
Memory Card Loading Config.: Back
On-board Video Light: No
Accessory Shoe: Yes
- Long record times
- Professional audio
- Mixed frame rates
- 28mm wide-angle lens
- High-quality recording bitrate
- Editing AVCHD requires dual-core processor
The Panasonic AG-HMC150 is a remarkable camcorder that will make shooting professional HD video a reality for many of us.
Mark Montgomery is Videomaker‘s Technical Editor.
One Panasonic Way
Secaucus, NJ 07094