I finally succumbed, and bought a proper camera. A video camera, none of your stills nonsense, nor yet a stills camera masquerading as a video camera (though that’s, you know, a really nice piece of kit. Ahem). No, anyway, I have a snappily-named Panasonic AG-HMC151E.

Caution: geek post follows.

  1. It rocks.
  2. Low light performance is quite remarkable. It’s not that the sensors are particularly light-hoovery, more that the gain noise is extremely smooth. Even 12dB looks pretty good.
  3. Depending on your international region, it’s an HMC150, HMC151, HMC152, and likely a few others too. Panasonic, this is daft. You can’t google wildcard string matches. Durr.
  4. The manual is pretty awful. Most of it’s in a PDF, it’s surprisingly hard to find out what some of the buttons do, and most of the picture tweak settings (matrix, master pedestal, knee, skin tone detail, whothewhatthewherenow?) are barely explained at all. There’s lots to tweak, and it’s hard to know where to start without a test chart and a vision engineer on hand. Blech.
  5. The new Final Cut Pro 6.0.5 update pretty much fixes import/ProRes transcode problems for the HMC’s AVCHD format video. But…
  6. You still need to disable Perian, or Log & Transfer crashes and takes Final Cut with it. Though, so far, for me, only with 720p50 files. Odd. Also:
  7. 720p25 still doesn’t work correctly: I see occasional but bad macroblock glitches in my test footage. Back to 1080p25 for me…
  8. I’ve seen reports that dropping the bitrate from the top ‘PH’ mode to ‘HA’ mode (who names this crap?) solves import problems… but then, there are no progressive settings at HA bitrates. Clang!
  9. The best place to go for information is the DVXUser forum. Great community.
  10. The cheap 16Gb Class 6 SDHC cards I bought from MyMemory.co.uk (in Jersey) seem just fine, so far. I probably needn’t have hedged my bets buying half own-brand, half-Kingston Class 4.
  11. High-capacity batteries are still not available from Panasonic UK, though they’ve said ‘first two weeks of December’, and that they’ll contact me when they have news.
  12. I think it’s going to fit the Century bars/matte box from my old PD150. Unbelievable. If only I had some filters to use it with…

So far, I’m impressed. Some of the buttons seem a bit more flimsy than I’d expected, and I’ve acres of manual to plough through, but the camera handles very well and the footage I’m seeing looks terrific. Considering it’s, you know, shot in my messy flat, at night.

It’s seeming like a camera that begs to be run in fully-manual modes, which is probably a good thing for me, but may turn out to be something of a design flaw – conceptually, it’s a camera well-suited to run-and-gun filming with untrained camera operators, turning footage around and publishing it to the web extremely quickly. Solid performance in auto may be anathema to ‘proper’ camera operators, but… who’s one of those, these days?

It’ll be interesting to see how it performs in practice; it may well be that the autos are just peachy, and it’s simply that the buttons for manual are bigger and better-placed than they are on the Sony Z1, tempting me to push them.

First proper shoot is next week, I think, then we’ll put it through its paces in a bunch of workshops. Before all that I’ll have to try strapping microphones to it, and it’s going to take me days to work out how to operate the new Kata bag I bought with the thing…