48 Hours with the Panasonic AG-HMC70U | B&H Photo Video Pro Audio
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48 Hours with the Panasonic AG-HMC70U

By Mark Goodlett

To view a video about the Panasonic AG HMC-70, click here

In the world of broadcast acquisition and cinematography, Panasonic is on the forefront continuously, providing ­"workhorse" camcorders for the industry that hold up to the rigors of production shooting and filmmaking for years. Its underlying mission for providing performance camcorders is to offer targeted solutions that meet and exceed each shooter's market needs with a high-quality production camcorder.

I own a Panasonic AG-DVC200 full-size DV camcorder, and was happy to have the opportunity to test drive the AGHMC70U at a high-school senior banquet and a family Memorial Day backyard cookout. First of all, the AGHMC70U is a shoulder-mounted camcorder, which is a huge plus. It sits very comfortably on the shoulder. The only thing that would add stability would be an Anton-Bauer battery, mounted on the back. If I know Anton-Bauer, they are probably already developing a battery mount for this camera. I love the fact that the camera has locking BNC connections for both composite and component. This would be important for camera operators who are doing live shoots and are connected to a video mixer. One of the biggest surprises about this camera's performance was the zoom rocker. The zoom was very smooth. I like to do a "creep" zoom during weddings, the type you see on soap operas. This camera out-performed my expectations. It was as good as my ENG camera.

Panasonic AG-DVC200
Panasonic AG-DVC200

While the popular pocket-size camcorders serve their purpose for many consumers who want to capture remarkable high-definition footage for their personal use, using these compact wonders in a professional situation may arouse concern for a client, who wants some justification for the total on the videographer's invoice. Using a "full-size" shoulder-mount pro camcorder has many positive ramifications. With the camcorder resting on one's shoulder, a videographer is able to shoot for longer durations, which facilitates the capture of steady, unwavering video. Production videographers need to maintain a "professional look" for their clients. The shoulder-mount pro camcorders not only capture high-quality, professional-looking video, but the cameras themselves provide that respectable, professional look that communicates knowledge and experience to your clients. Even when a manufacturer offers an exact or very similar specification compact camcorder (Panasonic AG-HSC1U) unit within their product line, the "shoulder mount" form factor camcorder delivers a complete level of flexibility and professionalism that you just can't project with a compact camcorder.

Many videographers today will fondly tell you that they started in the industry filming wedding and events with Panasonic "AG-450/456 series, full-size VHS camcorders." They were put to the test and performed dependably as "work-horse" camcorders, and best of all, they "paid the bills."

Panasonic AG-DVC200

In the Field

The first event I shot was a senior high-school banquet. I set the camera to the highest quality mode, recording 13 Mbps (see chart below). I feel the whole purpose of shooting in HD is to get the best picture quality possible. There are two other modes, 9Mbps and 6 Mbps, respectively. These settings will give you more run time on the card with a lower-quality image. The event was held in a gym. I left the camera in the full auto mode. The camera did well early on, but after the lights were dimmed, I found myself wishing I had brought my on-camera light.

For my next shoot I made sure to bring one of my lights (Lowel Pro light with a 50-watt bulb). This shoot took place at a backyard barbecue. With my on-camera light the video looked very good. Even at 18db the picture was still very clean. I also experimented with several manual settings. Although the auto white balance was pretty accurate, I prefer adjusting it manually. I used a white cooler to adjust the white balance. The colors really snapped in both the LCD screen and the viewfinder. The other auto features worked well. Auto focus was good. Speaking about the focus, in order to access any of the manual modes, you need to flip the auto switch near the lens to Manual. Once this is done you now have access to all of the manual modes: white balance, iris, focus etc. There is no focus ring such as on traditional camcorders. The AG-HMC70 uses four directional arrows on the left side of the body, located just under the 3-inch (16:9) LCD monitor. You have to push the left and right arrow switches in order to focus. This is the one thing that did not please me. I guess Panasonic expects most people to use the camera in auto-focus mode. The onboard microphone is good and did not over-modulate, and sound through the headphones was good.

As technology progresses into the realm of high definition, Panasonic still provides entry-level, performance camcorder solutions for serious videographers on a budget. The AG-HMC70U joined the ranks in May 2008 as a very affordable, high-definition SD/SDHC pro camcorder. It maintains its legacy as a tough production tool. This professional shoulder-mounted advanced HD camcorder provides shock-resistant, solid state recording to the popular SD/SDHC media cards. The videographer can have all the benefits of solid state recording. When you press Record the camera starts recording immediately, since there is no need to wait for a tape head to be engaged to start recording, such as with camcorders that record to tape. The absence of moving parts (such as motors and tape transports) provides silent operation and greater resistance to shock and vibration. Flash media is not susceptible to the issues of head clog, brought upon by tape, especially when filming in dusty places. Even more pleasingly,the internal workings of solid state recording camcorders are not affected by temperature variances.

General

The Panasonic AG-HMC70 records high-resolution AVCHD 1080i HD video to small, reliable, and reusable SD/SDHC memory cards that are widely available and inexpensive. It incorporates (3) 1/4" native 16:9 CCD's and a Leica zoom lens. The camcorder supplies a Panasonic 2GB (class 4) SD card, and currently SDHC media cards are obtainable in 2, 4, 8, 16, and 32GB capacities. The 32GB SDHC card (available at B&H) provides 320 minutes of recording time (5 hours 20 minutes) at the highest quality setting. The camcorder has a good complement of A/V inputs and outputs. For live monitoring or dubbing, the AG-HMC70 includes professional BNC component video out, BNC composite video out, and 2-channel audio out using two RCA terminals. For better audio, try the Panasonic MC-70 phantom powered electret shotgun mic, or you can take advantage of the wide variety of professional wired and wireless microphones, since the AG-HMC70 is equipped with two XLR mic/line inputs with "glow in the dark" manual (or auto) level control for each channel, as well as +48V Phantom Power. The camcorder's connectivity includes an HDMI output terminal, a USB 2.0 PC connection, and a headphone jack. The focus assist function worked well, and in addition, the 4:3 and 16:9 guides in the viewfinder and LCD were helpful for keeping my images properly framed.

High-Definition Video Capture Recording Averages onto SDHC Media cards

HD Resolution
AVCHD/H.264
Bit Rate (Mbps)
* 8GB
SDHC Card
16GB
SDHC Card
32GB
SDHC Card
1080i
13 Mbps
Highest Quality Record Mode
1 hr. 20 min.
2 hrs. 40 min.
5 hrs. 20 min.
1080i
9 Mbps
2 hrs.
4 hrs.
8 hrs.
1080i
6 Mbps
3 hrs.
6 hrs.
9 hrs.

* Higher bit rates render better quality imagery, and more information for the computer to work with. Lower bit rates allow more time for recording, but apply more compression.

Workflow (AVCHD Editing)

Tapeless acquisition enables the immediate transfer of video files to computers for editing and distribution without the need for real-time digitization. To open the video footage I shot with the AG-HMC70U, I used my SD card reader (Support for higher capacity SD/SDHC media cards may vary in some SD card readers) via USB to ingest the footage into my 4-year-old Pentium 4 (hyper threading) processor computer. I am running windows XP with Grass Valley Edius Neo, in conjunction with the Panasonic HD Writer software included with the camcorder. With my slow computer, the footage appeared on the screen and I then dragged it into Edius Neo. The 20 minutes of footage I shot took about 7–8 minutes to upload to the hard drive, and there I was able to view and work with the footage. The clips were easy to work with, but at times were a bit choppy, which I attributed to my older computer's processor. I would recommend a dual-core processor—or better— to work with AVCHD video, which is more system intensive.

AVCHD is supported by many non-linear editing applications: There are software compatibility charts available for the AG-HMC70U. A simple-to-use HD Writer 2.5 software for PC is included with the Camcorder. AVCHD editing is now supported on both dual core PC and Mac platforms, and files can be transferred as uncompressed HD video utilizing a simple HDMI to HD-SDI converter. Recently announced pro AVCHD editing support is available in: Avid Xpress Pro, Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 (transcodes via Main Concept), Grass Valley EDIUS Pro v4.5 (transcodes to Canopus HQ), and Apple iMovie, Apple Final Cut Pro 6.0.1 (transcodes to ProRes422). Presently Mac requires the video to be transferred via the camcorder only, not thru an SD card reader. AVCHD consumer editing support is available in: Pinnacle Studio Plus 12 (native), Nero 7 Premium Reloaded (native) and Nero 8 Ultra Edition, Corel Ulead Video Studio 11 plus (with more editing capabilities) and DVD Movie Factory 6 Plus (native) (with more authoring capabilities).

Conclusion

The AG-HMC70 is an affordable, simple, and easy-to-use shoulder-mount design AVCHD solid state camcorder that caters to a variety of video applications such as weddings, schools, houses of worship, corporate video, sports, concerts, events, training, surveillance, documentation, live staging, and web journalism. You get 80 minutes on an 8GB SD card (at the highest quality). The picture and sound are great. And the feel of the zoom rocker is exceptional. Even though color and detail was good indoors, I would recommend a 20w on-camera light or better. I could see this camera being very popular with the wedding and event crowd, as well as in houses of worship or for anyone shooting live, connected to a switcher, or shooting stage performances.

Mark Goodlet, a B&H pro video sales representative, is a member of WEVA (Wedding and Event Videographers Association), NYPV (New York Professional Video Association), and has been shooting wedding and events video since 1987.

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