Panasonic arguably created the definitive DV camera with their 24p AG-DVX100A, giving professional results to the camcorder crowd. Their high-definition offering, the AG-HVX200, is looking to change the world again. And indeed they may succeed. The HVX200 is a solid HD camera whose technological advancements spell out the future of filmmaking.
For a four-figure camera, the HVX200 gives you a lot. It’s set up a lot like its little brother the DVX, but there’s clearly more bells and whistles; deeper zoom, more control over the curves, variable frame rates, and, perhaps most easy to spot, native 16:9 recording (no more shopping for lens adapters). And then you switch over to high-definition mode, and that’s where the HVX really shines. It’s the best image quality you’re likely to find at this price range. Just one look at the crystal-clear flip-out LCD screen will confirm you’ve made a good investment in the HVX200. Best of all, you can, for the first time (unless you’ve got six figures to drop), record 24p in high-definition. It’s everything you want from film without the film. Sadly, this level of HD functionality is not available when recording to tape, only on P2 cards.
It is the P2 card system that provides the sharpest kick in the behind to the end user. DV tapes are as welcome as ever, but you can also record clips on a P2 card that works sort of like a pop-out hard drive. Indeed, when shooting HD the camera definitely steers you toward P2 cards. The card stores your clips in little individual files that you can import to your computer, or even directly into editing software such as Final Cut Pro, with one simple maneuver. For some, this will be exciting. But you also need to wipe your P2 card clean before using it each time, and you only get about ten minutes of HD to a card. If you don’t have an assistant and a laptop to download footage from one card while you shoot on the other, things will slow up quite a bit. And forget trying to do long continuous documentary shoots with that kind of workflow. In addition, some filmmakers may balk at not having a physical backup of their raw footage as they did on celluloid or videotape. If P2 cards were cheap, this wouldn’t be an issue. But for a camera designed to give HD functionality to the prosumer-level filmmaker, this is regrettable; it excludes rather than extends the once-common turf of digital video.
But maybe money isn’t a problem. This is, after all, without a doubt a tool for the professional cinematographer (or at least aspiring professional), as the price tag will confirm. You won’t be recording your kid’s birthday party on this. But for the serious filmmaker, HD is the future, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a higher-quality camera than this at any theoretically affordable price. Buy the Panasonic AG-HVX200, not as a possession but an investment; rent it out on occasion and it just might pay for itself. In the end, let the high-definition screenshots speak for themselves; the rest will follow.