At the end of October, Panasonic began shipping their new hope in tackling the digital cinematography market, their Varicam 35 4K camera. Earlier in the year, we had a chance to see a production version of the Varicam 35 up close and personal, and we were quite impressed with the modular design and sheer specs. While their Lumix GH4 is receiving success with independent and novice shooters, a different clientele is in mind here.
Priced in-line with the RED Dragon at roughly $50,000 for a head plus recorder package, but before any lenses or accessories are purchased, it’s easy to call this a bold move for the electronics giant.
They’ve come into the field with their guns drawn, as the Varicam 35 touts a number of desirable features for today’s digital shooters. Panasonic claims it can achieve 14+ stops of dynamic range with internal 4K recording all the way up to 120fps, utilising Panasonic’s latest efficient AVC-ULTRA codecs. At high frame rates, it’s important to remember that your sensor sees less light than it would shooting at 24 or 30 frames per second. To aid in making sure your shot doesn’t suddenly turn to grain when frame rates are boosted, Panasonic has given the camera two native ISOs: 800 (ideal for standard frame rates in good lighting) and 5000 (ideal for over-cranking and low-light shooting).
VariCam 35 at 5000 ISO from Digital Cinema Society on Vimeo.
In the test video linked above, Digital Intermediate Supervisor Michael Cioni from Light Iron provides a live demonstration of how the camera performs when using both native ISOs. With an 800 base in low-light, he has the camera boosted 2 & 2/3 stops up to ISO 4000, revealing a weak grain structure at that point in the gain. Then when pushed to ISO 5000, the second native kicks in, and the camera’s image once again looks clean. The footage is then boosted to ISO 10,000 and live-graded, showing that with the second native ISO it’s able create usable footage at an ISO that until recently was a mess (and until now, A7s territory).
Varicam 35: First Look from Varicam on Vimeo.
It will be very interesting to see how the Varicam 35 fits into the market in 2015. The GH4 built heavily on a unique footprint set out by the GH3 as a viable and affordable mirrorless camera for filmmaking. This on the other hand appears to be Panasonic’s answer for the higher end of the market, which has its focus split between the Sony F55, Red Dragon, the Blackmagic URSA, the ARRI Alexa, AJA Cion, and upcoming Canon EOS C300 Mark II (or whatever the new 4K Super35 camera from Canon is called, I am sure we’ll see it at NAB 2015 or even earlier).
That’s a lot of competition to enter the field against with your first heavy-hitter in the 4K cinema game. Come festival season next year, we should have a number of examples of how well it stacks up where things really count: on set.