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A Legend Refined

Oct 1, 2005 12:00 PM, By Barry Braverman

A hands-on look at Panasonic’s AG-DVX100B.


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AG-DVX100B accessory wish list

The DVX phenomenon continues with the release of the Panasonic AG-DVX100B. The camera’s new black finish will help distinguish it from the previous AG-DVX models.

They displayed a level of performance and heart hitherto unseen in reasonably priced DV camcorders. The Panasonic AG-DVX100 and 100A were truly revolutions in a box, their effect is now continuing and expanding further with the introduction of the DVX100B.

The refinement in the DVX camcorder continues with a host of significant workflow and operational-related upgrades. Imaging performance has improved modestly, along with the feature set. In a side-by-side comparison, the DVX100B camera exhibits markedly less noise in unfilled shadows compared to the 100A, a welcome improvement that produces significantly better images after compression to DVD.

Toward a more professional future

One glance around at today's news, cable, and reality shows, and it's easy to see the Panasonic DVX is being used for serious broadcast applications. The many enhancements in the DVX100B reflect this more professional inclination, as Panasonic engineers obviously considered a range of pro-level user input in the redesigned model.

Most notable of these workflow and feature enhancements is the camera's new scene and timecode transfer capability over FireWire. The DVX100B can now synchronize with other DVX model cameras, the 100B being able to read the timecode from earlier DVX models, but not the other way around. User and scene file info can also be transferred in the same way, facilitating the matching of recording parameters in multi-camera setups.

Addressing the need of working professionals, the DVX100B allows for FireWire transfer of user settings and timecode from multiple DVX cameras.

The DVX100B also features dedicated remote focus and iris connectors at the rear of the camera body. These jacks are of the typical 1/8in. consumer variety, so some professionals may feel a bit squeamish with respect to these plugs' reliability. Still, the functionality is there, which has to be a good thing for many users in a studio environment.

Panasonic has also thoughtfully added a new slower zoom speed — 30 seconds, compared to the rather zippy 20 seconds previously — thus producing a more aesthetically pleasing “creep.” If you're intending to use a high-quality third-party controller like the Bebob Zoe, note that the DVX continues to require a dedicated controller; the LANC units suitable for Sony, Canon, and JVC cameras will not work here.

16:9 in view

The Panasonic DVX imager is native standard definition 4:3. To achieve a 16:9 capture, the camera offers the option of letterbox or squeeze mode. When shooting in squeeze mode, the DVX100B allows unsqueezing of the image in the camera viewfinder so that widescreen images no longer appear distorted. This has to be a welcome change to shooters weary of talent appearing like broomsticks while being seen through the camera.

Another nice change in the 100B is the inclusion of a larger camera battery as standard equipment. The extended life CGR-D54 battery now ships with the basic camera, and for this I thank the gods at Panasonic, as I no longer have to rail against manufacturers' providing useless tiny batteries as original equipment. Significantly, the larger battery obviates the need for shooters to immediately shell out an additional $129 after making what is to many folks a sizable camera investment. That's the kind of improvement we can all appreciate!

The DVX100B’s remote zoom and focus jacks.

Little things

The DVX100B offers operational enhancements, including improved resolution of the LCD screen and built-in viewfinder that facilitates accurate focus in low light. Difficult viewing at low illumination levels has been a perennial problem in DV cameras, so it's nice to see Panasonic addressing the issue here.

Another pet peeve of mine applicable to most of today's DV cameras is the inordinately complex menu array that discourages shooters from fully exploiting a camera's setup features. In my view, the Panasonic DVX menu array, owing perhaps to its considerable depth and range of options, has never really been simple or easy to master, although this has improved somewhat in the 100B model with a new, clearer color interface. The menu options provided in the DVX (expanded in the DVX100B in key such areas as gamma) largely mimic those offered in the top-of-the-line Varicam.

More rugged, too

My regular readers understand that I don't tolerate flimsy consumer gear masquerading as professional equipment for 1/60th of a second. To be sure, the Panasonic DVX100B is not a true broadcast unit, so it's pointless to compare too closely the construction of the DVX camera to the company's top-of-the-line gear costing many tens of thousands of dollars.

Still, Panasonic has addressed some significant areas of concern with respect to robustness. The tripod-mounting socket has been reinforced to better withstand the cantilevered strains of a mounted camera with multiple attached accessories slung over the shooter's shoulder. On a typical shoot, I commonly carry the camera, matte box, follow-focus, onboard monitor, and tripod as a single unit, the lateral motion of the camera package potentially placing great stress on the mounting screw and socket. Personally I'd like to see the industry standard 3/8"×16 socket added to the DVX, in addition to the consumer 1/4"×20 fitting currently provided. The larger socket is not typically seen on gear in the DVX price range, but then again the DVX100B is not typical prosumer DV gear.

A revised and much improved LCD screen hinge addresses a key structural weakness in previous DVX models. Based on warranty repair records, Panasonic no doubt recognized the high incidence of breakage at this critical juncture. My first DVX100 suffered such a fate when the cover of an airline shipping case closed inadvertently on the camera's open LCD screen. The DVX100B's new beefed-up screen hinge features a breakaway point slightly past 90 degrees — certainly a positive development for those of us who use the DVX for serious, often physically challenging work.

Panasonic adds a larger, more practical battery that comes standard with the DVX100B.

Other changes in the updated model include a revised tape loading mechanism that in practice is a bit slower than that of previous DVX models. Why the change? Perhaps it's a tradeoff for increased mechanical reliability and reduced incidents of misloaded cassettes. More likely it has something to with the camera's being easier and cheaper to service. Canon has used such a two-step loading system in XL cameras for years in part to facilitate servicing of the transport mechanism if it should become necessary.

One shortcoming that has still not been addressed in the DVX100B is the oh-so-maddening menu selection button. As I remarked in previous DVX reviews, the multi-function button's skittishness and fragility are not for the faint of heart or individuals prone to violent outbursts.

The frustration stems from a shooter's relative inability (especially for those with Bart Simpson hands!) to press the selector stem inward without also applying a slight side pressure. This makes navigating and selecting the various camera menu options needlessly arduous and nerve-racking.

Of course, no camera is entirely without compromises, even those costing many times the DVX100B's $3999. The fact is that this camera represents a heck of a lot of value given the relatively modest investment. The DVX100B easily produces images indistinguishable in most cases from those produced by the highest-end broadcast gear.

The legend that is the DVX100 camera continues unabashed in the DVX100B. Truth is, for many of us, standard definition is our bread and butter, and still very much the place to be. After all, it's how we really earn our living every day, in our news broadcasts, web videos, and DVDs. It is in this realm that the Panasonic DVX100B can help us, economically and with gusto.


AG-DVX100B accessory wish list

  • Chrosziel 4×4 DV Sunshade with screw-in 72mm-85mm lens adapter. This is a clamp-on model, which I prefer for convenience. The matte box can also be rod-supported, which is more secure and can then support the Chrosziel follow-focus.
  • Century ring gear to fit Chrosziel follow-focus. The Century on DVX models works optimally with practical stops and white marking surface.
  • Schneider 4×4 1/8 Black Frost or Digicon for general image “tightening.”
  • Century .7X wide-angle adapter.
  • Bebob Zoe DVX zoom control.
  • Hoodman LCD viewscreen hood for easier viewing in daylight.


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