It seems that VariCam rides again. Panasonic announced that later this year, it will launch a 4K camera/recorder, VariCam 35, which incorporates a newly-developed super 35mm MOS image sensor and the company’s AVC-ULTRA family of video codecs.
The presence of convincingly camera-shaped boxes in Panasonic booths of various trade shows has, as of late, become something of legend, with the company frankly somewhat behind the times in that they have lacked a high-end cinematography option to compete with Sony‘s F65, ARRI’s Alexa, and others. Perhaps on reflection we might not be quite so surprised by this, though. Thomson‘s Viper camera was well received but has not been followed up, the reason given being simply that the market seems microscopically small for a company used to supplying multi-camera packages to studio and outside broadcast providers. Cinematography is, perhaps, an opportunity for prestige more than profit, especially now that developments at the lower levels of camera design have forced prices down from the six-figure heights of Sony’s F23 and F35 releases.
Of course, we have no idea what the newly-announced Panasonic range might cost, but we do know that there are to be two interchangeable camera heads, one of which is to be the 4K VariCam 35 with a super35 sensor, and another with 2/3” chips designed for high speed work. The latter, we could conjecture, might be based on Panasonic’s broadcast technology, much as Viper was for Thomson. The full-size VariCam 35 is, however, based on new sensor technology, with a claim of 14 stops of dynamic range. This is a fairly standard claim for modern digital cinematography devices and will need to be validated in the field, but both cameras should be capable of competitive pictures.
Panasonic has quite understandably chosen to deploy their AVC Intra codec technology – essentially, a codification of certain parts of MPEG-4 – to make everyday production practical, although there is also a raw option for those willing to deal with the workflow. It’s no surprise that the company has eschewed the now common approach of recording ProRes, as is done by many cameras and standalone recorders and is very widely supported. Doing so has proven extremely popular with the Alexa, but one might reasonably wonder how much the need for a specifically Panasonic-compatible postproduction pathway will affect things. No more, probably, than it has for Sony and their SR Master flash cards for F65. Owners of large quantities of existing flash storage will sigh at the news that the cameras will use the new expressP2 card, capable of recording up to 130 minutes of 4K/24p content. Flash format proliferation is becoming a bane of equipment ownership, although the 2.4Gbps performance of the new cards is more than welcome.
The new camera system – or should we say systems – will likely debut at NAB and will presumably become available for test and evaluation shortly thereafter.