We were lucky enough to attend a workshop on the Panasonic Varicam 35 at SIM Digital this fall.
For any of you who scoffed at the all-in-one DVX200, the Panasonic Varicam 35 is the long awaited answer to entries in the digital cinema camera market by Sony, Canon, Red, Arri, Blackmagic, Digital Bolex, AJA, Kinefinity, DJI. It’s a crowded market and for an operator there is a lot to know.
If you’ve been to these seminars and “workshops” then you may already know what passes for a seminar is usually a pretty slick sales presentation with a bit of technical jargon and a bare minimum of learning. Usually the highlight will be a little hands-on time where some nervous product reps stand by.
In between all of this tech talk, someone like me will try to glean as much info as I can on how a DP handles their day-to-day jobs.
Theo Van de Sande, ASC, openly shared his career journey interwoven with a brief history of motion picture imaging technology. Thankfully, as regarded the camera, he stuck to just what we needed to know about the Varicam and real-world workflow. Then, he got into the meat of things, sharing a broad selection of frame grabs from different series, with primary corrections done on the grabs. Along the way he shared his lighting setups for each frame.
It felt remarkable to see footage this clean and colourful at 5000 ISO. The existing entries already have amazing, but not always pleasing performance in low light; so much so that you might easily forget you have your ND3 on, but the footage at that ISO looks mushy and soft before you work it. Yes, you can shoot a film with moonlight, but that doesn’t mean the colors will look great or that you’ll achieve pleasing (or any) highlights. The high ISO performance thus becomes a tool for specific scenes or looks.
The Varicam is a different beast entirely. With 2 native ISOs, 5000 and 800, it is able to see a scene with pleasing color in low light, and still render accurate color. And, it can record it all to 2 slots at once in 4K and HD simultaneously, and/or sending a raw signal to a proprietary Codex unit tethered to the camera. In Van de Sande’s hands, we saw how a DP can use the 5000 ISO sensor to radically reduce the amount of lighting required for indoor and outdoor scenes. It was Panasonic’s color that brought me to the workshop, and I was not disappointed. Van de Sande even provided the requisite frame of a scene lit by candlelight.
Ergonomically it’s a tube-shaped aluminum-bodied camera, nodding in the direction of a cat-on-the shoulder, hefty and seemingly well balanced, with consideration given to the weight of a cine-zoom. Notably one demo unit sat on a hefty sandwich of 4 plates.
At the end, almost as an afterthought, we watched the sizzle reel of some car footage shot from a Russian arm. It was pretty. But after all those shared secrets and seeing, just as one example, a massive city bridge lit only by an 800 par can, the car demo felt a little anticlimactic… just a white car, cruising through the night streets. Sorry about the strobing, said Theo. It was easy to forget how much dynamic range went into an image that clean. I saw no blocking but a bit of noise. We got to see it with the noise and then again with the noise removed on that lovely 4K projector.
With all that said, the best part was running into Chris, the broadcast service technician at Panasonic in Toronto. Fond memories of DVX100 repairs from days gone by.
The presentation did it for me. My thirst for an Alexa Mini just got a little less intense.