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Panasonic AG-HMC151 Camcorder Review


panasonic hmc151 SDHC card When I first heard about the new AVCHD codec that records to SD and SDHC flash memory cards, I thought it was just a basic consumer format for HD recording. It turns out that AVCHD is actually better quality and more efficient than the ageing tape-based HDV format.

After researching the AVCHD codec I started to get quite excited about it, but it was when I heard about Panasonic’s brand new AG-HMC151 semi-professional AVCHD HD camcorder that I really started to jump up and down with excitement. Not because it is the best camcorder in the world, but because for the first time ever, there is now a semi-professional HD camcorder that produces excellent quality footage directly onto cheap SD (Secure Digital) and SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) memory cards.

panasonic ag-hmc151

nigel with panasonic hmc151Until the HMC151 we only had Panasonic’s P2 format and Sony’s SxS format for solid-state HD camcorders. Both these professional formats are out of reach for many budget conscious videographers due to the price of the cards. Now Panasonic have fixed this with the new HMC151; we now have a true semi-professional solid-state HD camcorder with a workflow that is cheap as chips. The HMC151 costs just £2,600 inc vat and SDHC memory cards cost around £20 for a 16GB Class 6 card. In fact the cost-per-hour on Sony’s SxS is around 50x more expensive than SDHC on the HMC151 and DVCProHD onto P2 is around 130x more!

Sony’s Z1 sold by the shed-load when it was first launched because it was HD (although a consumer version of HD) and it recorded onto cheap tapes. Panasonic’s HMC151 has the potential to do the same, if only people can be schooled/educated in this new solid-state IT workflow. Personally I think the HMC151 produces better images than Sony’s ageing Z1, it is solid-state and is bang up-to-date. Sony has recently launched the new Z1 replacement, the Z5. But it is still a HDV tape-based camcorder, Sony have simply built an optional CF card recorder (sold separately for £900), which bolts on the back of the Z5 allowing you to record onto CF cards as well as tape. Panasonic on the other hand have started from the ground up and designed a brand new camcorder that is solid-state only using the latest AVCHD codec.

panasonic ag-hmc151

panasonic ag-hmc151 audio

If you’re not familiar with the AVCHD codec I’ve outlined some of its technologies comparing it to HDV below.

panasonic hmc151 controlsIn a nutshell, the AVCHD codec is superior to the ageing tape-based HDV codec. AVCHD Should blow HDV out on the water. MPEG-2, as used by HDV is a clever way of compressing video, but the H.264 compression method used by AVCHD is streets ahead. In fact some people are saying that AVCHD is the unofficial replacement for HDV. To me, AVCHD is kind of a ‘Super HDV’, only solid-state as opposed to tape. HDV has a resolution of 1440x1080 and uses the MPEG-2 compression codec. AVCHD on the other hand uses full raster 1920x1080 with the more modern and superior MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 codec (H.264 is what Blu-Ray DVDs and HD Sky broadcasts use). And of course AVCHD is tapeless, it uses SD (Secure Digital) and SDHC (High Capacity) cards.

AVCHD has twice the compression efficiency and considerably improved video performance over the older MPEG-2 compression algorithm used in HDV.

Announced by Panasonic and Sony, this new industry-standard format is now supported by more than 30 companies and implemented in numerous camcorders, NLE systems, and consumer HD playback devices. HDV uses a constant bit rate of 25 Mb/s whereas AVCHD AVCCAM camcorders use a more efficient variable bit rate, peaking at 24 Mb/s.

The recording capacity using the Panasonic HMC151 onto single SDHC cards is as follows:

PH Mode (full 1920x1080 HD) onto a 32GB card = 180 minutes.
HA Mode 1920x1080 Approx. 17Mbps Approx. 240 minutes

A Bit About MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 Technologies

Variable Block Size Motion Compensation
nigel with panasonic hmc151In contrast with MPEG-2 (HDV), in which inter-frame compression based on the correlation between adjacent frames uses fixed blocks of 16 x 16 pixels, AVCHD divides the blocks into multi-sizes as small as 4 x 4 pixels. In this method, it is able to use large blocks to process images that show only slight changes on the screen, and smaller blocks to process images that have considerable change. This raises the accuracy of motion compensation to boost the quality of fast-motion images while increasing compression efficiency.

Loop Filter Prevents the Propagation of Compression Distortion
Because MPEG-2 uses a decoding image that contains compression-induced block distortion as a reference image for motion compensation, it exhibits residual distortion — even within the same frame — when a large amount of block distortion is generated. MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 detects block distortion in the decoding image and removes it with a context-adaptive filter that functions according to the degree of distortion. This prevents the propagation of block distortion by keeping the reference image clean at all times.

New CABAC Entropy Encoding
The AVCHD format uses CABAC (Context Adaptive Binary Arithmetic Coding) for its variable-length encoding. Compared with the variable length encoding of MPEG-2, in which the compression efficiency is greatly affected by subject type, CABAC provides lossless compression with constantly high efficiency and no distortion for virtually all subject types. Because MPEG-2 compresses and converts data according to the standard’s fixed conversion rules, the compression efficiency may drop for image types other than those that were considered when the standard was established. In place of fixed conversion rules, CABAC provides the best possible conversion method by constantly optimizing and automatically tracking the image that is being processed, in parallel with the compression process.

panasonic hmc151 user settingsWell that’s a bit about the technologies in the AVCHD codec, now let’s move on to the all-important HMC151 camcorder itself.

The AG-HMC151E is Panasonic’s first semi-professional AVCHD camcorder. Panasonic have badged the HMC151 as an ‘AVCCAM’ model. AVCCAM is a Panasonic ‘brand’ name that they are developing. Panasonic’s AVCCAM range also includes the Shoulder mounted AG-HMC71 Camcorder, with a street price of under £1,000, but with smaller 1/4 inch CCDs. I would imagine more AVCCAM camcorders will be launched in the future.

Basically the Panasonic AG-HMC151 is the unofficial replacement for the ageing tape-based DVX100B. The latter has always been a firm favourite with low-budget independent filmmakers namely because of its price and native progressive scan 25p shooting mode. The new AG-HMC151 continues where the DVX100B left off, only with some cool new features namely high-definition recording onto SDHC solid-state memory cards. The DVX100B was the biggest seller that Panasonic ever had; I expect the new AG-HMC151 to be a very hot product.

panasonic hmc151 playbackThe Panasonic AG-HMC151 provides enhanced HD video production capabilities for the budget-conscious cameraman desiring professional features, extended recording capabilities, and a fast, simple, and highly reliable workflow offered by tapeless solid-state recording to SDHC cards. The AG-HMC151 features three native 16:9 progressive scan 1/3-inch CCDs. The built in lens is a 28mm Leica Dicomar wide-angle zoom lens with an optical image stabilisation (OIS) system to ensure stable shooting when hand-held; of course this should and can be turned off when mounted on a tripod. The AG-HMC151 offers 1080p and 1080i recording at 21Mbps variable, (comparable to current HDV compression formats with bit rates of 25Mbps constant). An additional, higher maximum-quality bit rate mode of up to 24Mbps variable is incorporated for higher-level use. The AG-HMC151 is also 50-Hz/59.94-Hz PAL/NTSC switchable.

For now at least, the HMC151 is the best AVCHD camcorder in the world, but if I’m perfectly honest, the HMC151 does not bring out the best in the superb AVCHD codec. The HMC151 uses three 1/3-inch 960×540 pixel (0.5 mega-pixel) progressive scan CCDs. The reason Panasonic have stuck to these low-res CCD chips instead of using full raster half-inch 1920x1080 chips is simply down to price. Remember, the HMC151 costs just £2,600 including VAT. This camera is built to a budget and compromises have to be made somewhere. Where manufacturers decide to compromise is entirely up to them, in this case Panasonic decided to stick with 1/3rd chips with larger pixels that use pixel-shifting technology to get high-definition images out of them. The fact is that pixel-shifting does improve the camera’s performance relative to the same system with no pixel shifting; so it would appear that Panasonic have compromised in the right area. It also looks like Panasonic have included a decent optical birefringment filter to reduce aliases and present really clean pictures to the codec.

In reality I find that these 960x540 chips leave the image looking a trifle soft, which is not always a bad thing; most independent low-budget filmmakers actually prefer this as it goes some way towards helping with the overall ‘film-look’ in progressive mode. The other thing about the slightly soft image is that it is much better for SD down-converting and compression for the web.

panasonic hmc151 xlrStraight out of the box the HMC151 produces ‘ok’ images, but I managed to improve them quite a lot by tweaking various settings in the menus. I found the factory default settings straight from the box had the colours leaning towards green, almost like everything was shot under fluorescent lighting; even outdoors. Also, the default edge sharpening is cranked up too high for my liking, which ironically loses detail in the image, so I reduced it to -2. Like the older DVX100B, the HMC151 has a ‘scene wheel’ dial on the back with six presets to choose from. Setting F1 on the scene wheel is the one I’m referring to above. I went into the menus and modified F1 and changed the name of the file to ‘Nigel 1’. I basically reduced the default edge sharpening from +3 to -2, which helps the overall resolution and gets rid of the junk that edge sharpening brings to the party. I also changed the Cine setting and made a few other tweaks to boost the colours and warm the picture up a little, as well as crushing the blacks a tad. After 20 minutes of messing around pointing the camera at various subjects and my trusty DSC Labs Chroma DuMonde colour and resolution charts, I ended up improving the picture considerably in getting the ‘look’ that I liked. The menus are extensive enough to allow quite a lot of tuning and tweaking of the picture; experiment and I’m sure you to can get a picture that is ideal for your productions.

The HMC151 has an amazing dynamic range considering how cheap this camcorder actually is. It copes with ranges very nicely, and due to the larger pixels on the chips the low noise is excellent also. The overall image quality, colour reproduction, dynamic range, blacks and detail level (especially in highlighted areas) beats both Sony’s A1 and Z1 camcorders hands down, but the 151 is not quite as good as Sony’s new Z5; see my comparison toward the end of this review.

Some people are saying that the HMC151’s ‘sweet spot’ is in 720/50p mode. However, after doing various test shots in all modes, 1080/25p looks the best when played back on a native 1920x1080 HD television set such as my Sony 42” Bravia. When I played back 720/50p footage, it is soft in comparison; this is due to the ‘up-scaler’ on my TV. If you are going to be down-converting to SD i.e. 720x576, then shoot in 720/50p. If you are going to burn Blu-Ray DVDs or play back the clips natively via a Sony PS3 onto a 1920x1080 HD TV or perhaps for projection on HD equipment, then shoot in 1080/25p or 1080/50i.

panasonic hmc151 lcd screenThe physical size and weight of the 151 is only slightly more than the older DVX100B, similar in size and weight to Sony’s Z1. The camera feels nicely balanced when handheld and at just 1.7 kg, the AG-HMC151 is incredibly light. The LCD screen is rotatable, so you can angle it upwards when you are holding the camera by its handle in low positions. It is also possible to rotate the LCD screen all the way around so it faces the front; this is ideal for video journalists doing pieces to camera themselves. With the LCD screen rotated this way it ’mirror-flips’ the image so you are the right way around. Although the fold-out LCD screen is 4:3 it is in fact a 16:9 image that is displayed on it, only it is letter boxed. This is a good thing as it means most of the on-screen data and information is displayed outside the image area over the top of the black letterbox areas. The tripod I used was a Libec LS-22 (£245 inc vat), which is just perfect for this camera. For the record, the perfect bag for the HMC151 is the Kata CC-192 at £98 inc vat.

The AG-HMC151 really is very easy to use and offers decent HD performance with all the simplicity of a digital stills camera. Because it records onto SD and SDHC memory cards, users can benefit from the reliability and random access of tapeless recording and capitalise on the cheap cost advantages and the ever-growing capacity of SDHC flash memory cards. With the newly announced 32GB SDHC memory card and the HMC151’s 6Mbps economy recording mode, users can record up to 12 hours of HD video onto a single SDHC card in one take. Obviously the picture quality wouldn’t be as good as that of full quality 21Mbps (maxing at 24Mbps) HQ HD mode, but not all productions require high quality i.e. shooting specifically for the web, or corporate speeches/presentations for example.

panasonic hmc151 zoom controlThe Scene File wheel on the back of the camcorder is superb. I’m so glad Panasonic carried this feature over from the old DVX100B. Why other manufacturers opt for a menu-driven system is beyond me. The HMC151’s scene file wheel is ingenious, allowing for quick image profile change while you work. The six settings on the scene file wheel are totally customizable via the menus and you can give each scene file a unique name. Every time you turn the scene file wheel its name shows up on the LCD screen for approximately 3 seconds so you can visually confirm which scene file you have selected; as well as the picture characteristics changing also.

Another unique feature to the HMC151 is its Dynamic Range Stretch (DSR) feature. This feature works best in scenes with mixed contrast, such as when panning from indoors to outdoors. In instances like this the DRS function automatically suppresses blocked shadows and blown out highlights. When you have a scene containing dark, bright, and varying mid-range shades, the DRS function will produce excellent gradation for each shade, while minimising blocking in the shadows and eliminating blown out highlights, leaving the final result enhanced by a visually wide dynamic range. In addition to this there are also seven Gamma modes for even more creativity with your ‘look’. These include: HD NORM for regular HD recording, LOW to flatten out a high contrast scene, SD NORM for shooting in SD mode (carried over from the DVX100 series), HIGH provides more contrast and colour gradation, B. PRESS to provide more contrast and blacks in low contrast scenes, CINE-LIKE-D to prioritise dynamic range, CINE-LIKE-V to prioritise contrast. Other built-in advanced image adjustments include: Matrix setting including a Cinelike mode, adjustable H detail level, V detail level, detail coring and skin detail, adjustable chroma level, chroma phase, colour temp and master pedestal, knee point settings: Auto, Low, Mid and High, User files (with sets of camera settings) can be transferred to an SD Memory Card and shared with other cameras.

panasonic ag-hmc151

The AG-HMC151 also comes equipped with a built-in stereo microphone and with XLR-type audio input terminals (2 channels, mic/line switchable, +48V compatible). You can switch audio channels 1 and 2 separately to either line or front mic input, which is especially useful when recording interviews or narration. There’s also a built-in SMPTE time-code generator/reader that lets you select the Drop Frame/Non-Drop Frame (in 59.94Hz mode only) and Free Run/Rec Run modes, preset and regenerate. User bits are also provided.

panasonic hmc151 micThe HMC151 has a superb focus assist function. This is in addition to the usual ‘centre zoom’ function that enlarges the centre of the frame. The histogram shows the frequencies present in the image, the further to the right the histogram extends, the more in focus your image is. You can select from three display modes: center zoom, histogram, or combined centre zoom and histogram. The 151 also has waveform and vectorscope display functions. One touch of the WFM key will display the waveform and vectors of the captured video signal on the built-in LCD monitor.

The 151 has three user buttons on the left side. There are 11 functions that can be assigned to these buttons. My favourite assignable function is the ‘ last clip delete’ function, which immediately allows you to delete the last take if you are not happy with it. I like the idea of being able to delete bad takes on the fly while I’m shooting as it saves tons of time in post production as you can import every single clip from the card because you know all of them are good.

The shutter speed can be selected from a minimum of 1/12-second to a maximum of 1/2000-second; the Synchro Scan is an ideal function for recording images from computer monitors. There is also a three position Gain selector switch, which is customizable via the menus. The 151 is also equipped with both composite (RCA) and component (Mini D4) video outputs, this allows HD images to be down-converted and output as SD images.

panasonic ag-hmc151 screen

There are a wide range of data and signal interfaces including HDMI out, USB 2.0, component out, composite out and RCA audio out jacks. Other features include white balance with presets and two manual settings as well as auto tracking, zebra settings where you can select two levels, centre markers to provide an accurate numeric display of the brightness of the screen centre, tally lamps on both the front and rear, remote LANC socket for controlling zoom, record, focus and aperture. Simply buy any remote controller that is compatible with the DVX100B or HVX200 and it will work fine with the HMC151.

panasonic hmc151 card slotThe HMC151 has a built in 3.5-inch LCD monitor to display thumbnail images for quick viewing and playback, and a time code/user bits menu. The camera also has a pre-record cache feature of 3 seconds that allows the camera to capture footage occurring immediately before pressing the record button, and a time/date stamp menu option for documentation purposes.

Another great little touch is the fact that the 151 has remote sensors on both the front and the back. This is great for triggering record start/stop and operating the zoom via the included remote control unit. My XDCAM HD only has a remote sensor on the front, which is fine if you are a DIY journalist needing to trigger the camera, but if you are filming wildlife and you are hidden in a hide and behind the camera it is not much use. The 151 meets everybody’s needs, both video journalists doing pieces to camera as well as wildlife videographers who need to trigger recording from behind and from a distance; nice one Panasonic.

The HMC151 has no variable frame-rate and there is no time-lapse feature, so if you want these features you’ll have to go for the AG-HPX171E, but the latter costs about £175 more and you’ll lose the cheap SD/HD workflow as the 171 uses the more expensive P2 cards.

The HMC151 has a built in 13x zoon lens. It is a 28mm Leica Dicomar wide-angle zoom lens with an optical image stabilisation (OIS) system to ensure stable shooting when hand-held. The 28mm wide angle (35mm equivalent) is superb for indoor corporate shoots or weddings where space is limited, and this is wider than most of the competition. A friend of mine has just bought a HMC151 and he says the wide end of the lens is much wider than his old Canon XM2, which is perfect for the kind of work he does indoors in confined spaces. The 151’s lens will cover most indoor shooting situations without the need for a wide-angle conversion lens adapter.

panasonic hmc151 lcdThe lens has a nice action for zoom control via the little lever on the lens. This is my preferred method for re-composing a shot in non-servo mode. However the camera also has the usual zoom rocker control on the handgrip as well as on the handle at the top; so plenty of choice. The lenses focusing barrel is about as good as you can get for a servo-type system, beating similarly priced camcorders from the competition hands down in my opinion. Of course you can operate the camera in full autofocus mode, or even by pushing the ‘Push AF’ button to allow the camera to ’lock’ in the focus; again, plenty of options for focusing. There are three built-in neutral density (ND) filters of 1/4, 1/16 and 1/64 light reductions. The Leica Dicomar lens incorporates Leica optical technology and know-how throughout. A multi-coating process minimizes flare and ghosting. This results in sharp, crisp, beautifully rendered images with delicate nuances and exceptional shading.

SD cards are available up to 4-GB, while SDHC (High Capacity) are available up to 32-GB; capacities are increasing all the time. I’ll just mention that the cards you must use when recording on AVCHD camcorders need to be either Class 4 or Class 6, Class 2 cards are not fast enough to handle the data rate. I personally have been shooting on Transcend 16-GB Class 6 cards that I’ve been buying for £18 each inc vat and delivery. The recording time onto a 16-GB SDHC card in PH Mode (full 1920x1080 HD 24Mbps max) is 90 minutes. 180 minutes if you buy a 32-GB card. SDHC cards are available from many manufacturers, some of the more reputable brands being Transcend, Sandisk and Fuji to name a few.

This part is only going to be brief, but I think it’s important to cover, as lots of readers will be interested in how the Panasonic HMC151 compares to the Sony Z1 and the newer Sony Z5.

panasonic hmc151 sd cardComparing the Sony Z5 to the Panasonic HMC151 is not really fair as the Sony is £3,400 inc vat (HMC151 is £2,8500). £1,400 more if you include the HVR-MRC1K CF bolt-on recorder that is needed to turn the Sony Z5 into a solid state camcorder.

I’ve been using the Panasonic HMC151 for about a month now (thanks to a loaner from Holdan) and comparing the image quality to my old Sony Z1, I have to say the Panasonic has the edge in overall image quality. However, when comparing the Panasonic to Sony’s latest Z5, the Z5 has the edge. At first glance the Z5’s images look a trifle softer than the HMC151, but this is due to the 151’s edge-sharpening being set to +3 by default. I only did some basic testing while I had both the Sony Z5 and Panasonic HMC151 together during the same week. I filmed my DSC labs Chroma DuMonde resolution chart to check sharpness and resolution/detail etc. The Panasonic HMC151 sits about halfway between the Sony Z1 and Z5 in overall image quality. Considering the HMC151 is about £1,400 cheaper than the Z5 with its add-on CF card reader, the results are fair and to be expected. On close inspection you can see that the Sony Z5 pips the Panasonic at the post for resolution also; this is due to Panasonic's choice of low-res chips and pixel-shifting to 'faux' a HD image in the 151. The Sony is slightly better for overall detail. The Sony lens is very soft around the edges, almost like a photographic soft focus vignette filter, the Panasonic on the other hand is sharp edge-to-edge. The overall sharpness of the Panasonic is better than other camcorders in this price range and there is surprisingly little detectable chromatic aberration. The dynamic range of the Sony Z5 appears to be 7 stops between black and white details. The Panasonic bettered that by producing 10 stops.

panasonic hmc151 mic holderTo be honest both the Sony Z5 and Panasonic HMC151 are not up to broadcast spec; you need to spend a lot more money than the price of either of these two camcorders to get full-on broadcast image quality. The Z5 and HMC151 are both built to a budget for the corporate, event, wedding and ultra-low budget filmmaker market. With this in mind, either will do the job perfectly and unless you scrutinize a resolution chart you won’t see an incredible difference between them. To give you an idea (based on sub £3,500 camcorders), if the Sony scored a 9 out of 10, the Panasonic would score 8 out of 10. But the 151 does need to be set up and tweaked in the menus to improve the image quality. Lose the default +3 edge-sharpening setting for a start as it introduces unwanted ‘junk’ into the image, then crank the colours up a bit and crush the blacks a tad; anything else is personal.

You’ll need to do a bit of ‘pixel peeping’ to see the difference. Regular viewing from a distance won’t show any noticeable difference i.e. if you believe in simply sitting there and actually enjoying the programme, rather than searching for negligible differences that simply won’t detract from your programme enjoyment. Also, after footage has been down-converted from HD to SD and burned to a regular SD DVD there is nothing in it. As I’ve already mentioned, the Panasonic’s image quality is just ‘ok’ out of the box. The colours lean towards green and the picture is full of edge-enhancement junk, there is a lack of detail/resolution and an overall flat and lifeless image with no punch. You do have to make a number of menu adjustments to the colour, sharpness/detail, black levels etc, to improve the image quality and get the best out of the 151, but once you’ve made these adjustments the cameras image quality suddenly comes to life.

panasonic ag-hmc151 and Sony z5

In terms of build quality and usability both the Z5 and HMC151 feel roughly the same. The Panasonic is more user-friendly and easier to operate. One bugbear with the Sony Z5 is that there is no lever on the lens for manual zooming in/out, you have to use the nasty servo ring, which is kind of tedious. Panasonic on the other hand retain the ‘professional style’ lever for quick manual ‘crash zooms’ when you need to reframe a shot quickly; something I do all the time. Unlike the Sony, the Panasonic zoom ring also has end stops; Sony is a Servo type affair that continues to spin infinitely; yuk.

panasonic ag-hmc151 and Sony z5

The Panasonic eye-level viewfinder is superior to the Sony Z5. Focusing on the Panasonic is easier because of this, also the Panasonic has a large focus assist button that’s easy to locate, which magnifies the image in the viewfinder and on the LCD screen. It also has a histogram showing the frequencies present in the image, the further to the right the histogram extends, the more in focus your image is.

sony cf readerThe Panasonic is a solid-state only camcorder (no tape drive mechanism), built this way from the ground up hence it works perfectly and requires no setting up whatsoever with regard to solid-state workflow; simply pop in an SDHC card and away you go. The Sony on the other hand is a lot more fiddly to set up and get going. My Sony demo unit didn’t come with an instruction manual and it took three phone calls to Sony and half a day before I got the Z5 working with the CF recorder adapter. This is what can happen when manufacturers make bolt-on backs that work using a FireWire connector. With the Z5 you have various options for recording to tape only, CF card only, tape and CF card together, to CF card once the tape has run out etc, and none of the options are clear in the menus. Once you have set up the Z5’s menu, you then have to do the same all over again in the menus of the CF recording unit itself, and if both sets of menus from the camera and the CF recorder don’t match you could potentially spend the rest of the day pulling your hair out trying to figure out why it won’t record to one or the other. Compared to the Z5, the Panasonic is an absolute breeze to work with.

Just as a small addition. The Panasonic HMC151 produces better/nicer pictures than Canon’s XH A1, more punch in the colours and sharper with more dynamic range. Looking at the footage shot on the Canon XH A1 is like looking at something that was shot through a dirty window when compared to the Panasonic, which is sharp, clear and bright in comparison. The Canon’s colours are rather lacklustre and dull compared to the Panasonic. The physical dimensions of the Panasonic HMC151 is just a tad larger than Canon’s XH A1.

panasonic ag-hmc151

Some of the basic consumer AVCHD camcorders that have landed so far have not really cut the mustard. Some mild compression artifacts have taken the shine off these cheaper consumer AVCHD camcorders. The implementation of the H.264 algorithm needs a bit of tweaking to bring it up to speed. As for the HMC151, the low-resolution chips don’t help the image quality. This doesn’t make the HMC151 a bad camcorder, on the contrary. One has to remember the price, the HMC151 cost just £2,600 including vat, the camcorder has only just come out so this price will continue to fall, making it even better value for money. As I’ve already mentioned, you won’t find a camcorder at this price that produced better images; not in any format. £2,600 inc vat is a steal; I paid that for my Chrosziel matte box alone for my full size shoulder-mount XDCAM HD camcorder.

panasonic hmc151 matte boxPanasonic’s AVCHD AVCCAM camera line brings the benefits of solid-state recording to budget-conscious professionals. As with digital stills photography, recording video onto SDHC cards offers a superfast and simple IT-compatible workflow with ultra-reliable performance with resistance to shock/impacts, vibration, extreme temperatures, and weather to name a few. SD and SDHC cards are inexpensive, widely available, and can be reused time-and-time again. Because AVCHD records video as digital data files, content can be transferred and stored on affordable, high-capacity computer hard drives and optical storage media such as DVDs, then transferred to future storage media as technology advances. But considering the cheap price of SDHC cards, you could simply archive your footage by leaving it on the cards themselves.

I would like to see Panasonic bring out a flagship AVCHD camcorder of similar size to the HMC151 or HPX171, only with three half-inch full-raster 1920x1080 sensors perhaps and a variable frame-rate and time-lapse feature too. If they did this it would really show off the AVCHD codec to its full capacity. To instil confidence, I personally have just bought a Panasonic AG-HMC151, which I’m going to use for shooting all my future web content for the DVuser website video channel; this will save me lugging around my full-sized shoulder mounted XDCAM HD kit, which is overkill for web content anyway. I’ll also be using the 151 for some of the less important corporate work and client presentations that I often get asked to shoot, as well as certain types of event videography. I’m sure I’ll be able to find many other applications that the 151 will be perfectly suitable for such as Vox Pops style interviews for the web, or (heaven forbid) a friend asks me to shoot their wedding or child’s Christmas concert.

So there it is. For me, the Panasonic AG-HMC151 strikes a very reasonable balance between cost, image quality, versatility, portability and ease of use. It’s also worth mentioning that the AG-HMC151 comes with a three-year Panasonic guarantee.

For more details on the Panasonic AG-HMC151 see UK distributor Holdan: www.holdan.co.uk/panasonic/AG-HMC151.htm

Panasonic HMC151 specialist is Richard Payne at Holdan.
Tel Holdan on: 0845 1304445

©2009 Nigel Cooper

Company: Panasonic
Product: HD Camcorder
Model: AG-HMC151
Website: http://www.holdan.co.uk
Price: £2950.00
Reviewed by: Nigel Cooper
Review Date: 03-10-2008

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