The original Panasonic Af100 was a great camera in it’s day, but it never really lived up to it’s potential. Right around the same time the AF100 was released, the Canon 5D MK II was making waves in the industry and there was a huge shift in the low-budget indie filmmaking scene – moving away from traditional camcorders and towards DSLRs. Now, 5 years after the original AF100 hit the market, Pansonic may just have a chance to redeem themselves with the camera’s successor.
When the original AF100 was announced, it seemed like the dream camera for filmmakers like myself. Like many other low-budget filmmakers at the time, I got my start shooting on the Panasonic DVX100 (which to this day is still one of my favorites), and later moved on to the HVX200. Both of these cameras offered some really amazing quality and functionality, but the issue of course was that they had fixed lenses. This meant that if you wanted to use a different piece of glass to achieve a specific look, or you wanted to achieve really shallow depth of field, you would need to use a bulky 35mm adapter like the one in this picture:
Clearly Panasonic saw that their users were jumping through hoops to be able to use interchangeable lenses on their cameras, which is why they developed the AF100 with a Micro Four Thirds mount. This allowed users to adapt just about any lens to the camera that they wanted to, while still benefitting from the form factor and overall functionality that they were accustomed to with previous offerings from Panasonic.
Unfortunately for Panasonic though, the AF100 never really took off. While it was certainly owned and used by many filmmakers, there is no question that the Canon 5D MK II made a far bigger dent in the industry at that time. This was partly due to timing (Canon beat Panasonic to the punch), but also because filmmakers were looking for something new. The 5D MK II shot full frame, was amazing in low light, produced an extremely shallow depth of field, and offered that next step up in terms of image quality that so many shooters were after.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t post camera rumors often on this site. When I do post them though, they are what I believe to be the more credible rumors out there, and I like to write about them as food for thought… The intention isn’t to spew out a bunch of specs that may or may not be accurate, but rather to speculate as to what this might mean for the industry if this is all true. With NAB coming up in only 3 weeks, and the AF100 desperately needing an upgrade, I think it is quite probable that we will see an update to the AF100. This will likely happen at their press conference on April 13th (the first day of NAB). The question at this point is whether or not the update will be consistent with the rumors.
Here are the specs that have been rumored so far:
- 4K video
- 18MP photo
- 16+ stops of dynamic range
- Improved lowlight capabilities
- Improved skintones
- Improved highlight rendition
- Useable ISO (almost no grain) up to 12,800
If these specs are accurate, Panasonic may have a winner on their hands. Certain features (such as 4K recording for instance) are pretty mandatory with any new camera released in 2015, but it’s some of the other features on this list that really catch my attention – specifically the 16+ stops of DR and useable ISO at 12,800.
Now that the novelty of shooting 4K has somewhat worn off, many shooters are far more concerned with the dynamic range and low light performance of their cameras than anything else. I personally would fall into that camp… While I love the ability to shoot 4K, I would still choose to shoot in 1080p with a higher DR camera in most situations, as opposed to in 4K with less DR. In many ways, I feel the same way about low-light capability. Although I don’t do a whole lot of ultra-low light shooting, there is something comforting about knowing that in a pinch your camera can be bumped up to a high ISO and still produce nice images.
So with all that said, if Panasonic is actually able to deliver a 4K camera with 16+ stops of DR and amazing high ISO performance, it will certainly draw a lot of attention this year. Right now, Panasonic has a big gap in their camera lineup that they desperately need to fill. The GH4 is obviously one of the most sought after low budget cameras out there today, and the Varicam (which was updated last year) covers the higher end productions, but Panasonic doesn’t have the mid-range camera market covered. They need to release a camera that can compete with cameras like the Canon C100 or Sony FS7, which is why I think the AF100 successor is likely to happen.
The question that remains though, is are they going to be too late to the game once again? Even if these specs are accurate, who knows what Canon, Sony, Blackmagic, and the other manufacturers have up their sleeves… I hope for Pansonic’s sake, that this isn’t a repeat of what happened with the Varicam last year – which is undeniably a fantastic camera, but was released a year or two too late. Most high end users had already moved over to RED, Arri, Blackmagic, or Sony, and to this day it hasn’t been adopted in the same way that cameras from these other brands have been. At this point it’s all speculation of course, but I have always really enjoyed Pansonic’s cameras and truly hope that they have something impressive at this year’s show.
If these rumors are accurate, the AF100 successor will probably be one amazing camera. Regardless of what the competition has cooking up, a 4K MFT camera with 16+ stops of dynamic range, and useable low light up to ISO 12,800 would be quite impressive. Ultimately, it’s success may very much depend on whether or not Panasonic once again has the spotlight stolen from them, and until next month we just won’t know what to expect. Regardless though, the fact that the GH4 has been so widely popularized is one great thing that Panasonic has going for them, as many shooters have now re-invested themselves in the Panasonic brand.