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Varicam vs. HDX 900


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#1 Mike Elwell

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 11:33 AM

I am in the market to buy an HD camera. The production co. I have been working with has been using Varicams exclusively on their productions, renting them on a day by day basis. They have offered me a long term project, and it seems the time is right to buy my own camera. The prod. co. maintains that the Varicam is superior to the new HDX 900, but I don't think this is true. Their contention is that there is more compression with the HDX and the smaller tapes are incompatible with their editing systems. Nothing I have found on the web indicates this, and I wonder if anyone else has run into this reluctance to use the HDX. I realise there are certain frame rate and camera control issues that favor the varicam, but other than that I feel the HDX is best for my purposes. It is cheaper also! Any imput?
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#2 Walter Graff

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 12:03 PM

but other than that I feel the HDX is best for my purposes. It is cheaper also! Any imput?


Well based on the reason you want to buy a camera, the Varicam is better. Your client already told you they don't want an HDX. They said they don't have the machine for an HDX. You want a long term project with this client but want ot fight with what they believe. Not a good way to start out a long term project.


Outside of that an HVX is a Jr Varicam, different price point to accommodate different markets. Better? Both are good and only subjective taste really can tell you if one is better.
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#3 Mitch Gross

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 12:29 PM

The HDX900 records to the smaller tapes at a tighter 9 micron width, which allows the same recording time as the Varicam on the larger tapes. But it means that older decks won't play the tapes. The HD130 will not, for instance. The 1200A can, but only if the deck has been tweaked for optimum alignment. Otherwise the new 1400 deck is required. This could be reason enough for an established production facility to require the Varicam over the HX900.

The contention of a different compression is incorrect.
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#4 adam berk

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 01:29 PM

We just got a new HDX with the 1400 deck. I havn't shot any specific tests but from the few short things I have worked on, I'd say the HDX may have a bit more dynamic range than the Varicam. It employs a new DSP.

Also, with the HDX you can record the full resolution of the CCD's to the internal dvcpro recorder. Using the 1080p mode, the full 1280x720 goes into creating the 1280x1080 that gets recorded to the tape. This makes for a much higher resolution source picture than the Varicam's puny 960x540 tape recording (someone correct me if I'm wrong here).

The 1080 recording mode also makes this camera much more compatible with discreet finishing systems (I work on both a smoke and flame). I can go into any version of the software that supports HD 24p and be able to work with native 23.98 since the 1080p23.98 mode on the camera actually records a normal 23.98p with pulldown instead of the whacky 720p23.98 format that can be cumbersome to work with in some systems.

hope this helps
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#5 Mitch Gross

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 01:32 PM

That would be 960x720, not 540. The HDX also uses pixel shift technology to get up to the 1080 resolution. As for 720/23.98p being "wacky," I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder. It is a very established workfow.
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#6 Chad Stockfleth

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 02:09 PM

Our company should be getting an HDX900 in the next few days. The few times i got to play with it, I noticed a lot less noise compared to a 10bit Varicam. Of course, the variable framerate is a big minus towards the HDX in my book, but it's not my money. ;)
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#7 Walter Graff

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 02:18 PM

Of course, the variable framerate is a big minus towards the HDX in my book


I'd be curious as to how many people actually use this featuer and how often. I shoot a heck of a lot of video and can count on two hands how many times I have. We've usually created similar effects in post with equally as good results. Is it something that many here use often?

The HDX is a great addition. It allow Panaosonic to take the next step in featuers and fixes while making it a price point that works for so many more. Problem is it killed hte Varicam in many ways.
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#8 Mitch Gross

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 02:32 PM

Every time I'm asked for slow motion on the Varicam, it's always "How fast can it go? 60p? Perfect." So the HDX900 is just fine for me.
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#9 Chad Stockfleth

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 03:05 PM

I have to say, I use it fairly often. I've been shooting a lot with an HVX200 lately and it has come into play on about half the shoots. 26-30fps is a nice touch in a lot of situations.
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#10 Tobias Mennle

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 03:50 PM

I own a HDX and I can say for sure that 1080p looks so much better than 720p. I never measured resolution, but filmed identical subjects. 720p to my eye is very nice, but 1080 is - wow, really nice. I needed 25p, 50/60p and most of all prerecording (the varicam still doesn´t have it to my knowledge...) and it´s all there. The only complaint I have about this camera is blooming.
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#11 Michael Nash

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 05:45 PM

I'd be curious as to how many people actually use this featuer and how often. I shoot a heck of a lot of video and can count on two hands how many times I have. We've usually created similar effects in post with equally as good results. Is it something that many here use often?


I think it depends what kind of projects you do. Everytime I've used the Varicam or the HVX it's been specifically for the off-speed capability, in music videos and commercials. For general broadcast work though it's less often, and usually done as a post effect.

I have yet to use the HDX, but I'm of the same mind as Mitch regarding the 60fps (and 30) with the HDX. No, it's not as flexible as the Varicam (or HVX, for that matter), but it seems like an elegant compromise.

Of course I'm watching out for the HPX2000 as a potentially better investment.
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#12 Mike Elwell

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 10:12 PM

Well based on the reason you want to buy a camera, the Varicam is better. Your client already told you they don't want an HDX. They said they don't have the machine for an HDX. You want a long term project with this client but want ot fight with what they believe. Not a good way to start out a long term project.
Outside of that an HVX is a Jr Varicam, different price point to accommodate different markets. Better? Both are good and only subjective taste really can tell you if one is better.


Thanks for the tip regarding client relations.
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#13 Thomas James

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Posted 30 January 2007 - 09:35 AM

Anybody that says the Panasonic Varicam is a lower resolution camera is very much unimformed. First of all the Panasonic can shoot full 720p progressive at 60 frames per second. Most so called 1080p cameras can only shoot 30 frames per second. 30p cannot be considered high definition temporal resolution. Only 60p qualifies for high definition temporal resolution. Some say that the Varicam only records 960 lines of horizontal resolution rather than 1280. However the Panasonic has superior color resolution using a high definition 4:2:2 color space rather than a lower resolution 4:2:0 color space.
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#14 Mitch Gross

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Posted 30 January 2007 - 11:05 AM

Anybody that says the Panasonic Varicam is a lower resolution camera is very much unimformed. First of all the Panasonic can shoot full 720p progressive at 60 frames per second. Most so called 1080p cameras can only shoot 30 frames per second. 30p cannot be considered high definition temporal resolution. Only 60p qualifies for high definition temporal resolution. Some say that the Varicam only records 960 lines of horizontal resolution rather than 1280. However the Panasonic has superior color resolution using a high definition 4:2:2 color space rather than a lower resolution 4:2:0 color space.

Thomas, I'd like to know who you are referring to in your post. Are you saying that I am uninformed? Did you know that I work for a company that rents and sells both the Varicam and the HDX900, and if fact we've probably rented and sold far more of these cameras than anyone else in the industry?

When "some say the Varicam only records 960 lines of horizontal resolution" that "some" would be Panasonic, and their engineers who built the damn thing. And by the way, it is called "color space," not "color resolution."

I don't know why you are so hell-bent on 60p as being some great all-powerful thing. Fact is, hardly anyone ever uses it. 24p or 30p is all that is ever really used. 60p is used for later slowing down in post to one of those speeds. If you ever look at 60p it looks like -- video. Showscan, the 65mm, 60fps film format had the same problem. Not better or worse, just that people associated the look with video. The HDX900 can shoot in either 720 or 1080 and deliver both 24p or 30p. And in 1080 it extracts more resolution from the chip by using the full pixel depth and adding pixel shift, giving a measurably higher resolving image. This is from me, someone who has actually tested both cameras side by side in a proper test environment, using scopes and reference charts. There are a number of features unique to each camera, and the HDX900 does not have the Varicam's FILM REC mode for one, but please don't say that I or anyone else here is uninformed just because we haven't taken the time to explain in detail all that we know.
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#15 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 30 January 2007 - 11:25 AM

30p cannot be considered high definition temporal resolution. Only 60p qualifies for high definition temporal resolution.


Temporal resolution is one of those phrases that you hear bandied about every so often. It sounds very impressive, but is actually meaningless as far as I can see.
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#16 Christopher Bell

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Posted 30 January 2007 - 12:10 PM

I think the most important distinction between the two cameras is the Varicam's adjustable dynamic range. This is a feature I use everyday in my shooting and I find it to be indispensable. It's a tool where I can decide how much highlight compression I need for a specific lighting scenario. 200%-300% is where I mostly have it set, but there are situations where I use 500% to capture the widest tonal range.

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#17 adam berk

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Posted 30 January 2007 - 02:12 PM

That would be 960x720, not 540. The HDX also uses pixel shift technology to get up to the 1080 resolution. As for 720/23.98p being "wacky," I guess it's all in the eye of the beholder. It is a very established workfow.



Mitch, thanks for the correction on the resolution of the 720p recorded to tape.

In reference to the 720p23.98 being wacky. I was referring mostly to it's compatibility with the discreet online systems, which our company, and many many many other high end post facilities depend on. Smoke and Flame are the absolute heart of our workflow. In order to work in a native 23.98 project, the clips must be captured and then pulldown is removed clip by clip, by hand, with timewarps. This can become extremely cumbersome. On the other hand, if the material has been shot 1080p23.98, pulldown removal is completely automatic when the first AA frame is located by the artist or the assistant responsible to EDL captures for each tape, just like the workflow with a normal telecine tape.

I believe this has to do with the capabilities of HD-SDI, and please do correct me if I'm wrong here. I think the only way for the NLE to capture and remove unwanted frames automatically from Varicam or HDX 720p material is to capture via firewire where the metadata that includes the "i'm a real frame" flags can be communicated. The discreet systems can only I/O through SDI or HD-SDI.

Mitch, thanks for the correction on the resolution of the 720p recorded to tape.

In reference to the 720p23.98 being wacky. I was referring mostly to it's compatibility with the discreet online systems, which our company, and many many many other high end post facilities depend on. Smoke and Flame are the absolute heart of our workflow. In order to work in a native 23.98 project, the clips must be captured and then pulldown is removed clip by clip, by hand, with timewarps. This can become extremely cumbersome. On the other hand, if the material has been shot 1080p23.98, pulldown removal is completely automatic when the first AA frame is located by the artist or the assistant responsible to EDL captures for each tape, just like the workflow with a normal telecine tape.

I believe this has to do with the capabilities of HD-SDI, and please do correct me if I'm wrong here. I think the only way for the NLE to capture and remove unwanted frames automatically from Varicam or HDX 720p material is to capture via firewire where the metadata that includes the "i'm a real frame" flags can be communicated. The discreet systems can only I/O through SDI or HD-SDI.


You know it's funny. I just jumped over to the discreet website and noticed that the latest version of smoke DOES support varicam framerate conversions. I'm not totally sure how this is accomplished. We have yet to upgrade to this latest installment of the software for reasons of bugginess. Lot's of people havn't upgraded yet. I'll be sure to find out more though, on how they are able to do this. As soon as I find out more, I will post back here onto this thread for anyone interested.
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#18 Thomas James

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 09:39 AM

First everyone says that the 720p Panasonic Varicam is lower resolution than 1080p. Then they say that 60p is too much resolution to achieve the film look. So how can a 720p camera that has too much resolution be lower resolution than 1080p? Video is all about motion so testing video resolution using static test charts is meaningless because as soon as high speed motion is introduced the resolution of 1080p gets blurry. The resolution of the Panasonic Varicam may not be the type of high resolution that everyone is looking for but calling 720p medium definition because it lacks spatial resolution is like calling 1080p medium definition because it lacks temporal resolution.
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#19 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 09:48 AM

First everyone says that the 720p Panasonic Varicam is lower resolution than 1080p.


Yes, it is.

calling 720p medium definition because it lacks spatial resolution is like calling 1080p medium definition because it lacks temporal resolution.


No one calls 720p medium definition. There is no such thing.

1080p is higher res than 720p. Forget about 'Temporal resolution'. It's meaningless.
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#20 Tobias Mennle

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 11:01 AM

Thomas, I'd like to know who you are referring to in your post. Are you saying that I am uninformed? Did you know that I work for a company that rents and sells both the Varicam and the HDX900, and if fact we've probably rented and sold far more of these cameras than anyone else in the industry?

When "some say the Varicam only records 960 lines of horizontal resolution" that "some" would be Panasonic, and their engineers who built the damn thing. And by the way, it is called "color space," not "color resolution."

I don't know why you are so hell-bent on 60p as being some great all-powerful thing. Fact is, hardly anyone ever uses it. 24p or 30p is all that is ever really used. 60p is used for later slowing down in post to one of those speeds. If you ever look at 60p it looks like -- video. Showscan, the 65mm, 60fps film format had the same problem. Not better or worse, just that people associated the look with video. The HDX900 can shoot in either 720 or 1080 and deliver both 24p or 30p. And in 1080 it extracts more resolution from the chip by using the full pixel depth and adding pixel shift, giving a measurably higher resolving image. This is from me, someone who has actually tested both cameras side by side in a proper test environment, using scopes and reference charts. There are a number of features unique to each camera, and the HDX900 does not have the Varicam's FILM REC mode for one, but please don't say that I or anyone else here is uninformed just because we haven't taken the time to explain in detail all that we know.


Interesting information, I totally agree both on higher resolution in 1080 and on 60p. 60p looks like video if you are looking at it at, well, 60F/s. But if you´re shooting with 180° shutter, and watch at 25F/s, it should be a filmlike timelapse. And if you film 50p with open shutter you have both options, timelapse and filmlike 25F/s without complicated pulldowns. That is cool. I´m glad 50p in "real time" looks so videoish - I don´t have to wait for 1080/50p which is sometimes advertised as the holy grail of HD.
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