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Varicam 35: Can Panasonic be trusted?

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#1 Scott Auerbach

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Posted 08 December 2014 - 11:50 AM

Buyer beware:

Panasonic is introducing the Varicam 35 in a hobbled state. 60 fps initially, with higher frame rates to come “in a future firmware update.” 

 

In 2013, I took delivery of a Panasonic PX5000 P2 ENG camera. It shipped with 60p/50p and 60i/50i (who shoots interlaced any more?!?) enabled, with 24p, 25p and 30p to come “in a future firmware update.”

 

OVER A YEAR LATER, the camera STILL does not shoot 1080 at 24p, 25p or 30p. Last week they released a firmware update with those frame rates… FOR A 720 DOWNSCALED IMAGE from the native 1080 sensor. I’m told the 1080 update will come by the end of the year, but in the meantime, I’ve had a virtually useless camera for over a year. It has 70 hours on it, which is a small fraction of what I’d normally do in a year. I’ve gone for a year having to shoot jobs on either my crap little AF-100 (at a discounted day rate) or on my RED Epic, discounting it to ENG day rates and doing the downconverts to 1080 for free. I’ve also lost all rental opportunities, since nobody wants to shoot 60p or interlaced. 

 

In short, it has been a professional and financial DISASTER. 

 

Beyond that problem, Panasonic's $7500 100GS1 EVF has the worst shadow detail I've ever seen in a viewfinder. Per a Panasonic rep’s request, I dropped it off at a local vendor for him to pick up and send in for evaluation. A few days later, he called and said the service techs thought it looked fine… they wanted clarification on what the problem was. I sent examples, then went for three weeks without emails getting answered. Eventually he told me that the viewfinder was still at the vendor, and had never left the store.  He had never even sent it for evaluation.

 

There's a lot about the Varicam 35 that looks very appealing, but I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like Panasonic has become a company that simply can’t be trusted any more.

 

Scott Auerbach

DP, Sputnik Pictures


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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 08 December 2014 - 11:59 AM

Hate to be the bad guy, but I would never, ever buy a camera based on future promised firmware updates. Blackmagic has a less-than-stellar reputation in this regard. Things we as users consider basics can seem strangely opaque to these people. Yes, it's inexcusably crap that it doesn't have the features, but I'm not that surprised.

 

P


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#3 Scott Auerbach

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Posted 08 December 2014 - 12:53 PM

Agreed.  (I'm a RED owner; I know all about broken promises!)  That said, I'd never had --or even heard of-- a promised FW update taking over a year, when it was just to enable features that have been considered minimum, basic-operational standards for 15 years!  It's clearly not that Panasonic didn't know how to engineer those features...they simply ignored the problem, and screwed all the people who had purchased their top-of-the-line, most expensive broadcast camera.  So I have zero faith that they won't do the same to Varicam purchasers.

 

It's also worth noting, as a caveat, that the 4k footage isn't currently supported by Adobe, Apple or Avid.  


Edited by Scott Auerbach, 08 December 2014 - 12:56 PM.

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#4 Freya Black

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Posted 08 December 2014 - 12:58 PM

 

Buyer beware:

Panasonic is introducing the Varicam 35 in a hobbled state. 60 fps initially, with higher frame rates to come “in a future firmware update.” 

 

In 2013, I took delivery of a Panasonic PX5000 P2 ENG camera. It shipped with 60p/50p and 60i/50i (who shoots interlaced any more?!?) enabled, with 24p, 25p and 30p to come “in a future firmware update.”

 

OVER A YEAR LATER, the camera STILL does not shoot 1080 at 24p, 25p or 30p. Last week they released a firmware update with those frame rates… FOR A 720 DOWNSCALED IMAGE from the native 1080 sensor. I’m told the 1080 update will come by the end of the year, but in the meantime, I’ve had a virtually useless camera for over a year. It has 70 hours on it, which is a small fraction of what I’d normally do in a year. I’ve gone for a year having to shoot jobs on either my crap little AF-100 (at a discounted day rate) or on my RED Epic, discounting it to ENG day rates and doing the downconverts to 1080 for free. I’ve also lost all rental opportunities, since nobody wants to shoot 60p or interlaced. 

 

Hiya Scott,

  Doesn't the PX5000 have 24Pn and 25PN enabled for 1080 already?

  I thought it was just 24PA and 25PA etc that were going to be in a future update?

 

Freya


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#5 Scott Auerbach

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Posted 08 December 2014 - 01:20 PM

 

Hiya Scott,

  Doesn't the PX5000 have 24Pn and 25PN enabled for 1080 already?

  I thought it was just 24PA and 25PA etc that were going to be in a future update?

 

Freya

Nope.  The recently-released firmware (over a year after they started selling the camera) offers 24 and 25 for a 720p downscaled image.  The 1080/24 and 1080/25 updates are promised by the end of the year... if you believe that... 15 months after Panasonic started selling the camera.  Incredible bad-faith performance bordering on sheer deception.


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#6 Freya Black

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Posted 08 December 2014 - 04:17 PM

FrameRates.png

 

Ah I see there are little stars at the top of the columns even thought there is a tick there.

That's really quite silly.

 

Freya


Edited by Freya Black, 08 December 2014 - 04:19 PM.

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#7 Scott Auerbach

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Posted 08 December 2014 - 04:32 PM

Note that it says "Available in the near future."  The original brochure, published in 2013, said "Available with firmware update."  In fact, it was NOT available by firmware update, and still isn't, over 14 months after Panasonic started shipping the camera.  They promise that it will come by the end of the year, but make no apologies for screwing people like me for over a year.


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#8 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 08 December 2014 - 04:45 PM

Go on then - what'd you pay for the thing?


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#9 Scott Auerbach

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Posted 08 December 2014 - 04:48 PM

Go on then - what'd you pay for the thing?

Body and viewfinder, it was well over $30,000 US.  


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#10 Albion Hockney

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Posted 08 December 2014 - 06:03 PM

the panasonic looks really good.... all cameras these days ship with problems and need updates sony,red, canon....the only company who has put out simple solid products is arri.

 

that said the images look good ...alexa good I'd say ...im excited to try to shoot on one in the coming years.

 

 

this is clearlly a whole differnt bread then other panasonic offerings ....they have developed  this thing for sometime....that said its there first real step into this world in the right way so yea maybe wait to buy one but again....the images look good and the dual native isos looks very interesting (has a 2nd "native" iso at 5000 that looks really nice)


Edited by Albion Hockney, 08 December 2014 - 06:04 PM.

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#11 Scott Auerbach

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Posted 08 December 2014 - 06:27 PM

*snip* all cameras these days ship with problems and need updates *snip*

Normally I'd agree.  But 14+ months to offer the most basic, essential functions to make the camera usable?  There's nothing normal about THAT.  It's just a stunning disregard for the customer once they have his/her money.


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#12 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 09 December 2014 - 03:33 AM

I think the point Scott is trying to make is that it's become fairly normal for hardware devices to receive firmware updates to fix fairly minor problems or to expand slightly on capability, but he seems to view things like 24, 25 and 30fps video modes as basics which should have been available at launch or very promptly thereafter. For what it's worth I wholeheartedly agree.

 

Sadly it's not likely to be worth much. I'm sure Panasonic will have ensured that they're in no way legally obliged to make good on promises like these, especially within any particular timescale, and the worst that will happen to them is a bit of reputational damage. I would reiterate, though, that I would not have purchased a camera with major features yet to be implemented, and if this thread serves as an educational experience for others, that's no bad thing. Of course my sympathies are with the man who's out $30k for his educational experience.

 

In a wider sense, while I hesitate to blame one company for the behaviour of another, I can't help but have my thoughts turn to Red, who in my view have made a business out of overpromising, underdelivering, and being willing to sell things of extremely dubious quality. Unfortunately it is now up to the rest of the camera-manufacturing world to compete with them and I wouldn't be surprised to find that the competitive pressures created by that situation have led, albeit indirectly, to situations just such as this. It's they who made it OK for cameras to have rolling shutter sensors, for instance. Thanks for that, guys...

 

P


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#13 Scott Auerbach

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Posted 09 December 2014 - 10:01 AM

*snip*

In a wider sense, while I hesitate to blame one company for the behaviour of another, I can't help but have my thoughts turn to Red, 

*sniip*

As an owner, I agree.  They were the first to bring the current software development paradigm (promise everything, ship only some of it after a series of unrealistic and missed deadlines, then deliver the rest incredibly late) to the camera business.  They were a disruptive force in the industry, and I am convinced that we wouldn't have nearly the choices we have today without them, but they also opened a Pandora's box by how they operate their business.


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#14 Scott Auerbach

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Posted 09 December 2014 - 10:11 AM

*snip*

Sadly it's not likely to be worth much. I'm sure Panasonic will have ensured that they're in no way legally obliged to make good on promises like these, especially within any particular timescale, and the worst that will happen to them is a bit of reputational damage. I would reiterate, though, that I would not have purchased a camera with major features yet to be implemented, and if this thread serves as an educational experience for others, that's no bad thing. Of course my sympathies are with the man who's out $30k for his educational experience.

*snip*

 

P

Perhaps.  I'm in contact with legal counsel about what the options are.

 

As for reputational damage: they deserve everything that comes their way, IMO.  

 

And yes, I posted this as an educational "buyer beware," since in the past Panasonic was not known for ever engaging in this sort of shoddy behavior.  Thus my willingness to risk an investment on a piece of kit that I felt certain would be fully implemented in the near future.  It ended up causing serious financial harm to my business, and Panasonic's ongoing response for the last 7 months has been obfuscation, shrugged shoulders and a little outright deception.  Not what I'd call good business ethics, by a long shot.


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#15 Freya Black

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Posted 09 December 2014 - 10:28 AM

I won't get to into it here but I have noticed Pansonic acting very oddly on a number of occasions now which is a shame as they have some outstanding technology but that does need to be backed up with good customer service and a positive attitude to things too. I've heard annecdotes that the consumer division is much better than the "pro" division from more than one person too but don't have any details beyond that.

 

I think some of what has happened here is that in Japan 60i and 60p are probably really popular and it's easy to forget that in the rest of the world people might require other frame rates. I am a bit mystified why it is taking so long to implement this stuff. The 30p in paticular seems like it should be straightforward to implement in some way given that they already have a working 60p mode! In fact the same goes for 50p and 25p. Customer service aside, it does make you wonder what is going on at Panasonic at the moment.

 

Freya


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#16 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 09 December 2014 - 11:01 AM

The technical minutiae of this sort of thing can be quite intricate; it only takes some fragment of code or minor component to have been specified without consideration of the implications of lower frame rates, and you can easily find yourself in an "oh crap" moment. For Panasonic this might mean having to take the cameras back in and do hardware mods, which would cost them a king's ransom in shipping and workshop hours as well as the development time to design and specify the modifications, manufacture or source any new parts, and so on, but of course I'm speculating wildly.

 

The other, possibly more realistic thought was that they simply didn't sell many of them and it isn't worth their while spending the developer time on it. Obviously, that would be absolutely asinine, but it would also be normal.


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#17 Scott Auerbach

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Posted 09 December 2014 - 11:24 AM

The technical minutiae of this sort of thing can be quite intricate; it only takes some fragment of code or minor component to have been specified without consideration of the implications of lower frame rates, and you can easily find yourself in an "oh crap" moment. For Panasonic this might mean having to take the cameras back in and do hardware mods, which would cost them a king's ransom in shipping and workshop hours as well as the development time to design and specify the modifications, manufacture or source any new parts, and so on, but of course I'm speculating wildly.

 

The other, possibly more realistic thought was that they simply didn't sell many of them and it isn't worth their while spending the developer time on it. Obviously, that would be absolutely asinine, but it would also be normal.

They assure me there are no hardware mods.  They just enabled 720p downscales in 24/25/30 by firmware update last month (a year after shipping the cameras).  I think they probably made a very calculated decision that they hadn't sold enough of them outside Japan to warrant fixing the firmware yet.


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#18 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 09 December 2014 - 11:47 AM

In terms of finding a solution - what's the widest possible shutter it supports in 50 or 60p? You might conceivably be able to wind the shutter all the way out and postprocess it all down to 25 or 30, if it's a workflow where you can realistically do some processing. I mention this because it would be a much (much, much) faster process than shooting Redcode in almost any circumstances, even to the point of doing it on set. On a decent machine, you might find that copying your P2 cards to the producer's drive, versus transcoding them to the producer's drive dropping every other frame, might take similar amounts of time, and you could deliver, DNX, prores, etc, into the bargain.

 

P


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#19 Scott Auerbach

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Posted 09 December 2014 - 12:38 PM

In terms of finding a solution - what's the widest possible shutter it supports in 50 or 60p? You might conceivably be able to wind the shutter all the way out and postprocess it all down to 25 or 30, if it's a workflow where you can realistically do some processing. I mention this because it would be a much (much, much) faster process than shooting Redcode in almost any circumstances, even to the point of doing it on set. On a decent machine, you might find that copying your P2 cards to the producer's drive, versus transcoding them to the producer's drive dropping every other frame, might take similar amounts of time, and you could deliver, DNX, prores, etc, into the bargain.

 

P

For the footage I edit myself, yeah, that's what I've done... 60fps at 359 degree shutter, then skip-frame process it.  But the bulk of my work simply gets handed off to clients, and nobody wants to go through that mess.  Not to mention the lost camera rental income.  It has been an utter disaster.


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#20 John Miguel King

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Posted 08 February 2015 - 09:01 AM

It struck me as a very sleek and thoughtful piece of kit when I played with it during last week's BSC show. The colour management and overall interface are unmatched. I went in very excited about the Cion, which was a massive disappointment (maybe only because Aja's rep didn't seem very knowledgeable), but came out stunned by the Varicam.

I haven't been able to find any info on the sensor, as they're keeping it secret. However, from recent Panasonic patents it seems as if they've moved on from bayern patters onto a new technology called "color micro splitter". This means substractive colour and a greatly reduced loss of light. This is massive!

 

I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes the go to camera in just a few months.


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