The Panasonic AG-HPX370 (US$11,700 list; $9,200 street price) is a 1/3″ 3-MOS shoulder-mount HD camcorder with interchangeable lenses. It records everything from 480i to 1080p in 10-bit AVC-Intra 50/100 and 8-bit DV/DVCPRO50/DVCPROHD formats, with variable frame rates in 720p. Its MOS sensors capture a true 1920×1080 image with remarkably high sensitivity and low noise; and its “rolling shutter” skew is comparable to other affordable high-quality CMOS cameras like the PMW-EX series Sonys.
Last year, Panasonic introduced the AG-HPX300, a shoulder-mount interchangeable-lens HD camcorder using three 1/3″ sensors and recording AVC-Intra and DV formats to P2 cards. It was generally well received, but there were some grumbles about image noise and excessive skew (rolling-shutter or “jellocam” artifacts) in 1080/24p from its diminutive, 2.2 Megapixel (true 1920×1080) MOS sensors.
It’s a year later, and we now have the AG-HPX370, an updated version of the 300 with U.L.T. (“Ultra Luminance Technology”) MOS sensors. U.L.T. sensors claim F10 sensitivity (59.94i, 2000 lux) using new higher sensitivity photodiodes combined with lower noise pixel transistors. The camera adds P.A.P. (Progressive Adaptive Processing), 3D adaptive processing said to give progressive mode the same sensitivity and image quality as interlaced mode. The upshot is a camera with about a stop higher sensitivity, lower noise, and less skew than the 300 had, with a mere $100 increase in the list price (I cover the differences in a bit more detail in my 370 preview).
Actually, the 370 is one of a series of cameras: the HPX370P for the North American Market, and the HPX371E for Europe. The AG-HPX370 Series brochure also mentions a 372 and a 374 (no telling what happened to the 373). As far as I can tell, all have “WorldCam” 50Hz/60Hz standards interoperability, AVC-Intra and DV/DVCPRO50/DVCPROHD recording on P2 cards, 480/576/720/1080-line formats, and variable frame rates in 720p.
If you think of the HPX300/370 series cameras as the shoulder-mount, MOS-sensored, interchangeable-lens versions of the HPX170 you wouldn’t be too far off base. But aside from the form factor differences, the 300 and 370 bring two major improvements to Panasonic’s line of sub-$10,000 professional camcorders: true 1920×1080 resolution, and AVC-Intra recording.
The 370 traces its lineage back to two roots:
• About a decade ago, Panasonic offered a line of 1/3″, 3-CCD shoulder-mount camcorders with interchangeable lenses. The AJ-D200/210/215 cameras recorded standard-definition video to DVCPRO25 tapes, and offered a Frame Movie Mode similar to that on the Canon XL1.
The HPX370 picks up where the D200 series left off: it’s a full-sized ENG camera with 1/3″ chips—updated for HD, variable frame rates, and AVC-Intra recording on P2 cards, of course, but it will also record standard-def DV if asked.
• In 2002, Panasonic introduced the AG-DVX100, the first affordable 24p camcorder. It was a 1/3″ 3-CCD handheld unit shooting 60i DV to tape, using an advanced pulldown scheme to record 24p with minimal losses.
Those same 24p recording modes are available in the 370 (along with a whole bunch more), and the 370’s menu system is a direct descendant of the DVX100’s menus: anyone with a DVX100, HPX200, HPX500, or HPX170 will feel instantly at home with the HPX370.
Great news all around, then—unless you’re a 300 owner; there is no upgrade path to retrofit the 370’s improvements. No worries, though: the 300 is still a fine camera; perhaps 90% of this review is pertinent to the 300 as far as operational functionality is concerned, and as I write this, HPX300s can be had new for $7,300.
A quick summary of the camera’s features, in no particular order:
• Interchangeable lenses; Fujinon 17x 4.5-77mm f/1.6 zoom supplied.
• WorldCam flexibility: 50/60Hz formats and standards.
• DV, DVCPRO50, DVCPROHD, AVC-Intra 50, and AVC-Intra 100 recording on dual P2 cards.
• 480, 576, 720, and 1080-line recording formats, with 23.98p, 25p, 29.97p, 50i, 59.94i, 50p, and 59.94p frame rates as appropriate.
• Variable frame rates in 720p formats.
• 14-bit sampling and 20-bit internal processing.
• Flash Band Compensation to stitch together “split frames” when a camera flash is captured.
• DRS (Dynamic Range Stretch) for controlling contrast.
• HD-SDI outputs, genlock input, TC in and out.
• Full DV/DVCPRO50/DVCPROHD capability over IEEE 1394 (a.k.a. FireWire, i.LINK).
• Shutter speeds as low as 1/6 sec and as high as 1/7200 sec.
• Six customizable scene files. Four such files can be stored on an SD or SDHC card. Eight lens files and four shading files are also available.
• Four-position ND filter: clear, 1/4, 1/16, and 1/64 (for 2-, 4-, and 6-stop compensations).
• Three user-definable buttons on the camera, plus the user-re-definable RET VIDEO button on the lens.
• The camera can be remotely controlled using the optional AJ-RC10C and AJ-EC4G controls.
• Pre-record (3 seconds in HD, 7 seconds in SD).
• One-shot recording: anywhere from 1 frame to 1 second per button push.
• Interval (time-lapse) recording with intervals between 2 frames and 10 minutes.
• One-clip mode: instead of making each recording a separate clip, one-clip mode appends each new recording to a single clip.
• Proxy recording: if you install the optional AJ-YAX800G proxy card in slot 2, the camera will capture an MPEG-4 proxy either to the remaining P2 card (in parallel with the full-res DV/AVC-I recording) or to an SD/SDHC card.
• Shot Marker: you can set an OK/NG metadata flag on a clip either while shooting or in playback.
• Text Memo: you can reserve text-note metadata fields in each clip that can later be filled in using P2 Viewer software on a Mac or PC.
• Unislot: the camera can accept a 1- or 2-channel unislot wireless receiver, which can be used in place of, or in addition to, the camera’s XLR inputs (the camera can record four channels of audio).
The Panasonic AG-HPX370 is a shoulder-mount, interchangeable-lens camcorder of conventional design. Its operation and handling will be very familiar to anyone used to operating a 2/3″ ENG camcorder. An EVF and a 17x Fujinon zoom lens are part of the standard kit, as is a shoulder belt, but no power supply, battery, tripod adapter, or microphone are supplied, as is normal with high-end cameras (Panasonic kindly supplied a tripod adapter as well as an Anton-Bauer “Tandem” AC adapter/charger, a Dionic90 battery pack, and an on-board microphone for this review).
The camera weighs 14 pounds with lens, EVF, microphone, 2 P2 cards, and a 90 Watt-hour Anton-Bauer Dionic90 battery good for four hours of shooting. It’s 23″ long, 10″ wide, and 10″ tall (stripped down, the body alone is 14″ long, 5.5″ wide, and 10″ tall).
Panasonic HPX370 compared to Sony PMW-EX1 and Panasonic DVX100.
It’s big as far as 1/3″ camcorders go, but the body is the normal size for a shoulder-mount ENG unit. If the camera looks larger than it should, consider that its lens is a bit smaller than the comparable lens on a 1/2″ or 2/3″ camera, so the body seems larger by comparison.
Operator’s side of HPX370 with LCD flipped open and folded back into the body.
Pictures show the camera with optional equipment: microphone, battery and/or AC adapter, tripod plate, and P2 card(s) not included with the camera.
Windows on the review camera’s operator-side flip-down panels were covered with a protective film; the film has wrinkles in it that show up on some of the images. The underlying windows were smooth and defect-free; I just didn’t feel I should peel off the tightly-attached protective films from a camera I didn’t own.
The 370 takes advantage of a compact, dual-card P2 “transport” to consolidate everything a shooter needs to handle to the left side of the camera. Shooting controls occupy the front third of the left side; audio and recorder controls fill the rear third. The middle third contains both a flip-out LCD and the media slots: two P2 cards and one SD/SDHC card slide in sideways beneath the LCD’s docked position.
Two P2 cards and an SD card plug in horizontally beneath the LCD.
An operator needn’t move away from the left side even to change recording media.
At the front of the camera is a 17x Fujinon 4.5-77mm f/1.6 zoom lens.
The stock Fujinon 17x lens.
The lens is a fully manual ENG-style lens with internal focusing, a bayonet-mount rubber lens shade and 82mm filter threads. Both iris and zoom may be servo-driven or manually operated, and all lens controls are silky-smooth. The power zoom rocker drives the lens end-to-end as quickly as two seconds or as slowly as three or more minutes. The lens has both a flange-back (back-focus) adjustment and a macro ring with a positive-locking slide switch to prevent its inadvertent operation.
Front view of HPX370 with lens removed.
The lens docks to the camera’s standard 1/3″ breech-lock mount, and its control cable connects to a port on the lower right side, below the mike connector.
Above the lens mount there’s a four-position rotary selector for the camera’s ND filters.
Four controls span the lower front of the camera: a REC toggle button with a rubber cover, a three-position SHUTTER switch behind a flip-up cover, an unprotected white/black balance switch, and a thumbwheel control for menu and frame rate selections (until I learned to leave the shutter switch’s cover lowered to differentiate its feel from that of the balance switch, I frequently groped blindly for the shutter switch and wound up triggering black balances instead).
Closeup through the lens mount: those are 1/3″ MOS sensors way back in there.
While the lens mount seems small to those used to dealing with 2/3″ cameras, it’s positively gargantuan compared to the small sensors behind it.
The HPX370’s main operator controls.
Operator controls are well laid out, though I would have put additional user buttons to work had they been available.
At the top, + and – SYNCHRO SCAN buttons let you set fractional shutter speeds without having to dive into the menus; they can also be used to select the frame rate in variable frame rate (VFR) recording: you change frame rates by pressing in the thumbwheel and using the SYNCHRO SCAN buttons to choose a rate, saving you a trip into the menus.
I wasn’t initially able to make that shortcut work; I had to select my rate in the SCENE FILE menu. But after a few format changes, the jog wheel started working as described and stayed working; I’m guessing something in the camera just needed to be reset.
The DISPLAY / MODE CHECK button toggles most VF data overlays on and off, and also lets you see current button assignments and battery levels. The SCENE FILE selector gives you six scene files (a.k.a. custom presets or picture presets) to change the look of the picture; these are as widely customizable as on other scene-file-wheel cameras from the DVX100 onwards.
The FRONT AUDIO LEVEL lets you vary the sound recording level without having to use the main controls at the back of the camera: very useful for single-operator run’n’gun work. The FOCUS ASSIST button lets you expand the VF display for closer focusing (but not while you’re recording, alas), while the MONITOR dial varies the level of both camera alerts and audio monitoring though the side-mounted speaker or through headphones.
Three USER buttons (as well as the RETurn video button on the lens) let you trigger various functions:
• REC REVIEW plays back the tail end of the last clip recorded; normally assigned to the lens-mounted RET button, pressing it plays the last two seconds, while holding it down plays the last ten seconds, a nice feature that saves you a trip to the menu to assign a review duration.
• SPOTLIGHT or BACKLIGHT auto-exposure compensation.
• ATW triggers auto-tracking white balance (which can also be assigned to the B position of the WHITE BAL switch).
• ATW LOCK holds the current ATW setting.
• 24 dB GAIN, which is the only way you can get the gain to +24dB.
• Y GET displays the brightness level of the center of the image; a small square appears in the display when Y GET is active, along with the brightness from 0% to 100%+.
• DRS toggles dynamic range stretch on and off.
• TEXT MEMO adds a text-memo metadata “slot” in the current clip, letting you create a text memo afterwards.
• SLOT SEL switches the P2 card slot selected for recording or playback (the 370 does not have a dedicated SLOT SEL button).
• SHOT MARK adds “shot mark” metadata to a clip.
• MAG A. LEVEL magnifies the audio meters to fill the width of the display.
• PRE REC turns the pre-record function on and off.
• PC MODE switches the mode of the USB port; a very useful menu-bypassing shortcut when connecting the camera as a USB drive.
• WFM lets you toggle a waveform monitor, a vectorscope, or both sequentially on the LCD display.
• FBC toggles flash band compensation on and off.
That’s a lot of really useful functionality to spread across a mere three buttons; I usually found that I wanted to have quick access to two or three more functions than I had buttons to assign them to. I wound up setting the main button to Y GET and USER 1 to WFM with both WFM and vectorscope enabled (what can I say, I’m a bit of an exposure freak), and reset USER 2 for whatever else I most wanted on a moment-by-moment basis.
Four silver flip switches sit on an angled panel. ZEBRA toggles zebras in the EVF and LCD; GAIN is a three-position gain selector (each position may be set to -3, 0, +3 +6, or +12 dB); OUTPUT chooses between colorbars and video with either manual or automatic knee, and WHITE BAL is a PRST (preset)/A/B white balance switch.
As with many Panasonics, toggling the AUTO W/B BAL button on the front while WHITE BAL is in its PRST position flips the preset color temperature between 3200K and 5600K.
The WHITE BAL B position can optionally be set to engage ATW (auto-tracking white balance). Additionally, the OUTPUT’s auto knee ON position can be programmed to trigger DRS instead of the auto knee.
Below the four-switch panel, a MENU pushbutton works in concert with the front-mounted thumbwheel to control the menus, and a POWER switch switches the camera on or off. The camera comes up gratifyingly quickly; you can be recording within two seconds of flipping the switch.
Rear left-side controls with cover panels flipped down.
The monitor speaker is behind a slim slot just above the LCD. The LCD itself can face out (as shown) or in (for protection), or can flip out from the camera, rotating 90 degrees down or 180 up and forwards for mirror-mode shooting. No controls reside behind the LCD, so there’s no need to keep pulling it out from the body, as is often necessary on smaller cameras.
Media slots below the the LCD each have a status LED (don’t pull a card with a yellow lamp, or you’ll be sorry!). The SD/SDHC slot is a push-to-latch, push-to-release slot, while the P2 slots have flip-out eject levers. A magnetically-secured door covers the slots when access isn’t required.
The rear third of the camera has two LEDs, a green one indicating a USB connection and a red one for warnings (media full, battery low, etc.). Three pushbuttons handle timecode setting, and two thumbwheels control audio levels for channels 1 and 2. These wheels are stiff and well recessed to avoid accidental operation, yet have knobbly bumps so you can spin them when you want to, even with gloves on.
Slide switches choose which audio channels you’re monitoring and toggle channels 1 and 2 between automatic and manual gain control.
A flip-down panel covers transport controls, the menu controls used in playback, audio input routing switches, timecode free-run/set/rec-run selection, and a handy switch that toggles data and menu displays on the SDI outputs. All the mode switches with day-glo orange backgrounds are visible with the cover door closed, so you can instantly see how the camera is configured.
Rear view of HPX370 with all port covers removed or opened.
The backside of the camera has an Anton-Bauer gold mount battery plate with DC tap, but you can swap it out for a V-mount plate, and Panasonic even offers an NP-type adapter that slots into the V-mount plate for those with a stock of the older batteries. There’s also a 4-pin DC power input; a small tally lamp beside it; a 12V accessory power output; dual XLRs for channels 1 and 2, switchable between line and mic levels, as well as 48v phantom power; an SDI output; a proper, robust six-pin IEEE1394 port for DV-format streaming, and a remote port for connecting a paintbox or CCU. All ports have rubber weather covers, with the 1394 port’s cover tied to the camera while the others are linked to each other.
Right side of HPX370.
Older cameras put a tape transport (or the five-slot P2 bays used on other Panasonic shoulder-mounts) on the right side because they had to, but since the 370 uses only two P2 cards, there was no need to stay with tradition and make the operator reach over or walk around the camera just to change media. As a result, the right side of the camera is a blank expanse aside from I/O spigots. It’s not only a matter of convenience: a right-side card bay is less secure, especially in crowds.
Rear right-side ports with covers opened or removed.
Both USA type A and USB type B port reside behind a tethered plastic cover: the camera can act either as a USB drive (device) or as a USB controller (host), so it can either connect as a drive for a Mac or PC, or offload its clips to a USB-connected disk drive.
BNCs provide a second SDI output (both outputs are identical); a genlock input; and timecode in and out. Dual RCAs supply audio for monitoring. All are sealed with tethered rubber covers, all interconnected and normally attached to the screw beside the TC IN port.
Note that the camera lacks Y/C, analog component, and HDMI outputs, and it has no “pool feed” video input (unless you get your pool feeds in DV/DVCPRO50/DVCPROHD via the IEEE 1394 port).
Top view of HPX370, with P2 card for reference.
A carrying handle runs the length of the camera. At its front is the EVF, which is adjustable side to side but is otherwise permanently attached. Behind it there’s an accessory foot with 1/4″x20 tapped hole, a REC start/stop button with a side-mounted lock switch, and 1/4″x20 and 3/8″x16 threaded sockets towards the back. At the rear there’s another tally lamp with its own switch (which also controls the tally lamp at the base of the camera). Aft of the handle there’s a covered slot for a “unislot” plug-in wireless audio receiver; the slot accepts both single- and dual-channel receivers.
The base of the camera has fittings for a standard tripod plate adapter and a non-adjustable shoulder pad. It’s not the cushiest shoulder pad around, but the camera is light enough that it doesn’t matter; it’s comfortable as it is.
The EVF eyepiece can be removed; the LCD opens past 90 degrees.
The 3.2″ LCD has about 921 kilopixels, and it’s quite sharp, resolving about 400 TVl/ph or better both horizontally and vertically. It has very good color reproduction and a wide (if not hemispheric) viewing angle; Panasonic’s on-camera LCDs have improved quite a bit in the past couple of years.
The EVF is fixed to the camera and has only a tally lamp switch on its front side; zebras are controlled with the side-panel switch and other settings—brightness, contrast, color, and peaking—are set through the menus.
The EVF adjusts laterally by about two inches, enough to accommodate almost any right-eyed operator but insufficient for left-eyeball types. The eyepiece can rotate up or down as required, or it can be removed entirely, though the tiny 0.45″ LCOS panel behind it is too small to be usefully viewable without the eyepiece’s substantial magnification. With the eyepiece attached, the apparent image size is like watching a 40″ TV from about 8 feet away. It’s adequate, if not stellar; it’s a very slightly less magnification than the Sony PMW-EX1’s EVF provides, while EVFs on Sony’s EX3, 320, and 350 project an image that’s about 20% larger.
The EVF panel is sequentially illuminated by red, green and blue LEDs, so rapid eye movement results in color fringing, but the display is crisp and clear, with about 1.2 million pixels—it’s definitely a focus-capable display, with about 500 TVl/ph resolution.
Next: Displays and menus; playback; operations and handling…
Displays and Menus
Peaking (viewfinder image edge enhancement to aid in focusing) can be set to high or low detail frequencies, and its strength can be varied between -7 and +7. Peaking affects both the EVF and the LCD, and since it happens in the camera, not the EVF itself, it’s applied before data displays are overlaid.
(The images that follow were shot off the LCD panel, with peaking on LOW frequency and the peaking level up a bit from the default, though I don’t remember the exact setting.)
The 370’s data displays, with Y GET, crosshairs, focus bar, and 90% safe area shown.
The 370 offers the same sort of comprehensive data displays that folks have come to know from the DVX100 camera onwards. Crosshairs and edge markers are in white; alphanumerics are in a light gray with black outlines. Color is used for rec/pause indications, P2 status indicators, and over-limit audio levels. Many display elements are individually selectable though the menus. All the stuff you really need to know—format, frame rate, shutter and aperture, battery and audio levels, card status, white balance, zoom, scene file name, etc.—is available.
Battery level is shown by a bar graph, and (at least with the Dionic90 pack) battery level readouts in tens of percent (10%, 20%, etc.) up to “MAX”. When the battery gets low enough, the readout switches to tenths of volts, an alarm sounds, and red icons, text warnings, and the body-mounted LED flash in unison to let you know.
Low battery warnings include a voltage readout and a red LED.
Audio levels are shown as bar graphs in the lower left corner of the display, with tick marks at the reference level (-18dBfs or -20dBfs, as set in the menus), red segments above the reference, but (still) no indication of where full-scale is on the bar graph… until you run into it. I do wish Panasonic would put a red limit line on the display, as other manufacturers do, so that we would have a visual references as to how much headroom we had left before we exceeded it.
To be fair, using the MAGNIFY AUDIO LEVEL function displays a meter with the full range delineated, though you lose the rest of your lower-screen data displays while the magnified meter is shown.
Pressing the DISP./MODE CHECK button once declutters the display, removing most (but not all) the data overlays.
Decluttering the screen leaves TC, safe area, focus bar, crosshairs, and record indicator when recording.
One nice touch: with lower-border text out of the way, the focus bar (when shown) shifts down from the lower center of the image to just inside the 90% safe area, making it easier to compose around the subject while still providing focusing help.
Another DISP./MODE CHECK push brings the data back. Pressing and holding the button pops up mode check information:
MODE CHECK shows more battery info, switch assignments, etc.
It’s very handy for a quick reminder about what functions you’ve assigned to the USER buttons. Unlike some other cameras, the 370 has only one mode check screen, so you’re not paging frantically though multiple pages looking for some nugget of info; it’s either there or it isn’t. Some may decry the relative paucity of information, but I find that the 370 gave me just the right amount of info in its normal and mode check displays, neither overwhelming me with detail nor leaving out critical data.
The displays also offer one or two zebra displays, each tweakable between 50% and 109%. The zebras can be used sequentially (zebra 1 starts at its level, then zebra 2 kicks in at its own level) as shown here:
Both zebra levels can be shown; here, zebra 1 is at 70% and zebra 2 is at 100%.
Alternatively, the zebras can be used in “spot” mode, kicking in at the zebra 1 level then turning off at zebra 2’s level. This is a very handy mode for setting up consistent greenscreen illumination, for example (an application the 370 is well suited to, with its high resolution, 10-bit 4:2:2 recording, and generous depth of field).
As to the menus, they’re very similar to those in any other Panasonic pro-level camcorder under $15,000:
Menus atop a dimmed display.
The 370 lets you dim down the video display to a dark gray to make the menus more readable, but aside from that, the general style of operation harks right back to the DVX100 and subsequent cameras. Most tweakable settings run the range from -7 to +7, and there are seven preset gammas and four preset matrices to choose from.
Compared to higher-end cameras the menu tweaks seem somewhat limited, but in practice, they’re sufficient to provide a wide variation in looks. The comparative coarseness of adjustments—plus or minus 7, vs. plus or minus 99 on higher-end cameras—may make it harder to precisely match one camera to another, but in the past eight years of shooting with multiple DVX100s and/or HVX200s I’ve not found it to be an issue, practically speaking.
For a more detailed listing of menu parameters and operations, download the AG-HPX370 Operating Manual.
Pressing the THUMBNAIL button on the side of the camera switches the machine between recording and playback modes.
Thumbnail screen: cursor on clip 042, clip 043 is selected.
The EVF and LCD show a thumbnail grid with clip numbers and starting timecodes. The current clip’s format and duration are displayed along the bottom of the screen. The thumbnails are also visible on SD video outputs, but HD outputs show black while in thumbnail mode.
Thumbnail menus cascade, so you don’t get lost.
The side-mounted MENU button and four-way arrow keys display hierarchical menus letting you display and edit clip data; delete, repair, and copy clips; and format P2 and SD cards.
Some of the metadata visible on the thumbnail display.
A fair amount of metadata travels with each clip. Panasonic’s own P2 Viewer software for Mac and PC can display and edit this information, and sort and select clips based on it. Some NLEs exploit this information to varying degrees, too.
Pressing the PLAY button starts full-screen playback, when possible (as with other P2 cams, clips cannot be played back on the HPX370 unless the clip was recorded in the current system mode: a 720p clip can’t be played back if the camera is set to 1080i mode, for example).
During playback, the FF and REW buttons do one of three things:
• if playback is stopped, these buttons will scan through clips at 32x.
• if playback is paused, these buttons jump to the next or previous clip.
• if playback is in progress, these buttons play at 4x normal speed.
Unfortunately there is no single-frame advance or slo-mo playback in the camera.
Operations and Handling
The HPX370 behaves just like any other shoulder-mount camcorder. With the stock lens and the Dionic90 battery pack, the camera balanced nicely on my shoulder. The controls all fall exactly where they should and operate the way you’d expect them to.
The EVF adjusts side-to-side only, not up-and-down nor front-and-back, and that, combined with the lack of adjustability in the shoulder pad, made it slightly more uncomfortable to use the camera pointing steeply up or down than might otherwise be the case—but the 370 is so small and light for a shoulder-mount camcorder that it wasn’t a serious matter.
Likewise, those used to having all their EVF setup controls as physical knobs on the EVF housing may find the need to delve into the menus a bit disconcerting (as well as having a permanently-attached, hardwired EVF in the first place), but it’s a fairly minor issue, and the cost savings in doing so let Panasonic offer the HPX370 at a much lower price than would otherwise be possible.
The viewfinder optics can cause a bit of flare on bright subjects, which will worry first-time users until they see that it’s only EVF flare: the recorded image, like the image on the LCD, is fine.
Like the HPX170, the HPX370 can display a waveform monitor or vectorscope on its flip-out LCD, but not in the EVF.
On the 170, this scheme works very well: with the camera at eye-level and the LCD opened, the rear-mounted EVF is clear of distractions while the forward-mounted LCD lets the operator keep a weather eye on the WFM.
On the 370, where the EVF is mounted farther forward than the LCD, this division of labor is unsuitable: you can’t use the WFM at all while handholding the camera, practically speaking. Yes, the camera has two zebras and the Y GET spot-metering function, which should suffice for run’n’gun exposure monitoring, but darn it: I’m used to interpreting a WFM, and I would like the option to see it in the eyepiece while working handheld.
The ND wheel has four positions (all that you can fit into a single filter wheel), with one clear position and then 2-, 4-, and 6-stop NDs. As I’ll discuss later, stopping the lens down below f/4 softens the image due to diffraction, so the 370 really wants to be operated in the widest two to three stops of its lens, and the two-stop-per-step spacing of its NDs lets you stay in that sweet spot… most of the time. However, even a 6-stop ND isn’t enough to handle bright daylight; if you want to avoid closing down the lens, you’ll have to resort to a higher shutter speed or a separate, supplemental ND filter for noonday shoots.
I can’t fault Panasonic for not including more ND choices; all four slots on the filter wheel are already filled, and there may simply not be room in the optical path to add a second filter wheel like those on some 2/3″ cameras. But I can complain that the HPX370 does nothing to prevent the lens from closing down further: unlike some other 1/3″ and 1/2″ camcorders, the 370 has no menu setting limiting the auto-iris operation to a selected minimum opening. Those other cameras let you pick a stop, from f/4 to f/11, beyond which the iris won’t close, so you can trade off available aperture range against the degree of diffraction softening you’re willing to tolerate. The 370 doesn’t offer that option; several times while I was shooting I wound up at f/8 or f/11, and didn’t notice it until I played back the too-soft images. Yes, more operator vigilance would avoid the problem, but it would be nice if the 370 helped out a bit more.
The shutter speed selector cycles through several settings: synchro scan, two slow shutter speeds at twice and four times the normal time for the current frame rate (e.g., 1/15 and 1/30 for 60i or 60p recording), 1/50 (in 50Hz modes only), 1/60, 1/100, 1/120, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, and 1/2000. Synchro scan is adjustable in either fractions of a second or in degrees of shutter angle from the normal exposure time (or a 359.5 degree shutter) up to 1/249.8 sec in time mode, or a 3 degree shutter in angle mode.
When the shutter is off, the shutter time is the inverse of the frame or field rate, e.g., 1/24 at 24fps. This is perfectly normal for 60i video cameras, but those used to implementations on some other cine-oriented cameras might be expecting the default shutter speed at 24 fps to be 1/48—and annoyingly there is no 180-degree shutter setting in the preset speeds; you have use synchro scan to dial it in. It’s not a big deal, but it can slow things down a bit, especially because the synchro scan setting has a tendency to revert to 1/60 whenever modes or frame rate are changed.
The short-form listing of the HPX370’s speeds ‘n’ feeds, from Panasonic’s brochure.
The HPX370 has so many different frame rates, raster sizes, recording formats, and special recording modes that it takes five pages of tables in the Operating Instructions to list all of them and show which combinations of them work. I’ll just mention a few points.
All special recording modes other than one-clip recording—interval recording, one-shot recording, loop recording, and the like—are inaccessible in 24p formats, and all require that variable frame rate recording (VFR) is off.
DRS (Dynamic Range Stretch) isn’t available in any of the 1080P modes.
Loop recording requires two P2 cards (of course), and it requires one minute or more free space on each of the cards.
One-clip recording automatically concatenates up to 99 separate shots into a single clip. To stop the concatenation and start a new clip, you press and hold the STOP button on the side of the camera for 2 seconds while paused; if recording, press and hold the RECord button instead. (Panasonic warns that one-clip recordings may not be compatible with all NLEs.)
One-shot and interval recording works the same way: each burst of recording is added to a single clip until you press the STOP button or reset the recording mode in the menus.
FBC (Flash Band Compensation) works in any interlaced mode (and in 720p with VFR off) as long as the shutter is off. According to Panasonic, it looks for marked brightness differences between the bottom halves of adjacent frames, and when a flash is detected, it stitches together horizontal slices from adjacent frames to form fully-flashed and fully-unflashed frames. Panasonic says that FBC can be fooled by things like fast pans or zooms past bright windows; it doesn’t always detect actual flashes, and the stitched-together frames may show some momentary freezes, motion judder, and/or some loss of resolution. In my tests, I wasn’t able to fool FBC at all, nor did it miss any flashes. I’ll dissect and discuss the stitching process later in this article.
Next: Performance; Tone and Color; DRS and FBC; etc…
The 4.5-77mm 17x Fujinon lens shows no ramping at all in the center of the image: with the aperture wide open, there’s no loss of level from full wide to full telephoto. There is some portholing / vignetting at the extremes of focal length with the iris wide open; zoom in from 20mm and the edges of the image darken slightly, with the darkening spreading to form an even vignette across most of the image at 77mm. Maximum light loss at the edge of the picture is about a stop, and it’s not really visible other than on the WFM until you’re past 40mm. Stop down to f/3.5, though, and the vignetting is banished. There is also a bit of vignetting when zooming wider than 10mm, with just a tiny and visually imperceptible darkening of the corners; again, stopping down to f/2.8 makes it go away.
At 4.5mm there’s a little complex mustache distortion, with a bit of barrel bulging in the middle of the image while the extreme edges show pincushioning (straight lines bow inwards at their centers), morphing to slight pincushioning around 10mm, cleaning up to a rectilinear rectitude at full telephoto. Even at the wide end, the distortion isn’t really noticeable unless you do something like frame the edge of a doorway in the outermost 10%-15% of the picture.
Minimum focus is a rather lengthy 3 feet, 1 inch (measured from where the shade meets the lens proper; the front of the lens shade is nearly an inch farther forwards). Using the separate macro ring brings M.O.D. down to 2 feet 5 inches at 77mm, and all the way down to inside the front of the lens at 4.5mm. Because the macro ring is a separate control, as is typical on high-end broadcast lenses, shooters transitioning from smaller cameras with integrated zooms may be caught out by the near-focus limits.
As with all prism cameras, there’s a bit of vertical green/magenta color fringing on out-of-focus details, but it’s not excessive.
The lens shows a slight bit of blue/yellow lateral chromatic aberration at full wide angle, with CA diminishing to an insignificant amount about halfway between 4.5mm and 10mm. Red/green CA starts becoming noticeable around 30mm and is quite prominent by 77mm. Panasonic’s CAC (Chromatic Aberration Correction) eliminates any visible trace of lateral CA (if by “lateral” you mean “horizontal”; correction is only done horizontally, so vertical color smear is still visible at the extremes of the focal range).
Chromatic Aberration Correction at full telephoto.
Chromatic Aberration Correction at full wide angle.
The lens is quite sharp even wide open, but the 1/3″ true-1080P sensor clearly shows the diffraction-based limits of smaller apertures for small formats. At f/5.6, resolution drops to about 800 TVl/ph and the image is visibly getting softer; go smaller still and the image degrades further. The sweet spot is in a two- to three-stop range from wide open to around f/2.8 or even f/4, but close the lens down further and sharpness suffers.
With focal length starting at 4.5mm, the lens isn’t particularly wide by modern standards; the built-in lens on the 1/3″ HVX200 goes to 4.2mm, and the HPX170’s starts at 3.9mm. HPX370 owner/operators may want to consider a wide-angle adapter, or one of the wider 1/3″ zooms available—though when you see what the wider zooms cost, you’ll appreciate the stock lens all the more.
If this lens has a weak point, it’s breathing: racking focus from near to far causes a substantial change in image magnification, perhaps as much as 20%.
Heavy breathing: the 17x Fujinon changes magnification with focus.
Resolution and Detail
The HPX370 uses 1/3″ MOS sensors with 1920×1080 active photosites: a full-res HD sensor. From the full-size image, the camera derives a number of other rasters through downsampling.
I did my usual test of shooting a DSC Labs multiburst-square wave sweep chart and pulling out pixel-for-pixel extractions for your viewing pleasure. Have a look not only at limiting resolutions and over-limit aliases, but also at compression quality, especially around the text labels. These charts were all shot around f/2.8 or f/4, with detail at -6 (on a range from -7 to +7).
1920x1080p AVC-Intra 100 (pixel-for-pixel).
1440x1080p AVC-Intra 50 (expanded back to 1920×1080 in FCP).
1280x720p AVC-Intra 100 (pixel-for-pixel).
960x720p AVC-Intra 50 (expanded back to 1280×720 in FCP).
Pixel-for-pixel 576i and 576p DVCPRO50 (720×576).
Pixel-for-pixel 480i and 480p DVCPRO50 (720×480).
Eyes glazed over yet? My take on these results is that the camera properly resolves (and records) 1000+ TVl/ph in full 1920×1080 AVC-Intra 100 mode, with corresponding reductions in limiting resolution as the sampling raster and/or the frame size is reduced. There’s minimal aliasing at full res; downsampled formats show some green/magenta aliasing in the vertical direction, but it’s not something that normally makes itself visible in real-world shooting.
In practical shooting, I found that the camera made very smooth, naturalistic images with plenty of detail and no noticeable aliasing of any sort.
Sensitivity and Noise
The AG-HPX370 Series brochure says:
…the same levels of sensitivity and image quality that are found in Interlace mode are now possible in Progressive mode thanks to P.A.P. (Progressive Advanced Processing), a 3D adaptive processing technology.
That means that we’re not going to see a raw, unprocessed output from these sensors; it’s going to be fiddled with in unusual ways. Indeed, I measured the HPX370’s basic sensitivity at 0dB gain as ISO 800 in 1080p, 720p, and all 576- and 480-line modes. In 1080i, the camera was about a third of a stop faster: ISO 1000.
By comparison, I rate the 1/2″ PMW-EX1 and EX3 at ISO 500 in 1080p. RED suggests rating their new, S35-sized Mysterium-X sensor at ISO 800. Arri similarly suggests shooting the 35mm-sized Alexa at ISO 800. Here’s a 1/3″ sensor making a full-HD 1080p image at ISO 800 when at 0dB gain. Not too shabby.
The camera lets you set gain from -3dB to +12dB, and also offers +24dB on a user-definable pushbutton. As part of an exposure test, I shot the same scene at 0dB, +6db (1 stop faster), +12dB (2 stops faster), and +24dB (four stops faster). Here’s a pixel-for-pixel extract from those tests, with the gain setting, the effective ISO rating, and the f-stop at which it was shot:
Pixel-for-pixel details at four gains. Inset: source image with detail area outlined.
I point out the f-stop to show the diffraction-limited resolution loss that occurs with small apertures on 1/3″ sensors. Note the loss of resolution as the aperture closes down; the +24dB image is sharp despite its noise because I dialed in some ND and opened the iris back up. When you have a small sensor as sharp as those in the HPX370, even relatively large apertures like f/5.6 cause noticeable losses. A separate test I ran, varying light levels instead of apertures, showed no change in resolution with changes in gain.
I compared the HPX370 with the Sony PMW-EX1, a 1/2″ 1920×1080 3-CMOS camera. The HPX370 is quieter at 0dB gain than the EX1, despite being nearly a stop more sensitive. As gains rise, the HPX370’s edge diminishes; with both cameras at ISO 3200 (EX1 at +18dB and the HPX370 at +12dB), the two cameras are about equally noisy, and with both cameras at +12dB, the EX1 is quieter (if almost a stop less sensitive).
The HPX370’s noise pattern is very isomorphic, like film grain; some older Panasonics tended towards horizontally streaky chroma noise signatures, almost like the noise seen on noisy analog tapes.
How can the HPX370 get such clean, sensitive images from a 1/3″ sensor? It’s that “3D adaptive processing technology” at work. Presumably, the third “D” is time: correlating the images in multiple frames to find and eliminate noise. Previous small-sensor Panasonics have used 3D, temporally-recursive noise reduction techniques to make better-than-they-should-be images.
The problem with recursive noise reduction of this sort is that it can lead to visible trailing (almost like old tube-camera artifacts) behind fast-moving subjects. This danger means that you can’t use it as aggressively as you might like as noise increases; trail visibility climbs too quickly. This tradeoff may explain why the noise climbs faster on the HPX370 than it does on the EX1.
I have two clips out of all that I shot that may show evidence of this. They include rapid motion of contrasty, dense foliage in front of smooth and featureless backgrounds; in one case the sky, in the other an out-of-focus shadowed area. If I look very carefully, frame-by-frame—especially with some contrast boosting applied—I can see what looks like faint eddies of noise in the picture for a frame or two after the foliage has moved on, echoing where the leaves were in the previous frame or two. It’s very faint, and it’s not something that anyone would normally see (or “that anyone normal would see”, grin). I only saw it because I was playing around with the images, pushing them around in post to see how well the AVC-Intra codec held up under extreme manipulation.
Now, AVC-Intra 100 (which is what I shot the clips with) is an intraframe-only codec, and Panasonic assures me that the entire thing, including prediction, is done on an intra-frame basis—so there should be no way the codec could cause any trailing compression artifacts in a scene.
I’m left to suspect that, unless Panasonic has managed to sneak three low-power, perfectly-registered, full-HD-capable 1/3″ Newvicon tubes into the HPX370 [note: not too bloody likely!], 3D recursive noise reduction is being used, and that accounts for the slight trailing I saw, as well as the impressive low-noise performance of the 370’s fast, yet tiny, 1080p sensors.
Panasonic indirectly confirmed this speculation when tech-reviewing the article; they said trailing of this sort had been mentioned on DVXuser, too. Panasonic is coming up with a firmware update offering two different P.A.P. modes, the current one and a new mode designed to reduce this sort of artifact. They may send me another 370 with the new firmware for testing; stay tuned…
Tonal Scale Reproduction
The HPX370 offers three manual knee settings as well as an auto knee. The auto knee is a bit laggy in its reaction and can sometimes lead to slight “pumping” in highlight values as overall levels change, such as when the aperture is suddenly opened or closed a couple of stops. The manual knees are fixed, so they don’t exhibit any adaptive behavior; good for consistency, if less ideal for coping with unpredictably changing scenes.
Here’s the really exciting bit: the knees appear to be gradual, “soft shoulder” limiters, more like Sony’s cine gammas and hypergammas than a traditional, sharp-cornered, hard-onset knee. Bright, saturated gradients, like skies or overexposed skin tones, desaturate smoothly as they approach the clipping level, and crush smoothly into the 109% exposure ceiling.
Knees on lesser cameras cause such gradients to exhibit sudden hue shifts as they cross into the knee’s levels of operation; skies typically go cyan while skins turn yellow, before both hard-clip into white. No so with the HPX370’s knees. Previously, I had to use the Cine-like V gamma on affordable Panasonics to get clean skintone rolloff; Cine-like V applies a film-like S-curve to the tonal scale. With the HPX370’s knees, I get the same, smooth highlight handling in all the gamma settings.
Here are three pix, shot off the camera’s LCD screen, showing the HPX370’s waveform display for a rather overexposed and unevenly-lit chart (the hue shift with changing exposure level is an artifact of the LCD and of my slapdash white-balancing of these stills; the camera was white-balanced on the chart and its pix were uncolored):
High knee, HD Norm gamma, +1.5 stops.
Mid knee, HD Norm gamma, +1.5 stops.
Low knee, HD Norm gamma, +1.5 stops.
The camera has several gamma curves predefined, allowing several looks. I’ve got two sequences of images following; the first is at a nominally correct exposure level for the HD Norm gamma, so you can see what happens to the midtones as the gamma setting is changed with the exposure held constant:
HD Norm gamma, normal exposure.
Low gamma, normal exposure.
SD Norm gamma, normal exposure.
High gamma, normal exposure.
Black Press gamma, normal exposure.
Cinelike D (data) gamma, normal exposure.
Cinelike V (video) gamma, normal exposure.
I then opened the aperture a stop, to see more information in the highlights and how it was affected by gamma changes. Again, pay more attention to the waveform itself than to the picture on the LCD beneath it, as the LCD clips its highlights:
HD Norm gamma, open 1 stop.
Low gamma, open 1 stop.
SD Norm gamma, open 1 stop.
High gamma, open 1 stop.
Black Press gamma, open 1 stop.
Cinelike D (data) gamma, open 1 stop.
Cinelike V (video) gamma, open 1 stop.
Observe how smoothly the highlights are handled in all the gammas. When you have a DSP with a 14-bit input and 20-bit internal processing doing your in-camera processing, you have the dynamic range and discrimination in your math to do this sort of smooth, clean rolloff.
At 0dB gain, with the knee set to “low”, I was able to see ten discernable stops of dynamic range between the onset of clipping and lost-in-the-shadows blacks, and I never saw a highlight I didn’t like. Sweet.
If you want to pull more out of your shots than the gammas and knees alone can provide, the camera offers three strengths of Dynamic Range Stretch. DRS works like “Auto Lighting Optimizer” in Canon still cameras, “Active D-Lighting” in Nikons, or the Shadows and Highlights controls in Photoshop, Aperture, and other photo-processing software; it performs localized level adjustments, lifting shadows and lowering highlights without flattening overall contrast.
Real-world examples of DRS at work: more detail held in clouds, shadowed areas.
Like the Highlights and Shadows controls, though, DRS can sometimes lead to localized haloing effects, especially when a sharp contrast is seen at the edge of an otherwise flat area.
DRS on and off. Notice slight “haloing” at contrasty edges.
I was only able to get noticeable haloing on my test chart; the subtlety of DRS’s adjustments seems to be improved in the HPX370 over that used in the HPX170 and HMC40, without a loss in effectiveness.
The HPX370 captures the same, famously naturalistic colors that other Panasonics do. There are four different color matrices available in the camera’s scene file settings; they look a bit more saturated in my LCD pix than they did did on the HD-SDI outputs, but the pix still offer a useful comparison:
Norm1 color matrix (Litepanel Micro 5600K LED lights).
Norm2 color matrix (Litepanel Micro 5600K LED lights).
Fluorescent color matrix (Litepanel Micro 5600K LED lights).
Cine-like color matrix (Litepanel Micro 5600K LED lights).
Flash Band Compensation
The 370 includes Flash Band Compensation in its firmware (it’s in a firmware update available for the HPX300, too). FBC detects and compensates for “split frames” caused when a photo flash is shot with a “rolling shutter” CMOS sensor.
Four sequential frames without Flash Band Compensation.
In this sequence with FBC off, I panned the HPX-370 shooting 1080i, and fired off a Nikon SB-600 flash. The flash fired as the image scan was about 80% completed on the second field of frame #2, so it lit up the remainder of that field as well as the first 80% of frame #3’s field 1.
Details of frames #2 and #3 without Flash Band Compensation.
There’s a very slight overlap, about four scanlines tall, where both the outgoing and incoming fields are flash-illuminated; camera flashes are not instantaneous, and the overlap shows the duration of the flash’s output.
FBC works by taking a frame sequence like this before it’s recorded, and juggling portions of adjacent fields (or frames, in the progressive case) back and forth as needed to marry the flash-exposed regions together; a full-field (or frame) “flash frame” is much less distracting than a flash split across two adjacent fields or frames.
Four sequential frames with Flash Band Compensation on.
This time, I turned FBC on, panned the camera, and popped off a flash. Note the motion blur in frames 1, 3, and 4 that’s absent in frame 2; something funny happened there… and frame #3 also has differing motion blur above and below the “splice point”.
Details of frame #3 with Flash Band Compensation on.
What appears to be happening is that the HPX370 takes the bright halves of the two adjacent fields and puts them together, shifting one of the slices up or down a scanline to match the field order properly.
Close examination of frame #2, the preceding unflashed frame, shows it to be without interlacing artifacts; it looks like one field was interpolated from the other. About half the FBC-fixed sequences I shot show a de-interlaced frame #2, it only seems to happen when the first field in the FBC-fixed frame #3 is flashed. When the second field in frame 3 winds up flashed, frame 2 is unaffected.
I surmise that FBC is working entirely within a single frame when the flash is contained within the two fields of that frame, swapping and line-shifting the tops and bottoms of the two fields as needed.
When the flash spans two frames (the outgoing field 2 of frame #2 and the incoming field 1 of frame #3), I’m guessing the flashed field 2 of frame 2 is stolen to fill in field 1 of frame 3, and replaced with an interpolated copy of frame 2’s field 1.
In their tech review, Panasonic neither confirmed nor denied this speculation, but they didn’t complain about it.
It’s a clever trick, if one that can indeed lead to minor motion and resolution irregularities, as Panasonic warns. In practice, though, the shock of a flashed frame is disconcerting enough to hide any minor stutters caused by field-stitching; I never saw hiccups in real-time playback.
FBC is a clever fix for one of the most distracting rolling-shutter artifacts. I only wished it worked in more modes; it’s currently limited to interlaced recording modes and non-variable-frame-rate 720p, both with the shutter off.
I measured skew (the “jellocam effect”) by panning the camera at a constant rate past a vertical line in each of its frame-size/frame-rate combinations, and comparing the distance traveled by the line between adjacent frames or fields (which happens at the frame or field rate) with the intra-frame or intra-field lateral displacement of the bottom of the line compared to the top (which gives a measure of the readout speed for the frame or field).
In 60i / 60p formats, the two figures were comparable; the line skewed within the frame or field over the same amount of distance that the line moves between frames or fields. In 30p the line skewed over only half the inter-frame distance; in 24p it took only about 40% of the inter-frame distance.
From these test I infer that the 370 reads out its sensors in about 1/60 second, regardless of frame rate or frame size. (I did not test the camera in 50Hz modes, alas, so I don’t know if the camera maintains the 1/60 second read time or if it drops to 1/50 second with the change in the camera’s overall timebase.)
This skew figure is the same as that of the Sony PMW-EX1. When I taped an EX1 on top of the 370 and panned them together, I got comparable skew on both cameras.
One thing I noticed while doing this test was that short shutter times really make skew noticeable: when everything is sharp, you see skew a lot more clearly. Even though the read time was the same in both cases, a slow pan at 1/120 sec shutter looks far worse than a similar slow pan at 1/24 second. This may help explain why so much footage from tiny consumer CMOS cams is so wobbly—consumer cams often shorten the shutter drastically as part of their autoexposure methods. It also suggest that if CMOS jello is a big concern, you’ll want to use the slowest shutter speed you can get away with to reduce its visibility.
I didn’t do a formal test of the audio on the camera, but the ambient sound recorded from the supplied shotgun mike was clean and noise-free. Panasonic’s audio front ends have been very clean ever since the days of the DVX100, and the 16-bit, 48 kHz uncompressed recording available in all formats the camera records should yield perfectly good sound.
100 Mbit/sec AVC-Intra 100 captures full-raster images with 10-bit, 4:2:2 sampling. The format shows minimal compression artifacts while holding excellent detail; short of HDCAM-SR it’s one of the cleanest, most transparent HD field codecs around. AVC-Intra 50 uses DVCPROHD-style spatial subsampling—1440×1080 and 960×720 pixels—but retains 4:2:2 chroma and 10-bit depth. At half the data rate of AVC-Intra 100 it showed more artifacts (see the mosquito noise around the text in the resolution chart pix above, for example); it seems to be roughly equal to DVCPROHD in overall fidelity.
DV, DVCRO50, and DVCPROHD recordings held no surprises; Panasonic has these nailed. They may be a bit old-school, but DV is instantly and efficiently editable on decade-old computers; DVCPRO50 is a superb 8-bit 4:2:2 SD codec; and the DVCPROHD formats continue to be widely supported, especially on computers overstressed by the more computationally complex AVC-Intra formats.
The Anton-Bauer Tandem is a clever bit of work; it can stand alone as a battery charger or mount up on the camera as an AC adapter using a battery for backup.
Anton-Bauer “Tandem” AC adapter/charger and Dionic90 battery on HPX370.
In my testing it worked very well, though on some occasions the camera didn’t want to power up consistently with a battery on the Tandem and the Tandem plugged into AC. Panasonic tells me that Anton-Bauer is aware of this and has “an upgrade fix” in the works, although they had no more information about it. When it did work (which was most of the time), I found I could yank out the AC cable and the camera would run, undisturbed, on the battery.
The HPX370 will genlock to an analog HD Y signal or an SD composite signal in HD modes; in SD, an SD composite signal must be used. Panasonic warns that the subcarrier of the composite output doesn’t lock to the genlock input, so you can’t use this camera as a feed to an analog composite production switcher without a TBC on the input.
Next: Conclusions; Pros, Cons, and Cautions; more info…
The HPX370 is a shoulder-mount 1/3″ camcorder capturing full-resolution 1920×1080 images with high sensitivity and low noise, and it records them using the very transparent, full-raster, 10-bit AVC-Intra 100 codec. It also offers AVC-Intra 50 and DV-family codecs; 720p, including variable frame rates; and SD recording. The camera handles both 50Hz and 60Hz standards at the flick of a switch, and offers both interlaced and progressive recording, including 24p and 25p.
The camera handles just like any other well-designed ENG-style camcorder. It sits comfortably on the shoulder and can be used handheld, stably, for long periods of time. The traditional shoulder-mount configuration carries instant “real camera” street cred with clients, too.
The permanently-attached LCOS EVF is sharp enough for focusing, and has a peaking control with enough adjustability to aid focusing in almost any situation. If that’s not enough, both EVF and LCD show peaking, and can show a “focus bar” aid as well.
Switches are just where they should be; two P2 cards slot in on the operator’s side of the camera; and a daylight-viewable LCD offers a waveform monitor and vectorscope display as well as images and menus.
The camera has Panasonic’s naturalistic colorimetry and a wide enough selection of gammas and color matrices to cover most bases. Its knee is a sophisticated “soft shoulder” system providing smooth rolloff of overexposed highlights without sudden hue shifts or harsh clipping—it’s the best knee I’ve seen on an affordable Panasonic, and closer to Sony’s celebrated EX-series cine gammas than it is to a traditional knee. Yet, like a traditional knee, it only starts affecting the image at relatively high levels (60% or above), so it leaves most skintones fully saturated at higher levels than Sony’s cine gammas will, making it a better bet for those who dislike cine gamma’s skintone desaturation.
The 17x kit lens has “real camera” ergonomics and very smooth controls. Its performance is good for the price, and you can always swap it out for a different lens if you need to go wider, closer, and/or reduce CA and breathing.
Yes, it’s a 1/3″ camera; a lot of folks will dismiss it out of hand for that reason alone. But really, folks: if shallow depth of field is the deciding factor, just get a DMC-GH1 and hack it for higher-quality video recording instead. For the rest of us, the HPX370 is a highly-capable, fully professionalized shoulder-mount camcorder with high-end capabilities that just happens to have small sensors—and even so, stylishly shallow shooting is still possible, even with unstylishly small chips.
Naturalistic highlight handling and pleasing bokeh on the 17x.
- Full-resolution 1920×1080 sensors.
- Panasonic’s superb colorimetry; excellent highlight handling.
- 10 stops of usable dynamic range.
- High sensitivity (ISO 800) with very low noise at 0dB gain.
- Transparent, very high quality AVC-Intra 100 recording.
- AVC-Intra 50, DVCPROHD also available in HD formats.
- DV and DVCPRO 50 SD recording.
- “WorldCam” 50Hz/60Hz flexibility.
- Variable frame rates in 720p.
- Interval, one-shot, and loop recording; pre-record capability.
- Dual P2 card slots below the flip-out LCD.
- Interchangeable lenses.
- Good quality 17x Fujinon lens supplied.
- High quality downconversion.
- Dual SDI / HD-SDI outputs with timecode and audio.
- Genlock; timecode I/O.
- FireWire / IEEE 1394 for DV-format I/O.
- USB host and device modes for mass storage I/O.
- Six scene files with plenty of tweaks.
- Good viewfinder data displays.
- Chromatic Aberration Correction (CAC) cleans up horizontal CA very well.
- Flash Band Compensation (FBC).
- No variable frame rates in 1080p.
- Only three user-assignable buttons on the camera body.
- No 180 degree shutter setting default in 24p/25p modes.
- Stock lens shows substantial breathing.
- Stock lens has moderate distortion and CA.
- CAC only corrects CA in horizontal direction.
- Stock lens isn’t very wide; M.O.D. without macro is 3 feet.
- No auto-iris f-stop limit; it’s too easy to stop down too far automatically, softening the image due to diffraction.
- FBC not available in 1080p, when VFR is used, or when shutter is enabled.
- DRS not available in 1080p.
- 1/3″ sensors require apertures of f/4 or wider for full resolution.
- 1/3″ sensors have deeper depth of field than is currently fashionable.
- No analog component or HDMI outputs for HD; no Y/C for SD.
- No analog input for pool feeds (aside from light through the lens and sound through the mikes, of course).
- No tripod adapter, microphone, or power included.
- EVF is not removable.
- WFM/vector displays not available in EVF, only on LCD.
- There may be some faint, residual trailing in some images due to 3D adaptive processing.
Would I buy one?
I happen to be a fan of the Panasonic “look”; I love the way Panasonics render color and tone. But I was less impressed with the highlight handling on older affordable Panasonics, including my first-generation HVX200.
10-bit 4:2:2 onboard recording is an important factor for me; I like being able to push things around in post, especially greenscreen shots. I came very close to buying an HPX300 last year; it impressed me with its full-resolution sensors and its super-clean AVC-Intra codec. But I didn’t really have a need for a new camera, and there wasn’t any reason compelling enough for me to drop $8,000 on one when push came to shove; I have access to an EX1 and RED ONEs at work.
But the 370, now… The sensitivity and quietude of the 370’s full-resolution sensors are impressive, and with the 370’s soft-onset knee, all the gammas have the same smooth highlight handling that Cine-like V gamma was needed for on earlier affordable Panasonics. Sweet.
Don’t forget, it’s a full-res, 50/60 Hz, SD/720p/1080-capable camcorder with variable frame rates in 720p; there isn’t a whole lot it won’t do. And did I mention that it records AVC-Intra 100? And that it handles like a full-size broadcast camera?
Sure, the 1/3″ sensors make shallow focus challenging, but between my own Canon 5D MkII and the company’s RED ONEs, I’m covered for depth-of-field fetish work.
Let’s just say that it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to convince me that I should get one of these puppies for myself, or to recommend that we get one for the company. All I need is an excuse…
Barry Green’s review, comparing the 370 with the PMW-EX3.
At the Bench with the Panasonic HPX370, 3-minute video by Andy Shipsides at Abel Cine Tech: nice comparison with HPX300 skew and noise levels.
Philip Bloom’s 11-minute video review of the HPX371 (Euro version of the HPX370); Mr. Bloom says the 371 has 50/60Hz “worldcam” flexibility the 370 lacks, but the 370 I reviewed has full worldcam capability.
16 CFR Part 255 Disclosure
Panasonic sent me an HPX370 for review, and I returned it to Panasonic at my own expense.
No material connection exists between me and Panasonic, Sony, DSC Labs, RED, Andy Shipsides, Abel Cine, Barry Green, DVXuser, and/or Philip Bloom, and no one has offered any payments, freebies, or other blandishments in return for a mention or a favorable review.
Panasonic reviewed an early draft of this article for technical accuracy. Any remaining errors are mine alone.