Can Panasonic be trusted to deliver what they promise?
Panasonic is introducing the Varicam 35 in a hobbled state. 60 fps initially, with higher frame rates to come “in a future firmware update.” As for editing the 4k footage: Panasonic isn't saying anything about the fact that none of the major edit platforms can open the files, let alone edit them.
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 "available by 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 take 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 he hadn’t even picked up the viewfinder; it was still at the vendor.
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.
DP, Sputnik Pictures
HD and RED Epic digital cinema production
Very interesting and informative report on your recent Panasonic experiences to say the least!
You know, what you're describing is a similar scenario to what's being going on with Sony and their Digital Cinema Cameras starting with the SRW9000, then the F65 and now the F5/55. Namely that features are doled out slowly over time, or not at all, and in Sony's case often charging money, making the cameras less functional at best or dysfunctional at worst; and in all cases upsetting to those who bought the camera(s) in the first go round.
As a result, I've vowed not to buy any more Sony product, and have been selling off all the Sony cameras I still have, essentially standardizing on the Arri line with Alexas and now the new Amira (which is an incredible camera). Arri only makes professional cameras and is very focused and responsive to their professional end users and owners, and their software upgrades (SUP) often add new and exciting features and utility; internal 4K ProRes for one with the Amira!
I am however looking at the new Varicam 35 seriously, because I do see it placed as a competitor to the Sony F55; starting with weight, profile, ergonomics, picture quality, feature set and price. I'm especially interested in the dual native ISO's of 800 and 5000. This is some very compelling new technology, and also (like the Amira) with the built in Look functions that carry the metadata in clip file as well as the ability to record dailies with burned-in LUTs at the same time on a separate card.
But you are absolutely correct, there are several "asterics" in the brochure; notably the high speed frame rate at you mention, and also the ProRes function.
Another gotcha is that the wireless functions seem to require an optional piece of hardware. Furthermore, as regards WiFi control of camera functions, so far this has seemed to be extremely illusive. The iPad interface on the F65 worked intermittently at best, Arri had promised this feature with the Alexa at the time it was announced and never delivered the product and while the Amira comes with built in WiFi and Bluetooth, I don't thing I'm breaking the NDA to say that in testing the Beta Software the WiFi function is not yet ready for primetime (maybe it will upon release?). I think the amount of wireless traffic already in the air makes it difficult to use it in such a mission critical application.
The delay of your software upgrades in the ENG cameras is inexcusable, but the fact is that the camera was most likely made at the behest of a Japanese broadcast network, who had no interest in other frame rates, thus the delay in accommodating you and the few others who might have bought the camera. Furthermore, the group that is making the Varicam 35 is most likely separate from that who make ENG cameras, although they do likely share the same overworked coding department.I'm trying to be kind.
Obviously the thing that Panasonic has going for them with this new product is the goodwill which remains many years later from the original Varicam. The difference is that at that time, the Varicam was the first HD Camcorder that had variable frame rates including 24 and 30 progressive (and even high speed) and had a very workable bandwidth (40% of 100Mb at 24fps) that allowed playback from common inexpensive storage.
This time however, they're the last player into the game, so it can only be an uphill battle; but the camera market is very fickle, choice of which camera to use has become an economic consideration and is often made by producers, directors and editors rather than camera people. If Panasonic follows Sony's model with the F55 of "dumping" vast quantities of cameras into rental houses around the market at cheap prices and terms, they might just have a chance!
I agree that the Varicam appears intended as a very serious camera. I'd be quite interested in it if it weren't for the bitter taste in my mouth. But I have almost zero faith left that Panasonic will treat their customers fairly, or deliver features in a timely fashion. And this is coming from a decades-long Panasonic customer who loved the look of the HPX-2000/2100 and used to have a good feeling about the company. But I've been thoroughly burned by the way I've been treated in this disaster.
The PX5000 might have been designed with a particular Japanese network in mind (though I've never heard that), but it was marketed worldwide and sold with a reasonable expectation that it would be compatible with non-Japanese broadcast standards (frame rates that have been on every Panasonic camera for 15 years or more) soon. It was, after all, their top-of-the-line, flagship broadcast camera. If the firmware coders were overworked, it would be perfectly reasonable to expect that this camera would be fast-tracked. They did just the opposite. They sold the camera, then ignored it for over a year, leaving who knows how many customers with a virtually useless camera.
In my book, that's just despicable business practice.
DP, Sputnik Pictures
HD and RED Epic digital cinema production
I have several older HPX3100s and their Wi-Fi WLAN proxy is a mess. For some odd reasons beyond my understanding, I must use older Java 6 and 2010 software technology for all HPX3100s. When I shoot it with the PX-270 prosumer 1/3" cams (prosumer because the lens is not broadcast grade to me), I have to use the latest 2014. It's a big mess and have to bring 2 iPads with different IOS to make it work. Same fate applies to the PX5000 WLAN proxy viewing.
I thought the PX5000 has at least 60p during shipping. Good thing I didn't get it when it first come out.
From past experiences, I'd want to wait at least a year for the product to mature and bugs to be fixed before purchasing.
It did have 60i and 60p when it shipped, Sam. But for any clients (i.e., 99% of US clients) who want either 29.97p or 23.98p, you're screwed. Nobody wants to have to process the footage just to get to 29.97p, and getting to 23.98p is impossible without it looking like utter crap. And who the hell is willing to accept interlaced? NONE of my clients. So you have a choice: shoot 60p, be completely unable to monitor it on any conventional broadcast monitor on-set, and have to process it in the edit suite to get to 29.97, or shoot 60i and have it look like 1993.
Meanwhile, Panasonic STILL has tons of advertising material online stating that the firmware fix to provide 30p, 24p and 25p will be available in March of 2014. It's not available, even now. I've had to hire lawyers just to get Panasonic to take the steaming shit-pile back, and Panasonic is fighting me on it, saying I should just happily continue to wait. I've been waiting for FIFTEEN MONTHS. I've barely been able to use the camera in that time. 70 hours in 14+ months. The financial cost has been outrageous in terms of paying for rental gear and/or lost work. Their response: "Too bad. Even though we promised it in widespread official advertising as being available almost a year ago. Tough luck."
It actually meets Federal Trade Commission definitions for false and misleading advertising. But they accept zero responsibility. So this means war. I now own the domain name http://www.varicam35.com I'm sure they'll be thrilled to see how much traffic I can drive there, letting potential Varicam buyers know just how badly they treat customers.