Panasonic Cameras Forum
Varicam vs Cinealta
Varicam vs Cinealta
by Joe Livolsi on Oct 26, 2009 at 9:01:57 pm


I'm trying to figure out whether to shoot my next job with the Varicam or Cinealta. I have been a Panasonic guy for a long time and have shot with the Sony's as well. I will be shooting with digi primes as the director wants more of a 35mm feel. Any pros or cons Varicam vs Cinealta?


Joe Livolsi

Re: Varicam vs Cinealta
by Jeremy Garchow on Oct 26, 2009 at 11:21:39 pm

A tape based vaicam or the newer tapeless version(s)?

Re: Varicam vs Cinealta
by Joe Livolsi on Oct 27, 2009 at 12:05:24 am

Tape based Varicam

Joe Livolsi

Re: Varicam vs Cinealta
by john sharaf on Oct 27, 2009 at 12:43:04 am


Just as it was unclear what you meant by "Varicam", it's also unclear what you mean by Cine Alta. In the strict sense, "Cine Alta" is a line of cameras from Sony that is now advertised to be the SWR9000, PDW800 and the EX3. Of course in addition to these are the F23, F35 and variants of the F900, namely the 900/3 and the 900R.

All of these "Cine Altas" are different beasts with different recording formats, imagers, processors, bit depth and ergonomics.

Your most likely meaning is the F900 so the distinctions between the 900/3 and the 900R become pertinent. The F900R is a significant improvement over the /3, especially because of its smaller size and power use, improved digital signal processing and especially because of the "Hyper Gamma" settings which imitate to a large extent the 500% "Dynamic Range Control" on the Varicam. This feature (on both the Panny and Sony) is very useful in creating an extended dynamic range and therefore a more "filmic"look. In addition there are third party "User Gammas" that are also useful and even more agressive for the Cine Altas. BTW, the PDW800 has all these features too and offers a full 1920 horizontal resolution in recording vs. the horizontal down rez to 1440 in HDCAM.

Of course the higher end cameras in this line, specifically the F23 and as yet unreleased SRW9000 offer 10 bit recording in HDCAM-SR format.

Your question kind of reminded me of the confusion (that sometimes still exists) when I'd get a call from a news magazine asking for a 24p shoot. Do they want DVX100, SDX900, Varicam, F900, etc? I think you get my point. These vagueries can get everyone in trouble!


Re: Varicam vs Cinealta
by john sharaf on Oct 27, 2009 at 1:36:46 am

Sorry, didn't really answer your question.

Both cameras (Varicam and F900R)are very good, especially with Digi Prime lenses. The decision should be made on the basis of:

1920x1080 vs. 1280x720



If you're convinced that you'll be filming out then 1080 trumps 720. If you have access to one or the other deck, then economics might dictate one recording format over another. For that matter, if price is an issue, Varicam rentals are much cheaper than F900Rs, although PDW800 is probably the same as Varicam. Although if you're renting Digi Primes then you probably have plenty of money.

If that's the case, then you should have a shoot out and determine which system is best for you. You will certainlyb learn something from that process.


Re: Varicam vs Cinealta
by Joe Livolsi on Oct 27, 2009 at 1:49:06 am


I'm sorry I was vague about the F900. I am very comfortable with Panasonic since I have shot with them most of the time. I just want to give the client the best "look" and quality. Not having worked with Sony all that much, I was just wondering if that was the better way to go. I have a couple of days to decide and research.

All the best

Joe Livolsi

Re: Varicam vs Cinealta
by Noah Kadner on Oct 27, 2009 at 3:50:05 am

With good lenses and someone who's familiar with the menus- either can deliver. There's not really a better look that's not personal taste- unless you want to start believing marketing hype.


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Re: Varicam vs Cinealta
by Bruce Greene on Oct 27, 2009 at 4:29:01 am


I'll add one more opinion:)

A couple years ago I shot a test of both cameras with digi primes and made a filmout of each.

Each camera looked fabulous in the film print.

The f-900r had a very, very, very slight advantage in detail--but I'm not sure one can see it when the camera and/or subject are moving, even a little bit.

The HDcam compression is better than DVCpro HD. That said, DVCproHD on the Varicam is vastly improved when the VTR menu is set to "compression mode=dark". Then the difference is not so great.

The Varicam (H model), to me, has a better camera. The lower number of pixels actually helps the camera be more sensitive to light. When used in "FIlmRec" mode, the camera is very clean and not noisy. But for the very best image quality, use the lowest dynamic level setting that you can. I shoot at 200% unless I really need to go for lower contrast (depends on the scene).

For the picture that we shot the test for, we chose the Varicam. (hey, I own the thing:) The movie was distributed theatrically on film (600 screens) and was shot without the digi-primes as they were just too expensive.:( It made several million dollars in profit.

Last year I shot another movie with the Varicam and we recorded directly to hard drive using the AJA I/O box. This helps end my concerns about the DVCproHD codec, but to tell the truth, some scenes were shot on tape and it's really hard to see any difference (provided no extreme color corrections in post).

Overall, I just find it easier to control contrast with the Varicam and since I'm color correcting these projects in post, it's just tilts the advantage to that camera for me. This is partially because I don't like knee corrections as I feel I see the knee point in a not so good way, and it's easy to over knee and get a color shift in the highlights that I don't like.

Best of luck to you, and enjoy your shoot!

Varicam/Steadicam Owner
Los Angeles, CA

Re: Varicam vs Cinealta
by Joe Livolsi on Oct 27, 2009 at 12:32:18 pm


Thanks for the valuable information. It's truly appreciated! I'm leaning Panasonic as I know those cameras extremely well. I wanted to explore all avenues before making my final decision, and your post helped a great deal. Thanks again.

all the best

Joe Livolsi

Re: Varicam vs Cinealta
by Bruce Greene on Oct 29, 2009 at 2:41:03 am

You are very welcome Joe.

Feel free to email me with any questions, if you ever have any (as you seem pretty knowledgeable).

Varicam/Steadicam Owner
Los Angeles, CA

Re: Varicam vs Cinealta
by Charles Binn on Oct 28, 2009 at 1:57:25 pm

Hi Bruce,

you wrote:

DVCproHD on the Varicam is vastly improved when the VTR menu is set to "compression mode=dark".

What really does this setting with the picture? Expanding the black stretch or does it make the picture less noisy?

Thanks a lot

Re: Varicam vs Cinealta
by Jeff Regan on Oct 29, 2009 at 3:32:14 pm

I believe it allots more bits to the lower IRE information, but does not seem to harm high IRE areas. It seems like shadow areas are most likely to show compression artifacts with DVCPRO HD. Not sure if this works or is needed with AVC-Intra 50 or 100.

Jeff Regan
Shooting Star Video

Jeff Regan
Shooting Star Video

Re: Vs CineAlta VariCam
by Luiz Felipe Marcondes on Nov 2, 2009 at 4:08:25 pm

I think the system VariCam HD avc-intra 100 is second only to the CineAlta HDCAM SR 4:4:4 in f-23 f-35 and the new frw-900 (I think this is the model)
The signal from the AVC-intra 100 4:2:2 features a 10 bit image simply remembering that wonderful HDCAM SR 4:4:4 is also 10 bit I believe that passing the image of the AVC-intra by color or after and you get images perhaps even better than the HDCAM -- SR.
The XDCAM -- EX and XDCAM -- HD lose feio pra avc-intra and that to compete com the XDCAM -- EX a Panasonic launched its AVCCAM that according com they hit any codec based on MPEG-2 longgop.
I think the take the CineAlta VariCam facinho. But both are exelentes CineAlta cameras and respond better in environments less enlightened.