Will Rider's Camera

Erik Jay
With the introduction of the DVX100 in December 2002, and its successor, the DVX100A, in June 2004, Panasonic instantly became the most popular camera company with indie digital filmmakers. It was priced under $4000, and besides the $5000 Canon XL2, the next-lowest cost 24p video camera at the time was Panasonic's own AJ-SPX800 at about $19,500.

The DVX100 was universally acknowledged by reviewers to be a very good camera for its price, irrespective of its 24p capability. And the second-generation camera, the 100A, was even better. It continued the product line's revolutionary aspirations with a 12-bit DSP (Digital Signal Processor) that enabled much more precise "image sampling" than the 10-bit version it replaced. (The 12-bit DSP can assign one of 4,096 possible values to each sample as opposed to only 1,024 in the 100 model.)

Given that the NTSC display standard in the U.S. allows only eight bits to be recorded, there is some controversy over the wisdom or usefulness of this kind of over-sampling. However, reviewers noted that the improved sampling in the 100A was immediately evident onscreen, especially in critical shadow detail. This improvement in sampling was said by the marketers and manual writers to go "hand-in-hand" with an enhanced Cine-Like feature that gave filmmakers a "gamma mode" to emphasize dynamic or contrasting ranges — Cine-Like D and Cine-Like V, respectively. The 100A has a total of seven gamma curves to work with in this mode, a remarkable capability for a $4,000 camera. The quality of the sampling and the availability of the selectable curves brought professional- level status to this prosumer model.

When released, the 100A also featured improved 24p functionality, integrating new capabilities that were intended at one time for the original 100 model but fell victim to engineering and/or marketing considerations. A Focus Assist was now a feature in both 24p and 30p modes; Panasonic added gain up to 12 dB, and the problem with the older model missing color bars in 24p mode was remedied.

The 100A supports slow shutter speeds down to an astonishing one-quarter of a second in 30p mode, a rare capability in DV cameras of its price and vintage. The lack of true 16:9 capability continues to be an issue with this model, however; like its predecessor, the 100A still shoots 16:9 video by "cropping" the image produced via the 4:3 CCD chipset. This means that nearly a quarter of the available pixels go unused in 16:9 mode, a serious loss of resolution when shooting in widescreen.

Given the flexibility of the DVX100A, if not its innate strength, a filmmaker can address the 16:9 challenge in different ways: by shooting with the standard lens in letterbox mode or using the new Digital Squeeze function to fill the frame with a processed (anamorphic) image similar to what a true 16:9 camera would produce.

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