of the Panasonic HPX-171
of the Panasonic HPX-171
Review By Rick Young
Just spent most of the last week shooting
with Panasonic's HPX-171. For those unfamiliar with the Panasonic
camera range the HPX-171 is the European model, the equivalent
of the US model, the HPX-170. This camera shoots DVCPro HD, or
standard definition DVCPro, or DV to P2 card. There is no tape
drive on the camera, therefore the only option is to record to
card. For those want the ability to record to tape, Panasonic
also offer the HVX-201A (European model) which is the successor
to Panasonic's hugely successful HVX-200.
The HPX-171 is delightfully light.
This was my first impression before even switching on the camera.
Many camera operators find lightweight cameras a hindrance, needing
a substantial amount of weight to balance the camera, however
my opinion is that Panasonic have got it just right with this
Heavy cameras work great when they are
shoulder mounted, The HPX-171 is a hand- held camera, much the
same size as other cameras such as the Sony PMW-EX1 or HVR-Z7,
or the Canon XH A1 or XH G1 - however, the HPX-171 is substantially
lighter than any of these competing models. Light in such a way
that one can hold the camera for long periods of time without
suffering from arm fatigue. This is a big deal as it made me
want to shoot and to continue shooting. Many will consider a
multitude of characteristics of a camera, from technical operation
to image quality as being paramount - however, for me if a camera
makes me want to shoot than this is crucial: the more coverage
I can get means the more footage I have to work with in the editing.
Not only does the HPX-171 makes me want
to shoot, the lightness and slimness of this model makes it extremely
maneuverable - and once again this adds to the flexibility of
being able to get the shots you need.
In terms of operation the HPX-171 is
very similar to it's predecessor the HVX-200. I used the HVX-200
for a good two weeks when it was released close to three years
ago. The HPX-171 represents the evolution of the HVX-200. Not
once did I need to look at the instruction manual; I was able
to find my way around the menu commands without problems. I have
to say this is a very easy camera to use, be it in manual or
There are several improvements the HPX-171
has over the HVX-200. As mentioned the tape deck is gone, creating
the slimmer, lighter body, the lens has been improved and image
quality raised. These are not minor improvements - the improvements
lens at the wide end is now equivalent to 28mm in 35mm photography
terms. Time and time again I was impressed with being able to
get a wider field of view than competing models. I find, more
often than not, that I work at extremes of the lens - as wide
as possible or as long as possible. Many competing models feature
a lens over 30mm in 35mm photography terms. To be able to shoot
at 28mm makes a big difference and this would be exaggerated
further with the addition of wide angle attachments.
The image quality has been improved along
with low-light performance over the previous model. This is what
I was told by Panasonic on launch of the HPX-171 and have verified
this with my own tests. The HVX-200 was a breakthrough camera
in that it was able to record HD at 100mbps, in a 4:2:2 colour
space, however due to the limitations of the camera and sensor,
noise would sometimes be noticeable, particularly in the blacks,
and in low-light gain was needed with the inevitable result of
grain in the image. Both these issues have been significantly
reduced - meaning the noise in the image is now significantly
less, or non-existent, and the camera performs much better in
A few killer features which impressed
me and I wish were included on every camera I use:
(1) focussing - this camera has
the best auto-focus of any camera I have used in this class.
I'm talking reliable auto-focus which works so well I found myself
trusting it and using it. Some of the other cameras I have used
I would never trust in autofocus.
Furthermore, when manually focussing
one can press the focus assist button which punches the centre
of the image forward in a style like older SLRs, providing a
magnified centre image allowing for pinpoint focussing . So in
auto or manual focus the camera works great.
manual iris - the manual iris control is located on the front-left
of the camera and is adjusted via a wheel. This works well but
most professional camera operators are used to this control being
on the lens. With the HPX-171 the focussing barrel on the lens
can be made to work, with the flick of a switch, as the iris
control. This is a brilliant command which is both sensitive
and accurate. The downside is that focus then becomes automatic
with the benefit being the iris is now controlled by what was
the focus ring. As stated the auto-focus is reliable and trouble-free
so I found myself enjoying fine iris control on the lens and
letting the focus take care of itself. Furthermore, the iris/focus
control is electronic - not mechanical, which some camera operators
do not like. I found the electronic controls responsive with
the control needed. No hindrance here.
(3) Over cranking/under cranking
- this capability was included on the original HVX-200 and has
been improved upon. There is now a greater range of frame-rates
available in smaller increments to the previous model.
(4) Working with DVCPro HD - all
the competing cameras in this class use MPEG as the recording
format which is an iFrame way of recording the digital signal
whereas the DVCPro HD format is a frame-based codec. This means
every frame stands alone and is recorded so that 25 frames make
up a second of recorded material. With MPEG a master-frame is
recorded into a GOP (group of pictures) and the image is created
by referring to the master frame and analyzing the changes which
take place to create the video image. Either way can produce
good pictures, however, on movement such as pans and quick reframes
the DVCPro HD codec holds up very well - the big deal for me,
however, is in the editing. I have edited literally hundreds
of hours of HDV or XDCAM EX material in Final Cut Pro. The system
works, however, it takes time. When editing DVCPro HD the editing
is simply fluid and quick to render. This matters as time is
always an issue, and when editing to not have to wait makes a
big difference. Simply put, editing in the DVCPro HD environment
is both painless and a joy to work with.
(5) It is possible to switch on
various scopes on the camera by pressing the waveform button.
This means, in a controlled situation, one can monitor the video
signal accurately on a waveform monitor, vectorscope or in histogram
view. For myself, when shooting on location I found myself relying
on the zebras which can quickly be flicked between 80 and 100%.
However, I can see the usefulness of the scopes and can definitely
see using these for certain situations.
So in summary, the HPX-171 stands out
for me as it is easy to shoot with, easy to edit with, and has
some killer features which make operation both easy and effective.
What I like most is the modular design of the camera. This is
an all in one package which is so light and nice to hold, as
I said earlier, it just makes me want to shoot. There are no
detachable lenses or viewfinder to remove or attach, which means
one simply has to switch the camera on and frame the image. The
image quality is good - the images have a richness which many
Panasonic shooters have grown to love. Shoot at the sweet-spot
of the lens which is F4 and this camera produces beautiful images
with depth and quality which I love. I'm a fan of many cameras
and the HPX-171 is certainly one of them. I'd be happy to shoot
with this camera any day.
End note: what matters more than anything is the pictures.
Shown below are uncorrected images grabbed straight out of the
camera, footage was filmed using the 720 25pn mode of operation.
The stills have been reduced in size and Jpegged for this article.
You can view Rick Young's video report on this camera at MacVideo.tv.
Rick Young is the
Editor for MacVideo - a
website devoted to post- production on the Mac platform and associated
camera technology. Each week MacVideo features a movie of the
week and an interview of the week.
copyright © Rick
This article first appeared on www.kenstone.net
and is reprinted here with permission.
All screen captures and textual references are the property and
trademark of their creators/owners/publishers.