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Review: Panasonic AJ-PX380

Why We Still Need Small-Format, Full-Size Camcorders in the Age of the Large Sensor

By Barry Braverman


Faster than you can shake your memory stick, the full-size small-format camcorder has pretty much disappeared from the scene.

Ten years ago, the NAB show floor was replete with 1/3-, 1/2-, and 2/3-type cameras. For nonfiction, wildlife, sports, and news shooters, these cameras with their (relatively) tiny sensors offered the ideal blend of high performance and practicality. In combination with their versatile optics, close-focus macro capabilities, and long zooms of 17x or more, the cameras, especially in their later incarnations, were also very lightweight, superbly balanced, and drew little power which translated into smaller and fewer deadweight battery packs. With their crisp focusing EVFs and deep depth of field, these cameras made the most sense for ENG-style applications.

And you know what? They still do.

The Scourge of Narrow Depth of Field

The shallow-depth-of-field fad that grew out of the Canon 5D phenomenon and ensuing DSLR onslaught enabled narrative filmmakers to achieve a more 35mm cine-type look with nowhere near the hitherto-extraordinary expense and hassle. Suddenly, it seemed, we were free of the dastardly 35mm lens adapters that plagued us for years, and this, by any measure, is a very good thing. No one enjoyed keeping those unwieldy contraptions in proper alignment given the persnickety nature of their beam-splitters and/or spinning mirror arrangements.

Still, beyond the obvious benefits of a large-sensor camera for narrative filmmakers, the question for the rest of us remains: Is a large sensor and shallow DoF really what we want in a camera used primarily for nonfiction programing?


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