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The AG-HMC 152: Going tapeless and lovin’ it

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Panasonic’s new AG-HMC 152 looks set to replace its DVX100, adopting a full HD, tapeless workflow employing the ubiquitous SD card for its recording medium. Its makers promise the best bang for the bucks, but how well does this camera really stack up against its classic predecessors?


AG-HMC 150 stock photoOne of Sinema’s very own founders, Nicholas Chee, recently shot his much awaited teaser for his up and coming feature ‘BasketBallet’ on the 152, and I rode on the opportunity to speak with the project’s Director of Photography, Wilson Yip, Sinema Incubatee who recently wrapped his own short film, Madam Chan.

Benjamin Tan (BT): Tell us a bit about your working experience with the 152.

Wilson Yip (WY): It was fun, a breeze really, working with the AG-HMC 152.

BT: The camera launched not too long back. Did it take long for you to get acquainted with the new camera? And what preparations did you undertake?

WY: No it did not take me long to get familiarized with it. That’s because it’s modeled after the popular DVX100 series of DV-tape based camcorders. Almost the same in size & functionality, but with more goodies packed in it.

BT: That’s good. The 202 is somewhat considered a predecessor of the 152. You used the 202 for your film Madam Chan. What has changed and how has it made shooting different with the new 152?

WY: The first thing I noticed was the the 152 is much lighter. Almost unreal. It feels more like a toy than a camera!

Another obvious change is of course the use of SDHC/SD memory cards for the 152. It’s much easier to transfer my footages over to Final Cut Pro. All I need is a SD card reader, plug into the Mac, and viola! The P2 card has been known to create some problems for some users (fortunately never for me), and I guess SDHC/SD cards would solve some of those problems.

An important thing I noticed about the AG-HMC 152 is that there is so much less noise in the shadows & dark areas. The HVX202 was a little too noisy in the dark areas for my liking, even during day scenes! With less noise on the 152, it allowed me to spend more time on getting the shots right to enhance the storytelling, rather than getting the amount of light right.

What’s also cool is that unlike the HVX202, the 152 has a Dynamic Range Stretch (DRS) function that further suppresses the blown highlights and shadows within a shot, a problem you often have when shooting with video, even when using the cine-like gamma. This DRS function sort of allows your footage to replicate film’s latitude even more closely.

Lastly, the AG-HMC 152 allows me to shoot in 1080p, a mode not available on the HVX 202.

Now I wished the 152 was available when I was shooting my film Madam Chan. Argh!

BT: Haha. The camera seems like a pretty easy to use point and shoot camera. Obviously there must be some drawbacks to this. Could you share, from your experience, some of these?

WY: Nothing major to complain about. If I have to pick one, I guess it’s the menu buttons. They should make it easier for users to scroll through and change the functions. It gets a little tedious when speed is required.

BT: Another thing I’ve noted is that on the set of the BasketBallet Teaser, minimal lights were used. Most of the shots were naturally lit. A word on this and how the camera responded, visually especially, such as to light or colour?

WY: Well, first of all, most of the scenes in the BasketBallet trailer are set during the day, that’s why no lights were needed! Personally, I always take the cue from the locations: how the lights and shadows fall in that particular location, which direction the sun is etc… If it serves the story well and it feels right, I’ll just go ahead with it. At most I would enhance with a little negative or positive fill. I never like to impose artificial lights in a day scene.

The location’s lighting is as it is. I would make use of it, enhance it, not go against it. If I can’t accept the way it looks, I wouldn’t even shoot there in the first place. If I want to add or impose lights, I might as well shoot in a set.

The AG-HMC 152 worked really well on that shoot. We had many locations that day and speed was was required. I didn’t really have to worry too much about insufficient light because I know the 152 isn’t going to give me much noise even if I have to end up using “Gain”.

There’s this long dolly shot where our actress Pamelyn Chee was at the basketball court. In that single shot, we started off with pointing at a darker area and ended up with some parts of the sky in the shot. Despite closing the iris (so we could see more details in the sky), the darker areas still held up well and I could still see details in there.

Colour-wise, everything came out good, that’s what Panasonic cameras are cool at. No complains. One can cater to his needs, either through the built-in image adjustments, or during post.

BT: What kind of projects would you recommend this camera for and why?

WY: Low budget projects should try this camera out, because it’s really cost effective due to the use of SD cards as your recording media. If speed is an issue, like say on documentaries, or if you’re shooting tons of outdoor night scenes, maybe you should try the 152 too.

BT: So before we part, what’s your verdict on the 152?

WY: Overall, a pretty nice camera to work with. It does not compromise on image quality, and it’s low cost makes it all the more attractive for independent filmmakers to invest in one.

To find out more about Panasonic’s new AG-HMC 152, do pop by their website at here.

BasketBallet is due 2010, and Madam Chan will be playing at Sinema OldSchool in the months to come, so keep your eyes peeled.

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