Panasonic AG-CX10: 1.5 kg of sheer 4K UHD TV video broadcast
The arrival of a new year always entails a presentation of innovations in technologies and equipment for the audiovisual industry. In this occasion manufacturer Panasonic has provided us with the opportunity of getting ourselves acquainted with, operating and testing a new professional video camera model: the AG-CX10.
AG CX-10 was presented to users and people interested in the hottest products for 2020 in CES Las Vegas (7-11 January, 2020, USA). One nice, obvious feature in this camera is that is a very lightweight piece of equipment: just one and a half kilos (with all implements in place: top handle, sun visor, battery and EVF viewer).
But appearances can often be deceiving. Because of its size -being compact and lightweight- it might be appealing just for home video recording amateur users, but the most attractive thing about this unit is precisely that such a small camera body holds a range of capabilities that enable it to be included within the broadcast sector for high-quality image and sound recordings.
As for a technical description of AG-CX10, it must be noted that this is a video camera featuring non-interchangeable optics and 24x (4.12-98.9 mm) variable length range, spanning from a 25mm (f:/1.8) wide-angle lens up to a 600mm (f/4) telephoto lens (equivalent to a 35mm camera). If we activate the 2x/5x/10x (Panasonic i.ZOOM) digital zoom, the in-build lens is capable of reaching 32x at 4K UHDTV resolution and 48x at FHD resolution.
The partnership between Panasonic and Leica Dicomar is a long-established alliance that has always yielded fantastic results: video technology coupled with innovation in optics design and construction. Thus, the AG-CX10 features a 4-Drive lens system that controls lens groups independently (14 elements in 11 groups) together with 5-axis hybrid Optical Image Stabilization (OIS): Yaw & Pitch; X & Y and Roll). 3 modes can be selected: NORMAL (standard), STABLE (effective for fixed-frame takes) and PAN/TILT (effective in panoramic frames and tilting).
Although I am always an advocate of the three separate rings (zoom, focus and shutter) within the lens, I must say that the AG-CX10 features only two (focus / zoom or iris). Such decision is fully justified by the aim of achieving a perfect balance between weights concerning optics construction design and camera body.
Lens diameter for fitting of filters or other accessories on the optics is 62mm, and this unit has a nice feature that is always welcome: The lens cap comes fitted on the sun visor, which makes it faster when it comes to start working with the device in addition to not being worried about missing lens caps.
AG-CX10 becomes even more professional as it has ND filters (mechanic filter knob: 2 stop – 1/4, 4 stop -1/16, 6 stop – 1/64 and none) for better control of lighting under different recording conditions, most especially in outdoor locations.
As for the sensor type available in this camera, this is a 1/2.5 inch MOS sensor featuring 8.29 effective megapixels which, together with the Venus engine (thoroughly tested in Panasonic’s own Lumix range of cameras), enables taking this camera to broadcast levels in a 4K UHDV (3840 x 2160 – 16:9) environment.
AG-CX10 features a 3.5-inch LCD screen -with around 2,760,000 dots- on its left-hand side, as opposed to other models from this same manufacturer, in which the display is placed on the camera’s top handle. The display is folding, rotating and touch-operated, which results in a quick access and placement of the camera at various heights and angles when it comes to recording, providing for a full turnaround whenever you are both the camera operator and presenter of content to record.
Once the LCD display is unfolded we will be able to find on the camera’s body an on/off button and a double slot featuring a plastic cover for SD cards (SDHC for AVCHD recordings, MicroP2 for P2, and SDXC for MOV and MP4) , which allows us to establish the recording type through the setup menu (Recording submenu):
– relay recording (cards fitted in two slots will make the recording from card 1 to card 2 whenever card 1 is full of data, and so on in an endless loop, just by replacing cards that are full by empty cards in each relevant slot);
– simultaneous recording (where cards fitted in each relevant slot record the same content simultaneously);
– and background recording (although less known, it enables card 2 to continue recording as a backup while in the card 1 slot we can carry out interruptions through the REC button, activating and deactivating the recording. In this way, no important scenes/takes will be lost while halting recordings in slot 1).
In this same left-hand side, on the bottom there are six buttons for activating the most frequently used parameters in any recording as required: access to menu through the navigation knob, iris, gain, shutter and an option for operating the camera in manual or automatic mode. And on the top, three customizable (USER) shortcut buttons.
On the back of the AG-CX10 we have a place for fitting the battery (we have worked with the AG-VBR59 model @ 5900 MaH and 7.28V, which features a charge percentage test), a tilting (0.24-inch EVF OLED of approximately 1,560,000 dots) visor, the REC button and BNC connectivity (SDI out / 0.8V [pp], 75Ω, 3G / 1.5G HD-SDI compatible), A-type HDMI connection, headphones jack (3.5mm stereo mini jack) and power input (DC IN: DC 12V (11.4V – 12.6V) Type 4 EIAJ).
Once we have seen design and features in the camera’s body, we can find on the right-hand side the in-built handle with the zoom engine, microphone jack, remote (2.5mm super mini jack) and a USB connection (5-pin Micro-AB). The heat dissipation system is very effective and efficient, as it features grids enabling air flow through an ultra-slim engine placed inside the camera’s body.
On the top we find the camera’s stereo ambient microphones and an area for placing a handle.
Undoubtedly, a camera carefully thought out for professional recordings without a significant cost in terms of transport and weight and without sacrificing usability. But a real hit is the possibility of placing a top handle crammed with good and wise capabilities. Thus, it comes with an adjustable LED torch featuring an intensity potentiometer of an approximate lighting of 70 lx at 1.0 meters and 30º radiation angle, with colour temperature around 4600ºK. We really loved this solution as the camera can be more free from wires; also considering that you can always have some supporting light that, as we know, can be used whenever least expected.
Furthermore, this handle also features another REC button, a hold button and two XLR-3 inputs for audio with the relevant control panel for input level, audio signal type (Line, MIC, +48V) in the two channels (CH1 / CH2); a place for the microphone holder, a back hole and a front pad for fitting of additional accessories.
This handle really boosts the capabilities and functions provided by the AG-CX10 to much higher levels, giving the set a nearly unlimited range of actions, handling and also rendering it fully self-contained for operation under different situations that can arise when recording a report, a documentary or even a live event.
We should mention that when we started testing the camera we found a model in which buttons and shortcuts are commensurate to the size of the camera’s body and therefore a bit small. However, the touch screen does help in handling and setup. A single touch is enough to activate the menu or to access the most relevant parameters for configuring a recording: iris, audio, shutter, colour temperature… On the other hand, the AG-CX10 has 12 customizable USER buttons (5 buttons on the camera’s body and 7 on-screen touch accesses) where operators will be able to allocate the most relevant parameters and/or actions, or those parameters or actions best suited to the operator’s criteria amongst a total of 38 different choices: focus assistant, zebra, level indicator, streaming start, AWB, DRS, menu… amongst many others.
As for navigation through the menu, eight main items are available: camera, scene file, audio, video output/LCD/Visor, recording, network, system and others. Panasonic users can have clear, intuitive access to each parameter to tweak, as these are precisely the ones that this manufacturer includes in its video camera models. The Display button allows viewing a great deal of on-screen information about the way in which the camera is working, a total of 30 parameters that we can enable through on/off in the video output/LCD/Visor menu: video resolution, time code, battery level, zoom range, audio input level, ND filter fitted, recording format, Mb flow, shutter value, iris, gain…
We must add that switching on the camera is a really fast process (two seconds), which allows watching the information on the screen/EFV and start recording with a 59.94Hz/50.00Hz system frequency. The AG-C10 features four recording formats -MOV, MP4, AVCHD and P2, using as video compressors H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC High Profile in MOV, MP4 and AVCHD and the AVC-LongG 50 / AVC-LongG25 compressor on P2. For MOV and MP4 H.265 / MPEG-H HEVC Main10 Profile is also used. Additionally, the manufacturer has announced that this model will be shortly supporting the MXF file format.
A combination of recording formats along with video compressors enables Panasonic AG-CX10 to record in 10-bit 4:2:0 UHD 3840 x 2160 with HEVC (MOV: 200 Mbp and MP4: 100Mps); in 10-bit 4:2:2 FHD 1920 x 1080 (P2: 50 Mps); and in 10-bit 4:2:2 UHD 3840 x 2160 (MOV: 150 Mps). Quite a luxury in the range of cameras we are considering.
As for audio recording, we must point out that in MOV / P2: LPCM (24-bit, 2 channels); in MP4: AAC (16-bit, 2 channels) and with AVCHD: Dolby Audio (16-bit, 2 channels). With regards to fixed image recording, format is (DCF / Exif2.2).
One of the factors making the AG-CX a reference at present is the camera’s live broadcasting capability (either external WiFi – IEEE 802.11b / g / n, 2.4Ghz band; or supporting NDI / HX through connection to the Panasonic VW-UEA1 module) with H.264 / MPEG-A AVC High Profile video compression format; offering video resolutions of 1920 X 1080 (FHD), 1280 x 720 (HD), 640 x 360, 320 x 180; Unicast and Multicast broadcast methods; and a wide response in frames per second at 59.94Hz: 30 fps, 60 fps and at 50.00 Hz: 25 fps, 50 fps; up to a bit rate of 24 Mbps, 20 Mbps, 16 Mbps, 14 Mbps, 8 Mbps, 6 Mbps, 4 Mbps, 3 Mbps, 2 Mbps, 1.5 Mbps, 1 Mbps, 0.7 Mbps, 0.5 Mbps; audio compression format AAC-LC, 48 kHz / 16-bit, 2 channels; and network protocol: RTSP/RTP/RTMP/RTMPS. It can be used for live coverage of concerts and sports events, as well as for Facebook and/or YouTube broadcasting. During broadcasts, camera recording (MOV) in SD cards is also possible.
The resulting images recorded in the various formats have been truly satisfactory as outstanding image quality has been achieved. Supported formats have been generated for viewing and opening in perfectly implemented video editing programs. Connectivity capabilities for live HD streaming make work much easier for social media as also does the possibility of wireless control from a smartphone/tablet both regarding lens handling and camera operations. Furthermore, the camera’s SDI (3G – BNC) output enables providing FHD video signal output for external recorders up to a distance of 100 m. Its HDMI output broadcasts 10-bit 4:2:2 4K UHDTV.
Other details in the AG-CX10 worth mentioning are: six scene modes (customized, Fluo, Spark, Still, Cine V and Cine D) in combination with seven different gamma modes enable us to achieve colorimetry and technical adjustments in the video signal more in keeping with the look that should define and differentiate our recordings; two zebra levels; centre markers, security and screen framing markers (off, 2.35:1; 1,85:1; 14:9; 13:9; 4:3); shutter range from 1/8000 to 1/6; gain levels from 30db to 0db; auto-focus (AF) for accurate face detection and focusing; IR recording, white-balance variable from 2000ºK to 15,000ºK, Free/Rec Run, activate MFO / Vectorscope… among many others; and last, a super slow-motion camera effect can be achieved by recording high-speed FHD at 120 fps (59.94 Hz) or 100 fps (50 Hz) only in MOV recording format.
The AG-CX10 is a camera model that departs from the trend that had been seen with small videocameras -almost sunk into oblivion amongst manufacturers- that targeted video amateurs. A camera range that is slowing gaining ground among professionals.
This model is a quantum leap in quality, technique and price, opening up the broadcast environment to many users that would like to cover any TV reports at present and in the future, as well as videoclips, production of documentaries of a social and investigative nature, as well as integrating this in live and social media environments.
In short, being able to have in our hands highly-mobile video equipment that offers swift response in touch screen operations, featuring 24x optical zooming, enabling a choice of four recording formats that are widely used in the audiovisual sector (MOV, MP4, AVCHD and P2; achieving images of varying qualities up to 10-bit 4:2:2 UHD 3840 x 2160 levels and high-performance data flows and connectivity, both in wired and in wireless environments; working with two slots for cards, we can definitely say that the AG-CX10 is much more than just 1.5 kg in weight. It is sheer 4k UHDTV video broadcast.
Lab test performed by CARLOS MEDINA, Expert and Advisor in Audiovisual Technology and Cameras