Thoughts on the new P2 Varicam (Panasonic AJ-HPX3700)

We have the new Panasonic Varicam and it rules!   Really, this is the ULTIMATE digital cinema camera…


Almost seven years after the debut of the original groundbreaking Varicam, Panasonic has released a new, and much improved, Varicam – the 3700.  It includes all of the features of the original with the addition of P2 card recording, a new imager and paired with a new 10-bit “Master Quality” codec (AVC-INTRA), this camera is what we’ve all been waiting for.

I have always been a big fan of the old Varicam – it shoots great images.  It always had the most “filmic” look of any “digi-cinema” HD camera without the digital noise of video.  Back in the day, the Varicam made me believe in HD, when I was just starting out in the biz.
We can talk about image quality for days on end and make comparisons to other cameras but, really, do I have to?  Can’t we just agree F-900 looks great, RED looks great and this camera stands up to or stands above these other cameras.

So, to sidestepping comparisons, I want to talk about the other benefits of the 3700, namely the workflow.  It’s the workflow that truly makes me love this camera.  I always hated digitizing tapes; it just took so long and could give you major troubles and headaches – tapes get eaten, aborted ingests because of time code breaks or tapes ingested at the wrong frame rate.  And to make it worse, digitizing required an expensive VTR machine.  Now you can turn this footage around fast, with an inexpensive card reader and three clicks of the mouse.  In Final Cut Pro, which we use here at Studio B, all you need to do is slide your shot cards into the card reader, open up Log and Transfer, choose the clips you want to import – and then hit the button. Walk away for an hour or so, and all of your clips will be sitting in FCP as QuickTime files, ready to edit.

People are often worried about tapeless formats. They worry about archiving and losing footage or just running out of space on a shoot.  All of these are legitimate concerns and can stand for some improvement and streamlining, for sure. But the benefits of tapeless far outweigh these concerns for me.

Just like any tapeless camera, every time you start and stop recording on the 3700, a new clip is created.  So, you have this non-linear recording going on, with each clip treated to its own name and place on the card.  This gives you the option, in the field or when first beginning post-production, to make choices.  You can delete clips or whole strings of clips. It is a good way to stay organized and save a lot of time for you or your editor when pulling selects.  Right there in FCP’s Log and Transfer or in Panasonic’s clip browser you can view clips, rename clips, erase clips or add notes.  If you have a long format shoot or simply a shoot with a lot of takes, you can easily ditch the bad takes.

Many people also are hesitant to go tapeless while shooting documentary work or perhaps while covering a live event.  With this Varicam, you need not worry.  There are five P2 slots, if you fill them with 32gb cards (or soon 64gb 128gb cards) you have hours and hours of time before you need to off load.  But if you really think you’re going to run out of space, the good news is the cards are hot-swappable, so you can trade out shot cards with empty ones without losing a frame.

If you are shooting green screen, this camera is ideal.  The resolution and virtually lossless recording will give you great keys or composite shots. Here at Studio B, we do a great deal of green screen work and since receiving our Varicam 3700 about two months ago, we have done a lot of green screen shoots with it.  When we have brought it back to key and color correct, it has been a breeze, it’s so crisp, there isn’t a lot of clean up to do.

This camera isn’t for every project or for every budget.  But it is THE camera to use for any high-end work or when you want its great ‘film look.’  I recommend it to anyone who has shot with the HDX900 or Sony’s F-900. With Panasonic’s legendary film-like gamma options, “film rec” mode, coupled with a new imager, this camera is sure to uphold the legendary status of the original Varicam.

Make the switch, GO TAPELESS!

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