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Review: Panasonic HDC-Z10000 3D Camera

The Narrow Interaxial Lets You Get in Close, Though Longer Depths Fall a Bit Flat

I don’t think BMW or Mercedes even made it to a thousand, let alone ten times that number. But Panasonic has usurped that most rarefied of designations, and done it with gusto, assigning its loftiest camera model number ever to its latest 3D camcorder incarnation. With its impressive ten thousand label, the Z10000 certainly signals to 3D shooters that this is a breakthrough camera. At a relatively benign list price of $3,500 the HDC-Z10000 matches and, in many cases, surpasses the feature set of the company’s more industrial AG-3DA1 model and actually delivers on that breakthrough promise.

Not a Replacement for the 3DA1

No, not by a long shot. Despite sharing the same ¼-inch MOS imager the two cameras are sufficiently different in design and application to coexist in a typical 3D workflow. For one thing the new camera’s (relatively) narrow interaxial distance of 42mm (versus 60mm in the 3DA1) allows much closer capture of objects to 17 inches (45cm), a boon to shooters working primarily on interior sets or for more practical staging of interviews in the six-to-eight foot (1.5m – 2.5m) range.

The Z10000’s 42mm IA is a mixed bag, however. Objects beyond fifteen feet (3.5m) appear unnaturally flat, and more suggestive of the point of view, say, of a small dog or cat (with a 42mm interocular) than a human being. Since 2D and 3D cinematographers are mostly concerned with POV and whose POV we are representing on screen, the perspective of a cat or dog may be correct (or maybe not) for one’s story. The 3DA1 with a fixed IA of 60mm more accurately reflects a human being’s interocular (IO), so with normal lenses we can be assured that actors and your company’s CEO are represented with proper roundness.

When objects approach closer to the Z10000 than what an audience might comfortably tolerate the camera’s viewfinder readout displays in red, a feature borrowed from the higher-end Panasonic 3DP1. A Convergence Point Reset function linked to a User Button offers the ability to place the convergence point automatically. A nice gesture perhaps but isn’t this properly the domain of the 3D shooter storyteller; the placement of objects at, behind, or in front of the screen being crucial to the desired representation of the visual story?

I recently introduced the Z10000 into my 3D workshops at Champlain College in Burlington, VT, and Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. By any measure the Z10000 compared favorably to the pricier AG-3DA1. At Champlain both cameras were placed side by side to shoot an impromptu music video. The Z10000 produced very pleasing results, albeit with reduced depth in the longer exterior scenes. The Z10000 is equipped with the equivalent of a 32mm wide angle compared to the 47mm not-very-wide angle in the 3DA1. For close work, the ability to shoot with a slightly wider-than-normal lens proved very practical.

Students at Champlain College in Burlington, VT, compare the relative roundness of objects at various distances using the new Z10000 3D camcorder and older 3DA1. The camera’s 32mm equivalent wide angle ensures that objects appear normal from a human’s perspective despite the narrower than human interaxial/interocular distance of 42mm.

Blu-ray Recording Format

The Z10000 records in AVCHD 3D, a frame-sequential, full-resolution format that interweaves left-right files on a single card. Shooting AVCHD 3D is akin to encoding a commercial 3D Blu-ray disc, retaining full 1920 horizontal resolution in each eye compared to only 960 pixels in a side-by-side (SbS) configuration. The down side of capturing AVCHD 3D (at 28 Mbps) is the double amount of compression required to pack the left-right frames sequentially; the result being loss of detail, narrowing of dynamic range, and a less professional look overall. The colorimetry, however, is identical in both cameras so the ability to intercut scenes is ensured when using the two camcorders in combination.

The multiplexed file structure of AVCHD 3D is not exactly convenient with respect to editorial, so some forethought is strongly advised; the current recommended workflow is somewhat makeshift, and not nearly as simple as the discrete left-right file capture in the 3DA1. This will no doubt change in the near future as the major NLE players come on board with integrated support.

In the meantime, several post solutions exist for de-multiplexing the interwoven left-right streams from the Z10000. These include Panasonic’s own minimalist software included with the camera (for PC only), the familiar Cineform 3D suite, and a Matrox 3D hardware solution that can split the combined stereo file from HDMI. The Z10000 also supports 2D recording via the AVCHD codec, in which case a second SD card can provide simultaneous backup during image capture.

Vastly more useful than in the 3DA1 model, the Z10000’s retractable viewfinder features three modes enabled by the touchscreen: left-eye only view for focus, MIX view for setting convergence, and a true 3D glasses-free view for playback and impressing your friends. The wisdom behind a 3D viewfinder is debatable On the one hand, the director can get a rough idea what the 3D scene might look like; on the other hand, the director can get a very bad idea of what the 3D scene might look like. Remember that viewers can tolerate much greater parallax on a small LCD screen than on a 65-inch plasma display or cinema screen. Images that appear acceptably converged/diverged on the camera’s 3.5-inch 1.2-Mpixel display can only really be assured of looking OK on that size display. The MIX view overlaying the right and left images is a much more useful tool for shooters gauging the proper amount of parallax for the intended-size display venue, and so all shooters should become adept at using this view when assessing left-right separation on set.

The Z10000’s retractable viewfinder includes a 3D glasses-free view primarily for playback. It should be used warily to gauge appropriate parallax.

Advanced Features

Recording options for the Z10000 include 1080i60 and 1080p/30/24. Note that output to Panasonic’s new line of 3D projectors, such as the PT-AE7000, requires 1080p24 or 720p60 (and 720p50); the projector will look for a Blu-ray standard input via HDMI. 1080p30 is not supported out of the Z10000, so educators and others should be aware when screening work in a classroom or theater. Keep in mind that 1080i60 is not recommended for 3D production, in any case, owing to the temporal displacement within the frame that may disrupt the ability or desire of the viewer to fuse the left and right images. The interlaced format may only make sense for certain live television productions to facilitate transport via satellite, requiring the 60i format.

The camera’s 10X optical zoom is, in my opinion, quite experimental, and it was experimental when it first appeared as a 6X zoom in the 3DA1. Use the zoom gently to push in or out. It can be very effective; the telephoto end has the concomitant effect of flattening the field, just like in 2D, and narrowing the viewer’s comfort zone. To protect against uncomfortable convergence of objects positioned too close to the camera, or hyper-divergence of backgrounds, shooters should use the built-in 3D Guide or one of several available iPhone apps while shooting. As in the 3DA1, two 3D Guide settings are provided: for 77-inch and 200-inch screens. A digital zoom is also available in the Z10000, which you can set to 2X, 5X or 10X.

The Z10000 carries over many Intelligence Auto (IA) functions from Panasonic’s 2D Lumix models. In IA mode (not to be confused with the common 3D term interaxial) facial recognition may be enabled to let you closely follow focus your subjects. This feature looks for a characteristic T-shaped pattern of eyebrows and nose, and tracks this shape through the 3D volume. Some conditions may interfere with its operation, like an oddly shaped face or particular profile. It’s also not available when utilizing the digital zoom. A low-light preset, married to a User Button, is helpful to capture effective low-noise scenes in a dark environment or at night. Auto-focus, the anathema of our age, is also possible in IA mode, as is a focus-in-red assist for critical applications. In fact, this camera is so loaded with features it’s hard to imagine a more complete feature set in any 3D camera, regardless of price. In all, seven user buttons are provided; three external and four via the soft buttons, on the LCD touch-screen display. Eighteen different functions can be assigned to the User Buttons, including Y-Get, a very useful feature hitherto associated with only the highest-end camera systems.

The Z10000 controls are hardly the makings of a consumer 3D camera! The three external User buttons may be used to control eighteen different functions, including Recording Check, Playback Parallax, and 3D Display On/Off. The convergence control sets the convergence point, relative position of the screen and desired parallax. The 3D Guide displays the respective comfort zones for a 77-inch and 200-inch screen, and should be closely adhered to during normal shooting to reduce the risk of inflicting horrible pain on your audience.

A Consumer Camera? Not!

The camcorder base contains both 1/4-inch and 3/8-inch drillings for professional use. Two sets of zebras and a histogram are available to help set the desired exposure. SD, SDHC and SDXC Memory Cards are supported in all configurations for 2D and still photo applications. However, for 3D shooting, Class 4 or better SDHC or SDXC cards must be used.

The camera’s 5.1 Dolby Surround Record capability includes Zoom and Focus Mic positions that automatically adjust the directionality and presence of recordings according to the position of the zoom and focus. Conventional 2-channel stereo is also supported through the Z10000’s forward-facing mics. Standard balanced XLR inputs are provided at the top of the camera body with affiliated controls placed conveniently at the top and side of the camera. A photo shot mode permits recording of 3D still images (in MPO format) with the camera recording normally.

The Z10000 records 5.1 Dolby Surround in addition to conventional 
2-channel stereo PCM.

Learner’s Permit

Shooting in 3D requires a suspension of some 80%-90% of the 2D shooter’s skill set. This is not insignificant, as students and accomplished pros must now acquire the sensibility and appreciation for shooting in the third dimension. Many of us understand that the advent of 3D iPhones, iPads and the rest will bring profound changes to the media landscape, along with a concomitant demand for 3D content that will truly be out of sight.

To achieve such lofty goals in the very near future we need tools that can help move us in the right direction. Right now, the HDC-Z10000 with its soaring model number is just the tool to take us there.

1 Comment

Categories: Business, Review, Technology

  • Ferit Tuzer

    so why is (or was) the ag 10 times the price of the z10000?