Well, maybe 80% of a VariCam anyway. The Panasonic AU-EVA1, like other middle-market cameras, benefits hugely from the trickle-down technology of a camera maker’s flagship products. High-end products like the Sony Venice, Canon C700, and Panasonic VariCam 35 take a lot of time and resources to get right; now, having built the VariCam, Panasonic can apply the technology to its lower-end cameras, where the preponderance of mere mortal non-Hollywood users reside and earn their living.
Dual ISOs, for example, appeared first in the $30,000 VariCam 35, then drifted down two years later to the $16,500 VariCam LT, and now to the $7,300 EVA1. The vendor’s lessons learned, especially when it comes to sensor development, don’t stop with the flagship camera. We see the same technology penetrating the lower-end platforms, including, in Panasonic’s case, the Lumix GH5. Indeed, the same design team led by Takahiro Mitsui that’s responsible for the VariCam 35 is also responsible for the EVA1.
No camera under $10,000 has quite the level of technology and sophistication of the EVA1. Unlike the VariCam models, the EVA1 utilizes an all-new 5.7K imager, which places it, if you’re keeping score, slightly below the 5.9K sensor in the $35,000 Canon C700FF camera. The EVA1 imager interpolates (downscales) images to 4K DCI, UHD, 2K and FHD resolutions, offering cinematographers and documentary shooters the required resolution and crispness without sacrificing dynamic range. In my tests, utilizing a Xyla 21 chart and a Sony BVM-X300 monitor, the EVA1 easily supports Panasonic’s claim of 14 stops of latitude — and these are 14 engineering stops, not 14 marketing stops. There is a difference!
At a certain point, of course, sensor size and pixel count become more about marketing than the application of good craft. Audiences seldom walk out of movies they’ve loved and then complain of too few pixels in the camera sensor. Nevertheless, there is some merit in a more densely populated camera imager. The EVA1’s 21 megapixel (6340 x 3232) sensor enables a high degree of flexibility, like the ability to crop, reposition, and stabilize images without loss of resolution in the outputted 4K frame. Oversampling and downconversion to 4K, 2K, and FHD helps reduce noise, as averaging multiple pixels into fewer pixels can also average out artifacts — a better approach than applying across-the-board noise reduction, which can reduce shadow detail and crispness.
Playing the pixel numbers game, as manufacturers are prone to do, has a dark side, literally. Increasing the number of pixels in a sensor of a given size means the individual pixels must be smaller, which can impact dynamic range and low-light response. There is no free lunch her. Remember the reality of high-speed film? The increased sensitivity in low light was derived from the stock’s larger grain, which translated, in turn, to lower resolution.
Compared to other sub-$10,000 camcorders, the EVA1 offers a more flattering, muted look, with a gentle roll-off of highlights, which is especially evident in bright exteriors. The latter point is critical as the processing of highlight detail in daylight is often problematic in low-and mid-market cameras. The X300 monitor revealed plenty of nuance and highlight detail with no hint of noise in the deep shadows, even at midday.
The EVA1 with the recently released v2.0 firmware offers an interesting stew of core parameters like dual native 800/2500 ISOs, consistent VariCam colorimetry, and a bevy of 4:2:2 10-bit codecs, including a top-end “All-I” intraframe variant at 400 Mbps. Those options give this camera its unique character and versatility.
The codec array includes a notable 150 Mbps long-GOP option, which is nothing like the abysmal long-GOP implementations from years ago. Here, the high bit rate and very long 30-frame GOP size support 10-bit 4:2:2 recording with two to three times the recording time on the installed camera media for broadcasters and expedition-style documentary shooters. Not needing to download as often or store terabytes of data at the end of every day can be a major advantage. Panasonic states its LongGOP 150Mbps codec is equivalent in quality to shooting 300Mbps AVC-Intra in the VariCam, the principal drawback being the increased complexity of long-GOP, which increases processor requirements for smooth playback inside an NLE. Recording in long-GOP will surely send many filmmakers and broadcasters shopping for a faster, more capable computer; the All-I codecs in v2.0 do not impose nearly the same high processing loads downstream, and so are more suitable for editing on a run-of-the-mill workstation or laptop.
Interestingly, the EVA1 offers some advantages over its pricier VariCam brethren. Working with HDR, for example, the camera records and outputs 10-bit HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma), the preferred choice of broadcasters owing to its compatibility with traditional non-HDR televisions. Plugging the EVA1 into an HDR monitor on a set can be a real eye opener, as the difference in apparent highlight detail between SDR and HDR can be dramatic. In the EVA1, HLG may be allocated to a scene file, then switched on and viewed instantly. Some broadcasters may want to shoot HLG natively, or shoot log and do the HDR conversion dance later, as VariCam users and other top-tier shooters are currently obligated to do.
With v2.0, the EVA1 outputs 5.7K ProRes Raw 10-bit log via 6G-SDI to the Atomos Shogun Inferno. Besides other Atomos products like the Sumo 19, we really have no other ProRes Raw recording options currently available. There are notable frame-rate limitations in the raw output: full 5.7K up to 30fps, 4K up to 60fps, and 2K up to 240fps.
Outputting raw via SDI to an external recorder removes onscreen data, including the EVA’s venerable focus-assist squares. Recognizing this loss of functionality, Panasonic moved most, but not all, of the overlay data to the HDMI signal, excluding, unfortunately, the focus-assist overlay. Panasonic says this is unavoidable due to the architecture and timing of the onscreen data. Non-raw shooters can still access the full LCD overlay via the SDI output, but raw shooters will have to rely on other focus-assist strategies. Happily, many third-party monitors, like the daylight-viewable models from SmallHD, have excellent peaking and focus tools.
In addition to offering broadcasters HLG, V-log, and video gamma, the EVA1 features interlaced formats (50i and 59.94i) to better suit the needs of live television. Time-lapse has also finally been added in v2.0, a notable omission in the camera’s initial release.
For better or for worse, the EVA1 is offered only with an EF lens mount. With 120 million EF lenses said to be in existence, Panasonic figures the typical EVA1 user likely has one or more of these lenses lying around and is eager to find a new camera for them. Unlike the LT, the EVA1 ships with a non-ruggedized, more standard EF mount, albeit with heavier-duty springs to minimize potential shimmy and mechanical play after many hours of use.
For feature film, commercial DPs, and others who favor the more substantial PL mount, Wooden Camera offers a modification kit. Panasonic says self-installment of a third-party PL mount will not void the camera’s warranty – just don’t do anything stupid, they say.
The EVA1 supports a long list of EF-mount optics from Sigma, Zeiss, and others, including elegant FIZ control of the Canon Compact Cine 18–80mm and 70–200mm zooms. Control of these lenses is possible through the camera’s LANC-compatible connection. This is bound to be boon for those of us with a stockpile of old LANC controllers gathering dust.
While most EF lenses will work fine for exposure, focus, and image stabilization, the EVA1’s support does not extend to chromatic aberration compensation for individual lenses. This has been Panasonic’s strong suit in its cameras dating back several years, and it should be re-implemented in the EVA series to better accommodate longer focal-length lenses, in particular.
Operationally, the EVA1’s most compelling feature has to be the elegant focus-assist system. Descended from the VariCam 35, the system uses an array of variable-sized squares to indicate critical focus. While the EVA1 offers other focus strategies as well, like peaking and false color, the focus square system is by far the easiest to view and master. Having said that, the speed and accuracy of the auto-focus is a bit below par, especially compared to the Canon C200. Auto-focus performance is not a big issue for me but it could be for shooters of a certain stripe.
Compared to the VariCam, the EVA1 also offers some unique advantages. In the LT, the removal of the IR filter for news, night surveillance, and wildlife, is a manual, not-so-easy process. In the EVA1, the IR cut filter is fitted to the motorized ND filter wheel, so adding or subtracting the filter for capturing drug dealers in the dead of night is a one-button operation. For safety, removal of the IR filter is menu-enabled and so the function is normally locked out. The EVA1 is said to be the only camera in the world that can engage or disengage the IR cut filter via a single button-push.
The camera’s top handle contains no electronics, so it can be easily removed for shooting in cramped spaces like inside cars in order to achieve proper eyeline with the actors. The handgrip can be rotated into eight different positions without removing the grip, so adjustments in shooting angle and attack can be made even while operating.
That brings us to a crucial point — while Panasonic has always excelled at producing a solid camera with a robust chassis and excellent weather seals, the trickle-down technology evident in the EVA1’s sensor and codecs doesn’t applyto the more mechanical aspects of the camera, like the handle, grip, and machined parts, underlying the inherent problem of designing a sturdy camera at low cost. At $16,500, the VariCam LT is rugged as hell, with heavy-duty components. At less than half the price, the EVA1 is less so, its lower cost entailing some very tough choices.
The main consequence and obvious casualty of the camera’s low price point is the anemic viewfinder that all but precludes seeing much of anything in daylight. This is understandable from a manufacturer’s perspective, since a bright high-resolution OLED viewfinder can be very expensive. The VariCam LT will set you back north of $16K for the camera body, but if you want the OLED viewfinder and actually see what you’re doing, you’ll need to shell out an additional $5,400.
To address the viewfinder conundrum, EVA1 users may opt for an EVF loupe like the Zacuto Gratical OLED, or the not quite-so-pricey 1000 nit daylight-viewable SmallHD 502 monitor; the five-inch Bright model fits neatly atop the EVA1 via an L-shaped bracket, as if it’s always been there.
Sub-$10,000 camcorders are a crowded market, with many players and many choices. Consumers roaming the NAB floor expected to see twice the capability in a camera at half the cost of last year’s models. That’s Moore’s Law, they say. But the physical manufacturing of products, from the development of sensors and alloy bodies to the machining of handles and grips, is a major challenge to camera manufacturers and can be very expensive. Undeniably, the EVA1, at its price point, is a well thought-out professional camera, not a hastily thrown-together science experiment from a manufacturer with a big booth but little experience. You can load it up with professional accessories like a matte box, support rods, and a real honest-to-goodness viewfinder, or strip it down for use on a drone or gimbal. The beauty of the EVA1 is the same level of technology, or nearly all of it, in the VariCam 35 and LT is now available at a much more reasonable cost.
PANASONIC AU-EVA1 v2.0 AT A GLANCE
V2.0 allows uncompressed raw output via 6G-SDI. Formats include 5.7K at 1fps to 30fps, 4K at 1fps to 60fps, and 2K at 1fps to 240fps. V2.00 also features intraframe (ALL-I) 4:2:2 10-bit recordings at 400Mbps.
New ALL-I codecs and frame rates:
• 4K 400Mbps 10-bit 4:2:2 29.97p/25p/24p/23.98p
• UHD 400Mbps 10-bit 4:2:2 29.97p/25p/23.98p
• 2K/FHD 200Mpbs 10-bit 4:2:2 59.94p/50p
• 2K 100Mbps 10-bit 4:2:2 29.97p/25p/24p/23.98p
• FHD 100Mbps 10-bit 4:2:2 29.97p/25p/23.98p
New variable frame rates:
• 4K/UHD VFR up to 400Mbps 10-bit 4:2:2 1-30fps
• 2K/FHD VFR up to 200Mbps 10-bit 4:2:2 1-120fps
V2.0’s expanded recording capabilities include interlaced codecs 59.94i/50i 1920×1080 ALL-I, 4:2:2 10-bit; and 1920×1080 LongGOP 4:2:2 10-bit.
Remote operation through third-party wired controllers allowing FIZ (focus/iris/zoom) control of Canon Compact Cine Servo zooms (18–80mm and 70–200mm). Wireless operation through EVA ROP application. Interval recording. For monitoring, partial cloning of the LCD signal to HDMI, and improved playback in LongGOP and ALL-I codecs.