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The Panasonic AC160 really surprised me, and not because I wasn't expecting such high quality -- I was -- but because for the price point (between $4100 and $4799), I was sort of expecting a small camera, like the Sony NX5U or some of the smaller Canons. This is a larger, but not heavy, handheld camera that's about the same size as the Panasonic HPX250. Images are crisp in full HD 1080p, the controls are simple to use and it does well in low light with its 1/3-inch 3-MOS sensors, and you easily can customize looks. The multiple frame rate and recording options are also superb, helping make this a quality camera for shooters involved with film, run-and-gun video, documentaries and more.
Since the Panasonic AC160 is an AVCCAM, essentially AVCHD for pros, the recording modes include PH (21 Mbps, VBR, but max of 24 Mbps), PM (8 Mbps, VBR), HA (17 Mbps, VBR) and HE (6 Mbps, VBR). Of course, the higher the number means less compression, and bigger file sizes, but higher quality video. Panasonic recommends you use a Class4 or faster SD card when recording in PH or HA modes.
Speaking of SD cards, this is one of my favorite features with the pro (and consumer) AVCHD cameras, the ability to record to fast SD, SDHC or SDXC cards. These are very affordable and can hit up to 64GB in size. In some cases, you may want to work a dedicated SD card into the budget and, after making a copy onto a hard drive, give your client the SD card, much like you would with a tape. Panasonic P2 cards helped change things, as did Sony's SxS cards, but both are very expensive for a limited amount of available space. SD cards are the best option for shooting, and the AC160 supports it.
Getting back to recording modes, the Panasonic AC160 supports multiple frame rates and two types of HD shooting, 1080i/p and 720p. Frame rates include 1080i60, 1080i50, 1080p30, 1080p24 and multiple frame rates for slow or fast motion, from 2 frames per second (fps) up to 60, depending on if you're in 60 Hz or 50 Hz mode. With 720p, you get 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p, 24p and multiple frame rates for slow or fast motion.
The gain starts at 0, and includes +3, +6, +9, +12, +15, +18, +24 and +30. I wouldn't recommend going over +12, and really, +9 is the cleanest before video noise (grain) creeps into the recorded image. In fact, Panasonic has done really well with keeping the video noise to a minimum, giving a pretty clean image at +9 dB of gain. The 1/3-inch 3-MOS sensors really hold up well in both the light and dark, and colors are gorgeous, plus the AC160 handles highlights well. The built-in ND filter is set at off, 1/4, 1/16, and 1/64.
The shutter speeds vary with the frame rate, of course, but you can get it as high as 1/2000 sec., and, for cool 'slow-mo' effects, down to 1/6 sec. You can select either seconds or the angle, 3-359.5° in 0.5° increments.
Audio recorded by the onboard mic is pretty good, but I always recommend using a wireless or boom mic, which you connect via the two XLR ports. Audio is recorded in Dolby Digital 2-channel or Linear PCM. The bit rate varies on the video recording mode you select, but PH gives you 384 kb/s, and PM, HA and HE modes record at 256 kb/s.
As mentioned above, the camera is a great size, a little more than 17 inches long, 7 inches wide and 7.69 inches high, and weighs in at 5 lbs. This is important, because if you're like me, you do a mixture of production, from tripod shots to handheld and run-and-gun. I was able to walk around with the camera without any discomfort.
You can connect the camera via HDMI, USB2, composite, Timecode, camera remote, some small jacks and FireWire.
As far as editing goes, Panasonic AVCCAM is supported by all the major NLEs, but I only tested it with Final Cut Pro X, my NLE of choice. FCP X had no problems recognizing the camera and importing the footage for editing. See the video below for day and night samples, down-converted to standard definition, including gain changes.
With the Panasonic AC160, you get a lot of camera for a pretty good price, around $4300 to $4400, though I always recommend going with the experts or even a dealer. The video and audio qualities are great, and while it's a larger camera, it's nice and light, which is important as more and more videographers and filmmakers are doing different types of shooting, some of which include running-and-gunning.Find out more at http://www.panasonic.com/business/provideo/ag-ac160.asp.
Heath McKnight is a filmmaker and author who has produced and directed several independent feature and short films, including Hellevator, 9:04 AM and December. He is currently web content manager for doddleNEWS. Heath was also a contributor to VASST's best-selling book, "The FullHD," and has written for TopTenREVIEWS and Videomaker.
Related Keywords:Panasonic AC160, pro video camera, 1080p, videographers, Production, Post production