Panasonic has just announced the AG-CX350 hand-held all-in-one camcorder. It may look like any other camera in its class, but don’t be fooled. It packs into its compact body features not yet seen in comparable cameras.
Let’s first start with its market position. CX350 is clearly targeted at Vloggers, YouTubers, run and gun shooters, documentary and even conceivably ENG. At a “shooting weight” of about 2.27kg including lens hood and battery, and dimensions of about 178mm х 152mm х 305mm, it is highly portable, maneuverable and allows for comfortable non-tiring shooting. If you’re shooting hand-held, built-in 5 axis stabilization in three possible modes provides the best possible shot. The normal, stable, and pan-tilt stabilization options work in all of the camera’s modes—i.e. HD and UHD—and I found them to be remarkably effective.
It is based around a new 1 inch 4K MOS sensor supporting UHD, HD and SD. It’s “high sensitivity” option seems to work in similar fashion to the dual sensitivity sensors seen in Panasonic cinema oriented EVA-1 and VariCam cameras. It seems to add 1 to 2 stops of sensor sensitivity when selected without any image degradation or artifacting.
Panasonic touts the zoom lens as widest in it’s class with 24.5mm (35mm equivalent) 20x optical zoom plus its lossless “i-zoom” up to 32x HD or 24x UHD. While there are extended 2x/5x/10x digital zoom options, I basically don’t use or recommend digital zoom. Lens aperture is variable f/2.8-4.5 ramping.
It boasts two SD card slots (V60 speed cards recommended for 400 mbps UHD i-frame) and with a future firmware update, it will support microP2 A series cards. In order to achieve that hightest recording rate, it supports UHS-II cards. It can record from SD to UHD resolutions. It’s not a cinema camera so the absence of full DCI 4K is not an issue to me. While in HD mode it has slo-mo capabilities up to 100 fps 50p. I found switching recording modes under the System menu quite fast and seemless. No camera reboots in between switching modes.
Recording formats are both .mov and avchd and with the future firmware update which supports the microP2 cards, MXF. And now for another advance in this camera—in addition to offering H.264 high profile compression, it also offers an option in 10-bit UHD 100 mbps 4:2:2 Long-GOP HEVC (H.265 recording). With a minimum of an Intel i7 CPU equivalent, decoding is fast and the HEVC is an excellent acquisition format with smaller file sizes than H.264. Another distinguishing feature is 10-bit HD/UHD 4:2:2 recording in both long gop and iFrame compression with super high quality up to 400 mpbs (UHS-II V60 card required).
Now for shooting. I suspect that much of the target market will be shooting Vlogger or run and gun style and would want to shoot full auto. Panasonic envisioned this as well with what they call “Intelligent AF”. Focusing is fast, tracking is better than I would have expected yet manual functions are also available. For manual operation, the camera does have three rings—focus, zoom and aperture. The auto iris adjusts rapidly while I’ve yet to see any ATW that can handle color temp shifts.
The biggest feature, though, is its connectivity. The CX350 is the first camcorder to offer NDI connectivity. Panasonic demonstrated using this camera on an NDI network with a couple of PTZ cameras and it just appeared as yet another device. This plus wired as well as wireless remote capability allows an even wider potential use of the camera (wired by standard LANC controller plus in iOS or Android app for wireless). The camera is capable of streaming RTMP/RTSP for live streaming coverage. It has WiFi capability with WiFi dongle and will also accept a cellular dongle for LTE connectivity.
The camera, by the way, only consumes 17 watts, so the standard battery should last about 3 hours. The largest optional battery, the AG-VBR118G at 11.8k mAh should run over 6 hours.
Bottom line for this camera—the CX350 should be a strong contender in the marketplace. I highly recommend it for all of the shooting scenarios I described and with its feature set and versatility, no doubt more applications could be found for it. The strongest suits are sensor, focus, recording formats and connectivity. Automatic features are remarkably good while still permitting manual focus, aperture and white balance. The maximum UHD frame size presents no issue for the market segment.
Panasonic AG-CX350 will begin shipping in February 2019.
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