The velocity at which camera technology accelerates each year is incredible. While we as consumers complain about the pressure to upgrade more often than we had to in the past, manufacturers cope with a similar, but different issue: how fast should we push to release new, exciting technology?
This story isn’t meant to pick on Panasonic at all. They have shown through the years that they create powerful, durable cameras that have captured industry leading imagery. In addition, their history in the cinema world is beyond question. They just happen to be an example of what’s happening across the spectrum of brands under increased pressure to compete in the sub-$10,000 cinema body range.
So What’s Wrong With the Panasonic EVA-1?
That story starts back at its original announcement and the following excitement. When I first heard about the EVA-1, of course I was impressed. It had such a wide range of incredible specs. With resolutions ranging all the way up to 5.7K, 4K at 60 fps, and even 4K 10-bit footage, it was clearly meant to make a statement about the type of shooters that Panasonic was looking to cater to. Just as Sony did with the release of the FS7, the EVA-1 turned heads and had the price point that didn’t turn people away.
This wasn’t just the release of a new BlackMagic camera in which each release felt like an impressive experiment. Panasonic as a brand conveys a sense of reliability that other brands may not have. So when we anticipated the release of the camera and the subsequent footage, I don’t think many of us thought there would be any issues.
About a week ago, I saw that Panasonic released the first footage from the EVA-1. I had actually considered writing about it as I had been anticipating its release. So of course, I went to YouTube excited to see what it offered. Initially, all signs looked fine — and it should. Most of the time, brand released footage is shot in the absolute best environments showing colors that the brand's chip and processor leans towards. Naturally, that resulted in this:
A release video that shows the sharpness of a camera, but doesn’t really tell us much about the actual usability. I could criticize its “video” feel, but I believe a lot of that comes down to technique and lighting, not necessarily the camera itself. OK, so we’re fine. Then I started to dive in more. I watched the first film released as marketing for the EVA1, “Radio 88.”
Again, the footage didn’t strike me as anything particularly unique, but that just really doesn’t surprise me that much. Brands often play it incredibly safe with these releases. But then there was the final film, “Near to Superstition.”
And this, this is where the story really starts. The film begins just fine, the colors look great and the cinematographer behind the piece shows great talent. I say this because during the night scenes, the image starts to heavily break down, and it goes beyond what could maybe be construed as user error.
During the night scenes lit only by fire, we see some extreme artifacting and noise. In the comments section, there’s a debate about what’s exactly at fault for this. The most obvious response is that somehow YouTube compression is at fault, but that's not satisfying most commenters. Scrolling through you'll see quite a bit of criticism about the image, especially since it was released on Panasonic's company page.
Some are speculating that it could be the fault of the 4K 150 mbps at 10-bit codec. Saying, "Think about it, that 150 mbps is covering twice the chroma resolution and around 40 times more color depth than the 8-bit version and it's only got 50 mbps more allocated to it." This wouldn’t result in a lot of bad looking images in its best environment, but it would if you’re pushing it during a night scene with higher ISOs.
All of this is to say that, while the EVA-1’s announcement was greeted with excitement and very little skepticism, the footage released so far hasn't resonated that same enthusiasm. In fact, it's generated some real concern. I was among that excited, enthusiastic crowd, and I’m certainly not trying to call out people who were anticipating a perfect camera body right out of the gate. All of this could be a minor issue if we were forced to just admit that the EVA1 wouldn’t really work well with that codec at night. However, the story hasn’t ended there.
Today, ProAV TV released their “Hands on with the Panasonic EVA-1” video. The video starts out with the host speaking in excited terms about the EVA-1, and why not? He’s getting to test out one of the most anticipated releases of the year. The breakdown of the camera goes without a hitch. In the field, the EVA-1 looks like a wonderful run-and-gun option, with its great form factor and also it could be at home in the studio with its features. But there’s one detail that makes this all again, slightly under question.
After introducing the camera, the host gives us a disclaimer.
This video was made with the aim of showing you all some footage from the EVA-1. Nothing fancy, some shots of Jonah walking along the Brighton Beach, the pier at night, that kind of thing. However, since we’ve filmed this Panasonic has issued a worldwide hold on any footage being released from these engineering samples. They have made the decision back at HQ to wait until the sensor is completely finished before showing you all some more footage from the camera.
Considering the camera was expected to be available at the end of October 2017, this is a remarkably late in the game move from Panasonic. The question in my mind is certainly not will the EVA-1 be able to capture beautiful images? It’s all about the pace of the release of these cameras and the toll it could take on the images they capture. I think it’s fair as consumers to ask this question: when a camera is announced, and the specs are released, are those specs meant to merely sell the camera or are they actually meant to display the highest quality possible in that body, at that price?
Over the years, I’ve half-joked about what I called the, “resolutionary wars.” That is, the desire for camera manufacturers to push their development teams to create bodies that have resolutions that look phenomenal on paper. I actually believe this is why we see so many cameras bumping up against the limits of their sensors. An example would be pitching a camera at strange resolutions like 5.7K. Clearly, there’s nothing wrong with an image at 5.7K, but will the best image be captured at that resolution? And that's a very complex question.
A better example for this piece could be the 4K, 10-bit footage that’s made the EVA-1 so anticipated. Is that going to give us the image that we’re looking for?
I would never speak to the science behind a camera’s development, but I can very confidently say that often the specs that make a camera usable, durable, and reliable aren’t what make it sexy. And so again, it's fair to ask, has the culture of pushing for higher and higher resolutions and frame rates resulted in a lack of care about the image itself?
It’s not time to panic about the EVA-1 as it will absolutely be capable of shooting some great images. The release footage and the recent embargo have me pretty skeptical, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to try it out for myself. But then I asked myself, am I more excited by the specs than I am by the image?