Here at TrustedReviews, we mostly focus on the consumer end of the camcorder market. But every once in a while a more pricey professional model comes along which we think is significant enough to warrant coverage, whether the average reader is likely to buy it or not. So this week we present to you Panasonic's AG-HMC151E.
This camcorder has earned our interest because it marks yet another crossover between consumer and professional domains. This is most definitely a pro-grade model, but it uses a variant of the prevailing consumer HD video format: AVCHD. Panasonic is calling its version AVCCAM, because it also includes modes that are not normally available with consumer AVCHD. But essentially this is the same H.264 MPEG-4 compression, so footage should be editable with most software from consumer grade upwards.
One major benefit of AVCCAM is that it is specifically intended for tapeless acquisition. So the AG-HMC151E comes equipped with a slot for SDHC media, which seems ludicrously small compared to the camcorder itself. Without a tape mechanism, the camcorder comes in at under 2kg even with the huge 5400mAh optional battery. The camcorder feels deceptively light, particularly compared to Panasonic's own AG-HVX200, which weighs closer to 3kg. This makes the AG-HMC151E much better suited to electronic news gathering (ENG) than previous Panasonics, which could get tiring to carry around.
The new model still has plenty of creative options, though. It doesn't have the quasi-Variocam abilities of the AG-HVX200, but it offers a range of shooting modes. Alongside the 1080/50i and 1080/25p options, recorded as a 1080/50i stream normally associated with AVCHD, the AG-HMC151E can also shoot 720/50p and 720/25p. There are four data rates available, ranging from 6Mbits/sec to 21-24MBbits/sec. The latter conforms to the H.264 High Profile, Level 4.1 that Canon is also taking advantage of in its latest premium consumer AVCHD camcorders, such as the HF11. The 720p modes are all recorded at 50p natively, though, so these are only offered at the top data rate, which Panasonic calls PH. All the 1080 modes use 1,920 x 1,080 Full HD, bar 6Mbits/sec, which drops to 1,440 x 1,080 anamorphic.
This is where the first huge benefit of the AG-HMC151E emerges. Whereas a 32GB P2 card for the AG-HVX200 will set you back about £950 plus VAT, a 32GB Class 6 Panasonic SDHC card is around £175, and slower Class 4 cards (which are still compatible) are cheaper still. Even in PH mode, this will be large enough for around three hours of footage. Panasonic bundles a battery offering around 100 minutes of shooting life, but a four-hour duration alternative (mentioned earlier) is also available. So the AG-HMC151E is starting to look like an even more cost-effective option for ENG and events shooting.