Panasonic's "Mystery Cinema Camera"

May 30, 2017

  The Panasonic "Mystery Cinema Camera" is set to release this week.  Will the camera succeed at bridging the gap between the "ever-affordable" prosumer market and the "ever-elusive" cinema camera market? 

  This Panasonic Mystery Cinema Camera may very well feature a sensor found on one of Panasonic's $15,000 to $25,000 pro-series cinema cameras. However, would you believe it that even if Panasonic where to bridge the prosumer / cinema industry gap, with a Mystery Cinema Camera, that there might still be competition? Sony, to their credit, created this exact-same business model in 2014.


  Currently, Blackmagic Design, Canon, Sony, and JVC are the four prosumer-priced Super-35mm cinema camera manufacturer's in the sub-$6000 market: each manufacturer displaying their own distinct "values" and "qualities."


  Let's focus in on a comparison between a JVC Super-35mm Camera and a Panasonic Super-35mm Mystery Cinema Camera.


  A key element for a direct camera comparison resides on the sensor and the origins of that "said sensor." For example, Panasonic's only Super-35mm sensor is found in the $15,000 to $25,000 professional cinema cameras: the VariCam and the VariCam LT. In contrast, the JVC features a sensor specifically created to populate the sub-$6000 camera market. But, here's the question. Will these offset values effectively create a win-win for Panasonic?


  The JVC Super-35mm is a prosumer based camera; at least in terms of manufacturing specifications. Technically, it was always intended to be "just that." However, over the past two-years the JVC Super-35mm camera may very well have evolved into the most sophisticated Super-35 camera on the market; based on user experience. For example, during NAB 2017, at the JVC booth, there were a number of JVC Super-35mm cameras on display. My first impression of the camera settings were "consumer to prosumer," at best. Unfortunately for JVC, that meant viewing a "consumer to prosumer" image sample on multiple overhead 50" LED televisions. But, it would be a shame to stop there, now wouldn't it? Not too far into the menu system were multiple accessible sensor controls for gamma, hue & saturation, shadow & highlight, picture profiles and more. All but a few minutes later and the menu settings brought life out of the camera that looked beyond "expectation."


Would you believe it if I walked away with a smile and a sense of satisfaction?


  Next to the JVC booth, Panasonic's booth featured their VariCam cinema line-up. As such, they provided Production and Post-Production workflow demonstrations. One key takeaway from the workflow examples was just how much better the image noise-floor was on the JVC in comparison to the Panasonic VariCam: a camera w/ the "ever-elusive" $15,000 - $25,000 cinema sensor. Another key take away was that the cinema workflow requires additional production and/or post-production techniques to necessitate the camera's true "cinema capabilities."


  Could it be possible that the JVC & the Panasonic Super-35mm sensors are more alike than not? Good question, right? For example, Canon, Nikon, and Sony manufacture many different cameras; cameras that actually feature the same sensor. Uniquely, each camera still maintains it's own native sensor-state. That means that they all have their own base ISO, their own low-light rendition, their own color reproduction, and/or their own dynamic range values. That being said, what if the Panasonic sensor is essentially "cinema tuned" and the JVC sensor is basically "prosumer tuned?" 

  Let's take a step back. The camera market is bound by the technology and/or the evolution of the technology. Each evolution is an offset of the last. Some technology may make it to the next. Most simply can't. And for what it's worth, a new evolution may lead to great expectations. But, certain expectations inadvertently create negative offsets. As you know, it's 2017. But, it's worth noting that some still prefer the look of a 2008 Canon Digic IV sensor over a 2017 Canon Digic 7 sensor. Placing this evolutionary logic, or affection into the the mix, we may very well see a Panasonic Mystery Camera that features the likes of the $15000 to $25000 VariCam and VariCam LT cameras.

  Adding it all up, the Panasonic Mystery Cinema Camera should set out to support high-dynamic range, professional video codecs, a standardized electronic lens mount, and a Super-35mm cinema / prosumer priced sensor. Maybe more? That being said, it could offer tremendous value to the industry? However, what about the sophistication of the Panasonic Mystery Camera? In my opinion, this is where it all needs to come together; both for the film-maker / camera operator and also for the manufacturer.


  For example, the JVC Super-35mm camera may very well be able to turn out twice as much content in the same amount of time as a Panasonic Mystery Cinema Camera. That content might very well look every bit of 75% - 95% of a Panasonic Mystery Cinema Camera's best? Realistically, given those percentages, it's very likely that over 90% of all viewers may not be able to tell the difference between the cameras. Do they need to?


  In the end, there's lots to speculate about. It's a mystery cinema camera, after all. With all due respect to the prosumer camera market and the cinema camera market there is already an "established rhythm" and a "solid-level of expectation." In many ways, it's very tough to say it's a win-win for Panasonic or even for the industry. At least, we have the spirit of the mystery. So here's hoping for the best; for the sake of creativity and for the potential of what a mystery cinema camera may bring to light.


Thanks to for the mystery camera photo.

Thanks to B&H Photo, Video, and Audio for the additional photos. 

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May 30, 2017

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