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Old September 20th, 2011, 03:45 PM   #301
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

I'm giving this thread a bump on the merit of the user contributions which are informational, friendly and helpful. Many thanks to Andy, Claire and others for posting so much valuable info. I'm going to add a few observations of my own and why I chose this cam to fill a void.

I have a Sony PMW350k 2/3" XDCAM HD with Nanoflash 50 mbps 422 which would have made the Canon XF100 an obvious fit for the work flow. Also have 5D Mk II and HV10, and used to have an xha1 and EX1, the latter I wish I kept.

I was looking for a way to trail bike into the back country deep, and the xdcam is just obviously too big for that. I could do it with a truck and hiking, but covering the ground I have in mind would take days or weeks. Keeping a low profile is also nice.

So why the TM900 over the xf100 or xa10? All three are fantastic and could make the case for any of them. The TM900 concerned me that it might be a one trick pony, with its 1080/60p mode overshadowing otherwise average performance, and no solid distribution format for its highest quality setting.

As noted by the other members, Vegas 10d 64 bit does an excellent job making quality 1080/60i renders for Blu-ray, and also does a great job rendering to 1080/60p mpeg2 for native frame rate playback on the PS3.

The xf100 is just a tad heavy and expensive for rough trail handling, the g10 is the cheaper choice if I have to replace something. The video quality of the xf100, xa10 and g10 and pro features are awesome but in the end, held back from the best in my opinion by the choice to use a single sensor and bayer filter.

My initial impression of the TM900 was disappointment, the lack of pro features, and the images at first did not wow me on manual settings. The automation settings on the other hand produce lovely images, so I've had to adapt my shooting style to what the camera does best.

The image stabilization is just brilliant. This is an area where it beats the pro cams. The auto focus is also very good.

Where it lacks is in the sometimes 2 dimensional processed look. At other times though, as through the automation settings you get images that really pop, delivering all the resolution of the xdcams, vivid and clean, noise and artifact free. The automation makes good decisions with shutter, iris, gain and focus.

What it's lacking, sensitivity, dynamic range and latitude shows up when locked in manual with high contrast scenes. The contrast compensation feature helps here, but forces you into at least a shutter priority automation mode. The good news is how well it meters exposure and tracks seamlessly as you move the camera. Manual adjustments for gamma, black gamma and knee would be useful for pro users. In spite of all that, indoor and low light is much better than what you expect. Color accuracy is spot on, matches well with xdcam R709 if contrast compensation is enabled. The main thing hurting it here is sensitivity, it's tough maintaining shadow detail in high contrast scenes.

The awb works well at some times, others it misses in tricky light. The manual white balance works perfectly if I aim it at my white tennis shoe.

The sharpening is a bit much, dial that back a number or two fixes that. I'm confident I can work around the usage mistakes, and the image stabilization is like having a magic tripod along. Done right, the images are beautiful and you would never guess they come from a camera so small and indiscreet, exactly what I need.
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Old September 20th, 2011, 04:04 PM   #302
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

By contrast compensation do you mean the 'Intelligent Contrast" mode? I use it a lot to make sure I can 'get the shot' and then put on a s-curve in post to bring back some dynamic range, what do you do to make it match up better?
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Old September 20th, 2011, 04:30 PM   #303
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

Yes, intelligent contrast mode...sorry.

It matches up okay as is, but to get closer, I used the Vegas Color Corrector Secondary, selected the Computer RGB to Studio RGB preset as a starting point which compresses both ends of the histogram (16 - 235), increased the gamma to flatten the slope of the blacks and give it more gradation to try and bring out any buried detail, lowered the offset to move the whole histogram to the left, and increased the gain to stretch and fill the histogram to the right. Saved it as a new preset.

Edit: It's not possible to put back what wasn't there, so detail lost in blown out whites, or crushed in black can't be recovered. It simply is never going to have it, and along with depth of field, dynamic range and sensitivity, those are the three elements of the big XDCAM that can't be replicated. You really do get what you pay for. The TM900 can make up for some of it by having exposure track the scene, something you'd never do with the XDCAM which would be locked in manual.
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Old September 20th, 2011, 05:19 PM   #304
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

Thanks for the thorough writeup Tom! May have one of these guys in hand soon but if I understand you correctly you're saying that you get better images with iA vs manual mode?

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Old September 20th, 2011, 06:33 PM   #305
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

I'm sorry Kevin that's not what I'm saying. iA doesn't even permit manual white balance or focus. MNL is the mode I get the best result in, so I am probably adding confusion by talking about automation when what I am really saying, is whenever you let the camera choose the shutter, iris and maybe even focus itself inside the MNL mode. To me, that's still automation whenever shutter, iris or focus are not locked.

In other words, at this early stage, I am still practicing, but locking the iris at F4.0 to F4.8 did not result in the sharpest images for me as I would have expected that to be the lens sweet spot. So the question I have, is when I get these sharp images from when the camera itself is choosing shutter and iris, what settings are they?

And if the camera is adding neutral density in lieu of stopping down the iris as was mentioned earlier, can I replicate that when I stop down manually? Who knows?

But specifically to your question, at this early stage for me, the images seem sharpest when I choose MNL mode and let the camera choose the appropriate shutter and iris and focus, or maybe not focus.The thing to remember, these lenses are not parfocal, so the sharpest lens setting may not be the same iris at infinity as it is at close up. The ideal iris for every focal and zoom length could be mapped into the lens controller, but in full manual mode you can't be sure. That's why I'm not ruling out (in my limited experience with it), that auto focus or auto iris may be sharper in more situations than selecting them manually.

Hopefully that makes some sense.

Edit: "Programmed Automation" comes to mind, where a camera chooses both aperature and shutter. That is the default option in the TM900 MNL mode, which you can override by selecting SHTR for "shutter priority," or IRIS which locks down the IRIS and Shutter. There is no Aperture Priority mode. Choosing IRIS and turning off auto focus essentially locks the camera down into a true, full manual. That's the mode that for me, has not resulted in the sharpest or the best images in every case as I would have expected. Maybe I just need more time with it.
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Old September 20th, 2011, 06:51 PM   #306
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

Wow! Thanks Tom for the response, that's very helpful. Excuse my ignorance as I don't have a TM900 quite yet, but what settings are you adjusting in MNL mode then? WB? What more does iA do vs just "Programmed Automation" in MNL? Thanks again.

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Old September 20th, 2011, 09:15 PM   #307
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

The MNL gives you access to the scene modes, i.e. sunset, beach, snow, fireworks, spot light, landscape, night etc. MNL also gives you access to shutter, iris, wb, focus. MNL also gives access to adjustments for saturation, sharpness, wb trim and exposure. None of those are adjustable in iA mode.

So there's a lot of selectable automation within the MNL mode, and TOTAL automation is the only choice in iA mode.

For some perspective, in xdcam there is usually no image stabilization with most lenses, the stability comes from putting the camera on your shoulder. Your desired depth of field can be adjusted with the iris ring, and selectable ND filters lets you choose a shutter speed with exposure independent of the iris, so you can have fluidity from a slow shutter, or action from a fast one. The sensitivity of large sensors maintains shadow detail always, which you can fine tune the exact amount with gamma controls. Pros eschew automation. They focus manually, set shutter and iris and ND manually, even though the cams have automation capability. But with little cams, tiny sensors and lenses, they aren't capable of shallow depth of field, objects in foreground and background are always on the same focal plane, giving an inherent 2d look. Acknowledging that limitation is to recognize that automation makes more sense for the little cams than the big ones since you can't control dof anyway.

And what I'm finding with the TM900, is that fully manual control of the kind I'm used to setting on the xdcam has no benefit beyond manual white balance and manual focus. Shutter and iris, might as well just let the camera make the best choice, it seems to anyway.
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Old September 21st, 2011, 05:22 AM   #308
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Roper View Post
And if the camera is adding neutral density in lieu of stopping down the iris as was mentioned earlier, can I replicate that when I stop down manually? Who knows?
This 900 is such an interesting camera. I've come up with some surprising results.

When it's used as a stills camera the aperture readout of the iris (in manual) is actually correct. 'Open' is maximum aperture (which is focal length dependent) and as soon as you start to stop down the two aperture blades (opposing Vs) mechanically step towards each other. The aperture readout stops at f/16 but the blades continue to close down to f/22, then f/45 and so on, till the blades overlap and act as a shutter.

It can do this because in the still camera mode the camera doesn't use small apertures, it simply shortens the shutter speed. But you can switch it to manual of course, choose a very slow shutter speed and happily shoot 14mp stills at f/45. It'll quickly demonstrate the image damage diffraction can do.

When the 900 is used as a video camera something quite surprising happens, as the camera wants to shoot at 1/50th sec generally. Because of this it brings the internal ND filters into play and for most of the camcorder's life it's shooting at maximum aperture. This design parameter shows the confidence Panasonic have in their 12x zoom lens and chip block assembly, and the production tolerances must be superbly controlled to shoot all day at f/1.5 and 3.45mm. At first I poo-poo'd a focal length stated to 100th of a mm but now I'm less sceptical. I now believe the tight production tolerances mean that all their cameras come off the production line with this focal length.

So what happens when you shoot movies? Well the camera shoots at maximum aperture and if it gets brighter more and more ND is applied. Its the same in manual or auto - you think you're shooting at f/4.5 (say) but you're not - you're shooting at whatever the maximum aperture is for the focal length you've set. That's f/1.5 at wide stopping smoothly (ramping) down to f/2.8 at full tele.

So the lens 'stops down' (using ND) to f/5.6 and only if it gets brighter still do the aperture blades start to close. You can see that scenes shot at an indicated f/8 are actually shot at f/4, bringing with it the dof that comes with f/4.

Another interesting point. Lots of camcorders are sold with a 20x zoom (say) and these long zooms ramp noticeably. Panasonic's idea of having a 12x optical combined with a non-degrading electronic zoom (using the bigger than necessary chips) mean that it effectively has a 20x zoom that stops ramping after the 12x point is reached. Very clever. Of course the dof characteristics are the same at 69mm as they are at 41.4mm, which seems slightly odd.

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Old September 21st, 2011, 09:00 AM   #309
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

That is very interesting Tom and if that's how it works, it seems probable that any stopping down of the aperture blades brings with it some diffraction effects. In other words, we know that F2.8 on a big camera is a much larger circle than F2.8 on a small camera, yet diffraction has to do with the wavelengths, which are constant. So diffraction creeps in at smaller F-stop numbers than for the bigger cams.

If we shoot in bright conditions with a shutter priority automation at 1/60th sec for smooth motion, what you're saying is that it can run out of ND and begin stopping down the aperture and introduce diffraction artifacts.

I guess the question then, is at what point this happens? And if as you say, the camera defaults to using the maximum aperture opening in auto, armed with this knowledge then it's probably choosing the same shutter speed I would if given the choice, the slowest shutter speed without diffraction. Translation: May as well just let the camera choose aperture and shutter.
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Old September 21st, 2011, 09:34 AM   #310
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

You're right - this 900 uses smaller than ¼" chips, so diffraction losses are a real problem and you shouldn't really use apertures smaller than f/4 - and certainly not at the wide-angle end of the zoom. With this in mind Panasonic introduce NDs that absorb the first two stops, then the next two stops take you to an actual f/3 (effective f/6) at wide angle and f/5,6 (effective f/11) at full tele.

Very clever, but how does a manufacturer make a 13 element 12x zoom accurately enough (at that tiny price point) when it's going to spend much of its life shooting wide open? How do they counteract the unavoidable vignetting at maximum aperture? And what about the added flare levels?

Of course all movies should be shot at 1/50th (or 1/60th in NTSC land) and for proof of this you only have to watch some GoPro footage shot in sunshine. So I'd hope the 900 locks down the 1/50th even in iA, and juggles with NDs and iris blades to suit.

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Old September 22nd, 2011, 12:46 AM   #311
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

Hi Tom H.,

Correct me if I'm wrong but I recollect you being an expert on WA and zoom lens adaptors from past forum posts. Directly related to the TM900, the zoom range leaves a little to be desired in comparison to my XHA1. I know that the hybrid zoom is lossless up to 20x. Conventional wisdom is to never use digital zoom...ever, but with newer technology, how would using digital zoom fair out against shooting through a zoom lens adaptor with decent glass, say sub $200 range for TM900? I ask because from what I understand the compression takes place post digital zoom which in theory would give you less resolution loss than say shooting at full optical telephoto and then zooming in in post say in Vegas, Premiere, AE, etc. So would quality be comparable using conservative digital zoom vs throwing more glass in front the TM900?

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Last edited by Kevin Janisch; September 22nd, 2011 at 03:07 PM.
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Old September 22nd, 2011, 03:23 PM   #312
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

Well, I did some tests this morning and answered my own question. Albeit not with a TM900 but with an HV40 and a Raynox DCR-2020PRO 2.2x Telephoto Lens. Results are not surprising. Lists from best to worst:

1. HV40 with Telephoto (by far)
2. HV40 with Digital Zoom (much nicer than post zoom than expected)
3. HV40 Stock, Pan + Zoom Post in Vegas

So from my rudimentary tests, get a decent Telephoto if you can. If not, use the digital zoom if you have to get in tight vs just optical and zooming in later in post (if this is your intention). Using the digital zoom captures more detail as this is pre-compression. This is HDV though. Surely AVCHD may be much closer in quality with Digital Zoom and Post Zoom.

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Old September 22nd, 2011, 03:32 PM   #313
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

Hi Kevin, yup - that's me, the wide-angle converter freak.
The 900 allows you to extend the 12x zoom up to a 20x zoom but only in the movie mode. When you shoot stills it's only a 12x zoom of course.

The beauty of the 20x is that beyond 12x the lens doesn't ramp, so it's still f/2.8 way out at 20x. Of course the dof doesn't change beyond the 12x zoom point, except for the fact that you're 'blowing up' the info on the chips so focus will appear more critical.

I've done no tests on this 12x vs 20x on the 900, but footage I've shot at the 20x position looks a whole lot better than any digital zoom should.

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Old September 22nd, 2011, 06:27 PM   #314
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

Thanks Tom! Any glaring issues at full Telephoto being so wide open? Softness, chromatic abrasions, etc?

Also, what's your opinion of the photos you're getting with the TM900?
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Old September 23rd, 2011, 03:07 AM   #315
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Re: The Panasonic TM900 Users Thread

Funnily enough Kevin, I've just finished a write-up on the stills capabilities of the SD900 vs the Canon 10D and 60D for a video mag.

Conclusions

Don't worry good people; we've all got cameras that give quite staggeringly good definition. If we look back just a few years to 2003 we can marvel at the way technology has improved our images while at the same time lightening the load on our pockets. Back then the 10D was causing gasps and the VX2000 was shooting standard definition 4:3 images. Filming test charts will tell us which cameras are marginally better than others, but photography is about stirring emotions, not spatial aliasing, chromatic aberration and JPEG artefacts.

The 10D is available second-hand for about £150 as a body only, and this makes it a remarkably good buy even today. It may have a small rear screen and no movie mode but it’s strong, really strong. So on a picture/pound ratio this camera’s the winner. It will introduce you to the basic delights of DSLR photography for half the price of a modern compact and I can see why the 2003 reviewers were blown away by its capabilities.

With all this in mind I can give the little Panasonic 900 Mini Marvel five stars. This really is David – if not exactly slaying Goliath – then making him step back in open-mouthed awe and admiration. Of course there’s no doubt that the 60D takes better pictures and movies, but look at the cost in terms of weight, size and lost zoom range. The ergonomics of the 900 far outstrip those of the DSLR when they’re both used for shooting movies so if you’re after one camera that does everything and you’re in holiday mood then the 900 is the camera for you. If you really want noticeably better stills and movies then you’ll have to bear the weight and the financial pain of owning the 60D, and all the while accept the fact that it will never ever have such a long, fast zoom.
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