For the last couple of weeks I have had a chance to test the new AG-UX90 camera from Panasonic. The lightweight camera is great for the photog on the go or for those doing documentary work. Should you grab this camera? I run down the great, and not so great features of the camera, in this review.
UHD AT 24 AND 30p
Like many cameras that claim they are 4K, the Panasonic AG-UX90 is actually a UHD camera shooting at 3840×2160 pixels at 23.98 or 29.97 frames per second. The camera captures images on a 1-inch CMOS sensor, which ends up giving the user a better depth of field than other cameras you’ll find in this price range. It isn’t a full frame sensor, but then again, this camera isn’t designed for DSLR fans, or those planning on shooting a feature film.
The AG-UX90 features a Leica lens, and as we all know, a Leica lens is a great lens. At its widest, users have a 24mm lens when shooting HD, but only 35mm when you shoot in UHD. This is a bit of a drawback as most of the projects I’m shooting are at UHD so we can reframe in post, and future proof content as online outlets like YouTube see more content released at 4K. It’s a minor quibble, because at the widest angle, I’m super impressed with the video images captured. And with a 15x zoom, you’ll be surprised at how close you can get to the subject.
The worst part about shooting in 4K is getting a critical focus, but Panasonic has you covered with a nearly flawless autofocus feature that was able to lock on to all of my subjects with ease. If you need more flexibility, you can switch to manual mode, and focus on the subject yourself utilizing the enhanced focus feature. Combine this the touch screen and you can inspect the focus of your subject, no mater where they are in the frame.
Unfortunately, Panasonic has not included any facial recognition in the autofocus, which means it may be a bit more difficult to focus if you are doing a one-man band production and need to do your own stand up. The manual does mention a way to connect to the camera with an iPad and Panasonic’s AG Pro app, but the manual didn’t go into any detail, and I couldn’t get the camera connected to a wireless network because it requires a wireless USB adaptor. It would be nice to include a Wi-Fi adaptor with the camera, or have it built in. My guess is, not many users will actually use this feature, but making sure all users are covered would have been nice. While I’m dreaming of a perfect world, GPS and an accelerometer would make this super useful for those doing post production effects work using footage from the camera.
As with other cameras of its kind, the Panasonic UX90 has focus, zoom, and iris rings, as well as gain, ND filters, and an easy to access white balance button. I really miss having these features on the cameras I’m using now, so getting to use these felt like coming home.
Also included with the camera is image stabilization for when you absolutely can’t be on a tripod. I like this feature a lot, but if you are using the built in microphone, or one mounted on the cold shoe adaptor, optical image stabilization tends to be noisy. I was a little surprised how noisy the zoom and iris features were on this camera as well. When shooting from the shoulder, I could hear servo noise, and my ears were further away from the lens than the built in microphone. Be aware of this if you plan on using the built in microphone.
PRO AUDIO INPUTS
Speaking of audio, there are two professional XLR inputs on this camera, and unlike other cameras I’ve seen, these are not located together. The first input is located near the LCD screen so you can run a short cable from your shotgun microphone. The other is located on the back of the camera, for wireless microphone connectivity. At first inspection it seemed odd, but after using the camera, I can’t think of a better position for these audio connectors.
While it may have been my microphones, I thought the audio controls were a bit sensitive, as a slight adjustment of the audio knobs seemed to drastically increase or decrease the audio. There is a digital audio meter that you can view on the LCD screen, but there are no meter markings so you can’t tell if you are hitting at -20db or -3db, and you are only aware your are overloading the inputs when the meter hits the red.
I do like the LCD screen and the way it slides out of a protective slot. It is large enough, but there were times that manual control settings were nearly impossible to read on the screen. You can rotate the LCD screen, but you can’t turn it sideways. If you want to use the LCD screen outdoors you might as well forget it, as I found it worthless while shooting in sunlight or on an overcast day. The touchscreen is okay, but after a short while the LCD screen is a smudgy mess. You’ll definitely want to have a microfiber cloth with you on every shoot just to clean the screen. There is a nice high quality electronic viewfinder, that I found really useful, but you can’t have the LCD and EVF on at the same time.
If you are someone who likes a variety of picture profiles to adjust the look and feel of your image as it is being recorded, there are five picture profiles included with the camera. While this is fantastic, and allows you to get a distinct look, unless you know what the Spark profile looks like, you are out of luck as there is no information on any of these in the printed or electronic manuals. I finally found some information in a sales brochure on the Panasonic website. The Cine-V and Cine-D profiles are included that create a fairly flat look for color correction and color grading later on.
AVCHD, MP4, AND MOV
Video is recorded to SDXC cards in AVCHD, MP4 and QuickTime formats. There are two SD slots on the camera, which allows you to select a card to record on, mirror recording, so you have an instant backup of your footage. You can also use Relay Recording that starts recording on one card, and when it is full, jumps to the next card without missing a beat. The AG-UX90 will record UHD in MP4 and MOV formats at 50 or 100Mbps. For whatever reason, this camera will not record UHD in the AVCHD format, even though I have other cameras that will. AVCHD is only available for HD recording. I know many will use this camera mostly for HD shoots, but in a day when we are moving to more 4K production, it’s odd to see AVCHD getting dumped at this higher resolution. I also found it odd that you can’t shoot 60p (or 60i) in UHD mode.
The Panasonic AG-UX90 has a lot of easy to access controls that are essential when shooting in a run and gun environment. There are also a number of useful features that do not need a dedicated button. Like other cameras, the AG-UX90 has nine user definable buttons scattered across the camera that you can use to assign 32 different functions. While using the camera, the default settings worked well for Zebra, Macro Focus, and White Balance, but I did reconfigure one button to include the Histogram.
Think about that for a moment. Even with all the other very useful features found on this camera, the default, out of the box settings, and the features and configurations on this camera work wonderfully. And when it comes to new cameras, I don’t want to spend hours trying to figure out how my new camera works. It took maybe 10 minutes to familiarize myself with the camera as I took it out of the box before I started shooting a project that ended up online the same day.
BOTTOM LINE – STRONG BUY
Originally, I wanted to test this camera for its potential as a camera for streaming video and for vloggers. After a week with the camera, I know this isn’t a camera for vloggers, it’s just too big compared to the small profile cameras vloggers love to use, but for those creating other online content, this is a really good camera. The AG-UX90 is also an ideal solution for those who are in a small studio space and want the ability to stream in a multi-camera environment. This is a solid camera and with the HDMI output, is a great solution for any project that needs to run to an external monitor or switcher for streaming. So, while this camera is okay for online use, this camera shines as a run and gun, ENG, or camera for documentary work.
For all the little negatives I had while working with this camera, I ended up really liking the unit. Granted there are smaller and cheaper cameras that do nearly everything the Panasonic AG-UX90 does, but the smaller cameras lack many of the instant access buttons, larger sensor size, and XLR inputs found on this camera. I would love to have a couple of these for my multi camera shoots, and for $2,295 I just might get a few. If you need all of the professional features found in this camera, the AG-UX90 is definitely worth considering. I’m giving the Panasonic AG-UX90 a strong buy recommendation.