02 Apr 2014

Panasonic makes the first 4K (full frame-rate) POV camera

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Panasonic HX-A500 Panasonic HX-A500 Panasonic/RedShark

Index

This is a genuine suprise: Panasonic is first off the starting line with its 4K full frame rate POV camera

There was hope that GoPro might be the first company to release a 4k POV camera. They teased us with the possibility with the Hero3 Black edition which can record 4k at up to 15fps. Not the most useful thing in the world it has to be said.

It is interesting because the Sony manufactured sensors inside the Hero3 Black cameras are in fact capable of 4k at up to 60fps.

Amazingly Panasonic has now pipped them to the post with the HX-A500, the worlds first fully affordable 4k capable POV camera.

Features include a self levelling lens, electronic image stabilisation, and waterproofing to 3m.

On paper these are great specifications. However I do have some reservations about its design ethic. With its tethered recording system the practicality of using this camera for adventure sports is questionable, and while 4k recording is the in thing these days, I do wonder how well it will perform in the many low light situations that these cameras often find themselves in.

A tether creates all sorts of safety issues as a snag hazard, particularly for kayaking, but also for use on MTB’s and skiing where tree branches are always ready to catch out the unwary.

Questionable promotional video

Interestingly the promotional video for the camera demonstrates such highlights as a man inspecting underneath his car, a man walking through an endless desert, a lady videoing a head-mounted POV of herself making hats, and someone rather creepily videoing a date with his girlfriend!

This video I feel demonstrates the limitations of the tether style system. Not only is there the issue of the cable snagging dangerously, but there are two pieces of gear to have to mount. The camera itself and the separate recording/control system. To my mind there is no justification for such a design from any sort of practical point of view. There are very good reasons why the most popular POV cams on the market do not use such a method.

The GoPro was designed by adventure sports enthusiasts for adventure sports enthusiasts. They understood what was needed, and the employees of that company use the camera themselves on a daily basis.

A large corporation, whose employees have never been near a climbing rope, a kayak, or a surfboard, cannot be expected to come up with a design solution for such a camera without first learning from the mistakes of others.

Sony has already been through this cycle itself. Its initial foray into the POV camera market with the interlaced only £1800 MCP1P wasn’t exactly a resounding success, especially when GoPro’s do the job so much better with far more recording options, full waterproofing, and a price that makes it attractive to most general users as well as being a throwaway price for TV productions who may destroy them regularly.

Sony now have their Action Cam series, taking cues from the successful Contour system as well as GoPro. Sony learnt from others and now have a pretty good system, eclipsed only by GoPro’s marketing machine.

Crowded market

The POV camera market is extremely crowded at the moment. Not only does any new competitor have to take on the might of the GoPro machine, but there is also the Contour, Drift, Ion Air, The Sony Action Cam, and any number of copycats from Germany, China and the US to consider.

Your camera is going to have to be pretty remarkable to stand out. GoPros have suffered from reliability issues in recent years. Some were solved with firmware updates, and others were down to manufacturing issues with certain makes of SD card. However battery life still remains an issue of contention for many users.

Despite these setbacks the GoPro remains the number one choice at the present time for many people, firstly because of the sheer choice of mounting options, but also because it is the only current POV camera that offers such a high recording bitrate along with the option of using Log gamma to capture a wider contrast latitude.

Sony’s forthcoming AS100V, which I hope to be looking at for RedShark very soon, promises to eclipse the GoPro with a 50Mb/s recording bitrate as well as a picture profile to help matching with its larger broadcast camera cousins. They have also taken on board what users have said about usability and have addressed the few shortcomings of the previous model in this regard.

For any manufacturers who are reading this I will conclude by offering my advice to you if you wish to conquer the POV action camera market. You simply must start talking to the end users, and not presume to know a subject for which you have little knowledge of.

Video after the break



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Simon Wyndham

Simon Wyndham is the Editor of RedShark News, a professional cameraman and video producer of 20 odd years. With a background in indy feature making, he has been writing camera reviews and tech articles for as long as he can remember. When he isn't producing bread and butter corporate videos he can be found hucking the gnar on rivers whitewater kayaking and adventure sports filming.

Website: www.5ep.co.uk

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