I took the Panasonic AG-CX10 4K Camcorder with me on my winter hiking trip to Northern New Hampshire around Christmas Time. Specifically, I wanted to capture footage of white-tail deer. This means early mornings. Each day, I'd get up around 4:30am to hike into the woods and sit down before the sun rises over the mountains.
Needless to say, a camera with low light capabilities is key. Taking the Panasonic AG-CX10 4K Camcorder, my goal is to test this camera's ability to handle low light situations. I was truly surprised by its capabilities, while also taking notes on way to better improve the user experience if this camera is what they decide to go with.
Panasonic AG-CX10 4K Camcorder
This is not a cine camera.
Panasonic AG-CX10 4K Camcorder is a 4K camcorder built for run and gun situations. In other words, this camcorder is perfect for news video, sports events, live video productions (it even has an NDI|HX upgrade), and documentary filmmaking.
Temperatures are freezing. Usually that means an extremely short battery life to what is usually a short battery life to begin with. With the AG-CX10, not the case. Out of all the time I spent in the woods, I only had to charge the camera once.
Here are some basic specs to help understand what that AG-CX10 offers:
- Optical Zoom: 24x
- 1/2.5-inch MOS Sensor
- ND Filter: 1/4, 1/16, 1/64, OFF
- Recording Format: MOV, MP4, AVCHD, P2
- Video Compression Method:
- MOV/MP4: H.264/MPEG-4 AVC High Profile, H.265/MPEG-H HEVC Main10 Profile
- AVCHD: H.264/MPEG-4 AVC High Profile
- P2: AVC-Intra 100/AVC-Intra 50: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 Intra Profile
- AVC‑LongG 50/AVC‑LongG25/AVC-LongG12: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 High Profile
- Proxy: AVC-Proxy G6: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 High Profile
Tech Tip #1 - Auto is your friend!
Hard to believe. But it's true.
Keeping this camera on auto gets the best results. What is impressive is the AG-CX10's customizability. Something I like to do, especially since I was shooting in 23.978fps to achieve a more "cinematic" look, is keep the shutter speed on manual. Literally everything else is on auto. This results in the best image during the day.
But I am out at the crack of dawn.
Here is an unedited shot of a spike buck that came in my path early one morning. To be clear, there was little light whatsoever. The sun was just barely beginning to peak over the mountains. I've also got the AG-CX10 zoomed in about 20x, which means less light hitting the sensor. So a few things were working against me.
Yet I am stunned by how little noise is seen on the image. I won't lie, there is some, but by keeping everything BUT my shutter speed on auto produced a surprisingly good image.
In fact, the image is so clear, I can see that this spike buck has lost one of his antlers! I could even tell he lost the antler rubbing the velvet off of it after the rut was over.
Also, shout out to the zoom on the AG-CX10.
Here, another buck walked out one morning while I was sitting in a small shack.
Here is the camera at its widest. My bet is you can't even spot the deer.
Here's the same shot, same buck, using the full zoom of the AG-CX10. Now I can see the full detail of this animal such as its muscles moving under its full and thick pelt.
Tech Tip #2 - Knowing when to go manual
I just said auto is your friend. But hear me out.
There are moments - especially in the early morning - where the sun is shining, but the environment is still pretty dark. Or in the evening where windows have lights on, but the surroundings are still dark. What I found is that the AG-CX10 will battle over which setting to be put on. The result is an odd flickering/pulsating effect. Putting the iris on manual took care of the problem.
The less light there is, the less effective the autofocus is. This might be a good time to switch the to manual focus. Though this is tough because the view screen is so small. This is when an external monitor like an Atomos Ninja V would come in handy.
Tech Tip #3 - Use the view finder
The Panasonic AG-CX10 has two ways to see video built into the camcorder. The most common one is a side screen which you can navigate menus on. What I like is how bright it is. Even with the sun high in the sky, I could see everything I needed to see decently well.
However, I'm looking for wildlife. They will see the light from that viewscreen.
While shooting the deer, I took full advantage of the rear viewfinder. I was even able to adjust to lens to better handle my terrible eye sight. This saved me a lot of grief. Had I only been able to use the side screen, and not had full capabilities with the rear view finder, I would have seen nothing.
With the rear viewfinder, much of the light produced by the camera is hidden, and the animals have a much harder time spotting you.
Tech Tip #4 - A cinematic look
As mentioned before, the Panasonic AG-CX10 is NOT a cine camera. But I nevertheless wanted to create a more-or-less cinematic look because I plan on using this camera in future documentaries.
First thing I decided was to shoot in 23.978fps. I also kept the shutter speed at 1/48 to get a decent motion blur. The built in ND filters helped with the bright sun reflecting off of the white snow which let me keep the shutter speed I want.
For a recording format, I chose MP4 420LongGOP 72M which gave me a bit of wiggle room on post production to pull out some color.
Here is the original image. Nothing has been done to it. As you can see, the aspect ratio if 16x9 3840 x 2160p, which is standard. But let's push the cinematic elements. An easy way to make it look cinematic - though I find it to be a cop out most times - is cropping the image to a 2.35:1 cinema aspect ratio 3840 x 1634p.
Next, I added a free LUT.
Now, the Panasonic AG-CX10 does not shoot in c-log or h-log or nay log really. So if you drop a LUT onto the video, it will look terrible. But, I discovered that by simply changing the intensity of the LUT, or opacity depending on which NLE you are using, it can make the image look stunning. For this project, I usually changed the intensity of the LUT (which highlights blues and oranges) to between 25-32%.
Here is that same image, with a 2.25:1 aspect ratio, with the LUT. A much more vibrant and cinematic looking image perfect for a documentarian.
Here are some more before and after shots