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Leo Ticheli discusses the HD VariCam from Panasonic

COW Library : Panasonic VariCam : Leo Ticheli : Leo Ticheli discusses the HD VariCam from Panasonic
Leo Ticheli discusses the HD VariCam from Panasonic
A Creative COW Production Report

Leo Ticheli, Leo Ticheli Productions, Offices: Birmingham, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia USA

©2003 Matsushita Electric Corporation of America. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
Panasonic's VariCam™ HD camera is one of the most popular HD units in use today, being used in major and independent films, commercials, corporate and music videos and many other projects. In this article, Creative Cow's Leo Ticheli discusses how the VariCam is used at his company, Leo Ticheli Productions (LTP). LTP bought VariCam back in 2001 and today uses the VariCam in projects that are developed at the two company offices located in Birmingham, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia.

Leo Ticheli, (host of Creative Cow's VariCam forum), discusses his purchase reasons, the image quality, the posting process and some of the projects that the VariCam has been used on. He gives his assessment of the camera, as well as the VariCam’s aptness for a broad range of assignments.

LTP purchased the Panasonic VariCam in summer 2001 for projects ranging from television commercials for large advertising agencies to programs for major corporations. LTP is a vertically-integrated company that oversees a project from conception through distribution; its range of services includes TV commercials, long-form sponsored videos, web hosting, DVD and CD-ROM production, and the creation of MPEG material for web distribution.

LTP has used its VariCam for a wide range of projects, including commercial shoots for D’Arcy Martin (client Pontiac), Bressler Advertising (clients DeTar Healthcare System, Woodland Heights Medical Center), Max Productions (client, Coliseum Health Systems), Auburn University, Great SouthernWood and Express Oil Change; recruitment pieces for the University of Alabama; and corporate videos for Bell South, Blue Cross of Alabama, Synovus Financial Corporation, and Employment Learning Innovations. Previously, LTP was shooting predominantly in digital Betacam and 35 mm film.

Take us back to your original decision to purchase the VariCam.

Leo Ticheli: I carefully researched the merits of the AJ-HDC27 vs. competitive models. The investment required for the competition was daunting, and when we looked at the pictures side-by-side -- on HD monitors, then downconverted to 601 -- the Panasonic images were far superior. The variable-frame-rate capability made it a “must-have” item -- and, incidentally, virtually every job we’ve done with the camera has involved off-speed shooting. In my opinion, the VariCam replaces a film camera in every conceivable situation, other than shooting at higher than 60-fps.

Can you comment on the camera’s image quality?

Leo Ticheli: The progressive scan is very important. The VariCam produces no-compromise images that don’t look like 1080i--which to me looks like nice video, but video nonetheless. When knowledgeable people look at the monitor in our edit suite, invariably they say, “It’s film.” One could argue endlessly about the “HD vs. the film vs. the video look,” but as far as I’m concerned, HD shot at 24p looks like film.

What version of the VariCam do you use?

Leo Ticheli: As soon as they were available, I retrofitted the camera with the additional frames rates and new CineGamma capabilities. I think the CineGamma is an essential, highly significant change to the look and flexibility of the camera, allowing it to more closely match the latitude of film stocks. And the enhancements demonstrate the level of continuing support Panasonic is offering VariCam users, which has been very impressive.

How has the camera performed on commercial shoots?

Leo Ticheli: Well, we haven’t lacked for physical challenges. The 30-second Pontiac spot, which ran regionally, was shot from an all-terrain vehicle outfitted with platforms. The location was Daytona Beach--during biker week. The 30-second spot for Auburn University, airing nationally during football season, profiles the university’s state-of-the-art Asphalt Test Facility. We shot car-to-car, and aerially. We’ve been able to put the camera anywhere--on a Steadicam, in tight spots in cars and boats, on jibs and helicopters. We’ve had zero problems with mountability.

What’s different about shooting HD?

Leo Ticheli: On a shoot, we’re typically requiring fewer foot-candles, and rating the equivalent of about 500 ASA with no grain. We’re doing more set-ups in a day, using less air-conditioning, less electricity, and it’s an easier job for the crew.

Typically, how do you post VariCam footage?

Leo Ticheli: We output to 601 from a DVCPRO HD VTR (we us both AJ-HD150 studio editing and AJ-HD130DC portable, half-rack size VTRs) and master to Digital Betacam™. In addition to Final Cut Pro, Discreet Smoke, and a linear suite, we have a mobile online suite, equipped with Final Cut Pro, Combustion, After Effects and AJA Kona. And we have another AJA Kona room where we handle DVDs and video-for-web. Overall in post, special effects and mattes are much easier with VariCam-originated footage than with material originated on film or inferior video formats.

How do you distribute video?

Leo Ticheli: We distribute most commercial spots via telestream, which means the video is compressed to MPEG4 and transmitted at a high data rate. The image quality looks much better than a DVD movie, and it stays digital all the way.

What impact has the VariCam had on your company?

Leo Ticheli: On the business side, we’ve been incredibly more competitive. We’re able to offer a cinema look at a price so low that clients are putting upwards of 25% of their budgets back into sets, aerial shots, extra actors, additional shooting days, etc. (My rule of thumb is that a project that would cost $80,000 with 35mm costs $60,000 with VariCam.) What I’m seeing is that, rather than reducing budgets, clients are taking the money they’re saving vs. a film shoot, “re-investing” it in the job and getting a lot more up on the screen. I’m often asked why I’m shooting in HD today when my ultimate product is still 525i. Obviously, I’m archiving a 16:9, HD master for my clients. But I’m also saving between $5000 - $10,000 per shoot day, savings that you ultimately see up on the screen.

As a director/cinematographer, I’ve been overjoyed with the VariCam. Every job has that beautiful cinema look, and I’m able to get the same off-speed effects as with film cameras. And I really appreciate being able to immediately see what I’m getting on an HD monitor. I discourage our clients from shooting any other format but VariCam. The camera delivers the highest quality image--on a par with 35mm--to clients who could never have afforded film.

Next up for the VariCam at LTP, a series of four commercials for the tourism agency of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.


Leo Ticheli is a host in's VariCam forum, AJA Kona and High Definition forums

For more information or specs regarding the VariCam, visit Panasonic's VariCam homepage.

Reprinted with kind permission of Matsushita Electric Corporation of America.

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