Panasonic EVA1 Review: Loves and Loathes from a Humble Filmmaker
Its appearance was initially mysterious. A silhouette of a small-looking camera and all we could see was a Panasonic logo. Eventually, the curtain was pulled back and I felt like Wall-E. EVA was here and she was very intriguing.
I promise that’s the one and only time I’ll gender a camera, but it’s hard to resist at least one Pixar joke when writing about the Panasonic EVA1. I will be upfront from the jump, though. After about a month’s worth of field testing Panasonic’s new offering, I do feel a whole lot like Wall-E.
I think I’m in love. Despite a few quirks, the Panasonic EVA1 is the most exciting camera in this price range in quite some time.
A Ride in the Wayback Machine Before We Get to the EVA1 Review
To take it back a bit, let’s examine where Panasonic’s cinema line has been in the last 10 years. In December of 2010, the AF100 was released and it was a very exciting camera, too. At the time, the market wasn’t as saturated with quality cinema camera options and the AF100 was about two-thirds cheaper than the next-most-comparable option, the Sony F3. Panasonic made an “affordable” tool with a great foothold in the market. A lot of people loved that camera for its color and functionality.
Canon and Sony Take the Spotlight
About a year or so later, Canon released the C300, followed by the C100, and suddenly Panasonic’s offering became less and less popular. The AF100 had a 4/3 sensor, which couldn’t compete with the Super 35 options from Canon and Sony. It seemed like Panasonic had bowed out of the cinema market until 2014. Then, the Varicam 35 was announced at a steep price of over $30,000. The camera was packed with great features and, true to Panasonic’s pedigree, the colors were generally regarded as exceptional.
In 2016, Panasonic announced the Varicam LT, which was a more budget-friendly flavor of the 35, but it was still out of the price range of most indie owner/operators. If folks wanted to be in the Panasonic ecosystem on a budget, their choice was the GH line. These made nice images but weren’t packed with the features and ergonomics that video pros craved.
Then, in 2017, a mysterious spaceship dropped an unusual item onto our dirty soil and suddenly we have EVA! Technically, Panasonic named it AU-EVA1. Let’s pretend they wanted to call it EVA and chickened out at the last second.
The EVA1 is a compact, lightweight cinema camera that packs a ton of features for a price point of under $8,000, which makes it direct competition for cameras like the Canon C200 (reviewed by yours truly here), as well as Sony’s FS5 (also discussed here) and FS7 (used a whole bunch, but I haven’t written anything about it). So, what’s the big deal?
I’m getting to that.
EVA1 Sensor Benefits (Hint: Indistinguishable from Magic)
The EVA1 uses a 5.7K sensor to resolve a 4K image, with a reported 14 stops of dynamic range. This method of using a higher-resolution sensor to create a final image that’s a bit smaller is becoming more common. Though I’m sure each camera manufacturer’s special sauce is different.
This technique was used in the original C300 and C100. They took a 4K sensor and did some magic to create a nice image in 1080. I’m not an engineer, but I’m very impressed with the image coming out of the EVA1. I frequently shoot in unpredictable lighting scenarios and the camera has held up extremely well. So much so that I eventually stopped thinking about the nitty-gritty of the sensor. I was able to just shoot instinctively.
Below is an image that is oftentimes tricky for camera sensors – a hot window mixed with dim warm light indoors. All I’ve done to this image is apply the Panasonic Varicam LUT to the original V-Log image. You can see that it’s holding up very well.
Dual Native ISO
Without question, the headline feature of the EVA1 is actually borrowed from the Varicam line of cameras. It’s a figure of mystery and its name is “Dual Native ISO.” Okay, it’s not ACTUALLY a mystery. But I’m not smart enough to explain how it works.
What I can say is that the EVA has a normal base ISO of 800 but it’s also capable of doing some magic that results in a base ISO of 2500. What this means in practical terms is that, in low light situations, you can choose the higher base ISO, but not at the expense of noise performance. You should see nearly exactly the same amount of grain at ISO 2500 as you would at ISO 800.
Panasonic’s Best Feature (Besides All the Other Features): Color
Panasonic has long been known for their very pleasing colors and the EVA continues that tradition in a big way. What I’m about to say is completely subjective, but I’ve shot with nearly every major current camera sensor and I would say that the EVA’s colors are probably the best I’ve seen in any camera, short of those made by ARRI.
With the Varicam V-Log LUT applied, I find that skin tones are extremely pleasing and the rest of the image is extremely natural. There’s a slight magenta cast, but this is very easily dialed out in any editing software. I shoot a fair amount of food, so my version of a color chart is sometimes “does this camera produce nice radishes?” The EVA makes very nice radishes. It also makes nice scallions. I did not test blueberries and I am sorry for this.
What I Love and Don’t-Really-Love about the EVA1’s Ergonomics
Panasonic stuck to a form factor that’s very common in cinema cameras over the last few years. If you’re familiar with cameras like the C200 or FS5, you’ll feel right at home here. I wouldn’t say that the camera is as light as the FS5, but it’s not too far off, which makes it very easy to operate with your hand on the side grip.
While on the subject of the handgrip, it’s important to note that some users have expressed a concern that the handgrip has a bit too much “play” in it, even when snapped into place. I found my unit to have some play, but it did not seem to cause any operational issues. If a tiny bit of “wiggle” is grossly offensive to you, then I suggest you avoid this camera, as well as a certain popular children’s musical act.
For the Accessory Obsessed
The camera’s top handle attaches with two screws and the top of the camera has 6 threaded holes available to the user. This is great for mounting additional accessories, or even a top plate that has even more tapped holes. Basically: if tapped holes are your thing, the EVA’s going to make you happy. The Panasonic handle is also free of electronics, so you can swap it out or remove it entirely if you don’t need it, which is great for gimbal work.
The camera ships with a touchscreen LCD (and a built-in snappy sun hood that’s pretty cool!), but the screen leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not a bright screen and, while it’s usable in a pinch, I wouldn’t rely on it. This is a camera that’s best complemented with an external monitor, while you keep the LCD for a few features that I’ll get to.
The buttons on the side of the camera are well laid out and you can customize many of them in the menu system, which is easy to navigate. The only thing that really took getting used to was the wee switch that’s dedicated to adjusting the White Balance, ISO, or a user-defined parameter.
Let’s say you want to quickly adjust your ISO: flip the switch to “ISO/DB” then spin the jog wheel to the right of the switch. Need to adjust your White Balance? Flip that same switch up to “WB” then use the wheel to cycle between some presets.
I eventually got quick with this approach but it was an adjustment. When I really consider why it was set up this way, I think it makes sense if you have the camera on your shoulder. The switch is the only one of its kind that far forward on the camera, and ISO and White Balance are parameters that one frequently adjusts in documentary scenarios. Once you memorize “up is White Balance, down is ISO”, it’s pretty easy to make those adjustments without looking.
EVA Phone Home
Another ergonomic feature that’s made its way over from the Varicam line is the “HOME” menu, which is basically an at-a-glance look at your most important settings like resolution, frame rate, color settings, and more. Simply press the “HOME” button and you’re greeted with the menu, but the added bonus here is that this menu is touch-compatible, so you can quickly tap your parameters and adjust them. This is very helpful for quickly adjusting frame rates, for example. You don’t have control of every single menu option but it’s a great tool for quickly adjusting many of your most important settings.
At the time of writing of this review (March), the EVA1 can record 4K imagery in 422 10-bit color, with a maximum bitrate of 150 Mb/s. The codec (like most in this price range) is LongGOP, which I’ve discussed in other reviews, but the one-line explanation is: taxing on computers, efficient on media storage.
2.0 Firmware Upgrade
Panasonic is set to release a firmware that will dramatically improve the codec flavors on this camera (available on BL’s EVA1s after April 1st), offering an All-I option at a maximum bitrate of 400 Mb/s. All-I is a much more computer-friendly codec, but it requires substantially more (and faster) media.
A tiny wrinkle that’s worth noting is that if you want to shoot variable frame rates (over-cranking or under-cranking for in-camera slow or fast motion footage), you’re limited to a 4:2:0 color space. I shot a fair amount of material in this configuration and still found the footage to be very impressive. If you’re planning to do a lot of heavy color grading, that won’t be particularly 4:2:0-friendly, but I think it will be sufficient for most people.
[box] April 2018 Note: This update has been released. See more below.[/box]
2.0 Firmware Upgrade Update (An Update on an Update, Meta)
Houston, we have an update! All of BL’s EVA1 units are now renting with the 2.0 firmware installed, which supports amazing new features. Let’s just list them shall we?
Support for RAW Output:
- Crop 4K/60p
- Crop 2K/240p
Additional Recording Formats:
- 422Intra 400M 29.97p,24p,25p,23.98p
- 422Intra 400M 29.97p,25p,23.98p
- 422Intra 200M 59.94p,50p
- 422Intra 100M 29.97p,24p,25p,23.98p
- 422Intra 200M 59.94p,50p
- 422Intra 100M 29.97p,25p,23.98p,59.94i,50i
- 422LongGOP 50M 59.94i,50i
Support for VFR:
- 4K / UHD
422Intra 400M Max 30 FPS
- 2K / FHD
422Intra 200M/100M Max 120 FPS (equivalent to 400M)
And more! To read about this less in list-y form and more in sentence-y form, check out RAW Firmware Upgrades for Panasonic EVA1 and Atomos.
ENOUGH WITH THE SPECS. WHY DO YOU LIKE THIS THING SO MUCH?!
First of all, there’s no need to yell.
I mentioned this at the top of the article, but I’m very impressed with this camera. I would go far enough to say that it is my favorite camera anywhere near this price point. The only “big player” I haven’t shot much with is…the one that’s named after a color. I do a fair amount of documentary work and there are a few key aspects that make this camera work nearly perfectly for the way that I like to shoot.
#1: Shooting LOG Without Worry
Many folks (even working professionals) are sometimes hesitant to shoot in LOG profiles on modern cameras from the likes of Canon and Sony. This is because the supplied monitoring LUTs for those cameras aren’t always particularly helpful. This is especially true in the case of Sony cameras, which need to be overexposed significantly to avoid massive shadow noise. Sony’s standard monitoring LUTs don’t compensate well for this overexposure, so once you engage them the image becomes horrifyingly unappealing.
Canon’s LUT recipe is better but still requires a very careful eye. I tend to prefer to shoot just at (or slightly under) exposure, so I have personally had issues with this workflow. The Varicam LUT, paired with the more forgiving (in my opinion) curve of V-Log, seems to work best with how I like to shoot.
Over many hours working with this camera, I find that I can truly use the LUT to expose an image to my taste and I have yet to “miss” my exposure in this way. The Varicam LUT also imbues the image with great color, so projects with a quick turnaround don’t really suffer from LOG acquisition.
#2: Digital Level FTW
Here’s a feature I didn’t realize I needed but oh boy do I love it. The EVA1 has a digital level which, when engaged, overlays tiny markers on the far edges of the LCD. These markers will indicate how far off-balance your image is, which is particularly useful when shooting handheld. Gone are the days of looking for a window pane or a door jamb, only to whisper to yourself “I mean, that LOOKS straight, right?” I find the level to be very helpful for quickly spot-checking the axis of my footage.
The EVA1 has a timecode-in, which is a very rare addition for a camera in this price bracket. Some users have reported issues with timecode drift but I will happily take a few re-jams overhearing “we’ll just have someone clap and let the computers figure it out later.”
#4: Variable Frame Rates Are Simple
Once you’ve set the camera up for VFR mode, swapping frame rates is extremely easy. You can even program the “user” switch to allow you to dial in frame rates with the jog wheel, which is a breeze in documentary environments.
We live in a time where there are a stupid number of cameras with which one can make great images. The EVA is certainly one of them and, from a totally subjective point of view, I prefer the images I’m getting with this camera over any camera in this price range.
#6: PL Option is (Kinda) Available
The wizards over at Wooden Camera have developed a lens mount replacement for the EVA which will allow it to accept PL lenses, which opens the camera up to a wide range of very pretty glass. In fact, just the thought of sticking some Cooke lenses on this camera is making me want to dance around my office.*
*My “office” is a nook underneath the staircase in the basement of BorrowLenses HQ. I share it with a couple of mice and this shape-shifting clown who’s always talking about “floating.” He’s annoying, but he always offers to buy when he goes on coffee runs, so it’s not all bad.
Fine. Anything You Don’t Like?
It’s not all heart-eyes-emojis when it comes to the EVA. I mean, it’s mostly heart-eyes for me but there are definitely a few eye-roll emojis and one or two my-face-is-red-with-anger emojis.
Even with a fair amount of practice, I find the audio workflow on the EVA to be a bit frustrating. Gain knobs are the only external audio control – all other adjustments are driven through the menu system. If you swap between working with dedicated sound mixers and more solo operations, you might miss the ability to quickly switch between Mic and Line levels. In addition, the camera’s preamps aren’t anything to write home about. I found them to be a bit noisy but certainly workable in one-human-band scenarios.
I mentioned it before but it bears repeating. The supplied LCD is really only useful for displaying crucial information. I would highly recommend renting a monitor if you’re planning to check this camera out. Judging exposure and focus on that LCD is frustrating at best.
You’ll notice that it took me nearly 2,700 words to discuss autofocus on this camera and that’s because it’s nothing to write home about. You have a one-push autofocus option but it’s lacking compared to the continuous phase-detect autofocus on the C200. Furthermore, you can’t use the LCD screen to tap-to-focus like you can on the Canon, so if you plan to make heavy use of autofocus, the EVA is not a good choice for you.
Electronic Image Stabilization
EIS is a mixed bag. The EVA has a feature called Electronic Image Stabilization, which functions similarly to something like Warp Stabilizer in Adobe Premiere. It crops into the image by about 15% and attempts to compensate for handheld jitter. This method is nowhere near as good as In-Body Image Stabilization (which has yet to make it to a cinema camera in the first place but is present in cameras like the GH5 and more recent Sony mirrorless cameras) and can produce some unnatural results if you’re not careful.
I’ve found that it particularly struggles in scenes that have a lot of elements at different depths. You’ll notice unnatural parallax effects in these scenarios (your foreground will shift around while your background stays relatively steady), which you can’t correct for in post. That said, the EVA also supports IS on lenses that have it, so if you happen to be shooting with any glass that has Image Stabilization, you can opt for that instead of EIS.
Conclusion (or The End of My Rambling)
To wrap this sucker up: if you’re poking around for cinema cameras to rent for your next project, I strongly recommend you add the EVA to your list, especially if you’re doing any kind of documentary work. As always, if you have any questions feel free to drop them in the comments below.
The Panasonic EVA1 is available to rent from BorrowLenses.com starting at $325 (as of this writing). The 2.0 firmware update offering RAW output will be available after April 1st, 2018.