Sony PMW-EX3 or Panasonic AG-AF101?

The EX3 vs. AF101 (that’s the UK name for the AF100) debate was been raging on for years. Or since last year. The latter part.

The reason that these two cameras get pitted against each other so often is that they are both good and are in the right sort of price range for entry-level video production. I know this because I couldn’t make up my mind which one to select for a new video production role.

If I knew nothing about these cameras and someone was to briefly explain the idea behind each and its defining features, then I would opt for the AF101. I have been using a 5DMkii for video work and the successor to DSLR is very tempting. But that’s not the whole story and a little more depth is needed to make a proper decision, especially when you are faced with people with budgets, acquisition paperwork and – worst of all – some knowledge in the area. Each camera definitely has its place and ideally I would have one (or three) of each.

Let’s take a look at them individually, but without going into much technical detail. And by saying that, I mean that I’m not going to go into codecs or performance in low-light situations etc. as the scope on these doesn’t affect me too much – but if variations in these will affect you, you might want to take a closer look.

Panasonic AG-AF101

Pros

  • Look: Big sensor means shallow depth of field (DOF). At wider apertures you get gorgeous SDOF, giving you a cinematic look. Not all films are bathed in out-of-focus good looks, but it is cinematic in relation to traditional video.
  • Price: It costs under £4000.
  • Lenses: It is a Micro 4/3 (Four Thirds) format and takes a lot of different lenses.
  • Ergonomics: It’s small and so can fit in smaller places for interesting shots or go where big cameras can not.
  • Media: It’s got dual SD card slots. These are ubiquitous and coming down in price all the time.

Cons

  • Look: Shallow depth of field isn’t always going to be the party you thought it would be. Sometimes you need a wide area in focus, like when you are making Citizen Kane. This really applies to situations with lower light when your hand is forced to open the iris right up.
  • Price: It doesn’t come with a kit lens. Sometimes these can be ropey anyway, but you have to make decisions. And the ideal lenses (something like Zeiss primes or a versatile servo zoom) are not cheap and can quickly put this camera out of your budget, especially when you want to get multiple (which is often necessary for different jobs).
  • Lenses: Of course, you can buy some old Nikon primes for cheap. But then you need to get the right adapter. And there is no guarantee that the lenses are in perfect condition. These are a popular option now though, but – because of this – their eBay prices are going up and up, as people clamber for them. There are quite a few options but wide aperture isn’t always a feature of all lenses and when it is you need more lenses (for variation) and it doesn’t come too cheap.
  • Ergonomics: It’s basically a small box. Not so great on the shoulder. You might want to take a look at my previous post: Going Handheld with the Panasonic AG-AF101 (AF100).
  • Media: Not really a con, but make sure you get good quality SD cards, at the right class too (Class 6 minimum, but research which brands and models are the best).

Sony PMW-EX3

Pros

  • Look: Not as big a sensor as the AF101, but shots are still really nice, especially for video production.
  • Price: It costs £5,500 (ex tax) but you get a good kit lens.
  • Lenses: You can interchange the lenses but the kit lens is extremely versatile.
  • Ergonomics: More suited to the shoulder than the AF101..
  • Media: It takes SxS cards, but if you buy an adapter and update the firmware you can use SD cards, like the AF101.

Cons

  • Look: You will have to try a lot harder to get super SDOF shots.
  • Price: Costs more than the AF101 and SxS cards don’t come cheap.
  • Lenses: You could get some nice primes and let this camera make some gorgeous images, but they aren’t cheap at all. Again, you could fashion an adapter and good old lenses system, but there are risks involved.
  • Ergonomics: It’s kind of a weird shape.
  • Media: The SxS cards, as mentioned, are expensive. And while adapters and SD cards are cheaper, it’s kind of a hassle.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, if I was shooting a drama on sticks, I would opt for the AF101 and buy a bunch of Nikon primes. Maybe if I was only working on some gorgeous interviews.. If I was shooting a variety of things – including some handheld, some docu, some promo – I’d play it a bit safer with the EX3. The AF101 hasn’t been out long either and the features of this camera will become more and more clear as time progresses.

Seeing as I’m in the latter camp at the moment, I’m going Sony.

I would still love an AF101, though.

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