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GN’s Camera Upgrade: 200Mbps, 4K60 Video

Posted on June 17, 2017

It’s a far cry from our last “major” camera purchase, which consisted of about $3000 to buy a then-new Canon XA20 and shotgun mic. That was around 2013. Since that time, we’ve invested thousands in audio equipment, sliders, tripods, and lighting – but as video team’s skills and arsenal have grown, we’ve had one straggler: The camera. The XA20 was a fantastic camera to buy for our first major video equipment, replacing our previous Canon Vixia HF S20; the XA20 permitted 1080p60 uploads, put us on the map for video, and continues to be an absolute workhorse for road production. We’re planning to keep it around for multi-cam interview shooting in the future, alongside giving us an option for multiple video staff on-site at an event. Logistically, it makes good sense to keep the XA20 around – again, the thing is truly a workhorse, and I’d be lying to not acknowledge a sentimental attachment.


But that’s the game of being in business. You pick equipment that’s going to see your rise, hopefully, and facilitate it. Our next step in that process is adding a Panasonic UX180 ($3300) to our arsenal. This camera uses a sensor that’s 3x the size of our previous camera’s sensor, significantly bolstering low-light capabilities (which is hugely important for show floor shooting – we use high-brightness LEDs to compensate now, but won’t need as many going forward). The camera also fixes physical switches all over the body, which is why we went with an ENG/RNG option rather than the ever-popular DSLR shooters. For GN, we’ve always made our camera purchases based around show floor shooting. Having those switches readily available far and away outweighs what a DSLR does for us, though others surely have different needs.

The point of today isn’t to dive into why we got this camera – we’ll do that later, maybe in some sort of one-off camera review. The point is to say that we’re considering a quality bump in our footage.

Viewing it back with Andrew, we saw a difference in image clarity and detail when shooting with the UX180 at 4K60 and when shooting at 1080p60. The 1080p60 shooting is still better than our XA20, since we’re still multiplying the bit-rate by four (28Mbps to 100Mbps), but 4K is a significant improvement. This is visible on 1440p and 1080p monitors in addition to 4K monitors, and so has sparked a discussion on whether we’ll make the move.

It looks like we’re going to – why pinch pennies on storage when you’ve already bought the equipment? Seems silly – but it’ll take us some time to ramp into it.

Regardless, for viewers of GN content, you’re about to get a major quality increase in both captured content quality and streamed content quality. YouTube bolsters the bit-rate on 4K uploads, so we’ll now be able to offer higher bit-rate playback even on 1080p video. This bypasses some of YouTube’s playback limitations on native 1080p. Because our camera can do 60FPS, and because I can’t stand anything less, we’re looking at potentially uploading in 4K60 going forward. This will chew through data, but we’ll talk about that challenge (and how we’re solving it) in a separate content piece.

The XA20 has impressed us thoroughly. It has, miraculously, survived seven countries and four years of hard work. The thing has never had downtime and has never failed us. For that, it deserves a spot on GN’s history shelf, and will continue to see service at shows or for multi-cam. You’ve done well, XA20.

Now is the time for the UX180 to do the same for us. The XA20 got us to 100,000 subscribers and beyond. Here’s hoping the UX180 brings us to 500,000 and beyond.

And, of course, article content is still getting pushed regularly. For each major review, we post both an article and a video, so readers aren’t being left behind – the opposite, really. Improving our video game means that I can further delegate that work to the team – mostly Andrew and Keegan – while continuing to juggle the scripting and article writing.

Just a small update. Thanks for your ongoing support.

- Steve.