Big Cats Documentary Captured with Panasonic AG-HPX250 P2 Handheld

Emmy Award-winning Director of Photography Bill Mills recently returned from a 10-day safari to three of the most important big cat conservation areas in southern Africa, which he documented with the Panasonic AG-HPX250 P2 HD handheld camcorder with 10-bit, 4:2:2 independent-frame, full 1920 x 1080 resolution AVC-Intra recording.

Mills, the president of Florida Film & Video (Tampa, FL), was invited by Chris Liebenberg, the owner of Piper and Heath Travel, an American-based company that specializes in African destinations, to cover the 2012 Exposé Safari, a sold-out trip that introduced its participants to the spectrum of big cat conservation in South Africa and Botswana. The master-quality video Mills shot in the Mala Mala Game Reserve, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and the Duba Plains Camp will be used by Piper and Heath as an on-line travelogue of the safari for media and prospective clientele. The AVC-Intra images that Mills captured are also expected to generate interest in the 2013 Exposé Safari, which will focus on big apes.

Since founding Florida Film & Video 15 years ago, Mills has consistently been an early adopter of new Panasonic camcorders. In 2001, the company acquired one of the first Panasonic VariCams in the Southeast; Mills went on to invest in the AG-HVX200 P2 HD handheld camcorder and the AJ-HPX3700 2/3” P2 HD VariCam cinema camcorder, which is a mainstay of his business. An award-winning director and cinematographer, Mills has received numerous honors for production including six Emmys, a Primetime Emmy nomination for Cinematography, a 1997 Kodak Vision Award, three Cine Golden Eagles, and a Platinum Best of Show Aurora.

“My HPX3700 would have been an ideal choice to photograph these unique and heretofore underexposed safari sites,” said Mills. “However, we were traveling on small bush planes with stringent weight restrictions. The P2 HD VariCam weights close to 11 pounds, and that’s before adding a lens and viewfinder. The HPX250 weighs half that, with lens, and includes an on-board EVF and monitor.”

“I own Sony EX-series cameras, which might have been suitably lightweight, but I needed longer lensing for close-ups of the animals,” he continued. “The HPX250’s 22x Optical zoom is equivalent to a 28-616mm lens in the 35mm format, so it provided a exceptional range of lens options in a compact package.” And I could shoot broadcast-quality, 4:2:2, AVC-Intra footage, which is critical for my intended residual use of the material for stock footage.”

Prior to his departure in late March, Mills outfitted the HPX250 with a SHAPE 15mm Rod Riser System to optimize the camcorder for handheld and longer lens work, and attached two VariZooms, (one for focus/iris and the other for zoom) to the two handgrips.

“I had total control of the camera’s manual functions as well as a stable base for handheld or tripod work,” Mills said. “In addition, there would potentially be room to attach a Panasonic monitor, matte box, wireless mics and so on.”

Also due to the weight restrictions, Mills was unable to bring his trusted P2 Mobile HD Recorder/Player to offload footage. Instead, he traveled with the 2-pound AG-MSU10 media storage unit to back-up his P2 content. “The MSU10 was indispensible,” he said, “The unit has great battery life, and I was able to transfer content at 4x real time, which allowed me to free up my P2 cards during our short midday breaks. The MSU10 enabled me to maintain the P2 hierarchy, complete with metadata, on one drive.”

Mills described long days during which he was challenged to work out of safari vehicles without inconveniencing the tour participants. “I was definitely a one-man band on this assignment, and the HPX250 excelled at on-the-fly interviews and overall impromptu shooting. I made extensive use of time lapse and variable frame rate capture, which lent a graceful effect to the animals.”

“I’d be hard pressed to find another camera out there that would have served me as well on the tour,” he added. “The combination of the longer lensing and on-board, master quality shooting is definitely distinctive.”

Mills is currently editing the safari video in Final Cut Pro. For more information about Mills and his company, visit

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