If you make a living from professional video a good quality video camera and tripod will be some of your biggest capital investments. And if either one of two is rubbish, the resulting footage will probably be of the same quality. In the modern digital age HD has become the defacto standard, with DV tape now basically relegated to little Suzy’s birthday party and maybe her wedding a few years later on if her parents decide to trim the big day’s budget.

Panasonic brought out a number of small format P2HD cameras since its proprietary memory card format was first introduced. Of these I've used the AG-HPX204 (dual memory card/tape) and now the improved AG-HVX174 (P2 card only).

While it seemed like a good idea at the time, the dual tape/card AG-HPX204 model er...really sucked. My gripe list with the 204 is long: very poor low light capability, noisy/grainy recordings even in perfect outdoor light, VERY bad zoom controller that made a smooth zoom shot virtually impossible, awkwardly positioned controls, heavy and awkward handling...I can go on but you probably get the picture!

The camera I purchased in March this year is a vast improvement. With the new AJ-HVX174 Panasonic did away with the DV tape drive altogether (in the digital age DV tape is dead anyway), reducing the overall weight substantially.

Above: From the outside the Panasonic AG-HVX174 looks a lot like its predecessor, the dual tape/memory card AG-HPX204. But it is in fact a greatly improved camera in its class featuring much better optics and handling.

The 174’s lens and zoom controller have both been greatly improved and so has the low light recording capabilities. Even at 6dB gain I notice very little noise and grain in the recorded images. Even the placement of the controls make a lot more sense than on the 204.

Aussie-based manufacturer Miller make some of the best camera support systems in the world and the DS-20 tripod I purchased earlier this year is absolutely perfect for my AG-HVX174. The legs are very light but extremely strong and sturdy thanks to the use of specialist metal alloys. The fluid head is a work of art, providing very precise friction control. Another useful feature is a padded shoulder strap on the tripod itself for easy carrying. Miller's components are all interchangeable so if you have fluid head that works and need a sturdier pair of legs for a specific project, simply phone your supplier and order a heavier set from the Miller catalogue; everything fits together.

Above: I've used the 174/Miller combo in a number of projects since March 2011 and to date I only have good things to report. Pictured here is a shoot at the Nedbank corporate head office in Rivonia, Jhb.