Panasonic AG-DVX200 Field Review

This past weekend I was invited to shoot a spec teaser trailer for a proposed horror film tentatively titled "The Asylum" written and directed by first-timer Israel Ybarra. The shoot would span two consecutive evenings: Friday and Saturday on location in the little Texas town of San Juan. The first day would be filming in and around the abandoned San Juan Hotel on Business 83 constituting all the scary scenes. The second day would consist of the setup: some exposition-serving drama at a house party before the fun begins. I decided to use my Panasonic AG-DVX200 video camera for this project as I hadn't seen it used for anything cinematic online, to date.

The way I understand the camera, as far as Panasonic is concerned, the DVX200 can be configured to be a GH4 with more sensible motion picture camera ergonomics and usability, plus the speed of a fixed lens. I also knew that place would be dirty and I didn't want to have to change lenses and worry about potentially damaging my clunkier, more expensive film gear for what is basically a "for fun" project. Despite the filthy conditions of the dilapidated building and the location's ~90º F temperature (at night!), the DVX200 performed precisely as expected. Depending on the complexity of the scenes I would use anywhere between one and five small LED lights.

HD and Variable Frame Rates

I decided to shoot this project in 1080/23.97p 200 Mbps ALL-I Full HD (FHD) because after speaking with the director I knew I would need to do some undercranking (fast motion) and overcranking (slow motion). The DVX200's Variable Frame Rate (VFR) mode gives me a wide range of choice from 2-120fps, but not above 1080p. I knew that DVX200 resorts to a sensor crop at frame rates higher than 96fps, which was too slow, anyway, so I kept the highest overcrank at 60fps. Going over the dailies later, this would wind up being a re-time of 150% on the editing timeline when ramping. I overcranked a reaction shot of a woman finding her boyfriend being attacked. I also undercranked on another attack at 20fps to give the scene more voracity.

Undercranking and overcranking, by the way, are terms carried over from film. It basically means that, in a 24fps environment, when you undercrank or allow the film to travel through the camera slower than 24fps then play it back at 24fps the action moves faster since it takes less frames for a normal action to be captured and thus the movement is exaggerated. Inversely, overcranking is to allow the film to travel faster through the camera, then when played back at 24fps the action is slowed down. Subtly under or overcranking film can have a huge effect on an audiences perception of a scene. Because the film travels at different speeds than what it was rated for, you must increase your exposure for overcranking or decrease it for undercranking. Shooting a scene at 60fps on a DSLR and slowing it down in post is not overcranking because the images was always intended to be 60fps in a 60fps environment. Overcranking or undercranking takes place inside the camera on the day.

The Image and Working with V-Log L

I have found that I enjoy working with V-Log L and DVX200's interpretation of it. I have decided that using Scene 4, exposing and white balancing correctly, using the Natural color matrix and not going past ISO 2000 yields flat images that can be turned into some very nice-looking ones with only a little bit of love. The Varicam 35 to V709 LUT works very well in these situations and is generally a good starting point for a grade. The DVX200 internally only records to 4:2:0 8-bit at up to 200 Mbps ALL-I in FHD, so it's a little better than shooting with a nice DSLR in terms of the digital file, but it also outputs a clean 4:2:2 10-bit image to an external device – so, you have that option. For a project with a quick turnaround that doesn't need a lot of work because it was shot appropriately, then even an 8bit image will grade satisfactorily a lot of the time, but, again the option is there. Also, I have read that if you record a 4K or UHD image internally and scale it to a FHD editing timeline later, mathematically the image magically transforms from a 4:2:0 8-bit image to a 4:2:2 10-bit one. Regardless, it's best to use an external recorder; Barry Green will back me up on that.

An example of DVX200's noise reduction ghosting artifacts prior to the v1.81 firmware update.
An example of DVX200's noise reduction ghosting artifacts prior to the v1.81 firmware update.

I had recently updated the firmware to version 1.81 which adds the Noise Reduction (NR) Control Function which eliminates the terrible ghosting artifacts most noticeable in shadow areas of high contrast images, but in favor of more noise. More on noise later. But, speaking of firmware, I will briefly go over the update milestones that are most meaningful to me. By the time I purchased my DVX200 in May this year there were already no less than three updates that resonated with me.

First, v1.25 in November 2015 improved 4K and UHD modes by adding Fast Scan Mode which reduces the camera's 4/3" CMOS sensor's rolling shutter artifacts (jello effect), made the shadow areas cleaner by reducing black dot noise and also cleaned up highlights by making overexposed areas roll off into white instead of yellow.

Next, firmware v1.51 in March this year added the Natural color tone reproduction setting and reduced noise in black-colored areas in FHD.

Lastly, the v1.65 update in April improved gradation in log, fixed the camera so it would remember your gain setting after a reboot, as well as adding Extended Sensitivity mode which introduced the concept of negative gain to the camera, granting up to -6dB gain and effectively dropping the noise floor about 2 stops. This results in cleaner images south of the base ISO of 500. This brings me to today and the most recent 1.81 update.

DVX200 with v1.81 firmware, +12dB gain 1/60 shutter at 1080/60i, Scene 4 STILL-LIKE, custom WB, with NR Control at -7. Manual zoom and focus. Aperture was at f/4.5 to prevent ramping whilst zooming.
DVX200 with v1.81 firmware, +12dB gain 1/60 shutter at 1080/60i, Scene 4 STILL-LIKE, custom WB, with NR Control at -7. Manual zoom and focus. Aperture was at f/4.5 to prevent ramping whilst zooming.

The noise of the camera from ISO 2000 and below, I have found, is well done and not the smudgy mess generally found in video cameras. The noise appears filmic at times; especially between the camera's base ISO rating of 500 and the least sensitive rating of ISO 250 where, I believe, it is actually quite pleasing. For this project, I wound up shooting between 500 and 1000 ISO.

Clarity of the image, particularly at the slower ISO ratings, was generally sharp and well-defined. I don't like my images to be excessively sharp in a digital way, rather I prefer to light with a lot of contrast to heighten an audiences' perception of sharpness and to nail focus like a boss. In my experience this approach gives far more "cinematic" images than increasing the sharpness setting in the camera or sharpening the image in post. I like to see noise or grain when it's pleasing and it reminds me I'm watching a movie.

The DVX200's 5K sensor gives the image superb overall clarity. Color reproduction, when the camera is setup properly (read: exposed and white balanced correctly), is good. Of course, depending on the Scene settings, you could be going for the generic broadcast video camera look of Scene 1, or the more GH4 "cine" look with Scene 4. Either way, I have always found skintones to be rendered well in good lighting situations. In bad situations where you can't help but shoot under a sodium vapor street lamp, then skintones will be rendered appropriately yellow. Either way, that's the way it looked to my eye when I saw it live, and that's how the DVX200 records it...again, when setup properly. Summed up: DVX200 does a good job of reproducing colors, particularly skintones, in the way I remember seeing them with my eyes in various lighting conditions.

The Body

I use my DVX200 naked with the big battery and a good-sized shotgun with deadcat hand-held with OIS all the time, for hours and hours. The camera is well-balanced and a joy to use. The size and weight actually make it easier to handle than HVX200 or DVX100 (or other similar types of camcorders). It might help that I'm used to full-size ENG cameras and digital film cameras like a big, fat Red One loaded up at somewhere between 30-50lbs depending on lenses and batteries...on my shoulder or hanging from my hands. As a videographer, DVX200 has never become a burden...though even a mostly plastic camera starts to feel like it's 2-3x heavier than it really is after several hours of shooting, but that's why you put it down every now and then. And if you simply can't (wedding?) the weight still hasn't been a deal-breaker...plus, again, the size and shape of it (including the central placement of the battery compartment) means that it's very well balanced, especially with the heavier batteries. So, I'd say that for me, the weight has not yet been a problem at all and I don't see it ever becoming so.

BTS with my Panasonic AG-DVX200 on location in San Juan, TX shooting spec teaser-trailer for "The Asylum" horror feature film. Used an LED Yongnuo YN-300 as an "Obie" light for a few shots.
BTS with my Panasonic AG-DVX200 on location in San Juan, TX shooting spec teaser-trailer for "The Asylum" horror feature film. Used an LED Yongnuo YN-300 as an "Obie" light for a few shots.

The ergonomic benefits of using a proper camcorder for video work are numerous. Gripping the handle for low-mode (or just resting the camera in the non-dominant hand) is a joy. The buttons and switches are intuitively places on the smart side, plus extra ones on the dumb side. Having the ability to assign nearly any function you could need to the User Switch buttons potentially makes the DVX200 an efficient camera to operate. Also, I sometimes forget the camera's LCD flip-out monitor is also a touchscreen and I like that the menu system isn't too difficult to navigate (DVX200 is just as much a computer as it is a camera) and setting it up for shooting doesn't take long at all. SD card slot placement is fine, plus the manual audio controls are right where they should be. The rear viewfinder is extremely helpful in bright shooting conditions. I learned that pointing the EVF upward keeps the sensor from turning off the LCD accidentally. However, you are able to switch to EVF or LCD (or auto) so this phenomenon doesn't happen at all unless you want it to. Also, because I'm old school I set up the EVF to show only grayscale. I have found the camera never seems to overheat, even in the hot Texas sun. As far as batteries are concerned, the included VW-VBD58 will last a conservative shooter over 3 hours of juice. I also have the AG-VBR59 which has a similar run-time, plus the bigger AG-VBR118G which, honestly, has lasted me an entire shoot day without complaint on more than one occasion.

The Lens

The affixed 13x Leica 12.8-67mm lens on the 4/3" sensor has various focal lengths depending on what mode you're in, but basically it's about a ~29-370mm in 135 terms. It does have a digital zoom which uses the 5K sensor in FHD to perform the punch in. Also, un 4K/UHD the Optical Image Stabilizer (OIS) further uses the extra pixels to work. The lens is not parfocal, but it does some magic that gives the impression of a parfocal lens, though you can hear the mechanical elements shift inside the body (no worries) and you can see the camera try to catch up when performing snap zooms. It hasn't been a problem yet and I don't forsee it becoming one, but it is something I noticed.

The lens is rated at f/2.8 at the wide end and ramps to an acceptable f/4.5 somewhere in the middle of the zoom range. The depth of field is quite negotiable in terms of nailing follow focus. I have found that DVX200 has a pleasing depth of field and can appear quite cinematic at times. Flaring and other optical artifacts are controlled well. OIS is a joy in general as it makes a static handheld shot look like the camera is on a tripod, or it at least gives traveling shots the steadier look of a full-size ENG camera. The included lens hood has a mechanical barn door system that protects the front of the lens without fear of one day losing a lens cap.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the Panasonic AG-DVX200 is a great little camera that certainly has the capability to play alongside real cinema cameras in a lot of ways. The image quality is quite good and the ergonomics of the camera make it far more enjoyable to use than having to rig out a DSLR. Or, it certainly saves your back from having to deal with a 40lb cinema camera. I think the camera is a great solution for low-budget productions needing the look of a GH4 but don't want to deal with it's ergonomics in the field. But, don't get your hopes up: if you need raw processing or for the camera to see in the dark because you don't (or can't) light what you're shooting, then DVX200 might not be for you. But, at the end of that weekend shoot, the director and producer were very happy with the dailies straight from the camera. Once I see the trailer has posted I will post it here and possibly add BTS photos and stills.

 


Church Promo Video Shoot with Yongnuo LED Lights

Yesterday evening I was gaffer/AD/grip for my friend Elyssa who was tasked to shoot a promo video for her church at a historic location in San Benito. We only had about two hours to shoot so I needed to keep my light kit small, fast and economical. I opted to pack my LED lights which are three Yongnuo YN-600L fixtures with AC packs and Matthews reverse light stands. The lights pack up easily in a medium-size laptop briefcase and the stands are easily slung under an arm.

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The house where we were shooting had halogen light fixtures in the interiors and large windows letting in overcast sunlight. The bi-color nature of the lights allowed us to adjust and experiment with the best combination of color temperatures quickly without need of color correction gels. I only used a bit of 1/4 diffusion.

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Notice also that the lights are not too powerful so I like to mount two of them together on a light stand. Usually I use a single umbrella but those are always too bulky and, again, I needed to move fast and not bang into anything priceless.

The Yongnuos come with an adapter for two Sony NP-F series batteries, each powers a bank of either the 5500 K or 3200 K LEDs. I don't have any of these batteries as of this writing so I can't comment on this aspect of the lights, though I hear they are less bright with the batteries and last about an hour on full brightness, but I'm sure this depends on the battery and I would of course get the biggest, most powerful ones. I think the NP-F975 is the one for me, multiplied by six, obviously. Regardless, using the lights tethered to the wall outlets is about as easy/frustrating as working with any AC-powered light.

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However, these are LEDs and so are more efficient than an incandescent equivalent; using only about 10% of the wattage an incandescent source would require. With both sets of diodes at full brightness, the Yongnuos each seem to have the output of a 500w open face incandescent fixture at 6 feet from the subject. I don't like the light quality of a naked LED source, so I use a lot of diffusion which drops the light output considerably. With 1/2 artificial silk at 2 feet I get the same exposure as I would an Arri 1K fresnel, full flood at 6' with the same diffusion. And the color temperature with this configuration is maybe around 4000 K. Again, I double or triple-up these guys for more output, and that's still less expensive than a single unit that has that combined output. You would need more rigging and grip gear, though.

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One of my concerns, however, is the automatic fan on the light unit. It's very noisy and comes on whenever it wants, despite the fixtures don't seem to be hot enough to warrant the fan, but then I'm not deep inside ghe fixture maybe the parts are cheap and prone to melting easily? No idea. What I do know is that the lights are not very bright, digital cameras love light and you need to get a diffused small LED fixture very close to your subject for wrap-around light and proper exposure. This is fine for an MOS project like this promo. But, for an interview? You're screwed. My solution is, again, to combine two or three of these lights together behind a single area of diffusion (like an umbrella or frame of artificial silk) and, to get the fans to stay off, run the lights' output at no more than 50% for each bank of diodes.

At then end, we spent a bit more than the time we were allowed, but we finished shooting and the client seemed pleased with everything. Elyssa will also edit the video for the church. She's young and has come along way from when we met on Oz. I look forward to working with her again.

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BTS photos taken with my trusty iPhone 6 and the VSCOcam app. Speaking of VSCOcam: I just bought the rest of their preset collections as I've been very impressed with their products thus far. The presets are fun, but I do respect the level of customization the app gives you to go further beyond the presets (which I use like single-node LUTs) and, of course, the manual camera. All of these BTS shots are snapped with the standard iPhone 6 Camera app and then graded in VSCOcam. Camera is fast, but not reliable and the presets and customization options are not very good for someone like me.


Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption is an awesome, awesome game. "Grand Theft Auto IV on a horse" is a simple way to put it, but it wouldn't be that far from the truth. But the complexity of the story and design goes much further than any Grand Theft Horse allusions could possibly detail and onces that I won't get into here as I like to leave the big reviews to the pros. No, my little review is just this: it's awesome. If you love westerns you will love Red Dead Redemption. It is the one of the finest games I've ever played (it's up there with Tetris, DOOM and Half-Life 2) and I will continue to enjoy it long after the credits have rolled (which they're about to as I apparently haven't actually finished the game as I thought I had). Redemption is the definitive western game and I think Sergio Leone would have approved. Go buy it.


Halo: ODST

Halo: ODST is a great game. Short, sweet, efficiently does what it sets out to do: tell a great story in the Halo universe while introducing new characters, new enemies and new twists on the ones we've known before. Rather than play as a superhuman, ODST is all about Marines in super suits that allow them a greater chance at survival than regularly armored soldiers, but I still found myself dying a few times because I got too close to a Brute Chieftain's warhammer.

I always wondered what became of the African city of New Mombasa after the Prophet of Regret warped away is his giant spaceship, destroying a big section of the city. Now I know...and it sucks for New Mombasa. ODST's story is great (and sometimes funny), the characters are compelling, the music is very Halo and sometimes quite touching. Level design and general flow of the game is smooth with a non-linear flashback setup that tells the story of a single Marine searching for his squad in the aftermath of an epic battle where the good guys lost. I haven't gotten into the new multiplayer mode Firefight yet, but my favorite bit is Nathan Fillion as Sargent Buck because it's nice to know the captain of Serenity is still getting work.

ODST is nothing completely revolutionary in terms of first person shooter games, but it is a fun, quick and worthy addition to the Halo universe.


District 9

I just got back from a special screening of District 9. It is, in a word, awesome.

Go see it.

The pacing, structure, story, character development, direction, acting, is all top notch. I could probably sum it up like this: take Alien Nation, Schindler's List and The Fly, mix up all the best parts together and you have District 9. I enjoy science fiction quite a bit and this is pure sci-fi. It's all about exploring the human condition through an "alien" point of view. In this case: racism, apartheid, segregation. And of course, humanity in all forms. District 9 is at both times exciting and moving, carefully balancing an epic (but personal) action-thriller with carefully structured drama. A lot of love and attention went into District 9 and it absolutely shows.

The "documentary" of the film serves to create background and context within an interesting bookend to the epic story that the traditional movie tells. The ending is beautiful and appropriate. Several members of the audience applauded over the end credits. Weta's effects are awesome to the point that you don't care that it's CGI, much like their work on Gollum from The Lord of The Rings. The work done by Weta in District 9 looks effortless.

To the Transformers crowd: it starts slow but packs a punch as it roars toward the end.

I loved every minute of the movie. Nothing felt ridiculous or ham-handed. Nothing superfluous. Just carefully paced, epic storytelling that moves you emotionally. District 9 feels real, and it touches you in the same way Children of Men does. You see the horror capable in man, and the humanity capable in beasts. It was hard for me to find a human character in the film to root for until very near the end. Selfishness and greed rule the day in District 9.

The people sitting next to me in the theater were shaking their heads, disgusted at the humans. There was a moment in the story where it looked like things were going to work out and suddenly, it all comes crashing down, and a woman sitting next to me was visibly upset. And as the movie picks up speed toward the end, it knocked me off my feet. There were cheers coming from the audience.

Hopefully, District 9 will do well financially and will open the doors for producer Peter Jackson and director Neill Blomkamp to finally realize their swan song: Halo.


J.J. Abrams' Star Trek

I saw Star Trek last night and although it was great fun it was certainly not the best of the franchise. However, the guy who does Lost and the guys who wrote Transformers did do something very intelligent. This Star Trek is not a reboot in a Batman Begins sense. It's a reboot in a Back to the Future alternate timeline, Biff Tannen in charge, sense.

There were quite a few moments in the movie where I was completely ready to call "shenanigans", but the movie's one saving grace appears: Leonard Nimoy as Spock. And he's not J.J. Abrams' Spock. This is Gene Roddenberry's Spock from the future; the same future timeline as the original series, movies and "The Next Generation" era. In that timeline everything we know and love about the established Trek universe is still going on. But some crazy stuff goes down and the bad guy and Spock are thrust back in time where the bad guy kills Kirk's dad, among many others: an event not supposed to happen, and thereby changes the Trek timeline at least 25 years before the events in the original series. That's ample time for production design to change.

Once Leonard Nimoy's Spock tells young Kirk that everything happening in this movie never actually happened in his timeline and it's all a completely alternate universe where now anything can happen (including newly re-imagined encounters with Khan, the Borg or a new Federation-Klingon war), Abrams and company have a fresh, clean slate to do ANYTHING they want and it's ok to the die hard Trekkies and Trekkers who, like me, would have called this film an abomination — "Star Trek 90210," for instance — because it's an alternate timeline. And if Tasha Yar can come back in an alternate timeline and give us Sela in the established timeline, then why not an alternate universe where Spock gets to meld with Uhura?

After that explanation, I could totally buy Abrams' Star Trek, but I couldn't get over how EVERY scene had to be filled with action. Not only are we about to be destroyed by an alien vessel but my wife's gonna give birth. Not only do I have to walk through the snow for 18 miles to call for a taxi but I have to be chased by carnivorous alien creatures. And even a mellow exposition scene like like two dudes chatting in a bar has to be shot with nervous energy; like they handed the camera to a starving Ethiopian.

Still, even this grotesquely overly epic little movie pays homage to Roddenberry's "Trek," like red shirts being inexplicably dispatched in the first two seconds of an away mission, Scotty being taken for granted and Sulu being a gay fencer. Because fencing is gay. Unless you're Rob Roy.

Also, I really enjoyed the few moments where Kirk got his Shatner on: the head bobbing and casual, bad-ass delivery. I think the movie tried too hard to be cute for teen audiences like Kirk eating an apple during the Kobiashi Maru test, the Scotty in the "why is this here?!" dangerous water chopping thing scene, Kirk being tongue-numbingly, hand-bloatingly sick scene and others. Felt like a loud teen comedy, J.J. But hey, they're alternately young so of course they won't act EXACTLY like the established and mature crew we all know and love...yet.

With a wisely manufactured alternate timeline, this "not really a reboot" reboot can deliver something fresh and exciting for today's Michael Bay-loving audience while still not completely flipping off the original fans. A smart move from J.J. "I like Star Wars more" Abrams.


The Silence of The Lambs

One of my favorite films is Jonathan Demme's The Silence of The Lambs and its not because of the [little amount of] gore or the disturbingly profound ideas of human cannibalism and mutilation. The writing is clever, the acting is spot-on, there was clear direction and the violence/gore was tasteful in a Hitchcock-in-the-90's kind of way.

Hannibal (2001), in contrast, was appalling and shabbily directed and I only say that because it was Ridley Scott and he should have known better. The only scene that's actually meaningful in the entire movie is the final five minutes at the dinner table. Hannibal devolved into a slasher — which wasn't scary — where the gore is merely there for shock value and provides nothing for the context of the movie, especially considering how well the violence, or rather, the absence of it in Silence, plays to audiences today.

Red Dragon (2002), however, reminds us that violence doesn't have to be overdone to still be effective. People like to criticize Brent Ratner for fashioning a film that so clearly evokes Jonathan Demme's direction of The Silence of The Lambs in 1991 but really, it was exactly what the film needed.

You don't need gore to be scary. I've postulated that untalented directors will use an overabundance of gore to make up for their inadequacies as a director. This is not true most of the time, however. Keep in mind the adequately scary Evil Dead and the delightfully screwed-up Dead Alive. In that respect, I offer a different view on movie violence.

There is "gore", and there is "necessary violence". Gore is having a guy's face get ripped off by zombies. Necessary violence is a disemboweled soldier in Saving Private Ryan.

Remember to watch movies with an eye for intent. What was the director's intention of showing us the mutilated soldier? War is hell. What was the director's intent of showing the fountain of blood spewing horizontally out of the wall? To make us laugh. What was the intent of showing a guy's head get blown off with a shotgun? To make us gag.

The point to all of this, as Mystery Science Theater 3000 so rightly reminded us, is that a movie, no matter how poorly made, as long as it is entertaining, can still be a lot of fun to watch. The Silence of The Lambs entertains us because it's raw and disturbing and fun all at the same time. You are entranced by Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill; completely engaged by them.

And in the back of your mind you want Clarice and Hannibal to have a romantic relationship. She's terrified yet completely attracted to the good doctor. Meanwhile, Lecter is... well, it's pretty clear how he feels. Remember how he caresses her finger moments before she is torn away from his holding pen in Memphis? Ah, the notion of a never-can-happen relationship. Reminds you of real life, doesn't it? Oh how I'd love to be in Nicole Kidman's arms right now.

Silence was fun. Hannibal was not. If Hannibal had been fun, then the gore wouldn't have mattered. Instead they tried to make the movie fun by making it gory. In retrospect, Silence wouldn't have been as much fun if it were as gory as Hannibal.

I have no ending for this, so I take a small bow. :)

"Ready when you are, Sargent Pembry."


Star Wars: Empire At War

Someone said something about balance issues in the upcoming Star Wars game Empire At War being developed by the guys who used to make Command & Conquer. Just because it's them I know the game will be awesome. Still, the pantywaists in the LucasArts forums keep making much ado over the topic hoping that no matter which faction you play as, the game will be super duper balanced and equal so every one has the chance to win and have "fun, fun, fun". Note the blatant sarcasm. I had this to say:

Honestly, I don't care about balance. The entire point of Star Wars is that the war is unbalanced. It's not fair being the Rebel Alliance. It took their entire fleet to win at Endor and the battle was only a diversion to get the small ships in there to blow up the Death Star. And that was after the clandestine maneuver to destroy the shield generator was a success. And they never would have gotten that done if it hadn't been for those darn cuddly teddy bears!

The Empire is better funded, has better capital ships, has a more ruthless policy on expendable assets such as pilots and troops (meh, just clone more) and unlimited funds. They hold more territory and are general badasses that control through fear and intimidation.

The mere sight of a single Star Destroyer spells "I just wet myself" for most anyone, let alone a fleet surrounding a Super Star Destroyer. Unless you're an unstoppable asteroid the size of a Nebulon-B Frigate, a Star Destroyer isn't particularly scared of you.

Therefore, RTS theory suggests that tactics in Empire At War will differ between factions.

For example, if you're the Rebellion, you do like rebels do and make surgical strikes, picking at your enemy from several different strategic angles until he bleeds himself to death. And you risk your own life doing it.

Battle of Endor; "Get as close as you can and attack those Star Destroyers at point blank range... We might just take a few of them with us." The rebels were out gunned, out manned and out of luck. But they won 'cuz it was the last movie. And they used hard-core, near kamikaze tactics to hurt the Empire. Yeah, homeboy didn't mean to fly his beat up A-Wing into the bridge of the Executor, but gosh it sure was effective wasn't it?

Meanwhile, if you're playing as the Empire, all you have to do is show up and people surrender.

So, I'd start off playing as the Empire. Stronger units, more resources, easier wins. The REAL challenge is playing as the Rebels against a monstrous, unstoppable enemy.

Ahh, the hopeless battle of a faithful few against insurmountable odds. I love Star Wars!

THANKS, GEORGE!