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Looking for some thoughts...

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Looking for some thoughts...
on Jun 28, 2005 at 7:36:10 pm

I'm a newbie in this whole videograpy racket, and I've got some simple, beginner questions. First of all, I record videos for my company. Not only do I record large events in conference rooms in hotels, I also film training videos within our office (usually one or two person interview formats). Currently I'm using a couple of Sony DCR-HC30's directly into a LaCie Bigger Disk (500GB), that is being run off of a Powerbook G4 with 2GB of RAM. I've been using iMovie to capture the video and just recently I've begun playing with our copy of Final Cut Express to edit. We've started shooting more of the training-type videos, and our president is wanting to make our videos become more professional looking, with more stunning detail, graphics, and transitions. With this in mind, our IT Manager and myself have contemplated upgrading to newer hardware and software. We were thinking of going to something along the lines of a Canon XL2 or the Sony HDV, a lighting kit, a mixer, a couple wireless mics, and hopefully Final Cut Studio or Pro. As well, in order to accomodate the functionality of Final Cut Studio or Pro, we'll most likely upgrade to a Power Mac G5 with more RAM and more powerful capabilities. Now, the question that I have is what should we buy? I can look at equipment all day on the web, but that doesn't mean that I know which ones are better. In order to make our videos look moderately professional, what hardware and software do you suggest? Our budget can be pretty large, but at this point we're not sure. With that in mind, we don't necessarily need the top of the line, we just want something more substantial than what we currently have.


Barry Sutherland

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Jeff Carpenter
Re: Looking for some thoughts...
on Jun 28, 2005 at 9:18:59 pm

Unless someone has told you that you should have HD, I'd suggest you just stick with DV for now. For the kind of things you're doing that's probably all you need.

So yes, the XL-2 is a good choice. So is the Sony PD-150. If you're looking to spend more, a Sony DSR-400 would give you a bigger camera. I know a lot of people have been wondering if it's worth spending $10,000 on NON-HD camera, but I can promise you that the lens of the 400 will give you a better SD image than that new Sony HDV camera can. I don't think you should get an HDV camera unless you're actually going to use the HD function on it. And if you do that you'll have to spend more on decks, more on your computer, and more on your monitors. There's more to it than just the camera. So like I said above, if you don't really NEED to have HD, I'd continue to put it off for now. Based on what you've described your work as, I think staying with SD is probably for the best.

But yes, the XL-2 is probably the smartest choice for you. I'm trying to tell you what I'm thinking so you can think about it, but in the end that's what I'd pick for myself in your place.

As for a Mac, here's what I'd get. I'm not saying this is exactly what you SHOULD get, but this might be a good list to start with. (It includes things like monitors, that you might already have.)

* From APPLE $4,847
Dual 2.3 gHz Powermac G5
512 MB of RAM, (256x2)
400 GB (single SATA drive)
ATI Radeon X850 XT
Apple Cinema Display 23"

* From $474
4 1-GB RAM chips
(add these to the 512 you have...Follow instructions in the manual! RAM placement matters in a Powermac now.)

* From any computer store $250
Maxtor 300GB, 7200RPM, Internal SATA/150 Hard Drive
Add this yourself as a secondary drive
(check to make sure it has the 16 MB cache)

* G-Raid (?)
There are all kinds of storage solutions, so you'll want to research that more. But I think these do sound good:

* B&H Photo/Video $1,450
Panasonic AG-DV2500 video deck
Honestly, I've never used this. I have the DV2000 and it's very nice, but the 2500 is smaller so I don't know what else they changed. Search the archives for other suggestions on DV decks.

...and then, of course, an NTSC monitor and audio monitors.

So, by no means a complete list, and like I said, you'd probably want to change all sorts of things I suggested, but I think that's a good place to start. There will probably be more posts after me telling you why you should change everything I've said, but that's what so great about the COW :-)

Let us know how it goes!

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Peter DeCrescenzo
Re: Looking for some thoughts...
on Jun 28, 2005 at 10:03:28 pm

[bas98] "I'm a newbie in this whole videograpy racket, and I've got some simple, beginner questions. ... Our budget can be pretty large, but at this point we're not sure. ..."

Since you're considering spending $10K - $15K or more on hardware and software, I'd recommend initially spending about 10% of that amount by hiring a professional to handle at least your first "big" shoot.

In the process of interviewing potential pros for this first shoot you'll learn a lot, and during the shoot itself you'll learn a lot more. You'll learn about camerawork, lighting and sound -- and possibly about directing and more. Let the pro know it might be a one-time thing, and that you hope to learn as much as possible in the time allowed so you can handle future shoots entirely or at least partly on your own.

Likewise, you might hire a pro editor to finish this first project, again with the same intent so you can learn as much as you can.

Of course, since this approach may somewhat "slow down" a pro, be sure to take that in consideration when scheduling thier time and negotiating rates, etc.

If you have a contract with these pros which requires that the work be done to your satisfaction before full payment, by the time it's all done you'll have a very good idea of exactly what was required to create a specific end result.

Essentially you're hiring these pros' years of experience so you can avoid wasting enormous amounts of your own time & effort "figuring things out".

Once the project is all done, you may feel up to the task to handle future projects on your own, or you may decide to continue to hire freelancers for specific tasks such as camera or lighting or sound or production assistants and so forth. Or you may decide that always hiring outside pros to handle everything is the way to go for future jobs.

Just one of many possible approaches; I hope it's helpful.

All the best,

- Peter

P.S.: It might save you some time -- and get you the most focussed answers -- to ask each specific question in its related forum. For example, sound questions are usually best handled in the audio forum, HDV questions in the HDV forum, FCP questions in the FCP forum, and so forth.

Just a friendly reminder to all: Please consider filling-in your COW user profile information so we have a better idea who you are, where you're from, and so forth. It's the friendly thing to do. Thanks!

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Doug Graham
Re: Looking for some thoughts...
on Jun 29, 2005 at 2:21:18 pm

I agree with Peter 200%.

Only a small part of the production values your boss is hoping for come from better equipment. By far the larger part comes from experience -- knowing HOW to use the equipment both technically and artistically, and how to tell a compelling story with sound and pictures.

DEFINITELY hire a professional production company for at least one project. If you do plan to use them as a "learning tool" so you can do future projects in-house, be sure to tell them that up front. This will probably result in a higher price to you for what will be a "one time" project, since the video company will have no expectation of future business from you, but it's the honest thing to do.

Another point: Very few people have the range of talent to make a video with high production values as a solo project. Some of the things that will need to be done well include: scriptwriting, storyboarding, lighting, directing, videography, audio, graphics design, editing, music creation/selection, DVD authoring, and business skills such as planning, organizing, budgeting, scheduling.

This is one reason why you see such a long list of credits at the end of a movie. Corporate productions use much smaller teams (and they are growing even smaller year by year), but it's still rare to find one person who can do EVERYTHING well. It's almost certain to be a group effort.

On a similar note: Are your video duties part of your job, or are you simply putting your avocation at the service of your company on your own? Good video work takes time, talent and equipment, and you should be getting paid for yours. Talk to your boss about the advisability of establishing an in-house media department, with you as its head (and possibly sole member).

Doug Graham

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Mark Suszko
Re: Looking for some thoughts...
on Jun 29, 2005 at 2:43:19 pm

Peter and Doug have nailed it. You can't just "buy" quality off the shelf, at least, not in the way your boss is thinking. You can give an inexperienced person all the latest gear, and he won't make half as good a production as the experienced, trained individual with old or cheap stuff. It's like jet fighter planes: they all pretty much have everything they need for combat, and generally match each other in performance, but successful missions depend on the quality of the pilot.

I think before you move up to fancier software, you need to concentrate on better lighting and sound, on your own skills and understanding, and on good scripts. Spend some of the money to send yourself to training, some of the Sony and Rockport seminars would probably be good for you, they are fast, full-immersion programs. Or yes, as Peter suggested, hire a pro with the understanding he's going to let you shadow him and he's going to explain how and why he does what he does. That has a double benefit, because the production quality will remain high while you're learning at the same time. Usually product done by auto-didacts looks pretty uneven for the first year or so.

Also, don't assume buying cameras is a good deal, you have to run the numbers to see if the volume of productions you do is worth the amortization of a camera, or if renting just as needed is a better deal. You can always rent better cameras than you can afford to buy, after all.

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Re: Looking for some thoughts...
on Jun 30, 2005 at 9:51:08 pm

Hi Barry-

just a thought ... buying good video equipment does not make a good shooter, editor, director or end product. Just because you can aim a camera and use a computer doesn't mean you know how to frame a shot or produce a visually compelling program.

That's like me saying that I'm going to buy the worlds best gourmet oven, because my boss wants me to create a gourmet meal for his family reunion. I have an oven...I know what tastes good...I'm even familiar with how ovens work, having used one everyday for my own dinner. Should I cook for the boss? Do you think I'll keep my job?

Or how about I have paint and a brush. I'm going to paint a portrait of my boss for the company lobby. Hey....I'll buy an expensive easel!! I've painted before...(my living room). What do you think...shall I paint that portrait? I think you get my point. I won't use the brain surgeon analogy....

Learn professionals work....get educated...then move ahead.


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Re: Looking for some thoughts...
on Jul 6, 2005 at 5:29:45 pm

I agree with all of the above! Equipment can help but overall its the experience, it pays to learn some from the pros, seminars, classes etc. FCP is definately a good choice for the price. You can do numerous searches to find good used PD-150's, DSR 300's or even bargains on DSR390's. If you junt around enough deals can be had and neccessarily from B&H. If in fact you do enough of these shoots so your not renting you need a good tripod, especially when it comes to a DSR300 and up. Consider the Vinten Vision3 which is far superior than any of the others that cost under a grand (buy it from Keith at TriVision in L.A.). Ok thats my plug for Keith for today as he helped us out yet again bigtime for this weekend!

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Mike Cohen
Re: Looking for some thoughts...
on Jul 7, 2005 at 4:25:46 pm

All good posts.
I have a basic omni light kit, which is good for 90% of projects.
Maybe once a year I rent an Arri fresnel kit and softbox for specialty projects, but as the others have said you need to know what you are doing primarily.
I like the idea of using a freelance shooter using equipment you think you want for a project, and then shadow that person the whole time.
A rockport class may be a good idea too if this is not your background.


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Story Catcher
Re: Looking for some thoughts...
on Jul 9, 2005 at 9:24:35 pm

Hi Barry

Sounds like you've got your work cut out for you.
I agree with what's been said, for beginners it is a big undertaking to purchase all the "right" equipment and know how to edit into a professional looking piece. Filming style requires knowledge of cameras technically and composition within the shot. Editing requires technical background and creative ability and experience to know what to do to make a shot/piece look much better. I am not trying to poo-poo your idea, just realize it may be a bigger job than anticipated.

With that in mind, it might be financially better (and less stressful) if you rent cameras as needed. As far as editing is concerned, do you need to get into the professional software for what you need? There's greater creative ability on these softwares for sure but they can be complicated if you don't understand them technically.

I use Panasonic gear and Vegas to edit myself, I have a small lighting kit and sennheizer wireless mics. I've spent over $20,000 on my gear, so it is an investment - if you're just making a few videos renting can be a good idea - even if it is only the camera equipment and lighting kits.

Hope this helps.

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