Good Camera for TV News
I'm a photog at a small market TV station, and our news budget is smaller than our market size. I've searched and I've searched and I'm looking for thoughts and ideas on good and affordable ENG cameras.
Currently the bulk of our news is shot on Panasonic AJ-D215P DVCPro cameras. A couple years ago I convinced our Ops Manager to buy two JVC GY-HD110 HDV cams with Anton Bauer battery converters and on-cam lights. I did as much research as I could think of, and thought these would be good.
They're not bad cameras, but I'm not convinced that they are worth buying any more. They aren't great in low-light, and mine has already been back to the factory for a bad viewfinder and casette mechanism. The second camera has all kinds of problems, but since it lives in our bureau 70 miles away, I can't vouch for the care it has received.
I'm looking for a camera with a manual lens, and I'd prefer one with a shoulder mount. Also looking at under $5000 per camera. Any ideas?
You can add a shoulder mount to any capable $2k-$3k HDV camera with XLR inputs. More than fine for local news. Skip the big old school bricks. A little lithium battery will last longer than your photogs. I'm not a fan of on-camera lighting because it makes everything so flat and news looking. There are lots of dimmable LED solutions though and, weird as it looks when I'm wearing it, I prefer a headband dimmable LED unit. It allows me to get the proper direction on the principal/talent and, should I get a squint from someone not use to being on camera, I simply turn my head a bit without ever moving the camera at all.
I don't use viewfinders anymore. Diggin the freedoms of LCD screens on every HDV camera.
Just to have another viewpoint, FWIW, I have made a living at ENG for 20 years, shooting it and supporting other pros shooting it, and so I have my own opinions about this.
One: while I like having LCD screens as an option, I am old-fashioned and insist on a real honest-to-god viewfinder on my camera as well as a flip-out screen. And not on the back, on the side, where it belongs. My reasons include:
Better awareness of actual focus, and this is even more critical if shooting HD. A fold-out screen is not optimized to be a focusing aid. The viewfinder is. While my left eye keeps a scan on my overall surroundings, my right stays in the VF as much as possible. I have pretty much all the HUD information turned on in my VF, so I can keep my head in the camera, composing shots, and not miss a shot because I have to go check something like audio or battery state on a side panel. So I like a large VF with lots of screen real estate. I prefer my vf to be CRT-based if possible: LCD panels can stop working in extremes or cold and heat, and ENG shooters encounter the extremes of climatic conditions. I like a VF that articulates and rotates 90 up and down, because sometimes I have to hold the camera over my head or run it down by my feet. LCD panels are handy for this, but their viewing angles are sometimes too narrow, and they can be blanked out by sun glare if they don't have a hood.
Two: I like a shoulder-mounted cam. Way more stable and you can hold them effortlessley, even if they weigh more. I LIKE them to weigh a little more, myself, as the mass adds inertial damping and stability to my hand-held work. Cameras you have to hold out in front of you will tire your arms and upper back quickly. Add-on grip systems and shoulder pad attachments will fix this, and give you a place to add the stuff you need like wireless RX's and lighting gear. If I could, I would always go out with an Israeli Arm to hold my camera light off to one side, for better-looking shots, but when you are locked tight in a "gang-bang" of other shooters shoulder-to-shoulder, you don't always have the room for that, in which case you want a dimmable camera light on top with a good diffuser. While LED lights have many good qualities, I would keep an incandescent halogen Frezzi or Lowel for the fact that when you need to light up a large or really dim space, you can. And when you just need a little fill, you can dial it down to that.
As far as looking at specific camcorder models, if you don't need HD, your budget options improve.
The Panasonic AG-DVX100B is very good for low-light, and not too expensive, but is not HD as I recall. Some of these cams can be set to shoot a letterbox or anamorphic wide screen, which you then need to translate out into a widescreen picture and upsize to fit an HD frame. I think a lot of the low-budget stations go this way to "look" HD without the budget. Most of those stations are still SD thru much of the plant, just up-converting with a black box at the transmitter, until they can afford a "real" upgrade "in a few years". At which time, everybody else will be shooting 3-D:-)
You could also look at the
Panasonic AG-HMC150 AVCCAM
But Can you reliably EDIT under deadline pressure with AVCCAM? or feed a live shot with it?
We still shoot DVCPro25 and DVCpro HD and we like it that we can edit it super-fast and go to air live with relatively simple gear. Faster, if we use the clip-on Firestore hard drive recorder on the camera to back up the tapes we shoot. We remain tape-based here, and we don't mind it. P2 was too costly for our particular way of working, (might be fine for others, I'm just talking specifically about my own shop here) and even the SD cards are pricy if you can't recycle them rapidly. These kinds of issues come into play when you are choosing a camera and format. Had XDCam been more mature at the time we had to make a choice, I might have swung towards that as the next step after tape.
Here's the thing: if you only shoot for one station, your choice is simply to buy the format the station is already committed to. If you're an independent stringer, you need to be compatible with all the client stations you serve: the more steps you or they must take to translate or convert your footage to something they can immediately put to air, the worse it is for you. To have a camcorder that can record to a swiss army knife-like array of codecs is great, like the HVX series, but this is maybe out of your budget. If you're card-based recording, what happens to the footage after the day is done? You need to archive it off to something so you can recycle the cards, (must budget for the gear and time to do this) or do you bill accordingly and just keep buying more cards?
Here's a couple others I thought might work for you:
Panasonic AG-HMC70U Shoulder Mounted Camcorder @$2k
Sony HVR-S270U 1080i HDV @ $8k-$10K very nice, these Sony's have a real man's viewfinder but the LCD is hidden in a pop-up within that viewfinder, best of both worlds, I'd say.
XL-H1sP PAL 3-CCD High Definition Camcorder $7k to $10K-ish
GY-HM700UXT ProHD Solid-State Camcorder $8k
You said you had bad juju with the JVC, I had a demo of this camera and I came away very impressed by being able to dual-record. I was turned off by the fact their decks were not play-compatible with our legacy DVC Pro stuff. With a Sony DVCam or Panny DVC Pro setup, the decks can play back each other's tapes, which is a good extra value issue.