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Jason Newstedt
DSLR Camera suggestions
on Mar 24, 2015 at 4:55:38 pm

My company is giving me a $1000-1200 budget to get a camera for a new video project I'll be in charge of. I'll be recording classroom sessions that will usually have PowerPoint presentations. (I know what you're thinking: "You lucky S.O.B.!!")

My needs should consider that:
  • I will often need to shoot in low-lit rooms
  • I will need a field recorder attached to it for wireless lavs
  • I will be traveling with the camera at times (planes, etc.)

  • What are the best options for the job? I'd like to have a nice Canon but the ones that claim to be good for video are really expensive. I'm wondering what my options are for a middle-of-the-road priced camera that I can use.

    I know that people love to speculate on these forums, but I'd like to hear from people that talk about cameras that they either own or have used extensively. Thanks!


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    Steve Crow
    Re: DSLR Camera suggestions
    on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:27:41 pm
    Last Edited By Steve Crow on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:32:29 pm

    I don't envy you your assignment but here are my thoughts:

    All of the Canon rebel series are good for video including the T2i and moving up the line. With their relatively larger APS-C sensors you should be able to get more than enough light in unless the speaker turns the lights completely off in the lecture hall which would make it difficult.

    At your price range, you are probably going to be looking at used to get all that you want. Does your budget have to cover the lavs and external recorder too? If so, one option would be to buy those and then simply rent your camera as needed, that way you can afford to get access to some very good options for you including the 5D or take a look at Panasonic which has some very interesting models and capabilities (yes Bill Bruner that's a shout out to you! :-)


    .....and the Sony A7S which can shoot in a dark underground cave and still capture an image.

    There's an interesting low cost wireless lav alternative from Rode which is a simple lav mic that plugs into an iphone or android - you just put the cell phone in the speaker's pocket and let it record away. The disadvantage is that you can't monitor the sound live which makes me nervous. Would make a very interesting backup to use it along with another wireless lav - just occurred to me. As an aside, I always have something like a rode videomic pro plugged directly into the camera to improve the sound the camera itself is recording. In case of a failure of your lav solution - you may have to rely on it.

    For an external recorder I usually recommend the Zoom H4N but there are less expensive options out there too, particularly if all you need to do is record one incoming source.

    You will have to build a simple rig for yourself to hold everything.

    Having said that, shooting classroom lectures with a HD DSLR is challenging. You will run into the file size / time limit which means you will loose a couple of seconds stopping a clip and then starting a new one. That shouldn't be an issue if you time it so that the focus is on the powerpoint screen when you do that - the separate audio recorder will continue to run in the background which is going to really save you.

    I recommend during post production that you get the instructor to give you a copy of the Powerpoint slide so that you can edit them into the video versus just going with what the camera records

    Steve Crow


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    Jason Newstedt
    Re: DSLR Camera suggestions
    on Mar 25, 2015 at 5:21:13 pm

    Thanks, Steve. The budget was for the camera alone. And I have just about everything else covered like field recorder, lav mics, etc. (some of it we already own). I just insisted we update our camera for better quality footage.

    I'm wondering what Blaise was saying about getting a straight video camera instead of a DSLR, as he mentioned only recording in 30-minute increments. Is that true for all DSLRs? I wasn't aware. I'm also torn since a lot of them have only one lens and auto-features like focus/zoom, which I'd rather have control over.

    Thoughts?


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    Steve Crow
    Re: DSLR Camera suggestions
    on Mar 25, 2015 at 5:52:25 pm

    Yeah, I have to agree with the other poster that DSLR is not the best camera platform for what you've described. A DSLR would be great for interviews, b-rolls, behind the scenes stuff but not for recording long lectures where often the camera is locked down and there's not a lot of re-framing, re-focusing etc going on.

    DSLR video has a much better look of course but maybe for your peace of mind go with a more traditional video camera body. Some of them do offer full manual control but at the $1,000 or below price point I wouldn't expect it to be too great on that front and yes, fixed lens is probably what you are looking at too. Renting could get you access to these more advanced cameras that are a combination of DSLR sized sensors, interchangeable lenses, built in audio and ND features - all combined in a traditional videocamera form factor.

    All the DSLR cameras have some sort of time and/or file size limitations - my understanding is that the Panasonic GH4 models have a longer one than the 12 minute / 4GB limit I used to with my Canon T2i.

    Because there aren't any opportunities for "do overs" and "second takes" in your shooting situation, I'd feel most comfortable recommending you go with the most simple and reliable solution - and with color grading, smart lighting and some careful editing you might still be able to get an image approximating a DSLR look - minus the shallow depth of field unless you are way way back.

    Now I go back a few years and I remember when the craze was outfitting a Canon HV20 (a very basic video camera) with a gizmo called a Depth of Field adapter from Red Rock Micro (the M2) that went in front of the Canon lens and gave you a much more cinematic shallow DOF look out of a very consumer camera. It might be interesting to see where that technology evolved to.

    Steve Crow


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    Blaise Douros
    Re: DSLR Camera suggestions
    on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:20:34 am
    Last Edited By Blaise Douros on Mar 26, 2015 at 12:21:52 am

    Because of European import/export restrictions, still cameras have a 29:59 rec time limit--otherwise they are taxed as video cameras, which have a higher tax rate. File size is no longer the limiting factor, as it used to be (12 minute/4Gb). Since there are no cameras built ONLY for the North American market, all still cameras have this limitation built in.

    Frankly, you don't want to be manually focusing with a large-sensor camera during a corporate event or lecture. You want the deep DOF of a small sensor, and you want a servo zoom. DSLRs can't smoothly zoom in and out (unless you have incredibly steady hands, in which case GET OUT OF VIDEO AND BECOME A SURGEON OR BOMB TECH!!!).

    I used to think I'd rather shoot a DSLR, no matter what situation, because I'd have more control. I was wrong--camcorders are infinitely superior for gigs where you need internal audio sync, servo zoom, decent auto focus, and deep DOF. Which is exactly what you need for the gig you describe :)


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    Blaise Douros
    Re: DSLR Camera suggestions
    on Mar 24, 2015 at 9:54:58 pm

    I do not recommend getting a DSLR for this purpose. Getting even acceptable audio is clunky and requires a second purchase (external recorder), and DSLRs have a 30-minute record time limit. They are the EXACT opposite of what you need for recording presentations.

    Pick up a regular camcorder, and call it a day. If you can find a refurb Canon XA10, that would be ideal. New, they're still going for around $1400, but you could probably pick one up for less.


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    Bill Bruner
    Re: DSLR Camera suggestions
    on Mar 26, 2015 at 4:46:14 am
    Last Edited By Bill Bruner on Mar 26, 2015 at 1:17:44 pm

    Hi Jason, sadly all Canon DSLRs (except the $8000 1D C) are limited to 30 minutes of continuous recording (one of the reasons I sold my Canon DSLR).

    The $798 Panasonic GH3, on the other hand, can record for up to about 4 hours continuously (outside of the European Union).

    The GH3 is a great event camera - you can get inexpensive power zooms for it - it has an electronic viewfinder that you can use while you're recording video - and it has a standard 3.5mm headphone jack built in (something no Canon DSLR has below the $1800 7D Mark II).

    These are features generally found in camcorders, but they are not common (or not available) in DSLRs.

    It also has features generally found in DSLRs, but not in $1000 camcorders, such as a relatively large sensor and an interchangeable lens mount.

    I own this camera and it is the best of both worlds - the image quality of a DSLR with the usability of a camcorder.

    Here are a couple of examples of the image quality it can produce:

    Event (51 minute continuously recorded - shot with a steadicam - a tripod might have been better)









    Travel:





    This is a great all-around camera for presentations, events and travel.

    Hope this is helpful and good luck!

    Bill
    Hybrid Camera Revolution

    P.S. Thanks for the shout out, Steve!


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    Jason Newstedt
    Re: DSLR Camera suggestions
    on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:20:12 pm

    Thanks for that, Bill.
    The event clip you have will be nearly the exact same thing I'll be shooting. Now that I see it on a camera like the GH3, I'm wondering if it wouldn't be be overkill.

    Was the seminar footage shot with the same camera as the Antigua clip? Because it's like night and day between the two. (BTW the Antigua video was fantastic stuff.)

    I'm starting to rethink the DSLR route based off of what I've read since as well as what Blaise suggested. I looked into the Canon XA10 and found mixed reviews for such an expensive video camera, so I'm not sure about that one.


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    Bill Bruner
    Re: DSLR Camera suggestions
    on Mar 27, 2015 at 1:36:21 pm
    Last Edited By Bill Bruner on Mar 27, 2015 at 1:38:54 pm

    Glad I could find an example of the GH3 in a situation similar to the one you'll be shooting!

    One of the advantages of modern large sensor, interchangeable lens cameras is that they can give you very different "looks" based on lens selection, depth of field and color profile (in camera) or color grading (in post production). This can provide you with a lot more creative flexibility than you can get from a small sensor, fixed lens camcorder.

    This is especially true for cameras such as the GH3 with a solid codec and high bit rates (e.g. 72 megabits per second ALL INTRA or 50 mbps IPB).

    Older DSLRs and camcorders such as the $1499 XA10 record at lower bit rates (e.g., 24 mbps) for results like this:





    or this in a better lit environment:





    To my eye, this is a lot softer than the results from a less expensive $1169 GH3 (with 10x zoom lens).

    Even though both are "1080p" cameras, the GH3 will give you higher apparent resolution because it records more information to each frame.

    Again, hope this is helpful.

    Bill
    Hybrid Camera Revolution


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    Jason Newstedt
    Re: DSLR Camera suggestions
    on Mar 30, 2015 at 6:19:03 pm
    Last Edited By Jason Newstedt on Mar 30, 2015 at 9:04:59 pm

    You're right, your two examples are a lot less crisp than the typical DSLR cameras out there. I'll need to shoot videos at different locations, so think I should be alright if I can get the videos to look consistent. That might be why I'm now leaning towards a proper video camera.

    Has anyone heard anything good about the Panasonic AG-AC90? It's seems to have been getting good marks for its ability to shoot in low light.

    Addendum: There's a successor to the Panasonic here. (For some reason it isn't that much more expensive than the one that came out two years earlier.)


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    Blaise Douros
    Re: DSLR Camera suggestions
    on Mar 31, 2015 at 8:15:28 pm

    Bill, I agree with you that, all told, DSLRs (or MILCs) will look nicer. However, in his primary use case, OP will benefit more from integrated XLR audio than shallow depth of field or interchangeable lenses. And as for color grading, there's not that much difference when it's all 8-bit 4:2:0 AVCHD, bitrates notwithstanding! Properly white balanced footage is key, no matter if it's 24 or 72 mbits.

    I only suggested XA10 because I've worked with it, and know it's a solid little workhorse. No, you're not going to shoot narrative on it...but for the price and intended use, the image quality is 100% acceptable and the integrated audio is key.

    This is my approach when we're talking DSLRs or MILCs in this situation; sure, you can run a GH3 this way. But you're going to need to sync audio in post with your external recorder, and compensate for frame drift over time since you can't sync the clock with your recorder, and probably focus manually since the DOF is shallower, and, and, and...

    Jason, almost any relatively modern video camera is going to work fine for event work like this--I haven't worked with the Panny cameras you linked, but have had good experiences with their HVX and HPX series back in the bygone era when P2 was king.

    Bottom line--don't think yourself into paralysis or worry too much about Big Features; you need to buy something that is going to get the job done reliably, with a minimum of fiddling. With the kind of work you're outlining, you need a Toyota Corolla, not a BMW; sure, the Bimmer is sexier and in theory it can kick ass on the track with its six-speed manual gearbox, but when all's said and done, the Corolla is a better daily driver in stop-and-go traffic, and it fits kids in the back seat more comfortably.


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    Jason Newstedt
    Re: DSLR Camera suggestions
    on Mar 31, 2015 at 10:08:39 pm

    Thanks for the input. I think I'll put in for the Panasonic since I've heard decent things about it and have seen some great examples of footage others have shot in different lighting situations. Plus, the learning curve on the newer one is relatively low compared to the other prosumers video cameras out there.

    I will say, I've been reading up on the GH3 Bill mentioned and I'm considering getting that for personal use. :) For what it can do, that's a great price.


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