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DSLR vs. HVX (documentary work)

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Jeffrey Starr
DSLR vs. HVX (documentary work)
on Nov 7, 2010 at 7:40:29 pm

Ok, so I'm doing I've been doing a lot of questioning lately and I'd like to hear some opinions of people on Creative Cow.

So here's the deal:

I just graduated from film school this past May. And I am headed to Honduras in January to begin work on my first documentary.

Here's my question:

I used to own a Sony EX-1, but when the DSLR craze started I sold that (as well as my Letus) and invested in a 7D with some pretty sweet Zeiss Lens' and all the fixings to complete my rig (a Zoom, a nice mic, and so on). I've traveled a few places with my 7D (India and Nicaragua) and I've loved the results, BUT those trips were basically promo videos for organizations, where I had control over what I was shooting and the interviews I was conducting. So the camera worked great.

BUT I'm wondering if DSLR's are the right way to go into a documentary. Don't get me wrong I LOVE the look AND feel of a DSLR, simply amazing, however there are just SO MANY limitations that a lot of great doc's just could not have been shot on with DLSR's (I've had a few conversations with award winning doc makers, who told me point-blank that there was no way they could of shot there doc's with DSLR's).

Here's why:

The best documentary's are ALWAYS about the STORY that is unfolding on screen. These limitations make me worry about whether or not a DSLR is the right camera for these types of films:

1) Having to worry about putting on an ND filter (instead of flipping a switch)

2) AUDIO! We all know that the mic RODE makes, that most people are using on DSLR's is good but there is still no way to monitor that audio. The only solution would be to use a Zoom of similar device, which get's into my next point...

3) SHOULDER RIG. No one wants to be lugging around a huge shoulder rig with a zoom connected if your shooting run-and-gun stuff. I understand if your shooting in a studio or a controlled environment, but i did a short doc a few years ago in trash dump in Honduras and there is no way I would have been able to run around there with a rig, no matter how "small" it is.

4) FREE HAND. Again I understand that zacuto and other company's make "small" and "gorilla" type shoulder rigs, but on-the-go doc's, a lot of times NEED to be shot freehand, and we all know that DSLR's freehand, when your pulling focus, even with an IS len's, looks like crap. The DSLR, "shakyness" drive me crazy sometimes.

Anyway, with all that said, I'm thinking about selling my 7D and all my lenses, to buy an HVX, and I would love to hear people's opinions on this topic. Ive searched the internet and there seems to be a TON of opinions, but I'm just not convinced that the DSLR route is the best way to go for on-the-go doc stuff.

Thank in advance.

JJ


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Shane Ross
Re: DSLR vs. HVX (documentary work)
on Nov 7, 2010 at 9:59:01 pm

DSLR's are good for narrative work...where you have time to set up shots, and have time to get good audio, and can control more of what is happening on the set. Documentary work...a majority of it is run-and-gun shooting. Getting what you can when the moment arises. Plus you might not have time to have second system audio going while trying to shoot. Trying to work with the image on that viewfinder when you can't flip the LCD so you can see it if you have the camera above your head, or down low, and you can't zoom on the handle. No quick switches for ND filters, no good audio inputs...too many buttons to press to get the exposure right

For doc work I vote against the DSLRs. I have one, and I love it, but I'd hate to have to rely on it for doc work. By the time you get a DSLR equipped in a way to make in functional for this sort of work, separate audio input adapter, ND filters, shoulder mounts, viewfinder cover, or external monitor...you are looking at a $8k to $10k rig. I suggest the HPX-170, HMC-150 (cheaper recording media), or EX cameras for doc work. DSLRs are great for many things, but not run and gun shooting.

Shane



GETTING ORGANIZED WITH FINAL CUT PRO DVD...don't miss it.
Read my blog, Little Frog in High Def


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Noah Kadner
Re: DSLR vs. HVX (documentary work)
on Nov 8, 2010 at 2:28:27 am

Both have their appropriate uses. HVX for bulk of doc + DSLR for sweet looking b-roll is a powerful combo. Or just wait a few months and get an AF100.

Noah

Unlock the secrets of 24p, HD and Final Cut Studio with Call Box Training. Featuring the Canon 5D Mark II and 7D.


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Miriam Bennett
Re: DSLR vs. HVX (documentary work)
on Nov 7, 2010 at 10:58:47 pm

I'll admit that, documentary is not my main focus.But I've been shooting with the 7D and using the H4N zoom mic for audio on short documentary work recently and I find, despite the issues you mentioned there are also some advantages. For one, it pretty much forces you to work with a sound person. I haven't tried operating both the zoom and the 7D all by myself except when I am doing separate interviews. But if you have a good sound person working with you it can be very freeing and you can get much better audio than if your mic is always running to the camera.

Recently we did a shoot where my sound guy was capturing audio from 3 different locations within the scene. All I had to worry about was what to focus on for picture. I also didn't have to worry about cutting and missing something because there would doubtless be audio there for me in the edit stage that would cover anything I may have missed. Of course you have to be willing to synch everything in post.

The main problem I have with the 7D is the need to give the camera a rest when the overheating light comes on. Oh, and using the loupe with the LCD screen is a pain as well. As is pulling focus when using a really shallow depth of field. But the HVX can't give you that dof in low light anyway and low light seems to be unavoidable in some situations.

I have worked a bunch with the HVX prior to using the 7D and I wouldn't trade back even with the limitations.

But I think it will come down to what you need for your own style and approach to shooting.

Hope that helps!

Miriam

http://www.vimeo.com/movingstudio


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Dylan Hargreaves
Re: DSLR vs. HVX (documentary work)
on Nov 8, 2010 at 11:03:14 am

I would say it's different tools for different jobs.

There's this obsession with DSLR's which seems to be just about the shallow DoF, which has its uses and makes things look nice and arty, but you wouldn't want to sit through an entire doc slathered in it.

There is nothing, repeat, nothing wrong with the picture you get from a video camera, whether it's the HVX, the EX3 or whatever.

In a recent edit, we got the grade of the EX3 spot on, and it was virtually indistinguishable from the 5DmkII we used as a B cam.

Of course, in the low light bits of the shoot, the 5D came into its own in a way the EX3 just couldn't, but as I say, it's different tools for different jobs.


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Dylan Hargreaves
Re: DSLR vs. HVX (documentary work)
on Nov 8, 2010 at 11:03:32 am

I would say it's different tools for different jobs.

There's this obsession with DSLR's which seems to be just about the shallow DoF, which has its uses and makes things look nice and arty, but you wouldn't want to sit through an entire doc slathered in it.

There is nothing, repeat, nothing wrong with the picture you get from a video camera, whether it's the HVX, the EX3 or whatever.

In a recent edit, we got the grade of the EX3 spot on, and it was virtually indistinguishable from the 5DmkII we used as a B cam.

Of course, in the low light bits of the shoot, the 5D came into its own in a way the EX3 just couldn't, but as I say, it's different tools for different jobs.


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todd mcmullen
Re: DSLR vs. HVX (documentary work)
on Nov 9, 2010 at 2:00:33 pm

All good points of view. Each system shines for different reasons. I have been using the 5d on a narrative show but I have had support. Sound mixer, DIT, AC, etc. I have also been using the HVX for a doc. I have been running this myself and I have less to worry about or equipment to lug around.
But I digress, Another important thought in this decision is what is the subject of this doc and what is the profile you want to exhibit.
I remember shooting a doc on Drug free zones for the Cal. Attorney General.
We were shooting with big EFP cameras and I am surprised we didn't get shot in some of the places we shot. If we had the ability back then to use the smaller dslr's then I think we could have gotten more intimate footage.

So, that being said, maybe the dslr detup is less suspicious.Maybe you take the angle of a tourist on a photo adventure. Who knows, but I would keep this aspect in mind of your equipment decisions.
fwiw

Todd McMullen
Flip Flop Films
Austin
http://www.toddmcmullen.com


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Malcolm Matusky
Re: DSLR vs. HVX (documentary work)
on Nov 13, 2010 at 10:00:42 pm

I have been wrestling with the same question and after shooting with the 7D for six months am ready to buy a Panasonic af hmg 150 to supplement my 7D, not replace it. I shoot alone, Zoom h4 & shotgun mounted on a flash bracket, small shoulder brace or monopod or tripod, lavs for sit down interviews. So far I have done well with this rig, but I do need a camera that can run longer than 10 minutes for some of my work, and not having to sync audio in post would be great! Also being able to have a smooth zoom is also another issue with DSLR's, I rarely use a prime, not worth the hassle when working alone; 11~16 F2.8, 17~55 f2.8 & 70~200 f4.0 seem to do it for me, though I own a few fast old Nikon primes I have an adapter for, I rarely use them.

I used to use a Arriflex 16BL and a Nagra, compared to that rig, the 7D and all it's issues are a Non-issue!

So for my work, The 7D has been great, and I do need to use a "proper" video camera 25% of the time, so I'll get one soon. So don't sell the 7D and the lenses, get a "video" camera to supplement them.

M

Malcolm


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