Considering a 60D for single camera interviews, conference recording, and ENG style shoots
Hi all, just started with a new company as the current and only "AV guy". The equipment we're working with right now isn't exactly up to date, I'm shooting to MiniDV on a Canon XL2 and editing in Final Cut Pro 5 on a Core Duo Macbook Pro. My supervisor has expressed interest in upgrading and getting us set up to work in HD. $5000 was thrown out as a possible budget but I don't know how firm that is, though I doubt the final number would be anything more. Now in the realm of camcorders that doesn't give me a lot of work with for a body, lens, and accessories. However I think I can make something work very well going the HDSLR route.
With that I've landed on the 60D. Why the 60D? Because $1000 buys a pretty damn good body with the same chip as the 7D and a swivel screen and an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens that isn't half bad. For another grand I can take care of my audio inputs with a Zoom H4n (or another audio recorder if you have one to reccomend), get a 50mm f/1.4 USM lens for low light shoots, and pretty well cover my accessories (bag, batteries, memory cards, etc.). That leaves another potential $3000 to subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud and get a new editing rig with money to spare. I'm also figuring the farther I come under 5k the easier it will be to make this happen.
Now what I'll be shooting is primarily ENG style videos; so a lot of interviews and b-roll to go with it. We also hold conferences here that are sometimes recorded. Basically a single static shot of a person standing and talking in front of a Powerpoint on a 10 foot tall projection screen in an auditorium for an hour. The lighting for said conferences is particularly bad as the room is dimly lit but the image from the projector is quite hot. I'll also have several shoots taking place at gatherings in the upstairs of a dimly lit restaurant where setting up lights is not an option. So you can see why the low light performance of a DSLR might appeal to me. I should add all of this is for the web.
At any rate the only cons I've really found in my plan thus far are syncing audio and lack of timecode. Timecode doesn't concern me terribly as I won't be on any multicamera shoots. Audio seems like it will be a pain though. The plan is to use the stereo mic on the H4n for nat sound and use the XLR inputs for wireless lavs when I need to get someone speaking. The best option I've come up with for syncing the audio and video thus far is a good old fashion clapboard. Not ideal, but I suppose it will work.
At any rate. This is my current plan and thought process. Now I'm positive I've overlooked some important facet here and that is why I come to you good people for assistance. Noticing any flaws? Other things I need to take into consideration? Does this seem a sound plan or should I abandon it and look elsewhere for my needs? All help is appreciated. Thank you.
Here's my experience with the DSLR route that you propose. I've been shooting on them for corporate video since 2009, 2 Canon 7D's and a 5D Mark III. I don't use they cameras for long form recordings (i.e. weddings, presentations, etc.). Because:
The audio is a pain. We typically sync with a program called PluralEyes which analyzes audio waveform between the internal mic and your external audio source. It's not always perfect but it gets you within a frame or two most every time.
Long form is terribly difficult with DSLR cameras. Because the camera is limited by a FAT32 file structure you'll only be able to record about 12 minutes before reaching the 4GB per file limit imposed by FAT32. Later cameras (5DIII and maybe the 6D) over come this by spanning the clips on the card. So the problem if you're recording a talking head conference for 60-90 minutes then you're going to be forced to start/stop recording every 12 minutes which is hard to stitch together in post. The 60D also doesn't have a clean HDMI out on it so you can't rely on that as a way around it.
I'm not trying to tell you not to buy the camera....just making you aware of the problems you're going to run into. In your situation I would probably look at some of the cameras from Panasonic and JVC that retail around $1K. They are fixed lens solutions, but provide good quality, long record times and can handle audio through a mini jack. All the areas that a DSLR falls on its face.
Also if you're going to step into HD you'd also better keep in mind somewhere to store all this footage. Drives are cheap, but they ain't free! :-) HD data rates tend to be a good bit higher than where you're currently working at with mini-DV. (50+mbps vs. 25mpbs). If you get into transcoding your footage to a mezzanine codec (like ProRes or DNxHD or whatever) then you're data rates and therefore file size will be going up exponentially.
If you go the HD route then you'll definitely need to upgrade your editing rig as FCP5 would have problems (my guess is that it'd be impossible) to edit h.264 DSLR videos. Or anything from any recent camera in there. It wasn't until FCP6 that Apple released ProRes as an intermediate codec (which has a data rate of 145mbps).
So in review:
60D DSLR = bad audio, bad long-form, no clean HDMI out, but great depth of field, sensitive in low light, affordable
I would explore a fix lens option for your setup given that you will be doing long-form talking head recordings. DSLR's don't lend themselves to that format very well in my experience.
Thanks for your input. I should clarify: I absolutely plan to upgrade our editing infrastructure if we upgrade. I've been shooting HD since 2008 across a range of cameras (Sony EX3 and Panny HPX-500 most recently) and I wouldn't dream of trying to work with that footage on a Core Duo in a 32bit NLE. That's why I'd like to have $600-$840 set aside for Creative Cloud. Storage I'm not terribly concerned with, we've got ample server space and HDDs are cheap these days. It's something I'll run by our IT regardless though, thanks for reminding me.
Now to your point on clip length: THANK YOU! That is absolutely a concern I will need to take into consideration. That actually may be the deal breaker for me. Stopping an interviewer for a moment every 12 minutes to hit record again could annoy folks and that would certainly create some disconcerting breaks in conferences (though I suppose I could stitch them together by cutting in the current powerpoint slide during the breaks).
I don't know that the option is off the table now but I'm certainly going to look heavily into other routes now.
[Bill Church] "I've been shooting HD since 2008 across a range of cameras (Sony EX3 and Panny HPX-500 most recently)"
If you have access to those cameras that's perfect for conference type stuff. For many my longer shoots I rely on our EX1's. They are perfect for long form material.
I think the DSLR's are great for human interest and cinematic pieces. But for long-form content I don't think they're a good fit. I've heard of people trying, but I'm not one of them. The file limit has always been a problem. Even for the new 5D3 you can only record internally for 29:59....just under 30 minutes. Even with that and a long form event you'd still be stopping multiple times during your recording.
Though strangely enough, I just ran our Canon 5D3 as a wide camera during a graduation event and fed that into a Blackmagic ATEM TV Studio mixer via SDI (converted the HDMI signal from the 5D3 to SDI). The difference being that the 5D3 can output a clean HDMI signal (no menus, no overlays, and a full 1080p image). That worked relatively well since I just needed it to feed an image to director who was live mixing the event. But I was worried about it throughout the event. It's definitely not a "go-to" solution in my book.
I wish I had access to those cameras but unfortunately they're from a prior gig. I'd absolutely love to replace the XL2 at this new job with an EX3 but it's way out of budget.