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Fresh out of school, low budget, don't know what route to go for my camera

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Bill Church
Fresh out of school, low budget, don't know what route to go for my camera
on May 21, 2011 at 10:41:01 pm

Hi all! First I'd like to apologize if this is the wrong forum. I've been coming to Creative Cow for about a year now for shooting and editing advice but never actually posted a question until now. Also, this is gonna a bit long.

Quick backstory: I just wrapped up my four year video production degree and now have this awful scary world to go find work in ;) I'm lucky in that I've got a good job locked down that will consume my life for six months at a time with 2-4 month breaks. So right now I'm planning on entering the camera market with about $12,500 in pocket come next February. Ideally I'm planning on dropping about $2500 of that into an editing rig where I'll focus working exclusively with Adobe Creative Suite. I'd prefer to work in Final Cut Pro augmented with Color and After Effects but I've no interest in dropping the cash on a Mac Pro... maybe sometime way down the line. That will leave me about $10k for a camera and to live off of until my next stint at this job; Living expenses shouldn't be exorbitant since I live in Maine and will likely hole up with the parents for those few months.

I'm buying a camera for personal use so I can maybe find some freelance work and work on some simple short film type projects to maybe add to the demo reel during those months off.

As far as what I'm looking for I need something that shoots 1080p24/30 and 720p 60, I want the biggest image sensor possible so I can really crush my depth of field when need be, and I want to be cheap.

Right now I've got three prospects from personal research: Canon 7D, Panasonic AG-AF100, and the Sony NEX-FS100U. The 7D was my immediate first thought because A) it's comparatively dirt cheap and B) it's been a popular choice among a few other guys I know who went through the same program I did. Even after buying an audio adapter and shoulder mount it would still come out to about half the price of the other options. It also obviously captures some nice looking footage, aliasing issues aside, the ability to use SLR lenses is convenient, and I like the idea of getting a good still camera out of the deal. The big problem seems to be overheating. I've heard awful stories about being unable to shoot longer than 20 minutes before the whole unit just shuts down because of temperature problems.

The AG-AF100 and FS100U seem comparable as far as specs and price are concerned and preview footage of the FS100 seems to stack up nicely against the AF100. Obviously the FS100 isn't commercially available yet but it seems to me it's an NX5U with a Super 35mm sensor, fair assessment? The problem with both those options is they're $5k, on B&H, for the body alone. Ouch. Now, I'm not stupid, I know good cameras cost good money and in this business $5k is nothing, but again: constrained budget. I'm also not super crazy about the 24Mbs and 28Mbs AVCHD codec both cameras use. Uncompressed SDI or HDMI output while shooting in the field isn't a terribly convenient option at this juncture either so I'd be stuck with in camera compression. Though having that uncompressed option may certainly be nice in the future. Personal bias towards Sony also pushes me in the direction of the FS100. I've shot on HVR-270s, Z5Us, NX5Us, and EX-3s in the past and always enjoyed the experience. Alternatively my time spent shooting with an HVX200 and an HPX500 always yielded some type of issue; typically user error but issues nonetheless. That being said they were great cameras, I just think I've become some what of a Sony fanboy in my past four years at school.

So that's where I'm at. Stuck between the price crunch and the desire for a good camera. Any recommendations and advice would be very appreciated. I'm not dead set on any of the above cameras by the way, they're just what I've found seem to be my best options, please feel free to add to the list of potential candidates. Also despite my Sony bias and in no way averse to other brands. Oh, and I'm aware I haven't even begun to take costs like tripods and lights into consideration; one thing at a time for now.


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Rick Wise
Re: Fresh out of school, low budget, don't know what route to go for my camera
on May 21, 2011 at 11:14:29 pm

You are one lucky guy!

As you know, all still cameras used for video prose lots of logistical problems, but you can deal with most of them, and sounds like you have a decent handle on the subject. Since budget is so tight, you might consider going even cheaper on the Canon side: the 60D or the Rebel 3i.

Other contenders for a DSLR would be the Panasonic Lumix GH1 or 2. If you go to Zacuto.com/shootout you'll find 3 long comparison videos. Long to wade through but some interesting information as they compare several DSLRs against 35mm film. The Lumix GH1 is one of those cameras -- the shootout is now a couple of years old and there is some new stuff out.

When money is less a problem, the Sony F3 would be a strong contender for a real video camera. Of course, by then, there may be something better... For now it looks like you will be compromising with a dual-purpose camera of some sort.

For editing on a PC you might consider Sony Vegas 10. Or, get an iMac and Final Cut pro express. (I think the iMac can handle the stripped down FCP -- not sure.) Sony Vegas is a terrific NLE on a par with the full-up FCP but not widely adapted while FCP is ubiquitous. If your are proficient with FCP you are likely to find lots of editing work, if that interests you. Using Express will be a bit of a downer but keeps your FCP chops humming. (I'm a happy Vegas user of many years.)

Rick Wise
director of photography
San Francisco Bay Area
part-time instructor lighting/camera
Academy of Art University/Film and Video (grad school)
http://www.RickWiseDP.com


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Jason Jenkins
Re: Fresh out of school, low budget, don't know what route to go for my camera
on May 23, 2011 at 2:27:53 pm

[Rick Wise] "Other contenders for a DSLR would be the Panasonic Lumix GH1 or 2. If you go to Zacuto.com/shootout you'll find 3 long comparison videos. Long to wade through but some interesting information as they compare several DSLRs against 35mm film. The Lumix GH1 is one of those cameras -- the shootout is now a couple of years old and there is some new stuff out."

I'll put in another vote for the Panasonic GH2. I'm using one for all my work now, coupled with some used $200 Nikon lenses. It's a crazy world when in one shoot I can make more money than the total cost of my camera and lens. Granted, I'm also using support gear, lights, audio, field monitor, etc.

Jason Jenkins
Flowmotion Media
Video production... with style!


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Seth Estrada
Re: Fresh out of school, low budget, don't know what route to go for my camera
on May 21, 2011 at 11:27:41 pm

The AF100 and FS100 will both let you capture footage uncompressed when you need to. No DSLR currently allows that. You'll get a lot more mileage out of that uncompressed signal than h.264 at any bitrate. And neither of these cameras does line-skipping or post-lens image distortion like moire [not that's been widely reported anyway]. Besides, the better your reel, the more paid work you'll do in-between the stints at your 'day job'.

I've never regretted getting the best I can reasonably afford, and it seems you can reasonably afford the AF100 or FS100 right now. So don't hold back. Even if you have to rent glass for a little while, it's not like you have the budget for really killer lenses quite yet anyway.

Good luck with the decision.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Fresh out of school, low budget, don't know what route to go for my camera
on May 22, 2011 at 5:31:52 pm

I would say, buy your editing system, and a few evergreen items like a good tripod, basic lights and good mics... but rent the camera only as needed, until you get enough steady work that it makes more sense to own than rent. Why make payments on a camera that's sitting on a shelf most days? Owning the camera doesn't make you a film maker; actually making FILMS makes you a film maker. That one fact divides you from a thousand other recent grads.


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Seth Estrada
Re: Fresh out of school, low budget, don't know what route to go for my camera
on May 23, 2011 at 1:30:09 am

On the one hand, I agree with Mark. But on the other hand, I presume you're asking about cameras precisely because you either want to DP or shoot a lot of your own material, in which case you'll need unfettered access to professional grade tools to learn during all of your unoccupied waking hours. By that token, I think it would be a grave mistake not to get a camera. IF you're attempting to shoot your own features in-between your day job, Read the DV Rebel's Guide. Stu M. gives the same advice.


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Shawn Miller
Re: Fresh out of school, low budget, don't know what route to go for my camera
on May 23, 2011 at 5:46:12 pm

"The AF100 and FS100 will both let you capture footage uncompressed when you need to."

Actually, neither the AF100 nor the FS100 will record uncompressed internally. The AF100 will output an 8bit 4:2:2 signal over HD-SDI or HDMI, and the FS100 will (AFAIK) output 8bit 4:2:2 over HDMI only...

"You'll get a lot more mileage out of that uncompressed signal than h.264 at any bitrate."

All three of these cameras record in MPEG 4; h.263, AVCCAM and NXCAM are just different implementations of the same CODEC.

Thanks,

Shawn



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Shawn Miller
Re: Fresh out of school, low budget, don't know what route to go for my camera
on May 23, 2011 at 5:54:52 pm

Sorry, I meant to include a very informal but good comparison of the F3, FS100 and AF100 by Philip Bloom.

http://philipbloom.net/2011/05/05/bloomshootout/

Thanks,

Shawn



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Seth Estrada
Re: Fresh out of school, low budget, don't know what route to go for my camera
on May 23, 2011 at 7:25:28 pm

Thank you for the clarification Shawn. To add much-needed further clarity to any argument inherent in your post: exactly NONE of the current DSLR's allow for usable uncompressed 8-bit output, regardless of the capture method, be it internal or otherwise. The recording mechanism is irrelevant: DSLRs cannot deliver this without hacking. And even then, the results are mixed and do not overcome other limitations inherent in DSLR image quality.

Additionally, the various flavors of h.264 are still highly compressed, long-GOP codecs, regardless of the wrapper they use. And none of that has anything to do with a comparison of uncompressed vs compressed signals.

Again, when you need to shoot uncompressed for better flexibility in post, the AF100 and FS100 will give you that option, without having to hack your hardware to unlock this functionality. Further, these cameras do not artificially distort your image through immature super-sampling algorithms as all current gen DSLRs do [excluding one crop mode that one DSLR, the Panasonic GH2, shoots in, which is hardly the only mode you'll want to use all the time]. There is no DSLR at any price that can deliver that.

To the OP:
Again, best of luck making your decision. It bears repeating: consider seriously buying the best you can reasonably afford. You won't ever have to apologize for giving the best image possible, and may even find yourself AC'ing or DP'ing on nicer shoots because they rent your equipment.


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Shawn Miller
Re: Fresh out of school, low budget, don't know what route to go for my camera
on May 23, 2011 at 8:52:30 pm

"To add much-needed further clarity to any argument inherent in your post:"

Hmmm... I'm not sure I made any arguments here. I just stated that the AF100 and FS100 don't record uncompressed signals internally (not everyone knows that, BTW), and I didn't say anything about the signals that any DSLR outputs... so I'm not sure how there could be any 'argument inherent in my post' about that.

At any rate, I'm not trying to start a fight, or imply that you've made some sort of false statement about the limits of DSLR recording or the h.264 CODEC. I'm only 'clarifying' that the AF100 and the FS100 both record MPEG4 internally... that's it. What I should have said was, "If you wan't to capture uncompressed video with the Af100 or the FS100, you'll need an external recorder. There is no internal mechanism for doing this on either camera."

Thanks,

Shawn



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Bill Church
Re: Fresh out of school, low budget, don't know what route to go for my camera
on May 23, 2011 at 8:38:07 pm

You guys are awesome. Lot of good information here. Thank you to Rick for pointing me to the Zacuto shootout. That was very impressive, I was very impressed by the 7D and pleased to know the $900 cheaper T2i produces identical video. The others I'd likely pass on due to price or lack of formats I need to be able to shoot in. I'm definitely looking forward to the 2011 shootout next month to see how the AF100 and FS100 stack up against each other and cameras I can't afford. As for the F3, my god I would love one. I was drooling when I watched Sony's Pre-NAB reveal of it. Unfortunately it's likely to be some time before I have eighteen grand to drop on a camera and a set of Zeiss prime lenses =D My school is actually getting one for next semester, I'm rather bummed I won't be around to play with it.

As for the editing rig I'm ok with going PC only. I love FCP, it's my NLE of choice and what I've been editing with since I stepped up from tape-to-tape, and I'm chomping at the bit for FCPX but the cost of the hardware is just too prohibitive. I won't buy an iMac because I hate non-upgradeable hardware with a passion and the $2500 starting price for a Mac Pro is far too prohibitive; particularly when I can build a very powerful, and overclockable, i7 Sandy Bridge rig for $1500. Plus I love playing with After Effects and the ability to easily roundtrip between AE and Premiere is a huge boon, so I'll get by. Thank you for the suggestions though. I'll look into Vegas as well.

Seth the ability to capture uncompressed footage from the AF100 and the FS100 is very appealing but there's no way I'll be able to swing the cash for one of those cameras and a $1000 external box to capture the video plus another $300-$600 for the SSDs. So either way I'm looking at compressed footage for a awhile. In fact the more I think on it the more I'm convincing myself kitting out either of those camera's could be prohibitively expensive.... Hmm. I should also note renting really isn't an option, Maine is sort of barren in the way of places to rent any decent gear. Might be an option one day if I ever get to New York or the San Fran bay area like I plan, but right now I'm bouncing back and forth between six month stints on a cruise ship and 2-4 months in Maine.

Thank you Shawn for pointing out Mr. Bloom's comparisons. I'm watching them right now. Maybe they'll sway me to spend all my savings =)

Again thanks a bunch guys. Any more advice you can give is very welcome. I think right now I'm leaning towards a 7D or a T2i, depending on if I decide an extra $900 is worth a better still camera or not, and spending a couple grand kitting it out and dealing with it's shortcomings. Like I said though this purchase
is a ways off so I'll likely continue researching right up until next year.


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