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Buying new camera for adventure doc

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Matt Hannon
Buying new camera for adventure doc
on Jan 2, 2012 at 8:06:30 am


Sorry for the long post guys, thanks for reading.

I am looking to purchase a new camcorder in the coming months and it's primary use will be for an adventure/travel documentary.

There are two main cameras that I am looking at right now, the Sony PMW-EX3 and the Panasonic AF100.

I understand they are very different cameras, but there are aspects of both that I really like/dislike and would be grateful of other people's opinions who have experience with these models.

The main reason I have wittled the search down to these models is because I want full HD with an interchangeable lens system for under $10 000ish. Needs to be broadcast quality.

Perhaps there are others I don't know of yet...??

My other primary concerns are as follows:

1) Portability - I am travelling alone through remote, sometimes unforgiving terrain, without the use of a car. (AF100 wins)

2) Interchangeable lens - in order to shoot wildlife as well as portraiture etc.

3) DOF - AF100 wins here, the 35mm adapters for EX3 would work, but suddenly it becomes a massive piece of kit (see point 1)!

4) Run and gun style shooting - I assume EX3 is the obvious choice here, is focusing and zoom going to be really difficult for a one-man team on the AF100?

5) In a way I wish I could just do it on a DSLR with so many of the above points accounted for (plus can get water housing, take quality stills at same time, etc), but I really need the professionalism that real camcorders offer... any thoughts...?

I know there are other cameras out there such as the Sony VG10 as well as the FS100. The former is just a consumer level camera, and the latter has many bad reviews, and I don't particularly like the look of it either.

Any thoughts greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

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Ken Zukin
Re: Buying new camera for adventure doc
on Jan 3, 2012 at 6:13:07 pm

Well, you're covering a lot of ground here.

First off, I think you need to really evaluate what type of shooting your primarily going to be involving yourself with.
If it's run & gun, then a large sensor camera can be a liability. Focus becomes more of an issue, and a fixed focal-length lens can be super-limiting. News still photographers always use zoom lenses as they can recompose shots in a heartbeat. Changing fixed-focal length lenses when something important is happening in front of you is an exercise in frustration.

The large-sensor, blurred-backround look you crave is hard enough to achieve with a 2/3" camera, let alone a 1/2" sensor, which I believe the Sony EX-3 offers. The EX-3 recording format also leaves a lot to be desired, if my memory serves me.

You could bring along a cine-style zoom for your AF-100 (or Sony F3, which is a better choice), but those zooms are wickedly heavy, very expensive, and scream "professional" which you may want to avoid in the 3rd world.

If you're dealing with wildlife, and audio isn't an issue, than maybe a DSLR is the right tool. In that case, you'll want long, heavy, expensive, fast fixed focal-length a National Geographic still photog might use.

I currently shoot a full sized Panasonic HPX-3100 -- it's a nice camera, but full-sized. If I were heading say, to Africa, I might look at the HPX-250, as it's small in stature (looks pro-sumer), yet records in AVC-Intra 4:2:2. The sensor is small, so achieving a fuzzy backround is a little more difficult, but for documentary work it's a reasonable compromise.

You could also consider two bodies; a small video camera for handheld up-close-and-personal Doc work, and a DSLR for scenics, long-lens stuff.

Hope this helps.

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Todd Terry
Re: Buying new camera for adventure doc
on Jan 3, 2012 at 6:26:50 pm

Just based on your needs, among the choices you list I'd go for the EX3 (with a zoom lens), no question.

As Ken said, big-sensor cameras (or small sensor cameras with DoF adapters) are going to make almost any kind of run-n-gun fast shooting a struggle. It would be hard to over-emphasize how difficult good focusing would be, especially with the extremely low-resolution viewfinder. You'd almost be guaranteed to come back with a lot of soft footage. I'm guessing you won't be in situations where you have the luxury of setting up a real and true HD monitor, and that's pretty much required when shooting any big-sensor format. That, or using a really good and properly collimated cine lens (zoom or primes), and focusing by tape measure and the barrel marks... which isn't suited for documentary-style footage either.

I wouldn't consider a DoF converter for the EX3 for exactly the same reasons... focus, plus you'll have light-loss with it. And the only one that'd I'd really recommend for the EX3 is the one specifically made for it by P+S Technik... and it costs a lot more than the camera itself (about $20k). Most of the other brands will be the add-it-on-to-the-front-native-lens kind, that will end up being a three-foot long rig that is cumbersome and heavy.

As far as shooting everything with a DSLR, I'd evaluate what type and how much of each shooting you are going to do. If you want to take a huge amount of stills and maybe a little video here and there, then the DSLR would probably be a good choice. But if your primary goal is video, then a real video camera is probably going to make like a whole lot easier.


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Matt Hannon
Re: Buying new camera for adventure doc
on Jan 4, 2012 at 10:20:49 am

Thanks Ken and Todd – both of your advice has been really informative and helpful.

I know I’m asking a lot, and there’s never a perfect camera, I’m still a little while off buying, but want to make the best-informed approach possible.

I guess the majority of the shooting that I intend to do will be tripod based, incuding PTC’s, timelapses, surfing, wildlife, interviews etc… however, there will without a doubt be times when things will become spur of the moment, and it’ll be run and gun – very often the most gripping stuff in docos in my humble opinion.

Like you said Todd, there’s no way I’m hauling a monitor along with me, ha, so that SDoF has really got the potential to be tricky, but ooohh… it looks so good when its done properly.

I only discovered the Sony F3 after I made this post, and well, it looks like a brilliant camera for someone in my position. At this stage out of my own budget… but we shall see.

I think in reality Ken’s suggestion of bringing both a DSLR as well as a proper video camera will be the best idea, like you said – a good workhorse as well as one for the beauty shots / stills for promotion.

I'm interested to see what other adventurous filmmaker's strategies are, i'll keep researching...

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Kristiaan Boschman
Re: Buying new camera for adventure doc
on Jan 9, 2012 at 5:49:24 am

I'm in about the same situation,looking for 'most camera for the money' for a handheld 'run and shoot' pro camera. After studying and comparing a lot of options, I came to the conclusion that the new Panasonic AG-HPX250 P2 HD Camcorder is my preference: full HD 3xCCD in AVCIntra intraframe compression (4.2.2). SDI output, all bells and whisles, a great 28-616mm lens ( a 21x zoom!) but not interchangeable ( who cares when you have a 21x zoom, better not having to change lenses in a dusty outback). The only negative point: uses (very) expensive P2 cards, and that's an important point when you need a lot of autonomy: in the best - broadcast quality - AVC100 quality you need about 60 GByte per hour. If that's killing you, you might either go for an external storage device such as the Atomos Samurai, or alternatively take the HPX160 model instead; this 'only' stores in AVCHD 4.2.0, but uses 6x less storage capacity per hour of video and stores on cheap SD cards. It has the same optical block as the HPX250. Difficult choice, but both are well within the 10K$ range. I'm also the -very happy- owner of a Canon 5D MKII, which is great for taking fixed shots; once you are to move or focus fast, it can be hardly done. Then, you need a 'real' video camera with focus assist. Haven't got the opportunity to use this machine, but hope to do so soon. Saw the results, and the image quality looks stunning. The reviews are also very promissing.

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Malcolm Matusky
Re: Buying new camera for adventure doc
on Jan 14, 2012 at 12:10:18 am

1/3" camcorder; DSLR & GoPro2

Get all three for an "adventure documentary" no one camera will do it all, unless you have a lot of money for grip equipment and assistants to carry it all. What about Sound? On camera, wireless units, or cheap Zoom H1+lav for each subject, don't blow you budget on an expensive "broadcast" camera and forget about sound. What does "broadcast" mean anymore? Flip camera footage is being "broadcast" and so is cell-phone footage. If the footage is great, no one cares that it was not 444 or 222, 420, etc, etc.



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Kristiaan Boschman
Re: Buying new camera for adventure doc
on Jan 14, 2012 at 9:33:57 am

Broadcast quality means that in post-production colour grading can be applied; this implies that the colour space of the recording is at least 4.2.0 or by preference 4.2.2.
A combination of a DSLR like the Canon 5D MKII - topped with an additional sound recording device like the Zoom H4n with its internal stereo mics and capability for connecting an external mic like a Rode NTG2 shotgun via the SLR inputs is great for providing good sound on the SLR recordings, but at a cost of additional equipment to carry, additional batteries to load (the Zoom H4n is fairly power-hungry), and supplementary memory cards to download. In addition, you are to keep the sound in sync with the video from the DLSR recordings (sync cable with attenuator from the zoom output to the 5D mic input), so a 5D-rig is not a clean solution compared to a good handheld camera like the Panasonic AG-HPX250 were you have the sound nicely integrated in the camera. IMO this camera comes pretty close to the ideal adventure documentary camera, specially since it has a 21x zoom lens, great for bird spotting.
Most of the handhelds are limited to a 10x zoom, not enough for this purpose.

By the way in the US there seems to be an action ongoing with considerable price reductions and rebates, making this pro camera available at nearly the same price as the AG-AC160, its prosumer version that records in AVCHD and works with the cheaper SD cards. I wonder if in Europe a similar action is planned.

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