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Another boring "choose a basic camera!" thread.

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Max Palmer
Another boring "choose a basic camera!" thread.
on Mar 13, 2012 at 7:25:48 pm

Hi guys- I've been discussing with my manager about purchasing a camera for our department. I work on a small corporate in-house creative team, and we've spent the past year diving into video production and multimedia as a marketing tool. We've been thinking lately about purchasing a basic piece of video equipment so that we can expand our capabilities somewhat.

I've been asked to put a list of three possibilities together, low-end, medium-end, and high-end. Since price points determine everything and this argument is for exploratory purposes and will help determine my budget, let's keep the high-end price point at $3,000. I know that severely limits my options when it comes to high-end cams, but we're still building a case for actually buying a camera in the first place. We also have an in-house production team that's located out of state if we ever wanted really high-end shoots, but they aren't available at moment's notice so I'm sort of looking for a stop-gap measure. Used equipment is fine IMO, but depends on my manager's feelings.

– I would like something high-def, but doesn't have to be 1080.
– We would want audio input to be a consideration. We aren't sound engineers, nor do we have that sort of equipment, but I would like to leave that sort of capability open for recording meetings, events, and interviews.
– Must be sensitive enough to work with available, indoor light (offices, conference rooms.)
– Must have the usual manual controls for focus, WB, exposure lock, etc.
– No tape-based workflow solutions. I would like to go directly from memory to workstation with no conversions, and don't want to have to purchase equipment or do camera capture.

I hope these are good points. Thanks a ton for any help and insight. Hopefully I can get something together so people can stop filming things on their Flip cams and iPhones!


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Mark Suszko
Re: Another boring "choose a basic camera!" thread.
on Mar 14, 2012 at 2:11:18 pm

You don't say what you are using to edit with, nor what kinds of things you anticipate shooting. That information might help to decide on a good reccomendation.


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Max Palmer
Re: Another boring "choose a basic camera!" thread.
on Mar 14, 2012 at 2:17:12 pm

Sorry- I use Premiere and AfterEffects - basically the CS5 suite. Most of what I do would go out either on a DVD, or on the web, but I still want the HD capability for overhead, and being able to expand to higher resolution output in the future.

Where I work, this piece of equipment would primarily be used on a tripod for shooting meetings, workshops, corporate events, and interviews. Most of that would probably be available light, and indoors. There would be no fast action, although I would be getting a tripod with a pan head for panning, and might possibly do some dollying shots.

Please let me know if that is enough info!


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Jonathan Ziegler
Re: Another boring "choose a basic camera!" thread.
on Mar 14, 2012 at 3:49:41 pm

It all depends. $3000 is limiting not for the camera, but the extras. Low end is a consumer camcorder, mid-range is a low-end DSLR with either the default lens and maybe 1 more (you will get nickeled and dimed to death with DSLRs) and the high end is something like a JVC GY-HM150U, Panasonic AG-HMC150 (I like this one - it reminds me of an HD version of the DVX-100), Canon XF-100, etc.

I'd stay away from tape since there are tons of SD and CF cameras out there. AVCHD has gotten a bad rep, but it's basically the same thing the Canon DSLRs are using (different name, but the same basic function - MP4 and h.264 living in weird harmony). I'd stay away from MPEG2, too (personal opinion).

Something else, too: anything but a prosumer camera or higher won't have any kind of resale value in the long run. If you really plan on doing this in a professional environment, don't get a DSLR or a consumer camera: neither are really designed for that kind of wear and you'll be down awaiting replacement and repair a LOT. JVC, Panasonic, Canon, and Sony all make great cameras in the $2k-3k range that have decent lowlight, well-made for thousands of hours of shooting, extremely versatile, great optics, and solid support.

I would pick up the phone and call your local equipment dealer - yeah, they will try to sell you something (duh), but they will also be able to work with your budget so they get a sale and a repeat sale year after year. Some have trade-in programs so you can recoup some cash and get next year's model.

Finally, if you still aren't sure, most cameras can be rented for not too much cash for a couple days or a week. You may find that you only need a camera once a month for a day or 2 and you don't really need to buy. Oh and don't forget lights, backdrops, tripod (get a good one with a good fluid head), SD/CF cards, cables, cords, power supplies and/or extra batteries (don't get the off-brand, they don't work as well - learned that the hard way), lenses, filters, 3rd party manuals, cases/bags, stands, etc. You can add extras for days so plan accordingly.

Jonathan Ziegler
http://www.electrictiger.com/
520-360-8293


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Max Palmer
Re: Another boring "choose a basic camera!" thread.
on Mar 14, 2012 at 5:21:19 pm

Thank you, that's extremely helpful.

I really am going to push for at the very least, prosumer level cam- I don't have any desire to go out and buy a rinky-dink thing off the shelf at Best Buy. I've seen the quality and compression artifacts that cheap consumer level cams create- that, and they don't offer any features that would make it worth even buying one anyway.

Some questions however:

The JVC GY-HM150U looks attractive due to the 3CCD setup (albeit small sensor size). However, a few things I'm not sure about. You mentioned above to stay away from MPEG2 (I don't know why yet, but I'm going to take your word for it at this point). Also, the Minimum light sensitivity is 5lux, which doesn't seem terribly impressive, but the measurement also says "f/1.8, +18 dB, with 16-frame accumulation" which I'm assuming means they just pushed the sensitivity of the sensor all the way up, and the camera is running at a slow frame rate- am I correct? I imagine at +18dB, the sensor is awfully grainy (just coming from my digital photography experience)

The Canon XF100/XF105- says it saves files to MPEG2 codec with an MXF format. Am I going to have any trouble with these, such as the need to convert them, or can I drop them right into CS5?

Is there any way I can compare the sensitivity performance of these cams, with an even playing field, like normal frame rate, +0dB?

Thanks!


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Max Palmer
Re: Another boring "choose a basic camera!" thread.
on Mar 14, 2012 at 8:46:07 pm

I do agree that the Canon XA10 is my bare minimum. I'll end up using that as my low end. I also agree about the tripod and mic, as those will be musts.

Thanks for the reply!


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Jonathan Ziegler
Re: Another boring "choose a basic camera!" thread.
on Mar 14, 2012 at 9:39:53 pm

Okay, let me clarify: I don't care for MPEG2 (as in me, personally). It's been in use for a long time: TV, DVD, satellite, cable, HDV, XDCAM etc. If I'm going to be using a lossy format, I'll stick with AVCHD. AVCHD is really only a step away from MPEG2 (MPEG2 is h.262 and the new h.264 is its later cousin in MPEG-4 AVC). Long story short, MPEG-4 is better at good quality at lower bitrates than MPEG-2. Since most sub $3k cameras use compression in the codec versus a high-def, raw feed, it makes sense to get the best codec you can even if you will transcode to something like ProRES (start with the best footage even if its gonna wind up on the web or on DVD). I won't go into all the reasons as I could go on for hours and I don't have that kinda time! ;)

That said: I still like the cameras I used as examples. I love the XF100 (and the XA10 ain't bad either with its compactness and cost of $1k less) and good quality recording. It's a 3CCD in a world of CMOS chips, but the footage looks great anyway. Here's a long-winded review of the Canons with Philip Bloom: http://philipbloom.net/2011/07/09/video-review-of-the-canon-xa-10-xf100-and...

I think the HMC150 has been out longer and there is a lot more reviews and such about it, but if you've ever used a DVX-100, this seems just like it with the addition of some serious pro features like the vectorscope. The JVC GY-HM150U I mentioned is the one I have the least experience with (sorry about that). I used it for one day and I liked the 60i features (maybe 60P at like 720?), the glass, and, of course, the price. Maybe I should take it off the list?

You'll also notice I haven't put anything from Sony here. Sorry. I like the VG20, but haven't used it enough to make a proper judgement, but its basically a DSLR (or maybe a CMOS video camera with interchangeable lenses which is suspiciously DSLR-like). Runs something like $2000-2500?

As for lowlight performance: how much really low light shooting will you do? If you are like most shooters, not that much. You will be using bright studio lights for static shots or you will be shooting outdoors in sunlight. If you are doing work for your company, you won't want to be fiddling with dark corners, you will be flooding the area with light and tamping down the aperture and shutter speed as well as throwing in a couple ND filters. Don't spend a lot of money on the camera only to have lousy, dark, unprofessional footage - you can get that with a consumer camera! ;)

Jonathan Ziegler
http://www.electrictiger.com/
520-360-8293


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Max Palmer
Re: Another boring "choose a basic camera!" thread.
on Mar 15, 2012 at 12:59:32 am

I guess not too much real low light. But it's doubtful I'll have a lighting setup, at least for a while. What is considered low light in this circiumstance? I'm have more experience with photography, where low light could be as "bright" as the interior of a building that still has significant overhead lights. I also don't have experience with studio lighting setups, I always shot pictures with available light or hot-shoe flash. Maybe my inexperience with video shooting hasn't been made terribly clear here... ;-)


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Jonathan Ziegler
Re: Another boring "choose a basic camera!" thread.
on Mar 15, 2012 at 8:52:39 pm

Well, I consider any situation to be "low light" where your light is less than ideal and/or you should use artificial light (for effect, highlight, art, etc) or otherwise provide additional light. I don't like cranking up the gain (gain or grain). I'm imposing my personal feelings on the matter here, too. You can get some great lighting without a lot of cash, though, too. I'm a big DIY fan and I've used some nice cheap alternatives to 500W+ studio lights to avoid the dreaded gain grain like clamp lights with hi-Watt CFLs, bounces, LEDs, flashlights, GE broad spectrum bulbs (little 100W tungsten bulbs are great for fill), and the list goes on. Even an on-camera light can work for what you describe (remember on-camera lights are for light assistance not light replacement).

That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with available light as long as there's enough light available exactly where you want it at the settings you want or intend to use. ;)

And, since I'm on this subject: http://www.videomaker.com/learn/production/lighting/ - VideoMaker is a great resource for video learning and their Plus Membership is only $25 a year. You get loads of great stuff even without the paid membership, too. They have content geared towards the novice/amateur and the more experienced and/or professional guys, too. They have really embraced the online experience and seem to have a really good feel for the biz as it stands now.

Jonathan Ziegler
http://www.electrictiger.com/
520-360-8293


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Max Palmer
Re: Another boring "choose a basic camera!" thread.
on Mar 16, 2012 at 4:19:39 pm

That looks like a great site for someone like me. I'll definitely look into signing up. Thanks for the tip!


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Paddy Uglow
Re: Another boring "choose a basic camera!" thread.
on May 4, 2012 at 9:14:04 am

We're looking at JVC's hm150 too (or a second hand hm100 if we can't afford it - the 100 seems to have worse low-light performance but is almost identical in many other respects).
I don't know if I'm missing any other cameras on my list, but the JVC seems to be the only one with
1. 24, 25 and 29.97-based frame rates (so we can match it with our 25fps 550D and PAL DVDs and also our little cheap 29.97fps cameras). And 24fps is ideal for making in-house DCPs for our cinema.
2. phantom power XLRs
3. SDHC storage without complicated capture workflow (I use premiere mostly, but also a bit of FC Pro)

The removable handle/xlr bit is attractive too.

I just don't know if it's reliable; our last JVC product (a DV deck) worked fine, but didn't like the DV tapes from our XM1 and 2 cameras very much.


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