Pick My Camera For Me
Here's my situation. I'm a 48-year old jack of all trades - graphic designer, producer, director, editor and occasional cameraman - who has worked largely outside the video biz as a corporate communications director for the past 7 years. Like many, a recent job loss has me back in the freelance/self-employed arena and rethinking my future.
My video past saw me working as a successful producer/director mostly on corporate work, although the occasional cable TV program popped up as well. I typically hired camera owner/operators although I occasionally would shoot myself.
I'd like to add video back into the mix of services I offer as an independent all-around freelance creative. The market opportunities in my area seem to best suit a one man band type video production company, hence my decision to add a camera package. I've been renting a Panasonic HPX250 package from a cameraman/friend but the DSLRs look interesting as well.
I'd love to buy a single camera that offers the best of a low-cost ENG camera like the Panny with the ability to switch to shallow DOF like a DSLR. Does such a set-up exist? Are there any lower cost cameras with a removable lens that would allow use of an ENG zoom when needed, switched over to a prime + Letus adapter or the like for shallow DOF? Maybe the ENG-style zoom lens is unnecessary? I'd like to put the whole thing on a Zacuto rig, as my style lends itself to movement and portability.
I'd appreciate suggestions and advice. Thanks in advance.
I would probably stick to ENG for the time being. Why?
If you're a one-man-band, consider these advantages:
-Better mic preamp and audio controls on-camera, with full sized XLR inputs on most ENG cameras.
-Better form factor without the need to purchase into a zacuto or red rock system
-Better lens control with autofocus (albeit most AF tends to be flaky in low light) and a zoom rocker
For all the shooting I've done with a dslr, I've found that you need to treat it like a movie camera. Movements need to be more steady, and you need in most cases to have a competent assistant pull focus.
On top of that, feel out your clientele. If they just want an interview video and they aren't wowed by shallow depth of field then ENG may be the way to go because of the associated benefits.
If you need one camera over the other, they are cheap to rent even with a modest client budget, but with corporate clients I feel that you'll get more mileage with less headache for sticking with something ENG.
Thanks for the input Angelo.
Here's the thing, when I say ENG I'm thinking the Panasonic HPX250 or Canon XF 305, cameras small enough that they benefit from a shoulder mount rig, IMO. Any thoughts on adding a Letus adapter to either of these when I need that thin DOF, getting the best of both worlds?
I'm also interested in the AF 100, although I suppose I lose the power zoom on that one.
Hi Christopher: Your instinct is correct, and as Shakespeare once said, "The lens' the thing!"
One of the most fundamental choices you need to make is: Servo zoom lens, or no servo zoom lens?
There are a zillion traditional camcorders both large and small (heavy & lightweight) that use servo zoom lenses. The lens is either bayonet mounted such as is the case with large shoulder-mount cams, or the lens is built-in such as with palmcorders & handycams. For the most part, all these cams have sensors 2/3" or smaller.
Cameras with sensors >2/3" either can't mount a servo zoom lens at all, or only with great difficulty, or inconvenience (DOF adapters, or custom mounts), or the lens alone is relatively expensive e.g. >$30K.
Great video can be shot with all sorts of cameras at a wide range of prices. Obviously not all equally sharp, or low-noise, or colorful, etc.
It's interesting to note that a 2/3" sensor was used to shoot "Avatar" which has earned >US$2.5 billion and counting (shot on very nice 1080p 2/3" camcorders), and "The Hurt Locker" (shot on S16 film, about the same size as 2/3"), and "Slumdog Millionaire" (mostly shot using a 2/3" video camera), and so forth.
But if your shooting style depends on using a servo zoom lens, unless you want to spend a lot for the lens, you're "limited" to using a camera with a 2/3" sensor or smaller.
On the other hand, if you can live without a servo zoom motor, you have more options, including cams with >2/3" sensors. Such as DSLRs (D800, 5DM3, etc), AF100, FS100, F3, C300, the new BmD Cinema Camera, and so forth. It's also generally easy & inexpensive to adapt prime (non-zoom) lenses to these cams.
Note that all servo zoom lenses are parfocal (hold focus throughout their zoom range), whereas only a few DSLR lenses are parfocal. Also, a few zoom lenses (servo zooms or DSLR zooms) are constant aperture, but most will ramp (aperture value will increase) as they are zoomed-in.
So, servo-zoom, or no? That is the question. YMMV.
Peter, you've put into words exactly what I was struggling over - the lens. So much of corporate video seems to demand a servo zoom lens. The ubiquitous "pull from the corporate sign out front" or "push onto a worker's face" has been the stock-in-trade for most corporate video work. The ability to quickly change focal length in a run and gun situation seems to be another strength of the servo zoom that serves the corporate environment quite well.
On the other hand, the few things I've shot lately on a DSLR have leveraged the thin DOF and have been met with much praise by my corporate clients.
For me, the sensor size is of less importance except for it's impact on DOF.
So if I'm understanding you correctly, there is no magic combination of lens/adapter/DOF attachment that could bring both a servo zoom and prime lens to a lower cost camera like the AF100?
[christopher pupillo] "... there is no magic combination of lens/adapter/DOF attachment that could bring both a servo zoom and prime lens to a lower cost camera like the AF100?"
They're not magic, and I don't know how well they work, but there are solutions out there (kinda). Some examples:
As noted above, best results will be with a parfocal-type lens.
Speaking of the AF100: If you're interested in this cam, you owe it to yourself to also consider the similarly-priced Sony FS100. They are both very good values.
As for DOF adapters, there're reasons why folks mostly abandoned them by the hundreds of thousands in favor of DSLRs. The main reason appears to be convenience, or the lack thereof in using DOF adapters vs. DSLRs and other large sensor cams.
[christopher pupillo] "So much of corporate video seems to demand a servo zoom lens. The ubiquitous "pull from the corporate sign out front" or "push onto a worker's face" has been the stock-in-trade for most corporate video work."
I guess you can shoot that way if you want it to look like the nightly news. Yuck!
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Jason, I agree but what we do in the corporate video world isn't about making art, no matter how much we might want it to be. It's ultimately about solving a clients communications problems within a given set of circumstances, circumstances which often require a smooth zoom.
I'm excited by the creative visual options many of these new lower cost, thin DOF-capable cameras can deliver and equally excited that some clients see the value in this look. But the simple truth (for me) is that many of my clients and much of my local market is made up of very small businesses who place less value of video as a creative art form and more emphasis on cost, efficiency, etc.
I'm simply interested in learning whether or not a camera or combination of camera+lens+DOF adapter/gadget can bring the best of both worlds - a servo zoom for everyday run-and-gun work and shallow DOF for more the creative projects.
I have been shooting with a Canon 7D since it came out, I make industrial films (corporate video) and thought I would just rent a 2/3 camera with a powered zoom when I needed it, I have not needed it. I started making films with a Bolex, a real one, not the "Digital Bolex" of rumor on the web. I am also thinking of what's next? Stick with DSLR's or move to something else? I have looked at everthing on the market, and soon to be on the market and have decided to wait, and continue with the 7D for now.
Perhaps not the solution you were looking for, but all the "large sensor" video cameras have some operational defect that has not made me jump yet. The BM camera looked good, but...small sensor, big mount, dumb idea. I have to have wide angle lenses for interiors. Most offices are small and I have to be able to get two people in a shot from a few feet away. I have an 11~16 and it works great on the APS-C sensor of the 7D.
Thought about the 5DIII, shallower depth of field is not an advantage for me. Full frame is out for now.
The M 4/3 is good, still much larger than S16 / 2/3 video, but the wide lens options are not great. I prefer working with zooms and Canon has fast (f2.8) wide lenses, constant aperture and stabilized! None of the M4/3 lenses have these specs.
Af100 No EF mount option with control, not viable. The GH2 with the hack is arguably a better camera, except for some of the "video" touches, on camera sound, etc, which are useful. A "hackable" AF100 would be very good, if Metabones made a working adapter for EF lenses, it would be amazing! HD-SDI out for a recorder, good, HDMI for monitoring, good. 8 bit, oh well.. Can it be hacked?
FS100 with adapter there is aperture control, possibly IS but no focus control! UGH! I have an OKI II, works great! Nice looking sensor, only one hdmi? stupid, need one for monitoring (better SD-HDI for signal out, and an HDMI for an EVF. On camera sound, useful, waveforms useful. This is the closest to meeting my needs so far, yet is it worth 3x the $$ of my 7D, no not really.
FS700, really not worth it for me.
Black Magic Camera, Weird looking, so what, so is a DSLR compared to a video camera. Great tech specs, LANC control of EF lenses, GOOD! Smaller sensor than M4/3!!! UGH. No adaptable lens mount to M4/3 lenses, EF or F only. Very dumb. A M4/3 or E mount would have enabled a wider lens choice made for the smaller sensor, which is actually smaller than the M4/3 standard. Canon does have an 8~15, but...how am I going to use ND filters on a lens that projects so far from the filter threads? I'm not. Not viable for my work. I wanted this to be the "answer" it's not, perhaps version 2.0 will be.
Digital Bolex: S16 sided sensor, so am I back to the bolex rex 5 for shooing after 30 years? Possibly. Good specs, but like the BMC, till I see some footage, I'll wait. No stabilized lenses, I like them, but not a complete disaster. I would prefer a larger sensor, but if this camera is a functional tool and not a poorly thought out toy, it's viable.
Raw workflow is not a "killer app" for me, it would be a nice option, but not the prime reason to buy a camera for me. I shoot for the "little" screen and those shooting for festivals or theatrical release will have different needs.
Very interesting things on the horizon, but for now, nothing to make me change just yet! Soon though, soon...
Malcolm, thanks for the very detailed and informative reply. It seems I've a lot of hands on testing to do before coming anywhere close to making my decision.