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Is a 3-sensor camera better in low light than a single-sensor?

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Vic Noseworthy
Is a 3-sensor camera better in low light than a single-sensor?
on Feb 10, 2012 at 7:53:51 pm

Hi folks,
I'm considering purchasing a new camera and am juggling which features I need. From what I understand, a 3-sensor camera gives better color, but is it also better for low light situations? (Assume all of the sensors are the same size, i.e. that I'm talking about a single 1/3" chip vs. 3 x 1/3" chips). Another way I might ask this question is to say, "Would I be better off using a camera with a larger single sensor, or with smaller but more sensors?"
Basically, I'm torn between a three 1/3" sensor video camera or a camera with an ASP-sized sensor. Any recommendations?
Thanks very much!
Vic


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Craig Alan
Re: Is a 3-sensor camera better in low light than a single-sensor?
on Feb 11, 2012 at 5:16:40 pm

You'll need to read specific reviews of each cam. More expensive cams generally have bigger lenses, thus letting in more light. But that does not always translate into good low light performance. Some camera chips and processing are more sensitive to light. Back in the SD days the Sony PD150/170 was the low light champ even though the Canon XL1/xl2 had a nicer and bigger lens.

CMOS and CCD chips work differently but there are good and poor cams of both.

I would choose a price range, an application, and ask again. For example: In the $1500-$2000 range which hand held run and gun cam used for live events does well in low light situations?

For what its worth, all cameras benefit a lot from proper lighting.

OSX 10.5.8; MacBookPro4,1 Intel Core 2 Duo 2.5 GHz MacPro4,1 2.66GHz 8 core 12gigs of ram. GPU: Nvidia Geoforce GT120 with Vram 512. OS X 10.6.x; Camcorders: Sony Z7U, Canon HV30/40, Sony vx2000/PD170; FCP 6 certified; write professionally for a variety of media; teach video production in L.A.


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Vic Noseworthy
Re: Is a 3-sensor camera better in low light than a single-sensor?
on Feb 11, 2012 at 5:57:01 pm

Thanks Craig. Okay, then, I will ask in a much more specific way:
I would like to shoot weddings. I'm wondering whether I should get a DSLR, thereby allowing me to get great low light capabilities, or if I should go with a nice 3-chip camcorder, like the Panasonic AG HMC-150. I've seen some beautiful video work done with DSLRs, but I would like to have good audio, too. I would like to keep my purchase in the $2000 - 3000 price range, and (in the case of the DSLR) this would include a lens. I suspect that limits me to something without audio controls, such as the Canon 5D. Here's the thing: I could live without the good audio features (i.e. manual, xlr, etc), especially if the difference in low light capabilities is going to be great (bokeh benefits of the DSLR are a real nice benefit). But, I really do like the features of a true video camera, such as the auto/powered zoom, xlr mics, and how it feels in one's hands as compared to a DSLR. In other words, I like the run and gun aspects of a true video camera, but I'm concerned about low light image quality of a 3-chip video camera vs. a full frame DSLR. Don't get me wrong: I do realize the image quality would be much nicer with the DSLR. But, will the low light image quality be "high" (subjective, I know) with the HMC 150? And, just so you'll know, I just shot a wedding with a Canon HF 10; the low light capabilities of that camera are not too good. I'm looking to improve my low light image quality over the HF 10, and given that it has a 1/3" chip (albeit, a single chip!), I'm wondering will the HMC 150, with its 3 x 1/3" chips give me significantly better quality, or do I need to forego audio and zoom features and go with a DSLR?
I hope my question is clear enough. Perhaps I can summarize/re-phrase:
Will stepping up to a 3 x 1/3" chip camera give me significant improvement over a single 1/3" chip camera, or should I go for a DSLR (given the shortcomings of audio, zoom, etc)?
Thanks very much, Craig, for your insight. I sincerely appreciate it.
Vic


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Craig Alan
Re: Is a 3-sensor camera better in low light than a single-sensor?
on Feb 11, 2012 at 7:45:32 pm

Things are changing as we speak so take any given advice as possibly outdated. If I were shooting weddings I'd go with a camcorder. DSLRs do provide great image quality but require specific workflows and almost always second system for sound.

Remember that shallow DOF means greater image control but also out of focus shots. Low light doesn't help auto focus.

I would look at http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/751649-REG/Panasonic_AGHPX170PJ_AG_HP...

and for a much better lens http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/768924-REG/Panasonic_AG_HPX250_AG_HPX...

these are P2 cams and you'll need p2 cards and p2 card reader and an editing system that deals with those files.

I'd also consider a portable light kit - either a fresnel with chimera soft bank (careful with power usage and heat from lamp) or kino flos. Use sand bags. Obviously you can't light the whole shoot but you could set up an interview area - usually part of the footage for a wedding. Cordless mikes for ceremony. I'd also check out the wedding vid forums for work flows and what they use. Check out wedding vid sites for what they offer in your area.

DSLR sensors are starting to show up on camcorders but still pricey. 2k and 4k will most likely be in the near future for most serious shooters.

SDI out on the pana cams will help future proof them. You can record to external and even attached 3rd party video recorders in different codec. Plus its great for a feed to an external monitor. I'd also get a nice tripod and dolly system. Libec has one in $500 range for the sticks and head and it works pretty smooth for these cams.

If you want great sound you need to get your mikes off the camcorder, get feeds from house boards, etc. Check out sound devices line of mixers. Wonderful build quality and sound. the SD 302 is great and the mixpre-d will mount under your cam.

There are so many solid choices now. Each has its pros and cons. Each workflow can yield good results with practice. Each has forums with end users that share tricks of trade.
My best advice is if you are doing it for money: Test your entire workflow well before the shoot. Know your equipment really well. Have extra batteries, cards, reflectors, etc. Pack a flashlight, gaffer tape, and velcro strips. Meet with your client and go over expectations. Tier your package. They might come back for extra copies, different delivery, etc. If they can afford more you can get help -- second cam operator, audio tech, etc. You might consider partnering with still photographer who knows business.

OSX 10.5.8; MacBookPro4,1 Intel Core 2 Duo 2.5 GHz MacPro4,1 2.66GHz 8 core 12gigs of ram. GPU: Nvidia Geoforce GT120 with Vram 512. OS X 10.6.x; Camcorders: Sony Z7U, Canon HV30/40, Sony vx2000/PD170; FCP 6 certified; write professionally for a variety of media; teach video production in L.A.


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Vic Noseworthy
Re: Is a 3-sensor camera better in low light than a single-sensor?
on Feb 11, 2012 at 10:50:20 pm

Wow, Craig! I think I've fallen in love with the HPX-170... and I didn't even know it existed! And, it's in my price range! Great advice! I do appreciate your taking the time to provide additional advice on the wedding video industry. I will certainly be investigating this camera.
Cheers, man! And, thanks, again!
Vic


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