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Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events

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Conor BeattieBest Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Nov 25, 2011 at 1:17:58 pm

Hi,

I'm currently in the market for a camera for capturing larger school events - the bi-annual school musical, occasional talent shows, the odd sports event.

In the past I have used small consumer Mini DV camcorders, then the Panasonic TM10 (HD consumer cam - AVCHD full 1080). I edit these in either FCP or Premiere Pro 5.5 (recently acquired to deal with AVCHD more conveniently).

However, I recently been given the green light to buy something a bit bigger for these jobs. The budget is not huge, and I'll almost certainly be buying second hand.

What camera would you recommend?

Things I have to consider:
- low second-hand price;
- low light performance;
- durability;
- longevity (eg, is there a danger that if I buy a MiniDV cam, that MiniDV tape will be obsolete or hard to get in another 2 years?).

I'm trying not to rush into this (which I normally do!) but I have been looking at the Sony Handycam DCR-VX2100, the SONY HVR-HD 1000E, and the Canon XL-2.

Can anyone suggest anything else, or have any reasons why one of these is better than the other?

Thanks in advance.


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Mark SuszkoRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Nov 26, 2011 at 4:45:14 am

If not used weekly, why own them, if you can rent? You can usually rent a better camera for the same amount of money versus owning. And when you don't use it, you don't pay for it. These kinds of events are scheduled far in advance so setting up a rental should be easier.


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Conor BeattieRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Nov 26, 2011 at 10:54:52 am

It costs around €150 for me to hire one of these, so if the cam is rolled out 3 times a year, within 3 years I've covered the cost of a second hand model. My geographical location also makes it inconvenient to hire. If it were that simple...also, I'd like to have the thing at my disposal.


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Mark SuszkoRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Nov 26, 2011 at 5:36:40 pm

OTOH, in three years you will have... a 3-year-old camera. Whereas if you rent, you will always have a rather newer camera. But if you insist.....


Mini-DV based camcorders ARE getting harder to find, everything is trending to file-based recording. But I would not panic yet if a DV or HDV camcorder is your desire, since the used cam market will be good. You could get an excellent deal for example on the Panasonic HVX200, which had an internal tape drive using DV tape, as well as two P2 card slots. Now, I am not a fan of P2, I think the cards are too darned expensive. But it works well for a lot of people. Ebay's got them for around US $1,500. You have the option of DV or HD recording, which somewhat protects your investment over time. A wide screen anamorphic SD or HD picture will grab more of a stage in the frame, which can't be bad for school plays and concerts. It has real XLR inputs for audio, a must. Any of the last-generation Sony DV camcorders would also serve you well, I should think.


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Conor BeattieRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Nov 27, 2011 at 7:02:53 pm

Thanks for your input Mark. The Panasonic you mention is a little out of my budget, even second hand.

The Sony HVR HD 1000 is more achievable for me in terms of cost, but some users suggest it's not great in low light or theatrical lighting - no good for the school musical.

The XL2 is also in the similar price range for me, but I've just started thinking about buying a DSLR like the T2i, but this is a whole new field of research for me...I wonder would it be practical to use something like this (any of the new video DSLRs) for jobs such as filming a school concert, or a musical. The cam would be on a tripod and there'd be minimal zooming or panning.


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Mark SuszkoRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Nov 27, 2011 at 7:40:18 pm

I would stay away from using a DSLR for your school plays and concerts because of the time limitations to their file sizes. You'd very likely have to stop in the middle of a piece and resume, a couple of times. True, might only lose a second or two, but that will stick out like a sore thumb on the master. And by the time you trick out a stills cam to be used as a proper video cam, IMO you've spent as much as a purpose-made video camera.

As to the Panny being out of your budget, think about it as 1500 bucks divided into three years, or however many shows you're going to shoot in that time. Tell me you're not doing this completely for free, are you? If not, then you should be able to pay the thing off with a very modest fee for just a year's worth of performances. Then it's "free" for however long it continues to work for you.


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Conor BeattieRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Nov 27, 2011 at 9:44:31 pm

Doing it free? Depends how you look on it. I'm a teacher and get paid, so from that point of view I'm not doing it for free. However, it's not part of my job description, so I do it voluntarily...the way I see it I get to play with lots of nice cameras and computers and things, convincing people our school would be much happier if we had a nice entry level shoulder mount HD camera, etc.

I'll take on board your point about the Panny. However I do have a budget and it is for non-essential items, so I don't want to push it.


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Brent DunnRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Dec 2, 2011 at 4:20:06 pm

I also work in a school, so I understand tight budgets. I can give you a bunch of choices, but I need to know exactly how much they are giving you.

Here's a canon for under $2,000
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/749467-REG/Canon_4922B002_XA10_HD_Pro...

B&H video and Armato's have used gear. I'd go with a camera that takes SD cards since they are cheap. If you film football or soccer games, you'll need a good zoom, 12x or higher is preferred.

DSLR is out of the question. You can't film live performances and keep the focus with all the live action with a DSLR.

Brent Dunn
Owner / Director / Editor
DunnRight Films
DunnRight Video.com
Video Marketing Toolbox.net

Sony EX-1,
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 7D
Mac Pro Tower, Quad Core,
with Final Cut Studio

HP i7 Quad laptop
Adobe CS-5 Production Suite





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Conor BeattieRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Dec 4, 2011 at 11:11:57 am

My budget is low: none of the people holding the purse strings seem to think its worth shelling out. I just acquired a very cheap Sony Nex VG10E. €800 ($1000) in mint condition. I dont think it's going to make me very happy, as it only shoots in 1080 and that's going to continue to create problems for DVD. However I can resell, so my budget is roughly $1800.

I think I may be better off trying very hard to ignore HD (at the same time acknowledging the quality of true hd shots) and focus on a SD cam, possibly recording to miniDv. I have a small Panasonic which is great for capturing anything I might upload (HD upload to YouTube is brilliant). For the larger projects ( such as the recent school musical which I wish I had a decent camera for) which end up in parents' DVD players (only about 1 in 5 have a Blu Ray player) I should shoot in SD, on something like an XL2

The camera you recommend is HD isn't it? What's your end product? Web? DVD? Blu Ray? How well does it down convert to DVD?


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Mark SuszkoRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Dec 4, 2011 at 2:33:40 pm

Conor, it sounds like you just don't have the money to work in HD and you may not need it, for the things you want to do. I work in both HD and SD anamorphic wide screen, but the SD wide screen stuff is still 90 percent of what we work in for broadcast. If you're going to make DVD's of stage plays, SD anamorphic is a shortcut to that in terms of storage, rendering, etc.

So I guess you should look for DV camcorders that can shoot anamorphic SD. DVD production from there is fast and easy.

But I am concerned that you're setting yourself up for failure with your school officials when they just really don't understand what things cost. The typical chain of events that come from this situation is:
They ask you to work to a target price.
You make a LOT of compromises to come in at or under that figure.
You hate the results because it forces frustrating workflows on you, or other restrictions.
They hate the results because it doesn't match their unrealistic expectations.
You now lose credibility as someone who knows what they are doing.
The authorities become vulnerable to someone else taking over the program, promising better stuff.
Somebody suggests Uncle Leo or Cousin Jimmy should take over.
Everything takes a huge step backwards, and they re-invent the program from scratch, going over the same ground again and again. Though you explain why such-and-such won't work, they have stopped believing you.


More than solving your immediate camera problem, I think you need to solve the perception problem of what it takes to do the job right. Sell them on a multiyear acquisition plan, and work hard on finding people outside of the school to help underwrite it. Just as one idea, look at having some local business like the Coke or Pepsi distributor, or a family restaurant or the local mom and pop video movie rental chain, buy you a nice camera or pair of cameras. Put their logos and perhaps even a 30-second announcement on the front of every DVD you make of school events.

Or tap the local student community: some families may own better quality cameras hey can lend you.

The bottom line is, think outside the box, and don't let an artificial limit define the job.


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Conor BeattieRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Dec 4, 2011 at 7:36:00 pm

That's a fairly accurate description of the situation Mark! There's not much danger of anyone taking the work though unfortunately. I do this voluntarily, which is why I struggle to get the cash. However I've going to road test this Sony Nex for a few wks. If I don't get good results with DVD with it I'll sell and pick up a second hand SD like you suggest.

I'm currently editing in Premiere Pro and experimenting with different encodings and burning workflows, including Adobe Media Encoder, Compressor and toast. I've had reasonable results by exporting as H264 then dropping this in toast for the DVD conversion. It looks a bit better than using Media Encoder for the DVD.


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Brent DunnRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Dec 5, 2011 at 7:09:50 pm

CS5 and now 5.5 will save you encoding time. The workflow is much smoother than earlier versions. You can just go from your timeline into Encore without encoding. Encoding happens within Encore.

I'm in education, so I know how it is to scream and kick for a budget. I got tired of waiting, so I started writing grants. There is a lot of grant money out there just waiting for you. You just have to take the time to go get it. Of course after I stopped teaching the TV class and went into a computer course, the new person got a big budget with all new equipment, new iMac's, etc. Of course, she was much prettier than me.

Brent Dunn
Owner / Director / Editor
DunnRight Films
DunnRight Video.com
Video Marketing Toolbox.net

Sony EX-1,
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 7D
Mac Pro Tower, Quad Core,
with Final Cut Studio

HP i7 Quad laptop
Adobe CS-5 Production Suite





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Brent DunnRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Dec 5, 2011 at 7:04:36 pm

I always shoot in HD and then downconvert. Your final output will still look better in detail than if you started in SD.

I have multiple deliver. I can deliver the HD in Vimeo for a download, SD on DVD, HD on BluRay. It always gives you options. If you only shoot in SD, then you can't go up.

Brent Dunn
Owner / Director / Editor
DunnRight Films
DunnRight Video.com
Video Marketing Toolbox.net

Sony EX-1,
Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 7D
Mac Pro Tower, Quad Core,
with Final Cut Studio

HP i7 Quad laptop
Adobe CS-5 Production Suite





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Mark SuszkoRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Dec 6, 2011 at 1:01:29 am

That's nice for you, Brent, but IMO his situation is different from yours, and at that budget level HD only adds expense and time-wasting complications. Especially since his final output is an mpeg 2 DVD. Your way would have somewhat better quality, but would cost him longer time in the transcoding and down-conversion, plus more hard drive space.

And for what? This isn't Live from Lincoln Center he's doing. It's a step up from handheld, camera-mic-only home movies. These things are full of trade-offs and it's all about what is the appropriate amount of time and trouble for the appropriate level of quality. If he can give the parents fast turn-around on a SD DVD with quality audio on it and a *reasonable picture*, without additional expense or time spent, he's met his goal. I understand about future-protecting the footage in HD but then again, at this level, these are what they call ephemeral events, unlikely to ever result in a call-back to re-do the project for a film-out and festival showing:-)

HD downconverted to SD on a DVD is a *little* nicer than a lossless SD picture exported to that same DVD... but you gotta ask: is it x amount of dollars-worth-better? Is being ten percent better worth the extra time and money? In this guy's case, I'd say perfect is the enemy of the good-enough. When he can build up more and better tech with a real budget, then of course this debate should be revisited.

But don't sell him on needing a Corvette when a used Camry would suit him well enough. Proportion. In all things.


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Conor BeattieRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Dec 6, 2011 at 6:45:45 pm

I'll be honest, I am a little reluctant to buy a second hand SD miniDV cam. Technically I'm not supposed to buy anything second hand but management are turning a blind eye to this as I have been pestering them for years. We're in a recession here in Ireland, and cutbacks in education mean $3000 for something new is out of the question. Therefore I'm stuck in the second hand market. In my budget, I can afford a number of reliable SD tape cams, but I would concerned at their age: the tape loading mechanism on a 5 year old camera is bound to be more susceptible to damage. So, that is another compromise to factor in.

Regarding down converting etc, it's not much of a problem for me to edit these files using Premiere Pro CS5.5 on our new iMacs in native AVCHD, export in full quality overnight, then encode/burn to DVD the next day or night.

As it is, I'll trial this ridiculously cheap Sony Nex VG 10. The main problem I have with it is that there is no button/rocker for the zoom. Zoom is adjusted using the ring only. I can see problems ahead with close-ups. In addition, it's sensor provides very shallow depth of field: not ideal for shooting action on a stage or a pitch.

The positive here is that I bought it at a price below market value. I could resell, with luck, and acquire a different model. I like the look of the xa 10 to be honest...n


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Conor BeattieRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Dec 6, 2011 at 6:47:47 pm

I'll be honest, I am a little reluctant to buy a second hand SD miniDV cam. Technically I'm not supposed to buy anything second hand but management are turning a blind eye to this as I have been pestering them for years. We're in a recession here in Ireland, and cutbacks in education mean $3000 for something new is out of the question. Therefore I'm stuck in the second hand market. In my budget, I can afford a number of reliable SD tape cams, but I would concerned at their age: the tape loading mechanism on a 5 year old camera is bound to be more susceptible to damage. So, that is another compromise to factor in.

Regarding down converting etc, it's not much of a problem for me to edit these files using Premiere Pro CS5.5 on our new iMacs in native AVCHD, export in full quality overnight, then encode/burn to DVD the next day or night.

As it is, I'll trial this ridiculously cheap Sony Nex VG 10. The main problem I have with it is that there is no button/rocker for the zoom. Zoom is adjusted using the ring only. I can see problems ahead with close-ups. In addition, it's sensor provides very shallow depth of field: not ideal for shooting action on a stage or a pitch.

The positive here is that I bought it at a price below market value. I could resell, with luck, and acquire a different model. I like the look of the xa 10 to be honest...not widely available here at the minute, so hard to get at the right price.

By the way, I appreciate all the advice you have both provided at this stage. It's helped me work out a few things. Theres a steep learning curve when one begins dabbling in this kind of thing, and it's good to have experienced users around who are happy to share their wisdom.


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Ron BergeronRe: Best Cam for School Productions/Musicals/Events
by on Dec 23, 2011 at 12:22:45 am

Okay, I know this is an older thread and no one asked me for my 2 cents...

I shoot on mini-DV in HD (with a Canon XHA1 or Canon HV30) and if I don't need the project to be HD (which I don't always decide at the time of shooting) I just transfer the tape(s) as AVI's to my PC (typically Sony Vegas Pro since that NLE is fairly easy to use for intermediate videographers like me).

So if I want HD, I offload as HDV (a setting on the XHA1) and it transfers as m2t files. But if I want standard def (in 16:9) I just offload as DV and in fact Vegas asks me how I want to do it anyway. (BTW, transferring HD tapes using the Canon HV30 doesn't seem to allow for HD, and I haven't been able to figure that out, but that's another story.)

Now, I can't comment on assests done in 24p because I only shoot in the 1080i setting. I am not a "film producer" or worried about what the artsy community thinks. I shoot as if for TV or DVD final destination, even if the stuff ends up as a YouTube or Vimeo product. I keep things at 29.97 and concentrate on content more than artsy-ness. No offense. Maybe when I get that kind of a project, I'll worry about that.

Most of my stuff is events-oriented. Plays, local art and cultural events, music concerts, sports.

So, not sure what all the fuss is over shooting in HD and down-converting. I don't take any extra measures except transferring either in what I shot in (HDV 1080 60i which gives me an m2t file) or transferring as standard def (DV which goves me an AVI file).

BTW, I bought my Canon Vixia HV30 (uses mini-DV) used at B&H for $599 last year. I love it.

Ron
Star City Fame


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