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Digital Still Camera recommendations


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#1 Michael Nash

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Posted 05 July 2007 - 10:30 PM

I tried a search but it only turned up some two-year-old information.

I just finished gaffing/2nd unit DP'ing a 35mm feature where the DP used his Canon 20D still camera exclusively as a light meter. Since there were a lot of low-light night scenes with a lot of black in the frame, taking stills of the whole scene proved much faster than physically metering each pool of light and figuring an exposure for the scene.

Now I'm looking to pick up a stills camera for the same purpose, but I'd rather not spend a bundle if I don't have to. I don't need a super high pixel count, or all the bells and whistles.

What's a good entry-level DSLR that will give me adequate manual controls to simulate the f-stops, ASA's and shutterspeeds used in motion pictures (or a least get me close)? Or would I be better off with a slightly higher-end model?
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#2 Chris Keth

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Posted 05 July 2007 - 10:33 PM

I tried a search but it only turned up some two-year-old information.

I just finished gaffing/2nd unit DP'ing a 35mm feature where the DP used his Canon 20D still camera exclusively as a light meter. Since there were a lot of low-light night scenes with a lot of black in the frame, taking stills of the whole scene proved much faster than physically metering each pool of light and figuring an exposure for the scene.

Now I'm looking to pick up a stills camera for the same purpose, but I'd rather not spend a bundle if I don't have to. I don't need a super high pixel count, or all the bells and whistles.

What's a good entry-level DSLR that will give me adequate manual controls to simulate the f-stops, ASA's and shutterspeeds used in motion pictures (or a least get me close)? Or would I be better off with a slightly higher-end model?


I think you would probably be better off with a higher end model. The good news is that DSLRs are good enough now that a couple year-old camera will suit you fine. I think you could find a used 20D very reasonably.
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#3 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 05 July 2007 - 10:49 PM

I just bought my first DSLR today, a Nikon D40X. It's sort of stripped down (and lighter) compared to the higher end DSLR's. We'll see how well it works as a preview device...
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#4 Evan Winter

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Posted 06 July 2007 - 01:33 AM

David,

I think you'll be very pleased with the results. I use a Sony Alpha and I am constantly surprised in transfer by the camera's accuracy in depicting the scene. I'm a firm firm believer in the DSLR-as-previs-tool.

Michael, there was a decent discussion about DSLRs as previs not too long ago. You can probably bring it up through the search and there was some pretty good info on different cameras etc.

Although I have the Sony Alpha and I'm pleased with the purchase I believe that Nikon's similar level models (40x being one of them) are superior. I believe this based on specs rather than use so take that with a grain of salt.

All the best,

Evan
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#5 Mike Williamson

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Posted 06 July 2007 - 03:45 AM

Hey Michael, here are the things I looked at before getting a DSLR last year.

1) If you have a bunch of sweet lenses from an older film SLR, I'd stick with that brand so that I could continue to use them.
2) If not, get a Canon.

I got a Canon because they're is only company making a full frame sensor right now, which I hope to get in the next couple years as the price drops on future models (fingers crossed). They've also got wider range of lenses than Nikon, especially fast primes.

I got a Digital Rebel XT because it has the same size sensor as the 20D and 30D and was several hundred bucks cheaper, what you lose is basically features that make the camera more comfortable to use. I'd get the 5D if I could afford it (because it's full frame), but I don't have $2500. Also, getting the cheaper camera let me put more money into lenses.

I use the camera for my side photo projects and also for getting stills on set, I'd be comfortable using it as a meter if I had to. On HD projects I can take a still, run over to the monitor and check my still against the HD image, then tweak the ASA and shutter speed on the Canon until I get things matching. I'm not sure I'd trust the toe and shoulder of the dynamic range on a film shoot (highlights blow out faster, blacks probably similar) but it gives you the feel of the image pretty accurately.

I also use the camera for shooting stills in pre-production as a way to talk with the director about "look". You can throw the stills into some color correction software (I'm using Lightroom but Photoshop would work equally well) and try out different ideas, black levels, saturation, etc.

So that's my two cents. David, I'm curious why you went with a Nikon? You should chime back in and balance out my chearleading.

Here's a link to site with some good info on the subject: photo.net. Look at the links in the upper left corner of the main page for info on buying a DSLR.
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#6 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 06 July 2007 - 09:29 AM

I come from a Nikon family, so to speak, and my old 52mm filters will fit on the Nikon lenses, etc.

And I read some reviews comparing the Canon Rebel XTi to the Nikon D40X and most leaned in favor of the Nikon for picture quality.
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#7 Chris Fernando

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Posted 06 July 2007 - 09:51 AM

I was at Capitol Reef NP in Utah shooting some 4x5 recently. One morning I got the camera set up, got my composition lined up, got my focus and I reched for my spot meter that wasn't there - left it back at the motel. So, I figured, 'What the hell?' I grabbed my Nikon D70S and plugged in all the relevant info (shutter speed, ASA) and used that as my spot meter. Exposure was dead-on.

FWIW, I've been completely satisfied with the D70S. I wish fast lenses were a bit cheaper, but that's not the camera's fault. The backwards compatibility of Nikon gear has always been nice and you can find some decent older lenses to mess around with.
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#8 Stuart Brereton

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Posted 06 July 2007 - 09:54 AM

I've had a Canon 10D for a couple of years now, and been very happy with it. They're discontinued, but eBay should have a fair selection.
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#9 Tom Lowe

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Posted 06 July 2007 - 10:02 AM

I use the Canon Rebel XT (350D) and I love it.
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#10 Patrick Neary

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Posted 06 July 2007 - 10:28 AM

I got a Canon because they're is only company making a full frame sensor right now, which I hope to get in the next couple years as the price drops on future models (fingers crossed). They've also got wider range of lenses than Nikon, especially fast primes.


Hi-

The nice thing about NOT having the full-frame sensor though is that the smaller sensors (like the digital rebels) correspond very closely to a super-35 frame (and close enough to academy) that you can use the camera as a director's viewfinder as well. It's the best all-purpose dp tool out there!
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#11 Dan Salzmann

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Posted 06 July 2007 - 06:06 PM

Are Nikon AIS lenses usable on any of their DSLRS? Of course there would only be manual focus.
I've got a set of fast ones that I use on my Eyemos.
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