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In search for my FIRST camera


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#1 Ramon Nunez

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Posted 13 April 2008 - 01:23 AM

Hi there. I am new to this forum site, and pretty much new to the cinematography field.

Being new and all, I don't know which kind of camera to buy or look into, so I'm here for help as to what kind of camera i should get as a beginner to test out, and get a good understanding of filming.

I would really appreciate responses.


Thank you for the time.
-Ramon
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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 13 April 2008 - 06:31 AM

It's difficult to help you unless people know how much you've got to spend.

From the point of view of learning, a camera that you can use manually will teach you a lot more than a fully automatic camera.
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#3 Nate Downes

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Posted 13 April 2008 - 07:13 AM

I can't tell you what you should get, but I can tell you what I got.

I learned using a Chinon 1206SM Super8 movie camera.

I also learned a lot from my Bell and Howell Filmo 70DL

Both great cameras, but the Chinon is nowhere near as solidly built as the Bell and Howell, and needs near constant maintenance to be kept in shooting strength.
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#4 Ramon Nunez

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 12:40 AM

thanks for the info guys.


i am willing to spend around 700-900 and maybe 1000 bucks on a camera .


i will check out the camera from the latest reply.

thanks bryan and nate.
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#5 Jon Furtado

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 01:36 AM

are you looking for film or video? Under 1000 is not much for either.
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#6 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 04:06 AM

I would actually recommend a 16mm camera, maybe a Bolex H16 or a Bell & Howell Filmo 70. You can pick 'em up for under a grand in excellent condition and film and processing are relatively cheap but they will teach you everything you need to learn about cinematography for now. If you're unsure about what you want to do, it's a good way to learn rather than the S8 route. It's possible, you may be able to sell some of your work if it's shot on 16, though, still much less likely than if it's shot on 35. With S8, unless you have the next Zapruder Film, there is virtually NO chance of ever selling your work. Should you want to go 35mm, which if you're unsure, I would probably recommend against simply because it so expensive, I'd go with a Konvas KSR-1 or an Eyemo which both can be purchased for under a grand and are good little MOS cameras. You won't lose money on any of these cameras should you decide film making isn't for you. I'd HIGHLY recommend avoiding video as a first camera even though it is the cheapest way to shoot, because it develops bad habits and if you do get serious, you're gonna want to learn film anyway and you'll never get what you paid for the camera after as little as 6 months. Just my 2 cents worth. B)
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#7 Michael Nash

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 09:21 AM

I'd HIGHLY recommend avoiding video as a first camera even though it is the cheapest way to shoot, because it develops bad habits and if you do get serious, you're gonna want to learn film anyway and you'll never get what you paid for the camera after as little as 6 months.


I'll throw in another point of view: Get a video camera AND a 35mm still camera. That's how I learned. You learn the basics of photography (exposure, focus, shutterspeed, film processing) with the still camera, and get to practice storytelling and filmmaking techniques with the video camera. What you learn from one helps infom the other.

Just because newer and better video cameras come out every year doesn't mean the "old" video cameras stop working! There are plenty of DVX100's still ticking away. It's an investment in the education, not the hardware.
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#8 Paul Bruening

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 11:33 AM

Steven's suggestion is good. I lean a little in favor of Michael's approach. I went both but I probably learned better with the video/SLR path. You can get some very fine Nikons and lenses off Ebay these days. You can also get low powered, high school grade microscopes off Ebay. The SLR negs are short enough where you won't mind studying them under the microscope. You can get to know how negatives work. I've still got the microscope I used when I first started processing B&W reversal.
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#9 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 12:10 PM

If I were to recommend a specific camera on your budget, I'd say go with the Canon HV20. it's almost a grand. Get a 35mm adaptor from Letus for it when you have some extra cash, then, invest in a mattebox and filters and you'll have as close to a "film" set up as you'll be able to afford. If you can learn all the film techniques with filters and 35mm lenses on HD, you'll have an easier time lighting on film cause your margin for error is greater. Keep in mind though that while the margin for error in exposure is greater on film, the margin for error with color temperatures is smaller. Film sees every little degree warmer, cooler, greener, etc. So you really need to keep an eye on your sources. HD is more forgiving that way. At some point pick up a temp meter. But to just start out, go with the HV20. It's not going to teach you much about proper shooting without the adaptor but you can always practice lighting in the meantime. Key point, keep the iris wide open at all times and use ND filters and adjust lighting to get the right exposure. Don't close down the iris. This is one important thing separating film style shooting from video and event shooting. DP's adjust the lighting and elements to suit their aperture. Videographers adjust their aperture to their environment.
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#10 Nate Downes

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 03:59 PM

If I were to recommend a specific camera on your budget, I'd say go with the Canon HV20.


I would 100% disagree with this. The HV20 does not have full manual control capability, which means he will not learn with it. He can make decent looking results, sure, but when he has to move to a higher-end piece of equipment, he won't know anything about how the systems work. Going for a consumer camera like the HV20 is a surefire way to teach bad habits and will not give him the skill set needed for professional work later on in his career. I speak from experience here.
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#11 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 14 April 2008 - 04:12 PM

I think you missed the point. I'm saying that any video camera isn't much good to learn filmmaking on without an adaptor and as long as you have an adaptor on, the camera is more or less just a recording deck anyway. The HV20 as a docked recording device in combination with a letus35 is a pretty sweet start package and he'll learn more about filmmaking with a camera package that's complete with lenses and a mattebox. That's going to be way over budget with any other type of camera.

I'm not suggesting taking the HV20 and trying to shoot just with that but you can as long as you keep the iris in manual and use ND filters to take the light down. However, the HV20 alone will be nothing more than a basic acquisition tool to learn lighting with once you rate it. It won't be good for actual production. but as long as it has manual focus and manual iris controls, that's really all you need to attach it to a Letus35. I know that they make one specifically for this camera.

Edited by Michael LaVoie, 14 April 2008 - 04:13 PM.

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#12 Ramon Nunez

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 12:07 AM

wow. im getting great responses

i will look into all these cameras, especially the Canon HV20. thanks a lot!. haha.
gotta get started in my cinematography career.
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#13 Andrew Koch

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 04:18 AM

I am going to have to disagree as well about the HV20. In my opinion, there is a discipline to shooting film that can get lost with digital when you are starting out. The problem with the camera is that even with an adapter, you are still determining your exposure by looking at a monitor or viewfinder and adjusting it until you think it looks good. This will not help you develop an understanding for exposure in terms of using a lightmeter, contrast ratios, dynamic range. With film you cannot rely on the monitor, you must learn to previsualize and develop an eye for seeing as film sees.

You can use a lightmeter for video, but the video responds differently than film and it is not an exact correlation. I think starting out with video can make it harder to learn film later down the line. By starting out with film and learning the principles of photography, you will develop a stronger understanding of image control and exposure and you can apply these techniques to digital as well (with some changes of course).

If you know how to expose film, it is true that color negative film is more forgiving than digital. This is because it has more latitude. This is why I recommend getting a 35mm fully manual SLR still camera (for a couple hundred bucks with lens) and shoot with black and white reversal (Slide Film). Get an incident lightmeter (you can get the sekonic studio deluxe II for about $100, fully manual). And get a slide projector from ebay for about $100. The reason I recommend B&W Slide film is because it is very unforgiving. You have to nail your exposure to get a usable image. The lab doesn't make any corrections to these slide films so if you make a mistake you will know and learn from it. B&W is helpful because you can develop an eye for different levels of brightness and how they are rendered without color adding to the confusion. Then when you master this, try shooting with some color slide film. It is also good that they are slides because you will see your work projected large like a theatrical movie. This will make it much easier to identify focus errors. It is amazing to me how something can look sharp on a monitor, but when projected can be pretty soft.

If you can master this, you will be much better at understanding photography. This setup is also pretty cheap, we're talking about 400 bucks total. The HV20 with the adapter, lenses, follow focus, mattebox, filters, etc. is going to cost WAY more than what you have a budget for and I personally don't think it would be worth the money. In addition to a still camera, you would still have enough money left over to get a cheap video camera to practice composition, movement, whatever you can't learn from a still camera, etc...

I am not giving you this advice to promote film as a superior medium. Digital and film are tools and both can be useful for different applications. It wouldn't make sense to shoot COPS on 65mm any more than it would make sense to shoot Lawrence of Arabia on miniDV. Perhaps that analogy is not quite appropriate, but I digress. What I am trying to say is that when you start out, it is important to develop a discipline and to be methodical about what you do. When you reach a certain level of success as a cinematographer, you will be working with fairly high end cameras. Film cameras have always been pretty much the same: a box with a lens that moves film through it. Video is not so simple. Until very recently, video has been designed for soaps, news, sports etc... so the cameras were not really meant to have any correlation to film style shooting. Now with 24P HiDef people are shooting feature films on video. The initial problem with this was that these new cameras were still basically ENG cameras which made it difficult for them to fit into the world of movie making. But now, camera companies are coming out with high end digital cameras based on the principles of traditional cinestyle shooting. Developers are continually trying to make these cameras look and behave like film. These cameras may not look like film, but they more closely resemble a film camera than a consumer HD camera.
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#14 Michael LaVoie

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 08:42 AM

Because of the reduced exposure latitude of HD, the HV20 will be more difficult to light for and if you can learn exposure values and contrast ratios with HD, you'll in fact, have an easier time transitioning to film where your margin for error is greater. I am not alone in this opinion. Pick up a copy of Personal Velocity and listen to Ellen Kuras's commentary track where she also states that MiniDV is in fact harder to shoot than film for this very reason. As the formats decrease in quality, the difficulty increases. HD is sort of a middle ground but it's still more difficult to make it look good than film. You have to be really incompetent to screw up film as it's got 4 up and 4 down and even when it's really over or under, it's still interesting.

The advantage you'll have in seeing your results immediately on HD with a monitor is also key. It's not the crutch some folks might assert it to be, however in terms of learning a useful skill set that you can apply to film, you must rate the camera and meter your lights. The same way you would with film. Whether youre using film or video, your eye is always there and you must learn to really see light and it's values, quality, quantity, color etc. Every once in a while, when you feel more comfortable, try lighting with just your eye and your meter and then plug in monitor and see how well you did.
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#15 Andrew Koch

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Posted 15 April 2008 - 01:33 PM

It is true that digital is harder to shoot than film, but this only applies to color negative. The thing about slide film or even reversal motion picture film is that it has even LESS latitude than HD. It is much more difficult to expose B&W reversal/slide film than our current array of HD cameras.

In response to using a lightmeter, it is true that you can use a lightmeter with video. You need to know what the ISO of your camera is in order to do this. The problem is that there are many variables that affect the sensitivity of the camera: Gain, Whitebalance, and even changes in lighting can affect these consumer cameras. Changes in lighting are not supposed to affect the speed of your camera when in manual but for some reason they do. In order to properly rate your camera you need to have a waveform monitor and an 18% grey card. And then there is a process that I won't go into at this time about how to come up with your speed.
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