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FIRST-TIME CAMERA...


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#1 Dax McKeever

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Posted 03 May 2008 - 11:23 PM

Hi, me again, seeking wise men's advice.

I've narrowed my options of career entry:
1 - buy my own camera and do it myself,
2 - find internship/aprenticeship to learn from experienced
3 - apply for MA, MFA film schools to learn fine details

Of course, I'm taking it one step at a time. I believe i've been recommended for
a first-time camera to consider PANASONIC HDV, I think? My website friend
Logan suggested that, I think. Of course because it will be my first, it sounds
ideal to find a low-budget investment (used, maybe) to learn from and rise higher
with time & experience.
Once I have an idea of what camera to seek, maybe I can also seek advice for
used or less-than full price offers? freelance websites, other?
Any other recommendations for first-time cameras? I am planning to use toward
documentary filmmaking, if this make a difference in camera choices?

Ciao, gracias mas temprano...thanks in advance

Dax
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#2 Brian Rose

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 11:26 PM

Dax:

There are so many pathways to becoming a DP, and you're at a stage where you don't necessarily have to choose one to the exclusion of the rest. I'm an MFA student right now, I've been shooting in earnest now for, oh, four years roughly. I started off first by borrowing equipment...shooting on my parent's camcorder, or an old super 8 I got from an aunt. Super 8's an excellent route, because the film is cheap and easy to work with, and if you look in the right place, a camera can be had for a pittance. 35mm still is also a great way to learn about exposure and composition. I swear by the Pentax K1000. It's a staple for students, gives you total control over how the image is exposed, and will run you only a hundred bucks or so.

Plus, film is a great learning experience. I'm not gonna touch the whole film vs. digital thing, except to say that I love working with both. But I think as a teaching tool, film has an advantage over digital in that because each roll is so short, and you can't tape over your mistakes, it forces you to consider your shots with greater care and precision. It's a good habit to pick up, and carry over to digital, if and when you decide to go that route. That and the camera technology hasn't changed much and is a good investment, whereas if you're not careful, you could get burned with a digital camera that quickly depreciates when the next new model comes out.

But I don't want to digress. Getting back to point now: getting your own equipment is definitely a plus, because you learn how to care for it, you get a lot of time to work with it and gain experience, and you gain an edge when vying for work. Directors always love DPs who can bring their own equipment. It's gotten me more than a few DP gigs here at school.

Onto your second point. Internships are definitely great ways to make inroads and build connections. I myself haven't done this yet, but based on anecdotal evidence, it is a great path to take. However, you have to be prepared to do a lot of menial work. You won't get to do much on the first outing. It is more of an opportunity to soak in the atmosphere. If you want to be a DP, it is a good route, but slow, as you work your way up. They reward good, hard work, but you have to be patient.

Which comes to the third route: Film School. I'm in school right now, and loving it. At a good school, you'll get access to equipment you likely wouldn't be able to afford on your own, or allowed to use as an intern. It's a great collaborative environment, and a way to build a portfolio. It's also nice having the power of a DP, rather than an intern. And if one of your films hits it big in a festival, you're off! But until you reach that point, the pay will likely stink, and the work will be hard. Eight hour days are pretty normal when I'm on a shoot, and the more experienced DPs here have surely worked longer than that. Be ready for that. School can also be expensive, depending on the program. I'm at SIUC, and here they fund everyone for three years, so I'll leave debt free. But that is largely the exception, and the major decision you'll have to make is: am I better off using this money for school, or using it to buy equipment, or using it as a nest egg, so I have money to live off of inbetween projects?

So all three paths are good ones, and need not be mutually exclusive. I started off by buying my own, and the work I made with it helped me get into a great film program with excellent financial support..so the money spent on the cameras basically paid off in what I saved on tuition. After I graduate I plan on setting up in Austin, and shooting student/indie films there. But interning remains a definite possiblity. So if I had to pick one of those options, I'd say, definitely: yes!

Hope this has helped!
Best,
BR
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#3 Brian Rose

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 11:45 PM

Sorry, but I realized I didn't address your question regarding cameras. Others might disagree with me, but I would wait on getting DV just yet. I did a lot of research on it, and debated investing in an HD camera for my thesis film. I eventually ruled it out because.

1) Format. Most consumer level HD cameras record to a format called HDV, which compresses 720 or 1080 footage onto a miniDV cassette using the MPEG2 codec. This codec works by creating a key frame, followed by fourteen frames of slightly lower quality, to save space. But if something happens to that key frame, you loose the subsequent fourteen. So if you experience a drop out, it is not just a frame, but a half second! Not to mention, if you're working with HD, you probably want uncompressed, to give you the most freedom in terms of output.

2)Future prospects. There is doubt (at least in my mind) as to whether the tape format will survive much longer. A lot of cameras use Firestore, to capture uncompressed HD, while others are beginning to switch over to solid state storage, which promises to revolutionize post production (no more real time capture!). Unfortunately, this technology is still pretty expensive. Panasonic has a camera that records on solid state, and each card will run you 700 or 800 bucks...and can only hold roughly 20 minutes of 1080 footage!

3) Hidden costs. Say you shoot on solid state. You'll need a computer set up, whether it's in studio, or on location, to capture the footage, so you can wipe the card, and resuse it. This adds money. Regardless of whether you use solid state, or consumer grade HDV, you'll need to have a system capable of handling the HD footage. That entails a hard drive space of at 500 gig or 1 TB, as well as a quad core system with a good four gig of RAM. Not to mention editing software capable of handling and exporting the HD footage. That all adds up quickly.

4) Output. And at the end of the day, you'll still have to down convert your footage to SD....unless you buy a blu-ray burner, and a blue ray player, and either an HD TV, or HD projector. Or you can reverse telecine the footage to film...which will cost you an arm and a leg, as well as your first born. If none of these options are available, you'll have to compress to SD, which kind of moots the point of shooting HD to begin with.

I'm of the opinion that if you're looking to buy, you should assume a holding pattern. See if you have any friends or connections that might give you access to an HD camera. In the mean time, buy a nice, cheap miniDV to play with, or like I said earlier, a super 8 camera.

But that is my opinion, and hopefully some of the others will chime in, because I'm sure there are those who would disagree with me, or have more to add.

Best,
BR
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#4 Nate Downes

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 06:22 AM

I would fully agree on buying a Super8 and a 35mm SLR still camera as being some of the best learning tools available to you.

Incidentally, Panasonic does not MAKE an HDV camera. They do make an AVC/HD camera and a camera that records to solid state memory, but nothing recording to HDV.

So, my recommendation, buy a Super8 camera with manual control, such as a Canon 814 or Chinon 1206, get a light meter, buy an SLR like the K1000 (my SLR of choice incidentally) and have at it.
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#5 Brian Rose

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 07:36 AM

Thanks for fixing the oversight. It's easy to forget each company has its own format (miniDV, DVCam, DVC-Pro anyone?). Makes you wish they could all settle on one...

Thanks again!

BR
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