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Doc director wants small camera, high quality images...


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#1 John Harrison

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Posted 22 June 2008 - 11:54 AM

Hello, I am beginning discussions with an experienced TV director who wants to step out of the TV world and into the world of small-budget, indie documentary filmmaking. He contacted me recently to get some advice on which camera he should use for his first project. He would like to do the majority of the shooting himself, but has very, very limited shooting experience. However, thanks to his lengthy exposure to television production, he has seen and been surrounded by various video technologies and has a good eye. He has around $6000 to spend on his camera, and wants to get the highest quality image possible for his doc.

So, to sum it up: he has $6000, wants high quality images, wants something that is small and lightweight, and would like to shoot much of the doc himself, even with his very limited shooting experience (probably not a good idea...)

Anybody have any advice? I was going to recommend the HVX200, as it is the camera that I have used the most that fits in his price range and, I think, would be easy (enough) for him to use. However, he will be conducting interviews and will be hindered by the p2 card's limited recording time, especially since I don't get the impression that he is tech-savvy enough to be able to download the footage to his laptop quickly and with confidence.

Does this situation strike a chord with anyone? Any thoughts?

Thanks so much,

John
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#2 Freya Black

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Posted 22 June 2008 - 01:06 PM

P2 seems like a really, really bad fit for a documentary filmmaker. He could of course just use the DV tapes but then he could also just buy a DVX100B.

One possibility in the world of HiDef seems like it could be the Canon XH-A1 which is a nice camera that takes DV tapes and records in HDV. It also has some kind of cine gamma thing going on and a 24F mode that is supposed to be sort of progressive. The pictures are kind of nice in a high definition video kind of way and I like the lens on it.

Other cameras might be the Sony Z1 or V1 or whatever it is. This also takes DV tapes for HDV recording.

There is also that nice JVC but I'm not sure if it is in the price range but it might be worth a look at. I think it's a little larger too tho.

I think HDV is going to be the best solution for this if you really want to go hi-def.

He might also want to consider getting a high quality microphone for whatever camera. I guess it depends on how bad the onboard sound is.

Hope that helps a little, the world of hi-def video is quite a difficult one right now that seems to be full of decisions and compromises but for a documentary filmmaker it does seem a little more clear cut and I would suggest that HDV is the way to go.

love

Freya
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#3 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 22 June 2008 - 01:22 PM

The Z1 has become the favoured HDV camera on many documentary shoots (I know of one documenrary cameraman who swears by it), although the Canon XH-A1 is a good option. The JVC HD 200 or the HD 100 is nicer for shooting a lot of hand held, but I suspect it's too expensive and it's progressive, which might be an issue.
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#4 Freya Black

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Posted 22 June 2008 - 02:58 PM

The Z1 has become the favoured HDV camera on many documentary shoots (I know of one documenrary cameraman who swears by it), although the Canon XH-A1 is a good option. The JVC HD 200 or the HD 100 is nicer for shooting a lot of hand held, but I suspect it's too expensive and it's progressive, which might be an issue.


Thanks Brian! You did a lot better job than me of remembering the names of stuff (and you understood what I was trying to say when I said that JVC thingy, and I especially like people who can understand what I'm going on about when I'm not making a lot of sense!) :)

Why might progressive be an issue? Is it because documentary people might want more of a traditional video look or to do with capturing fast moving subjects?

I've even heard of the Z1 being used for some fairly serious narrative shoots too, so it's definitely a camera with some respect! Sadly I've never got near enough to one to make my own mind up.
I'd like to know more about it and see more footage from the thing.

love

Freya
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#5 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 22 June 2008 - 04:02 PM

Before anyone makes the choice for a camera, he/she should put a lot of thought into what the project is meant to accomplish and where it will be shown. How will the final product be shown? If you're talking about festivals or networks, then what are the delivery requirements for those?

The final delivery requirements almost have to drive the choice of what to acquire images on. For instance, Discovery HD requires that a certain percentage of the original material be acquired at minimum HD/compression ratios.

So instead of wondering what camera to PURCHASE based on the budget, it's better to think through the entire process and figure out how to make it with those parameters in mind. A brilliant project acquired in shi@@y compressed standard def is useless if the outlet refused to even look at it because of the format.

Start at the end-goal first and work backward from there.


Just my .02 cents.
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#6 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 22 June 2008 - 04:43 PM

Thanks Brian! You did a lot better job than me of remembering the names of stuff (and you understood what I was trying to say when I said that JVC thingy, and I especially like people who can understand what I'm going on about when I'm not making a lot of sense!) :)

Why might progressive be an issue? Is it because documentary people might want more of a traditional video look or to do with capturing fast moving subjects?

I've even heard of the Z1 being used for some fairly serious narrative shoots too, so it's definitely a camera with some respect! Sadly I've never got near enough to one to make my own mind up.
I'd like to know more about it and see more footage from the thing.

love

Freya


I don't think progressive is an issue for many productions, since quite a few de-interlace anyway for a "film look". Perhaps the post workflow for the JVC should be thought about, although that seems to less of an issue these days, more making sure your editing system can handle the HDV 1. It really depends on the look you want - interlace or progressive. Although with the Canon A1 you do have that "F" option.

The Z1 is worth having a play with. Personally, I don't like the aperture ramp on the lens and huge number of buttons plastered all over it. An EX3 type V/F accessory would be neat for the LCD.

The planned market should be thought about. Although, you're not going to be able to buy a camera suitable for the high end HD channel guidelines in this budget range. This sounds more like a director doing his own thing, rather than anything for a particular broadcaster.

As a point of interest, I gather Discovery now have 3 HD standards: Bronze - HDV, HVX 200, Silver - EX1 etc and Gold - the high end 2/3" HD cameras.
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#7 John Harrison

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Posted 22 June 2008 - 05:46 PM

Thanks for all your responses...here are a few more notes:

--the director hopes to screen the doc in film festivals, and most of the festivals he's looking at would accept HDCAM and some would require DigiBeta; no film-out required from the sound of it, though I suppose most directors are tempted to submit to Cannes...So in this case, if I were to recommend an HDV camera, does anybody have any experience shooting HDV and finishing to HDCAM? Any thoughts on how it will look projected?

--the director would like it to look as film-like as possible...I am still a bit confused about progressive versus interlaced when it comes to the "film loook." Any thoughts on one versus the other?

--finally, one of the characters in the doc is a trapeze artist (!) so I imagine there will be some high-flying, quick-moving action to cover. Should this affect the decision made regarding interlaced vs. progressive capture?

Again, thanks so much. Your thoughts and advice have been very helpful.

John
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#8 John Sprung

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Posted 23 June 2008 - 05:54 PM

So, to sum it up: he has $6000, wants high quality images, wants something that is small and lightweight, and would like to shoot much of the doc himself, ....

At that price, I'd look very carefully at the Sony XDCam EX-1. The more expensive optical disc XDCam's are used a lot for TV news, I met a guy who shoots for "60 Minutes" using them. The EX-1 looks like about as good as you can get at that price, and it gives you 50 to 70 minutes on one SxS memory card.

Progressive is the right way to go on this.



-- J.S.
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#9 Douglas Hunter

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Posted 23 June 2008 - 08:24 PM

I've done a number of micro budget docs on film and video. Brian is on the right track, you need to consider all the variables prior to making a camera decision.

1) The full workflow from production to final delivery. If its not being produced for a specific outlet then he needs a work flow and acquisition methodology that translates well into various different formats such as festivals, network, cable, internet etc.

2) The aesthetics that the director wants to achieve with the project. even Run-N-gun shoots should look like something!

3) Pragmatics of the shooting schedule. How many days of shooting extended over how much total time.

4) The entire budget, not just the camera department's budget. On micro budget projects the financial demands of every aspect of production compete with all the others. For micro budget projects buying a camera may or may not be a good idea. It's possible for the camera purchase to cost significantly more than a rental would there by robbing other departments of funding they could have really used. Consider that its often the case that low budget shoots need a lot of post work on both the image and the audio due to the shooting conditions. terrible lighting, off-mic dialogue, poor camera work, etc you name it.
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#10 Gus Sacks

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Posted 23 June 2008 - 09:08 PM

The EX-1 is an even worse workflow nightmare than the HVX200 w/the P2 system.

I'd recommend the JVC100, or the HV20 *possibly strangely enough.
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#11 Saul Rodgar

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Posted 23 June 2008 - 10:31 PM

If he can wait I would suggest Panasonic's HMC 150

Edited by Saul Rodgar, 23 June 2008 - 10:32 PM.

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#12 Peter Moretti

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Posted 23 June 2008 - 11:29 PM

The Canon XH-A1 is an amazing camera for the $. I think it beats the Sony, except for the Sony's LCD screeen. I'd get an A1 and save the other $3K for other stuff.
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#13 Nate Downes

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 08:43 AM

As a point of interest, I gather Discovery now have 3 HD standards: Bronze - HDV, HVX 200, Silver - EX1 etc and Gold - the high end 2/3" HD cameras.

EX1 is not a higher quality than the HVX200, so I'm fairly confident that you are slightly off target.

When I delt with Discovery, HDV was inadmissable, period. 4:2:2 (HVX200/EX1) was the bare minimum they'd take. This was 2 years back of course, and things might have changed, but I remember this one FX1 director throwing a fit because his footage on HDV was inadmissable.
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#14 Matthew Rogers

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 09:12 AM

EX1 is not a higher quality than the HVX200, so I'm fairly confident that you are slightly off target.

When I delt with Discovery, HDV was inadmissable, period. 4:2:2 (HVX200/EX1) was the bare minimum they'd take. This was 2 years back of course, and things might have changed, but I remember this one FX1 director throwing a fit because his footage on HDV was inadmissable.


Why would the EX1 not be higher quality? It's native 1920x1080P with a 1/2" sensor. The HVX is a 3+" year old 960x720 1/3" sensor that uses pixel shifting technology to not even get full 720P. Yes, you get 4:2:2, but I think the resolution gain alone will provide a better picture considering EX1's 4:2:0. I would say if you shot the same exact thing, the difference you could tell each other from would not be the color--it would be sharpness. The biggest question I would have, is "what are you shooting?!" If you are shooting mostly greenscreen then you probably should be shooting on a bigger camera any way. If you are shooting interviews, landscapes, etc. then the EX1 should look much better then the HVX. I know personally that I have gotten much sharper, and better color out of my JVC 110U (HDV 6 frame GOP) camera then I have on a HVX. That said, much of what you can pull out of a camera depends on the operator and a TON on your editor/colorist.

Matthew
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#15 Nate Downes

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 09:19 AM

Why would the EX1 not be higher quality? It's native 1920x1080P with a 1/2" sensor. The HVX is a 3+" year old 960x720 1/3" sensor that uses pixel shifting technology to not even get full 720P. Yes, you get 4:2:2, but I think the resolution gain alone will provide a better picture considering EX1's 4:2:0. I would say if you shot the same exact thing, the difference you could tell each other from would not be the color--it would be sharpness. The biggest question I would have, is "what are you shooting?!" If you are shooting mostly greenscreen then you probably should be shooting on a bigger camera any way. If you are shooting interviews, landscapes, etc. then the EX1 should look much better then the HVX. I know personally that I have gotten much sharper, and better color out of my JVC 110U (HDV 6 frame GOP) camera then I have on a HVX. That said, much of what you can pull out of a camera depends on the operator and a TON on your editor/colorist.

Matthew

I've shot with both. I did not find that the EX1 was delivering a higher-quality product. The extra pixels are wasted with the compression used, giving you almost identical results in my experience.

And we were discussing what the Discovery channel was looking for, and last time I checked, 4:2:2 was minimum, but that was a few years back.

Have not used the JVC HD cameras, so cannot comment there.

Edited by Nate Downes, 25 June 2008 - 09:21 AM.

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#16 John Sprung

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 08:01 PM

Why would the EX1 not be higher quality? It's native 1920x1080P with a 1/2" sensor.

The Sony literature doesn't say that it's really 1920 x 1080 photosites. The term they use is "effective pixels". I'm kinda wondering what that really means. It's a question I'll ask at VTP tomorrow, they're doing a presentation on the new EX-3, which I understand is basically the same chip, but in a new body with interchangeable lenses.





-- J.S.
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#17 Nate Downes

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 08:13 PM

The Sony literature doesn't say that it's really 1920 x 1080 photosites. The term they use is "effective pixels". I'm kinda wondering what that really means. It's a question I'll ask at VTP tomorrow, they're doing a presentation on the new EX-3, which I understand is basically the same chip, but in a new body with interchangeable lenses.





-- J.S.

Now that I'd be interested in. The EX1 was a nice camera, but the included lens is so... flat.
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#18 Andrew McCarrick

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Posted 05 July 2008 - 04:55 PM

Anybody have any advice? I was going to recommend the HVX200, as it is the camera that I have used the most that fits in his price range and, I think, would be easy (enough) for him to use. However, he will be conducting interviews and will be hindered by the p2 card's limited recording time, especially since I don't get the impression that he is tech-savvy enough to be able to download the footage to his laptop quickly and with confidence.


With two Panasonic 32GB cards you would get equivalent record times to a MiniDV tape - 64 minutes on P2 and about 63 on MiniDV/HDV Tape.

Camera + two 32GB cards would run.

$6800 + $1530 = $8330 (a little higher than intended but you get 80 minutes of record time)

http://www.spec-comm...products_id=733

http://www.spec-comm...products_id=153

So with that camera package and P2 Card... you get 80 minutes of record time in 1080p/i and you only have to switch out a P2 once during the whole thing. You could get over 3 hours if shooting at 720/24pN.

(And if you need more than 80 minutes, start with the 16GB card and a 32GB card, then you can take out the 16GB and offload that while the two 32GB are in use.)

Edited by Andrew McCarrick, 05 July 2008 - 04:57 PM.

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#19 John Harrison

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Posted 05 July 2008 - 08:54 PM

Thanks for all of your responses. He ended up choosing to purchase the Z1. I haven't had a chance to see it yet but am anxious to try it out. Thanks again, I really appreciate your input.
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#20 Corey Steib

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 03:38 AM

Thanks for all of your responses. He ended up choosing to purchase the Z1. I haven't had a chance to see it yet but am anxious to try it out. Thanks again, I really appreciate your input.



Hey John,

How are you doing, I know I am a bit late in the topic but I would go with Progressive scan because I lot of people don't know the difference and the difference is that Interlace scans the image 2 times and so when you dump it you lose information, color and a few other things. But with progressive it does one full scan and you DO NOT lose any information what so ever. So no matter if you are shooting for video or film progressive is the way to go. I have the JVC HD 100 and I just shot a music video in 720p at 24p and it came out great and the color was great. The Z1 is a great camera don't get me wrong but it depends on the operator.
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