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Good starter camera to buy?


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#1 Erica Edwards

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Posted 01 April 2010 - 07:53 PM

I graduated last year from my degree in film-making and the main focus of my work at university was cinematography. I'm looking to buy my first own camera but there are so many to choose from, I don't know where to start. All I know is that I'm looking for a HDV camera and, with the wide variety out there, review sites are becoming confusing so I'm hoping to get some personal recommendations.

My budget is about £3,000 but I can go a bit higher if need be. I'm going to start off using it to shoot music videos for bands who need them (as it is the music video industry I'm hoping to eventually work in) and hopefully the low-budget feature written by my partner-in-crime if we manage to get some money for it. I'm really just looking for a good, all-round camera to get me started off.

If anybody has any recommendations I would be most grateful! I've probably forgotten to add something so if you need to know more about my requirements please let me know :)
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#2 Ben Syverson

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Posted 01 April 2010 - 11:08 PM

My advice is to get a Canon 550D and use the rest of the money to actually make a short. People get so caught up in gear expenses. The world is full of Starbucks employees with £3000 cameras but no time or money to shoot anything.

Once you start getting paying work, or investors for a feature, you'll be renting cameras, not using a consumer HDV camcorder. So get a camera that's cheap, will let you shoot some demos and shorts, and has multiple uses (it takes pretty good stills!).

And hey, however ill-advised, people are shooting features on these things. Lena Durham's "Tiny Furniture" recently made a splash at SXSW, and it was shot on a 7D -- which is essentially identical to the 550D when it comes to video.
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#3 Erica Edwards

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Posted 02 April 2010 - 03:37 PM

My advice is to get a Canon 550D and use the rest of the money to actually make a short. People get so caught up in gear expenses. The world is full of Starbucks employees with £3000 cameras but no time or money to shoot anything.

Once you start getting paying work, or investors for a feature, you'll be renting cameras, not using a consumer HDV camcorder. So get a camera that's cheap, will let you shoot some demos and shorts, and has multiple uses (it takes pretty good stills!).

And hey, however ill-advised, people are shooting features on these things. Lena Durham's "Tiny Furniture" recently made a splash at SXSW, and it was shot on a 7D -- which is essentially identical to the 550D when it comes to video.


Thanks for your advice! I am planning to buy a DSLR at some point during the year anyway but I am really very keen to have my own camera so that I have something to work with when I make videos for bands who will have little to no budget. In addition, the money I have is not really available to me to be used as a budget for a project, it's been invested in me to buy a camera with so that's what I need to do. I'm very grateful to you for taking the time to reply :) The trailer for Tiny Furniture looks great, I had no idea such images could be achieved using the video function on a DSLR!

I have been thinking about the Canon XH-A1S which seems like a nice piece of kit for the price. Although it's slightly over my budget, I'm also looking at the Canon XL H1A, and while I could probably push my budget to get it, I would like to know if it's worth me spending the extra on it. The interchangeable lens option is tempting, even though I won't be able to buy spare lenses for a while it would be nice to have the option of doing so in the future. I've also looked at the Letus35 device for the XH-A1S as I already have a few nice Canon lenses for my 35mm SLR that it would be nice to make use of. If anyone has any thoughts/opinions on either of these cameras or can recommend anything else that would be fantastic.

Thanks!
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#4 Ben Syverson

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Posted 02 April 2010 - 04:55 PM

My guess is that DSLRs will spell the end for DOF adapters like the Letus... It's hard to imagine people continuing to pay $1000 and up for adapters when a $800 Canon will get the same "look" without the weight, bulk and hassle. The DSLRs are not as sharp as dedicated video cameras, but the success of adapters have already shown that DOF is more important than sharpness to many people.

While it has its good points, HDV is a dying format... HDV tape drives are expensive and finicky mechanisms, so manufactures are really pushing for flash memory formats. If you're really hell-bent on investing in HDV, I would spend as little as possible, as that gear is basically already obsolete and will only lose value. I definitely would not break the bank for the XLH1 or its expensive proprietary glass.

If you put a little of that money into a DSLR and the rest into some good glass, you'll be investing in something you can use for years. Just swap out the DSLR every year or two with the latest and greatest, and you can take your lenses with you. Lenses retain their value much better than cameras...

Anyway, that's just my 2¢ -- maybe an HDV defender will pipe up now :)
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#5 Erica Edwards

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Posted 02 April 2010 - 05:27 PM

Thank you, that is definitely food for thought. I will rule out the XLH1 I think, but I can get the XH-A1S for a good price so I will think about that. As I say, I do plan on investing in a DSLR at some point anyway (the 550D was the one I actually had my eye on) but yeah, this money that I have now is intended for a video camera. Thank you for your advice, I appreciate it!

I am using the Sony EX1 at my current work experience placement and it's a fantastic camera, just too much for me to afford at the moment.
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#6 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 02 April 2010 - 05:42 PM

Have you included other necessities into your budget, such as an EXCELLENT tripod (smaller, lighter weight cameras have less mass so they need really good fluid heads to help operate them), extra batteries, a great monitor, wide angle adaptor, shoulder mount ( http://search.store....a....x=0&go.y=0 ) ....

And what about lighting? Will you rent lights as you go or plan to purchase a small kit?

Ideally, though, you'll let your PROJECTS determine the equipment you need on a project-by-project basis. By purchasing anything, you're more or less locking yourself into a specific box because of what you own and want to use. Why not, instead, build a reel and clientele based on your skills and personality and merely rent or borrow gear as you get started? That way, you'd be free to take ANY job no matter what kind of camera format was required instead of being known as "that Camera person who owns that [fill in the blank] camera."
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#7 Thomas Dobbie

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Posted 02 April 2010 - 05:46 PM

Hi Erica,

I'd second Ben's advice,go for a Video DSLR.I personally use the Panasonic GH1,it's cheap,does reasonable video,but being M 4/3 format,you can get adapters for pretty well any lens you care to name for it,but the Canon 550 is also very good.
Their chip size is not too far away from S35 or Red,so you get something approaching the DoF & FoV of a 35mm camera.
There's been a lot of very nice work done with these little cameras.
Just my twopence worth.

Tom.
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#8 Erica Edwards

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Posted 02 April 2010 - 06:06 PM

Thanks for the replies - Brian, yes, I have further budget set aside to cover accessories such as a good tripod, monitor, wide angle adapter etc. As for lighting, I would rent initially with a view to buying my own small kit in the future. I agree with letting projects determine what equipment I use, this camera is merely to start me off I suppose. My showreel is quite varied, I shot a short on Super 16 last year and raised the money to do so in order to have that experience on my showreel, but I definitely appreciate and agree with your points and, of course, am always looking to expand on my showreel and learn new things. Goodness knows I still have a LOT to learn.

Thanks Thomas, I am going to Calumet later in the week to have a play with the HDV cameras there so I will certainly make sure I check out the DSLRs as well and have a look at their video functions. I was planning to buy one as photography is a hobby of mine, but I'd never really considered using them for video work so it's definitely something to think about.

Thank you!
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#9 Hal Smith

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Posted 02 April 2010 - 09:51 PM

If you get a 550D/Rebel T2i, a very good lens for these cameras is the Canon EF-S 17-55mm F2.8 IS USM lens. Yes, it'll cost about $200 more than the camera but it's as good as the "L" series lenses but in a high impact plastic housing. Many pros love this lens and use it all the time. The only caveat is since it's not sealed like an "L" it tends to get dust inside of it if you don't keep a UV filter on it. I also keep a one quart zipper baggy over mine when it's on my 7D in its Pelican bag.
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#10 Ben Syverson

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Posted 02 April 2010 - 11:16 PM

Brian has a good point. After years with a terrible tripod, I invested $500 in a carbon fiber tripod that I can fit in any bag (the Gitzo 1550T) and a real fluid head (under $300). And both of those purchases were on the extreme LOW end of what I should have spent. Honestly, with this hobby (if it's a profession, you're renting), there is no limit to how much you can spend, but $1000 on great camera support will benefit you more than $5000 on a camera.
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#11 John Sprung

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Posted 03 April 2010 - 12:59 AM

Have a look at David's tests of the 550D vs. some higher end cameras here:

http://www.cinematog...mp;#entry320034

Note carefully the "C" blocks on the Marconi chart. It does something very strange, aliasing on horizontals while filtering out the verticals.




-- J.S.
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#12 Ben Syverson

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Posted 04 April 2010 - 04:41 PM

These cameras are terrible for charts... You really need to shoot with them in real-world situations to see if they would fit with your style.

Personally, the aliasing really really bugs me, but it wouldn't bug me enough to go with HDV over DSLR.

But that is just one random guy's opinion...
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#13 Brian Rose

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Posted 04 April 2010 - 10:28 PM

For a while, I was really obsessed with getting a camera, but I've come to believe in the advice others say, which is to NOT buy, instead rent and borrow as work comes.

In your case, your budget is pretty tight to get a decent camera, and afterwards, you wouldn't have anything left for the support gear, which is as important, and often more so. and with the way the technology is changing, it's wiser to wait and see, rather than rush to get onto the boat. At this point, IMO, HDV would be a waste of money. Tape is dying fast, and everything is going toward filebased cameras like the HVX and EX1, or to rigs with CF stores like the nanoflash. And my own experience has been that much of my work has been for people who already have cameras, or access to them. But because I offer experience as a lighting cameraman, and own a fair amount of my own lighting and support gear, I am able to get my foot in the door.

Do you FOR SURE have paying work coming? Or are you buying this camera on the HOPE that you'll be shooting those videos. Are they paying clients? You want to think about how long it'll take for you to pay off that camera.

I suggest investing in other gear. Lotsa dudes have cameras, but rarer is the guy with good lights, grip and support. I've gotten my foot into more gigs because of my glidecam rig than my camera gear...and I've quickly moved up. One shoot, a director enlisted me to run glidecam, and was so pleased with my work that he's asked me to DP his next project.

As for the camera, try and use your connections, as well as make new ones...these can be a great way to borrow a camera, or get one for a better rate than a rental house. My company does a lot with the Viper, which is extremely high dollar, and pricey to rent, but because the've got a great relationship with the DP who owns the camera, they'll often get to use it for a good rate, and sometimes for free when he is out of the country.

Try different ones. I've worked with everything from HDVs to the Viper, to DSLRs, and all have their pros and cons, and I think they only way you can make an informed decision is to gain experience with as many cams as you can, and to get a sense of what kind of works you are/want to do, and which camera would be best suited.

Hope this helps!

BR
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#14 John Sprung

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Posted 05 April 2010 - 02:05 AM

These cameras are terrible for charts... You really need to shoot with them in real-world situations ...


Um, then, why do we have charts? Are they not to quantify the problematic stuff we may or may not encounter in the real world, so it won't come as a surprise?





-- J.S.
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#15 Erica Edwards

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Posted 05 April 2010 - 08:50 AM

Thank you for your post, Brian!

I do have further budget for support gear, the £3,000 is just for a camera. I am concerned now that HDV might not be such a good idea, but I'm not sure I could get a good non-HDV camera for that sort of money?

I don't have paid work coming for sure, I have a sound engineer friend who records with bands and he is going to hook me up with some of them to make videos so I can get a music video showreel going (my current showreel is just shorts). I'm not sure if they will pay, which is why I thought having my own camera would be a good idea as I can't keep affording to rent (the money for the camera is not mine to do with as I choose, it is an investment from someone else) if I'm not getting paid, but at the same time I want to make these videos for the experience. The writer/director I frequently collaborate with is quite spontaneous and I feel it would be beneficial to us and our work if we're just able to go and shoot things on a whim.

After all of these comments, I'm going to reconsider things as it is a lot of money to lay down for something and I want to be certain I'm making the right choice. However, if I do decide to go ahead and buy a camera, can anybody give me any suggestions of what models to look at? For around £3-3.5k. I am looking at a few Sony and Panasonic ones that can record onto memory cards as well, but I'm having a hard time knowing what the best I could get for my money is. I'm certainly thinking things through and deciding what is the best option for me, but having an idea of what sort of camera I can get for this money would be most helpful.
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#16 Brian Rose

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Posted 05 April 2010 - 10:35 PM

So, am I to understand this money is just for a camera? Is it something where if you don't use it, you lose it?

If you must use the money for a camera, I'd say you probably have to get an HDV, because the other cams quite simply cost more. Even the lower end file cameras, like the EX1 or HVX would wipe out your money entirely, and the media for those cams are EXPENSIVE...I believe 300 to 400 pounds for a 16 or 32 gig, which isn't a lot of space for HD. And if you're recoding events, you need something that can capture longer duration, or you're gonna have to have the support gear to dump and wipe the cards.

HDVs are coming in price, they're not the worst way to spend your money, even though they're not very future proof. At least, find one with good image control, and with an HDMI or an SDI output. With these, you leave open the possibility of using a firestore like the nanoflash, which captures full raster 1920 x 1080 HD, with a variety of codecs to determine the degree of compression, the quality, the colorspace, etc.

My company uses Sony brand HDVs for some of the smaller projects, and we've had good experiences with them. I like the Z1U myself.

Best,
BR
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#17 Erica Edwards

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Posted 06 April 2010 - 06:59 AM

Yes, the £3-£3.5k is for a camera and a camera alone, if I don't buy the camera then I don't have the money to spend on anything else.

Thank you very much for your advice. I use an EX1 at my work experience placement and while I really like working with it, I think it's just out of my budget. The Canon XH-A1s seemed good but then I read that there's an updated model out in June which records onto memory cards so it seems pointless buying one now. I need to do more research I think, so in the meantime if anyone has any further recommendations I'd be most grateful! I just want to make sure I spend this money wisely.
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#18 Erica Edwards

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Posted 07 April 2010 - 07:26 AM

OK, after much research I'm really started to be convinced by a DSLR and hoping I can convince my investor of this too. The idea of shooting video on DSLR was alien to me until this week and was never suggested at university, but now I've opened my mind to the idea I can see the huge benefits.

My question now is whether to go for the 550D, 5D Mark II or 7D? In terms of video and audio recording capabilities (obviously I know I will need external mics etc) I want to be sure I go for the best option, but if there's not a whole world of difference then I guess I would go with the least expensive and spend the money on glass instead. I will do some more research but personal experiences and recommendations are always helpful. Thanks for all the advice so far!
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#19 John Sprung

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Posted 07 April 2010 - 02:14 PM

Yes, the £3-£3.5k is for a camera and a camera alone, if I don't buy the camera then I don't have the money to spend on anything else.


What a strange thing. Who's offering students that deal?




-- J.S.
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#20 Hal Smith

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Posted 07 April 2010 - 04:03 PM

My question now is whether to go for the 550D, 5D Mark II or 7D?


I opted for the 7D. I wanted depth of field comparable to 35mm motion picture cameras which ruled out the 5D MKII with its full frame sensor. With a little research it became obvious that the 7D has more controllability in both still and motion modes. People are starting to learn that one drawback with the 550D/T2i is that they tend to overheat on long, twelve minute video recording runs. Even Phillip Bloom has run into that issue. I attribute that to the 550D's having a plastic body, the 7D's is magnesium.

The 7D has much more advanced metering and autofocus functions, probably the result of its having dual Digic IV processors which enabled Canon to use more complex sensors and functions. The 550D has a single Digic IV.

Bottom line, if you can afford a 7D you'll have a better camera. Working with bands you'll probably be able to shoot some stills with the 7D that you wouldn't have got with the 550D. Stills that you might be able to sell to the band!
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