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Choose between DSLR and HD Camcorder


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#1 Magali Pettier

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Posted 20 September 2010 - 07:42 AM

I currently own a JVC HD-GY201E with a fujinon standard lens and a wide angle converter. I have been filming with it for nearly 2 years and I like it, however, I find that when I have to be really fast there are too many things to do on the camera before I can get the shots that I want. It’s really nice when I am ready and it is quite static but if I am on the move and don’t have the time to set-up then it is quite a stressful experience and heavy on the top of that.

I am currently filming farmers in France and England and will be shooting a docu/drama in The Phillipines, so I am looking for a camera that allows me to get the shots that I want without being too much in the face of people specially in the case of farmers where I am meant to film over a year following them around, so preferably not slowing them down.

Ok, enough for the description. I have been looking at HD DSLRS which as a photographer I have used a lot before but never for video so I am sceptical. I have jsut tried the 550d this weekend. My fear is that although you can shoot in low conditions which I will need to, I will also need to shoot in very bright conditions so not having an in-built ND filter might be an issue. Also, despite the great shallow depth-of-field, I wonder if using the zoom in a shot actually gives you a smooth shot or not. Also, from looking on the internet, I have seen that you have to put it on a rig or shoulder mount, then have a viewfinder, then a field recorder and radio-mics attached as I work a lot on my own so I will end up looking like robocop and having a lot of setting-up to do before I actually can start filming.

So, would anyone have any advice on all my dilemnas?

I have been wondering if I should go for the canon 5D Mark II or for a camcorder like a sony pmw ex1r or canon xh-a1s or something similar. I wonder if it is going to be much faster and much lighter than my jvc and will it be great for low light and fast focusing.

To finish, I have a budget of £6000 or 9000 DOLLARS.

I am really confused and really wonder what I should go for, could somebody advise me please?

Many many thanks
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#2 Brian Drysdale

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Posted 20 September 2010 - 04:40 PM

I'm not sure why you've double posted, when your original thread was being answered.

The JVC is the most ergonomic of the smaller cameras. You'll need to kit out the 5D, so that it's more user friendly as a video camera, the advantage being it's low light capability and the shallow DOF if you require this for aesthete reasons. I wouldn't say it would give easier focusing, because the focus it going to be much more critical, with a good chance of having a higher percentage of soft shots. The EX1R is more light sensitive than the JVC, although I wouldn't say as ergonomic for hand held filming although it's a bit lighter.
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#3 Gabe Spangler

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Posted 28 September 2010 - 08:35 PM

My first camera was a Panasonic AG-DVC30. Hated it. I could never get that camera to look the way I wanted. Standard definition. Pffft...

Second camera was a Canon XH A1. Damn good camera. For on-the-fly documentary stuff, I would say that a camera with this general form factor is ideal.

Third camera (recently purchased) Canon EOS 7D with Zeiss glass, rails, follow focus, matte box and 7" Ikan monitor. For narrative filmmaking, this is the way to go. But, if I had to do what you do, no way. Handheld is way more difficult (shots are very shaky unless you have a lens with good image stabilization). Pulling focus without a competent AC is damn near impossible, unless you design your shots to be simple, which is limiting. Battery life also sucks. You only get about an hour, enough to fill up a 16 GB memory card.

I've worked with the Sony EX1. In my opinion, it's the best under $10,000 camcorder (emphasis on the "camcorder") that you can get. It has both servo and full manual lens options. It has 1/2" chips instead of 1/3" chips, and believe me, that makes a big difference for light sensitivity and cleaner image. The XDCAM codec is better than HDV (my humble opinion, and I think most will agree). You could easily go from shooting documentary and commercial stuff with the EX1 to shooting narrative films. It's very versatile that way.

I bought a Canon 7D DSLR because I want the 35 mm depth of field. Small format depth of field looks atrocious to me. It looks like reality TV or a sitcom. Try making a small room look good with small format depth of field. It's much more difficult. You can only get shallow depth of field by opening the lens all the way (it then becomes less sharp) and zooming almost all the way or all the way. Then your depth of field might be an inch, or a half an inch. Try shooting a scene where your actor can't lean forward or backward at all. Whereas with a DSLR you can get that nice shallow depth of field and still have an area of about 3 feet that falls into "acceptable focus." There's a reason this has been the format of choice for a hundred years and still going strong.

But for documentary or commercial work – no way. It's too finicky unless you have a nice crew helping you out. If you are operating alone, get the EX1R and don't look back.

Just my two cents.
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