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Travel Documentary - Which Camera?


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#1 Frank Neufeld

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Posted 29 October 2012 - 08:42 PM

Hi Everyone,

This is my first post on the forum, I'm hoping it will be the motivating and educational community I need to break into the world of cinematography. I currently work as a graphic designer and dabble in some motion graphics, special effects and video editing. Gaining an understanding of cinematography seems like the natural route to round off these skill sets and allow me to bring my ideas to life.

My first major project is a personal one. Next summer I'm hoping to go on a 1-year around the world backpacking trip and want to be able to document it and tell a compelling story. My inspiration includes the show Departures, the documentary A Map for Saturday and the documentaries by Vice. As a lone traveler and inexperienced filmmaker I don't have delusions of creating anything as high-quality as Departures but think something along the lines of A Map for Saturday is doable as long as the story is compelling. I haven't quite narrowed down a theme to focus on yet, I want to blend all my passions together and create a final product I can be proud of.

Anyways, my most recent hurdle is trying to decide on a camera. I need something portable and am hoping to get the necessary equipment for under $5000. As much as the trip is my focus, I would like something I could use for projects including music videos, corporate videos, etc. as well. With much research, the ones that have caught my eye are the Sony Nex VG-30, the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III. I do photography as well so have a familiarity with DSLRs and have seen some amazing videos come from them. I could use them as a dual purpose tool including photography and video. That being said, I'm not sure how I feel about the rigs and all the gadgets needed to make it perform well as a video camera. I like the feel of the Sony NEX VG-30 and it's ability to change lenses. I've consulted quite a few sales reps and it seems like it would be a suitable solution but having little experience with video gear it's tough to make a final call. Audio will be important as well and I think the VG-30 being built for video would handle it better and offer more accessories on the market.

Those are the ones that have caught my attention but there are so many options out there it's hard to make that first leap and feel confident about a substantial investment. One thing they all have in common that I like is their ability to change lenses offering a lot of creative freedom and the artistic look associated with a shallow depth of field. If anyone has any advice I would be grateful.

Thanks,
Frank
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#2 Arturo Sinclair

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Posted 29 October 2012 - 09:11 PM

Hi Everyone,

This is my first post on the forum, I'm hoping it will be the motivating and educational community I need to break into the world of cinematography. I currently work as a graphic designer and dabble in some motion graphics, special effects and video editing. Gaining an understanding of cinematography seems like the natural route to round off these skill sets and allow me to bring my ideas to life.

My first major project is a personal one. Next summer I'm hoping to go on a 1-year around the world backpacking trip and want to be able to document it and tell a compelling story. My inspiration includes the show Departures, the documentary A Map for Saturday and the documentaries by Vice. As a lone traveler and inexperienced filmmaker I don't have delusions of creating anything as high-quality as Departures but think something along the lines of A Map for Saturday is doable as long as the story is compelling. I haven't quite narrowed down a theme to focus on yet, I want to blend all my passions together and create a final product I can be proud of.

Anyways, my most recent hurdle is trying to decide on a camera. I need something portable and am hoping to get the necessary equipment for under $5000. As much as the trip is my focus, I would like something I could use for projects including music videos, corporate videos, etc. as well. With much research, the ones that have caught my eye are the Sony Nex VG-30, the Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III. I do photography as well so have a familiarity with DSLRs and have seen some amazing videos come from them. I could use them as a dual purpose tool including photography and video. That being said, I'm not sure how I feel about the rigs and all the gadgets needed to make it perform well as a video camera. I like the feel of the Sony NEX VG-30 and it's ability to change lenses. I've consulted quite a few sales reps and it seems like it would be a suitable solution but having little experience with video gear it's tough to make a final call. Audio will be important as well and I think the VG-30 being built for video would handle it better and offer more accessories on the market.

Those are the ones that have caught my attention but there are so many options out there it's hard to make that first leap and feel confident about a substantial investment. One thing they all have in common that I like is their ability to change lenses offering a lot of creative freedom and the artistic look associated with a shallow depth of field. If anyone has any advice I would be grateful.

Thanks,
Frank


I guess you will get many different suggestions on this one. I would recommend to stay away from a DSLR because of what you just mentioned. By the time you get all the accessories for them to perform as a real videocamera you will be well above your budget. I really like the quality of the D800 for example, but with no viewfinder in video mode (only the LCD) it is unusable in a bright outdoor environment. And if sound is a concern you are now lugging an external recorder as well!

I am currently using a SONY FS100 for most of my work and I love it. (we have FS100's and F3's at the school where I teach) It's true HD resolution and speed make it ideal for nature photography. It is compact and at least until December it sells (body only) for $4100. I don't think there is nothing comparable at that price. The rest of your budget should go into the best glass you can afford, which is another issue.
Having said that I realize it is very scary to invest a lot of money into gear you have not used, so it would be a great idea to rent a couple of models and get a feel for them. Of course you need to really learn to use the camera to get the best results and be able to make a decision.

Depending on where you live you might be able to attend a training session on this popular camera. Here is a link to get you started: http://training.abel...-los-angeles-2/

Since you are going backpacking I would think about taking a monopod at least because you will need some support to shoot stable shots and I cannot imagine backpacking with a tripod!
Good luck in your search for the perfect gear! (which does not exist of course:-) I have owned many cameras throughout my life and the only camera I would take to the most remote place on earth would be a Bolex! because I know it will never fail, but then what about the film...hmmm
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#3 Alan Duckworth

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Posted 30 October 2012 - 02:06 PM

I agree about the Bolex, that is the exact job they were built for. If you will be using an electronic camera of any kind, you need to give major consideration to batteries and chargers. As you travel you will encounter varying voltages, varying line frequencies, bad power and no power. Your chargers need to be the "world-wide" kind - or you will need adapters/transformers to make them so. That adds weight and bulk, and more to go wrong. There are some aftermarket solar chargers out there, as well as battery packs that use disposable cells - but you will need to make sure your camera can work with those.

"Travel broadens the mind and lightens the wallet" - I don't know who said that, but it's true. All the best in your upcoming adventure.

Alan
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#4 Frank Neufeld

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Posted 30 October 2012 - 09:39 PM

Thank you for the advice!

As much as chargers and power sources will be a pain, I do want to go with a digital camera. Having immediate access to files on memory cards will make organizing and backing them up much easier. I plan on getting some online server space so that when I do have access to an internet connection I can back them up in a remote location. I can't even imagine trying to deal with film (especially never having used it) for a year long trip and trying to keep things safe and organized. I'm also hoping to be able to create short films during my trip to showcase countries and experiences so I don't want to worry about having film processed.

Arturo, the FS100 looks great but is just a bit out of my price range. I'm not looking to spend more than $5000 on the body, a basic lens, basic audio gear and maybe a tripod. Have you had any experience with the Sony Nex-VG line? I mentioned the VG30 but the VG900 seems to be creating some buzz with it's full frame sensor. It's a fair bit more expensive (body goes for $3300 while the VG30 with 18-200mm lens goes for $2700)...is it worth looking at spending the extra money just for the larger sensor and few upgraded features?

I looked at renting some cameras to test, but at approx. $500 for a weekend, it seems like a poor investment when the I could put that towards the actual purchase.

Any other advice would be greatly appreciated. Right now I am definitely leaning towards the VG30...although I keep finding good arguments for the VG900 and DSLRs as well.
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#5 Alan Duckworth

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Posted 01 November 2012 - 09:28 PM

I really wasn't trying to persuade you to shoot film - honest! I have shot film on 4 continents over the years, and you did what you had to - keep it cool, dark and dry and get it processed whenever/wherever. I always just assumed that it would turn out, and it always did. The power of positive thinking, I guess. Your plan to use an online backup is a good one.

If you want one more piece of advice it would be "pack everything you need, and take nothing you don't".

Alan
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#6 Frank Neufeld

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Posted 02 December 2012 - 09:41 PM

Thanks again for the advice. I ended up getting the Sony NEX VG30 and just received it this past week. So far I love it!

I made a first look video going over my thoughts and showing some test footage:

Hopefully it does the trick!
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