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NEX F100HD Camera Choose AG-AF100 Sony HXR-NX30U

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#1 Yaron Y. Dahan

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Posted 03 January 2013 - 01:04 PM

Hello there folks,

The time has come for me to buy my own video camera, and (surprise surprise) I wanted to get some advice from the vast experience of the folks on this site. Now I know that there is no such thing as “the best camera for xxx price” because then one can end up with a hammer although one has a job that requires a screwdriver….

But I have to admit, I am completely overwhelmed by the amount of products on the market. I am scrolling through the B&H site in my price range, and there are just way way too many cameras (and way too many of them have way too good reviews), and I barely know where to begin, and need your help.

Sooo to cut to the (somewhat long) chase: I would like some advice on which cameras to look at or test before I make my purchase. Thanks for the patience in advance for reading this long post

What I need the camera for and what my philosophy of filmmaking is
  • Camera for Director - I am not a cameraman, but a film director. I do not believe in the tyranny of tech-specs and for the most part believe that the feel of the image is the single most important thing. There are some MiniDV cameras that look better than some HD cameras, despite the technical superiority of the latter. I have a (still camera) Nikon D60 which I never use because I feel the image is glassy, plain, the colors are uninteresting. Whereas the tiny Sony Cybershot I had (before it got stolen – bastards!) made far more beautiful images, despite that it had not the same capacities.
  • The Best tool us the one I will use – I have expensive photo gear which I don’t use simply because I don’t like it (often too heavy, bad ergonomics, poor user interface). I far far prefer a tool that is less than perfect visualwise (which is a limitation with which one can be creative) than one which is annoying to use. This doesn’t preclude the use of very good tools. I have several super 8 camera for example, and the only one I use is my Beaulieu 6008, because it’s well, perfect. Heavy, good glass, variable speed, good feel, the right buttons in the right places etc.
  • I would love something that I could use for years and years – Okay, I know this is video and model change every two weeks, but still.,, This would be nice. For still photography (in film) I have two “forever cameras” my Nikon FM 3A and Contax T2… they are little beasts of perfection. And if I could find something similar in video, I would be only too happy.
My budget, some technical considerations, etc.

Budget - My absolute maximum budget is 5000$. I do not necessarily need or want to spend this much money but am willing to if the “per-dollar-impact” of what I spend is worthwhile. My preferred price point is about 2500$, becuase then I could buy a nice tilt and pan tripod with a nice head and a matte box with a few filters... although if folks here tell me that I can get what I need for 500$ I’m not adverse to that either. (the iphone is tempting only for its camera) As this will be my first “serious” purchase of a video camera, I do want it to be a good investment, and hopefully something which I can continue to make images with for years to come.

Use – My use of the camera is destined for short films which will be shown (one hopes...) on large screens in film festivals worldwide. This comprises of 1. Fiction short film with actors 2. Video diary stuff (i wander through the city and shoot stuff cause its pretty or ugly or whatever)

Technical preferences,
  • Good low-light – I shot my last film on the F3 (which I neither need, nor have enough money to purchase), and o it looks very very good at night. I do a good amount of night shooting under “available” (street) light, and I need a camera where the darkness of night (or room) doesn’t turn into grey, pixellating mud.
  • Best possible dynamic range for the money
  • Useable sound – Although if I shoot fiction films with the camera I will record sound separately, I want to be able to use the camera input for documentary/ video journal purposes, so the sound should not be overly crappy/compressed.
  • PAL (25p) – I live and work in Europe
  • Manual access to controls – Don’t like when white balance, filter, zebra, iris, etc. is buried deep in menus. Manual, zoom, focus, iris is a must
  • ?????

Finally, I know that there are quite a few DSLR options out there. For the moment (unless someone convinces me otherwise) I am not really in favor of them. Besides the fact that I really dislike the way the D5 for example looks, the smallness of the camera, the difficulty to follow focus, the poor sound, and the fact that they aren’t designed as video cameras make me think twice about them. But if there's something I absolutely have to try, let me know...


Cameras I am currently looking at
Sony NEX F100 - right price range. Big sensor. I like the F3 (does this matter?). Other people seem to like it. (although they seem to like the 700 better). A bit on the pricey side. (and will probably have to spend more on accessories than I need/want)
Sony NEX 20/10 - These are far more in my preferred price range, although I fear they will be quickly outdated, and will quickly lose value unlike above camera. VG10 seems to get worse reviews than the VG20.
Sony NEX VG900 - somewhere in the middle of the above too... somehow it feels like it's sitting on the fence.. but what do I know? (that's why I'm here). I would be tempted to go for either the NEX 20 or F100
JVC GY-HM600 - Read somewhere that this was a very good camera with good low light performance. For me I can't tell the difference between a camera like this and the 8,000 other similar prosumer models out there. But others know more than me
Sony's HXR-NX30U - Cute little thing. Is this good enough for what I need? Like the portability, but still will likely be super shakey, and if I want something small I can buy an iphone...
Panasonic AG-AF100 - Honestly, now that the Sony's are here, seems a bit not worth it as much. two years old. Correct me??
Perhaps a second hand Sony PMW-EX1R ???

OR????? Any other ideas????

I seem to a little bit biased towards interchangeable lens cameras, and I may be wrong here, but I think I have perhaps chosen them because they are far more unique to me than their "full package counterparts" out of which I have difficulty telling one from other (marketing people, listen up!!!)
aaargh too much tech... and all I want to do is shoot stuff!!!

If you have actually made it to the end of this post, I bestow a million blessings upon you and all of your ancestors.
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#2 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 03 January 2013 - 02:07 PM

Sony NEX F100


Not a bad choice. I might prefer to get a 700, which I have worked with and like quite a lot, and which also has a 4K upgrade in the offing for a bit more future proofing than we're used to in this field. Neither of them are stunning, brilliant, outstanding cameras with regard to picture quality but then I don't think the F3 is more than slightly better in most situations.

Sony NEX 20/10 - These are far more in my preferred price range, although I fear they will be quickly outdated, and will quickly lose value unlike above camera.



I don't know enough about them to comment, but really - it's not worth worrying about them going out of date. Video cameras do that at the moment. You either keep it and sell it after six months to upgrade, or you keep it until it's unusably outdated and hang the depreciation. There is no sense in trying to buy a camera on the basis that it won't devalue quickly. It is inevitable.

JVC GY-HM600 - Read somewhere that this was a very good camera with good low light performance. For me I can't tell the difference between a camera like this and the 8,000 other similar prosumer models out there.



Neither can I. The devil is in the details on this; personally I wouldn't touch anything which didn't offer at least the possibility of mounting a lens with real manual controls. I can't stand servoactuated zoom and focus controls. In this vein, it's worth reflecting that you get better optical quality for the money with this arrangement, and it may be very expensive to get proper manual lenses which are as sharp. Still, servo lenses are not something I like. It's now become quite difficult to get decent sets of older, manual stills lenses, but that's something to look into as you can then strap a follow focus onto the thing and fit them with cheap wrap-around gears, possibly ending up with something quite usable.

Panasonic AG-AF100



If that's what you want, go and get a GH2, unless the sound inputs are outrageously important to you or you can't stand the very-good-for-a-DSLR aliasing. The sensor tech is very similar (or perhaps identical) and they do not perform spectacularly well in low light; it can be a little clippy and noisy. One big advantage of the GH2 is that you can selectively window the sensor, and shoot biggish-chip for narrative drama and short depth of field, or smallish-chip for documentary, making focus easier. Or, you can switch between them on the same job for different shots, without compromising the look. It's a tidy little thing, the GH2, but the pictures aren't outstandingly good.

Extremely good work has been done on the AF100 and it's perfectly capable, but I can't really see it over an FS series camera from Sony. Unless you like the slightly smaller chip, and the wider variety of lens options.

The EX1 is a very solid piece of kit but I think the FS100 and FS700 make it look expensive. The pictures are probably better than either, for some value of "better" that involves lower noise. Smaller chips, of course.

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#3 Giray Izcan

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Posted 03 January 2013 - 02:24 PM

I am a film guy, so don't know much about video cameras. However, from what I have been hearing, fs 100 an 700 are really good.700 if you can get it. Also, just curious, why would you not light night ext scenes?
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#4 Alan Rencher

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Posted 03 January 2013 - 03:07 PM

Being as everyone has there own specific needs, it may be best for someone to offer you some of the most popular options to at least narrow your search down. I always say that you should get a camera that works with your shooting needs, and that's the one thing that you left out. What will you be shooting? If it's for personal projects, you may not need something as elaborate as the FS700. You can get an FS100 or an AF100 very cheap now.

DSLR's are a good option. I see that you are not in favor of that, but I'm trying to figure out your logic.

Finally, I know that there are quite a few DSLR options out there. For the moment (unless someone convinces me otherwise) I am not really in favor of them. Besides the fact that I really dislike the way the D5 for example looks, the smallness of the camera, the difficulty to follow focus, the poor sound, and the fact that they aren’t designed as video cameras make me think twice about them. But if there's something I absolutely have to try, let me know...


The ability to follow focus on these cameras are no different than an FS100/700, AF100 or any other interchangeable lens system. Does that mean you're looking for autofocus? You'll have to buy a fixed lens system for that. You might try one of Panasonic's HMC line if that's a big issue.

For audio, you might want to look at a DSLR with manual audio controls and buy a simple XLR adapter. The 5D mkIII, Nikon D800/600, Panasonic GH2/GH3, and some others have manual audio control. Or you can record dual system. That's what we do on every set. We always have a sound mixer recording to his own recorder. That is unless you are not doing narrative work, or do not have a crew; you haven't said if that's the case.

You say that DSLR's are not designed as video cameras, but the show Wilfred is shot exclusively on DSLR's (5d & 7D, and now Nikon D800 with external recorders.) At this point in the game, so many things have been shot on DSLR, it's mind-boggling.

Really what I'm trying to say is: It's not the camera that makes a good project. So many things go into making it, and you just have to find what fits your situation. And you haven't even mentioned an even more important aspect of this purchase; what lenses are you going to use? It is way more important to have high-quality lenses than a fancy camera.

That's just my two cents.
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#5 Yaron Y. Dahan

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Posted 05 January 2013 - 06:05 AM

Hey Alan,

Thanks for the thoughts. Maybe I am being unnecessarily prejudiced against DSLRs, but my feeling is that they always felt too small for me. I know tons of very beautiful stuff is shot on them, but I guess it's also important for me for the camera to feel good in my hands, as the more comfortable I feel with it the more I'll use it (for the personal stuff). and you are right that when I do fiction anyhow, I would have an external recorder.

As for the follow focus thing, it's on the lens I know, but I always get the feeling that when there's a crew with a DSLR that to follow focus you practically have to poke the cameraman's eye out. Again, I've only used DSLRs two or three times and seen them a handful more, so maybe there are some awesome accessories or something that help out there.

I am still worried about all the going into menus in order to do stuff, but you have made a good point, and I'm definitely going to test one of these Panasonics along with the others. I mean the price is certainly right.
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#6 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 05 January 2013 - 08:05 AM

It's undeniable that DSLRs are a disaster from an ergonomics standpoint. Approaches to mitigating this range from duct-taping it to a plank all the way up to expensive anodised rigs, but I'm not a huge fan of those - they often put a big ugly monitor hanging out to the side in a way that unbalances things.

I once planned a DSLR outfit in some detail, and realised that the best documentary configuration is probably a GH2 in "extra tele-conversion" (ETC) mode, which produces an active sensor area that a 2/3" video lens will cover with the extender in or out (and most will cover the full chip with it out). Add a B4 lens mount adaptor and one of those reasonably inexpensive HDMI viewfinders, put it all on a set of rods with a battery mount behind your shoulder, and it's basically an exceptionally inexpensive HD ENG camera but for the sound issues. Add a separate recorder and you can mitigate the sound problem too.

The only thing that could get very, very expensive about this is a decent high-def rated B4 lens, although some people have had OK results doing it with the better Canon SD lenses.

That's how I'd do it, anyway.

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#7 Yaron Y. Dahan

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Posted 06 January 2013 - 05:27 AM

Hmmmm, well the question is (and this is the one I've asked myself) if it has so many ergonomical issues that can for the most part only be solved with buying a whole lot of extra gear (after all the point of the DSLR is that they are cheeaper alternatives)... then I can't help but wondering if they are the right tool...

But, I guess it can't hurt to play with one for a day and test it...
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#8 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 06 January 2013 - 05:40 AM

Like Giray, I am a film guy so im not the most helpful. What I will say is that I disagree with Phil and Giray (and perhaps Adrian, when he chimes in) about the Sony being preferable to the AF100. I have reviewed much footage for both the AF100 and the Sony Fwhatever models. The AF100 has produced much more cinematic looking images with more color space. They are very easy to grade to get pleasing results, especially if you use Magic Bullet looks. I say it all the time but Ill say it again: If you cant or wont shoot film and you cant afford an Alexa, there simple isnt another camera available in the lower end that can look as cinematic as the AF100 with the right grading. BMCC has promise but you might be waiting a year at this point to get one.
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#9 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 06 January 2013 - 07:11 AM

Hmmmm, well the question is (and this is the one I've asked myself) if it has so many ergonomical issues that can for the most part only be solved with buying a whole lot of extra gear (after all the point of the DSLR is that they are cheeaper alternatives)... then I can't help but wondering if they are the right tool...



Well, quite. Don't just think of it as buying a DSLR, think of it in terms of the whole package, having planned what you want. It does give you some interesting options, but there are potential reliability issues with such a hydra of stuff. I'm that way inclined, so it doesn't worry me so much, but I wouldn't in any way claim it's for everyone.

The reason the GH2 option was so interesting is because of the ETC mode and its potential for compatibility with B4 lenses, but my (very casual) observation is that it and the AF100 produce pretty similar pictures. I can't say I ever thought either could be described as filmic, particularly, any more than any half-decent video camera.
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#10 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 06 January 2013 - 08:24 AM

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I can't say I ever thought either could be described as filmic, particularly, any more than any half-decent video camera.


Dont put words in my mouth, Phil. I never said "filmic" but I said "cinematic." I dont consider those two terms interchangable. Cinematic just means it is good enough to not look like "hey, this is a cheap video camera recording!" whereas film is "wow, this was shot on film!"
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#11 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 06 January 2013 - 09:38 AM

Well, OK, but semantic interpretation aside, I don't think the pictures out of an AF-100 are particularly special. Fine, adequate, competent, certainly. Possibly a bit noisy and lacking in dynamic range. Are there any projects in particular that you're thinking of? The only thing that springs to my mind as having been a particularly successful AF-100 shoot is The Raid, which I thought looked fine and with excellent highlight control, but it's an action movie that isn't particularly reliant on... well... looking like a Vermeer, perhaps.
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#12 Yaron Y. Dahan

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Posted 06 January 2013 - 11:38 AM

@Matthew - Maybe I'll just give up all this video nonsense, and just get myself a proper 16mm film camera and burn through my savings... :) Kidding aside, it may even (at least at the start) be cheaper... I remember I bought my still Nikon FM3A for like 500$ brand spanking new when people were paying 5000$ for the Canon 5D. At 10$ for film + processing (even with scans) I'd have to run through 450 rolls of film befrore it was worth it for me to buy a digital camera... okay okay, movie cameras run through a LOT more film (and I have a slight fear of being absolutely ignorant.. you know loading the film backwards or something), but I am also considering this (not sure if as an and or an or)...

But otherwise, I have no problem with video looking like video. I think the days of trying super hard to make video look like film are ending...(okay usually with people shooting on the Alexa or Epic... but still....) I quite liked Inland Empire and Lynch squeezed that video look for every last drop of "uncinematic imageness" to make a fascinating film (and boring too, very very boring).

On an aside... Nobody has written anything about the Sony NEX 20/10s..
Anybody have experience/thoughts here?
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#13 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 06 January 2013 - 06:57 PM

@Matthew - Maybe I'll just give up all this video nonsense, and just get myself a proper 16mm film camera and burn through my savings... :) Kidding aside, it may even (at least at the start) be cheaper... I remember I bought my still Nikon FM3A for like 500$ brand spanking new when people were paying 5000$ for the Canon 5D. At 10$ for film + processing (even with scans) I'd have to run through 450 rolls of film befrore it was worth it for me to buy a digital camera... okay okay, movie cameras run through a LOT more film (and I have a slight fear of being absolutely ignorant.. you know loading the film backwards or something), but I am also considering this (not sure if as an and or an or)...


There is an argument to be made here. And I always make it...if a camera package cost you the same as "X film camera + 450 rolls of film" then you have to ask you self whether you will get more footage out of Y digital camera before you'd get sick of it anyway. Case in point...my first camera ever was a Canon XL2 (as I started out with miniDV before I shot film) and I spent the MSRP of $5k on this camera. I shot a few class projects and 1 short film with it. I think total footage on the camera was about 2 hours. I resold the camera for $2800 (while it was still worth that much) so I took a $2200 hit. For 2 hours of footage at that rate was $18.33/minute. 16mm film is about $12-13/minute for the stock. I couldve probably squeeze out processing and an SD transfer for the same price as the footage I ended up shooting and it wouldve looked infinitely better than miniDV.
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#14 Alan Rencher

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 07:15 PM

Why do you have to buy a camera, anyway? Why not rent? You still haven't discussed lenses either. I feel that you can make just about any camera these days look cinematic. Have you seen 28 Days Later. That movie is phenomenal. Don't get caught up in all of these camera specs.
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#15 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 11:01 PM

Why do you have to buy a camera, anyway? Why not rent? You still haven't discussed lenses either. I feel that you can make just about any camera these days look cinematic. Have you seen 28 Days Later. That movie is phenomenal. Don't get caught up in all of these camera specs.


Are we talking about the same movie? I would never call 28 days later "phenomenal." I had an XL2 which is the newer brother of the XL1s which was used for that movie and let's just say the results achievable with that camera are "limited."
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#16 Yaron Y. Dahan

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 09:52 AM

Why do you have to buy a camera, anyway? Why not rent? You still haven't discussed lenses either. I feel that you can make just about any camera these days look cinematic. Have you seen 28 Days Later. That movie is phenomenal. Don't get caught up in all of these camera specs.


Not so much caught up as lost.... but like I wrote, I'm more interest in final look, in feel of the color, etc. than in bitrates and color specs and pixel size...

I want to buy a camera at this time cause I need soemthing I can have at home and use at will (although when I do "bigger" projects, I will for sure rent)
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#17 Geoff Howell

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Posted 08 January 2013 - 10:34 AM

Have you seen 28 Days Later. That movie is phenomenal. Don't get caught up in all of these camera specs.

Good call on 28Days Later!
I remember at the time a lot of people just flat out refusing to believe that it was shot on Mini DV!

Has there ever been a better example of "it's not the tools but the person using them" !?
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#18 Alan Rencher

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 08:29 PM

Are we talking about the same movie? I would never call 28 days later "phenomenal." I had an XL2 which is the newer brother of the XL1s which was used for that movie and let's just say the results achievable with that camera are "limited."


They achieved the look that they wanted, and I feel that it was the right choice, artistically. Do you think that movie would have been greatly improved by shooting on some other format; say 70mm? Anyway, the point I was trying to make, which Geoff picked up on, was:

Good call on 28Days Later!
I remember at the time a lot of people just flat out refusing to believe that it was shot on Mini DV!

Has there ever been a better example of "it's not the tools but the person using them" !?


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#19 Matthew W. Phillips

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 11:13 PM

They achieved the look that they wanted, and I feel that it was the right choice, artistically.


I dont think 70mm was right but there have been far more terrifying flicks that used 16mm, which is a good low budget choice.

As far as "achieving the look they wanted" how do you know? Everyone says "oh yeah, I meant to do things that way" after the fact and who can prove or disprove? I think Keith mentioned that in another thread (unless it was Phil) that everyone these days covers up mistakes as "intentional."

I find Evil Dead far more of an accomplishment in its day with its budget than I find 28 days later. The budget was large enough to where format didnt have to be an issue. But to each their own, right?
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#20 Heikki Repo

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Posted 21 January 2013 - 04:03 PM

I'd vote for renting as well. The thing is, unless you have lots of commercial projects, there is no point in owning an expensive video equipment. The only cameras I own are either film cameras or really old video cameras for some specific look -- I have gotten them for quite little money and they don't lose value the same way video cameras do. Video cameras are best rented: you get the newest thing and it won't be sitting on your shelf waiting to become obsolete and lose value.


If you must buy some video equipment for occasionally taking video around the town, buy Canon 550D. It's cheap, the memory for it is cheap and you get to buy cheaper lenses for it. Here's some work I shot for a client last May with a rented 550D+Zacuto finder+50mm+shoulder set (I also had follow focus, but the 50mm lens didn't work with it so I didn't use it):

Edited by Heikki Repo, 21 January 2013 - 04:05 PM.

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