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What's your favorite documentary camera package?

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#1 David Hines

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Posted 31 March 2016 - 11:31 AM

I've recently had a bit of an epiphany and realized that I want to be shooting nature documentaries, more so than narrative fiction.

Enter the issue:

All my camera and lens research thus far in my career has been focused on cinema, and my understanding of the necessities for doc work is lacking.

What kind of camera systems are you guys using for documentary field work? I've got my eye on a Sony F5 for its compact, lightweight body and (in my opinion) beautiful images.

Suggestions?
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#2 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 31 March 2016 - 01:23 PM

The F5/55 and Fujinon Cabio 19-90mm T2.9 is a popular combination. Also, C100/300 and Canon L Series zooms are a good budget option.
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#3 Adrian Sierkowski

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Posted 31 March 2016 - 01:58 PM

I'll throw out there that for nature you'll often need some SUPER LONG optics-- especially if you're going for animals-- things in the 300mm and up range. . .  depends on what you're doing.

Also you'd want to factor in power consumption of the camera as well since you may be out in the middle of nowhere


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#4 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 31 March 2016 - 02:31 PM

If you can afford an F5 and one of the super35 ENG-style zooms, that would seem the most obvious approach. I think the Canon CN17-120 is a slightly better bet than the Fuji - longer range, and if you can afford one you can probably afford the other!

 

P


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#5 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 31 March 2016 - 07:41 PM

Hi Dave

 

I have the F5/CN7 combo.. and would agree the CN7 is a better choice than the Cab(which I used alot before buying the CN7).. better range,much easier self focus throw (180 degree,s.). macro.. both are pricey and heavy but both are very high spec.. the older Cab,s are not "4K" spec.. what ever that means in reality .. but are a bit cheaper because of it..

 

These are great for general Doc work.. and you can double the FV with centre crop function with F5/55 and now the Fs7 too.. if you are not needing to shoot 4K.. I have shot for the BBC Bristol Nat History unit.. (F55/4K) but I was doing general doc stuff.. the specialist  guys had much longer lenses along with these zooms..as Adrian points out.. Canon have the nat history DP dream lens..50-1000 with a doubler.. but thats really expensive.. so stills lenses probably better option.. and a very good 150mm bowl tripod ! 

 

F5 is very good on power consumption .. a draw back being no LUT when shooting off speed.. (or play back ) which all the stuff we did was.. alot of people have gone over the Zacuto gratical EVF. which has internal LUT,s.. but its a good bang for the buck..and some second hand ones around now..


Edited by Robin R Probyn, 31 March 2016 - 07:45 PM.

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#6 David Hines

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Posted 01 April 2016 - 03:25 PM

After shooting a live event the other night with two fs5's and an f55, I think I'm sold on the middle ground of the F5. One of the production companies I work for uses Canon C300's almost exclusively, and there's something about that camera I just don't like, can't put my finger on it yet though.
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#7 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 01 April 2016 - 06:33 PM

If you have the money, you can't go wrong with the F5, it's a fantastic looking camera that doesn't have the issues of it's little brothers. I shot some interviews with one few years ago and was very happy with the results. Where I wouldn't use one for run and gun, for more static stuff it's perfect. For run and gun, it's nice to have something made for that kind of shooting. As much as I completely dislike the FS7's recoding formats and highlight clipping issues, it's a better camera for run and gun then the F5.

I will also mention the Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6k. The only thing it's missing is the filter wheel, which in my opinion is only worth while on run and gun. If you're shooting in a controlled environment, you can use a mattebox and filters no problem. Now I know I'm MR Blackmagic, but the camera does look amazing and if you can save money on the body, so you can buy better glass, it's worth while. I'm also from the camp that in todays world, a camera should shoot two formats; RAW and Pro Res. What flavor of raw is up to the manufacturer as; Red Code, Cinema DNG and arriraw have their pro's and con's. But Pro Res in my view is a necessity and the F5 can record RAW and Pro Res with an expensive add on.

I guess my point is, why spend all that money on a camera body as a compete F5 package is VERY expensive.
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#8 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 01 April 2016 - 07:37 PM

After shooting a live event the other night with two fs5's and an f55, I think I'm sold on the middle ground of the F5. One of the production companies I work for uses Canon C300's almost exclusively, and there's something about that camera I just don't like, can't put my finger on it yet though.

 

 

very diplomatic sir..  C300 is designed to ,look like a kettle rather than maybe..  a camera..! .. and then they did it twice .. good lenses but they should forget cameras IMHO..they do alot of weird things.. C300II has centre crop but only in off speed.. even 24/25/30p.. but only off speed so no audio .. why ?? 


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#9 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 01 April 2016 - 07:59 PM

If you have the money, you can't go wrong with the F5, it's a fantastic looking camera that doesn't have the issues of it's little brothers. I shot some interviews with one few years ago and was very happy with the results. Where I wouldn't use one for run and gun, for more static stuff it's perfect. For run and gun, it's nice to have something made for that kind of shooting. As much as I completely dislike the FS7's recoding formats and highlight clipping issues, it's a better camera for run and gun then the F5.

I will also mention the Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6k. The only thing it's missing is the filter wheel, which in my opinion is only worth while on run and gun. If you're shooting in a controlled environment, you can use a mattebox and filters no problem. Now I know I'm MR Blackmagic, but the camera does look amazing and if you can save money on the body, so you can buy better glass, it's worth while. I'm also from the camp that in todays world, a camera should shoot two formats; RAW and Pro Res. What flavor of raw is up to the manufacturer as; Red Code, Cinema DNG and arriraw have their pro's and con's. But Pro Res in my view is a necessity and the F5 can record RAW and Pro Res with an expensive add on.

I guess my point is, why spend all that money on a camera body as a compete F5 package is VERY expensive.

 

As an owner of the F5 for 2 years I would not agree sir.. the only thing better with the Fs7 is the XLR input position.. which is not good with the F5.. although L shape XLR plugs pretty much minimizes it.. the big difference is the F5 has the side LCD ,hot buttons,and now with V7.1 the "quick menu function"..you can change pretty much everything except S&Q without going into menu,s.. the Fs7 has no exterior menu /LCD.. everything is menu..(it has assign buttons off course like the F5) but you are often having to go into the menu,s to change settings.. also without the optional back unit.. no TC in or out.. not ideal for the now ubiquitous sound devices ! and no way to use V mount batts.. the EVFLoupe set up is not good out of the box.. but alot of 3rd party options now..

Both need a decent shoulder/tripod base plate.. I assure you I have been running and gunning around like a mad man with my F5.. all over the world..it has been perfect literally from the equator (Singapore)to the arctic circle. (Svalbard) and parts in-between .. and if its used on Bourdain shoots.. then its run and gun ! if ever there were an acid test..

 

Trouble with the Ursa mini for doc work is lack of internal ND.. this is a HUGE pain in the backside for doc shooting.. Re pro res Im from the other side .. I think its an old very inefficient,data hungry codec,originally an edit only codec..but has become entrenched and holding back the advancement of better codec,s.. its like Windows and VHS.. out with it.. !! :)


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#10 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 01 April 2016 - 11:30 PM

Well, the F5 decked out is around $20k and the FS7 decked out is around $10k. So yes, the FS7 is lacking a few of the features you like about the F5 no doubt, but it's less of an investment for run and gun where the likelihood of it getting damaged is a lot higher. Plus the FS7 is already designed from the box to be hand held. When I mean run and gun, I literally mean camera on your shoulder with a nice classic broadcast zoom lens.

I'd run all the audio wirelessly into the FS7 anyway, there is no reason for run and gun to have separate audio.

When you're on sticks and you've got someone talking to the camera, then the F5 works fine.

The URSA Mini is missing the filter wheel. It's an awesome feature to have for run and gun, but if you have the time to setup sticks, you have the time to shove a filter in the mattebox. It takes 10 seconds and it's not a pain at all. I have two ND's loaded in my mattebox filter holders all the time. Shove them in the mattebox and go to town.

We've had the ol' pro res argument before. I do a lot of coloring with i-frame MPEG material and it's still nasty mess. If you want messed up blacks, if you want clipped highlights, if you want limited dynamic range, go ahead and shot your fancy "modern" codec's. For those of us who want quality, we shoot Pro Res XQ which is a 12 bit 444 codec OR Raw. Not great for a talking heads show, but then again, who knows what you'll be shooting and having the ability to fix problems in post is hyper critical. I can't imagine what I'd be doing if I didn't have RAW capture in my camera, I'd be so screwed.
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#11 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 02 April 2016 - 01:37 AM

TBH I wouldn't say the F7 is ready to be shoulder used.. that little pad at the back is for pushing into the front of your shoulder type thing.. with a broadcast zoom you need a shoulder rig..if not there wouldn't be so many 3rd party ones around.. you say you can change ND filters in a mattbox same time as string up a tripod.. but its the opposite we are talking about ? not on a tripod..thats the thing.. you dont have time to set up a tripod and you really dont have time to be swapping and most likely needing to clean ND filters. with the camera on your knee.. sorry but your really wrong with this tack... it really is a pain to not have internal ND filters in anything but controlled settings.. I dont think any doc camera person would deny that.. maybe you haven't really had to shoot on the hoof,or you would never say its not a pain :).. 

 

Not many doc,s shot in RAW . or need to be.. although the F5 has 16 bit RAW if you want it.. with the RAW recorder..The BBC Nat history unit is pretty much the top end of that field.. an we were shooting 4K XAVC Slog3.cine.. but I guess your work is on a higher level.. (maybe you could expand )..that wouldn't be good enough.. but for 99.9 % of doc,s thats way good enough.. get your exposures right in the first place you wont be screwed with out RAW..:   :)

 

Check out the Bourdain shoots on line.. they go in and shoot all hand held.. he hates waiting around .. despite what you might think..the reality is the f5 is a very use able doc run and gun camera.. I own one ..I know..there are a ton of crews all around the world using it R&G.. Ive pointed out a high profile extreme R&G show you can check out the Dp,s online,which looks fantastic.. but no .still you will argue having used it once or twice. by your admission in a non run and gun situation.. really what gives with you man.. 

 

Its ok to be wrong Tyler.. its character building..   :)


Edited by Robin R Probyn, 02 April 2016 - 01:49 AM.

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#12 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 02 April 2016 - 02:35 AM

IDK man, I shot ENG for 15 years and I know how valuable it is. Honestly, if I'm going between a threshold of bright to dark or visa versa, I'd rather not have a stupid filter wheel in my shot, I'd rather change the stop and keep shooting until I have a moment to make that change. It takes 5 seconds to pop a filter in and out of a matte box and if your rig is so damn big you can't reach it, that's your own fault.

The reason why TV doc's don't shoot raw is they don't care. Even your Bourdain example shoots 8 bit 4:2:0 which is outright disgusting, makes me wanna puke. Just the fact Sony offers Long GOP compression at 8 bit 4:2:0 on their cameras in this day where everyone is going 12 - 16 bit, is just outrageous.

I never once said the F5 isn't usable. I simply said, if you're going to spend money on a run and gun camera, I suggest buying one that's cheaper which is designed specifically for that task, which is the FS7. Trust me, I would rather not buy anything, then buy either of those two cameras. I'm disgusted by Sony's design tactic, full of menu's, submenu's, imagers with native ISO's around 1600 - 3200 which means they bloom without heavy filtration in sunlight. I dislike the fact they've stuck with older MPEG standards that are no different then HDV (8 bit 4:2:0) and want to charge the customer more for RAW and Pro Res. I could go on all night, but to me the con's outweigh the pro's, especially if you count price into the equation.

I know how much you love your Sony cameras and you're a devotee. But clearly as a shooter, you don't have to deal with what happens after you shoot, the post process which is a nightmare using MPEG files. I deal with it every day and if it went away tomorrow, everything would be so much better.
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#13 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 02 April 2016 - 10:27 AM

Im not really a Sony devotee.. I had a Pana HDX900 for years.. loved the look way more than Sony.. but thats the thing .. with Cine EI,and burning in LUT,s .. you dont have to have the Sony 709 look anymore.. 

 

Im not talking about engaging the filter wheel in shot .. no ones doing that.. but to have them internal just has to be faster than putting them into a mattbox,carrying them around and keeping them clean.. plus you often want more than 2..

 

The reason doc,s are not shot RAW is not because they dont care.. but the data would be massive.. totally un work able..and not needed for TV ..  as well as XDCAM 422 HD.. the Bourdain program and nearly all the "up market" stuff is shot XAVC which is 10 bit 422 HD,either burning in a LUT or Slog3.cine.. this gives alot of leeway for grading .. for TV anyway..and as good as any 422 pro res.. but alot more efficient.. or XAVC 4K internal.. Im shooting way more on XAVC than XDCAM.. maybe its the problem with the DP,s shooting the material you are dealing with rather than the codec,s.. 

 

My point was per the OP.. you made a sweeping comment that the F5 was not a R&G camera.. based it seems by your own admission that you had shot "A few" interviews with it.. Ive shot probably a thousand interviews with it.. and alot of R&G over 2 years .. from jungles to the arctic .. from Raffles hotels to Max security prisons in Denmark.. its most certainly a run and gun camera.. yet still you dont want to believe it..  I really wonder why.. ? I would not advise anyone about resolve or the Alexa Studio.. because know F**k all about them.. if you can see where Im going here :)


Edited by Robin R Probyn, 02 April 2016 - 10:35 AM.

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#14 Phil Rhodes

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Posted 02 April 2016 - 11:38 AM

I'm with Robin. Much as I (or more accurately my ersatz clients) can't even nearly afford the modern ENG-style big-chip solutions, the availability of a filter wheel is essential. It's the single biggest oversight on the Ursa. That and the viewfinder lag, but all cameras seem to have that these days...


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#15 Tyler Purcell

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Posted 02 April 2016 - 12:43 PM

The reason doc,s are not shot RAW is not because they dont care.. but the data would be massive.. totally un work able..and not needed for TV ..


The Ursa Mini 4.6k shoots 4:1 raw, which is even smaller then Pro Res XQ. Yes, if you're shooting interviews, you don't need it. If you're running around like crazy, it's nice to have.

the Bourdain program and nearly all the "up market" stuff is shot XAVC which is 10 bit 422 HD,either burning in a LUT or Slog3.cine..


“We shoot S-Log 4:2:0 right to the cards. The extended latitude of S-Log is terrific with the F3 and gets even better with the F5,” he enthuses. “I see log-style recording as a huge asset in documentary work. There are so many lighting situations we don’t have time or resources to control, so we shoot to protect highlight and shadow detail. For me, more dynamic range is always better. We have a great colorist and it all grades beautifully in [Blackmagic Design] DaVinci Resolve.”

That's a direct quote from their cinematographer.

this gives alot of leeway for grading .. for TV anyway..and as good as any 422 pro res.. but alot more efficient.. or XAVC 4K internal.. Im shooting way more on XAVC than XDCAM.. maybe its the problem with the DP,s shooting the material you are dealing with rather than the codec,s..


Again, if you shoot perfectly, it works fine. If you don't shoot perfectly, it doesn't work fine. I'd much rather have the safety net of a decent editing codec like Pro Res which by the way does have more dynamic range then XAVC-I. But hey, that's because I color all day long and I've seen how bad XAVC falls apart in post if you try to make too many changes. For television who cares... but believe it or not, some people make stuff for theaters with these cameras as well, imagine that!

I will gladly post some stuff to show you what I'm talking about. I'm working on a doc shot with the C300 in XAVC-I by a top cinematographer and even though the camera's imager looks great, I will try to show you what happens when you recover the blacks.
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#16 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 02 April 2016 - 03:59 PM

Robin is spot on. F5/55 is well-suited for ENG style doc shooting. Just wish it were a bit more light sensitive. Shot an event job a few days ago in a very dark club with the F55/19-90 and even at 5000ISO with no shutter, exposure was a struggle.
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#17 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 02 April 2016 - 09:13 PM

Hi Satsuki

 

Well it is 2000 ISO native which is pretty high..well.. many say it is too high ! and that 1000 is more like it ..:).. when its just too dark you have to get off the zooms . and need T1.4 primes.. 


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#18 Satsuki Murashige

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Posted 02 April 2016 - 09:20 PM

Hi Robin, I had the F55 not the F5, so it was 1250 ISO native. Yeah, there was just no way primes or on-board lights were gonna happen on this job. I tried to talk them into a more light sensitive camera like the C300 but they really wanted the 4K. Oh well. Ar least the client was happy...
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#19 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 02 April 2016 - 09:25 PM

The Ursa Mini 4.6k shoots 4:1 raw, which is even smaller then Pro Res XQ. Yes, if you're shooting interviews, you don't need it. If you're running around like crazy, it's nice to have.


“We shoot S-Log 4:2:0 right to the cards. The extended latitude of S-Log is terrific with the F3 and gets even better with the F5,” he enthuses. “I see log-style recording as a huge asset in documentary work. There are so many lighting situations we don’t have time or resources to control, so we shoot to protect highlight and shadow detail. For me, more dynamic range is always better. We have a great colorist and it all grades beautifully in [Blackmagic Design] DaVinci Resolve.”

That's a direct quote from their cinematographer.


Again, if you shoot perfectly, it works fine. If you don't shoot perfectly, it doesn't work fine. I'd much rather have the safety net of a decent editing codec like Pro Res which by the way does have more dynamic range then XAVC-I. But hey, that's because I color all day long and I've seen how bad XAVC falls apart in post if you try to make too many changes. For television who cares... but believe it or not, some people make stuff for theaters with these cameras as well, imagine that!

I will gladly post some stuff to show you what I'm talking about. I'm working on a doc shot with the C300 in XAVC-I by a top cinematographer and even though the camera's imager looks great, I will try to show you what happens when you recover the blacks.

 

Hi Tyler

 

That might be an older article if they're referencing F3,s.. I pretty sure the latest program he has done is XAVC.. but even if it is XDCAM 422 HD.. that would also make a point in itself.. these shows look fantastic and have been universally praised for their look.. which would support my argument.. that even that codec can look very good in the right hands.. acquisition  and post.. as he says we have a great colorist .. maybe you need to read up on what their colorist can do with this crap codec..

Although you are typically moving the goal posts :).. that show was introduced in the first place to prove that the F5 is a very usable run and gun camera ..as a fact.. not about codec .. the main point that you now seem to conveniently totally ignore .. do you still think the F5 is not a run and gun camera ..based on your extensive use of that camera..

 

BTW  C300 doesnt record XAVC..this could be why your post skills are letting you down.. :)


Edited by Robin R Probyn, 02 April 2016 - 09:29 PM.

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#20 Robin R Probyn

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Posted 02 April 2016 - 09:27 PM

Hi Robin, I had the F55 not the F5, so it was 1250 ISO native. Yeah, there was just no way primes or on-board lights were gonna happen on this job. I tried to talk them into a more light sensitive camera like the C300 but they really wanted the 4K. Oh well. Ar least the client was happy...

 

oh right sorry.. yes down to 1250 I believe.. due to the global shutter stuff on the sensor.. hope the grain was ok.. I would put NR up to high in those situations.. its pretty good and doesn't make the image soft..


Edited by Robin R Probyn, 02 April 2016 - 09:29 PM.

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