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Old December 24th, 2004, 12:49 PM   #1
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Proud New Optura Xi Owner

Hello Everyone,
My Xi will be in on Monday the 27th. My big question is, if I have $200 to spend on acessories, other than bag and tripod, what are the best purchases. This camera will be used mostly for amatuer (indie) filming. I am open for any idea.

thanks,
alex strand
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Old December 24th, 2004, 12:55 PM   #2
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BTW, could anyone post photos of thier current "camera" setups?
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Old December 24th, 2004, 01:10 PM   #3
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I'd suggest a wide-angle adapter, VL-3 onboard light and/or the DM-50 onboard stereo mic (much better than the built-in mic).
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Old December 24th, 2004, 03:18 PM   #4
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The first thing I would buy is an ND filter. You will need it if you plan on using the camera outside in bright sunlight, especially if you experiment with the TV30 settings. I use an ND4 coupled with a circuler polarizer.
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Old December 25th, 2004, 02:40 PM   #5
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which wide angel adapter? please send me a link of what you mean.
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Old December 25th, 2004, 02:47 PM   #6
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see, i am a newbie at all of this...
i dont know the order in which this would all go...
like this?? : camera, adapeter,filter? im confused
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Old December 26th, 2004, 05:27 AM   #7
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The camera comes first (you can't buy accessories if you don't know what camera you're using)... hehehe.

I'd recommend getting a 46mm glass circular polarizer as this will accomplish two things: protects the lens from getting scratched, and reduces light for outdoor shooting like a neutral density filter(not to mention, adds color and contrast). Good circular polarizers start at about $20. Make sure you get glass (not plastic) and make sure you can "manually" turn the filter. Tiffen and Hoya are reputable filter manufacturers to check out.

Unless you have a boom operator, I'd get Canon's DM-50 shotgun mic. It's $130 at B&H Photo. Sound is half the picture (some pros argue that it's 70%). No body likes to watch a movie with hissy sound or dialog that can't be understood. And since you're a newbie, I'd hate to see you have to ADR your little indie features (not fun!!).

With the Optura XI, I'd bypass the wide adapter for now since you have a limited budget. It will shoot wide enough (unless you're shooting sports-oriented stuff).

Spend the rest of that $200 on a good photography composition class (unless you can afford film school). By all means, learn how the rules of composition, depth of field and the like apply to creating an image. Go rent DVDs that have similar story lines to yours and see how it's shot. Pay attention to lighting, angles, blocking, etc. Get books on filmmaking... get the serious books... "Filmmaking for Dummies" or "Make a Movie with iMovie" or "Make a Movie for $50" don't teach you how to "see" through your camera. They more or less emphasize the tools and technical processes of filmmaking. Perhaps my favorite book is from Focal Press, Steven Katz's "Film Directing: Shot by Shot". I like books with lots of pictures and those just happen to be "storyboard" books.

That's what I'd do with $200. Hope that helps.
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Old December 26th, 2004, 09:09 PM   #8
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Xander that is really solid advice. You can spend a fortune on a camcorder, but if you don't know how to use it, your video is just going to look cheezy-bad. On the other hand, I've seen video that was shot with much cheaper consumer camcorders than the Xi, but the end result was very impressive and stayed with me for a long time, simply because it was shot and edited so well.

Here's a few tips that I have learned over the years that I think have improved my video a great deal over the first shakey, pan-everywhere and ( groan ...) zoom in and out attempts I started with:

To put it simply - shoot like you are using a still camera.

Forget about punching the record button as fast as you can to "catch the action". Wait a few beats to frame your subject tastfully, and make sure the camera isn't crooked. It still amazes me how easy it is too shoot lopsided video, where you haven't really noticed that untill you watch it on TV. Must be something to do with the shape of the bezel around the TV screen that accents that.... ;)

The Xi takes a second or two longer than other camcorders I've used, to lock in it's auto focus. That's too bad, but nothing looks worse than shots that start out blurry, or hunt around before settling in on the subject.

Avoiding panning the camera more than a few degrees (if at all, and do it SLOWLY ) during a shot. It's much better to do a short clip first, then change angles and grab a fixed shot from a different point of view. The same goes for zooming. Actually you hardly EVER see professional video or films that zoom during a shot. It can be used as an effect a couple of times, but after that it just looks hokey.

Set your exposure and white balance before shooting. Home video really looks just like home video, when the white areas of a shot are clipped and blown out, losing all the picture detail within the brightness, and causing that awful jaggy line thing happening in the surrounding areas.

Most video cameras, including the Xi cannot handle bright noon-day sun shooting, without overloading the CCD. A simple $20 ND filter, or a Polarizing filter (or even both on really bright summer days ) will rein in this effect, help prevent blow-outs, and allow your camera to capture the full color and detail of a scene. Your shots will look much more expensive if you are careful about this.

I've noticed that the Xi has a tendency to shift the colors in the way-too-over-warm direction most of the time. At the very least make sure you set the white balance to either the appropriate "indoor" or "outdoor" setting. Better yet, keep a sheet of white paper with you at all times. Zoom all the way in on the paper (doesn't matter if it's totally out of focus, just fill all the frame with the paper), and go to the camera menu area that let's you set the white balance manually. You'll be pretty amazed at how true the colors suddenly come out. This also improves the apparent sensitivity of the Xi a great deal when shooting in very low light situations. You'll get a lot more lattitude out of the camera before everything turns into grainy, smeary orange.

If you don't have any paper handy, or if your video looks too warm, try zooming all the way in on the back of your hand, then set the white balance. This will cool things off nicely, and bring out the blues, and reds in a scene - a lot more like the Sony camcorder look.

One more quick thing: You don't have to shoot endlessy long scenes to get the idea of the subject matter across. Nothing could be more tedious for viewers in our MTV generation... Again, study what you see in your favorite programs, and try to pick up on what the person running the camera is thinking.

I try to shoot now by thinking of "editing in camera". This means usually taking shorter, better framed shots (usually not shorter than 7 seconds, and not typically longer than 30 seconds) then moving the camera to another point of view and taking a few more shots, repeating the process. Again, pretend you are using a STILL camera. Of course it depends on the situation you are shooting in, but I am thinking of walking around at family, or outdoor events. You will be surprised at how much easier your videos are for other people to watch, and how you will need much less computer editing for your video to take shape. After awhile you will develope the "feel" to get a rythm going with your shots that ties events together, and tells a story for the viewer.

Well, try those few things. If you don't think your first attempts at shooting are looking right to you now, chances are you will see a big improvement in your shots after trying the simple steps above. I know it all sounds really wordy, but really, this is all easy stuff to try, and once you are aware of it, it becomes second nature for you very quickly.

Have fun! Let us know how things are working for you.
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Old December 31st, 2004, 12:15 AM   #9
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Good advice all around, I'd also suggest a BP-535 or equivalent battery.

And I'd second the DM-50 mic, it's a good buy and very practical.
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Old December 31st, 2004, 03:20 PM   #10
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Shooting for the Cut

Alex,

If you don't plan on editing your footage in post, then the "editing in camera" is a very good approach to minimize unwanted footage.

However, if you do plan to edit in post (even with the lite NLEs like iMovie, Final Cut Express, Vegas Movie Studio, Pinnacle Studio, etc.), then I prefer to use a different approach called "Shooting for the cut".

This means shooting as much as is reasonable to provide the editor (you) with as many choices for editing as possible. If you try to edit while shooting, you will likely miss some good shots. You will find you can make better editing decisions AFTER you have the footage than you can in real time.

Also, when shooting action events, I often leave the camera recording even while I reposition for the next shot (which is usually just a few seconds). This helps ensure that you capture all of the action you may want. If you wait to hit the record button after you have zoomed, panned, framed, focused, set exposure, you may miss something important. Sometimes, if you're not careful, you may even forget to hit the record button when you are trying to do a lot of things at once. Also, there may be some very useful audio you capture (to be used with other video) while repositioning for the next shot.

It doesn't matter that you will have some footage that is no good -- it will hit the electronic cutting room floor. :) Just be sure to take plenty of extra tapes, head cleaner, batteries, etc. with you on the shoot.

I think this is a particularly good approach for anyone new to shooting and/or has a new camera. As you become more seasoned, you will naturally shoot less unusable footage.

Good luck.

Best Regards,
Pete
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Old February 2nd, 2005, 01:44 PM   #11
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calling Chris Hurd

Hi chris,
you seem to like the vl-3 light.
can you tell me why you like it?
i'm really trying to figure out the bebefits of owning one.

thanks,
earon
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