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Old June 20th, 2008, 07:02 AM   #1
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Good HD Prosumer - Easy to Use

I run a small video productions company in South Mississppi. We specialize in Live Events such as marching band competitions, and dance recitals and weddings. I have several people that work for me on a part time basis so their exposure to my equipment is moderate to limited.

When I started the business I used (and still use) the Panasonic DVC-30. Great little camera. Decent in low light. Great control of zoom and easy to adjust iris for difficult lighting situations. I purchased a Canon XH-A1 to start to move into HD. I love the camera and the images it produces. However, none of my crew can use it. The zoom is very sensitive and it requires control of shutter, gain switch, and the iris ring to control lighting properly. This is just too complicated for my crew.

I am looking for recommendations based on your experience for prosumer HD cameras 1/3 or 1/4 (preferrerably 1/3) sensors that have a good zoom control with lanc remote option and easy control of iris/gain settings. I am looking for ease of use with high quality picture. 24p is not a requirement. I shoot mostly 30f on the Canon XH-A1.

I Would love to hear your suggestions based on cameras that you have or currently use.
Thank you

Jonathan Schwartz
CA Video Productions
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Old June 20th, 2008, 10:47 AM   #2
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Well the Canon XH line are extremely good cameras, and maybe the best bang for the buck value out there, as it really is a fully customizable pro camera.

That being said, this is a Canon thing. Canon cameras have always offered great customizable feature sets, but are intended for those who like to run their cameras in manual and not auto mode. So out of the box, Canon cameras do have a learning curve and do need to be tweaked to shoot the image that you want.

If your shooters want more of an automatic camera then I would suggest the Sony line of cameras. As Sony cameras do offer great customization feature sets, but are more forgiving when running with auto functions. So they are more of a pull out of the box and shoot right away type camera. But also give you the ability to customize the picture settings to yor desire.

Now I shoot with Sony FX1's and used to shoot with Sony PD170's, but run my cameras on full manual everything (including audio) all of the time. But I have seen good results using these cameras in auto.

However, you will NEVER get as good an image as being able to run your camera in manually. The reason being that if you are simply controlling the exposure, then the camera is constantly adjusting the Gain, so your image might not be as rich as it could be, or the image might be pushing the grainier side of things in darker situations.

But if you were looking for a camera with easy to operate feature sets, then I would say go with the Sony FX/Z1 line of cameras. If built in XLR capability is a must for you and you don't like to use external XLR boxes then go with the Z1 over the FX1. The Z1 will also give you some additional features like Black Stretch which can help with shadow detail in low light environments. The V1U is also a nice option as it has built in XLR audio, excellent feature set, and is smaller than the FX1/Z1 series. But, if it matters, it won't be as good in low light as the FX1/Z1 line. The new Z7 or EX camera is excellent, but will be too much for your operators to want to learn most likely.

Both cameras have easy to operate manual controls on the outside of the camera (no need to go into the menu). I would suggest that your operators learn how to run their cameras on manual and use Zebra patterns. It is rather easy to do with the Sony cameras. I simply run my Zebras on 100 and (by pushing the buttons on the outside of the camera switches the camera from auto to manual for each setting).

1. Push Shutter speed button, to trun your cameras shutter speed to manual. Set this to 60 and leave it there.

2. Push the gain button to turn the camera to manual gain, and flip the gain switch on the outside to L/M/H setting (you preset your gain in the menu, I run mine at 0/6/15.

3. Push the Iris button to activate your exposure and simply turn the small dial on the front of the camera to your liking.

This is basically it, with the exception of deciding weather or not you want to run manual or auto White Balance. If you want auto white balance, like auto anything, then don't push the white balance button. If you wane manual white balance then push teh button and select from one of 3 presets (using the WB switch), which are indoors or outdoors (depending on what you preset in your menu), or A/B (2 additional white balance settings that you can preset and switch t any time.

All of this may sound complicated for your shooters, but it really is rather easy to do, and normally I am only riding my cameras exposure during the course of the day, or maybe up the gain if needed (although I try to stay as close to 0 or 6db as I can).

The important thing to remember is that if you preset your camera up to run on manual settings then you always know how you are shooting. If the camera adjusts then you have no idea and can get some rather unexpected surprises.

Like the Canon A1, the Sony cameras have many custom picture profiles you can setup ahead of time to shoot with. It's just not as intensive or deep a picture set as the Canon. Which is why I like the Sony cameras, as even though I run manual all of the time, I wasn't comfortable with the extensive custom profiles in the Canon menu.
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Old June 20th, 2008, 11:10 AM   #3
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A second vote...

... for the Sonys. Not much to add to Michael's detailed post, what I love about these puppies are two things: the easy way of switching between manual and auto if lighting conditions change rapidly, and the fantastic low light capability combined with black stretch on the Z1. True prosumer cameras that can do anything from full auto to everything manual depending on the meatball behind the viewfinder.
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Old June 20th, 2008, 11:22 AM   #4
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Good advice in this thread so far. I'd highly recommend the Canon XH A1. Profesional control/features at a Prosumer price and the auto modes do work well enough for P&S operation.
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Old June 20th, 2008, 07:48 PM   #5
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I think the OP was saying that he tried the Canon and it just is a bit too much for a casual shooter... too many options. I recall having that reaction just looking at the "features" list...

SO, another vote for Sony - run good in auto, and when your shooters want to bump it up a notch, they don't need to take a course to learn how to run the cam (of course the more they know the better, perhaps SOME training would be in order?).

Panasonic has a couple cameras in the oven too, might be worth consideration since you've used Panasonic already, sometimes that helps with the learning curve once you've "connected" with the way a given companies engineers set everything up...
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Old June 21st, 2008, 06:28 AM   #6
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Dear Jonathan,

Quote: "The zoom is very sensitive and it requires control of shutter, gain switch, and the iris ring to control lighting properly. This is just too complicated for my crew."

I have the following suggestions for you:

1. Set the Zoom speed to a lower value, one that is not so fast, one that is comfortable for your shooters.

2. Set the shutter to 1/60th of a second (if you are using 1080i60), or 1/48th if you are shooting 24f mode.

3. Set the gain to -3dB or to 0dB.

4. Use the Tv mode so that the shutter speed remains constant.

In my opinion, these settings will eliminate all of the problems / complications that you have mentioned.

You have a great camera already. You are almost there in your quest for great footage.
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Old June 21st, 2008, 09:57 AM   #7
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Locking zoom speed to the lowest setting (eliminating zip zooms) is the single easiest thing to do, that will most improve footage shot by inexperienced camera operators. To bad there isn't a way to lock down panning speed.

I'll sort of echo Dan about exposure. Lock down the shutter speed and gain, and just leave aperture to adjust exposure.
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Old September 18th, 2008, 10:11 PM   #8
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Thanks Michael for the very informative post. this answers a lot of questions I had myself.

so other then ease of use features, how does the picture compare between the cameras you mentioned?
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Old September 18th, 2008, 10:45 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by William Dortignac View Post
Thanks Michael for the very informative post. this answers a lot of questions I had myself.

so other then ease of use features, how does the picture compare between the cameras you mentioned?
The FX1 and Z1 use the same optics, so they are pretty much the same. The Z1 can eek out a better picture in low light because it has some additional picture settings like black stretch, knee and such, which give you better blacks in the shadows during low light shooting. Besides that the picture is almost exactly the same. As I said earlier also, the Z will give you built in XLRs if this is of major importance to you.

The V1 will give you great color with it's CMOS sensors. I like the color better on the V1 over the Z1. However the V1 only has 1/8 CMOS sensors. So it falls short in the low light department. But if you supplement light with onboard or off camera lighting, the you should be fine.

The Z7 and especially the EX1 rocks. The Z7 gives you the ability to record to tape and CF card simultaneously and produces a stunning image. And the EX1 records to removable media only, and has an incredible picture, even in low light.

the upcoming FX1000 and Z5, are starting to look like they might be a great camera for event shooters. As the larger 1/3 Exemor CMOS (similar to EX1's) should produce some great images as well. The Z5 of course will have some additional features than the FX1000 does, like built in XLRs, some additional picture settings, and of course the ability to mount the CF recorder to the back of the Z5 and record both tape and CF media like the Z7. The FX1000 will most likely be able to use the same CF recorder as the Z5 (via firewire), but it will have to mount via hot shoe on your camera.

BTW, the Canon XHA1 is a great camera, and the only reason I didn't g canon over Sony, is because while Sony's cameras are easier to use right out of the box. Canon's has always had better optics in y book over Sony, and are a pro camera all of the way because they are so customizable. Just too customizable for my taste to get the right picture for me.

I hope this helps yo out some.
Feel free to contact me if you have any more questions.
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