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Old February 3rd, 2009, 10:10 PM   #1
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So many cameras, my brain is breaking!

Hello, all,

This is my first post of dvinfo.net - thanks, Chris! In addition to being new to this forum, I am more or less a newbie with regard to cameras. I’m a documentary producer whose films in the past have been shot on the Varicam with a pro cinematographer and all the bells and whistles. I’m going into a completely different project now, very DIY and VERY low-budget, yet with the hope that great content and story will ultimately land a strong HD festival run and a cable broadcast deal.

I have been reading these forums until my head hurts and am still super confused about my camera choices. The one thing that sticks out is that the camera that’s ‘best’ depends largely on your shooting needs. So, here is the info about our project, and huge thanks in advance for a tailor-made assessment from the experts.

This is a verité-style, 85-90% run-and-gun documentary that will be shot largely indoors, in corporate apartments, hotel rooms, meeting halls, school rooms, and other such nondescript locations, using available light only. We won’t be dealing with super fast motion – some dancing, maybe. Interviews will be informal, off the cuff, and largely unlit. We will be mostly shooting handheld, possibly with a shoulder brace. Some shooting will be outdoors, but this will be the exception rather than the rule. The director and producer will be doing shooting/sound – we have some experience with cameras, but very little compared with most cinematographers, so we would like the option to run auto and need a camera that is user-friendly/easily learnable. In most situations we will have the main subject mic’d with a wireless lav and use a boom mic for our second audio channel. We expect to shoot 200-250 hours of media and would like to shoot 24P. Probably 720/24P due to storage space for editing. We need excellent low-light capacity.

Post-production, we will be editing in Final Cut Pro on a dual-core 3 Ghz Intel MacPro. We’ll likely do a fair amount of graphics designed in Adobe After Effects. There will be some SD archival media, but it’ll likely make up only less than 5-10% of the overall film. Our camera is by far our most important acquisition tool.

We are looking in the $3000-$6000 range (but would prefer the low end of that range, 'cause we've got to buy audio gear, monopod, gear bags, etc. as well) and are mostly considering the Sony FX-1000, the Sony Z5U, the Sony EX1, the Canon XH-A1, and the Panasonic AG-HMC150. I've always used tape, but I'm not afraid of tapeless - I love the sound of the HPX-170 but I am concerned about the storage space I’ll need for editing and archiving DVCPro-HD media and ESPECIALLY the cost of P2 cards. I wish it were affordable to have enough cards for a day’s shooting without having to download in the field!! 'Cause many days we won't have field support. I very much liked the Panasonic DV cameras and am intrigued by the HMC150, but I’m concerned about post with the AVCHD codec, as we are editing in Final Cut Pro which does not support native AVCHD (again, storage issue, plus transcoding all my footage -even to DVCProHD - via a 3rd party software like Toast is a bit scary to me). The EX1 sounded perfect once I realized it can use adapted SDHC cards, but it's the priciest of the bunch and sounds bulky and difficult to operate hand-held. My director was told by a sales guy that the Canon has the best autofocus and auto controls, but it only shoots interlaced footage and I've heard elsewhere it is an inferior rig - that there's chromatic aberration at full wide, its LCD screen is too small, etc. The FX-1000 doesn't have dual XLR inputs, though I guess I could use a Beachtek.

Our most important priorities are:
1) User friendliness and good auto functions*** MOST IMPORTANT!
2) Good low-light capacity
3) Good audio capacity
4) Easy to handle hand-held or with a monopod

It would be great to have a histogram view and we will mostly be shooting wide, so a good wide-angle is a plus.

So, here are my questions:
--Based on all these, thoughts on what camera would be best for me?
--Which are the most user-friendly of these cameras?
--Is all HDV created equal?
--Is the AVCHD format truly visually superior to HDV?
--What is the difference between “native 24P” (the Z5) and “24p over 60i” (the FX-1000)?
--Am I missing an important consideration (or camera)?
--Is HDV, when mastered to HDCAM or D5, acceptable for blowup/broadcast?
--Is HDV really as terrible as I've been warned with regard to timecode breaks, capture problems, and render times?

I know this is very very broad and a lot of questions but I would very much value your advice, based on the constraints and needs of this particular project.

THANK YOU!

All the best,

Dylan
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Old February 3rd, 2009, 10:47 PM   #2
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If I may...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post

This is a verité-style...
...using available light only
... Interviews will be informal, off the cuff, and largely unlit.
...we would like the option to run auto and need a camera that is user-friendly/easily learnable.
...We need excellent low-light capacity.

...We are looking in the $3000-$6000 range

...mostly considering the Sony FX-1000, the Sony Z5U, the Sony EX1, the Canon XH-A1, and the Panasonic AG-HMC150.

Our most important priorities are:
1) User friendliness and good auto functions*** MOST IMPORTANT!
2) Good low-light capacity
3) Good audio capacity
4) Easy to handle hand-held or with a monopod
You have asked for a camera that does not exist. The holy grail. Cheap, cheap media, easy to use, good in low/no light/ good auto features. It's like asking for an SUV that seat 8, hauls 10k pounds and gets 70mpg. Oh, and fits in a compact spot. So since your camera doesn't exist you need to make some choices. If it's got to shoot in low light, you need big glass and big sensors. That's the EX1. But since autofocus needs LOTS of light to work even marginally, you're stuck.

Honestly, given your budget and your parameters, any camera in this price range is going to look like awful. It won't look good on the web, much less for broadcast. You won't get decent existing light indoor footage until you're up in the Varicam/F900 range. And even then it's dicey.

so let's answer your specific questions:


Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
So, here are my questions:
--Based on all these, thoughts on what camera would be best for me?
None. You seriously need to rethink your production. Especially, if you want to broadcast this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
--Which are the most user-friendly of these cameras?
Probably the Panasonic or the Canon.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
--Is all HDV created equal?
For the most part, but the cameras that shoot it are not.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
--Is the AVCHD format truly visually superior to HDV?
Depends GREATLY on the camera. I'd put the HDV coming out of my EX1 against any of the cameras you listed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
--What is the difference between “native 24P” (the Z5) and “24p over 60i” (the FX-1000)?
Not a heck of a lot when you get right down to it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
--Am I missing an important consideration (or camera)?
Yes, lights.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
--Is HDV, when mastered to HDCAM or D5, acceptable for blowup/broadcast?
Doesn't matter what you master it in. It's still HDV. Good enough for some broadcasters and broadcasts, unacceptable to others. In low light, not good enough for anyone most likely.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
--Is HDV really as terrible as I've been warned with regard to timecode breaks, capture problems, and render times?
Depends on the NLE. Some do better with the footage than others. You mentioned FCP and I think there are known issues. But I'll let the FCP guys tackle that.

If you want to see existing light shots from an EX1, I'll post some stills. I have them here on my laptop. Some I just took tonight in fact. It can look decent, but there's no WAY I'd submit it for broadcast.
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Old February 3rd, 2009, 11:34 PM   #3
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Shooting 200 - 250 hours of footage, even at an obscene 60:1 shoot-to-keep ratio, would be overkill for a 3 hour mini-series. I honestly think time would be better spent in pre-interview and screening subjects for interviews than "going fishing": roll the camera and see if we get anything useful.

I GUARANTEE that no one is going to be able to sift through that much footage with an attentive eye and ear. Some of your best stuff will be left on the cutting room floor to fester because no one will remember it's there.
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Old February 3rd, 2009, 11:48 PM   #4
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Ouch! But I hear you.

After days of reading, I too feel I am searching for the Holy Grail - or at least, I'm in the world of Shakespeare - every camera has a fatal flaw.

Rethinking the production for lights is not an option, due to cost and personnel. We're stuck with our scenario. We can throw up the occasional light or lights for some of our more fixed shooting scenarios, and we can do basic lighting for interviews, but when we're on the move it's pure available light and fly-on-the-wall documentary style.

I'd love to see your stills. How does the EX1 handle, hand-held? I've heard troubling things about its ergonomics. And are the controls reasonably learnable for a novice?

You say HDV is HDV but not all cameras that acquire it are created equal. How would you compare the HDV from, say, the Sony Z5 or Z7 to the HDV from the Sony FX-1000?

And does the XDCAM from the EX1, in your opinion, beat all of the above?

My feeling is, even in an ultra low budget, ultra indie doc like this it makes sense not to skimp, in terms of cost, on the primary acquisition source. Maybe getting the EX1 is worth is worth the extra $. But there's no question of going to a Varicam or F900. I know I have to make choices... I'd just like to make the best choice possible, within the constraints of this project.

Thanks so much for your insight, even if it hurts :)
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Old February 4th, 2009, 12:16 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
After days of reading, I too feel I am searching for the Holy Grail - or at least, I'm in the world of Shakespeare - every camera has a fatal flaw.

Rethinking the production for lights is not an option, due to cost and personnel. We're stuck with our scenario. We can throw up the occasional light or lights for some of our more fixed shooting scenarios, and we can do basic lighting for interviews, but when we're on the move it's pure available light and fly-on-the-wall documentary style.
I'm not saying go to a full lighting package. Something like a Zylight would help tremendously:

Zylight - Intelligent LED Lighting



Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
I'd love to see your stills. How does the EX1 handle, hand-held? I've heard troubling things about its ergonomics. And are the controls reasonably learnable for a novice?
I'll add some stills and point you to some things that will help you understand where you're at.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
You say HDV is HDV but not all cameras that acquire it are created equal. How would you compare the HDV from, say, the Sony Z5 or Z7 to the HDV from the Sony FX-1000?
The Z5 and Z7 are going to be better most likely. At least from reviews I've seen. But I haven't had any of the cams in my hands, so I can't swear to it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
And does the XDCAM from the EX1, in your opinion, beat all of the above?
Yea, I think XDCam from the Ex1 is better than the HDV of any of the above cams. I'd also say the HDV from the EX1 is better than the above cams, primarily due to better sensors and better glass.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
My feeling is, even in an ultra low budget, ultra indie doc like this it makes sense not to skimp, in terms of cost, on the primary acquisition source. Maybe getting the EX1 is worth is worth the extra $. But there's no question of going to a Varicam or F900. I know I have to make choices... I'd just like to make the best choice possible, within the constraints of this project.
Have you looked at the cost of rending a Varicam versus buying an EX1? How long are you planning to shoot? If you're thinking of shooting 200+ hours, I'd have to guess you're going to shoot for some time...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Nelson View Post
Thanks so much for your insight, even if it hurts :)
I got plenty of pain to share! :)


This is a link to a test I did of the EX1 in 1080/24p in exactly 1 footcandle of light:
Sony EX1 Low Light test on Vimeo


Here is an older test where I rated the EX1 at 3200 ISO:
Rating the PMW-EX1 at ISO 3200 on Vimeo


This is a still life I did shortly after getting the camera with 35 FC of light:
Teapot Dark on Vimeo


In the attached images, the LLTest2 is the EX1 in Cinemagamma4 in 1 FC of light.


There is zero processing on any of the stills or vimeo vids. You can download the vids to get past vimeo's awful compression.
Attached Thumbnails
So many cameras, my brain is breaking!-lltest2.jpg   So many cameras, my brain is breaking!-ex1_minus3.jpg  

So many cameras, my brain is breaking!-ex1_zero.jpg  
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Old February 4th, 2009, 01:27 AM   #6
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Nice work. One basic question:How do you download a clip from Vimeo?
I don't see an icon to click for downloading, and right clicking doesn't bring up a download option. I'm sure its so obvious, that I'll feel really stupid.
Thanks in advance, and for all of your great test shots - PK
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Old February 4th, 2009, 01:46 AM   #7
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I would look at the Sony EX1 or EX3 cameras,
1/2" chip great in low light.
Card based recording which is so easy to use and getting cheaper.
Image is really great.
Full HD and various recording rates without a problem.
Good price for the features it has.

Downside.
Chew's through batteries.
EX1 is a bit hard for extended hand held.
Rolling shutter when, stobe lights are on, still camera flashes.
Downconverting from such a high resoultion might be a bit hard if you shoot crops, trees, water and some flowers shows.
Great camera, go for it.

Simon
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Old February 4th, 2009, 03:01 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Simon Ash View Post
I would look at the Sony EX1 or EX3 cameras,
That's my feeling as well. If you want to go to broadcast, they're far more acceptable than anything else you mention, and have a reasonably easy work flow as well (with SDHC cards). You can use them in 1080p/24 mode, and the front end will do justice to the format.

I find the zebra abilities particularly impressive on these cameras, the only ones I know about that can rival a true pro camera. They're the only sub-$10,000 cameras I've come across that I could guarantee QUICKLY and reliably hitting accurate exposure with. Think of them as cheap pro cameras - the others you mention are really expensive consumer cameras.
Quote:
Downside.
Chew's through batteries.
EX1 is a bit hard for extended hand held.
Which is why the EX3 is better than the EX1 for what you want. Especially if you use V-lock batteries via an adaptor, which solves powering issues and makes the camera more ergonomic at the same time, as well as allowing easier use of such as on camera lights, radio mic receivers, etc.

The serious con must be price, and the EX3 is obviously dearer than the EX1. Maybe renting may be a better option? Alternatively, bear in mind that it will have a far higher residual value after you've finished using it!
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Old February 4th, 2009, 03:33 AM   #9
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Choose a camcorder blindfolded, and then go work it hard. You'll find they all bring home the goods; all have miraculous powers to capture images and sounds in near impossible situations. It's very often we, the camera operators, that are lacking. Successful filmmaking is much more to do with your shooting and editing decisions than ever it is to do with your kit, believe me.

Delivery, not process. Person, not camera. Experience not money.

tom.
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Old February 4th, 2009, 05:02 AM   #10
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Tom - if I was employing a builder to work on my house, then given the choice of a craftsman with a limited toolkit or someone of more limited abilities with the best toolkit in the world, guess who I'd choose?

But having booked my favourite craftsman, I'd be far happier if that individual turned up with the most appropiate tools for the job. They may not even lead to a better job, but he may be able to do as good a job far, far quicker with power tools than a hand drill and a screwdriver.

Good tools - or most appropiate tools - don't automatically make for the best job. But they can make it a lot easier for the right person.
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Old February 4th, 2009, 05:16 AM   #11
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Quote:
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Tom - if I was employing a builder to work on my house, then given the choice of a craftsman with a limited toolkit or someone of more limited abilities with the best toolkit in the world, guess who I'd choose?
Quite so David, but Dylan the original poster was looking for a camera in the $3000 range - and this most certainly does not cover 'the best toolkit in the world'. That's why I say he could choose any camcorder in this price bracket, it matters not a hoot. It's his experience as a craftsman (to use your word) that really matters.

tom.
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Old February 4th, 2009, 05:51 AM   #12
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......this most certainly does not cover 'the best toolkit in the world'. That's why I say he could choose any camcorder in this price bracket, it matters not a hoot.
No, but it may allow for the use of a basic power drill over a hand drill! :-)

And there are (big) differences between cameras when it comes to working in low light, for example, to say nothing of workflow - Dylan identifies issues such as the effective need to transcode AVC-HD footage if using the 151. Transcoding 200 hours of AVC-HD could take days!

I reckon $3,000-$6,000 corresponds to about £2,100-£4,200, and last I saw the cheapest available in that price range is probably the HMC151 at about £2,600. The EX1 (albeit not the EX3) also scrapes in at the top end at about £4,000 in the UK without any memory, but I'd still say that would be a far better choice, even if it does mean a bit of stretching - and it will have a higher resale value.

But price is only one of the criteria Dylan lists, for example: "Is HDV, when mastered to HDCAM or D5, acceptable for blowup/broadcast?" I wouldn't like to say whether HDV is or is not acceptable, (and it would depend on who's doing the broadcasting!) but what I would say is that XDCAM-EX is far MORE LIKELY to be generally acceptable. That's before we even think about 1/2" chips.
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Old February 4th, 2009, 06:14 AM   #13
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I'm right with you David - the EX1 is the bullseye he should be aiming at. But in his price-bracket, especially with his line that says, 'We are looking in the $3000-$6000 range (but would prefer the low end of that range, 'cause we've got to buy audio gear, monopod, gear bags, etc. as well)' the EX1 does not get a look in.

You and I and he know that 'audio gear' can and should cost over £800 for the mics (basic shotgun, Rycote and radio). And the shoots he describes will demand spare batteries, recording media, an on-camera light, a £170 monopod, a big Kata case. This is bare minimum.

In some ways his head will continue to hurt because his aspirations and budget are not in the same league. Until one starts to match the other more closely, I'm afraid the EX1 is out and the 151 is tops.

tom.
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Old February 4th, 2009, 07:50 AM   #14
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Quote:
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Nice work. One basic question:How do you download a clip from Vimeo?
Scroll to the bottom. Look near the bottom on the right.
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Old February 4th, 2009, 08:39 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Perrone Ford View Post
You have asked for a camera that does not exist. The holy grail. Cheap, cheap media, easy to use, good in low/no light/ good auto features.
I firmly disagree. Pretty much everything that's out today fits that description.

Quote:
I'd put the HDV coming out of my EX1 against any of the cameras you listed.
But there is no HDV coming out of your EX1.

Quote:
Doesn't matter what you master it in. It's still HDV. Good enough for some broadcasters and broadcasts, unacceptable to others. In low light, not good enough for anyone most likely.
One of the most successful programs ever to air on Discovery -- The Deadliest Catch -- was shot primarily on HDV in low light. Content is king. Content trumps format every time.
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