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Old May 14th, 2011, 05:02 AM   #1
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Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

Hi!

In this day and age I find my self slowly stepping in to the world of documentary films. I am totally baffled by the amount of cameras and camera rigs that one can put together in order to shot a documentary type film. So in this regard I'm asking you all to give me some help in putting together a rig for filming documentaries. I'm starting of with lower budget films so I wouldn't go higher than app. 20k for a camera system/rig. Films would generally be made for television broadcast in HD. Some would maybe also go to film festivals and others to the web.

I should say that currently I have an HPX171 and some P2 cards. So I first started looking at the HPX371. But I'm really not that sure that the small sensor and it's image is what I (and the world for that matter) want at the moment.

What kind of rigs do you have? What would you suggest? F3 rig, pmw350/320, hpx371, af101, fs100, etc?? To many options! All I know is that I would like a camera that does at least 800 tv lines of resolution. I wanted to buy the AF101 but ended up not doing so because of the low rez (and the highlights...). I would like to go for the HP3100 but just can't justify it's price at this moment...

What do you say?

Help!?:)
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Old May 14th, 2011, 11:08 AM   #2
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

What is your shooting style? Or rather , what do you anticipate will be the scenario you shoot in most often?

Run and gun nature documentaries? Do you need really long telephoto capabilities? Something that will fit in an underwater housing? Time lapse capabilities?

ENG (Electronic News Gathering) Type of situations? Mostly shoulder/hand held. Verite stuff? Need a zoom lens? One man operation, no assistant with boompole and sound?

Talking head heavy? Time to sit down, arrange a nice interview situation. Perhaps light it and compose the set. Time to change lenses during the interview. More of a 'narrative' style. Someone with you to assist with downloading cards, pulling focus, conducting the interviews...

Low light capabilities? Deep focus or shallow? What is your primary NEED in this area?

Will you work off sticks, or mostly hand held?

Are you comfortable with a particular workflow - or edit system? Do you have to match your shots to someone else's camera system? Will you be shooting multi cam live events?

These sorts of things go into choosing which camera will help you in meeting your goals.
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Old May 14th, 2011, 04:59 PM   #3
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

In addition to everything that Rick said, keep in mind that you'll need to edit and finish this footage.

Certain formats just lend themselves to the workflow of film making better than others. P2, XDCam and tape (yes, TAPE) all have a lot of benefits. AVCCam and other .h264 based cameras can be a pain to work with.

Don't forget to properly archive your tapeless material. Make sure you name & label things clearly.

Remember, the gear does not tell the story, you do. The gear is only the toolset that gets you there. Of course, better tools will make your work easier, but it's still up to you to put those tools to better use!
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Old May 14th, 2011, 06:09 PM   #4
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

Hi guys! Yes I should have been a bit more clear of my intended field of use... I would like an all around camera rig.

- don't plan on shooting under water:) if I do I'll rent a rig

- shooting stiles should vary from cinema verite to eng but I think that I would live without a motorized zoom... Shoulder or sticks. 60/40 probably. If the camera wouldn't be an ENG type I would definitely want to construct a shoulder rig.

- don't care about post work flow. We will adapt with whatever I go with. We edit with avid so I'm thinking of getting the sound devices PIX240 so we could record directly to DNXhd. My avdio producer would probably welcome this decision to. I doubt that we will be using an on-board codec of what ever camera I get. Exception would be the HPX371.

- As for DOF characteristics I am not convinced in small sensor cameras all that any more. I believe that the world is aiming for big chips at the moment as far as it goes for the aesthetics. I don't know. What do you think?

- filming crew will mostly be consisted of 4 people. Yes I will have an audio producer among them:) with a bum that is and probably a lot more...:)

- documentary formats should vary but I doubt I will be doing a lot of run and gun ENG/news type of films.

I am torn in between a more lazy approach (HPX371, or PMW350/320:) or a more cinema oriented rig ( let's say an F3 with a shoulder rig). Not sure about 1/3 chips either. I understand the world is in a small dof cinematic video craze. And that is why I'm considering to compound a big rig (monitor, EVF, FF, matte box, external recorder, etc.). I will try to get as much cinema oriented as possible in due time. Aiming at film festivals and such - but will start with television and internet. I would use this rig for my other work to which is mostly corporate.

Hope this gives you a basic idea of what I'm after. As I said before I would be most happy with an HPX3100 but can't justify the cost... The F3 is tempting but I would be absolutely most happy if Panasonic would release an update to the outdated HPX500 and give some competition to the Sony's 350.

I am interested in what other people are using as documentary rigs. Oh and I am not interested in DSLR rigs. Not as an A camera anyway...
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Old May 15th, 2011, 07:40 AM   #5
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

What about a Canon XF300 or 305? You won't need an external recorder as you can use the Canon MXF files nativley in Avid. It is 1/3", but it does take lovely pictures.

Using an F3 hand held or on the shoulder is going to be a bit of an ordeal.
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Old May 15th, 2011, 08:44 AM   #6
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

The reason I asked so many questions, is that I am perched on the razor's edge of making a decision. And I edit with Avid as well.

My top two choices right now, are the Canon XF300 (Don't need the 305) and I'm seriously considering the The Panasonic AGA F100.

My personal needs are more ENG and run and gun doc work - and I rarely have the luxury of anything like a full crew - so maybe I get a sound man on occasion. The zoom is essential to me - that puts the xf300 high on the list. I love canon optics.

I really appreciate the larger sensor, depth of field quality of the AGA F100 - but the form factor, work flow and the (Current) lack of a good cheap zoom are an issue.

I finally decided against the EX3 though that was a strong contender.

And I haven't COMPLETELY ruled out going with an XLH1s and putting a nanoflash on it. Here's why THAT appeals to me. Sure, it's a 1/3 sensor - but so is the XF300. It's not a CMOS sensor - so I'm not dealing with the jello and flash issues - however small they might be. I love the form factor - and the interchangeable lens capability. And finally - I LIKE having the option for tape back up. The XLH1s is a bit long in the tooth at this point. So I'd likely be buying a used rig - and dealing with those issues.

I'm probably a 50/50 guy when it comes to stix and shoulder. But I do LOVE a shoulder mount - the coffeecam form drives me crazy. (But I got into broadcasting when it was 'film at eleven')

Tapping my toes, waiting for the Camera that Canon won't bring out. Still sitting on the fence, and waiting for the big bid on a project to come through. Why wait? Because I don't need it NOW - and the longer I wait, the more likely the 'next best thing' will come out and/OR the older things will get cheaper.

That's my logic - your mileage may vary.
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Old May 15th, 2011, 08:48 AM   #7
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

All I will add is don't dismiss small sensor's for documentary work, they can actually be an advantage as you are not in any trouble with focus a lot of the time. I have to laugh when people in broadcast insist on 2/3" chips all the time and then slap a wide angle on the front end as their std lens, even a lot of broadcast stedicam work ends up being a bit of a joke with a huge wide angle on the front.

As you may know i love my HPX301/371 camera and it was bought to do most things which it does very well, it has the audio flexibility I need and an easy to grab and shoot package that has about the best shooting codec available, Ok I would too love a 3100/3700 but I hire it in if the budget is there for it, otherwise the 301 does 90% of what I need to do and is now fully BBC approved out of the box.

There is too much hot air about shallow DOF and most broadcast productions do not require or need such shooting techniques, even drama that I have done has been fine on the HPX301 and we have been able to get the shots we need with a little planning. Style over substance tends to be the flavour these days but for most broadcast work shallow DOF is not required and it is better to have a working package that is reliable and does the job in hand without too much stress or hastle.

Add to that the on-board codecs on the HPX301/370 cover just about every single format you will ever need from DV thru to AVC Intra 100 at 1920x1080 10 bit 4.2.2 if you already have P2 then that or the new HPX251 must be high on your list.
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Old May 15th, 2011, 08:54 AM   #8
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Alvarez View Post

And I haven't COMPLETELY ruled out going with an XLH1s and putting a nanoflash on it. Here's why THAT appeals to me. Sure, it's a 1/3 sensor - but so is the XF300. It's not a CMOS sensor - so I'm not dealing with the jello and flash issues - however small they might be. I love the form factor - and the interchangeable lens capability. And finally - I LIKE having the option for tape back up. The XLH1s is a bit long in the tooth at this point. So I'd likely be buying a used rig - and dealing with those issues.
I have an XLH1 with a nanoflash, a PAG light, 20x lens & 6x wide lens as my standard setup for ENG and run-n-gun work. Its a good combo, and the nanoflash is a solid partner for that camera. I record to tape and the nanoflash both, though I find I just archive the tapes straight away (nice to know they are there though).
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Old May 15th, 2011, 09:45 AM   #9
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

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Originally Posted by Peter Moretti View Post
What about a Canon XF300 or 305? You won't need an external recorder as you can use the Canon MXF files nativley in Avid. It is 1/3", but it does take lovely pictures.

Using an F3 hand held or on the shoulder is going to be a bit of an ordeal.
I am already invested in P2 media. So if anything I would go for the HPX250 when it comes out. Yes I agree with you about an F3 rig. But with that I could shoot very cinema oriented. It would be useful for music videos and short film (narrative).


Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard Alvarez View Post
The reason I asked so many questions, is that I am perched on the razor's edge of making a decision. And I edit with Avid as well...
...My top two choices right now, are the Canon XF300 (Don't need the 305) and I'm seriously considering the The Panasonic AGA F100.
The form factor of AF101 is a good thing if you ask me. It's a very small camera if you want it to be and if not just build yourself a shoulder rig. That's my logic at least... All handy cam style cameras are obnoxious to use without support.
I see the HPX250 as a strong competitor to the XF300. If I was choosing between the two I would go for the HPX (better codec + P2).

Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary Nattrass View Post
All I will add is don't dismiss small sensor's for documentary work, they can actually be an advantage as you are not in any trouble with focus a lot of the time...
...Add to that the on-board codecs on the HPX301/370 cover just about every single format you will ever need from DV thru to AVC Intra 100 at 1920x1080 10 bit 4.2.2 if you already have P2 then that or the new HPX251 must be high on your list.
The HPX371 is on the top of my list. I would already have bought one if not for the small sensor. I love P2 and would really like to keep using it. Wish Panasonic would make a new 371 with 2/3 chips!:)

1/3 chips have there advantages sure but 2/3 is the way to go for documentary work if you ask me. And bigger chips for more cinematic types of docus all though one can make awesome films with 2/3 too.
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Old May 15th, 2011, 10:17 AM   #10
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

But the key thing with 1/3" chips is to keep the aperture as wide open as possible, that way to get close to 2/3" DOF and also avoid chromatic problems with the lens, in over 30 years of working on doco's I have never heard a director request shallow DOF that only tends to apply to drama shooting as besides most of the work I have done in the past has been 16mm so i is pretty close to 1/3" anyway.

Shallow DOF is only a recent style as DSLR's have come on the market allowing people to minic 35mm but it is rare that I work on projects that demand it for their shooting needs and I certainly have not shot a doco that demands it as a style for TV.

It also boils down to cost at the end of the day but the 301/371 is the only sub 10k self contained camera out there that can shoot doco's to broadcast BBC spec and more importantly can sit on your shoulder with a form factor that suits that type of shooting all day long, yes a 2/3" camera would be my choice too but you have that in the HPX3100 albeit at a lot more cost!
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Old May 15th, 2011, 12:31 PM   #11
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

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Originally Posted by Simon Wood View Post
I have an XLH1 with a nanoflash, a PAG light, 20x lens & 6x wide lens as my standard setup for ENG and run-n-gun work. Its a good combo, and the nanoflash is a solid partner for that camera. I record to tape and the nanoflash both, though I find I just archive the tapes straight away (nice to know they are there though).
Simon - I'm not ruling that combo out. It's a matter of finding a unit I can trust (used) for a reasonable price point. I figure if I pick one up for 3k - then another 3k for the nanoflash plus some money on the high end cards (I don't skimp on media). We're up to $7000 for the package. That's what I would be looking at for the XF300. But it would be NEW. But I love the XL form factor, and prefer the ccd over the cmos, and I like having the option for interchangeable lenses... yeah. Tough call.
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Old May 15th, 2011, 01:17 PM   #12
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

I to prefer CCDs over CMOS. I've even considered getting an HPX500... But I wouldn't even think of getting a XLH1 with a nano.

Anyway wow you've been doing docus for over 30 years?! That's a lot of knowledge and experience:) The main reason I don't want 1/3 is because I would like to use this cam for other stuff to and because I would like that my docus would have a slight cinematic feel pictures-wise...

Any general advice Garry from your 30 years of doing docos to somebody who is just starting?:)
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Old May 15th, 2011, 02:40 PM   #13
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

Honestly - the larger chip/shallow depth of field for documentary work - is a very slight percentage of what a doc calls for. Or certainly what a 'verite' doc calls for. I did a bit of grip work on a doc this weekend, they shot a live event, with SEVEN dslrs. It was a series of speakers, in a confined setting. Of course, each dslr had it's own operator, and a different lens and framing. So ultimately, it would all be cut together in post. But the work flow was really complex. Or rather - it was like a standard double system sound with film/magazine workflow.

The XLH-1 plus nanoflash does have some appeal - there's always the OPTION of using something like a letus. The Nanoflash has such a wide range of formats to choose from - it really extends the life of the XLH-1 and the CF cards are a not quite as pricey - plus you get the bonus of tape backup. I like having the choice of formats. ( 1080i60/50, 1080p30/25/24 or 720p60/50 at full raster 4:2:2 MPEG-2, at 50/100 Mbps (long GOP) or 100/160 Mbps (I-frame only).

Frankly, I think I'll probably go with the 1/3 sensor of either a 300 or the XL h1, and if I need to, add a dslr at a later point as a second camera for shallow DOF in interviews and such.
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Old May 15th, 2011, 03:38 PM   #14
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

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Honestly - the larger chip/shallow depth of field for documentary work - is a very slight percentage of what a doc calls for.
Not many docu's are done with shallow DOF but the ones that are immediately look more rich and interesting. Not saying that this is always and option - standard television type documentary formats are generally supposed to look "clean" and wary much television like... Yes?

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Originally Posted by Richard Alvarez View Post
Frankly, I think I'll probably go with the 1/3 sensor of either a 300 or the XL h1, and if I need to, add a dslr at a later point as a second camera for shallow DOF in interviews and such.
Do you plan on making a rig for the 300/XLH1?
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Old May 15th, 2011, 04:00 PM   #15
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Re: Camera rig for DOCUMENTARY filming

The 300 would need a shoulder rig - as far as I can tell. I'm going to go put my hands on one next week. The Xlh-1(s) is the same form factor as the XL-2 - which I've been using - already good to go on that. In fact, I have the hi-def black and white viewfinder and the 16x manual lens already - plus all the batteries and filters and such that would port right over - another plus for the XL-h1 choice.

Ask me tomorrow which way I lean ;) I share your pain. So many cams are 'almost' what I want/ and need.

Sure I'd LOVE for Canon to come out with an XL form factor - APS-C sensor /Interchangeable lens with great zoom/ and 50mps 4.2.2 CF card form factor - for under 10k next month.
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