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Old December 30th, 2011, 01:24 AM   #1
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Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

I've been using a Panasonic NV-MX500 for the past eight years or so and it's been a brilliant performer for the kind of video I take.

Most of my stuff is action-footage of RC model aircraft and that requires a camera with the following attributes:

- good autofocus (these models move so quickly that often it's not practical to use manual focus) and a camera that can retain its autofocus when shooting against a cloudy sky is essential. The MX500 is absolutely brilliant in this regard with very fast auto-focus and very little "drift", regardless of the background and movement involved.

- an eyepiece viewfinder. These fold-out LCDs just wash out in the bright sunlight, regardless of the manufacturer's claims as to contrast etc.

- very good optical image stabilization and the MX500 is also very strong in that area doing an excellent job of stabilizing images even at 10x zoom and without nasty jerking when doing a slow pan or tilt.

- at least 720p (1080p would be nice but not really necessary). Interlaced footage is useless -- due to the degree of fast movement involved in this kind of filming.

- good manual controls that are accessible with the LCD closed. I've noticed that far too many of the modern camcorders have their manual controls accessed through a touch-screen LCD -- absolutely useless to me because (as I mentioned) that LCD gets washed out by bright sunlight and also, if I want to change the shutter speed, lock the focus or whatever -- I usually want to do so in the middle of a shot and the mere act of pressing on an LCD will cause the camera to move and make the image jerk. The MX500 is also very strong in this area because it has all the controls I need on buttons that work with the LCD closed.

- a decent battery life or the ability to run of an external DC power supply. Batteries for camcorders are pretty spendy so not having to load up with half a dozen batteries to do a day's filming will save money. With the old MX500 I've modified the AC adapter so that it connects to a big fat 2-cell lithium polymer battery of the type used for RC models. The 8.5AH gives me a full day's filming with plenty left over.

- reasonably priced after-market optics such as wide-angle lenses.

- good macro capabilities for some of the close-ups.

Right now you might be thinking "well if he likes the MX500 so much, why is he looking for a new camera?"

Simple -- the MX500 won't last for ever and being a Mini-DV tape-based camera with 8 years of use on the clock, I figure it's going to stop working pretty soon now. Also, it's only SD (albeit 16:9) and that's becoming an increasing limitation in an HD world.

I've looked at the modern-day Panasonic equivalent to the MX500 but, to be honest, the TM900 is a huge disappointment when compared to the MX500. I have a friend with one of these and every shot which involves large expanses of blue sky (which is my predominant background) comes out looking decidedly green -- no matter how much you fiddle with the white-balance. This can be corrected a little in the edit but why should you have to?

I've looked at the Cannon HF-G10 but its autofocus is appallingly *slow* -- totally unsuited to the kind of filming I'm doing.

So come on you experts -- tell me how much I'll need to spend and what you think might be the best product on the market, given my needs and the type of filming I'm doing.
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Old December 30th, 2011, 03:02 AM   #2
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

I thought it might be useful to show the kind of video I'm taking (these are YouTube versions so obviously not full quality although they're upscaled to 720p):

A-10 Warthog catches fire on takeoff (huge RC model plane)

200mph CompARF Rookie II, the XJet RC plane of the week

Light aircraft in WILD cross-wind landings at Tokoroa Airfield

and from the old 4:3 days:

Huge turbine-powered F4 Phantom RC plane maiden flight

Turbine powered RC Aermacchi model airplane

As you can see -- filming against a blue or dark cloudy sky can be quite challenging and with the flight shots quite often zoomed to 10x, image stabilization is critical. Once I go to HD I expect that I'll do more image stabilization (at least for the YouTube clips) in the edit suite because I'll have more area to play with.

I'm also wondering whether a shoulder-held cam might provide a little better stabilization than the traditional palm-held type.
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Old December 30th, 2011, 03:49 AM   #3
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

Bruce, you've just got to check out the Giant-Killer of cams, the Panasonic SD900. There's three versions of this cam, two others with internal memory, but the SD (I know, I know, it sounds like standard def) is the deal of the decade.

I well remember your MX500. I had an MX300 years ago and was mightily impressed back then. But have a look at the forum adoration of the diminutive 900 and go out there with your money this afternoon.

Take pleasure in remembering that this camera is half the price of your 500 yet is hi-def, 16:9, has gob-smacking image stabilisation, takes great stills, has a touch screen, wonderful menu, manual everything and what appears to be genuine intelligence.

My other camera is a Sony NX5 and this little 900 wonder can match and better it in good light. Howz about that then?

tom.
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Old December 30th, 2011, 01:57 PM   #4
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

I already looked at the SD900 and in fact I know someone who has one.

Brilliant specs and a wonderful image but it's simply an epic fail when filming against blue sky -- the blues are green!

Here's some footage from his SD900:

sample 1

sample 2

This tint is apparent regardless of how carefully one sets the white-balance and can only be partially mitigated in the edit process.

He's pretty pee'd off that he spent so much on a "good" camera, only to find that it produces the most hideously green-tinted skies.

If the 900 didn't have this problem then I'd have bought one a year ago but I really need something that offers far more accurate color rendition, especially of its blues -- since that's the predominant background in many of my videos.
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Old December 30th, 2011, 02:07 PM   #5
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

The price of the SD900 is only $599 (B&H).

That is $200 less than I paid for my TM700 last February.

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Old December 30th, 2011, 02:12 PM   #6
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

And at that price I'd let the skies go a bit green. You could spend far more on a blu-sky Sony or Canon yet not have the Panny's staggingly good OIS.
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Old December 30th, 2011, 03:53 PM   #7
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

No, those green skies are a deal-breaker for me I'm afraid.

I can fix a little shakiness in the edit process far more easily than all the time it takes to play with color curves to get rid of that nasty green.

It strikes me that we're seeing "rampant featuritis" affecting the video camera market -- as it has done with just about every other piece of consumer electronics.

It started when I bought a new Sony VCR back in 1999. The "new" top-of-the-line Sony VCR had a crappy recording quality but an almost endless list of "bullet point features". I thought it must have been faulty because my "top of the line" 1989 Sony VCR gave a vastly superior recording quality.

"No, that's as good as they get" the service tech told me. "The older VCRs were much better in terms of picture quality but these new ones have a lot more features" I was informed.

Well damn it -- I hate to see good, solid, core performance degraded in favor of "features" that most people don't need and seldom use. I want the money I spend going on good sensors, good optics and good design.

Manufacturers seem to see it differently though -- and trot out endless "gee whiz" additions such as "smile detection", useless night-vision via ultra-slow shutter speeds, built-in projectors, a million-times digital zoom and all manner of crud. All I want is a quality video camera that gives me some nice manual and auto controls over the basic parameters and which delivers faithful color rendition, a sharp image (without ringing due to artificial "sharpness" enhancement), good OIS, good autofocus, a sensible battery life and AV in/out plus SD card recording capabilities.

Too much to ask?
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Old December 30th, 2011, 09:07 PM   #8
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

Hi Bruce

I have used Panny cameras ever since they brought out the full VHS M3 ..and that was a LONG time ago!! Yes, they probably have the best autofocus system ever made..I shoot weddings mainly and focus is never an issue for me. I'm running 2 x HMC80's at the moment and I did a wedding last week on the beach and some shots had a LOT of sky and no green tint whatsoever. AFAIK they use the same 1/4: sensors as the TM900 but I could be wrong??? However I have never had a sky colour issue.

I had a couple of MX's too..great cameras ... Maybe ask around in the Panasonic forum as there is a strong TM900 thread there and see if anyone else is having a sky issue?? The 900 cams are really packed with features for a tiny price!! It could be something as simple as killing AWB and using an outdoor preset when the background has such a strong blue content???

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Old December 30th, 2011, 09:54 PM   #9
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

No green sky on my TM700. Perform a manual white balance on a real white balance card and stick a polarizer on it.
http://www.dvinfo.net/forum/sony-xdc...ml#post1619680
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Old December 31st, 2011, 04:38 PM   #10
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

I did a google search and came up with plenty of folk who have also had problems with the "bondi blue" problem with their 700/900 cameras.

Apparently it's due to over-driving the blue sensor in high ambient lighting conditions -- maybe an ND filter would help) and may have been remedied in later versions of the camera. However, the fact that Panasonic themselves seem to have remained mute on the subject and not offered any remedy for those who were early-adopters of these cameras doesn't inspire confidence.

Right now, the choice of a good camera will be critical to my business so I really don't want to find myself having forked out a fist-full of money on a camera that I can't use and which the manufacturer doesn't seem to care about fixing.
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Old January 1st, 2012, 08:31 AM   #11
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

I think you're being a bit tough on Panasonic, Bruce. If you're after a, 'good camera, critical to my business', then maybe a diminutive 550 quid SD900 isn't the sort of camera you should be looking at. Far more expensive cameras haven't had recalls, and all the manufacturers have semi-duds in their line-ups.

So Panasonic make this incredibly versatile camera and you say it doesn't seem to care about fixing it. Well you're right - at that price point the camera is well and truly fixed. You can give them more money for a 'fixed camcorder' - they make lots more you can choose from. But the 900 sells exceedingly well and for very good reason - it's price: size: performance ratio has it nailed as the camera to beat.

You can add ND but I doubt that'll help. The camera already employs lots of internal ND, and when that's used up the iris blades take over.

And I know what you mean when you complain about the included "gee whiz" additions such as "smile detection'' and so on. OK, you may never need or use such quirky add-ons, but they sure make the salesman's job easier and as such, make the camera cheaper for you and me to buy. My 60D Canon comes with all sorts of modes I'll never use, but this fact alone has made it a more attractive deal to others, thus: increased market share, increased Canon profits and brought down the price.

tom.
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Old January 1st, 2012, 10:17 AM   #12
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

I'm a little unsure of some of the 'essentials' here. My basic question is to do with auto focus. I'm not certain if the performance of the auto focus on your old camera is actually a proper feature, or a problem that in your shooting style, works for you. If you are working with cameras that have auto controls, then for a lot of the time the aperture outside is pretty small, giving good depth of field, that only goes out of focus when the autofocus mechanism can't see hard edges, assumes it's out of focus and does a focus in and out to check there's no object really close top the camera out of focus. Your old camera probably doesn't have such a quick autofocus, so the software doesn't feature the quick in/out to check, and I'd bet sits close on infinity and rarely moves. My SD9 - which like the newer SD900 gives what look like excellent images, has a similar kind of autofocus, as in it doesn't try to focus if it's bright and there's something solid in the image. I keep it on simply because manual focus is simply rubbish. On my JVC 500 and 5000 cameras, with then lenses on full zoom, outside, depth of field is deep enough to be able to set both a smidge back from infinity, and have good sharpness on everything from 30 feet or so to infinity, so aircraft are not a problem at all. I can't imagine that autofocus is actually of any benefit, and the newer cameras, with cleverer algorithms make the problem worse.

I do understand the flip out viewfinders problem - and although my panasonic is actually quite good in daylight, something you can keep the light out works best for me.

On the colour issue - is this green cast a specific known problem? my SD9 has excellent blues.
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Old January 1st, 2012, 10:39 AM   #13
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

Paul, Bruce,

As far as I'm aware, the "Bondi Blue" fault was an issue with some of the TM700 cameras and corrected for the 900 series. I've seen very badly shot videos on YouTube etc. in the past claiming this is also an issue with the TM900 but it's clear to me that they are simply not white balancing the camera properly before shooting.

I have beautiful blue skies on my TM900!!! Look at some of the latter shots in this film (where the Catherdal is in the full morning sun) as a typical example, if you don't believe me!

Springtime Sunrise in Ely - YouTube

In my view, the SD900 or TM900 are terrific value cams, especially at the moment (while we await what Panny has next), especially for anyone who feel they can work with the few limitations these high end consumer cams have.
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Old January 1st, 2012, 11:56 AM   #14
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

Quote:
Originally Posted by Les Wilson View Post
No green sky on my TM700. Perform a manual white balance on a real white balance card and stick a polarizer on it.
http://www.dvinfo.net/forum/sony-xdc...ml#post1619680
Les:

I have little experience with a polarizer.

Would it be useful to use one during summer months when the sun washes everything out.

Thanks...Alan
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Old January 1st, 2012, 12:41 PM   #15
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Re: Completely lost -- need a decent HD video camera

I shot 10 days with a TM700 as a b-camera in Haiti in bright sun with a polarizer. My skies were nicely blue except for the certain angles when every camera is going to give you a milky (not bondi) blue. See my test video above.

If you want nice blue skies, you need to use a polarizer. I like B+W multicoated ones. You get what you pay for. Just using an ND filter only reduces the exposure and not saturation of the blue. The OP is shooting planes with sky backgrounds but if you are shooting landscapes, a graduated ND is useful in evening out the sky and the land so you can expose both evenly but the ND won't make the sky pop like a polarizer will. See article below.

@Alan, below is a link to an article that explains how polarizers work and when they work. It's a misconception that they are simply for glare on the water (it's why my test included reflection, sky and greenery).
Polarizers

As far as the discussion on autofocus goes, if you calculate the hyperfocal distance for your camera, you can set it to that point, keep the plane that distance and everything from there to infinity will be in focus. I'd think that's SOP for this type of shooting but the cheap little cameras being discussed here my not let you do that. It's something you may want to look at tho.
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