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Old June 19th, 2006, 11:43 AM   #1
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Tape vs P2: a real-life experience

OK, I know that this has potential to be starting a new religious war and I defintely don't want to do that. I try to keep this to objective observations without being too judgemental. To all the proud owners of the HVX200, this is not meant to disparage your camera, it's just the my point of view based on a recent experience.

On Saturday we shot the first episode of "2nd Unit TV". The shot was rather simple but we tried to make the most out of it. We had 3 HD100, camera 1 and 3 where shooting opposite medium close-ups of the two people talking, camera 2 did the master shots. The topic was "lighting for film and video" and the speaker was funny man and cinematography guru George Spiro Dibie, ASC.
George has an contagious passion for his craft and he literally invented lighting for modern TV. Go to http://www.2nd-unit.tv to see a short bio about him.
He also has the gift of being able to talk non-stop for 40 minutes straight. We had 3 cameras pointed at George and nobody dared stopping him.

When preparing for the shoot, a few day before, Jonathan and I agreed on using tapes. We could not get 3 firestores ready in time and, besides, the quality of recording to Hard Disk is no different than using the tapes. Plus we had a crane shot, a shoulder-mounted shot and the added bulk of the hard disk would not help. We would have opted for that if that meant the difference from 4:2:0 to 4:2:2 but the firestore would only give us the convenience of not transfering the tapes.
So we used tapes. We didn't know how long each take would go. We didn't have the knowledge before time.

So, I loaded the tapes, used the header rec feature (thank you JVC!) to initialized them with bars, tone and black and then we started shooting.

After the first segment of the interview we realized that we had 50 minutes of footage. Time to load another tape.
Now, if I had the P2 card I would have to change card every 8 minutes. In the situation that I just described that would have been unaccepable. Just the intro shot, George and Jamie walking into the Lite Panel's office, with 3 takes, would use all the time available in a P2 card.
During the interview we would have had to stop the speaker and tell him to wait until we "reload". I tought that digital was supposed to free us from that!
People say that the P2 card have to be thought as digital "film magazines" and not like storage. I thought that we were trying to move away from that situation. One of the advantages of digital film-making is that we can keep recording without having to worry about cost, storage etc.
This way of working is subtly transforming the visual medium because now we can capture spontaneous performances that were lost when using film, because of the cost associated with film and the need to stop and reload.
The high cost of P2 cards and their limiting running time, IMHO, outweight the benefit of quick acquisition via PC. Especially because hard-disk recording is a much simpler and economical alternative.

Kudos to JVC for disigning a storage system that allows us to record progressive High Def footage, at full 1280x720 resolution, onto a inexpensive and long-lasting medium that you can buy at your local Circuit City, Best Buy etc. In a real life situation this makes a huge difference.
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Old June 19th, 2006, 12:33 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Paolo Ciccone
So we used tapes. We didn't know how long each take would go. We didn't have the knowledge before time.

So, I loaded the tapes, used the header rec feature (thank you JVC!) to initialized them with bars, tone and black and then we started shooting.

After the first segment of the interview we realized that we had 50 minutes of footage. Time to load another tape.
Now, if I had the P2 card I would have to change card every 8 minutes. In the situation that I just described that would have been unaccepable.
There's something to be said about having tape backup available for archiving the original footage too.

From the time I first heard about the Panasonic P2 card approach I felt that for some documentary, and most event shooting, and a good deal of nature videography as well, the P2 card medium would not be a very workable way to go. It seems better suited to narrative or other situations where things can be tightly controlled and broken into short takes. But now that the Firestore 80 for the JVC is available, the big advantage of being able to record and transfer without capturing is given up. You can say what you want about compression, but I think that right now the JVC has the edge over the card system alone precisely because it has tape capability.
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Old June 19th, 2006, 12:59 PM   #3
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While I am sticking with the JVC, you could shoot in 720P Native and have 32/40 minutes. Of course that would require two 8-Gig P2 Cards. Wouldn't have to stop the interview as long as you had a P2 store or laptop with you. Again more money.
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Old June 19th, 2006, 01:18 PM   #4
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You would have to have 3 P2 stores or 3 laptops there to handle the video from three cameras. There would not be enough time to transfer 3 8GB P2 cards. If you did shoot 24p or 30p at 720 well then you might be able to get by with two P2 stores or 2 laptops. Of course you would have to hire somebody to keep running back and forth between the 3 cameras in order to offload the cards. Your shooters shouldn't do it because they could miss a shot or something.
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Old June 19th, 2006, 01:29 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Paolo Ciccone
During the interview we would have had to stop the speaker and tell him to wait until we "reload". I tought that digital was supposed to free us from that!
I am sure u know this - P2 offers hotswap - you don't need to STOP the shoot to switch them..! with 2 cards in the slots - u cud just pull one out.. and the camera records to other card without blinking... dump the other card.. and put it back... with 3-4 cards u can shoot for a long period in studio environment...
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Old June 19th, 2006, 02:00 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Ram Ganesh
I am sure u know this - P2 offers hotswap - you don't need to STOP the shoot to switch them..! with 2 cards in the slots - u cud just pull one out.. and the camera records to other card without blinking... dump the other card.. and put it back... with 3-4 cards u can shoot for a long period in studio environment...
How close would one be, to being able to purchase another HD100, if you had 4 8gig cards?
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Old June 19th, 2006, 02:06 PM   #7
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How close would one be, to being able to purchase another HD100, if you had 4 8gig cards?
That was exactly my point. The cost/benefit ratio is way off. It's not that the technology is not good. The idea of small form factor and solid state recording is defintely cool. I just think that it would be much better to provide an interface to a small-size hard disk, remember, an iPod can carry 60GB, with 4:2:2 recording. At *that* point I will consider going away from tape.
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Old June 19th, 2006, 03:50 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Paolo Ciccone
That was exactly my point. The cost/benefit ratio is way off. It's not that the technology is not good. The idea of small form factor and solid state recording is defintely cool. I just think that it would be much better to provide an interface to a small-size hard disk, remember, an iPod can carry 60GB, with 4:2:2 recording. At *that* point I will consider going away from tape.
I have a feeling that by then JVC will have a new BLUE-RAY DVD camera like the XD-HDCAM.
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Old June 19th, 2006, 03:56 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Ram Ganesh
I am sure u know this - P2 offers hotswap - you don't need to STOP the shoot to switch them..!
That's true, but there are the issues of bumping the camera, making noise and just generally causing a commotion that could distract the talent and interviewer whenever you make those switches.
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Old June 19th, 2006, 04:42 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Joel Aaron
That's true, but there are the issues of bumping the camera, making noise and just generally causing a commotion that could distract the talent and interviewer whenever you make those switches.
In practise changing film mags on an interview was never a big deal and interviewers often made good use of the break to gather thoughts with the interviewee, or change tack when it restarted. Often a producer would add points that had been missed.

The main worry was that the camera was going to run out of film just as the interviewee was expressing a key point (often an emotional one) extremely well. Of course, the same thing also happens on video at the end of a tape... these things always happen as you're about to run out.

Just because you can talk for longer without a break in the shooting doesn't mean it's any better. Often it's not.
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Old June 19th, 2006, 04:50 PM   #11
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Just because you can talk for longer without a break in the shooting doesn't mean it's any better. Often it's not.
No, but if you had the choice between reloading every 10 minutes and every 60 minutes while getting similar quality results I have a hard time believing anyone would actually choose to reload more often.

(I'd argue the HD-100 beats the HVX in quality too, but that's another thread)
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Old June 19th, 2006, 05:10 PM   #12
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Just because you can talk for longer without a break in the shooting doesn't mean it's any better. Often it's not.
That could be but that is not the point of this post. When we finished shooting, because on 2nd Unit the choice of video camera is a constant topic of discussion, I thought about the invitable comparison: how would this be if we used the HVX200. The Panasonic camera was initially, my first choice when I was considering an HD camera. When I looked at the specs and cost of the P2 card I thought that it was not making sense. In fact I re-read the specs several times in order to be sure that I didn't misunderstood anything. That is when I started looking at alternatives and when I "discovered" the HD100.
The occasion of this shoot simply raised issue again I thought how much simpler and cheaper our workflow has been because of the HD100. Again, an issue that is very close to "2nd Unit" goal of helping indipendent filmmakers.
It turns out that our speaker can indeed talk for 30-40 minutes without loosing focus (no pun intended). In that situation the ability to record full HD resolution on inexpensive tapes was a bonus. If we had to use two or four P2 cards per camera, as has been suggested, multiplied for three cameras, the investement would have been quite substantial. With tapes, it wasn't even on the radar.
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Old June 19th, 2006, 05:15 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Joel Aaron
No, but if you had the choice between reloading every 10 minutes and every 60 minutes while getting similar quality results I have a hard time believing anyone would actually choose to reload more often.

(I'd argue the HD-100 beats the HVX in quality too, but that's another thread)
I'm happy with every half hour, people (the crew) tend to be falling asleep if interviews go on for an hour non stop. However, give the choice between shooting it on film or video, the film wins every time.

My concern about P2 is the cost of the cards and how it fits into the workflow on location. You can hot change which is OK, but there's the problem of downloading etc. It's also easier to give a client a tape, the use of laptops could get messy unless they're set up for it.

All the tests I've seen so far have given the HD 100 the edge on the quality. Variable frame rates are the HVX's main advantage.
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Old June 19th, 2006, 06:49 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Joel Aaron
That's true, but there are the issues of bumping the camera, making noise and just generally causing a commotion that could distract the talent and interviewer whenever you make those switches.

Exactly -- and if the camera were on a jib, who's going to get on a stepladder and carefully swap cards.
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Old June 19th, 2006, 07:10 PM   #15
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We're singing to the choir boys!

I still argue all the time with someone that bought the HVX because they were doing a lot of compositing and they did not like the HDV format.

I of course went for the HDV format and I am extremely happy that I did.

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