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Old September 5th, 2004, 11:07 AM   #1
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Still photographer looking for mini-DV suggestions

I am an experienced still photographer, shooting 35mm and 4x5 large format, and am very proficient with Photoshop. I am looking for a high quality, portable mini-DV camera and editing software with room to grow as I suspect I'll get more into shooting video.

I am not looking to make indie films, but to document family history. I want a wide-format aspect ratio and very much want to avoid a "video look" and have decent audio. Budget is around $1500-$2000 for the camera and accessories and maybe up to $600 for the software, though I would be happy to go cheaper on either or both if it makes sense.

My thoughts so far: Panasonic GS400 for the camera, but I am open to suggestions. Portability is a factor. Audio is a big question mark for me (I am assuming I can use a lavalier mic for most of what I am looking to do, but I would appreciate any advice or suggestions). Software is also a question mark. I would much rather have too much power in the s/w than too little, and something with tools familiar to this Photoshop user would be a plus. I am hesitant to splurge on Premiere Pro without knowing anything about it or other software packages.

Tripod and head support: I have a few tripods and heads for my still cameras, all standardized to the Arca-Swiss QR system. Does anyone use this with video cameras? It would be great to get an A-S plate to mate the video camera to my existing stuff.

Am I going down the right path? Your thoughts and suggestions are appreciated, and if this is a common question, a pointer to a FAQ would be helpful, too. :-)
Brian Kennedy
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Old September 5th, 2004, 11:26 AM   #2
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The bad news is that avoiding the "video look" is a question of far more than the camera -- CCDs are by their nature more "contrasty" than film, so you'll have to learn about lighting and so forth. The good news is that since you probably already have some decent lighting gear for photography, and knowledge about how to use it, you've got an easier job than many of us.

I recently purchased a Panny DV-953, which was the precursor to the GS400, and I'm very pleased with it. It has enough manual adjustments to keep me happy -- manual shutter speed and aperature, etc. I'd like a gamma adjustment, but you won't get that without taking the plunge into professional gear. I highly reccomend checking out the Panasonic DV/MX forum, as there's a lot of discussion about the GS400 over there.

In terms of editing software, Premiere Pro is probably a decent entry point, especially if you already know the standard Adobe interface conventions. I'm pretty sure Adobe still has time-limited trial versions of most of their software on their website, so you might be able to get a feel for it before you drop the cash. Most of my editing experience has been with Premiere 5 and 6, and their setup is similar enough to Photoshop that moving over is a question of learning a different toolset, not a different interface, which is nice. I've also heard decent stuff about Vegas, and of course Avid is incredible, but has a price-tag to match.

Regarding tripods -- I'm not familiar with the tripod models you're mentioning, but most people here go for a true fluid-head, which results in very smooth pans and tilts. So long as you're using your tripods only for static setups, pretty much anything with three legs and the appropriate threadings will work alright.

Now, I'm just a film student, and I haven't been working in DV very long so please don't interpret my opinion as gospel, but good luck! :) I reccomend checking out the subforums related to each area you're seeking for more detailed information. Most of them have a relevant FAQ.

-Ryan Spicer
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Old September 5th, 2004, 11:36 AM   #3
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Hi Brian, welcome to Dv what computer do you use, Mac or PC. This will affect your choice of software. Video cameras do not use Arca Swiss plates. Some Bogen QR plates will fit both their video fluid heads and still tripod heads.

You can lessen the video look in software, but you'll be doing a lot rendering. Some cameras have settings for a more film look, but the price range is more than your present budget.
Jeff Donald
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Old September 5th, 2004, 11:47 AM   #4
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For color correction, Vegas is pretty sweet. It has some really useful filters which I simply don't see in Photoshop (i.e. secondary color corrector). Things it does have:

3-way CC
secondary CC (apply CC to selective colors)
color smooothing (helps deal with DV's 4:1:1 color space; useful for chroma keys and found in other NLEs)
masking tools (great compared to other NLEs; lets you mask off areas of an image so you can just apply CC to one area)

Unique to Vegas:
saturation adjust (kind of like curves except for saturation)
fake film grain

The other NLEs:
Premiere Pro: I can't find the secondary color correction in it (I don't think PPro has it...). The secondary color corrector can be really useful if you know what you want to do.

Avid: Haven't used this, but I hear it just isn't as powerful.

Edition: Haven't use this. I hear the color correction tools in it are good. Edition is very fast. I'm not sure about its stability.

If you won't spend lots of time color correcting your footage then you can definitely get by with the tools in most NLEs.

*NLE= non-linear editor. It's just a quick way to say video editing program.

There are also some special effects/compositing programs (i.e. Combustion, Boris) that may have strong color correction tools too. Some of them will let you do motion tracking, which gives you more options for isolating parts of an image for color correction. I haven't really used those programs in depth. They're also out of your budget.

2- There are other factors you may want to consider in an NLE.
workflow- how little button pushing you have to do to edit something together.
easy of use
audio tools
rendering speed and/or real-time capabilities - how much waiting around you have to do.
bundled DVD encoding and authoring tools

The Vegas+DVD package will do all of the above well. Some of the other NLEs have an edge is some of the areas (Avid has a nicer workflow for some people, Edition is much faster than Vegas) but Vegas will really do all of the above well. Try the demo for it.

Premiere Pro also has a good demo. Premiere also has some sweet bundle deals if you need/want After Effects or Photoshop (but you probably don't). Not sure about Avid or Edition.

Vegas+DVD ($700 at one place) might stretch your budget a little. If you don't need the DVD tools (or use other software) then you can get Vegas for $500 or maybe lower. Premiere Pro runs $650 or less?

And if you qualify for academic pricing then the software above is a lot cheaper.
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Old September 5th, 2004, 12:57 PM   #5
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Hi Brian
I too am a stills photographer (15 years with Reuters in London and Paris)

I've recently switched to shooting short promotional clips for a holiday agency I started in France and the UK.

Having done some tv camera work for Reuters Television I had already an idea of what I was looking for but Mini DV has opened up quality video to everyone and is so easy to get into.

Here's a brief run down on my video set up that I researched and used as a starting point.....

1) a Sony TRV 950 (should have got a PDX10)
2) a Sign video XLR pro
3) a shot gun mic with XLR cables (And Rycote Softie)
4) A wired Lavier until I can afford wireless
6) A good set of Beyertechnics headphones
7) a Manfrotto tripod with 501 fluid head.
8) a small 35watt video light
9) an 5m sheilded XLR cable and boom
10) a Techpro Wideangle lens

I'll certainly update to a PD170 when I get the money, but the above set up used right gives pleasing results, and will give me a good qualtiy DVD this year.. However, I find the camera too fiddlly, the buttons are too small and hard to adjust fast, which means in fast moving situations I switch back to auto to keep up...its ok but means I lose control...

Editing wise I use Adobe Premiere Pro.... brilliant... does everything I need of a software and produces excellent results... I too was a big Photoshop user, since version 2.5 and it all fits together really well. You can edit titles and graphics in Photoshop and import to Premiere pro no problem. It all seems very familiar...

Voila I think I'll upgrade next year, but a lot of the basic gear and approach will remain unchanged...


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Old September 5th, 2004, 05:21 PM   #6
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Wow -- some great replies, thanks! To answer Jeff's question, I'm using a Win XP computer. I enjoyed my visit to Jeff's website, BTW, nice photos.

I am a stickler for good color, so I imagine I will be spending some time color correcting, if only to get a uniform look to different shots. So the NLE information was extremely helpful. I'll look through the NLE forums next.

Also, I realize that digital capture has a narrower dynamic range than film and I recognize that I'll have to carefully control lighting for professional results. I take it the limited dynamic range is why Ryan mentions a gamma adjustment on the camera? Probably because I haven't been looking in the upper price ranges, but I haven't come across any cameras with gamma adjustments in my research so far. The GS400 has a "cinema" mode which sounds like it might stretch the dynamic range a bit, but I don't know what to make of it because I can't find much information about it. I can't help but wonder whether you could get close to the same results after the fact with an adjustment curve, but I could be off-base there. Actually, now that I think of it, it makes sense -- I guess once you blow highlights or block up shadows, there's no retrieving them. I have zero experience with DV, so I appreciate the education.

I'm really pleased I found these forums. There's such a wealth of information here, it looks like I have quite a bit of reading to do before I make my first purchase.
Brian Kennedy
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