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Old May 18th, 2011, 12:37 AM   #1
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Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

Hi all,

I'll be working with a non-profit shooting speakers. The problem is that due to the nature of the events we won't be able to use lighting equipment, and will be limited to the lighting at the venue. Some venues have better lighting than others.

I'm looking for recommendations on the best camcorder, or DSLR with no video time limit, to purchase for the sake of shooting these events.

I'd like to be able to shoot continuously for 3-4 hours. Some events will be for 5 or more hours per day, but there will be breaks every 2-3 hours, so we could change SD cards etc. And line level audio in would be a big plus.

In the past I've dealt with too much noise due to low light circumstances like this and I'm tired of it, therefore I want the best camera for these situations.

I'd say the max budget is $2000 because we "want to do it right the first time", but the head of the organization would like to spend as little money as possible on this and my sense is that he'd prefer it to be under $1000 although I think the $500 number he threw out is way too low. Buying used will probably be the way to go.

Let me know what you think. I'm out of touch with the current market for video cameras. Thanks!
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Old May 18th, 2011, 01:31 AM   #2
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

DSLRs are great in low light but are limited to 12 minutes of recording time.

For $1k - $2k, I'd recommend you rent. Or you could buy something REALLY expensive and sell it after the shoot, expecting less than a $2k loss on the deal. Who knows. If you buy used low and sell high, you might make money. :)

Unfortunately, I'm not the guy to ask about lowest light video cams - aside from DSLRs. There are 2/3" broadcast cams that are great, but outside your budget - unless you rent or sell through.
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Old May 18th, 2011, 01:55 AM   #3
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

Thanks for the reply. How about the GH2? From what I understand that has no time limits. Using an AC adapter is not a problem.

DMC-GH2 | PRODUCTS | LUMIX | Digital Camera | Panasonic Global

It has a mini jack input for audio. Is this mic or line level? "Remote / External Microphone Input φ2.5 mm, stereo mini jack"

Edit: looks like mic level in only, but I could use a pad or sync in post.

Any thoughts on if that would be the best for my situation?
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Old May 18th, 2011, 03:44 AM   #4
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

Take a look at the Canon XA10, but you'll have to research if it can address your low light needs.

Might also try hinting to the head of the organization that investing in and making the effort to use a good lighting kit or working closely with the different venues would be much more effective at getting good video.

If you want to go under US$1,000 you're looking at something like the Canon Vixia M41, M40, M400 with maybe a Beachtek adapter or Zoom H1/H4n for audio, but it increases the chances of some piece of it going wrong. Once again you'll have to research to see if those camcorders will address your low light situations.
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Old May 18th, 2011, 07:29 AM   #5
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

A good HD low-light performer under $1000 or even $2000 video camera probably doesn't exist. Of the camcorders in that range, there's no doubt a low light "leader" (e.g. the Panasonic TM-700) but that's relative and you seem to be looking for something that's absolute.

Renting is a good suggestion but I rented an EX1r for a day and it cost $450 so.....

What have you been shooting with that is unacceptable?

Is there a requirement to shoot HD?

DSLRs won't have line level audio input. You'll have to add a field mixer or a passive device such as a Beachtek.

The Canon DSLRs have the 12 minute limit (in HD) but the Panasonic and Sony's don't. Some overheat. Read up.

A used PD170 or XL1s or perhaps XL2 gives you some of the best low light cameras within a mile of your budget and they also have line level input. They will shoot 16x9 but they are SD camcorders.

When you look at DSLRs, remember to add the cost of a fast lens that delivers the low light performance you require as well as the additional audio equipment.

In the end, you may get more mileage out of your money to spend it on a couple light stands, Lowel Pro and/or Lowel Omni lights.
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Old May 18th, 2011, 07:57 AM   #6
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

David,

I don't know what you have already, or what you've tried to remedy the low light situation, or even what you mean by "low light." However, spending money is always my last approach for solving a problem

My Canon XH-A1 isn't the greatest in low light, but most of the time, if I open the iris and drop the shutter speed to 1/30, I get good results for most indoor shoots using ambient light. Also moving the camera closer helps. Zooming causes you to lose an f-stop or two.

So, the first thing I do is move camera closer, second open the iris, third drop the shutter speed. And there are several presets I have to chose from as well.

Now if you do decide to spend money, I have a friend who recently bought a GH-2, and he loves it. But they are in short supply.

Hope this helps.
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Old May 18th, 2011, 09:32 AM   #7
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

This is the camcorder for you.
Sony Product Detail Page HXRNX5U
and after you finish the job, sell it.

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Old May 18th, 2011, 12:25 PM   #8
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

Thanks for the replies.

I'll be working for this organization in a technical capacity as the videographer and general go to tech person.

Unfortunately we won't be able to use lighting equipment because of personal sensitivities between some of the speakers, the head of the organization, and possibly some of the audience members on how it will affect the environment. It's just something I'll have to deal with.

The camera we're going to temporarily borrow from a friend is a VX2000. I haven't used this camera yet and will be testing it next week, but the owner thinks it will perform well in the types of lighting situations we'll encounter.

Like I mentioned some venues will have better lighting than others. I won't know until I experience some of these situations firsthand, but I want to be prepared with the right equipment going in. The main venue we'll be using should be fairly good as far as house lighting goes.

I think the audio end will be ok. I'm mainly concerned with purchasing the right camera for the non-profit because the organizer wants the non-profit to own the equipment.

I'm getting the sense that the GH2 may be good for this situation if it offers good low light performance and costs around $1000. As time goes on we should be able to upgrade the lens if necessary.

I'm going to post in the GH2 section to see what those users think, but if you have any other thoughts let me know. Thanks!
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Old May 18th, 2011, 01:03 PM   #9
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

Maybe you can sneak into the venue beforehand and upgrade the existing lights with higher wattage bulbs. :)
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Old May 18th, 2011, 01:19 PM   #10
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

David -

How bad IS the lighting?? You'd have to go used ("last years models" now), but if you use the "low lux" mode, the Sony "500" series cameras are pretty good - XR500/CX500 or the 520 versions (no audio in on the Cx models in this model year), or the XR/CX550. They will shoot it VERY bad lighting with passable results. The "AX"2000 would probably be similar in performance when adjusted to 1/30 on the shutter.

I can't speak to the new model year CX560/CX700, but they should be close to the performance of the 500 series - I've seen some samples indicating they aren't "quite" as good in really bad light...

The XA10 mentioned might be worth looking at, but blows your budget... even a USED CX500 mentioned above will run more than $500 by the time you add long life battery and memory cards (I've got a couple I'm thinking about selling, so I've been pricing...).

Depending on what equipment is already on hand, I would suggest that investing in a couple of the inexpensive Chinese LED lights with dimmers might actually be the better investment, along with a couple cheap stands to put them on. They aren't GREAT, but SOME proper "pseudo 3 point" lighting could work wonders with the end results?

Low light is a very "relative" thing, and most cameras degrade more than a little as the light gets hard to come by, even an SLR is not an ideal solution unless you have a fast prime and can deal with the clip limits. The Sonys I mentioned are about as gentle with the image quality as you'll find, IMO, when the lights get low.
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Old May 18th, 2011, 01:37 PM   #11
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

Hi Dave,

We'll be doing a test with the VX2000 next week. However, the test will be at the main venue with decent lighting, so I won't know how the other venues will perform till the day of that specific event.

As far as the Sonys go I have an HDR-SR12. Do you think the Sonys you mentioned have significantly better low light performance than the SR12? I'm not happy with the SR12's low light performance. I've had to use a noise reduction plugin in the NLE to get rid of the noise, which introduces its own issues.

Like I mentioned before due to people's sensibilities I'll just have to work with the room lighting. It's annoying but "what ya gonna do?" Clients are clients.
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Old May 18th, 2011, 02:56 PM   #12
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

If you're just shooting SD, you could scarcely do better than a VX2000, frankly. They're great in low light.

Similar Sony "pro" models (PD150 and PD170) with XLR input will still run around $1000 used and deliver similar performance. Used to own a PD150, and for simple SD delivery, it more than beat my Z1U or HVX200.

I also have a GH2 that I've used for speaker presentations, but these have all been under 2 hours - AC adapters actually ARE a problem currently, as nobody anywhere seems to have the necessary DCC8 AC-DC converter cube in stock. You'll also want a faster lens than the kit lens - popular options are Nikon-mount zooms in the ~15-50 range at f2.8. The kit 14-140 is a good lens, but only puts it on par with my Z1U, light-wise.
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Old May 18th, 2011, 03:12 PM   #13
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

Thanks for the reply. I think sticking with the VX2000 is good for now. I'm thinking about recommending the xa10 due to it's low light performance YouTube - Canon XA10 Test - Boston - Afternoon to Night Timelapse Low Light but I think the organizer may have a cow about the $2000 price tag.

One problem I see with the VX2000 is having to change the tapes mid-way, but that's just something they'll have to deal with unless they want to shell out the cash for their own camera.

The GH2 seems to be out due to difficulties with zooming. If anyone thinks there's anything better than the xa10 for this application let me know, thanks!

Edit: Btw, I think SD is ok although we will be uploading clips to youtube and making digital downloads of the events.
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Old May 18th, 2011, 03:32 PM   #14
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

If you really want to avoid tape-changing, all the Sony SD-DV cams can be used with the MRC1K CF-card recorder. Throw in a ~32-64GB card and shoot for hours.
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Old May 18th, 2011, 03:33 PM   #15
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Re: Video camera suggestions for low lighting situations

You could consider a used XR520v. With its 240 GB internal HDD, you'd get 60 hours of continuous recording time in its best SD mode, and much better native widescreen and low-light performance than a VX2000 for under $1000. You could get about 15 Hours in HQ SD on a CX560v.

The VX2000 was legendary. The XR520V is better. That is, if you don't mind plugging it in and using all that electricity and destroying all that rainforest, because even with the biggest battery going for five hours is a little risky.

The MRC idea is great but requires additional investment in the unit plus cards. Even 64 GB cards (expensive) won't get you to 5 hours (or just barely, depending on the cards).

The current crop of Sonys are MUCH better than the SR12 in low-light performance.
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