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Old July 1st, 2016, 01:45 PM   #1
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"Best" live event budget camera?

There's no one "best" camera, but there often is a "best" for a narrow set of requirements. And there are likely different "bests" at various price points. [/DisclaimerMode]

In this case, the camera doesn't need to record video. Here are the basic requirements:
* Shoots HD. At least 720p60 or 1080i60. 1080p30 would be a good option. 1080p60 won't necessarily make it through the rest of the system.
* An external output, likely HDMI or HD-SDI. HDMI is probably the best at (my) lower end of the budget scale. HD-SDI is best for higher end systems. In either case, converters are available, so I'm not picky.
* A great image, especially on skin tones. Of course, one gets what they pay for, but the camera image should look good vs its direct competition. But it shouldn't be over sharpened, over noise reduced, or lack adjustments.
* Good sensitivity. One often needs to deal with available light. Again, money matters, but the camera should compete well against its peers.
* Good color balance. I recently shot video in a church with fluorescent lights using a 5D2. Adjusting the color temperature wasn't enough. I added a strong offset away from green and yellow and this was far and away the best I've seen in this location. Without that offset, everything looked dingy. Without a manual adjustment, a white card would do - if the setting can be stored and recalled.
* Gen lock - This isn't needed for the switcher that I'm looking at, but it's the way to go for higher end cameras.
* ZOOM! I like to run two cameras - one fixed wide and one tight with zoom. In my case, the wide needs to be something like a 50mm full frame equivalent. At my recent event, I was running something like a 350 - 1000mm FF equivalent! 200-600 is probably reasonable.
* Servo and parfocal - I generally cut wide, reframe, then cut tight, rather than zoom live. That said, the ability to do a slow, smooth zoom while maintaining focus is a nice option. I was using the Canon 70-200 lens, which is not parfocal, and there was no way that I could zoom, frame, and follow focus at the same time.
* Auto focus. When shooting from the back of an audience at a person on stage, auto focus can potentially work well - especially if a non-pro has to step up and run the system.
* Focus and exposure tools. Manual exposure is required and is much easier with histograms, etc. At my recent event, I used a 7-inch 1080p monitor and good reading glasses as the peaking on my device was too quick to say things were in focus. Whatever the method, nobody wants buzzed focus.
* Stabilization. The 70-200/2.8L IS II did great at taking out micro-vibrations. When shooting that long (1000mm!) one really needs to have a great tripod and tripod compatible IS helps take that last bit of wiggle out of the images.
* Audio is not needed.
* AC operated. We can't have a drained batter at a live event. And the rest of the system isn't backed up with a battery, so the camera doesn't necessarily need to be either.

That about covers it.

For budget, there are probably the following tiers (including camera, lens, and AC adapter only):
* Under $1K (small sensor, fixed lens okay.)
* $1 - 2K
* $2 - 5K
* $5K+ (This gets into true broadcasting territory, so we can leave this out of scope. There are many great options, given enough budget.)

I can probably find funding for the $1-2K tier, though nobody would complain if a three digit cam gets the job done. On the other hand, I'd rather go north of $2K if needed to really meet the requirements.

So... what do people recommend?
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Old July 1st, 2016, 05:22 PM   #2
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Re: "Best" live event budget camera?

On paper, the Blackmagic Studio camera sounds like a possiblity, although sensitivity may be an issue.

https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/gb/...icstudiocamera
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Old July 1st, 2016, 06:19 PM   #3
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Re: "Best" live event budget camera?

Funny you mention it. My son has a BM Pocket Camera that we were thinking of using for the fixed, wide cam. His lens is a 60mm equivalent. He mentioned that picture quality could be limited, both due to limited sensitivity and limited color temp offsets. (Maybe a white card would work well though.) The UI on the pocket cam isn't very friendly, but basically, we just need the sensor and the HDMI feed during the events. We could even mount it permanently up high - if we could find a way to power it up and down and control it remotely.

One challenge is the long lens for the "manned" camera. As I recall Micro Four Thirds has a 50% crop factor, so a 70-200 lens becomes just 140-400, which isn't quite enough. Add an extender or get an X-400mm lens and were at f/4 or higher, which also hurts sensitivity.

For the previous event, I used a 5D2 at 5x zoom. The main problem for later playback is that it was 13.5:9 (3:2). The nice thing live is that our projection screen was 4:3, which was cropped a bit at the top - to about 13.5:9. So nobody at the event would have noticed that the camera's aspect ratio wasn't exactly what we intended. :)

I wonder if a Canon XA20 wouldn't be a good way to go. It has an equivalent range of 26.8mm–576mm at f/1.8 - f/2.8. I'm not sure about its sensitivity or ability to do more than a basic color balance. A key factor would be if the HDMI output is clean.
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Old July 1st, 2016, 11:47 PM   #4
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Re: "Best" live event budget camera?

An XA20 sends clean over the HDMI by default, though there is a menu config to output overlays.

It really looks good when exposed well, up to 12db of gain or more. Color balance choices are many: several presets, custom A, custom B, and by degrees Kelvin. It has a teeny sensor...

As a remote camera you miss the amazing touchscreen target selection autofocus. Wow, this AF really works. Remotely, you can still use face detection.

The XA25 adds HDSDI out. The XA30 and XA35 add a few more bells and whistles, but especially another 3db of gain maintaining the same signal to noise. And a Wide DR mode.

I could wish for a waveform monitor... 75 and 100% zebras are the only exposure monitoring method. And this camera does need to be exposed correctly. I've had good luck on color correction, but exposed correctly it looks pretty good without correction/grading.

The XA20 is a camera I teach on; students at the college have found plenty of ways to miss getting what they need to, but for those who've learned how to use zebras and audio meters the camera is a very consistent performer, with pretty images.
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Old July 2nd, 2016, 12:24 AM   #5
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Re: "Best" live event budget camera?

The Sony X70 might fit your bill. Do keep in mind it's a 1'' sensor (so it's not quite MFT, but it helps for sensitivity) and Sonys are good with the blacks and skin tones.

It's around the same price as the current XA series and it has a bigger sensor.
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Old July 2nd, 2016, 07:09 AM   #6
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Re: "Best" live event budget camera?

I also like my XA20, the images look very good. I was thinking of getting a second one. I know you can hunt them down from various sources including used, but they are already gone from B&H new in the box.

You would need a good LAN-C zoom controller for best ergonomics on a tripod if doing live zooming.

The AF does work well, and you get focus-assist magnification for Manual, but manual still isn't really manual and can be very aggravating to me anyway!

You would have to do the majority of controls from the touchscreen, there is only one other rotary control on the outside of the camera besides the lens ring (which can be either focus or zoom).

The problem I have with this small rotary customizable control that is very low at the front of the camera, is getting to it when mounted on a long tripod plate. You can either mount the camera to block the battery release or to block this small rotary control.

Since you'd be powering it with AC, you could mount the camera to block the battery lock and leave the custom rotary control more accessible.

You can assign many different functions to this rotary control and to the various assignable buttons.

The HDMI output connector is not full-size, but cables are easy to find.
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Old July 2nd, 2016, 11:08 AM   #7
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Re: "Best" live event budget camera?

The
JVC GY-HM170UA
looks pretty interesting...

I've not used this camera, but recently saw that JVC is offering a substantial discount. About the form factor of an XA20, but with 4K / 30p at 150Mbps, or 1080 / 60p at 50Mbps. It all seems to be laid down at 4:2:2.

It's encoding h.264 in an MOV wrapper, which is no longer as convenient for most PC editors, but can be rewrapped to another container. Och.
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Old July 2nd, 2016, 10:05 PM   #8
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Re: "Best" live event budget camera?

The Sony and JVC cameras look nice, but lack the long zoom lens of the XA20 and XA30. I really need that feature to capture close ups from the back of the room.

In fact, the XA30's extra gain could be the thing for the main camera. The XA20 could match well for the wide cam, given that the lens is f/2.8 at the long end and f/1.8 when wide.

Now I need to find the right tripod. At nearly 600mm (35mm equivalent), I'll have that problem of needing a great tripod for a camera that doesn't weigh anything...
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Old July 3rd, 2016, 07:10 AM   #9
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Re: "Best" live event budget camera?

The X70 has Clear Image zoom which will extend the zoom in HD to 24x. My wife uses a FDR-AX100 for closeups when we shoot and can easily pick up faces from the back of the hall almost 200 feet. And at that will give a cleaner and sharper image than my NX5U 20x optical zoom. The newer AX53 has a 20x zoom and with clear image 30x is smaller and has a BOSS image stabilizer too. Image is not quite as sharp as the AX100 but still sharper than the NX5U. Both of course will shoot UHD at 30P. My wife uses a Sachtler ACE tripod.

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Old July 3rd, 2016, 04:03 PM   #10
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Re: "Best" live event budget camera?

Good point, Rob,

Given that the Sony X70 is 4K, a digital 2x zoom is viable.

I also see that the Panasonic AG-AC30 would be a candidate.
New Panasonic camcorder, the AG-AC30

In any case, it looks like a $1.5-2K budget can get the job done. I can quote this to the sponsor and do the shootout later.

Other important bits include one cheap and one good tripod, a Roland V-1HD switcher, Teradek Vidiu Pro, and various monitors. The audio mixer is already in place.

The Sachtler Ace looks to have a great head and so-so legs. Maybe I should get that along with a Manfroto kit with great legs and a so-so head and swap them around. :)
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Old July 6th, 2016, 12:18 PM   #11
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Re: "Best" live event budget camera?

BTW, the Sony X70 has a slight advantage from my perspective due to the included HD-SDI.

The XA30 is slightly less expensive right now, but is HDMI only. The XA35 (with HD-SDI) would bump us into the next price bracket.

Frankly, we only need HDMI. But from personal experience, HDMI isn't all that robust. If it fails, HD-SDI would allow us to use converters and not have to mess with servicing the camera. It's a nice failsafe and would also allow longer runs when we need them.

But before deciding, I will take a closer look at image quality - mainly noise at moderate light levels and skin tones. Yes, the Sony has a larger sensor, but it also has a slower lens. And when using the digital zoom from UHD to HD, the effective sensor size shrinks.

Then again, it sounds like either camera would meet all of our needs and would exceed expectations for the intended viewers.
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Old July 7th, 2016, 09:18 AM   #12
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Re: "Best" live event budget camera?

You can also still find the XA25 new, but the price difference with the XA35 is only $100 currently!

The oddities of the evolution of models and their discounted prices...
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