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Old January 15th, 2006, 12:26 AM   #1
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Feature Filmmaking: Camera Choice (rent)

I'm starting to think again about making a feature film... script is getting in order, so I thought it would be a good idea to decide which camera I should use.

Keep in mind, that my main point of this ramble is:

WHICH CAMERA SHOULD I RENT FOR WHAT I WANT TO ACHIEVE AND WHY (IF YOU CAN). Thank you.

A year ago, the DVX-100 was the way to go for me or if I could afford it the SDX-900.

But Panasonic has the updated DVX-100B and introduced the AG-HVX200. Canon has two options that look good too and the JVC (GY-HD100U) looks awesome too.

I've been thinking of making a feature film since I was 16 and the VX-1000 came out... now the tools are getting easier and better by the day.

Basically I'm looking to get AT LEAST that 16mm film look that movies like CLERKS, BROTHERS MCMULLEN, and SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT HAD.

So that's what I'm going for. I went to film school. I would prefer to shoot on film then transfer over, but it makes so much more sense to shoot on video at this point. At least to me.

But I want that look.

My setup is for post production is

iMac G4, Final Cut Pro 4.5, external HD 120gb, and my mini-dv camera for transfer. I edited short films and a feature film on this setup.

With that in mind, I would love to shoot HD, but i don't know if that's worth bumping down. I think the highest I would go is DVC-PRO50. I could rent a deck.

It seems that the HVX-100 is the perfect camera to make a feature film at the smallest budget possible while still getting a great look. How do you think it compares to the SDX-900. It seems that it records the same format, just that the lense size and capture lense isn't as professional. Still, DVCPRO-50 or HD sounds great.

I would like it to be 24 frames per second, widescreen and if it could look like movies that Robert Rodriguez shoots on HD that would be awesome.

I was looking through this post and I founda lot of technically things. I'm looking more for nuts and bolts. It looks like I can't lose.

So I'm not looking for the best HD image possible. I'm looking for the best image possible that looks like film using a video camera. Whichever one is best, works for me.


Right now I'm leaning toward Panasonic in this order:

SDX-900
HVX-200
DVX-100B
Canon-XL H1
Canon-XL2

Considering the JVC (but I don't love JVC).

Sony doesn't seem to offer a camcera right now that does film like images, just pretty HD images for TV broadcasters.

Canon's XL series has 24 frame rate, but I think most people would pick the DVX-100B over it. Or am I wrong?

Is the Canon-XL H1 or HVX-200 HD in 24 frame rate have any chance of looking like an HD movie like say ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO or JACKPOT.

Thanks for your thoughts fellow filmmakers.
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Old January 15th, 2006, 02:36 AM   #2
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If you shoot DV, shoot with the DVX-100a or 100b. Hands down the best DV camera out there.

If you shoot HD, avoid HDV at all costs. First off, FCP 4.5 can't capture HDV, you'd have to upgrade to FCP 5. Second, HDV is prone to heavy artifacting on fast motions...so much that many networks reject any and all HDV cameras. If they look bad on the TV, picture the big screen. Currently FCP 5 supports all formats of HDV except 24P...and only the JVC offers 24P

None of the cameras you listed will look as good as the movies you mentioned. Just like an 8mm camera will not look as good as a 35MM camera, no matter how well lit. Good, but not exactly like it. Of the cameras you mentioned, the HVX-200 is the best HD camera (IMO). DVCPRO HD is a frame based codec, not a GOP based codec. The DVCPRO HD codec can be captured via firewire...BUT, with the HVX-200, no tape is involved, as the footage is recorded onto P2 cards. But again, for that you need FCP 5.0.4 and at least QT 7.0.3. Also the HVX is SERIOUSLY backordered. It will be months before they are really out there.

Many people swear by HDV...I just happen to disagree. But, with your current computer, that is the only version of HD you can handle, but you will need to get FCP 5. Unless you don't care about timecode...then you can get LumiereHD or HDVxDV to import the footage.

My advice? Research for a month or two...get to know all that is involved with the varous workflows from shooting to final delivery...then make your decision. I am blogging about my DVCPRO HD workflow at www.lfhd.net, in case you are interested.
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Old January 15th, 2006, 08:44 AM   #3
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You could also shoot with the Canon XL-H1 and record to another HD-cam deck. But that's expensive.
(And I don't know if the HVX200 or XL-H1 are the best, opinions still differ, but they are both good cams)
Most opinons untill now were that the H1 looked the sharpest, but the HVX the most filmic.

The JVC HD-100 has gotten very good reviews to, exept all the problems it had (postproduction, split screen effect,...). People say it looked very filmic.
These days reviews of the camera are getting better and better.

If you are planning a blowup, the resolution of HD will of course be a benefit in comparison with DV.

If you rent, why not a Varicam? Or is that too expensive?

Last edited by Mathieu Ghekiere; January 15th, 2006 at 09:40 AM.
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Old January 15th, 2006, 10:27 AM   #4
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Quote:
Second, HDV is prone to heavy artifacting on fast motions...so much that many networks reject any and all HDV cameras.
I don't think this is true. ESPN has a show called full ride which has Sony Z1 footage mixed with Varicam footage. American Chopper is another show with HDV footage.

From a technical standpoint, others have pointed out that these artifacts just don't show up. Also, the networks typically encode their material into MPEG2 for storage on video servers or broadcast from satellite feeds. Some broadcasters compress their video a lot. The Superbowl and footage ball games tend to look pretty bad... but that seems to be ok.

2- I would go for the best value in the camera. Look at it this way:

Would you rather produce one movie that looks good, or two movies? My guess is that two movies are more likely to lead to success. If you shoot on an XL1 or DVX100, it probably won't hurt your chances too much because we know that theatrically-released films have been made on those cameras (28 days, murderball). What will hurt your chances are things like not clearing your music... and that takes money.

3- Curious: do you like the look of "broken"?
http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=45234
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Old January 15th, 2006, 01:08 PM   #5
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Thanks for the replies.

Glenn -- I just checked out "Broken". Its not the type of movie I would make, but the production was very impressive. However, I watched the trailer a few times (with the sound off) and just looked at the image. It's tough with all the quick cuts, but there were a lot of shoots that looked like video. That just felt a bit unfilmlike, and that's the camera. I'm not insulting Alex, I'm just saying that the DVX-100 does show some drawbacks at certain points, no matter what you do to it. It's video after all.

I really liked the look of "November" which was shoot with the DVX-100. Not a great film storywise, but it LOOKED GREAT.

Of course November's 150,000 budget to Broken's 8,000 makes sense to see a difference up on screen.

I've watched many trailers and short films online that was shoot with the DVX-100 and for 90% of the shoots it looks really good. It's just that there's always a few shots, that stand out and take me out of the film at that time on most projects. I love the way DVX-100 24p looks, but it lacks the forgiveness of film.

Currently I'm thinking that my budget is 10,000 and under. Basically what I would spend on my own without any help (besides credit cards or saving up). So that's where I'm coming from.

For that budget it seems the DVX-100B is the way to go.

But since I'm renting, and this is like 6 months from now, i'm sure the HVX-100 would be at most an extra 100 dollars per day to rent.

DVX-100 is usually 150 bucks per day to rent. So I figure the HVX should be aroun 200, 250 maybe per day.

I feel in love with the SDX900 after watching a lot of footage from it. To me that looks like 16mm. It looks great.

I recently watched CLERKS and it looks like a movie of course, but the 16mm image is full of artifacts. It's not clean. It's filmlike, but I forgot that 16mm isnt' 35mm. What I mean is, I don't find 16mm film far superior to some of the digital video options. I thought November's picture held it's own against CLERKS image. I mention CLERKS because that's the type of movie that inspired me (and 10,000 others) to realize when can make our own films. And that's the type of film that I love. Comedy.

I guess I could consider renting HD, but I figured I couldn't afford post production and would have to down covert.

Like Robert Rodriguez shooting 16mm (El Marachi image is great) and then transferring to 3/4 video, do people shoot on HD then transfer to say mini-DV to get into their final cut pro setups?

I also thought if I did shoot on HD or DVCPRO 50 I would do something like that, but would that give me the same type of results Rodriguez got?

I assume so. If I aquire footage at the highest resolution possible, even if I transfer to DV, it should be far surperior than shooting on DV to being with. Right?
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Old January 15th, 2006, 06:53 PM   #6
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Matthew, I don't know anyone that shoots HD and then converts to mini-dv for post. With your current set-up you would either shoot to a hard drive or shoot to HD tape and then have a post house transfer it directly to your external hard drive.

Also, I understand the need to have that "film look" so your audience isn't distracted from your story, which can happen with poor production values. But, the truth is that the format isn't the most important thing to getting that look. I've seen HD that I thought was film and film that I thought was DV. The way you move the camera is by far the most important factor in story telling IMO. It just so happens that many filmmakers, when deciding to utilize video, always do the handheld, "realisitc" style of shooting. I don't know why this trend has taken off.

Oh, and Clerks looks like absolute crap IMO. I'm not sure why anyone would want that look. Yes, it was shot on film, but they didn't utilize the strengths of film in that movie. Also, the new 16mm stocks are way better (cleaner) than the 35mm stocks of the 80's and early 90's. However, I wouldn't even consider shooting film with your budget. I know from experience, my friend.

Have you seen "One Upon a Time in Mexico?" That's a good cinematic use of HD. But R.R. knows how to move the camera and that's huge. I got WAY too concerned about the look of my last short film and the end result is that I have a great looking, extremely film-like movie with a flat story. You can murder a good script by dropping the ball on scene direction. Do you have a good DP that you trust? That should be a given. If you're doing the one-man-crew thing, I'd advise against it. You need to delegate responsibilties so you can concentrate on directing the actors and telling the story. That's something else I learned thru trial and error.

The gear you use is important but like I said, I've seen 35mm look aweful and I've seen it look amazing. Same with HD and every other format you could throw into the mix. My cinematographer (who was featured in a Kodak Cinema article) got fooled once while watching HD footage. He totally thought it was super16. Your skills and the skills of your DP are the most important thing in optaining a film look.
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Old January 15th, 2006, 07:08 PM   #7
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From the work that I've done certainly shooting HDV and then letting the camera / VCR downscale does give excellent looking footage, however that's definately not giving you the best result that you can get from HDV. Issue I see is you're suffering all the issues assoicated with HDV cameras and loosing many of the advantages. If you're planning on shooting 16:9 then certainly the HDV cameras are a good choice but I'd suggest downscaling to 4:2:2, that does give you quite a boost in image quality, particularly if you're working in NTSC and your target is DVD.
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Old January 15th, 2006, 07:39 PM   #8
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"So I'm not looking for the best HD image possible. I'm looking for the best image possible that looks like film using a video camera. Whichever one is best, works for me."

AND fits in your budget ?

Right now I'm leaning toward Panasonic in this order:

SDX-900
HVX-200
DVX-100B
Canon-XL H1
Canon-XL2
Considering the JVC (but I don't love JVC).

you should wait for the results of the big 4 camera test that Barry and friends just did ... maybe that will help on which one they thought had film look & other oddities ?

i just saw your budget figure 10K = DVX100 or XL2 .. compare renting camera vs. buying it for the shoot and then sell at as you go into post.

does your budget include new editing system or do you use current system ? and what is that system ?

"Is the Canon-XL H1 or HVX-200 HD in 24 frame rate have any chance of looking like an HD movie like say ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO or JACKPOT. "

if viewing on a SD TV = YES
if viewing on HD monitor = maybe depending on your DP
if viewing on 35ft screen = NO
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Old January 15th, 2006, 10:54 PM   #9
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Jason--

Thanks for your posts. Full of good stuff.

I tried the R.R. one man show (well 2 man) with my last short film shot on the DVX-100. It turned out terrible. I'm the worst DP. Ever! Shakey hands Kaplan they call me.

But I did learn two good lessons.

A) I need to hire a DP and other crew members. Can't think I'm R.R.
B) Renting is better than owning.

So I got my post production setup (I can upgrade) of:

- iMac G4
- FCP PRO 4.5 HD
- External 120GB ESQUEST
- Sony one chip mini-DV camera for capturing/monitor

I could surely use a VCR and a real NTSC monitor, but I did edit a mini-DV feature film on this setup. You can always cut corners to get the job done.

With this post production setup I should be able to handle HD, SD or mini-DV right? I just will need to either rent equipment like a VCR to capture or go to a transfer house. Right? Or is HD require too many extras?

Anyway, with that setup in mind, and me wanting to spend 10,000 or less of my own money (saying I don't get any help or financing) what is my best option for making a feature film that won't look like a prom video?

BUDGET= 10,000

I'm trying to understand the different workflows of shooting HD, SD and mini-DV. I get mini-DV, but are the other formats basically the same thing in regards to post production setup? What else might I be missing?

So if I do shoot a higher format than mini-DV, I can get my footage transfered to a harddrive and edit in that format using FCP 4.5. But will I be able to view HD or SD video through a standard monitor?

It's been a long time, but out of curiosity, how much do you think using 16mm would cost me if I transfered to video to edit with and make DVD copies to show around/sell.

If I can pull off a mini-DV movie for say 5,000 would the same 16mm movie cost me 15,000?

-matt
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Old January 15th, 2006, 11:13 PM   #10
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just to let you know, the statement about networks not using the Sony HDV cams are completely wrong. Food Network uses it heavily on a lot of their shows. I don't know where that statement came from, but its wrong. Just clearing up a few details
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Old January 16th, 2006, 12:48 AM   #11
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not a mac person so don't know what your system can do above DV25 format..

"If I can pull off a mini-DV movie for say 5,000 would the same 16mm movie cost me 15,000"

guessing ? how long is the project ? 90min , 2 hr ?

what kind of shooting ratio ? 3 to 1 ? 5-1? 8-1?

you buying new film stock or short ends ?

probably the best deal would be to find a DP with his own camera and get a pachage deal ..

film processing , film stock , film telecine can be a package deal at some labs.
15k might cover film , processing , telecine for apporx 5-6hrs of film.

bottom line !!! IMO forget 16mm as the cost can go out of control easy with a 15K budget ..
shoot DVX100 & put the extra $$ into actors ... you already know your system can edit project.. the camera is proven to a "out" to film .. there are many dvx's around so there will be good rental deals .. you need to be able to start & finish the movie with the budget you have as a unfinished movie is NO movie.
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Old January 16th, 2006, 01:01 AM   #12
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Murderball, 28 Days, Blair Witch are all examples of movies shot on DV or worse and have theatrical release. Considering that there are so many filmmakers trying to get their material into theaters, DV does pretty damn well.

On the other hand, you may want to think away from theatrical release for now. If you can distribute your work over the internet and get a good following for it, that's a great stepping stone towards future projects.

You definitley don't need HD resolution for online distribution.

2- Here's an interesting article from RR "10 minute film school"
http://www.exposure.co.uk/makers/minute.html

He would advise you not to shoot on film. On the other hand, the guy is multi-talented (i.e. he even edits his own blockbuster movies) and has produced about 200 film before el mariachi. So you may not exactly get his results, because he has put in a lot of work before he got famous.

3- Lots of people own a DVX100 or similar camera. If you pay them a small honorarium, that might be the same price as renting (or even less). It's just how persuasive you are in getting people interested in your project.
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Old January 16th, 2006, 01:38 AM   #13
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"Digital Moviemaking"

Matthew:
Check out the book "Digital Moviemaking" (2nd edition) by Scott Billups. Would definitely be worth your while. He compares all the DV cameras and formats out there, and also offers general moviemaking advice on all areas of the process. He also has a website, I think it is pixelmonger.com. Also consider the new JVC HD camera, I read a post here where it was the best video camera to give a film look in the poster's opinion. (but I think a 35mm adaptor was used as well) the poster also provided a link to the site where the camera was reviewed.
Good luck with your movie.
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Old January 17th, 2006, 12:44 AM   #14
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In your list the SDX-900 is the clear winner IMHO. The 2/3" CCDs will give you a better look than even 1/3" HD CCDs... a few lens options as well.


ash =o)
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Old January 17th, 2006, 10:34 PM   #15
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If I do choose the SDX-900, can you explain the workflow in post production of that, with my current set up?

I assume I can get the footage in my iMac either by renting a VCR or by getting the footage transferred to an external Harddrive.

Basically, Final Cut Pro 4.5 HD can handle any format that I throw at it, but can I actually edit HD just as easily as mini-DV? Same goes for SD.

I think I might be missing some key issues in regards to how I go from produciton to actually getting the footage edited.

I've done shoot 16mm, transfer to digibeta, edit on Avid, output to Digi/VHS for a short film.

I've done shoot mini-DV, import via mini-DV, output to DVD.

But I've, obviously if you've read this post, I've never shoot on HD or SD and don't know if I'm grasping the process.

Basically all the formats confuse me. The HVX-200 appears to be able to shoot HD, SD, mini-DV... how does it do that? I mean how can it be able to be HD quality one minute, then with a slip of the switch mini-DV? To me that sounds like a VCR/TV combo. Not as good as a dedicated device IMO. Can I really shoot HD footage on the HVX-200 that is in the same ballpark as George Lucas?

So in theory should the HVX-200 have better footage than the SDX-900? I assume not because of the lenses... but HD vs SD...

I currently think the SDX-900 is the best overall choice. It's 500 bucks per day to rent which seems pretty good considering.

I feel most comfortable with shooting with the DVX-100B as I understand how to use that camera through completion, however, I've never made a feature film. There will be so many things I have to learn while doing. That you don't know until you do it.

I'm just trying to determine the best choice for me. But I will for sure find a DP that knows more than me and can make whichever camera I choose, the right one.
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