Canadian rental cam choice help--Varicam/SDX/SPX/HVX/HLH1? at DVinfo.net

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Old May 3rd, 2006, 02:26 PM   #1
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Canadian rental cam choice help--Varicam/SDX/SPX/HVX/HLH1?

Hello.
I have been planning a low budget indie feature for a couple of years. An exploitation-type sci-fi horror project with a lot of pre production prop and costume work. A good part of it will be shot in front of a greenscreen(I am even considering shooting some of the night scenes in front of a screen because the backgrounds have to be digitally enhanced in many cases anyway). My total budget ceiling is $35 000 but I am trying to get it under $25000. I have a great deal of digital work required for post--so I have to factor in that (hardware upgrades etc--I would be doing at least some of it myself). I am in the process of working out the shot list and schedule and have it completely storyboarded.

My question is--in terms of camera rentals--on the west coast here I see the local choices(outside of finding a DP with the camera ) are the Varicam, the SDX-900, the AJ SPX-800 and then the HVX, HL H1 etc.

I like the cinematic-like HVX screen cap shots I have seen, but prefer the HL H1's sharpness. If the latter could be adjusted to look more cinelike without losing that sharpness--I would go with that--unless the Varicam and SDX options blow them away.

My goal isnt theatrical release--but I would like a filmic look--even if its done in post, but the best raw visual image-capable cam for the job and budget so I dont slap my head in a couple of years and say: "I should have gone with the... instead!"
In other words, the best cam for posterity and future showcase options.
I havent got a rental rate on the Varicam for BC Canada--but I can get the SDX at one location for about $450 (in canadian prices)
the HVX is about $400(with 2 p2 cards)
the SPX-800 for $500(with 3 P2 cards and canon 1x5 lens) I have heard little about this cam.

I plan to find a DP for it(especially with the most expensive cam options) but for now, if someone could give me an idea on what would be the best order to go in terms of preference camera wise-and then maybe any of the other factors(minimum lens, lighting and set/post capture needs)it would help me greatly. Or even worst case scenarios. I am trying to be scheduled for shooting in the fall.

Thanks.

Kelly
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Old May 3rd, 2006, 04:33 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kelly Goden
In other words, the best cam for posterity and future showcase options.
I havent got a rental rate on the Varicam for BC Canada--but I can get the SDX at one location for about $450 (in canadian prices)
the HVX is about $400(with 2 p2 cards)
the SPX-800 for $500(with 3 P2 cards and canon 1x5 lens) I have heard little about this cam.
Whoa, I'll rent you my HVX200 for $400/d!!! Cheaper even! I'd better start charging more if that is a local price.

The Varicam usually rents for $900/d (usually on a 4 day week) around Vancouver, but can't remember if that includes glass.

Check out www.llsr.com (Lorne Lapham) in Burnaby for rentals if you haven't yet. They are my favorite local rental shop.
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Old May 3rd, 2006, 06:12 PM   #3
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Wait! I lied! It actually rents for $250 ;)

And that doesnt include tax.
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Old May 3rd, 2006, 10:19 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kelly Goden
Wait! I lied! It actually rents for $250 ;)
That sounds more like it.
Actually, I should be renting mine when I'm not using it. One more thing I'll never get around to doing.
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Old May 4th, 2006, 02:37 AM   #5
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1- Just an idea, but you might want to shoot a scene or trailer to your feature first. This way you get more experience, and see if you have the right crew to go ahead and shoot your feature.

You will also be able to get some technical kinks worked out. I find shooting a realistic green screen very difficult! It's hard to match the lighting to the background plate.
And on a simpler level, it can be hard to get a clean key with good edges (especially hair), and low spill. And also manageable motion blur.

And with any special effects work, a knowledgeable SFX supervisor will really help. One of them will be able to tell you what will and won't work... avoiding a post production nightmare.

2- Shooting greenscreen:
I would probably go HD, because the cameras will tend to have higher chroma resolution.
However, you need to consider the camera too. The HVX200 (1080p, 4:2:2 DVCPRO HD) does as good as the JVC HD100 (720p, 4:2:0 HDV/MPEG2), despite having the better format. Walter Graff did this comparison somewhere... I can't find the link however.
The lens also plays a small role in things... some HD lenses are pretty bad, and their chromatic aberration will make the edges less clean.

Shooting progressive may help a little with the special effects work, or not (depends on what you're doing). Shoot 24p if you want theatrical or PAL distribution. 60i should be workable too... even if you throw away half the vertical resolution (which is one way to de-interlace), you'll still have 540 lines of vertical resolution, which is enough.

3- If you can wait until winter, the cost of renting equipment can go down a lot since there's usually much lower levels of production during that time. It might be worth looking into. Rental houses do give deals to indies, students, and first-time producers.

You may be able to get an even better deal. A lot of people own cameras like the HVX200... maybe you can get one of these people really interested in your film. Or see if Dylan would work for free beer. (Hey, it doesn't hurt to ask!!)
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Old May 4th, 2006, 08:18 AM   #6
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Hey thanks. That's a lot of good info. I was wondering about the motion blur aspect with greenscreen. I have seen excellent low budget footage but quick movements do look a bit off sometimes.
I have the project completely storyboarded and mostly colorized in photoshop too--just so i would have good visuals to show others with technical experience.

I had planned to do some non continuity scenes first that would fit well into a single day or weekend.
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Old May 4th, 2006, 09:29 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Glenn Chan
Or see if Dylan would work for free beer. (Hey, it doesn't hurt to ask!!)
No, that was back when I had XL1's. Now that I've got HD I've upgraded to 18 year old sherry cask Glennmorangie.
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Old May 4th, 2006, 02:06 PM   #8
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SDX900 is a nice compromise and will ultimately look better than 1/3" CCD HD... it upconverts beautifully and still gives you easy keys....



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Old May 4th, 2006, 04:39 PM   #9
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You can get rid of the motion blur by using a very high shutter speed.
A high shutter speed will lower exposure though, so you will need more light.

If you do use a very high shutter, you can get strobe-like motion... which you may or may not like (it's subtle though). Gladiator used it in its action scenes. You may find it disconcerting. You can theoretically add the motion blur back via one of the Realviz products. I doubt that plug-in can handle complex motion like smoke or things like that.
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Old May 4th, 2006, 05:37 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dylan Couper
No, that was back when I had XL1's. Now that I've got HD I've upgraded to 18 year old sherry cask Glennmorangie.
Now THERE'S a man with taste!
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Old May 4th, 2006, 05:46 PM   #11
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So I guess between an sdx and an hvx--the sdx is better? But a varicam trumps both?

I do find that Gladiator strobe effect disconcerting. Cannot stand it! That and the washed out image look.

My original plan was to use as little greenscreen as possible--even if that meant building small portions of real sets--having the actors in front of that--and adding the rest in post. I actually prefer that to greenscreening although it may be alot more work(I had planned to have the camera locked down for those shots obviously), but I prefer having the key line beyond the hair and body of the performer.

I saw some fx experiments for the greenscreened "Prey Alone"--and it looked really convincing--except there was a couple of places where there was some rapid motion (a guy turning a corner) and the blur looked funny.

Otherwise though it was mind blowing.
I wasnt going for anything that sophisticated. Mostly hiding unwanted background elements(lights etc) to make the landscape look desolate.
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Old May 5th, 2006, 02:05 AM   #12
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SDX vs. HVX

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kelly Goden
So I guess between an sdx and an hvx--the sdx is better? But a varicam trumps both?
Another way to look at the question of which camera is better is to ask questions like, "what is my final deliverable?" Do you want a standard definition or high definition master? Does the story require any special camera features and/or support techniques? Since you're doing compositing, a camera with 4:2:2 color encoding would be better than 4:1:1 or 4:2:0.

All of the resolution tests and camera comparisons people have done notwithstanding, in the end, the fine differences between cameras really does not matter that much, as story and emotional resolution trumps technical resolution every time. The right camera is best determined by the capabilities you need driven by the story, your production budget, and your delivery format requirements.

Both the the HVX200 and the SDX900 cameras are great, and you can't really compare them directly, as they are very different in a number of ways, not the least of which is the HVX200 is a 1/3" 3-chip HD 16:9 prosumer camcorder with a fixed lens, while the SDX900 is a 2/3" 3-chip SD (4:3/16:9 switchable) professional ENG camcorder with interchangeable lenses. Images shot with the SDX will exhibit different optical characteristics like a little less depth-of-field given the same angle-of-view and f/stop becuase of the 2/3" chips.

The SDX900 standard definition camera offers excellent image quality, low noise, and when you record using the 4:2:2 50 Mbit/sec DVCPRO50 format, you get images that are clearly surperior to DV or DVCAM, especially if you're planning to do green screen compositing.

But no matter how you slice it, the SDX is still an SD camera. The HVX200 is high definition, it's not in the same league as the Varicam or SDX900, however, the images it produces are stunning, excellent bang for the buck to use a technical term.

If you compare HVX200 and Varicam footage side by side, you'll say the HVX footage is a tad softer than the Varicam footage, on the other hand, the differences are not an order of magnitude different.

And to confuse the mix even more, Panasonic is coming out with a new camera, the HDX900, which will be just like the SDX900 but will record high definition using the DVCPRO HD codec onto tape (not P2 like the HVX). Put some good glass on this camera and I would expect you'll get excellent images. Too bad it does not support variable frame rates like the Varicam upstream and the HVX200 downstream. And this is ironic, becuase Sony finally introduced variable frame rates into their 1/2" 3-chip XDCAM HD camcorder that's in the same price range as the HDX900.
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Old May 5th, 2006, 08:43 AM   #13
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Choosing a desktop printer was a lot easier :)

My delivery format requirements at this point, is that I wont regret the choice(and obviously budget considerations). There is a need for greenscreen and significant post production image enhancements via photoshop, maya etc. And a fair bit takes place at night--in shadowy corridors---and I would like to use coloured lights to enhance cheap sets(a bit of comic book feel).

But what makes one camera HD and the others SD? This has me confused.

I had hoped that one camera choice would be so obviously superior to the others--since the debate between the SDX and HVX wasnt clear enough to make me decide--and now the varicam is doing the same.

I knew of the HDX but didnt want to think about it since its way down the road and isnt likely to be available for rent here until next spring.

I have seen a couple of trailers shot in sdx and the varicam. The sdx one looked very Hollywoodish--clean, while the Varicam one looked drained of colour and drabby.
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Old May 6th, 2006, 04:59 AM   #14
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In a pragmatic sense, you may be best off picking the camera you can get a deal on. There are some differences between them, but sometimes the difference is not that great. (Ok for greenscreen the lens and camera does matter more.)

But the point is...
If your DOP owns a Canon XL-H1 or HVX200 or similar camera, then you have a free camera.
Or, you may be able to find a Varicam for $300/day (weekends can be one day). I know White's in Toronto used give 80% off their rentals for some students... and PS may give first time producers the first rental free (they only do film cameras though). Of course you'd need the deck (later) and tape stock which adds to your cost, but that kind of a deal might make your decision a no-brainer. It shouldn't hurt to ask.

It may also be good if you can find a good producer. (Ok, easier said than done!)
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Old May 6th, 2006, 09:24 AM   #15
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Yes--I figure that in the end it may come down to what's available and what the DP has(since they are the ones who have to know how to use the thing properly). Those are the only cameras that I have found in store rental circulation.

Find a producer. Easier said than done sure is the truth. :)
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