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Sony HVR-Z1 / HDR-FX1
Pro and consumer versions of this Sony 3-CCD HDV camcorder.


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Old April 4th, 2007, 09:10 AM   #1
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Is this a good camera to shoot a documentary with?

I'm looking to shoot a documentary of mt. washington in a few weeks and i was thinking of renting out a few of these cameras. Good choice?
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Old April 4th, 2007, 09:52 AM   #2
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The Z1 would be a great choice for the visual aquisition, being outside in the elements I would suggest getting a beefy tripod and for aquiring audio I would suggest a external DAT recorder, audio recorded in HDV is not very good. Make sure you read up on all the features the camera has before you begin shooting, it can make some great, different style visuals. Good luck
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Old April 4th, 2007, 10:02 AM   #3
 
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For recording nature, dialog, and anything else that doesn't have large dynamic content, HDV audio is fine.
On more than one occasion, we've done blind tests and full time audio editors could not discern the difference in dialog recorded with MPEG 1/layer 3 audio vs PCM.
You'll absolutely hear the difference in high dynamic ranges (think "latitude" in the video world) and you'll hear slight zippering in long fades from dynamic sounds such as a cymbal crash fade (think gradiations in compressed media) but for *most* uses, HDV audio is fine.
Double recording is a good idea, DAT is sort of an overkill these days with Microtracks, Zoom recorders, Edirol, Tascam solid state recorders, even the small Olympus PCM recorders do a good job. Double recording allows you to move into greater sample rates and bitdepths.

The cams are tough, lightweight, and very capable. We dropped more than one cam on this project, with one of them dropping roughly 10 feet from an ascending heli. I don't recommend doing this, but other than a damaged handle and badly dented microphone, it recorded the entire time during and after the drop, and only dropped one GOP sequence. the cam is fine, other than a few scratches.

Mounting on sticks or monopod will improve your vid drastically when working with any compressed format, if you can manage the weight. Good sticks are important, so if you rent, get sticks that are better than a Velbon/Tamron/Malaysian special. Carry a couple lightweight beanie bags like the Microball pillows found in the housewares department at Walmart. Weight is less than half a pound, and acts as a great cradle on rocks, trees, automotive hoods/roofs etc.
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Old April 4th, 2007, 11:33 AM   #4
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Great tip with the bean bag pillow, Douglas. I gotta try that....
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Old April 7th, 2007, 07:33 PM   #5
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Excellent camera for documentaries. I work for a government station in rural Maryland and we own three. About 40% of our content is produced on them.
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Old April 7th, 2007, 08:04 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Theodore McNeil View Post
Excellent camera for documentaries.
That's great to know, Theodore. Looks like I'll be shooting an ultra low budget doc here in Montreal and in Italy in the fall. Interviews, landscape and architecture shots here and there. Probably not too much indoors as I won't be able to carry a light kit with me.

Any advice from you (or anyone else)? Still on topic from Mark's original question, I believe.

Thanks,
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Old April 13th, 2007, 05:59 PM   #7
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I've done a couple of 2-hour documentaries with my year-old FX1, and no complaints. Most of my captures are hand-held, which is one reason why I like to use the Sony .8x wide-angle lens on the front.

I also shoot exclusively in 4-channel surround sound, so on top I have 2 Sony 908c stereo mics in their own shockmounts, with one facing forward and the other aft. The front audio goes on tape, the rear goes on Minidisc.

It's a nice, self-contained rig, and one that can go all day with the big Sony battery on the back.

One gotcha: the Louvre in Paris barred my entry last summer while they let little camcorders through.
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Old April 14th, 2007, 11:48 PM   #8
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I've shot a fair amount of both outside and inside footage with my FX-1 and as far as 'low-light', indoor work, I've found shooting at 9db gain, (which is suprisingly clean) is roughly how my own eyes see dark scenes. You might want to test that for yourself, to get a sense of what you can and cannot grab in a run & gun situation if you have no lights.

Also check pans and tilts if there is lots of detail in the frame. A WS of the ocean, with waves and whitecaps looked gorgeous, even with a pan. OTOH, I tilted from the top to a bottom of a pine tree with its needles clearly in focus, and the picture really fell apart from trying to preseve the needle detail. Bad artifacting is really rare, don't let my example scare you off...just learn your camera and you'll come back with great footage!

Don't forget the 'auto transitions' abilities as well. Racking focus and focal length from a foreground object to a lovely background vista at the touch of a button could be a real plus. It is a great all-round camera.
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