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Sony VX2100 / PD170 / PDX10 Companion
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Old February 8th, 2003, 10:17 AM   #1
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I am new to the posting site and have read the posts for a while. I am looking to purchase a camera and like a thousand people before me, I am looking for some advice. I want to use the camera for feature films/documentaris to be sent to festivals. I want to record sound into the camera and not have to rely on a DAT deck.

I have just finished a feature filmed on an XL-1 and a Sony VX-2000. The footage that was shot on the Canon had more of a film look [I thought] and the VX-2000 had a stark video look. My partner loves the Sony, and has even used the word "Hate" to describe the Canon's footage. This experience has allowed me to realize that while I read what others have to say about the Canon XL-1S and the Sony PD-150 and even the new Panasonic 24p camera [the ones that I am deciding between to purchase] - to realize that personal preference is a huge element to what people are willing to suggest/help you with.

I have enjoyed watching new features like Tadpole and Personal Velocity etc. that have used the PD-150 and am eager to see a new film by Campbell Scott filmed on the XL-1S. The information that I have collected on the Panasonic seems to reveal that for the 24P feature there are other things left out that a good camera should have.

With all that said:
1. Visually what camera would you suggest? XL-1S, PD-150 or Panasonic 24P.
2. Have any of you compared the 30i frame movie mode to the 24p Panasonic.
3. Anything else you can think to share with me.

Thanks for your help
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Old February 8th, 2003, 02:10 PM   #2
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Great ambition! Tough job ahead!

Your first requirement, that of not requiring a DAT is not realistic. Unless you are willing to pop for something in the pro line of camcorders, the sound in most prosumer gear just isn't very good. Even then, the big boys use a separate sound recorder even when shooting in HD (well, most of the time anyway).

Even a MD recorder is better than most camcorders and it makes you much more flexible.

Opinions on 'look' are, as you describe, all over the place. Nobody can make a decision about how you want your movie to look but you and your DP.

I'd decide on the style of movie I want to create and then pick the camcorder that best fits that style. Sort of like when they shoot movies with film and select film stock to give them a 'look.' Even then, post-production filtering can change the look entirely. Or shoot with a pro-mist filter. Etc., etc.

Whatever camera you chose, consider a PAL version so you pick up the extra resolution and you get a frame rate that is easier to convert to film.

Warning, Soap-box mode follows:

You, gentle reader, may already know this.

The real truth of the matter is that too many of us get caught up in the technology of the matter. In my opinion, that's the wrong place to focus.

A good movie is all about content. The story and how you tell that story. As long as the technology doesn't get in the way, (financial constraints aside) it really does not matter.

I have a couple of friends that have made successful documentaries and feature films that you can rent in the video stores and could have initially watched in movie theatres. One used Hi-8 camcorders and the other used a single GL1.

The documentary "Genghis Blues" was shot on Hi8. That one won at Sundance and was nominated for an Academy Award.

"Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane" was shot with a GL1 and that film was distributed to theaters by Tom Cruise's distribution company. ($7K to make the film)

The brothers who produced Ghengis now shoot on DV.

The guy who did BGB&O, Joe Carnahan, now shoots on 35mm (he just released "Narc") and is now working on a new film staring Tom Hanks. These folks concentrated on the story (they wrote the script), not the tools.

Bottom line? Any camera will do. I just happen to be partial to the PD150 as my medium-level camera.

That said, if you write a good script, you can get $ to outfit yourself. Another friend just finished his script after about 2 years of work. With that in hand, he got $25K for expenses and the loan of a DSR-500 WS and all the sound and lighting goodies. Probably $40-$50K of equipment. He'll start shooting in March for 21 days and try and make Sundance as soon as possible. I think he has a good chance.
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Old February 8th, 2003, 07:18 PM   #3
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Thanks for your help.

I agree with all you have said regarding content. I am at the point of wanting to choose equipment that will allow for me to hurdle the least amount of obstacles, since there will be so many else to clear.

If I got a PAL Canon or Sony, what would I have to be concerned with in regards to viewing the edits on a monitor? Will Final Cut Pro be able to handle it? Will I have to get a different VHS Recorder to pop out tapes for quick viewing and review etc. Are there PAL recorders available? $$?

Also regarding a DAT deck and PAL footage- Will that be easy to Synch? I think I read some reports that Full Frontal had some problems. Also what would I expect to pay for a DAT recorder etc.

Thanks again for your help.
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Old February 8th, 2003, 09:43 PM   #4
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You will have to have PAL everything to edit. Some editing systems allow you to switch standards (but they do not transcode the video from one standard to another). A place that will sell you the PAL camcorder will also be able to set you up with the other PAL equipment you will need.

I cannot tell you whether FCP will work or not.

A Sony DAT will cost you about $700. As would a decent MD recorder which is a lot less expensive to operate and more reliable AFAIAC. Synch on a movie should be rather easy. Make certain you visually and audibly operate a clap at the start of every take. With the large number of cut-aways normally found in a feature, loss of sync should not be an issue at any time. My $350 MD recorder works just fine at least up to 20 minutes.

I don't know what Full Frontal did. Most movies are recorded on Nagras with timecode. But that can be a very expensive proposition as can a DAT with timecode. Think you would be looking at around $5K for the least expensive TC-capable recorder.

My point about the equipment would also extend to not committing to any hardware until it is very near time to start shooting. A month or so should familiarize you with the equipment.

You may know that the first small HD recorder was just announced. I believe it is under $5K and will shoot 4:3 or 16:9. Just to give you another option.
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Old February 9th, 2003, 02:27 AM   #5
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Thank you again.

I did not know about the small HD recorder just announced. What is the deal with that?
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Old February 9th, 2003, 10:58 AM   #6
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FCP will work with PAL.
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Old February 9th, 2003, 12:09 PM   #7
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Pete, let's get back to your original post for a moment. You said you wanted to record directly to the camera, which is a reasonable request, with all respects to Mike Rehmus, I own the PD150 and have had good results recording to camera, and would always use that as my primary audio record. Of course, depending on how complicated your audio is, you would want an audio recordist with a mixer and all the gear to feed the audio to your PD150. But I have gotten great results with just a Sennheiser 416 plugged directly into the camera. The PD150 has the ability to split the tracks, so you can use one for back-up. If you are using an audio recordist with his gear, he may have a deck that he wants to use to back-up everything, but your primary record should be the PD150.

There is more to the choice of cameras than image, although that should be a consideration. Certainly the Canon frame mode is a very attractive option. But you are losing resolution in this mode and it is not recommended if you are considering a film transfer.

Of more concern to me would be the recent horror stories regarding problems with the Canon XL1 series. Among these are the well documented back focus problems, and the more recent head alignment difficulties. Seems the record heads go out of alignment and this problem is not apparent until you try to play back the material on a deck.

In regards to PAL recording. Since I see you are located in Los Angeles, which is still NTSC country, last time I turned on my tv, I don't know why you would want to record your projects in PAL. This is only going to complicate your life and since you are obviously somewhat new to all this technology (or you wouldn't be asking these questions), why get yourself into all this? Just to pick up a few additional lines of resolution? There are plenty of projects shot on NTSC that get into the festivals. But if you shoot on PAL, you are in for a lot of surprises. For instance, somewhere in one of your projects, you will want to shoot a tv screen. Whoops. The tv is NTSC and you are shooting PAL. Problem. And there are many other ways this can bite you on the butt.

Go back to your original plan, and choose a good camera that you can record your audio on, that will hold up to the rigors of shooting, and will deliver a high quality image that can be massaged in post, and eventually transfered to film, if you get the money.

(PS. I work in the studios with high def cameras, and all the audio is recorded directly to the cameras. The sound department records a back-up to a separate deck for protection purposes only, and to my understanding they have never needed the protection.)
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Old February 9th, 2003, 04:24 PM   #8
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Wayne,

If he wanted to make a video, then I'd agree that the sound recording on the camera would make sense. I use the 150's audio all the time. But I have a differenct purpose from Pete's.

Pete said he wanted to do documentaries and feature films for submission to festivals. Yes that means one can submit a video in VHS format. But for the big-time venues, for the actual show-time, that still means film for the time being. Should he be lucky enough to get it into distribution or to Sundance, 35mm film.

Sony recommends that users of the IMX format use PAL rather than NTSC exactly for the reasons I stated. And the upcheck in resolution is a not-so-paltry 20% going from 525 to 625 lines (gross) . . . a good reason to use it.

Not only is the up-conversion to 24 fps film expensive (and less successful from 30 rather than 25 fps), hovering around $50K for a good job on a medium-length transfer, the sound always needs a lot of help. Having a high noise floor/poor dynamic range in the audio is just asking for a lot of expensive time in the sound studio. And then the audio will never be as good as it could be without a complete ADR treatment were that even possible.

For a compelling story on the problems inherent in using the 150 or any other lower-end camera for sound recording, read the Jay Rose column on camera sound quality in the November issue of DV Magazine. You can probably find it on their web site at www.dv.com.

I do remember reading in Millimeter that some of the HD users were now depending on the camera for sound recording. Especially the ones out in the field.

JVC has announced a sub-$5,000 HD camera. You can probably read about it on their web site. If I had expectations of doing budget features, I'd want to look at that camera ASAP. If I needed to do a budget project right now, I'd use a 150 if that were the highest-end camera I owned.
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Old February 9th, 2003, 05:06 PM   #9
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Check out the info here: http://www.jvc.co.jp/english/press/2003/gr-hd1.html
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Old February 9th, 2003, 06:21 PM   #10
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Thanks to Mike Rehmus for his well thought out reply to my post, however nothing he said in anyway changes my mind.

Here is a list of dv movies from last year and you will find that they are pretty evenly split between PAL and NTSC: http://www.nextwavefilms.com/moviemaking/bullfront.html
The list includes heavyweights such as "The Fast Runner" which was shot on digibeta NTSC, and was on a number of critics "best" lists. But somehow, I don't think our friend Pete has the budget to purchase a digibeta camera. But I do know if he purchases an NTSC camera he will be able to do a lot of other projects with it besides "making moves." Who knows, he may even be able to make some money with the camera? Now wouldn't that be a nice surprise? For instance, I recently did a multi-camera PD150 shoot with two friends who own PD150s. Sorry, PAL cameras need not apply. http://www.digitalprods.com/motorcity.htm

Buy an untried JVC hi def camera? What the heck are you going to do with that? Do you even have a tv you can play it on? And do you want to be the beta tester of a $5000.00 new camera? I don't have that money to play with. (Personally, I wouldn't buy a tape deck from JVC, let alone a hi def camera)

In regards to Jay Rose and his notorious article, ho-hum. He makes money being a curmudgeon, and selling his book. I have never had a problem with audio in the PD150 (that was not operator error). I have never had a professional mixer say, "Oh no. Not a PD150!" I have never had a client complain about the quality of the audio from my camera. (There is a "wish list" on the Global-DV web site addressed to the Sony techs regarding the next models of VX2K/PD150. Not one poster, out of all the improvements they came up with, requested improved audio circuitry for these cameras. Either these people are stone deaf, or the supposed "problems" are overblown.)

But I do hope Pete will pay particular attention to what I said regarding the dependability factor in whichever camera he chooses. When you are out on a location that you can't return to, you pray that camera doesn't let you down.

I'll now step down from my soap box.
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Old February 9th, 2003, 07:48 PM   #11
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<<<-- Originally posted by Wayne Orr : Thanks to Mike Rehmus for his well thought out reply to my post, however nothing he said in anyway changes my mind.

----------
Thats OK, nobody ever said I am the only source of good information or that there is a single best answer. Differences of opinion are what gives us choices. Your input gives Pete more information and different ways to look at the issues.

The best part is that no matter what Pete decides, he will probably succeed with his projects.

That is the value of this forum.
-------------

Buy an untried JVC hi def camera? What the heck are you going to do with that? Do you even have a tv you can play it on? And do you want to be the beta tester of a $5000.00 new camera? I don't have that money to play with. (Personally, I wouldn't buy a tape deck from JVC, let alone a hi def camera)
-----------------------

Lots of people make good money from JVC equipment. It's not my first choice but that's a personal decision. FCP and several other affordable editing systems do HD. The JVC will also shoot in SD. It is an interesting camera. I recommend you go to their site and read about it. Pete should at least evaluate it which is what I suggested.
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In regards to Jay Rose and his notorious article, ho-hum. He makes money being a curmudgeon, and selling his book.
--------------------------------

I think he makes most of his money editing music. Book sales are hardly a way to get rich.

Even curmudgeons have their good points and Jay does have a couple of good pro audio award chops. Certainly more that I have.

Everyone should read published information with a grain of sand and draw their own conclusions. So far his books seem to me to be pretty much accurate and very useful. Those books have helped me improve the audio side of my operation.
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I have never had a problem with audio in the PD150 (that was not operator error). I have never had a professional mixer say, "Oh no. Not a PD150!" I have never had a client complain about the quality of the audio from my camera.
------------------------------------

That is not proof that the sound is good enough for high-quality movie sound.

What you say is that nobody has complained about it. I haven't had any complaints myself for the purpose for which I use it. But I do know that it has some sound problems that I can hear when I A-B it against my MD recorder. The sound is cleaner and more 'open' with the MD than with the PD150. Especially when you feed both with a studio microphone in a sound booth.

My customers would never recognize a sound problem of the small magnitude the PD150 exhibits because they are masked by ambient sounds, dialog and music beds.
--------------------------------

(There is a "wish list" on the Global-DV web site addressed to the Sony techs regarding the next models of VX2K/PD150. Not one poster, out of all the improvements they came up with, requested improved audio circuitry for these cameras. Either these people are stone deaf, or the supposed "problems" are overblown.)
----------------------------------

The audio problems are overblown (for the current version of the camera) when one takes into consideration the applications for which the 150 is targeted. I'm certain most, like you and I, understand that the audio is adequate for the purpose to which we normally use this particular camera. The lack of commentary is not a statement that the sound cannot be better. I don't expect the camera to perform optically or audio-wise as well as cameras that cost far more than it.

When I need better video and/or audio, I use a different camera or sound recorder.

---------------------------------------
But I do hope Pete will pay particular attention to what I said regarding the dependability factor in whichever camera he chooses. When you are out on a location that you can't return to, you pray that camera doesn't let you down.
--------------------------------------
Yup. Unfortunately every camera will let you down sometime which is why I always carry a backup camera. Even if it were a friends Hi-8.
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I'll now step down from my soap box. -->>>
------------------------------------------
Good thoughts in your postings, Wayne. Keep the box handy.
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Old February 9th, 2003, 08:02 PM   #12
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In my mind the key to PAL or NTSC for transfer to film is to check with the company that will do the digital to analog (tape to film) conversion. Some prefer PAL others prefer NTSC. Most, if not all, of the these companies write their own custom software for the conversions. While the software works with both formats it is usually optimized for one over the other.

Why not record the audio separate? It is easy to sync in FCP and provides superior results. I would hire a separate audio operator and require him to use a DAT. Audio can make or break a production. For just a little extra you can record great sound.

Quote:
Of more concern to me would be the recent horror stories regarding problems with the Canon XL1 series. Among these are the well documented back focus problems, and the more recent head alignment difficulties. Seems the record heads go out of alignment and this problem is not apparent until you try to play back the material on a deck.
There is nothing recent about the back focus issues. It has been noted since the camera was introduced. Cameras with interchangeable lenses are more prone to needing back focus adjustments. Most video lenses that are removable have a back focus adjustment that the users can adjust. The two manual Canon lenses do have back focus adjustments the user can adjust. The two Canon auto lenses do not have user adjustments and need to be returned to a service center to have the back focus adjusted. All VTR and cameras have upper drum assemblies (heads) and tape paths that can go out of align. This is nothing unique to Canon or any other brand. Think of the alignments for cameras like alignments for cars. They all need alignments sooner or later. The narrow width of the record tracks make all DV recorders more prone to frequent alignments. The PD150 may avoid some of this because of the wider record track.
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Old February 10th, 2003, 01:04 PM   #13
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I wanted to thank all of you that have contributed to this discussion. It is very valuable to see all of the variety of opinions and all of this will help me.

I also appreciate the civil tone to everyones' comments. Very respectful and a welcome change to all of the other posting sites that I have visited.

I have one last question. Because the Canon uses interchangable lenses, I was wondering if using a better lense makes more of a difference visually, than the 24p of a Panasonic, or the PAL 25i that Sony and Canon have or the 30 frame mode etc.?

I know everyone gets wrapped up in the race to 24fps, but can the lense affect the picture more?

Does the PD-150 have interchangalbe lenses?

Thanks again.
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Old February 10th, 2003, 06:21 PM   #14
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The lens can have more difference than you can believe.

The 150 does not have interchangeable lens.

When you start to look at interchangable lens, then you raise the quality bar quite a bit.

The JVC 500, 5000, Panasonic 200 are all shoulder-carried cameras that fit right into the price area you get to with an XL1S and one of their manual lens AFAIK (folks, check me here please). In many cases, for well under $5,000 you get a camera with lens.

Batteries and a charger will put you right at $5,000 or a bit more. But you get a better camera with regard to image and sound quality.

There are also some really good deals on used Sony DSR-300's and 300A's out there. You can expect to get a camera with less than 400 hours on the heads, a good lens, charger and batteries for somewhere under $5,000.

Just remember that you usually have to have some money left over for a tripod, sound and lighting equipment.
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