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Techniques for Independent Production
The challenges of creating Digital Cinema and other narrative forms.


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Old November 13th, 2005, 04:59 PM   #1
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Getting the best quality possible on a smaller budget.

Heya; I'm thinking of getting a new camera and I was wondering what would be the best solution for someone who has a smaller budget, think maybe $500-$600, maybe a bit more, depends. I'm trying to get the best quality that I can get for this amount of money, not perfect quality but something that is somewhat professional looking. I'm shooting a student film and I want something that has a bit of a cinematic look to it. I've also been recommended some software that can help get that film look; so what would you recommend?
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Old November 13th, 2005, 07:13 PM   #2
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I'm not sure that you can get what you're looking for.

Look to buy used, or rent. Renting for a few days might get you the right equipment. But buying a good camera for that amount of money is pretty unlikely.

One of the important elements of film look that can't be fudged is DOF and that requires a bigger-than-$500-camera. But let's say that's not important.

If it's a one-off student film, then rent a camera and edit with a demo version of Vegas or whatever, and you'll come in under budget but without any equipment to keep.

Once you decide on the camera and the NLE, we will be able to help you more. Actually, the forums specific to your NLE will be able to help you more in getting the "look."

I have a super-basic setup with a GL2, and I feel like I got great deals on everything. I virtually STOLE most of it. I spent about $4,000.

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Old November 13th, 2005, 08:25 PM   #3
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By "film look", I presume you just mean that you would like your footage to look good (as opposed to looking like it was shot on 35mm). I think the best things you can do are:

1- Buy some books / learn stuff. There's material on the Internet, although it isn't very organized.

A lighting book I like is John Jackman's Lighting for Digital Video and Television. Teaches you very practical information and ways to approach lighting.

Knowing how to light is important in making your footage look good.

2- Get some lighting equipment. Try:
The lighting forum here has a sticky at the top for low-budget lighting.
Local film associations do rent lights out at a cheap rate.

3- As far as the camera goes, you get OK quality at that price range if buying a video camera. Unfortunately there isn't much manual controls (that are useful) and the video quality is a little lower than what you'd get in a more expensive camera.
On the other hand, if you go for a very stylized look, that can hide the lower quality. There's a film in the "DV for the masses" forum that was shot on a digital8 camera.

If you want to be adventurous, you could try shooting super8 film.

4- To get the film look in post/camera:
A- Try to increase exposure latitude, or light the scene so no important detail gets clipped.
In your price range, all the cameras don't have controls for increasing exposure latitude.
To alter the light hitting the camera, you can use:
graduated filters
polarizer filter
lighting

B- In post, apply s-shaped gamma curves. Sony Vegas can do this.

Also, de-interlace to 30p. There's a smart deinterlace filter for virtualdub, and mike crash's de-interlace filter for Vegas. Both are free.
30p looks pretty close to 24p.

Applying low pass filtering may also help?? In Vegas you can do this with the unsharp mask filter (amount = -0.500, radius 0.003, threshold about 0.050).
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Old November 13th, 2005, 08:31 PM   #4
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Heres some cameras I found through Froogle.

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Sifting through the Film Look forum turns up a lot of info on making video look good. How you shoot it and the post production can be more important than the camera.
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Old November 13th, 2005, 11:25 PM   #5
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Actually if you want a film look and you only have 500 bucks to spend the Canon Powershot S80 has a very unusual High Rez movie mode that allows filming at 1024x768 resolutions at 15 frames per secound. 15 frames a secound will give it that old fashioned film look because most modern films are 24 frames per secound. The high resolution capabilities of this camera will also give it a film look. No zooming is possible with this camera so this camera is not for everybody.
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Old November 14th, 2005, 09:14 AM   #6
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Michael,

If you can afford $1000, the Panasonic PV-GS400 is the cheapest camera I know of that has a nearly-full set of manual controls (which are key to controlled filmmaking). It even has picture adjustment controls that allow some control over contrast to get increased latitude.

That's just a camera to get decent shots, though. As mentioned, lighting is important. Quality camera moves really enhance the perceived production value. At your price point, you'll need to get the 24p film frame rate in software (which can range from free (VirtualDub/AviSynth) to $150 (DVFilm Maker) to >$500 (Magic Bullet Suite)). For depth of field, you've got to really micro-manage the iris on the camera to any shallow depth of field (not much), but you can build a DoF adaptor (not a very good quality one, though) for under $100. Getting a film look through color correction and gamma adjustments have been mentioned.

There are so many things, but most of them are unimportant if you have a good story. You can certainly practice composing shots and putting together a good story with any camera.

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Old November 14th, 2005, 10:30 AM   #7
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The Canon optura 50 is in your price range (499$ at B&H). I have used one this weekend for a 2 cameras shot with an XL1. The color rendition is really good and I was able to closely match the colors of the XL1. Sure, when you look at the footage of these two cams side by side, there is less resolution in the optura.

The optura also have a native widescreen mode (great to get a cinematic feel) and have a bigger CCD than the GS400 (1/3.4" vs 1/6" if I remember well).
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Old November 14th, 2005, 10:35 AM   #8
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Jean-Philipe, the GS400 has 1/4.7" CCD's, and it's a 3CCD camera. I'm not picking a fight, but I have to stick up for my Panasonic. ;)

I do respect Canon for continuing to have models with larger CCD's while some manufacturers continue to drift towards 1/6".
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Old November 14th, 2005, 05:18 PM   #9
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Thanks everyone. I will definetely check out the cameras that have been suggested; as I said, I know with the money that I have I won't be able to buy anything that will get a very professional/film look. However, anything that has good video quality and doesen't look like "home video", so to speak, would be essential. This camera will be used to do a few projects, before I go off to college and decide to buy something alot more professional and alot more expensive. Once again, thanks for the help everyone! :P
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Old January 14th, 2006, 05:56 PM   #10
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The GS400 is 1/4.7" but its older incarnation, the PV-DV953, is indeed 1/6".
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Old January 16th, 2006, 02:22 PM   #11
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Don't forget audio; if the camera doesn't have some sort of mic input, you're limited to the built-in mic, or recording audio separately and synching in post. If your project is dialog-heavy, this could be a problem.
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Old January 17th, 2006, 12:55 AM   #12
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shooting student film !!
doesn't the school have any camera's you can use ?
or anybody in the class ?
ask around somebody will have a DVX100 ...
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Old January 17th, 2006, 01:06 PM   #13
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I agree with Don - one of the most important things about being a film student is making friends. Someone SHOULD have the equipment that you need, and hopefully they would help you out.

Also, if the "home video" look is what you are concerned about, be aware that that is more caused by technique than anything. With good lighting, understanding of motion, angles and frame composition, and sharp editing you can achieve phenomenal results from lesser equipment.

Good luck
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