Canon Optura Pi - still a viable option? at

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Old January 4th, 2007, 12:10 PM   #1
Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
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Canon Optura Pi - still a viable option?

I'm looking for a MiniDV camera with some kind of progressive scan capability. 30p is fine with me as long as it flickers, anything I produce will never be transferred to film or shown at a festival. Not yet anyway. Am I crazy for still thinking that a used Optura Pi is the best way to go? I'm broke, and (making) film is not yet even a full-fledged hobby of mine, so I couldn't justify spending even $500 at the outside. I've seen Optura Pis go for under $200 on eBay, but they seem to be even less common than they used to. Which is what brings me here to ask: should I keep watching eBay and Craigslist in hopes that the elusive Pi appears, or are there better camera options anyway which are more readily available?

I first handled an Optura Pi back in high school (to date myself) when it was still new and hot s**t. I remember turning on the progressive mode and being shocked what a difference it made - the slow shutter flickery feeling, the warmer white balance, the wide open aperture... through the viewfinder it looked gorgeous compared to the stark, flat, security camera feeling I got from the normal interlaced mode.

Now I'm close to graduating from college and thinking once again about film. I remember the compact, solid Optura Pi fondly and am puzzled to find that hardly any consumer level cameras have followed in its progressive scan footsteps. (yes, I know it wasn't "true" progressive scan, oh well.) I feel like there must have been some technological advancements in the past seven years, like in CCD resolution and so forth, that might make a new camera many times better than that old Optura, but I'm so stuck on the look of the frame movie mode that progressive scan is an absolute necessity in my mind, which is making it hard to find any inexpensive cameras that fit the bill.

I'm thinking, would a deinterlace filter be just as good? I really want to try to KISS on the post-production side of things, and I don't pirate software, so my editing setup will probably be on the level of iMovie. Just simple montage and basic audio controls, nothing too technical. So I'd rather not have to sit and wait for something to render, or whatever (haven't done this sort of thing in a while) and I don't fully grasp all the details of frames and fields, scanlines and so on. It seems easier to just flip a switch on the camera and be done.

Am I missing something? Thanks for the advice.
Danny Toman is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 4th, 2007, 01:38 PM   #2
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Unfortunately, Canon never continued with a progressive image Optura after the Optura Pi, and yes, like you, many people still wonder why not.

For progressive standard definition camcorders, you're best bet is the Canon GL2, it has a frame movie mode which outputs a progressive image. The GL2 and Pi came out at almost the same time, and if you like the Pi's image, you'll like the GL2's image. It's priced around $1,700 after the mail-in rebate. The next step up is the Panasonic DVX100B at around $2,900 after mail-in rebate.

In the HDV world, take a look at the Canon HV10 & the Sony HC3, both @ ~$1,000. The next step up is the Sony A1U for ~$2,300, and after that the Sony FX1 & FX7 @ ~$3,000. They are all interlaced, but these new HDV camcorders have a high enough image resolution that you could downconvert/de-interlace to a very nice standard definition progressive image. Currently if you're looking for a progressive HDV image, prices starts @ ~$3,700 for the Canon XH A1.

Check out the other forums to get some feedback on any of these camcorders.
"Ultimately, the most extraordinary thing, in a frame, is a human being." - Martin Scorsese
Michael Wisniewski is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 4th, 2007, 04:02 PM   #3
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Hi Danny, welcome to!

First off, I have never heard of the optura PI, but from what you are saying, it sounds like a nice one if you can get your hands on it. I know how it is starting out with a low budget, I myself just started out and bought my first minidv camera. I got the Canon Elura 100, and I have been nothing but awed by it. It records at 480P, now I don't really know much when it comes to techy words, but I do know that it looks sweet! It is super light weight and it has lots of manual controls, and a pretty good auto system. Manual white balance, focus, exposure, shutter speed, and a few other things. I absolutely love this camera, I got mine for $300 even.

You can check it out and dvinfo's Sponsors site here.

You can read a full review on the camera here.

I hope I helped in some way.
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Old January 4th, 2007, 07:56 PM   #4
Join Date: Dec 2006
Location: Portland, Oregon, USA
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thanks, but...

Hey guys, thanks for the tips. It sure would be nice if I could afford a GL2, or even a GL1, but they're about $1000 out of my price range, sadly. On the other hand, I think the Elura 100 is in a little different class than the Pi. Glad you're enjoying it! Your advice is good - any camera being used is better than a nonexistent camera being wished for.

After reading over my own post, I'm wondering if I'm being overly nostalgic about how great the Pi's Frame Movie Mode really was. I'm thinking: maybe if I took any old DV camera, set the shutter speed at 1/60 and opened up the aperture for a nice depth of field, it would look just as artistic and flickery (with the slower shutter), and maybe interlaced/noninterlaced is not the real issue at all? Comments?

I'll boil my question down to this: has camera technology advanced so far since the Optura Pi that I would be missing out on something essential by buying an old camera instead of a new model in the equivalent prosumer class of 2007? Say something along the lines of the Panasonic PV-GS120. I'm thinking particularly in terms of image quality, color reproduction, CCD resolution, but also maybe battery life? Other things I'm not thinking about?

Thanks for the help.
Danny Toman is offline   Reply With Quote
Old January 30th, 2007, 03:08 PM   #5
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Optura PI is a great frame mode camera

I have used a PI in progressive mode for several years. It has a fatal weakness and that is a very unreliable tape transport. Others report the same issue. I gave up and bought a 40GB Firestore FS-4 direct-to-edit recorder (3 hours of video), because I wanted to keep the outstanding image and features of the camera.

I originally shot 16:9 using the cropping feature, and even with the reduced pixel count the image was stunning. I then bought a Century Optics 16:9 anamorphic lens and quality is even better now that I'm using the full available sensor. I'm careful with exposure, and using the AE setting and then exposure lock it, I find that two to four clicks down toward under-exposure on the thumbwheel yields the best highlights and overall image in daylight. Doing scene-dependent correction using Sony Vegas tools, with a very little unsharp mask, can frequently produce near-commercial DVD quality results on a 42" CRT projection Mitsubishi monitor using a high-end Denon player.

I've had good experience with Tiffen Black Pro-Mist and Ultra-Contrast filters to flatten contrast, un-crush blacks, and knock the hard edge off the DV look. But, surprisingly, the best look so far has come from a simple and cheap Cokin diffusion filter on the widescreen adapter (softens without reducing detail, no foggy look evident, and no objectionable flare around highlights --- also makes people look good)

Contributors to PI image quality: RGB optical filtering in front of sensor, optical (not resolution-stealing electronic) stabilizer, a set of manual exposure controls, a pretty good 12X lens, and a huge 200K pixel TFT viewfinder. Somebody on one of these forums a couple of years ago, who compared the PI and the older XL-1, said the two came close when shooting in daylight. It's not your typical consumer single CCD camera.

If you can find a Canon PI at a reasonable price grab it. But be prepared for tape drive problems. Then spend $500-600 for a Firestore FS-4. Plug the FS-4 into your computer after a shoot and it's just an external hard disk you can transfer files from or edit from directly. When you change your camera or move to HDV, you can still use the time-saving features of the FS-4. Great investment.
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