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Old June 6th, 2007, 09:45 AM   #1
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My philosophy on buying cameras (computers, etc.)

Or, The Bane of Technology: there's always something better, but why fight it?

Hey everyone,

I'm going to write a little about things going obsolete, buying now vs. later, and why bigger isn't always better, and I was inspired by Ken Rockwell's page on obsolescence to write this.

http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/obsolescence.htm

What also inspired me was the fact that I got into a friendly debate with some friends when I had the "gall" to tell them I'd buy the HVR-V1u today if I had to have a camera. (For the record, I have so many cameras available, I don't need to buy one...yet.)

One argued that I'd be better off with a Z1u, even with less image controls and a lack of 24p. He even went so far as to point out my film 9:04 AM's quality. The jerk!

Another said I should save money and grab an FX1 for $2000 off eBay, and pointed out several films we've seen online shot with the camera, including one of my own.

Okay, I get the point, I said. A few other suggestions were obviously the HVX200, the XHA1 and the HD110. I stood firm and said V1u, all the way. Sure, the lux rating is higher, sure there are a couple of other annoyances, but I love the V1u. I've been using it quite often lately, on both a short film and an infomercial with the HD100.

Then they hit me with this...The XDCAM EX, with 1/2 inch sensors, 24p, 1080i/p, 720p, flash drives that hold 2 hours footage, etc. Coming this fall, or thereabouts. Why not wait for that.

The V1u is obsolete--even with the CMOS sensors, it's still obsolete, there's not getting around it. The EX ensured that. But I still held firm, this time pointing out the price drop from $5000 to $3500 (with mail-in Sony rebate) and probably another later this year, if the V1u's short pricing history is any indication.

The debate didn't really end, but I finally gave them my philosophy about cameras (and computers, etc.): there will always be something bigger and badder, but what piece of technology you buy today will probably last a while. If I need a solid camcorder today, I'm going to buy the V1u, end of story--if I don't need a camera, I'll wait and see what comes out next. The A1 has more pixels, the 200 has the benefit of less compression, the Z1u has more features, the FX1 is cheaper, the HD110 has a great film-like image (as does the V1u, in my humble opinion). Oh, and did I mention budget, too? The EX might cost 2-3 times what I can safely afford.

I also gave the other part of my philosophy, something I learned the hard way in the late 1990s...bigger and more powerful doesn't always mean I'll be a better filmmaker, shooter, editor or whatever. They agreed with me when I showed them clips of Frederic Haubrich's short shot with the HD10, and my short shot on the same camera, too. It's all about understanding the limitations of a camera, becoming familiar with it (aka, not just reading the manual, but doing that and working with it), and the talents honed by the DP/videographer from countless shoots.

The debate kind of trailed off from there, but the basic makeup of my friends and I, who were just chilling out at lunch after a shoot a few weeks ago, is such: a very proficient videographer with a lot of experience and owns an H1; a guy who can shoot, but is constantly thinking he'd be better if he used a RED, SI2K, F900r, etc. (without ever even trying any of those cameras--he puts faith into the gear compensating for him) and owns an FX1; one feels you don't need to have a Genesis, etc., but thinks if I bought an HD110, HVX200 or the EX, I'd be better off, and owns an HVX200; and me, the one who owns no camcorder but has used almost every sub-$10,000 camera out there and thinks they're all great.

I don't know if any of my friends will ever understand where I'm coming from, but for me, I don't want to ever start buying the next best thing coming out because I think it might help me out. I recently had the pleasure of doing render tests with my 83 minute 1080i50 HDV movie with color balance (2 levels), sound, music, etc., on 3 different Macs. A G5 2.5 ghz Quad (4.5 gb RAM) took around 6:30 hours, a MacBook Pro 2.16 ghz (2 gb RAM) took around 9 hours and a Mac Pro 3 ghz Quad (8 gb RAM) took a little over 5 hours. Not too much of a difference between the three, if you look at it from lowest render time to the highest. For me, it's as easy as starting the render before bed, then waking up to see it's done.

Regardless, whatever you buy is either already obsolete or will be soon. There are so many ways to add stuff to the image in post, that something with better cinegamma settings and a higher price tag coming out tomorrow doesn't really matter. Also, bigger doesn't always mean it'll be better (esp. better for you). Lastly, if you need it, buy now (and buy what you can afford, don't overextend yourself), otherwise wait. But don't wait too long--you may miss out.

heath
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Old June 6th, 2007, 10:02 AM   #2
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Hey, Heath

Thanks for this refreshing and bracing dose of reality. As someone clinging desperately to my trusty old PD-150, I appreciate your perspective.

For the most part, I'm right there with you, and if all I ever had to worry about was my own personal work, I'd be fine with that. However, I occasionally have to make money with my gear, in order to finance my labors of love. For me, that has meant sporadic network stringer work, so that means my stuff has to meet their rather arbitrary technical specs. Also, although it hasn't happened yet, I keep holding out hope that PBS or a cable channel will pick up one of my own pieces, and I'd hate to have it nixed because I use the wrong flavor of HD codec.

I've been eyeing the V1u for all the reasons you describe. (Not to mention I'm a cheap S.O.B., and I like the idea of reusing a lot of my PD-150 gear.)But, I'm leery of HDV falling short of broadcast specs and getting rejected in the future. Have you tried selling any of your V1u footage to television? If so, what kind of luck have you had?

Thanks in advance.
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Old June 6th, 2007, 10:10 AM   #3
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The amount of TV shows on the air that are using HDV would shock you. American Chopper, Monster Garage, an HBO docu-series, behind-the-scenes on movies, a shot in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, MTV, etc., all use HDV and many of those were using the HVR-Z1u.

If you shoot on DVCPRO HD and deliver it that way, a major network will shoo you out the door. Same with HDV, etc. But come back with that same HVX200 or V1u footage mastered onto an HDCAM, and they'll happily take it.

When I worked behind-the-scenes camera on a British workout show in Miami two years ago (what a great gig), they had four F900s and some of the DPs had Z1u's. And the logo sticker on the Z1u's? HDNET.

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Old June 6th, 2007, 10:17 AM   #4
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Interesting. This sounds very reminiscent of where DV was 10 years ago. Most T.V. stations would automatically reject anything that came in on DV tape, but the same footage on a Beta-SP tape would be fine.

Thanks much for the thoughts and perspective. You've given me much to chew on.
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Old June 6th, 2007, 10:56 AM   #5
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[QUOTE=Heath McKnight;692734]Regardless, whatever you buy is either already obsolete or will be soon. [QUOTE]

Most of the time before your credit card is swiped through the cash register its the old model... :)
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Old June 6th, 2007, 11:10 AM   #6
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That's so true, Gary. Anyone ever see the cartoon from 1999? It was in a paper, just one panel and it was of a computer shop window with a sign that says, "Computers guaranteed not to be obsolete for at least five minutes from purchase!!!"

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Old June 6th, 2007, 03:00 PM   #7
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Wow -
just posted similar thoughts in the "best camera" thread over in "general" forum... mine were perhaps a bit more off the wall, but same points!

Technology does NOT = TALENT

Give 1000 monkeys video cameras and you won't win an Academy award or critical acclaim.

and finally - it's the operator, not the camera...

Use what you've got/can afford and strive to get better by hanging with people who are trying to do the same... like here on DVinfo!

Ultimately todays technology is tomorrows discarded refuse - it's what you do with the technology that will either be classic or as forgotten as the technology... You can make "Lord of the Rings" or the next pathetic commercial for a fast food joint...

All depends on where your heart, your imagination and (reality check) your wallet take you... so many choices... so few GOOD choices. At least the toys seem to get better along the way!
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Old June 6th, 2007, 03:11 PM   #8
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The 'should I buy now or should I wait' dillema is always a tough call for technology. My rule of thumb is this. IF I need the gear NOW to make money NOW buy it NOW. IF I don't, then wait. Because better is around the corner and cheaper is too. I know that goes counter to Ken Rockwells thoughts - but thats how I make my decisions... based on 'makeback' potential.

I bought my XL2 about six months before the XHl-1 came out, because I needed it to finish a doc. The camera has paid for itself, and continues to make money. Everyone keeps telling me 'you'll have to go HD soon' and I'm ready to make the leap = when the job opportunity calls for it. (Right now, it doesn't)

That's just my pair o' dimes.
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Old June 6th, 2007, 03:20 PM   #9
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Actually, Ken says the same thing, too. He says there will always be better cameras, but the camera isn't important. That's something I've been telling anyone who'll listen for years, along with myself in my early days of digital filmmaking (1999/2000).

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Old June 6th, 2007, 03:41 PM   #10
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Amen to all of this.

Just got an FX7 awhile ago because I had a client who needed HDV and had a substantial number of episodes to shoot. It works well enough. Same imaging system as the V1u, I like the CMOSs, am saving up for the EX, which will be the next place to be (and I'll only go there if a client drives the conversion, same as my move to HDV).

Made my decision based off the same principles as yours (plural) and one more - I started out as a fashion and commercial photographer and know the gear game from both sides.

There's lots of advertising about. Industries of it. Clever people trying to sell people on things.

Wouldn't it look silly if they used old tech to shoot the very same high tech commercials they're charging top dollar for? Can't have that, can we? I mean, could I ever produce a Nikon photography booklet with photos shot on my old Nikon F? Or, heavens forefend, a Pentax with a Takumar MC lens? (Or in these days, would they even believe me if I told them that I did?)

Not if the client were present, not on your Nelly.

So the best people (the ones we look up to) try this and that, knowing that it's their paychecks that they're looking to protect in the long run and that the new stuff, while not being any fantastically greater shakes than the older stuff they grew up on, at least isn't much worse, so they can make it work. Or, if it doesn't, just listen to the furore they kick up! (and the almost hidden sense of glee underlying all that good clean madness)

Me, I dress my FX7 up in an Aaton-like barney-like sun cover (to keep the internal temperature down and the dust out, don't you know), have a 15mm rail system, DOF box, primes, FF and Chrosziel hanging off the front, a Beachtek, wireless and 7" monitor off the top, and a shoulder harness and big battery holder off the back, with a steady rig sitting to one side, and the camera looks like something big enough to stop raised eyebrows from cast and clients on set. They're too busy looking at their client monitors anyway.

It's always been about the boys, never their toys.

Last edited by Chris Leong; June 7th, 2007 at 11:19 AM.
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Old June 7th, 2007, 06:19 AM   #11
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I agree with this philosophy. I also think there is a counterpoint to the idea of "it's not the camera". While the operator is the critical component, I haven't regretted buying decent cameras/computers/audio gear. Every time I've bought the cheap stuff, it caused problems and wasted money.

I see no problem in spending thousands on a semi-pro camera as it will retain value and be a good working tool. Audio gear is even more worthwhile as it doesn't become obsolete as quickly and problems are solved almost in direct proportion to the money spent. Where I think it may be a waste to spend a fortune on equipment is in computers. At this point, I build my own machines because it is cheaper and I don't like the way most big companies cut corners on their equipment. Building my own machine prevents the shortcomings of wimpy power supplies and the downfalls of things like onboard video. I build my computers with modern but not bleeding-edge components and make sure there are no bottlenecks.

Since I make sure not to buy something that is obsolete before it is even delivered, I keep gear for several years. I now expect the life of a camera to be at least five years and a computer should be sufficient for two years before an upgrade and four or five years before replacement. I think my Lectrosonics wireless will last forever and I intend to get a decent shotgun which should also outlive my camera.
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