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Old September 16th, 2009, 12:36 PM   #1
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HD vs SD for wildlife filming

I know that this topic has been discussed before, but I haven't found any recent discussions and since the market and industry have changed drastically since those previous threads I thought it was time for an updated report.

What cameras do people use to film wildlife?

Is the XL2 still a good camera to buy or is HD necessary?

And what about cheaper HD cameras like the XHA1 with teleconverters? Anyone have experience here?

What about DSLRs? 5D Mark II? 7D? (I know it's not out yet, but any thoughts?)

(I myself am looking to buy a camera to improve my filming skills and build up some sequences to add to my reel so that I can send these to producers. I am not trying to sell the footage so again, is HD necessary? Should I save up to buy a XLH1 even though it will mean I won't be spending time shooting for some time? Is an SD camera still good for reels or anything else?)
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Old September 16th, 2009, 01:44 PM   #2
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If it's just to build up a reel then SD is fine of course.
Problem is that if you shoot some unique behaviour while doing it and only have it on SD that'd be a tragedy!
XL-1 was the workhouse of semi-pro wildlife filming for ages and a good little machine it is too (apart from crap manual focus on lens!)
Even the XL-H1 is a bit behind the times now, with HDV recording and no slow motion capability.
All depends on budget and what you want to do with the results.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 01:49 PM   #3
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Thanks for the response Steve.

So what other HD camcorders are good for wildlife?

Are there other HD camcorders with interchangeable lenses besides the XLH1 that are suited for wildlife work?

Many that I have seen from Panasonic, Sony, and JVC look big and bulky and seem to be suited more for broadcast work. Then again I am not completely familiar with the market so what else is out there?
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Old September 16th, 2009, 01:59 PM   #4
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The XL2 is perfect for wildlife filming and if you are producing DVDs from the resulting footage you cannot really get any better. A fabulous video camera with a host of lens options and still a very viable camcorder for professional use today.

I'd steer clear of the DSLR options for now. They are all in their early stages of development and I feel it is better to wait until the video options are improved.

The XHA1 is a good option for HDV delivery (or Blue-ray), although I would steer you towards the XL-H1/XL-H1s/H1a cameras that offer a wider selection of lens options - which can be vital for nature filming.

My advice would be to buy the XL2 now (either new or a mint-condition from Ebay or DVinfo advert section) so as to learn as much as you can, and when you have saved enough money for the XL-H1 (or updated XL-H2) then sell the XL2 and use that money towards extras such as mics/lenses etc.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 02:06 PM   #5
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(Thanks Tony. I'm leaning toward the XL2 but am still curious what others are using. Anyone know if you can add polls to these threads?)

What are the best HD formats other than HDV?

And are there camcorders with these formats with interchangeable lenses? For less than $5000?
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Old September 16th, 2009, 02:54 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony Davies-Patrick View Post
The XL2 is perfect for wildlife filming .
Well I wouldn't go quite that far! As I mentioned the lens is awful for focussing and the viewfinder is not great either. Doesn't do progressive properly, no slow motion options, dynamic range not great. But at the price it's a decent choice.
The JVC HM700 looks interesting, and a lot of people are using the EX3 (nice pics, but rolling shutter I'm not keen on).
Also look at the Convergent Designs Nanoflash. Combined with a lot of the cheaper camcorder (like XL-H1) it gives far superior recording.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 03:23 PM   #7
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Perfect...well, yes, for the price. Yes, of course it could have improvements, but then so could most camcorders.
If Jonathan has the money to purchase a full Red kit with lenses, then OK, but reading between the lines I don't think that he has a lot of cash to chuck at the dealers.

I've rarely found problems focussing the Canon 20X, 3X and 6X lenses. The Canon 16X MF also offers nicer manual focussing, but often the AF and especially IS can be a positive help in certain situations.
To be able to use other lenses such as the huge range of superb Nikkors or Canon L FD lenses is also a big plus in my opinion. And the recording options using on-board or XLR mics plus radio mics, plus various extra in-camera settings make both the XL2 & XL-H1 cameras the best options within that price band.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 03:29 PM   #8
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Are there limitations on the types of lenses you can use with an XL2? I know you need adapters, but what adapters are available? And do the lenses need to have the electronics for auto-focus, etc? Or can you use fully manual 35mm still lenses?
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Old September 16th, 2009, 03:37 PM   #9
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You can pretty much stick anything on the XL cameras with a simple metal ring adapter, but Nikons are favourite, or Canon AF lenses with the XL adapter. The XL adapter is the only way you can keep AF. Unlike Tony though I've never ever used AF on a video or film camera, can't possibly see a situation where it'd be any use, so I'd go for the mechanical and MF route by sticking some Nikons on there. Search for adapters on this forum, Mike Tapa, Steve Shaovlar and Les Bosher can all do them.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 03:45 PM   #10
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Great. Thanks Steve.

I'm still wondering, what cameras are others using for wildlife? Are there any standards? I've read, for instance in Piers Warren's book, that the XL2 was/is such a standard, but are there HD cameras people like besides the XLH1? And do wildlife filmmakers even use this camera?
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Old September 16th, 2009, 04:01 PM   #11
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The standard wildlife camcorder in the BBC and other high end wildlife series (Planet Earth etc.) for the last few years has been the Panasonic Varicam, now the HPX2700 Varicam (P2 version). This has really been the only choice due to the need for slow motion (it films to 60 fps). The others, like Sony F900, HDW750 etc., only do 25fps, but with higher resolution.
At the lower end the XL-H1 was the first interchangeable lens small/inexpensive HD camcorder, as the XL-1 was the first SD one. Since then though there has been the Sony Z7, EX3 and now the JVC HM700. The latter 2 do slow motion, and have a better codec.
Some people use the RED camera but it's got major problems for wildlife use.
And that's about it - high end Varicam, middle ground XL-H1 or EX3, Standard Def XL-1.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 04:03 PM   #12
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Or 35mm if you can afford it!
Oh, and if we've got lots of money the Phantom HD is gorgeous!
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Old September 16th, 2009, 04:12 PM   #13
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Yes, both the XL2 & H1 have and are still being used by many professional wildlife cameramen/women. For wildlife I mainly use the Nikkor 300mm f/2.8 ED-IF and Nikkor 600mm ED-IF lenses via a Les Bosher XL-Nikon mount adapter.

Some people use the JVC GY-HD and some the Sony Z1, and still others use the much more expensive Sony options with top-grade Canon or Fujinon pro lenses.

Here is the main Canon site link to view Pieter Huisman using the XL-H1

Canon Professional Network - Pieter Huisman: Wild and Free

Take a look at Wildeye to check some of the cameras that wildlife cameramen are using:

Wildeye - Wildlife Film and TV training
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Old September 16th, 2009, 05:32 PM   #14
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For your requirements, I think you would enjoy the 7D the most, if you can get long enough glass. 60p, excellent low light, and an expensive look (when your not seeing jello or aliasing). It's manual focus, but has a very nice LCD.
You can use old nikon glass, or contax. Even with legs and head you could do a kit for $5K. And be able to resell it for $4K.
In the next few years the video oligopoly won't hold together and video electronic costs will come down. Stuff that should be expensive will remain expensive - like glass. But the Japanese won't be able to hold high price points and dribble out minor improvements on electronics.
A 4K camera just isn't a big deal to make anymore.
For paid jobs today people need to use the right tool available today. But you don't.
If you can get the reach you need with the 7D , shooting file based on a big sensor is closer to what you will be doing in the future.
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Old September 16th, 2009, 07:33 PM   #15
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Thanks again Tony and Steve for all the great information, and Don, I am waiting for a bit more 7D footage to show up online, but I am definitely considering it. I feel much better informed at this point, so thanks for your responses.
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