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Old December 22nd, 2015, 03:50 PM   #1
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Best Camera for stage events

I'm starting from scratch for my two camera stage event setup. I shoot everything from will lit show choir performances to ballet with theatrical lighting. The main criteria are:

Low light performance
Smooth zoom capability
In-camera recording capability (as a backup)

What are your ideas?
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Old December 22nd, 2015, 05:06 PM   #2
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

The most important question is 'What is your budget?'

I currently shoot school, theatre and choir productions with four cameras, all recording to onboard memory cards. Two cameras are locked off but are on the same platform as my two operated cameras, so can be reframed and adjusted during the performance. Choir performances are the easiest as the performers are generally static, so two cameras concentrating on different sections of the choir may be sufficient, although I would still us an overall view from another locked off camera.

I used to do a live mix, to save time on editing, which is possible with the slow movement of a choir, but impossible with drama as it is too easy to miss a shot unless long rehearsals are used for learning the show. I now take a feed from all four cameras into the vision mixer, with a 4 way monitor to show all camera outputs, to avoid duplicating shots and to match white balances.

The most important part of all with a choir of course is the audio, and is also vitally important with drama, so how will you record that? Will you use mics or take a feed from a sound board. If the latter, then you need to make absolutely certain that you are receiving and monitoring the live feed and keep an emergency audio backup from your own mics.

Roger

Last edited by Roger Gunkel; December 22nd, 2015 at 05:08 PM. Reason: missed sentence
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Old December 22nd, 2015, 09:13 PM   #3
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

As well as the obvious budget question, what is the purpose, final audience and distribution medium? The general public, the participants, parents, the show's director? For Broadcast, DVD/BluRay, YouTube, flash drives handed around, etc.? And what format -- SD, HD, UHD? And how big and experienced is your crew?

- Greg
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Old December 23rd, 2015, 04:40 AM   #4
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

Sometimes the bozos doing the theatrical lighting are so inept that half the stage will be overly hot and other areas in deep shadow. No camera will deal with some of those .
best for me for stage so far is a combination of ax100 and a5100
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Old December 23rd, 2015, 07:00 AM   #5
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

I use JVC HM600. It's relatively inexpensive and has all the features you are looking for stage work. Like any 1/3 chip it's weakness is dark scenes but cameras with larger sensors suffer from equally bad problems: dof that's too shallow and lens that are to short, no servo, or too expensive. If you have a larger budget you could step up to Sony's 1/2 line .
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Old December 23rd, 2015, 05:00 PM   #6
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

AX100 and an RX10M2 - 4K, pan and crop in post? Should be fairly effective, I've run 4 cameras for stage type events, and feel pretty comfortable with 2 4K cameras at this point - fine for SD and even BR/HD delivery. Be aware that the RX will have a clip limitation of just under 30 minutes, so you would need to start and stop a couple times with a longer performance.
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Old December 24th, 2015, 06:51 PM   #7
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

As others have said, it really comes down to your budget. The kind of camera that is best if you have a $2,000 budget is much different than what you would be looking at if you had $20,000 to play with.

Are you going to be live switching? If so, the requirements of your switcher might dictate what cameras you should be looking at.

If you plan on doing live switching at any point, you need to not just look at cameras and the switcher, but the entire workflow and signal path. Even if you plan on adding that later on, coming up with a master plan now could save you a lot of money in the long run.

So, with all that said, and without knowing the specifics of what you are doing, I would recommend something with a small sensor (1/3") and something that uses a CCD imaging block instead of CMOS. I'm sure a lot of people here are going to disagree with me, but let me make my case-

It has been my experience that you want to spend as little time getting your focus while shooting live events as possible. Smaller sensors, with deep depth of field, makes this easy. Especially if you are forced to sometimes hire outside camera operators, you really don't know how well they are going to do. So selecting a camera that makes it as easy as possible for them is important.

The reason I recommend CCD is because of camera flashes. Even if no flash photography is allowed, there are always a few people who feel the need to do it anyway. CMOS cameras do not often handle camera flashes well. Often only seeing the flash on the upper or lower half of the frame, creating a strange split screen effect. CCDs handle camera flashes much more elegantly. I would also suggest something that uses a Lanc control so that you have the option to zoom and focus without having to physically jostle the camera.

Now there are plenty of people who will disagree with this, I'm sure. They will argue that low light is the most important thing and that larger sensors and CMOS type images do better in low light. They are correct about this. However, if you are shooting a stage show there should be at least some type of lighting, though it may be pretty dark. Cameras now are a lot better at low light than they were even five years ago, even small chip CCD cameras do better, and have cleaner noise patterns when you do use the gain.
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Old December 25th, 2015, 05:40 AM   #8
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

I've used my Panasonic HMC150s for the past 5 years for plays and recitals and had much success with them. They're 3 CCD cameras that are very good for shooting events when there's lots of light. Are there any new cameras out that still use CCD rather than CMOS? If so then I would agree that they do offer some advantages over CMOS especially when doing relatively quick pans because there's no rolling shutter "jello effect".
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Old December 25th, 2015, 06:15 AM   #9
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

I have shot a stage event with a cmos sensor camera with zero rolling shutter, I put the entire stage in the frame and locked the camera, shot at 4K and did all the reframing in post, this approach might not work for all types of events but the result in my case was better then using 2 camera's and following the action on stage. It didn't have any rolling shutter artifacts, aside from the mentioned photoflash issues that might occur but those are rare as it's not allowed, I didn't have any color differences because the image came from the same camera and I didn't have any exposure difference to deal with, I didn't loose any detail (at least not visible from a normal viewing distance) by cropping in post because I edited in a 1080p project and I also could anticipate on any movement made on stage and cut to another camera angle (by reframing) and following a subject as if I knew what was going to happen, I spend more time in post but my end result was much better and was worth while my extra time, especially because the client was impressed how I managed to keep track on all the action on stage, I didn't tell him though how I did that. :) I literally could have gone out for a smoke while the camera was rolling, 4K has been a blessing for me for HD or SD delivery.
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Old December 25th, 2015, 03:53 PM   #10
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

I'm truly amazed!
Quote:
Sometimes the bozos doing the theatrical lighting are so inept that half the stage will be overly hot and other areas in deep shadow
Why would you possibly think that theatrical lighting should be in any way designed for the limited capabilities of the pretty average cameras people use. Theatrical, as opposed to TV lighting designers light stages to produce good lighting for a live audience. They can, if part of the brief, limit the contrast, reduce the colour saturation, but this is like having a hand tied behind your back.

The notion that that shadows and contrast is a direct result of being bozos or inept is pretty strong stuff and for the main, totally and utterly incorrect.

Sure, there always seems a place where the cast on stage might step into a dark patch, but where this isn't wanted or intentional, it's usually a focus issue and a bit of work cures it.

Theatre lighting designers build in contrast intentionally - it's emotive and makes the audience react. Deliberate darkness, deliberate shadows - then Sir Laurence Olivier walks into the single spotlight beam and delivers the line. Everyone in the audience sees every line on his face. The Stage Manager on his monitor sees a black screen and a white blob in the middle. The camera out front cannot handle it. That doesn't make the lighting people inept?

I'm managing a show at the moment - we have taken a million and a half pounds at the box office, and part of my job is making sure the lighting designers creative input remains the same, and it doesn't get changed.

Another part of my job is getting a good video recording of the production for archival purposes I have three scenes in the show that simply don't work for the camera - A dragon flying over the audience, with a member of the cast in a very small pinspot - another scene is in a kind of dungeon - with the edges all unlit, all light in the centre, and oddly one very bright scene with all magenta and pink light, pink costumes and magenta feathers - it comes out as a pink mush on the camera.

Blaming the lighting people is simply crazy - and unfounded.

Unless the brief is light for video, then you simply don't, because to the eye, it's flat, and that is bad.

Last edited by Paul R Johnson; December 25th, 2015 at 04:47 PM.
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Old January 10th, 2016, 03:57 PM   #11
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

Hey Paul
I sure wish I was shooting your stage productions.
Once upon a time I too enjoyed beautifully lit performance' s where shadow and light was intentional.
Alas in my latter years I no longer work in a professional milieu, rather stages lit for podium and speaker used unaltered for a dance performance of snow white. The idea of actually lighting a set never occurs to some of the people doing the lighting for amateur productions.
The lighting is left for the kid who can't act or sing (maybe an exaggeration)
Sorry I did not intend to offend those who crawl around grids and prowl the stage with a meter.
Eyes have 20 or so stops of dynamic range, cameras as you point out not so much.
Again my apologies if I have offended, it was not my intention
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Old January 10th, 2016, 04:55 PM   #12
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

Not offended Bruce, just a bit sad, perhaps? I just wish somebody would produce an imaging chip that could record what the eye can see?
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Old January 10th, 2016, 05:00 PM   #13
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

Quote:
Originally Posted by Paul R Johnson View Post
I'm truly amazed!
Why would you possibly think that theatrical lighting should be in any way designed for the limited capabilities of the pretty average cameras people use. Theatrical, as opposed to TV lighting designers light stages to produce good lighting for a live audience. They can, if part of the brief, limit the contrast, reduce the colour saturation, but this is like having a hand tied behind your back.
Your points are well taken, but I'd like to point out that this sub-forum is Wedding/Event Videography. As such, most of us are concerned with one-off,non-repeatable events. The lighting director has little, if any, advance knowledge of the performance. They seems to fancy themselves complex lighting, when in fact most parents are just there to see their little cherub on-stage. That's my opinion, I'm sticking with it.
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Old January 10th, 2016, 06:05 PM   #14
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Re: Best Camera for stage events

you nailed it Vince
3 or 4 big fills would do the job nicely with the key lites off
nice even edge to edge non colored lights and the video would be amazing
On the other hand the parent's video would be ok then as well
So bring on the hot key lights on little white faces with a black curtain at the back wall
Takes some know how/decent gear and attention to produce the video which they will buy
So we've come full circle. :)

the alexa has a bretty good dynamic range but my stuff just a little better than 1/2 the range of an eyeball
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