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General HD (720 / 1080) Acquisition
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Old March 7th, 2006, 01:05 PM   #1
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Which Format for Theater Productions

I speak of dances of all types from ballet to modern dance where closeup shots are vital but with fast motion to plays to musical/band/orchestral productions. Fast pans are the norm for the closeup camera. An example would be following a single dancer run from one end of the stage to the other end. And as all who shoot theater production knows this is where cam operator develops calluses on their thumbs from spinning the iris wheel because of extreme and sudden light changes from barely visible light to the very harsh spotlights and all within a second of each other.

I have shot these productions for the last 7 years using SD cameras and plan on moving up to HD format/cams this summer. I have a tentative idea what cameras and other equipment I will need when I upgrade but want to see what comes out of NAB before solidifying my choices. In the meantime I am trying to figure out which HD format I should begin with. The extreme motion of the closeup camera causes me concern(say regarding 1080p24) as well as the fast and extreme light changes. I would love to hear from anyone who are now shooting HD to give recommendations and pointers. I normally have multiple chances to reshoot a production as these events usually are multi-nights so if I make the wrong choice I can go back and reshoot but I rather not because of the cost involved. My final output are and will be to DVD's(currently) and later to HD DVD's(when things settle down on that side).

Currently I do not have access to these HD cams or equipment.

Many thanks!
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Old March 18th, 2006, 12:05 PM   #2
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Sadly, Brian's post here has gone ten days without a response. Does anyone have any helpful advice for him?

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Old March 18th, 2006, 01:18 PM   #3
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Because of the nature of the shooting as you described, I don't think shooting at 24p would be useful to you and in fact would be distracting to the audience. I'd suggest keeping it at 60i. You didn't say what types of cameras you've been using. If you've been using fully professonal cameras, you might want to stay with them, and the upcoming Sony XDCAM HD cameras might be in your price range. If you're on a tighter budget, then that would mean going down to the 1/3" chip camera range. The Canon XL H1 might be good because of the 20X lens, assuming you have the need for longer lenses because of the distances you have to shoot from. The best bang for the buck would be Sony's Z1, and you can get the camera and a deck from B&H for less money than just the Canon camera.

Considering the theatrical lighting, it seems to me that your most important consideration might be the latitude of the camera, ie., how it handles high contrast. In the "prosumer" DV world, the Sony cameras always seem to have pretty good latitude compared to others.

Your best bet would be to rent, if possible, and try them out before you buy. If I were shooting that kind of thing, I would want a camera with a "real" lens so you can ride aperture and focus easier than with the electronic lenses. In the 1/3" chip HD camera world, that would mean the JVC. But that might depend on what types of cameras you've been using. If you have been using professional cameras, you probably would be frustrated at first by moving down to a 1/3" chip "prosumer" model, except for the JVC. You mentioned waiting till NAB, and I think that's your best idea. If I were going to spend a lot of money this year on one or more cameras, I'd make the trip to Vegas for sure.
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Old March 18th, 2006, 03:52 PM   #4
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I've just shot 6 nights of our operas with the Sony HVR-Z1 and am very pleased so far. The first two performances were shot in DV 480i60 mode, and the rest shot as HDV 1080i60. It's startling to see how much detail is there compared to standard definition! You can also pull pretty nice stills by exporting still frames from FCP.

But since I also need to go to DVD, I'm using the in-camera downconversion via firewire. Even so, it looks very good and I can especially see the improved quality in wide shots with lots of detail.

Of course stage lighting is always an issue, but the black stretch feature on the Z1 seems to help a lot with detail in the shadows. Our most recent opera, "Margaret Garner" is a new work based on the book/film "Beloved" and there were some challenges there. The plantation owner and his daughter were costumed in white and this really blew out easily if you didn't iris down. But even so, the darker areas still had visible detail.

We have to light the shows for the audience, not the camera, and with our high crew costs we can't do a separate video shoot so I just have to give it my best shot at the performances (and the tapes are only for archival use anyway).

But generally I'm very pleased, and the camera is a big improvement over my VX-2000 and PDX-10. Very dark scenes can be a little challenging, but adding 12dB gain still looks pretty clean and that helps a lot. My only real disappointment is the LANC control on the Z1. It won't let you access the full range of zoom speeds and I can't get a nice subtle zoom, whereas the same controller on the PDX-10 ran a lot slower. However the zoom rocker on the Z1 will give a very slow zoom, but it's a shame you can't access these speeds with the LANC.

My only other issue is that the zoom is a little wide (35mm equiv of 400mm) for my camera position which is over 100 feet from the stage. I shoot two different performances (I can only use one camera at a time) and get a full stage wide shot the first night. On the second night I add a Century 1.6x teleconvertor which lets me move in very close (35mm equiv of 640mm) and allows me to zoom a little more than halfway out before vignetting.
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