05/25/2004: "Choosing the right prosumer miniDV camera"music: Lenny Kravitz
I know that my posts fluctuate from obsessing about painting to obsessing about film/video to obsessing about music, but I can't help it...I have equal lusty passion for each of them and it just depends on which mode I'm in. Right now I'm in painting mode because the show is fast approaching but I still belong to a group of people that get toghether twice a month to make short movies. Usually we try and do one a month and we finished 11 projects in our first year, but now we're starting to work on longer projects, and will probably take an entire summer for our next one. We have access to a lot of equipment between us, a shotgun mic with a boom, multiple lavs and handhelp mics, sound mixing equipment, a lighting kit, three prosumer grade cameras with heavy duty tripods, a green screen, and recently members of the group have built some additional equipment including a crane, dolly, and steadycam.
I personally want to purchase a camera of my own, at the moment I have to check the equipment out from the university's Media Services department and it's a hassle. I want to buy a camera that is much more advanced than I am, because I want to own it for many, many years and have it be something I can grow into. Anyway, a film student left a great comment in yesterday's post, answering a question I had as I struggle for finding the right camera. Remember, at the time being this is a *theoretical* struggle, as I don't have any money at the moment...but I've been wanting to investigate and decide exactly which camera I do want, so that if I happen to find an excellent deal on it sometime in the future I can buy with confidence.
Anyway, I wanted to include his comment in a new post so that it would be easier to find in the archive for others having similar problems with indecision.
This is in response to the camera post you made. I decided to respond to your blog rather than my own to make sure you would see it.
Now, purchasing a DV camera. Unfortunately I have not shot with the panasonic 100A yet. My university only has one of the original 100's and I haven't been allowed to touch it yet. So I cannot give you direct experience with that camera. However I will give you what advice I can.
At this point I've forgotten what I told you in my original post so I may repeat myself here. First you mentioned 24p in your question, why do you need 24p? What are you planning to do with this camera? Do you like the asthetic of 24 fps? Will you try to get into any commercial videography work or is this intended to be a tool for personal expression?
Regarding the 24p technology in the camera, your friend is correct in telling you that effective pulldown solutions are available for 60i video to 24p. However, the really good packages are not free. What editing software do you use? Do you own a Windows computer or a Mac? Will you even be doing your own editing or do you have a partner who will be doing it? Additionally, 24p is not the only component of the nebulous "film-look". There are other factors, such as Depth of Field and Gamma. However, panasonic is the only solution in this price range to have configurable gama curves on camera. Do these matter? Well, yes. While advanced color correction tools are now offered in most midlevel software editing packages DV has very limited color information making their use for anything other than subtle adjustments ineffective.
Now for my personal experience (sorry that this post has become so chaotic) recently I shot quite a bit of footage for my university's Relay For Life overnight event with a Sony VX2100 (which has the same image recording mechanism as the PD170). I have to say that I was very impressed with it. To the point where I would recommend the PD170 over the XL1, especially since the PD170 comes with a wide angle adapter. And I have love for the XL1. With one major caveat, you MUST buy and external battery charger. Otherwise your camera has to be used to charge the battery, interrupting your shoot. I have no idea why Sony would make a design decision this moronic but they did. Additionally it doesn't come with a progressive 24p mode, nor useful gamma curves.
Why do I say this? Because the VX2100 is about $1000 dollars less than the panasonic 100A. However here again there is a serious factor to concider. The VX2100 does not have XLR connectors, or the wide angle adapter included with the PD170. These are VERY useful to have, but are not -necessary-. The canon XL1 requires the purchase of a adapter to use XLR connections.
Why am I saying all this? Because I don't know precisely what you want to accomplish. If money is tight, and you need a camera soon, I would probably go with the VX2100 and just deal with its short comings. If you have a bit of extra cash, I would suggest a hard look at the PD170 versus the 100A. I have reservations about recommending a camera I have never personally used, but I have to say that from what I've read, the 100A looks like it is a superior camera. Even American Cinematographer magazine gave the camera a positive review.
I suppose if I were to purchase a miniDV camcorder right now in the $3k-$4k range it would be the 100A. I wish that I could tell you that the new HDV technology was right around the corner, but it looks to be a year away.
Now, other things to keep in mind. You might want a 16:9 anamorphic lense adapter for whatever camera you wind up purchasing. I love wide screen and would recommend it, since none of the cameras in this price range (except the unusual JVC HD10U) have true 16:9 image capture. Additionally if you go with the 100A you could use a Wide angle lense adapter. I've only been able to use the regular lenses on all the DV cameras I've touched and by now I long for a short lense. Furthermore, make sure you set aside case for a microphone or two unless you have access to them through an audio geek friend or some other source. If your primary interest is Narrative filmmaking, the first mic you should pick up is a decent shotgun. If it's documentary with a focus on interviews, a good Lavalier is a godsend though you'll probably need a shotgun and handheld mic as well. A mic is probably the first purchase you should make after the camera itself. Also if you don't already have a tripod pick one up. I got a used video tripod from a garage sale, and I wouldn't recommend blowing the bank on an expensive one until you figure out your shooting style. Though having a quick release plate is helpful. Also you probably want at least two batteries to start with and maybe a car charger depending on what you plan on doing. So that one battery can charge while you shoot with the other one. Since the camera should already come with one small battery picking up a large one should be fine. After that comes the lusting for lights. Initially look around harware stores for 500+ Watt work lights. These can work wonders for no budget filmmaking. There's a wonderful website which has suggestions for a cheap light kit here:
in fact, there are a number of useful articles on dvinfo.net.
Also I would recommend building whatever accessories you can. I have a homemade microphone fishpole, and I plan on building a home made steadycam next, followed by a dolly and mini crane.
I know there's more to say but I don't know what at the moment. Go ahead and email me with any other questions you may have. I'll do my best to answer them.