Alaskan Artist - Elise Tomlinson
Home Artist Blog About Me Life in Alaska Purchase Site Index Speak
Home » Archives » May 2004 » Choosing the right prosumer miniDV camera

[Previous entry: "Don't put all your (slides or CDs?) in one basket!"] [Next entry: "Working Under a Deadline - Positive or Negative?"]

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.

From atheist_uberboy:

Hello again,

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

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.

Replies: 8 Comments

on Tuesday, May 25th, atheist_uberboy said

Hello again,

Well I'm gald that you found my post interesting, though I appologize if at times it seemed as if I was talking down to you as I didn't realize how much shooting experience you apparently have. I probably should have dug through your blog a bit to find that out ahead of time but whatever.

To add one more point to the discussion, how many months from now do you plan on purchasing this camera? Since you indicated that you don't currently have adequate funds (who ever does?) if this wait looks like it's going to be counted in months you may wish to start keeping tabs on the rumblings coming out of HDV technology. It is a High Definition format that compresses the video signal using Mpeg2 down to a miniDV size data stream so that the cameras actually record onto miniDV tape and can be switched into standard definition regular miniDV recording too. At this point the only cameras available are the JVC HD10U and it's crappier brother the GR-HD1. The HD10U is very inexpensive, costing about as much as a VX2100 and delivering three times the resolution. However it only uses one CCD and therefore have horrible color reproduction, low light handling, highlight handling, latitude, etc. compaired to good 3 CCD standard definition miniDV cameras. This is not to say that you can't get a good image out of it, you just have to be very, very careful about how you light the scene and with the crap manual controls it has this can be a challenge.

The good news is that Sony has been showing off a prototype 3 CCD HDV camcorder. Unfortunately that's all it is right now, a prototype. And due to the difficulties of getting cheap, fast, low power mpeg2 encoding chips into the market it doesn't look like any "good" HDV camera will make it to market this year. But there is hope that in mid to late 2005 this could turn out to be a 'big thing'. Another consideration though is that even if the next generation of HDV technology does make it out the door in 2005 it will almost certainly cost more than the miniDV tech today, perhaps on an order of a couple thousand dollars difference. A large part of this is because HD requires a better lens than Standard Definition and even as electronic components decrease in costs glass technology isn't getting significantly cheaper. And this is all wildly speculative anyway, I just wanted to let you know so that you can hopefully avoid any major buyer's remorse. But don't let this deter you from buying a nice camera in the near term. Standard definition is by no means dying and miniDV is going to be around for a long time.

If you already knew this, sorry I just wanted to add an addendum to my previous post in case you didn't. Also if you need any additional help with whatever regarding video/film production ask away.

Also I'm very curious about your films now, are they available for viewing online?

on Tuesday, May 25th, atheist_uberboy said

PS: your box for posting comments is kind of small. Or maybe my posts are just verbose ;)

on Tuesday, May 25th,">Elise said

Hi again,
well, other than the info about the 1 chip HD vs. the 3CCD (which we did talk about in your original post way back when the Canon XL1S) I hadn't heard that Sony has an HD prototype, I heard rumors (from you originally and then from others) of a Canon XL2...but no news as of late.

You asked me before about editing too and I forgot to answer.

I have a PC and I edit using Premiere Pro, Audition, and Encore DVD. I also have the standards, like PhotoShop etc.

As for watching one of my movies, I currently have a *very* rough cut of the project I wrote and directed called Kite Club a spoof of Fight Club (Real Player - 49.1 MB-broadband)I have a more recent version, just haven't compressed it yet. Also, I plan to have a more compressed version of it soon, it only plays well on a broadband and even then it gets hung up during high traffic times of the day.

Some things I've fixed so you won't have to critique, is the sound...did some voice overs and had some original music composed for me, plus I got a recording of sound from a rough house boxing night...also, fixed the channel mixer, if you listen to this version with headphones your're only getting audio from one side....and a bunch of other little shit including a re-edited fight scene and some establishing shots.

We're going to reshoot a couple scenes that we didn't have time for that I'll edit into the part where he tells the rules so I'll get rid of the crappy jump cut.

Anyway, beside all that, I'd like to hear what you think.

on Tuesday, May 25th,">Stacy said

Elise, did you recieve the email I sent?

Heidi is also looking for artists to hang pieces on the wall, so I've decided to show a few of my pieces for the June show.

on Tuesday, May 25th,">Elise said

Hi Stacy
Yes, I received it...I'm just debating now because I started to count down the amount of time I have left and it isn't looking so good. I'm leaving next Tuesday for a conference and I'll be gone all week.

Then June 11-20th my family will be visiting. That leaves me very little time to finish up the work I'm currently doing. When is the June opening set for? Anyway, I will email Heidi, I was just trying to decide first if I'd be able to contribute something for the auction or not.

Oh, and that's cool that you'll be showing some of your work, I look forward to seeing it.

on Tuesday, May 25th,">Stacy said

I didn't realize how quickly June was approaching! I'll be turning 21 at the end of this month!!

Heidi is feeling pretty pressured about auction pieces and actual show pieces. She's going to be out of town as well, and hasn't been able to organize a solo show of anyone's work. Thus, I have about 3 paintings that I did during school that are okay that I'm thinking of hanging, but I'm feeling somewhat skeptical about showing them to the public. I also have some drawings... I'm sure you know the Voelkers. James will be exhibiting some ceramics as well.

on Tuesday, May 25th,">Stacy said

Oops, didn't mean to post that message quite yet.

I will also be asking a couple friends to help fill up the space, both who I've grown up with here in Juneau. Both are also extremely talented. One of them has been to several different countries (wants to be a travel photographer and/or work for National Geo). Here is his website, he is very good.

on Wednesday, May 26th,">Elise said

I checked out your friend's site and I love his work. The colors are very rich and look as though they could be from National Geographic (that job was my fantasy job as a child by the way).