Another approach to camera selection

posted by Jeff | Monday, February 20, 2006, 9:40 PM | comments: 0

It occurred to me that I've been looking at the whole camera thing backward. I keep looking at from the standpoint of the cameras instead of what my needs are. Talking with Mike (onceler) today I realized that there's a lot of conflict in my needs.

The first need is a relatively minor one, and that is vacation video. How often would I use it? I'm guessing not very much, because I've been a slacker even in pulling out the DV camera. I don't shoot as much "home video" as I did in 2000. And for gatherings of friends or family, the camera obviously doesn't matter at all. So there's one need.

The next need is for-hire work. The truth and reality there is that I probably wouldn't be shooting HD in those cases at all, though I can certainly down-convert to SD. The trick in the for-hire stuff though is creating easy workflow to commonly used commercial formats, which tend to be DVCPRO (and rarely DVCPRO 50), DVCAM and some flavor of Betacam. The 50 and HD formats have a higher color sampling which is key for compositing or chromakey work. Oddly enough, the HDR-HC1 has a cousin that, for a couple hundred bucks more, includes XLR audio and records to DVCAM, so that camera sort of suits the personal and for-hire needs, if you don't get laughed at by the size of the unit.

Another need that might be more fantasy than anything, is the idea of doing a documentary that I could sell to Discovery or PBS or something. I don't have anything specific in mind, but the HD requirements tend to be pretty specific, and various discussion boards say "those people" are really picky. The HVX200 is the only camera that approaches being adequate for those needs.

Probably the most useful thing is the personal ability to shoot a real indie picture or any kind of smaller project like that. The biggest technical requirement there is that it can shoot 720 or 1080, provided it's 24P. While some DV films have made it to the big screen (Pieces of April comes to mind), they don't look very good when blown up. 1080 would look as good as film in terms of resolution, even if the image quality isn't quite a Varicam or Cinealta.

One need that covers all of these scenarios is Web delivery, and in those cases the common thread is that progressive scan video is key because I'm not happy with any of the deinterlacing software I've tried. 24P would be preferred because fewer frames mean smaller files.

So where does that leave me? Well, only the baby Sony or the premium DVCAM version satisfy the low end, which would enjoy infrequent use. The bigger Sony makes nice images, but HDV at 1080i is still scary and there's no true 24P. The JVC would be awesome for indie film with that beautiful lens. The HVX200 of course does everything I could ever want except fit in my pocket, and Mike made the probably correct comment that anything less wouldn't suit my long-term needs. Out of those five needs, the baby Sony can probably do two, the JVC can do three, and the Panasonic can do them all.

I guess it depends now on what my financial outlook is, because the decision is probably the cheap one or the really expensive one. :)


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