Camera problems

posted by Jeff | Monday, March 19, 2012, 10:47 PM | comments: 0

Life is less complicated with still photography, when it comes to equipment. Even in the film days, you could put inexpensive glass on a cheap body and get great results with practice (assuming you remembered what your exposure was like). But video was just video until a few years ago. It's complicated.

High definition made 480 interlaced lines obsolete. Then we had cinema adapters, bigger sensors, form factors ranging from ENG-style cameras to tiny handhelds to SLR's. After shooting video for the better part of a decade and a half, I was drawn to what made this new stuff not look like video, and look more like film. Specifically, shooting at 24 fps, and getting shallow depth of field with the bigger sensors, offered more creative control.

First I bought the HVX200 back in 2006, because it was arguably the first HD camera with pro gear that was (sort of) affordable. It immediately served me well that year on some freelance work, in part because it had real audio. I've also done a lot of run-and-gun documentary-ish stuff. I like how it looks, but even when you do some color grading, it still tends to look like HD news footage.

In 2008 Canon released the 5D Mark II and it did video, if a little hackish. The win was a huge sensor and all the lenses you could have. A year later, the 7D was released, which had a smaller sensor, but it was a step forward, and I bought it. With a stack of gear around it, I could shoot video with it, but the audio situation isn't great, and the form factor is awkward for shooting documentary-style. When I can lock it down though, it can make amazing images.

So where does that put things these days? Obviously you can see that there are two things that I care about. The first is the versatility to get the "film look." This admittedly comes from toting around SLR's for 25 years, starting with that big heavy Nikon F I borrowed from my dad. I like figuring out how much I want my subject to be isolated from the surroundings. It's crazy hard with stuff moving, but when you get it right, it's awesome.

At the same time, I value ergonomics because so much of what I shoot is on the go. The ergonomics generally come with real audio capability (XLR's, level pots, etc.), which is important.

In a perfect world, I'd buy the new Canon C300, because it solves all of my problems, and I can use all of the lenses I own today. It has pro audio, build-in ND, you can hold it in your hand and you can practically shoot with it in the dark. I mean, it has built-in scopes! (See camera porn here.) If cost were no object, I'd buy one. Well, if they were more readily available and cost were no object, I'd buy one. I'm just not sure if I can justify it.

Meanwhile, Panasonic put out what is essentially a variation on the HVX last year, the AF100, only it has a bigger sensor and uses whatever lens you want. It solves a lof of the issues, but to use it with Canon lenses, you need an expensive adapter. The compression is a little on the high side as well, but it seems to do OK in low light. It's relatively inexpensive.

Canon also just announced the 5D Mark III, which starts shipping this week. It's still an SLR camera, but it addresses some of the shortcomings of its predecessors, specifically audio monitoring and levels. Yes, the form factor is still not ideal, but it's a step in the right direction. The Mark II has been used extensively for films, and they even shot a few episodes of House with it. Heck, the SNL opener was shot with it. It's a little cheaper than the AF100, and obviously I have lenses for it.

I'm not sure what to do with all of that data. I don't shoot video/"film" for a living anymore, but it's the thing that I'm most passionate about. It's the creative part of me that I too often allow to languish. This is the year where I try to get back to all of the things that make me who I am or want to be, so it's important that I get into this. The gear I have today leaves me a little dissatisfied, and I want to make an upgrade.

This sort of thing was a lot easier when I had someone else's money to spend!


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