June 2, 2015 at 5:39PM

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Seeking Strategic New Video Camera (+Lenses) Advice: The Next Level

Hi, I currently use a GH4 for video (shoot 4K, deliver 1080p) with a JuicedLink XLR audio adapter and a Fhugen cage. For lenses, I have a variety of native Micro Four Thirds lenses from both Panasonic and Voigtlander. Most of the video work I do is:
- corporate/training videos shot on location in (typically) dimly lit offices with employees (or occasionally actors)
- employee/manager interviews
- recording presenters reading from a teleprompter against either an infinite white or green screen background (I key and composite myself in post).

I also do a number of events for local schools - performances, special events, occasional sports, etc., and other local/family events such as charity walk/runs, birthday parties, holiday parties, etc. I also shoot a number of personal/family projects such as travel videos, family outings and conceptual-oriented stuff. 

While the GH4 has been (and is) a wonderful camera, it has been difficult at times for "getting the shot" during event-based shoots. Having the audio as a separate unit (the JuicedLink) that I must constantly remember to switch on separately (and also keep an eye on the battery level for separately) while running around with my cage/shotgun setup, performance in low light and/or rapidly changing lighting due to weather/time of day due to the smaller sensor, and fast-paced events (the GH4's autofocus doesn't always nail it smoothly enough on occasions when I've used it) makes it somewhat less than ideal for these types of shoots. And for the corporate shoots, it sometimes doesn't do as well in some of the low light situations I'm asked to shoot in. Although I have some 4- and 6-bank fluoros and a three-point LED light kit, I’m sometimes only allowed into a room to shoot for literally just a few minutes due to the very limited availability of the room/facility, and have to shoot in it as-is or with minimal lighting. And although most of the time I’m shooting fully manual, for fast-paced events/sports, an easy-to access-and-flip-on more accurate autofocus option would be a nice option to have.

In terms of post, I edit in FCPX on a Mac Pro and use After Effects a lot. Most projects are destined for internet/web delivery, although some are projected on to large screens at events/conferences.

I should note that while I’ve been shooting professionally for clients for about 2-3 years now, video production is currently 20-25% of my overall business. The other 75% of what I currently do is interactive media development, animation/motion graphics and editing, however I’m looking to grow and expand the video production side of my business aggressively over the next 2-3 years because I truly enjoy it a lot and because it’s becoming more essential to my business as a whole. In addition, I’m looking to take on more higher-end "glossy" types of projects and shooting, including commercial, marketing and fashion/beauty types of shoots while also improving the current quality of my event and low light shooting. I’d also like to “raise the bar" wherever I can on all of the stuff I currently do (green screen/training/corporate/interviews), as well as be able to do more color grading on certain types of projects.

As a result, I've been looking at adding a new, higher-end, more all-in-one video camera to my arsenal with a budget of $5,000-$8500 (body only, I have $3500 budgeted separately for some new lenses since the only lenses I currently have are all M4/3) that will allow me to continue to do the types of client work I do now (hopefully even better/easier in specific situations), while also allowing me to "stretch" into some higher-end types of projects I'd like to expand into working on. However, I'm not sure what currently (or soon-to-be) available camera “ticks the most boxes" in terms of meeting the needs of the diverse types of projects I currently work on as well as the higher-end ones that I plan to work on in the future. 

A few more notes:
- I really, really love a well-used slow-motion aesthetic, and I often see it used to great effect in sports, fashion/beauty and other types of commercial videos
- I also like a nice shallow DOF used for beauty shots of people (or products) and interviews.
- I fully intend to keep my GH4, as it's a great camera, and I'll continue to use it in specific situations and client projects (such as portable jib and slider shots) that I feel it will continue to work really well for and for my own personal travel/events stuff.
- I do not live anywhere close to any rental houses or pro gear stores so renting is not a viable option for me most of the time. I intend to be an owner-operator with this next video camera/set of lenses.

Speaking of lenses, perhaps equally or even more importantly than trying to decide what video camera to get next is also deciding what lens system to invest in, since the only lenses I currently have are native M4/3 lenses (outside of one Nikon kit lens I have that came with a D90). So any advice that speaks to this aspect of things is much appreciated as well.

With all that said, I've been exploring and considering several different camera options:

- The new Canon C100 Mark II (fast dual-pixel autofocus, built-in XLR audio and ND filters, very nice image quality from what I've seen, seems very decent in low light, Canon lens ecosystem), however it lacks pretty bad vs.competition in terms of its slow motion shooting capabilities (vs. GH4, Sony FS7, FS700, BlackMagic URSA/URSA Mini), and doesn't do 4K either, which I like shooting in due to the added flexibility in post for 1080p projects, but even more so for future-proofing reasons at this point since I need this next purchase to last a good 4-5 years minimum. Finally, at least internally, the codec/bit rate isn't as strong for keying and color grading purposes, although I suppose I could add an Atomos for the green screen stuff.

- Another candidate I'm looking at is the SONY FS7 (the priciest option on my list), but I'm concerned about its suitability for events/sports due to what I’ve read about it having slow/poor autofocusing, a limited choice in terms of native E mount lenses, issues I've read about concerning using it with other types of lenses via adapters (Metabones with Canon glass, for example), and the post workflow (XAVC) with FCPX. It definitely seems the very best option for slow-motion (180fps), shoots 4K internally with a robust codec, 10-bit 4:2:2 (for the green screen work I do), has a fantastic form factor/weight for events, and has pretty much all of the other conveniences of a “true” video camera (things like ND filters, XLR inputs, etc.) vs. a DSLR/mirrorless. It also seems very "future-proof" for the next few years due to its capabilities and feature set. But the lens/slowness issues concern me.

- A third candidate is the new Blackmagic URSA mini (4.6K) EF mount, which seems to offer a LOT of great features for the money - compressed RAW and ProRes (great for green screen shooting and for editing in FCPX), nice form factor/weight, great flip out monitor and I could add the new OLED EVF they have for it as well. This seems to be the ideal camera in many ways for much of the corporate/training stuff I do, but not so much for quick setup/event stuff - no built-in ND filters, the low light capabilities may not be nearly as strong as C100 Mk II or FS7, and media costs for long form events might be crazy expensive (although the FS7 suffers from this same issue). In terms of slow motion (120fps), this seems to be the second best choice (behind the FS7), although as I understand it, the mini crops in on the sensor for slow motion.

- Related to the URSA mini would be the original URSA (the big one) which would provide even higher frame rates for slow-motion than the mini, but the weight of it is a non-starter for events, and it would be way too heavy for the portable jib, sliders and support gear I currently have as well.

- Someone I was recently discussing all this with suggested I look into the Kinefinity cameras - the MAX and/or Kinemini, but I know very little about them or the company that makes them. Any thoughts on the Kinefinity cameras?

- A final option might be something like the Sony PXW-X200 or perhaps the new Panasonic video camera (AG-DVX200 4K 4/3) announced at this year’s NAB, however I really love the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, and the PXW-X200 doesn't do 4K or offer the higher frame rates. I'm also not sure how well it would provide a shallow DOF look (compared to C100 Mk II, URSA mini, or FS7) for the interviews I shoot, or if it's as strong in low light as the FS7 or C100 Mk II. The AG-DVX200 is a totally unknown quantity to me at this point, since it won't even be released for several months yet and I haven't seen any footage from it yet, either. It would be really nice to have a powerful servo zoom again, though.

Obviously, no one model of video camera handles every shooting situation equally as well, and different types of video cameras are often best suited for certain types of shooting situations, so I know I'm asking for a bit of a unicorn (or at least a Giant Realistic Flying Tiger), but if I'm going to spend $5,000-$8500 on a new video camera plus up to another possible $3500 on lenses to go with whatever I choose, then I really want to make the purchase (or purchases) that cover(s) as many of the bases that I need/want as much as possible for the next 4-5 years. Is there a particular model of camera or maybe some sort of combination of cameras and lenses (either from my list above or elsewhere) that any of you might recommend as being a "best all-around solution" given my budget?

Any suggestions, advice, insight or other considerations anyone can provide is much appreciated in advance!

13 Comments

The Panasonic DVX200 might be a good option, but you have to wait until the Fall to find out...

http://pro-av.panasonic.net/en/dvx4k/index.html

June 2, 2015 at 6:32PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32198

Thanks for the link, Guy! Looking at the full list of specs for this video camera it seems to deliver (at least on paper) a LOT of what I'm looking for: built-in XLR, ND filters, shallow focus/nice bokeh, nice form factor, intelligent autofocus, 12 stops DR, V-Log, 4K and even 120FPS in FHD (not as sweet as FS7's 180FPS, but as good as the URSA mini), which I was not aware of–very nice!

I may have to wait this one out! Can't wait to see some footage and a few reviews of this cam-particularly low light performance. While it doesn't offer interchangeable lenses, since I plan to keep my GH4 (another Panasonic) they *might* make a great pairing, and I could use each for the stuff they're best at (DVX200 for events/run-n-gun, GH4 for more controlled shoots/green screen).

June 3, 2015 at 3:41PM

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Hi, I hope to provide some insight to your camera search. See below for some VERY interesting links:

https://youtu.be/4v0SitJCNLI
"Atomos Shogun with GH4 review" - instead of looking for a new camera, keep the one you have and go with an external recorder that records in 4K.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1096582-REG/jvc_gy_hm200_gy_hm220_...
Have you seen the JVC GY-HM200 ? It doesn't have a detachable lens, but it does have 2 built-in ND filters, and it shoots in 4K (Ultra HD 24/30p Recording at 150Mbps). For run-n-guns not having to worry about which lens to use sounds good to me. The glass isn't bad, with a f/1.2 maximum aperture, and it has Optical Image Stabilization for those hand-held off-sticks shots. And it records to SDXC cards. B&H sells it for $2300. For the form factor downside of it, it IS kinda dinky for what it gives you.

But didn't you say you wanted to use detachable lenses? How about a camera that has a M4/3 lens mount that shoots 4K, has 3 ND filters built-in, records to SDXC cards, and has a built-in IP network for Live Streaming? Take a look at the JVC GY-LS300 CHU,
4KCAM HANDHELD Super 35 CAMCORDER (BODY)
MSRP: $4,395.00
http://pro.jvc.com/prof/attributes/features.jsp?model_id=MDL102318

But, if still undecided, here's a link to a 4K camera comparison chart from last year.
http://cdn.studiodaily.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/4k-camera-chart-20...

Hope that helps you.

June 18, 2015 at 10:15AM

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David Jones
shooter/editor
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June 18, 2015 at 10:39AM

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David Jones
shooter/editor
183

The Blackmagic URSA Mini.

It comes with either: a 4K sensor, or a 4.6K sensor. Both versions have either a PL-lens mount or a EF -lens mount.

"Everything that's good it has."- Yoda, Jedi Master.

The costs are as follows:
URSA Mini 4K EF = $3000.
URSA Mini 4K PL = $3500.
URSA Mini 4.6K EF = $5000.
URSA Mini 4.6K PL = $5500.

Get it at B&H Photo Video -
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?Ntt=Blackmagic+Ursa+Mini&gclid=CM-S...

June 18, 2015 at 10:45AM

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David Jones
shooter/editor
183

Instead of buying all new lenses, why not just get a M4/3 lens adapter?

June 18, 2015 at 10:47AM

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David Jones
shooter/editor
183

sorry, I thought I was done here.

New video, "Blackmagic (bmcc, bmpc, bmpcc) VS Canon (C300) The Epic Battle"
https://youtu.be/jrNi4G07MAI

June 18, 2015 at 11:12AM

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David Jones
shooter/editor
183

Consider the Panasonic AF100. It works with your lenses, has built-in audio (2 XLRs) and is cheap at $2K and under. And it has slow motion.

June 18, 2015 at 4:59PM

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Sathya Vijayendran
Writer/Director/Editor
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I'd go Canon C100 Mii or Canon C300. For the mII, yeah, only 60fps, but that will often get what you need. If you reallllly need a bit slower of a look, you can get a powerful program like Twixtor and make it happen (and it'll look pretty beautiful if done right). Audio is great, EVF is great, monitor is great, Canon Log, wonderful colors, ergonomics are awesome, you can always pair it with a Atomos for prores recording, etc. etc. Also, the sensor is 4k so the downgrading is essentially done internally; makes for a nice sharp image. That'd be my two cents based on what it is you seem to want to accomplish, but I personally have my eye on the URSA Mini 4.6K :p. They are both excellent though. Any camera listed above actually you should be able to do great things with.

June 18, 2015 at 5:02PM

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Ben Meredith
Cinematographer/Filmmaker
1107

Sounds like you have two main issues: light and racking focus. You have a minor issue with audio, though it could be classified as a user issue. ;p

You want to move into higher end projects, so only invest in gear that will support those jobs. Do not invest in gear for lower end work. As a working professional, you should use the cheapest gear that will get the job done.

Learn to manage your clients. Raise your rate, and hire an assistant. Any money you spend on gear should be worked into your rate or billed as a separate rental. Otherwise, you are not investing in gear to help you get the higher end jobs you want; you're simply spending money.

Train the assistant to help you with lighting and sound.

Buy a cart onto which you can rig two stands with your LEDs. A Rock n Roller could work. For safety, figure out how to add weight to the bottom of the cart, either with sandbags or a marine battery or both. Use the battery with an adapter to power your lights. I assume they have a battery option. If not, get a voltage converter.

On corporate shoots, your assistant will roll the cart to wherever you specify in an office, then set the third LED, on a stand with a stinger attached, also where you instruct. Your room will be lit in 3-5 minutes. Then your assistant will set the sound gear, and maybe hold a boom for you. Maybe your assistant will attach a lav mic to talent. Your lighting and sound are ready in under ten minutes.

If you have to shoot high school basketball in dimly lit gyms, there's really nothing you can do, short of lighting the gym. Doesn't matter, since you aren't making a lot of money there. If the school likes your work, it will figure out how to get more light in the gym. Same issue for high school football games at night. There's only so much you can do.

For parties, etc., without time to light, point the LEDs into the ceiling to raise the overall light level.

Solve your focus issue for $1500 + a tripod. Buy a second GH4 (down to $1500) and start shooting with two cameras. At sporting events, shoot a locked, wide shot for safety. Your shots will match easily, and the GH4 does have a variable frame rate mode for slo-mo. You know how shallow you can get with the Voigtländer lenses.

The GH4 does have various modes for auto focus. Search online for more info.

Focus step two: find an area where you can set three or four objects at various distances. Practice racking focus for 10-20 minutes 3-5 times per week. In no time, you will develop muscle memory and become a good focus puller. To fine tune your skill, ask your assistant to run around like the athletes do. You'll quickly become a very competent focus puller.

The more you get into the higher end projects, the less time you'll have for live event video. Spend a little time researching rental houses, just in case. There are a few that will rent by mail.

This should take only $2k of your $12k budget and easily take you into next year. You can always buy another camera then, if you really need it. And you can invest the rest of the money in your business or get a 6-12 month CD or put more into your IRA.

August 29, 2015 at 6:23AM, Edited August 29, 6:40AM

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Charlie K
1343

Thanks for all the suggestions and advice, Charlie. I appreciate your detailed and thoughtful response. I've taken all of your points into consideration, although even so I'm still planning on adding a new camera within the next few months to a year.

Your suggestions are all great, however, and I definitely agree that continuing to hone and refine my skills as a videographer is by far more important than simply what camera(s), lenses, or other gear I'm using.

I do try and practice my focus racking skills on a regular basis by having my six year old run around in our yard (he never holds still for two seconds) and seeing how long and how well I can keep him in focus manually as he runs all over the place. Your suggestions about a light cart are well-taken, although certain rooms I'm not allowed to walk into at all (I have to shoot through the very small doorways) since it's large magnet medical equipment. I do use an assistant for some shoots, but only on higher-budget ones. A lot of these shoots don't have enough budget to cover me as well as another person, but I don't mind doing them solo since I get to do more shooting which results in having more work samples (which has so far lead to more video work), and still make some decent money. And, I had a second camera (a GH3) but I just recently sold it (in part to help fund this next planned camera purchase).

Concerning the audio unit - I've never missed any audio yet (although there was one time I *thought* I had forgot to switch it on before recording and feared the worst). It's primarily a matter of convenience and concern that I could *potentially* miss audio if the battery goes out in the unit while I'm in the middle of recording (the XLR adapter unit I have uses regular 9V batteries and the low battery light on it is hard to see on it when I'm actively shooting vs. being able to monitor a single battery level in a camera's EVF/flip-out screen). Additionally, I come from using non-DSLR form-factor cameras (various Sony, Canon and JVC at past employers) where the XLR ports and audio controls were typically built in so I'm used to having most everything built into the camera vs. frankensteining stuff together the way I've done since first getting a GH3.

Having said that, I love the GH4. I like the ability to determine my own lens choices for specific shots, have the camera be inconspicuous and ultra-portable when necessary, have 4K built-in to the camera, the flexibility of looks that can be achieved in post, the ability to also take decent stills, etc., although I sometimes miss having a servo zoom.

However, I guess I just also really like the idea of having the XLR/audio features built-in to a camera similar to how many people feel about having ND filters and 4K built-in - it's simply far more convenient with less batteries and gear to carry around, and fewer switches/indicators to be concerned about in the heat of the moment, although I've been getting by just fine without some of these things since starting to shoot with the GH3 and GH4.

I do roll in the cost of my gear, time, insurance, etc., to my clients, which is why I have the funds to purchase new gear. My little GH4 has paid for itself many, many times over, and over time I've been able to build up a fairly versatile set of gear to better support the type of video work I currently do including lights, microphones, backdrops, tripods, teleprompter, etc.

I used to use a Canon HV30 back a number of years ago when I first started to shoot any video for clients on my own (mostly as a hobby, vs. for my employer at the time who had much nicer and more expensive video cameras in-house), and that is how I funded my first serious tripod and microphones, and eventually, a GH3 (which is when I started offering video as a service "officially"), which I was then able to earn enough with to fund some decent lighting gear, some additional lenses, and eventually the purchase of my GH4. At this point, I'm looking to repeat history and use what I earn from my GH4 to fund a move to a more all-in-one type of camera, but keep my GH4 to use as my second cam (or first cam, depending on the shot/s required).

That's why I've become more and more interested in (and seriously considering) the AG-DVX200 since my original posting here (especially now that there are some footage samples around), since I would imagine it might be fairly easy to match it to the GH4 in post. That way, I'd have the best of both worlds - an all-in-one unit perfect for 4K run n' gun (with a servo zoom) and quick setup shoots, but with the ability to yield a nicer image than the typical fixed lens unit in that price range, and my GH4, which would give me the ability to use variety of lenses for specific looks and that could act as either the "A" or "B" cam dependent on the shoot, and to which I could also eventually add a Speedbooster (+ lenses) to in order to emulate the Super 35 look. Plus, the DVX200 has the 120FPS capability, which is a nice bonus (although as you mentioned the GH4 does 96fps, which I've used on occasion).

Of course, the main issue would be still be low light performance in certain instances (even taking all of your suggestions into account), hence my consideration of the Canon C100 Mark II (which also has the dual-pixel autofocus). And for the green screen stuff and color grading, I'm sure the Ursa Mini 4.6K or FS7 would be superior in these areas, but as you commented, "use the cheapest gear that will get the job done."

Right now, for a more all-in-one camera solution that seems to suit the majority of the work I'm currently doing, that's starting to look more like the DVX-200 at roughly $4200 vs. the others on my list. I know someone also suggested the JVC-LS300, which I looked into a bit, but having used some JVC video cameras in that price range before, I've never been impressed with their image or build quality vs. the Canons, Sonys, or Panasonics I've had the opportunity to use. So, while it may also tick a lot of boxes, for me I think it's more of a personal preference issue with that particular brand based on past experiences.

Anyhow, while I'm still not 100% decided yet, I've become far more interested in the DVX200 at this point in time (although I am very interested yet in seeing Ursa Mini footage samples when it finally comes out and more from the DVX200, too). I appreciate all the responses so far, and per Charlie's comments, will continue to improve my skills using my current setup along the way.

August 31, 2015 at 5:56PM

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The only real solution for low light problems is to add light! Instead of spending more money on a new camera I advice you to spend money on light.

A recording with bad light will never look good not even with a million dollar camera!

February 27, 2016 at 1:14AM

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Cary Knoop
Member
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Is the SONY FS5 a possible option to consider? It has many of the features you seek at a cost that may afford you a lens or two when switching over to the SONY system. It is smaller and lighter than the FS7, which is a plus for shooting mobile at events. It will have better low light than a MFT system, especially if you add a Metabones Speedbooster and fast glass. Glass is obviously a big part of the investment, but you can adapt many lenses to the SONY system.

FWIW, I currently shoot on a GH4, and while I really enjoy the camera, all of the issues you mention mirror my interest in moving to a "professional" camera. The GH4 can produce exceptional results in the right conditions, but low light is not one of them. Shooting under tight deadlines doesn't always afford the option to light a shoot, and the MFT sensor can really struggle. I have the Metabones Speedbooster and Sigma 18-35mm lens combo, which is a huge help in low light. Other things that slow me down is adding an audio preamp/recorder (Tascam DR70D) and a monitor/recorder to my rig (Blackmagic Video Assist). At some point it just makes sense to look at a dedicated video camera for video work!

I do like how Canon renders skin tones, which is a primary concern for most of the work I do. I do nearly all of my post work, and most of my clients don't budget for a colorist, which means I try to get baked in color as close as possible to minimize color work in post.

I am curious to see what direction you go in, and I appreciate all the detailed comments others have posted. Its a great time to be shooting!

March 27, 2016 at 7:50PM, Edited March 27, 7:51PM

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David Patterson
videographer/editor
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