May 23, 2015 at 8:20PM, Edited May 23, 8:28PM

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Equipment Hell

I've got a wonderfully terrible dilemma and was hoping for some advice. I'm gearing up to direct my first feature, have my screenplay, my crew and actors, but I'm having issue with choosing my camera equipment. I want to purchase the camera and lens' but can't make a solid decision. I've been doing my homework and was considering the Panasonic gh4k, but I don't believe that it is necessary to record in 4k, and I would also be taking on other budgetary factors such as additional hard-drives, and a 4k recorder (if I'm reading correctly). Then I started looking at MiniDV camcorders such as the Canon XL1s (28 Days Later) and the Sony HDR-FX1 (Paranormal Activity) and found that these types of cameras have a track history in Hollywood. Would it be feasible/logical to go MiniDV 1080p (or higher)? Wouldn't low light situations work better on MiniDV and be less work in post? While I'm worried about quality, I'm actually more interested in achieving a 'film' look, without committing to 35mm (I would love to but our budget doesn't permit). I understand a lot of this is based on many factors, the lighting, art direction, framing, the personnel a director surrounds himself with, post production, etc, etc...but I'm solid in this department. With that said I'm not trying to follow a current camera trend. I'm trying to do what is right by the movie. With that said my budget for the camera (and camera only) is $2,000. I can go $3,200 if the lens is fixed, but I prefer the ability to swap lenses. 'Auto-focus only' cameras are off the shelf as they are camera killers. My ears are open to all constructive camera advise though. I look forward to your recommendations, including your favorite DSLR's. Thank you.

29 Comments

I was so happy when I sold my last MiniDV camera, which was a Panasonic DVX100B. It was a fantastic camera at the time, and produced a beautiful 480p image at 24fps, but working with MiniDV tapes was a huge hassle. The tapes are small, fairly fragile, only record 60 minutes of footage, and transfer in real-time. So if you want to transfer 8 hours of MiniDV footage it takes 8 hours, where with digital memory cards you can transfer 8 hours of footage in 10 minutes.

You could not pay me to go back to using any kind of tape media, as it's just so archaic compared to the ease of working with digital memory cards/drives.

May 24, 2015 at 5:18AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
31826

Tape? Tape? I didn't know that we had Amish film makers posting here.

May 26, 2015 at 3:14PM, Edited May 26, 3:14PM

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Julian Richards
Film Warlord
1453

I agree with Guy on this one, altho I still have one and still use it, but is primarily backup, but amazed at how good it looks, but would not choose this anymore for the same reasons Guy stated

May 27, 2015 at 9:55AM

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Who's going to start the "Why MiniDV is better than ProRes (and a lot better than RAW)" thread? We need to know the truth.

May 25, 2015 at 2:05AM

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James Coote
Director of Photography
279

:D

May 25, 2015 at 7:56AM

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You are not obliged to shoot 4K if you have a GH4 you know? Anyways, achieving a film look is getting easier nowadays due to all the plug-Ins available (magic bullet, film convert, koji films). But if your budget is 2000 USD then the GH4 comes highly recommended, just have to get some super fast SD cards :) , also the rolling shutter is not bad at all. And the 4K bitrate on the GH4 is not so high that it would be a hinderance to your workflow.

May 25, 2015 at 5:09AM

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Matt Nunn
Amateur
554

Hi Christopher. When you say you're 'solid' with support for post-production and other roles, do you mean you have an experienced team working for you? What would they recommend?

If you're shooting this yourself, what have you used before that works well? If you're focussing on direction and don't feel confident choosing gear, maybe you could add a DP role to your support team?

Depending on your schedule, you could also hire instead of buying.

I'd be amazed if any DV camera could match even a cheap DSLR for low-light and basic image quality. As you point out, the 'cinematic impact' of shots is down to several things, with the camera probably rather low down on the list. But the BMPCC probably gives the strongest film-like image at it's price point or even much more. Used, they're very affordable, but need various other things buying to get them ready for a project.

May 25, 2015 at 1:11PM

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If you dont need the 4k but like the idea of the GH4...and want a filmic look, then perhaps the GH3 and a Metabones adapter is what you are looking for? The combo would get you plenty shallow depth of field, and price wise it'd still be cheaper than just a GH4 alone.

No matter what, avoid DV...what a nightmare that process is.

May 25, 2015 at 8:44PM

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It's not about the camera for a story, I had some great use out of an FX1 I've got a Sony A7S now and I love it I use cheap nikon vintage glass with adapters and everything looks fantastic. You have to option of 4k with an A7s but it records the cleanest HD image I've seen out of a DSLR.

May 25, 2015 at 9:26PM, Edited May 25, 9:26PM

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Graham Uhelski
Director of Photography/Video Editor
442

Shot a large project on MiniDV several years ago and hated myself for it because of the hassle involved with transferring tapes. I can't speak to the comparative image quality in the realm of 1080p cameras. But I really like the ease of transfer and (more importantly) the ease of backing up these files instantly onto redundant hard drives for safety that is afforded by having everything written directly to flash memory cards.

As others have mentioned, the Gh4 doesn't produce particularly huge files even in 4k mode (100 megabits per second; a substantial but comparatively average 750 megabytes per minute). In my opinion a speedbooster is almost an essential purchase with the Gh4; I was unable to get depth of field as shallow as I would like without it. (I use a Metabones speed booster, but there's also the very similar knockoff RJ Photo Lens Turbo, which in comparative tests holds up well but is cheaper)

If you're really concerned with the shallow depth of field you get with 35mm, and don't care about 4k at all, then the A7S might be better because it's a full frame sensor and lets you film in either full frame mode or a (slightly less optimal) super35 crop mode. No need for a speed booster. It's also much better in low light, though hopefully you'll be lighting the film to where that's less important.

To clarify: you don't need a 4k external recorder to get 4k out of the Gh4, it does it internally. The A7S only shoots 1080p internally.

And the Gh3 is a nice option, if you want to save some money to spend in other areas like the speed booster or other accessories. But the Gh4 is better in more ways than just 4k ability; it's got several advanced controls and features designed to make it more suited to shooting video.

May 26, 2015 at 3:31AM

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Philip Heinrich
Director, Producer
949

I'm surprised why nobody mentions the NX1.

May 26, 2015 at 4:45AM

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It seems like there's a lot to like about that camera, but the h.265-only is a crippling shortcoming because of the lack of good options for editing that footage right now? I imagine in a few years h.265 will be easier to work with in editing software, though.

May 26, 2015 at 4:47PM

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Philip Heinrich
Director, Producer
949

Yes, NX1 delivers gorgeous 4K video, especially with the Samsung 16-50 lens. I have this combination, and I'd have no hesitation in recommending it for any 4K project with your kind of budget. This combo is a bit pricey though ($2,799 as of today), but you could get the cheaper $1,499 set instead.

The workflow is great too. You can play your movies right out of the card with players like Potplayer (on Windows). If you like it, transcode to ProRes with FFmpeg (I use the Rocky Mountains front-end) and edit in your editor of choice, which you'd want to do anyway even with H.264 footage for easy editing.

May 28, 2015 at 8:52AM, Edited May 28, 8:54AM

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I'm so thankful for all of the constructive advice from everyone. I can understand that some of you question my team, but in reality my team is far more experienced than I am. The difference is they are so experienced in classic film-making that the digital medium is new territory for them. For example, my cameraman is a 30+ year pro. Heck, the first movie he directed was the original Genital Hospital. No joke! My team is old and crunchy, but still very active in Hollywood. My Art Director, another 30+ year pro who still builds sculpted set pieces, miniatures, hand draws storyboards, and uses practical effects. The only thing that makes my team different is they still prefer to shoot on 35mm, they're old school...they are as new to the era of the digital camera as I am. So yes, I am an amateur, but I find no fault in that as I have a team of experienced filmmakers in my corner showing me the ropes. As for why we aren't shooting on film, the cost of purchasing, developing, and digitizing is simply too expensive.

As for the camera it seems that the overwhelming opinion is that going the route of the MiniDV is simply too inconvenient and a hassle. So, I'll likely be going with one of the suggestions above. I'm leaning towards the GH4K, but I'll also give the GH3 (with the metabones adaptor) the NX-1, the A7S, and the BMPCC (Blackmagic) an thorough look. Thank you all for your advise and good luck to all of you in your future endeavors.

May 26, 2015 at 8:43AM

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Christopher Allison
Director
190

If you have a good script and good people, then any one of those cameras will be sufficient. My only thought is that your Dad's Army of film makers will appreciate it if you keep it simple, whatever your choice.

May 26, 2015 at 3:21PM

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Julian Richards
Film Warlord
1453

I should've mentioned Blackmagic, I feel like the quality of those images is great for the price but you have to be willing to outfit it with accessories such as external power, plenty of memory cards, plenty of storage space for the high-bitrate footage it produces, etc. which is going to mean a less simple workflow compared to Gh4 or A7S. Ultimately any of these choices will probably work fine if you have an experienced team.

Renting could be an option, too, if you don't need to keep the camera afterward. The Sony FS7 has a lot of nice features in one package that some of these cameras lack, and depending on the length of the shoot could be an affordable rental option.

May 26, 2015 at 4:51PM, Edited May 26, 4:51PM

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Philip Heinrich
Director, Producer
949

accidental duplicate post

May 26, 2015 at 4:51PM, Edited May 26, 5:41PM

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Philip Heinrich
Director, Producer
949

Or just renting a kit'ed out BMPCC; the picture out of that camera is incredible considering the price and form factor. The BMPCC with a good lens,proper monitor and battery solution is gold.

May 27, 2015 at 3:16AM

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Tobias N
Director of Photography
1436

Yes! I've been tempted to do this before. What stopped me was that the file sizes to shoot in raw (the reason I wanted it for a particular project) would have required more hard drives than I could afford for that project.

May 27, 2015 at 4:33PM

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Philip Heinrich
Director, Producer
949

edit: duplicate post. Everything is posting twice. Apparently this is a site issue.

May 27, 2015 at 4:33PM, Edited May 27, 4:34PM

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Philip Heinrich
Director, Producer
949

Shooting in RAW versus say ProRes HQ is rarely worth it in terms of quality vs cost, if you ask me. It's great if you either have a set workflow in place (say working with a high end post production house) or shooting under difficult situations where you need every bit of extra latitude and control in post. But for the average shoot, ProRes HQ is great and the texture and overall characteristics of the Blackmagic cameras are just spectacular - RAW or no RAW.

May 28, 2015 at 1:16PM

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Tobias N
Director of Photography
1436

Stay away from miniDV: it is standard definition and the CCD's in th camera are noisier than CMOS and far less light sensitive.
One could think: let's shoot HDV on tape, but that looks terribly compressed. As long nothing is moving it looks sharps, as soon as there is a lot of movement you want to see an eye doctor (but it is the video, not your eyes :-p )

I started with miniDV as well, even shot stuff on Hi8 if I had no other camera to use. But those times are over. Just like Betacam, shooting miniDV, DVCAM, HDV are outdated and will most likely make your project look outdated at best.

May 27, 2015 at 6:15AM

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WalterBrokx
Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer
9278

a7s is best 1080 image I've seen from the small cameras. I'd go with that over GH4 for that and the low light performance, which is mind boggling...

May 27, 2015 at 9:20AM

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mike
74

If you don't see the difference of quality between mini dv and gh4 footage then you have a long way to go. HDV codec is really bad, it was alright like 10 year ago when nobody knew anything about colograding except cinema colorist.
Time have change and the way we work now is very different! I advise you and your dp to take a remedial course of filming or hire a younger dp. If you want your film to look like a film and not like home video from the 90's, there is a lot of things to know that you and your dp obviouly don't know.
I hope I don't sound too rude but I think it's important that you acknowledge that now, when it's still time to do something about it.

May 27, 2015 at 9:32AM

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AvdS
1021

My advice is to forget 4k for your feature and use a workflow that is easy and makes sense to you, you have alot of things on your plate and the complication of going 4k will sap your energy and creativity. In a couple of years with computers advancing, storage more plentiful and nle being able to edit natively it will likely be a different world, but today I would not use 4k for my first feature even if my camera had it.

May 27, 2015 at 9:57AM

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Eh, I'd go for this one, it seems to fit your specifications plus it looks big and professional: http://nofilmschool.com/2014/05/walley-pos-86-camera-floppy-disk

May 27, 2015 at 11:05AM, Edited May 27, 11:05AM

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Clark McCauley
Spaceman
1769

how about that XLH1 with a video recorder attached. HUH HUHHHHHH. I've been meaning to dust that bad boy off for a moment now.

May 28, 2015 at 5:32AM

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Aaron Miller
Boom-Poll Operator
155

I think the comments about HDV being bad, either have not worked in HDV or more likely don't have the skill to use it.
Making your first video, I would recommend several things
First block out your parts of your project.
do test video
The NX1 uses a codec that most NLE cannot use at present.
It has to be transcoded before editing. I would recommend that you use a camera with a codec that natively edits in your NLE.
I hope your situation is not I am going to buy a camera and my first project is a feature.
I would suggest writing and making 10-5 min films and that experience will prepare you well for making a feature.
No one is going to watch your video in 4k for a long time.

May 28, 2015 at 3:31PM

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For $2000 you could rent a Red for the duration of your feature. I can understand wanting to walk away with some gear after production, but you said you want to do the best thing for the film. Seems like renting is exactly that.

December 11, 2015 at 1:22PM

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Kenneth Merrill
Director
1385

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