September 27, 2015 at 8:38PM

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$2000 Camera budget for live theater

I know this question gets asked a lot, however what's one more time?
I currently have a budget of $2000 being awarded as an entrepreneurial grant which I would love to put towards a new camera. I know it's not a lot and I could be persuaded to put down some of my own money, though I would rather not.
Currently a lot of the video work I do is live performances/theater work so I have to deal with a wide range of lighting situations. Mixed in with that I do some interviews as well as bts for dance and theater companies to be used in promoting their upcoming shows. Currently I work with what ever I can get my hands on. Mainly I use a hacked t3i as well as a sony vg-10. So really anything is an upgrade. Main things of concern are continuous recording and decent dynamic range.
I'm wondering if anyone out there has any experience in these types of shooting scenarios and have any input into where I should invest that money.

11 Comments

There's a lot to be said for having one camera on a tripod capturing the wide shot while a second hand-held camera follows the action. In both cases, yes, you want decent continuous recording times. And it's a really good idea to have cameras that are easy to match (such as the same model of camera). And it's also a really good idea to have pro audio inputs and decent audio meters and monitoring so you can sync house sound and video.

If the theaters you shoot can muster reasonable lighting, then pretty much any used prosumer camera should do a very tolerable job. If you shoot in theaters where it's too dark for such cameras, chances are it's too dark for audiences and not very safe for dancers. But I digress.

I would argue that a pair of Panasonic HMC150 cameras would give you a great starting point. They once sold for $4500 each, but you can probably buy a pair of them for just over half that on eBay.

September 27, 2015 at 10:01PM

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I owned and shot with a Panasonic HMC150 camera for 4 years, and sold it about a year ago before it lost all of it's value. It's a very nice camera with a great lens, but it's really a 720 HD camera, not a 1080 HD camera. ( it can shoot upscaled 1080 HD footage, but it's very soft )

If I was buying a camera like this today for $2,000 I would get the Sony X70 camera, which records 10-bit 4:2:2, is quite good for low-light work, and has pretty much the same prosumer camera features as the HMC150 camera. ( it' can also be upgraded to 4K for about $500 )

September 28, 2015 at 1:42PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
29856

Indeed the X70 is a nice camera. Then the question becomes, would you rather have a nice two-camera 720p project to edit or a nice one-camera 1080p (or 4K) project to edit? I'd prefer the former, but that's just me thinking entrepreneurially. (Which is to say, more people are going to want to sponsor my videos going forward if I can produce a better product that shows more people more of what they want to see.)

Michael Tiemann

September 28, 2015 at 5:22PM

Could you use the T3i as that second camera and use something like the X70 above as the stationary wide shot/xlr audio camera? The 12 minute record limit is a pain, but it's a lot easier to deal with if you always have a wide shot to cut to. Whenever there's a lul, stop and start the B cam, so there's less of a chance that you hit 12 minutes right as things are looking great on stage.
Also, handheld can be good, but I personally like to at least have a monopod with a fluid head; unless you're standing in the front row, it's going to be tough to handhold anything.

September 29, 2015 at 11:20AM

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>>>Then the question becomes, would you rather have a nice two-camera 720p project to edit or a nice one-camera 1080p (or 4K) project to edit?

If the end goal is to produce videos for the web or computer playback, then 720p makes a lot of sense. I don't know if a client would actually notice if a video was produced in 720p instead of 1080p. My guess is that film-makers would notice, but the rest of the world would treat it like any other video.

September 29, 2015 at 2:01PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
29856

I shoot quite a bit of dance and theatre work. I recently worked for a team shooting a three day dance show and we had large Panasonic cameras (something like the PX270 range, maybe?).

Although they were 'proper' cameras with all the standard connectivity (we did a live, multi-camera mix to Hyper Decks), the footage had 'video-like' issues that I haven't seen for years, such as interlacing artefacts (I guess this could be fixed, but wasn't treated as a problem by the rest of team) and very limited dynamic range, meaning that many scenes looked like floating heads/limbs.

It made me realise how far affordable sensors/codecs have come recently. I felt my BMPCC could have produced a much better image, although without the features and connectivity to make shooting straight forward.

Maybe a couple of small BM cameras would work for you?

September 29, 2015 at 6:33PM

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You would have to be very unskilled to produce interlaced footage from a Panasonic PX270 camera. They dynamic range is roughly 9-10 F-stops, while not the best, is certainly usable if shot correctly. Footage will likely require some masking in post if the lighting is not adjusted for the camera's dynamic range. The big plus that ENG cameras have is a long parfocal zoom lens that would be expensive to duplicate with a BMPCC.

The BMPCC has it's own issues like extremely poor battery life, less than ideal low-light performance, terrible LCD display which usually means an external EVF or monitor, and bad audio recording. The BMPCC does produce a great looking image under controlled conditions, but I would not want to put it up against a proper ENG camera when shooting live events.

Guy McLoughlin

September 29, 2015 at 10:00PM

Thanks for the responses! I really appreciate the feedback. The Panasonic and Sony are cameras I hadn't considered so thanks for the recommendations, I've started comparing those two and I like that they come with proper connections (something I'm not used to with my current setup). With regards to 1080p vs 720p believe or not but I still get a lot of people asking for DVDs but I'm making an effort to push clients towards streaming or digital downloads so I would like to have extra pixels, though my budget is limited. I definitely like the idea of a multi cam setup as its already saved me many times. I have gotten pretty good at matching the t3i with sony as in my previous setup but are there any recommendations as to another good b cam for the X70? Also with the X70 will it hold up well to various lighting situations?

September 29, 2015 at 10:44PM, Edited September 29, 10:45PM

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get one or two panasonic g6 and two good lenses... till this day I still shoot a lot on the sony vg20, which is the upgrade of the vg10... it isn't a world beater BUT with a good lens in front it is still going to produce nicer results than a nice camera with the plastic kit lens.... I use the panasonic g7 nowadays, and it produces very good results, and paired with a good lens it is quite good.

September 30, 2015 at 5:27AM, Edited September 30, 5:27AM

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gandulf charpentier
director of pornography
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>>>The X70 will it hold up well to various lighting situations?

I recently did a low-light test comparing the X70 with other cameras in it's price range, and it was by far the best of the bunch. Very good low-light performance with very little noise.

The X70 has full professional image controls, so you can tweak things to perform best for common shooting situations and then store these settings as a pre-set. The X70 allows for 6 custom pre-set settings, so it's easy to jump from one setting to another.

For a good B-camera you could go with a Sony CX900, which is the consumer version of the X70 camera. The CX900 shoots 8-bit 4:2:0 like most consumer cameras do, but it uses the same size sensor ( it might even be the same sensor ), and functions a lot like the X70 does but without the professional image controls. The CX900 is about half the price of the X70 camera.

Review: Sony PXW-X70 camcorder
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yoYJXWmMNg

September 30, 2015 at 9:59AM, Edited September 30, 10:01AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
29856

Awesome, thanks for the information and the link. It's helpful to see how this camera looks. Thinking this may be the way to go.

Ty Parmenter

September 30, 2015 at 11:29AM

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