Monday, August 6, 2007

Not Everyone Needs HD part 2

Today’s post is Part 2 of the, Not Everyone Needs HD post from the other day. The cameras we’re looking at today are two older models that are still very popular among indie-filmmakers and other professionals alike, Sony’s DSR-PD170 and Canon’s GL2.

Sony PD170 – MSRP $2579
This is the camera I use in the Camera & Editing Training workshop I teach. It’s great for shooting documentaries or other news oriented programming but it definitely has a “video feel” (probably because it doesn’t have 24p capabilities) and I wouldn’t recommend it for indie-filmmakers trying to find a digital video camera that closely resembles film.

The PD170 was released right before Sony came out with its HD model so the upgrades from its predecessor the PD150 were minimal. Actually, with the exception of increasing the minimum illumination from 2lux to 1lux, Sony didn’t mention any other upgrades from the previous model.

However, because of the increase in low light illumination, the PD170 has better color reproduction then other models that were popular at the time of its release, namely Canon’s GL-2 and XL-1S models. And even with the release of Canon’s XL2 model and Panasonic’s AG-DVX100A the PD170 is still the low light champion.

And I can attest to the fact that it does shoot rather clear, crisp images even in low light situations.

Canon GL2
– MSRP $2399.99
From C-Net: This is a camcorder with a great deal of control to offer, but how to exercise that control isn't always apparent at first. You might forget, for instance, that to select one of the four programmed-exposure modes, you'll need to actuate a switch on the lower left side of the camera body, then push in the wheel labeled only Select (in other modes, it's used for other purposes), then choose from an onscreen menu.

Although far more compact than the XL1S, like its big brother, the GL2 comes richly endowed and offers you ample discretion over how you employ its assets. Everything you'd ask of a prosumer camcorder is here--automatic and manual focus and exposure control, the latter augmented by programmed autoexposure settings to let you quickly adapt to a variety of shooting circumstances--in addition to standout features such as nearly two megapixels of still-photo resolution.

The GL2 produces pristine images and superior color fidelity within the limits of the DV medium. It stands toe-to-toe with Sony's VX2000 in this regard. Unlike Canon's XL1S, whose low-light performance faltered in our tests, the GL2 is every bit as good as the VX2000 under low-light conditions, producing noise-free blacks and handling candlelight with aplomb. This is likely the result of the new, higher-resolution CCDs Canon employs in the GL2 (380,000 effective pixels per CCD for the GL2 versus 250,000 for the XL1S), coupled with another step forward in Canon's pixel-shift technology and its fluorite lens.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Not everyone needs HD

If you’re in the market for a camera but you’re thinking the new HD models are just not what you’re looking for, then this post is for you. While everyone is going gaga over HD, we know that not everyone can afford the latest Hi-Def models.

So if you’re not going HD what are the options you have for buying or renting a top notch prosumer digital video camera?

Today we will look at two of the more recent MiniDv prosumer cameras on the market, the Canon XL2 and the Panasonic AG-DVX100A.

Canon XL2 – MSRP $3599.10
From C-Net: The Canon XL series is the Porsche 911 of DV camcorders. Through continual technological upgrading, that Porsche has remained a state-of-the-art sports car for more than 40 years. And love it or hate it, no other car looks or drives like a 911.

The XL2 is about twice as big and, at a solid 7.8 pounds, twice as heavy as the alternatives. It's hardly discreet, but that can be asset for those needing to look like a pro.

The XL2 continues the XL1's legacy of providing nonstandard but easily accessed mechanical controls over all major camera functions: iris, shutter, gain, white balance, and so forth. Most obviously, the XL2 retains the large rotary selector on the camera's left side, through which the camera is turned on and placed in one of its many exposure modes. Perhaps to show off the camera's new capabilities, a couple of conspicuous controls have been added to select frame rate and aspect ratio. Also new to the control layout are a couple of handy custom keys, which give you easy access to your favorite functions.

Perhaps the most noteworthy additions to the Canon XL2 are its three great progressive video modes: 30P and two types of 24P, in addition to standard 60I interlaced video. Without getting too technical, the important thing to know is that progressive video goes a long way toward giving digital productions a cinematic look (as opposed to the look of a soap opera) and can also make for a superior transfer to film. These are particularly important issues for those shooting narrative projects on DV. Until the XL2 came along, Panasonic's AG-DVX100A was the only prosumer camera offering the progressive modes.

Panasonic AG-DVX100A – C-Net Editors Choice Award Winner – MSRP $3,499
From C-Net: The Panasonic AG-DVX100A is the kind of camera that sends shivers down the spines of pro videographers and serious amateurs with modest budgets. If you relish the rare pieces of gear that are both affordable and designed for professional use, you're probably already familiar with this MiniDV model's predecessor, the AG-DVX100. That version made news by being the only 24P camera available for less than $25,000, and its successor competes with only one other 24p model in the current prosumer market, Canon's XL2. While the DVX100A makes only modest improvements over its predecessor, they're very well thought out, and they demonstrate that Panasonic is listening to what its serious customers want.

The DVX100A's external controls are almost identical to those found on cameras that cost 10 times as much. Discrete and logically positioned buttons, switches, and wheels control the iris, shutter speed, white balance, two built-in neutral-density filters, gain, zoom, focus, the left and right audio levels, the audio monitor level, phantom power, image stabilization, zebra stripes, frame rate, and other functions. You can adjust each of them quickly and directly, without having to waste time exploring menus or fiddling with automated features.

The Panasonic AG-DVX100A retains the progressive-video modes and the audio and image controls that made its predecessor so revolutionary. Two types of 24P capture are available, along with 30P and standard 60i. We won't get too technical about 24P video here. Just know that it goes a long way toward making digital productions look cinematic as opposed to soap operatic. The 24P setting also results in superior transfer to film. These issues are particularly important if you're shooting narrative projects in DV, and the only other cameras offering this functionality cost at least $25,000.

Next Post: Sony’s DSR PD170 and Canon’s GL-2

Thursday, July 19, 2007

How important is format & camera?

Today’s post was supposed to be a comparison of the hottest HD camera on the market. Namely, the Canon XL H1, the JVC GY-HD110U, the Panasonic AG-HVX200 and the Sony HVR-Z1U. The idea was to see which company’s camera is the best in the explosive HD Market and ultimately which camera is the best for independent filmmakers.

But after much reading and researching what I came away with was this: the camera doesn’t matter. You read right. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the quality of your work, your creativity and your natural talent. Let’s be real, some very successful directors have shot their first films on, for lack of a better phrasing, rinky-dink cameras. Craig Brewer, the director of Hustle and Flow shot his first film on Digi8 and the Oscar nominated director of Capote, Bennett Miller, shot his first film on MiniDV.

Now don’t get me wrong. If you’re doing work for big commercial houses, or marketing/advertising firms, then yes, you will probably need to have the latest equipment. But as I pointed out in an earlier post until you have steady work, and even after you’re established, renting has massive benefits over owning.

And if you’re a starving, independent filmmaker, just starting out it is in your best interest to get an older model camera such as a Panasonic AG-DVX100A or a Cannon XLS because you can find them used for cheap and they will work just fine in helping you get your first film shot and ready for viewing. You can also find rental cameras at places like or a host of camera rental locations on either coast.

With that information in mind here are the specs and pricing for the markets top HD cameras:

Canon XL H1 – online $ 7,999.95
3 - 1/3", 16:9 CCDs
1.67M pixels each (1440 x 1080 effective per CCD)
DIGIC DV II HD DSP for HD video and stills
HDV/DV, 4 pin; HDV format (MPEG2 TS),
SD format DV stream, possible to downconvert
HDV to SD stream

JVC GY-H D110U – online $6,550.00
Full High Definition (HD) progressive recording at 24 frames per second
Compact shoulder style for stability, comfort and mobility
Three newly developed 1/3-inch CCDs with 1280 x 720 (square) pixels
Interchangeable lenses with standard 1/3-inch bayonet mount
Rugged die-cast body
16X Fujinon newly developed ProHD lens included
User adjustable HD Focus Assist makes focusing faster and more precise
Live 720/60P analog component output (4:2:2 equivalent)
Dual Media option (record to disk and tape simultaneously)
XLR Audio inputs (x2)
Extensive user adjustable parameters can be stored on SD memory card
Spectacular standard definition performance, too! — records on MiniDV tape
HDV™/DV Format

Panasonic AG-HVX200 – U.S. List Price $5,995.00
C-Net Editors Choice Award Winner
1/3" 3-CCD 16:9 HD/DVCPRO/DV
Cinema P2 Camera with
CineSwitchTM Technology,
CineGammaTM Software and IEEE
1394 Interface.

Sony HVR-Z1U – $5,946.00 U.S. List Price
1/3" type x3, 16:9 Super HAD CCDs
High quality 12X optical zoom Carl Zeiss
Vario-Sonnar T* lens. F4.5 to 54.0mm
F1.6 at 2.4mm; filter diameter 72mm
Total pixels: approx. 1.12M pixels;
effective pixels: approx. 1.04M pixels
DV/DVCAM Rec. 48KHz/16 bit, 32KHz 12 bit;
HDV Rec.: MPEG-1 Audio Layer II

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Why rent your equipment?

Your losing money if you don't rent your equipment out
If you find yourself with a lot of camera equipment lying around and no projects to shoot and you can't think of what to do with it all, renting your equipment may be the answer you've been looking for.

The premise is simple: You've got camera equipment you're not using. There are other people who have a project but no equipment. So, for a fee you determine, you rent them your equipment and voila, what was once sitting around collecting dust is now a nice revenue stream.

Don't know where to begin? Not a problem. Getting started is easy. offers a fast, easy and low cost way to place the camera equipment you have up for rental. Checkout our FAQ for details on how to get your cameras listed and ready for renting.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you're serious about renting your equipment:

- Don't rent your only camera. Really, you'd just be better off looking for work.

- More is better. Do you have a tripod? Extra batteries? Lenses? Filters? The more you have, the more you can charge.

- Know the prices the rental houses in your area are charging. You don't want your equipment not renting because you charged too much.

- Newer is better. If all you have are a couple of Cannon XLS's don't think you can charge as much as the guy with the Pansonic AG-HVX200.

- Insurance is your friend. The last thing you want is your brand new HD camera being destroyed and having no way to replace it. Dewitt Stern is a great company for short term production insurance.

- Be clear about the terms of your contract. You don't want any confusion about what you and the rentee are agreeing to.

There you have it. All you need to know about renting your camera equipment. So what are you waiting for? Start listing your equipment today.

Feature Camera of the Day – Pansonic DVX100B

From the NY-Times: The Panasonic AG-DVX100A is the kind of camera that sends shivers down the spines of pro videographers and serious amateurs with modest budgets. If you don't need 24P capture or very advanced features, this camera might be overkill--it's definitely not for the point-and-shoot crowd. While the DVX100A can function automatically, its exceptional feature set will come alive only in the hands of a knowledgeable user.

Panasonic AG-DVX100A Stats
1/3" 3-CCD 24P/30P/60i DV
Cinema Camera with CineSwitchTM Technology,
CineGammaTM Software and IEEE
1394 Interface

Friday, July 13, 2007

Filmmakers Dilemma: To Rent or Buy Equipment

Are you looking to start your own boutique studio or are you trying to launch your production career? For any freelance filmmaker the biggest question comes down to what equipment to buy and what to rent.

The decision can be tough. You want to own it all. If you’re into your craft it’s like being a little kid in a candy story anytime you’re in an equipment shop or reading about the latest HD camera releases. But want and can afford aren’t always the same thing.

However, don’t despair. We’ve created a nice little list of the pros of renting vs. buying that will make it easier for you to make this all important decision.

Pros of Renting

- You always have the latest cameras and other equipment. Rental shops usually have the latest equipment so you don’t have to worry whether your two year old camera would be the best for the job.

- It keeps your initial costs down. When you’re starting out you may not have the money to purchase everything at once. If you rent your camera equipment you can focus on other aspects of the business such as building a really nice editing suite.

- It’s less pressure if business is slow. We all know those people who have the best equipment but not enough work. It is clients that make the business not the equipment. Renting allows you to focus on building your clientele and not on repaying loans you took out to buy the latest equipment.

- No need for storage or ongoing insurance costs. You rent and insure what you need when you need it and when you’re done it goes right back to the rental shop.

Pros of Buying

- It’s yours.

- Flexibility. Renting doesn’t allow for flexibility in your shooting. If someone calls and says
“Hey can you be at such and such tomorrow, bring your camera,” you might not be able to go.

- There’s nothing like being intimately familiar with your equipment and not having to try and figure out what buttons to push and when.

- To a lesser extent, it makes you more attractive to clients to own your own equipment.

So there you have it. The advantages and disadvantages of renting and buying camera equipment. Hope this make the decision easier for you. And don’t forget to check out for all of your camera rental needs.

Feature Camera of the Day - Panasonic HVX200

C-Net Editor’s Choice Award Winner

From the Panasonic Website: The AG- HVX200 is the best handheld, high-definition camera ever. A breakthrough design the HVX200 uniquely combines multiple high and standard definition formats, multiple recording modes and frame rates, and the vast benefits of solid state memory with P2.

Panasonic HVX200 Stats
1/3" 3-CCD 16:9 HD/DVCPRO/DV
Cinema P2 Camera with
CineSwitchTM Technology,
CineGammaTM Software and IEEE
1394 Interface.