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advanced camera suggestions wanted

NewbsNetwork's picture
Last seen: 6 years 2 months ago
Joined: 07/16/2008 - 9:22am

Greeting, all.

I'm in the process of setting up a commercial production studio, and I'm looking for advice from other video producers on my choice for primary camera.

I'm pretty much sold on the Sony PMW-EX3. However, I have to admit I don't know as much about Canon, JVC, or Panasonic's products as I should. The EX line gets so much press, it's hard to know what other comparable cameras I may be missing out on if I go that route. I know what features I want in a camera, but I'm not entirely sure which cameras (besides the EX1/3) will meet my needs.

What I'm looking for:

-1080/720 24/30/60p

-3 chip (CMOS or CCD)

-records to file (HD or card)

-native FCP compatability (ie not AVCHD)

-4:2:2 capable

-XLR mic jacks with switchable +48V

-manual focus/iris/zoom

-priced under $10k

Bonus points (but not required):

-changeable glass

-shoulder mountable

Other than the EX3, are there any other cameras that fit those requirements that I should look into?

Thanks in advance,

-Jeff


Rob Grauert's picture
Last seen: 7 months 4 weeks ago
Joined: 02/16/2008 - 10:47pm

There are a lot of cameras that shoot the resolution and frame rates you want, however, I think 1080 60p is something of a more advanced camera. Some lower end HD cameras may have it, but it may not be native.

As far as sensors go, you may want to look into the difference between CMOS and CCD. They both have their merits, but I can assure you CMOS sensors may have artifacts that can only be eliminated by boosting the frame, not the shutter speed like you would with CCD. So if you think you're going to be using 24p a lot, CMOS probably isn't the best choice.

Recording media: Almost any camera can be connected to a hard drive like a FireStore.

Final Cut Pro works with almost all popular codecs.

In my research in the past, I've found that 4:2:2 can usually only be achieve through HD-SDI output. Even if a camera says it can record 4:2:2, most likely its recording 4:2:0 to the recording media, which is what the EX1 does, but it will record 4:2:2 out through HD-SDI. I'm guessing the EX3 will do the same.

Judging by what you want in a camera, I think you'll have no problem finding a camera with XLR inputs. Same goes with Manual Focus, iris, and zoom.

I agree with your last statement. the EX3 seems the way to go for you if you're in the 10,000 price range. Just do the research on CMOS and CCD. There is a big difference. I don't feel like typing it now cause I'm going to put together a blog to post on here, but you certainly can research it for yourself.

Also, look into the RED camera.


film814's picture
Last seen: 6 years 7 months ago
Joined: 02/04/2008 - 12:33pm

Check out the Canon XLH1s and XLH1a. They are the new versions of the XLH1 and are both under 10k and have all of the features you want and more. (Except recording to file. They both record to MiniDV. However, you can buy a portable harddrive that attatches to one of the accessory shoes on the camera.) Hope this helps.

Jeremy


Rob Grauert's picture
Last seen: 7 months 4 weeks ago
Joined: 02/16/2008 - 10:47pm

I agree, the Canon H1 and H1a has many of the features you want, but I don't feel the HDV codec is as good as the XDCam HD codec.

First of all, HDV is highly compressed. Some people might not mind, but I personally do. If I'm making the move to HD, I personally don't wanna be compressing it right off the bat.

Second, when recording HDV to tape, you're sacrificing audio quality because they have to make room on the tape so the HD image can fit. So audio is sacrificed a bit. (someone told me that on this forum.)

Third, it's too soon to go HD, whether your working in HDV or an advanced codec. There's just too many problems. It's a new technology that has to be worked out, and one day it will be ready. But its too soon now. A lot of pros shoot HD but then down-convert to SD on the import and edit in SD. That maybe some something you want to think about.

Do you really need HD right now? Who are you going to be making video for? Do they even have something to view the HD content? These are all valid points to think about before you drop 10 grand on a camera.


NewbsNetwork's picture
Last seen: 6 years 2 months ago
Joined: 07/16/2008 - 9:22am

Third, it's too soon to go HD, whether your working in HDV or an advanced codec. There's just too many problems. It's a new technology that has to be worked out, and one day it will be ready. But its too soon now. A lot of pros shoot HD but then down-convert to SD on the import and edit in SD. That maybe some something you want to think about. Do you really need HD right now? Who are you going to be making video for? Do they even have something to view the HD content? These are all valid points to think about before you drop 10 grand on a camera.

Currently, our business plan contains two different paths, one SD and one HD. The SD path goes through the Canon XL2 as a temporary measure and the HD skips that step and goes straight to the EX3. Which path we choose will depend on several factors. Personally I'm leaning towards HD, even though as you point out we will likely begin by archiving the HD raw footage initially and downconverting to SD for editing and distribution.

Without getting too far into specifics, we are pursuing distribution partnerships that would require broadcast standard deliverables in SD and HD, including hotel channels and on-demand networks. While those partnerships are down the road, I'd rather be shooting from day one with those eventualities in mind.

OTOH, our initial distribution channel is entirely web-based, for which the EX3 is complete overkill. However, I don't want to shoot SD and then have to go back and re-shoot completed projects in HD just to make them broadcast capable. We can afford hard drive space to let the HD footage sit until we need it.

I checked out the H1, H1a, and H1s cameras. The H1 and H1s are comparably priced to the EX3 while not necessarily being preferable. The H1a is cheaper (about $5k at B&H), but I share your concerns about the HDV format. Our programming demands a bit more control over compression (hence my desire to work 4:2:2 or even 4:4:4).

Thanks to both of you though for the great food for thought.

-Jeff


BarefootMedia's picture
Last seen: 7 years 8 months ago
Joined: 01/13/2007 - 8:13pm

If you are planning on a long lifespan of your equipment, everything indicates the XDCAM camcorders can achieve that. But I would like to pose a couple of questions. We all know that you can't put HD video on tape in the field. So you are purchasing some broadcast VTR to deliver your HD programs on tape. This part of the market is out of my range on tape. But if it is possible to deliver on BlueRay DVD, costs drop dramatically and quality remains comparable. I'm very curious as to how you plan to submit the deliverables. And even more curious about what kind of field shooting you will do, especially how many minutes you expect to record.

The PMW series records "true HD" to flash media cards. According to B & H, there are two memory cards available, an 8 gig and a 16 gig. In the published specs, the PMW camcorders can record (in HQ) 25 minutes on the 8 gig card and the 16 gig card records 50 minutes (in SP mode the times are 35 and 70 minutes.) This is why I'm wondering how much you will need to record in the field because once the card is filled, you have to replace it to continue shooting. The reason I bring this up is the cost of the flash memory. B & H retails the 8 gig card for $500 and the 16 gig card for $850. So to record 100 minutes of high quality HD in the field will cost roughly $1700. And you are not even recording 2 hours of field footage!

OTOH if you are planning on doing anything with BlueRay DVD's, using a PDW series camcorder you'll record 120 minutes of the same quality video on one single sided BlueRay disc (and 185 minutes on a dual layer disc.) The write-once discs on B & H retail for around $30 for dual layer & half that for the 23 gig single sided discs. And shooting on write-once discs provides archive storage at no additional cost. (Or you can spend a bit more and get a rewritable disc and archive on a large hard drive.) In my opinion, using a PDW series camcorder provides a great deal more flexibility without sacrificing anything. In fact, it gives more options in recording formats and frame rates. Plus you can record in MPG HD for editing in any HD NLE.

While it is true that the PMW series camcorders are considerably cheaper to purchase, they cost more to operate and archive. And since you are expecting to use the camcorder for several years, I would recommend going with more flexibility and slightly lower long term operating expenses. I mean, it's not like you won't benefit from having a BlueRay drive to author HD DVD's. (I'd be surprised if you didn't already have plans to incorporate a BlueRay drive into your workflow.)

So those are my questions to you. Why are you selecting an expensive recording media when a cheaper (and more flexible) option exists? And are you certain you won't need the capacity to author BlueRay DVD's in the future?

Hope this helps a bit and good luck.


Anonymous (not verified)

Jeff,

I like how you broke down your requirements for your camcorder selection-- wise idea. I can't think of a camera with an interchangeable lens system that meets exactly all your requirements outside of the EX3. The only viable alternative is a HVX200. Although it has a fixed lens, the DVCPro HD format works seamlessly in post. The EX3, ironically uses MPEG2 compression just as the HDV format does. The difference is that the EX3's compression is considered long GOP, meaning their compression algorithm uses longer groups of pictures to compress the image. That's not ideal for seamless frame by frame editing, but it depends upon what FCP wants to do with it. Have you discovered whether or not FCP will want to transcode footage from the EX3 to Apple Intermediate Codec? Maybe I'll take a look and see if I can find an answer for you.

Mark


Rob Grauert's picture
Last seen: 7 months 4 weeks ago
Joined: 02/16/2008 - 10:47pm

Jeff,

You seem to have it pretty well thought out, and I hope it goes well for you. Lately, I've also been thinking about the future in terms of equipment I buy.

But both BarefootMedia and Mark brought up good points. In my opinion, recording to flash memory isn't a bad idea. You sound like your productions may be quite major, and you may be able to have someone lug around a laptop to off-load the media. With this workflow, buying flash memory will eventually pay for itself over time. If you don't need the recording options offered by the PDW series, then I think you'll be fine.

The Long GOP compression of the EX series is definitely something to consider though. I've read that when editing this type of compressed video, every time you make a cut, the I-frames B-frames and P-frames all have to be made again. Over time your picture may degrade a little. So the way around that is transcoding to an Apple Intermedia Codec that Mark mentioned.

DVCPro HD, on the other hand, uses intraframe compression, so each frame is encoded individually, allowing you to cut anywhere you please.

(i think i got that last part right)


BarefootMedia's picture
Last seen: 7 years 8 months ago
Joined: 01/13/2007 - 8:13pm

All this discussion about HD video & compatibility got me motivated to review some research I've been collecting. To start with, I want to quote the industry trade magazine, Digital Content Producer.

"In essence, DVCPRO HD uses the same compression technology as DV at data rates of up to 100Mbps, according to the same white paper. In contrast, according to Sonys white paper, XDCAM HD uses long-GOP MPEG-2 at up to 35Mbps. (In February, Sony announced a new implementation of XDCAM HD, which employs 4:2:2 long-GOP MPEG-2 at 50Mbps. This technology makes its debut in the PDW-700 camcorder, available this month.)

<!--end paragraph--> <!--begin paragraph-->

Panasonic proponents argue that long-GOP formats cant deliver the quality of their DCT-based algorithm, and are much less responsive during editing. Shooters drinking the Sony Kool-Aid argue that long-GOP MPEG-2 is so much more efficient than I-frame-only DCT that it delivers the same or better quality at one-third the data rate, and that todays multicore computers are easily sufficiently powerful to work edit responsively with MPEG-2 (and if you need more speed, use an intermediate format). They also criticize DVCPRO HD for requiring three times the storage space, which is a particular issue for camcorders capturing to solid-state memory.

<!--end paragraph--> <!--begin paragraph-->

Whos right? I dunno; the video produced by both camcorders looks wonderful to me. The point of this newsletter is to define the terms and identify talking points, not pick a winner."

And I have another quote from a Sony/Apple press release.

"PARK RIDGE, N.J., June 27, 2006 Sony Electronics is introducing new transfer software for use with the Macintosh OS X version 10.4 "Tiger that provides native interoperability between Sonys XDCAM HD Professional Disc system and Apples Final Cut Pro nonlinear editing software.

The software will be available free of charge online from www.sony.com/xdcamhd . . . "

And here's one last quote, "I am a long-time Final Cut user and now Im a big fan of Sonys XDCAM HD cameras, said Jody Eldred, a director/DP and Emmy-winning cameraman for ABC News whose credits include CBS television shows "JAG and "NCIS. "Theyre a great match. The ability to plug an XDCAM camera directly into my MacBook Pros FireWire port and start editing immediately in HD using Final Cut Pro-- no matter where I am in the world-- is really astounding and is going to be a huge benefit to my work.

And although the news release was a bit aged, I did find an article comparing a PDW to a PMW camcorder and here's what they said.

"When it came time to match footage shot with each camera, Eldred and his crew were unable to distinguish one from the other.

"It was simple to color match the cameras from the get go, so the footage cut together well very seamless, he said. "If I wasn't looking at the timeline in the Final Cut Pro edit to figure out which camera was which, there's not any way that I would know. In terms of sharpness and contrast, it's amazing how well the two looked side by side."

So there you have it. XDCAM's work fine with Final Cut Pro. And I still haven't seen any hard data to say whether the XDCAM HD or DVCPRO HD codecs produce better videos. But the HVX200 uses the P2 memory cards at an incredible rate. B & H has a 16 gig and a 32 gig card for $850 and $1550 respectively. And the best quality HD video fills the 32 gig card with only 32 minutes of video. So it runs over $3000 to record just over an hour.

So good luck with your decision.


Anonymous (not verified)

BareFootMedia,

Thanks for digging up the notes. One thing I will mention is that I wouldn't take a quote from a press release or newsletter as verbatim. That is to say the phrase "plug an XDCAM camera directly into my MacBook Pro's FireWire port and start editing immediately" could have several meanings to the expert who said it. But, rest assure there's a definitive answer.

Apparently, the EX3 in SP mode shoots in the HDV format, so that might be what the quote refers too. I did read though that FCP has native XDCAM support, so you can edit natively. Most FCP users are reporting that native editing of the XDCAM format works fine. Although, FCP suggests to use the AIC in most cases to ensure the best editing experience, especially across Apple Color, Motion, etc.

I guess it really depends on how time critical your editing process is. If you've got a huge project that needs attention in Color and Motion, you might consider spending some extra time to transcode to AIC. Otherwise, plug in and edit. Take a look at our Sony EX1 review, second page, second to last paragraph for our discussion on editing the footage.

Jeff, keep us informed on your decision. We're curious to know, whatever you choose, how it works for you.

Mark


NewbsNetwork's picture
Last seen: 6 years 2 months ago
Joined: 07/16/2008 - 9:22am

mmontgomery - it was the issue reviewing the EX1 that introduced me to Videomaker and these forums. ;) I've read it many times and am still using it to fill in the gaps in information about the still-unreleased EX3 (the "guts" of the two are supposed to be the same).

As for long GOP - although I'm not an editor professionally, I've worked in both long-GOP and interframe formats as has my editor/color correctionist for this project. The main cost of long-GOP cuts on B- and P- frames is that the system is forced to calculate a new I-frame at the frame after the cut, which taxes the processors and costs valuable time. While I have yet to test it, our editing box is a Mac Pro 3.2 GHz dual quad-core with 8 gigs of RAM. I'm hoping (*crosses fingers*) that this system will be able to handle the demands of editing native XDCAM HD.

However (and this addresses BarefootMedia's question on workflow), our initial distribution channel is the web, so my current plan is to carry three or four SxS cards on set and rotate them. The EX3 can hold two cards at a time. When one fills up, we'll pop a new one in while our editing PA logs and transfers the HD footage from the full card to a portable 500GB drive. Back at the office, our editor will downconvert the usable takes to SD and assemble the show, while transferring the original raw HD out of the portable hard drive and into a RAID drive for storage. When the time comes that we need an HD copy of the show, he can use the original EDL for the SD version to pull the HD footage from the RAID and reassemble an HD cut.

With the raw HD footage safely on the RAID, the 4 SxS cards can be wiped, as well as the 500 gig portable. I doubt we'll actually do it that way, but in theory we can start each shooting day with (4 x 16 + 500) 564gb available media storage, or 29h, 37m, and 30 seconds of available recording time. (I know, I fudged the numbers - there's never actually 500gb of room on a 500gb drive, but I should still be able to theoretically turn the camera on and leave it shooting in HQ mode for 24 hours straight without running out of storage space, if the SxS cards can be hot-swapped.)

I admit that this workflow is entirely theoretical and not set in stone, so please feel free to offer suggestions and advice.

I have no idea as of yet whether Blue-Ray would be an acceptable format for deliverables... but at that time we'd be able to either 1) burn a Blue-Ray disc, 2) purchase a BetaMax VTR and transfer from file to tape, or 3) bring the HD edit to a transfer house and have them put it on tape for us.

Personally, while SxS cards are insanely expensive, the ability to empty them out and reuse them means they may actually represent a savings in the long run over single-use BRay disks or tape. The trick there is checking and rechecking for a clean transfer before you wipe and reuse the SxS card. ;)

It's an interesting challenge, setting up a production house from scratch in this time of rapidly changing technology. And while our company has just enough funding to play with some neat toys, we're definitely still working on a budget. Our lighting equipment budget, for example, is around $3000.00... which is a lot for many of us (I've shot many projects with only a couple $30 500w halogen work lights from Home Depot to work with)... but that three grand is less than some studios spend on one single light! In a way, I'm kind of getting to live a bit of a guerrilla film makers dream, but with an entire production equipment (camera, sound, lights, editing) budget of about $35-40,000, we're still a long, long way from doing it like the big boys. ;)

Thank you all for your insightful thoughts, suggestions, and commentary. This community is every bit as helpful as the Videomaker mag (the print version) said it would be. I'll keep you all up to date on our progress, and I'm sure I'll have some more questions!

-Jeff


NewbsNetwork's picture
Last seen: 6 years 2 months ago
Joined: 07/16/2008 - 9:22am

The Long GOP compression of the EX series is definitely something to consider though. I've read that when editing this type of compressed video, every time you make a cut, the I-frames B-frames and P-frames all have to be made again. Over time your picture may degrade a little.

This raises an interesting question... do the I- B- and P- frames ALL have to be made again, or just some of them?

If, for example, I'm using a codec that utilizes an 8 frame GOP, and I make a cut on frame 4 (forcing the system to recreate an I-frame on frame 5), does it recalculate a new 8 frame GOP for the rest of the clip, or does it just create a 4 frame GOP (frames 5-8 of the GOP I spliced) and leave the following GOP sequences untouched? I would assume the former would be far more taxing on the processor than the latter.

Anyone know?

-Jeff


Rob Grauert's picture
Last seen: 7 months 4 weeks ago
Joined: 02/16/2008 - 10:47pm

Jeff,

I don't have an answer to your last question. I read it in a video maker magazine, but they didn't go into (i can't find the issue I read it in either). They said it was a whole different topic from what they were already writing about and would be in a later article. I haven't seen it yet.

I was always under the impression that it would have to recalculate a whole new string of I B and P frames. But I have no experience working with HD, so I really don't know. So don't hold me to it.

-Rob G.

ps. here's something good to read from creativecow

http://forums.creativecow.net/thread/8/975744#975744


NewbsNetwork's picture
Last seen: 6 years 2 months ago
Joined: 07/16/2008 - 9:22am

I think I found my workflow answer in the form of a unit that allows me to, via the HD-SDI cable, record 4:2:2 at from 50 (GOP) to 100 (GOP) to 160Mbps (I-frame only) from an EX3 to a Compact Flash card (for comparison, in-camera compression to SxS card is 35Mbps @ 4:2:0). With the Convergent Designs Flash XDR, instead of recording to two expensive 16Gb SxS cards, I can record to 4 32Gb CF cards, and at a lower level of compression and more color space than XDCAM EX. The XDR features four Compact Flash card slots + 2 XLR phantom powered mic inputs. They're also releasing a 2 card slot smaller version (with no XLR inputs) that's cheaper.

And no, I don't work for the company, but I found this last night and if it does what it says it does, I'm excited!

http://www.convergent-design.com/downloads/Flash%20XDR.pdf
http://www.dvinfo.net/conf/showthread.php?t=102312

-Jeff


Rob Grauert's picture
Last seen: 7 months 4 weeks ago
Joined: 02/16/2008 - 10:47pm

damn jeff, that sounds like a perfect workflow. When I first started looking at the EX1, I was bummed that you only get 4:2:2 through HD-SDI. I thought it would only work out in a studio or something. nice job. I'm feeling the urge to get an EX1 now. haha.

Let us know how it works out when you get everything together. I'm very interested to know.


NewbsNetwork's picture
Last seen: 6 years 2 months ago
Joined: 07/16/2008 - 9:22am

damn jeff, that sounds like a perfect workflow. When I first started looking at the EX1, I was bummed that you only get 4:2:2 through HD-SDI. I thought it would only work out in a studio or something. nice job. I'm feeling the urge to get an EX1 now. haha. Let us know how it works out when you get everything together. I'm very interested to know.

The recorder will work with any camera that has an HD-SDI output, not just the EX line. That said, this thread was started to kind of talk me in to buying something other than an EX3, and it didn't quite manage it, so for my purposes at least Sony's going to get my money. ;)

I'll keep you informed. However, EX3s are just now starting to leak into the market to fill pre-orders and the DXR Compact Flash recorder doesn't come out until August, so it may be a month or so before I can report back on it.

-Jeff