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Beginner Help - Travel Documentary Equipment

davidI's picture
Last seen: 5 years 1 week ago
Joined: 08/20/2009 - 3:11pm

I spent 2.5 years traveling the world and am off on another 6 - 18 month adventure shortly. This round, I've considered filming a travel documentary based on my overseas experiences. I've been into photography for ~15 years and have spent plenty of time in the darkroom and more recently transitioned to digital. I'd like to try my hand at film now but am having a hard time figuring out what I'll need to film a decent documentary. I've spent countless hours researching already, but need to start buying equipment soon as I head out in less than a month. If possible I'd like to keep my spend <$4k CDN, but do have some flexibility.

#1 Camcorder - I looked at prosumer cameras like the HVRA1U & HD1000U but decided they're too big and bulky for travel. Plus, there is the potential for issues at immigration as I'd rather not be seen as a journalist. I've read that it may be best to stick to HDV / Mini-DV format - what's a good camera that will give me the manual flexibility to begin learning proper videographer skills? I read great things about the Canon HV20 when it came out as a camcorder that would fit my needs - is the HV40 the best current iteration for my needs or is there a comparable Sony / Panasonic worth looking at?

#2 Laptop - Looks like Mac is the way to go with Final Cut Pro. I've read all sorts of conflicting information with respect to which model of Macbook Pro I should get though. I figure when it comes down to editing I can get an external monitor, so screen size isn't necessarily a deciding factor, and smaller is better when it comes to travel. The 17" is also plenty expensive. I've read that the 13" can't run all the features in FCP because it doesn't have a dedicated video card - which would guide me towards the 15". Will the 15" do for me? I've read some stuff about the firewire port being an issue - presumably because people want 2 FW ports so they can import video from their camera directly to an external HD?

#3 External HD - I haven't played around with much video editing software in the past, but I know storage is always a big factor. What should I be looking at for an external HD to pair with the Macbook Pro.

#4 Tripod, Lights, Mic (external sound necessary?) - Any budget / compact recommendations for these accessories? Any other must-haves for filming. Content is going to have to play a larger part than quality in my documentary but I'd still like to aim for a reasonable quality!

#5 Workflow - Can anyone give me any hints / tips for how I should approach my filming, storage, import, editing and output. I know I have a ton to learn about FCP and I'll make tons of mistakes along the way, but any helpful newbie hints would be appreciated!!!

Sorry for the long post - but I'd really appreciate any help you can offer as it's a rather complicated endeavour to jump into with such short lead-time!!


EarlC's picture
Last seen: 4 months 1 week ago
Joined: 10/15/2008 - 1:15am
Plus Member Moderator

Check out this link, posted a week ago and virtually identical to your post.
http://videomaker.com/community/forums/topic/beginner-needs-advice-on-hardwaresoftware-for-documentary


davidI's picture
Last seen: 5 years 1 week ago
Joined: 08/20/2009 - 3:11pm

^ Thanks, I had read that thread previous to posting this. As that fellow is working with PC his requirements seem a little different than mine. Is the HF S10 a better camera than the HV40 for my needs? I've read so many recommendations to use tape that I'm not sure if SD is a good way to go? I've also read that HVD is easier to edit in FCP than AVCHD due to the compression issues?


EarlC's picture
Last seen: 4 months 1 week ago
Joined: 10/15/2008 - 1:15am
Plus Member Moderator

Also, check out the advice given this thread with similar information but more based on approach rather than equipment.

http://videomaker.com/community/forums/topic/solo-euroasia-bicycle-tour-how-to-film-it

Although my target camera will be the AVCHD cameras by either JVC or Panasonic's HMC150 using SDHC card for content recording, I lean toward, and will likely acquire as a backup, the Canon HV 40, or even the HV 30 if any remain available. Although tape is going to eventually become more difficult to obtain, like VHS and S-VHS, you can still find it, buy it and use it. MiniDV will be available for some time to come IMHO.


davidI's picture
Last seen: 5 years 1 week ago
Joined: 08/20/2009 - 3:11pm

Thanks EarlC - that was a great read. I'd actually looked at doing that same bike tour previously so I'm rather interest how his film turned out!
Out of curiousity, why would you lean toward AVCHD? Just to have solid state memory or is there an advantage in workflow? Most of my research thus far has indicated that HVD is easier / faster for editing?


EarlC's picture
Last seen: 4 months 1 week ago
Joined: 10/15/2008 - 1:15am
Plus Member Moderator

I like the solid state memory, primarily. I'm not worried about editing work flow, particularly if I happen to go with the JVC instead, as I have the option to record in native QuickTime should I choose.

I am NOT a techno-geek, other than sharing info with a few who might possibly qualify as such, but AM an avid reader and believe in hands-on comparative analysis - something I will do either at the counter or via rental of the units in which I am interested.

Also, I have at my disposal a 2008-9 model of Mac Pro 8-core with 3Ts of storage, plus firewire storage, plus 16 gigs RAM and the previous current FCP, upgrading to the just-released version in a couple of weeks. In addition, I have one of the most knowledgeable people of the MAC systems, os & FCP at my disposal as well - two actually.

Based on their input, and my future production focus, I believe I will do nicely with the power and storage I have utilizing AVCHD. IMHO, all forms have their warts and bumps. This approach, using AVCHD acquisition and its reduction of moving parts via the SDHC recording, potential for drag and drop eliminating digitizing (the single most time-consuming element of current editing facilitation), and the generally acceptable quality of resulting productions using AVCHD, I do not let the debates pro or con, this or that, HDV, HD, PC, Mac, etc. trouble me in the least.

There will ALWAYS be something better, easier, more advanced, blah, blah...but we all have the advantage of research, available information, forum opinion-ation and hands-on reports as well as our own opportunities to test the waters to make decisions that best suit our specific and individual needs.

I think a lot of people, new or experienced, get caught up in the debates and never really lock and load on something they can work with NOW. So many I know stumble along on truly outdated technology for two reasons - they're comfortable with what they've used and learned, reluctant to move ahead due to the very real (or not) learning difficulties; or, they use pretty much the same mind-set to hold off, always waiting for "the next best thing."

Actually, there are three - many are comfortable, content, knowledgeable and productive using the systems for acquisition and editing they already have and see no realistic or economic need/justification to change formulas or formats.