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HD vs SD for wildlife/short films

jbetz's picture
Last seen: 5 years 5 months ago
Joined: 05/22/2009 - 11:07pm

I am looking to purchase a camcorder, and I am wondering what others think about the HD vs SD dilemma, especially with regards to wildlife subjects. I am an aspiring wildlife filmmaker and so far have shot all of my footage in HD (on a Sony FX1 and Canon XHA1). I am happy with the quality of the footage I shot on these cameras, but for wildlife filming longer lenses would obviously be a benefit. Here is a link to my showreel if you would like to see some of my footage: EXAMPLE FOOTAGE. Since I just graduated from college and those cameras belonged to my school, I now find myself without a camera.

I have done a lot of reading on choosing cameras in books and on forums, and I believe I have a pretty good handle on the costs and benefits of both HD and SD for wildlife, and in general. I know that interchangeable lenses are often considered a necessity for wildlife work, and as I have a knowledge of lenses and multi-lens setups I feel that I am ready to handle this type of setup. I know it adds a lot of cost, weight, etc, but again, for wildlife it seems like more of a necessity than perhaps in other film genres. Because of this I have been considering the Canon XL2.

On the other hand, I know that the wildlife film industry, and all video in general, is quickly transitioning to HD. I love the quality and resolution I was able to obtain using the FX1 and XHA1, but I just didn't get the magnification I need to film many subjects. While I could get close enough to woodchucks (within 10ft) to get decent close-ups, I can't get this close to a fox, deer, bear, etc. I am working on a budget, and so I can't afford something like the Canon XLH1 at this point, and so any HD camera I purchase would not offer interchangeable lenses.

At this point my main goal is NOT to produce lots of footage to sell to anyone, but to improve my reel with effective sequences of behavior so that I can show that I am able to shoot for sequence-editing and will subsequently be noticed by producers.

Is a camera like the XL2 good enough for this purpose? Or do I absolutely NEED HD footage in order to compete in today's HD world, even in terms of my showreel? Any advice or thoughts would be greatly appreciated.



composite1's picture
Last seen: 6 months 4 weeks ago
Joined: 12/11/2008 - 7:54pm
Plus Member Moderator

jbetz,

It all boils down to what can you afford? Despite HD taking over for SD, cameras like the XL series particularly the XL2 are still great for direct to DVD and internet streaming. You'll probably pay as much to outfit an XL2 kit as you would to get an HDV kit these days. Also, what are your customers/clients asking for? Shooting wildlife footage is hard work and you should have a plan to sell stock footage in mind. If you shoot in HD, then you can downres clips to SD and offer the footage in two formats.

Granted the XL rig will be a bit cheaper in the short run. You'll need less harddrive space to store SD footage. Shooting tape is cheaper than solid-state and SD footage is less hassle to edit than HD. In the long run, you will have invested time, cash and other resources in a format that is near the end of its run.

Paying as you go for gear is the best way to build your kits. But you also want to pick out gear that has as long a shelf life as you can afford. If you stay with indy video production, you'll eventually have to go HD anyway. It's a tough decision, but take a hard look at your budget and what you plan to accomplish with said camera. Once you've done that, I have no doubt you will be able to make the best choice for you.

H.Wolfgang Porter, Composite Media Producer Dreaded Enterprises Unlimited, Inc. www.dreadedenterprises.com


jbetz's picture
Last seen: 5 years 5 months ago
Joined: 05/22/2009 - 11:07pm

Thanks for the info composite1. I just want to respond to one of your comments.

You'll probably pay as much to outfit an XL2 kit as you would to get an HDV kit these days.

I am only considering cameras with interchangeable lenses, and so that basically means I'm considering cameras like the XL2 and XLH1. Both can use 35mm lenses with adapters, and so even if I purchased a XL2, I wouldn't be wasting money on the lenses because I could always use these on a future camera. So it's the difference between a $2500-$2800 SD camera and a $5000 HD camera, which for me is a big difference.

I just want to throw out a couple more options to consider:

1. HD camera like the XHA1 with teleconverters. Anyone have experience or advice?

2. DSLR like the 5d Mk II or 7D. Seems like it could be a good option as it provides interchangeable lenses and full HD video, as well as being two things at one: a temporary inexpensive (at least for the 7D) HD camcorder and a great quality still camera that will be useful even after I buy a more expensive HD camcorder later.

Any thoughts?


TheWildlifeStudio's picture
Last seen: 5 years 2 months ago
Joined: 08/24/2009 - 8:39am

The quality of the output from the DSLR's is excellent, while the longer lenses you require do not HAVE to be the 'L' class optics that the still guys need, as there is not the resolution required.

The lenses can still be used at a later date with adaptors! :)


composite1's picture
Last seen: 6 months 4 weeks ago
Joined: 12/11/2008 - 7:54pm
Plus Member Moderator

Jbetz,

Glad to be of assistance. As for my comment 'You'll probably pay as much to outfit an XL2 kit...' goes, I base that on my own purchase and rigging of our XL1s kit. I got the cam for the same reasons you're eyeballing the XL2. I ended up doing a full pro-rig for it including; MA200 4-audio input and shoulder mount, FU-1000 monochrome viewfinder, 16xs, 16xm and 3x lenses, Nightvision lens and adapter, portable dual battery charger, 8 batteries, lens filters, Kata camerabag not including accessories like tripod, etc. 75% of that list was bought at the same time and it came out to just under $11k.

Now, you're probably not going to 'pro rig' your initial choice as cam's are so much further along, but if you get an XL2 some of that stuff will be essential if you're serious. So my point is; if you're going to have to hork up the money anyway, why not take the next step up front?

You mentioned the DSLR cameras and that is a really good idea. Though I'm using JVC's GY200UB and am quite pleased with it, the MkII and the 7D are definitely in my co's acquisition future. The only drawback for a wildlife shooter is the 12-minute rule with the Canon's. I haven't heard whether the 7D is also limited by that, but you'll save a heap o' cash not having to pay for 35mm adapters. The cheapest one you can get for the XL2 is the one Canon makes for use with their 35mm lenses. You could use that money to buy a mattebox kit from Redrock Micro or Zacuto. Plus the fact is, the MkII is a 5k camera! I don't know what the 7D is rated at since the CMOS is smaller, but I'm sure it's still 2k or better.

The money you'd spend on an XL2, you could get a DSLR kit and be at the cutting edge for a while. Something to think about.

H.Wolfgang Porter, Composite Media Producer Dreaded Enterprises Unlimited, Inc. www.dreadedenterprises.com


jbetz's picture
Last seen: 5 years 5 months ago
Joined: 05/22/2009 - 11:07pm

Thanks for all the info. I'm definitely considering a DSLR but since I need to save up a bit more money before I buy anything, I'll wait to see what happens in the coming months. I read a rumor that Canon may be releasing a new camera at the end of the month, perhaps something like the 7D but in camcorder form. We'll see. Until then, I have a lot to think over.


Anonymous (not verified)

Both HD and DSLR are good. Just consider buying from a good producer. I'd go with Sony.


michael schieds's picture
Last seen: 2 years 1 week ago
Joined: 07/31/2010 - 10:49pm

Using two Panny GH1's here. Every lens I try, is like a new gift. Even with the GH2's big advantage of HDME direct out, the apparent cheaper build quality, and button re-design, will keep me with the GH1.

Silence is the language of God. All else, bad interpretation.


artsmith's picture
Last seen: 2 weeks 11 hours ago
Joined: 03/02/2011 - 9:06pm

I have the same problem, with a HD camera approaching the top of my wish-list. I also have another problem, namely that it will be used for filming portions of a documentary series which I commenced in October 2005.Recently, we capitulated, at last, to the 'obvious' and bought a modern flat-screen TV and video/recorder-player. Our initial recordings were of the BBC 'Life' series of Natural History docos. A copy could only be downloaded from the video-recorder in mpg2, because of DVD limitations and so I did so. Seeing that the camcorder I intend to buy shortly is also 'Panasonic' and fully compatible, I intend to shoot in HD, but allow the recorder to do the mpg2 transcoding, which it does brilliantly on our example. I will have the advantage, as I see it, of first-rate Standard definition, which at 720 x 576 will be a breeze to edit without 'proxies' and by downloading and storing my 'Hi-Def' footage for possible future use, options for the future, should I need them. I have excellent mpg2 codecs of my own, installed, and that way I can ensure continuity of what I am doing, and enjoy all of the advantages.

I prefer mpg2 currently to many of the more modern formats. It has had a huge amount of research/development, go into it and avoids the pixel-clustering tendencies of many contemporary formats, when they are not set up optimally.

One more note, it is all in 16:9 widescreen, which I have used exclusively since 1975, using in those days, a 16mm Bolex reflex and anamorphic lens.


vid-e-o-man's picture
Last seen: 7 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: 02/06/2010 - 4:20am
Plus Member

jbetz, I don't know if you are still monitoring this thread but my suggestions for your situation would be the Sony nex 5 or nex 10. I don't have any experience with them but I have seen some excellent footage. They take interchangeable lenses. They have a few proprietary lenses and some shooters are using other lenses but without using the autofocus. Adaptors make almost an infinite variety to be used, maybe some old prime lenses from previous 35mm days. Keep shooting.