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Writer/Director in need of a Camera. Suggestions?

CTMalone's picture
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: 04/30/2011 - 12:16pm

I"ve recently graduated with a film degree from the University of North Texas. Unlike many of my fellow students, I wasn't blessed with the financial ability to buy a camera (or have one purchased for me) upon graduation. SO, I find myself as a director without anything to direct with! I'm looking for a camera (DSLR or otherwise) that would be affordable on a shoestring budget like mine. I can swing from $1000.00 to $1500.00, approximately. A starting kit (body, zoom lens, etc) is all I really need for now. Any suggestions would be appreciated!


birdcat's picture
Last seen: 1 year 11 months ago
Joined: 10/21/2005 - 10:09am
Plus Member Moderator

Instead of looking for a high end consumer DSLR (your price range including accessories), why not try going for a used pro or prosumer video setup (something like this: http://cgi.ebay.com/Panasonic-AG-DVC200-Professional-DV-Video-Camera-/290558961298 - Please note I am NOT endorsing this seller or unit, just as a matter of example). Craig's list also has such things.

Bruce Paul 7Squared Productions http://www.7squared.com



composite1's picture
Last seen: 5 months 2 days ago
Joined: 12/11/2008 - 7:54pm
Plus Member Moderator

CT,

In agreement with 'Cat and XTR, I would take it a step further by asking; What is your intended output? That meaning where do you intend to show your final product? If your budget is light as you suggest, you might want to consider getting the work done as best you can vice 'the best you can afford'.

When shooting with a DSLR, you're going to need supporting gear no matter what you think 'is all you really need now.' If you don't have a photography background and you're still new to shooting video, a DSLR will kick your butt. You'll need some basic filters (i.e. UV and at least 2 ND's) if you don't know what those are, you're already in trouble. You'll also need support for your camera. Using a photographic tripod for a video capable camera takes skill and you don't want to be learning the basics in the middle of a shoot. There are now DSLR specific tripod heads, but they will cost some money.

Then, there's the whole 'Storage' issue to deal with. When shooting digital with a DSLR or a Solid-State video camera, those media cards are not cheap and you'll need to use Class 4 or better (Class 6 is considered basic for pros) to get your footage without your card stumbling over data. That and you're going to need at least 4 so that you can be downloading two while you're shooting with one / on on standby. To shoot video, you're going to need 8GB minimum (16GB for pro work) or greater to have longer record times. Also, larger storage cards take longer to download and they cost more. If that weren't enough, you'll also need plenty of storage space on a workstation or workstation capable laptop to download and backup the footage. In order to do that, external drives (notice I wrote 'drives') will be required to keep from bogging down a laptop on location and to ease the transfer to a workstation and backup drives.

Back to the camera, you'll need a decent bag to carry your camera, lens, filters, cleaning gear, extra batteries (4-6 to start), connection cables, white balance cards and so on. Don't get the cheapest bag you can find because it will fail on you at the most inopportune time... guaranteed.

Now, you're going to have to get all of this stuff (for these are the basics) whether you get a DSLR or a traditional video camera. One alternative to a DSLR or video camera which is truly inexpensive is a 'Point and Shoot Camera'. Now, you're probably thinking, "What? Shoot my grand vision with a 'happy snap'? Is he crazy?" Yup. But when you have no budget and no hookups for gear, then you have to unbox your thinking. PnS cameras these days come with pretty good optics, nearly the same sized CMOS sensor as the consumer grade DSLRs (which are very good BTW) and cost hundreds less.

They do have certain disadvantages obviously, but in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing can be crazy versatile rigs. Now before you turn your nose up, think of the GoPro camera and all the outstanding sports video shot with them. With the same budget you're thinking about for one DSLR, you can get 3 PnS cams and kit them out with everything you need to cover the basics.

Remember, at your stage of the game it's all about getting the movie made. Yeah it would be nice to have selective focus and what-not, but you don't have the resources. So instead, think about the alternatives and 'unbox' in order to do what you have to do and that's make your flick.

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


Luis Maymi's picture
Last seen: 5 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: 09/26/2008 - 4:58am
Plus Member

I agree with Wolfgang, if you don't have the resources then start with something that is within your budget. Another thing that Wolfgang mentions "What is your intended output? That meaning where do you intend to show your final product?", knowing this is REALLY IMPORTANT. If you do not know what your going to do with your video equipment you will probably go broke and do absolutely nothing with your gear. Are you interested in doing weddings, commercial videos, special events or short films. If you are interested in doing the last you need to be extremely good at it and you must be prepared to earn absolutely no income from your films (unless you have some big connections or the next Avatar like idea).

Regarding the camera, I have to agree (again) with Wolfgang, "if you don't have a photography background and you're still new to shooting video, a DSLR will kick your butt.". In my honest opinion, DSLR are for pro videographers that are looking for a new challenge, they should not be for beginners. Also DSLR may seem cheap, but they are not. You need specialize DSLR lens (that are not cheap at all), filters, adapters, external audio device and among other accessories that will eventually cost you a fortune. As you may know, doing video can be frustrating from time to time and if you want to have success in the video world you need to start small and scale up from there. I started doing video with an old MiniDV camcorder from my father, later I bought a Sony DCR SR47 and now I have a Sony HDR AX2000. With the MiniDV and the DCR SR47 I learn basic camera angles, doing greenscreen, lighting videos, about the tedious video codecs and the most important thing, do magic in editing. So I was preparing myself for my current semipro camcorder because when you start with a consumer camcorder, and you want to do professional like videos, you will start noticing exactly the features you need in your camcorder and you will make your "happy cam"do things it should not do (that the magic of editing). Then when its time to buy your pro camcorder you will know exactly what you will need and you will not waste your money in something you will not use.

One last advice, BEFORE you buy any equipment be sure of two things: (1) you will use it a lot and (2) consider how are you going to get your investment money back

-

"The meaning of a movie are the characters, the life of the movie is the music, but the magic is in the editing" –  http://www.lomaymi.com


John HARPER's picture
Last seen: 4 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: 08/27/2010 - 3:32am

These 2 comments aboove have answered most of the questios which have ben on my mind for a long time. I'm a pure amateur here and have done some family stuff using both a Sony analog cam and a sony mini HDDv cam. I have an HP laptop with both Pinnacle Ultimate collection and Vegas 10. I'm now experimenting with lots of stuff and reusing my previous tapes. This magazine has a wealth of info and good tips for the beginner. My first foray into this is really aateurish but I'm learning. Now I need mikes (Lavaliereand lights to get it all together) Thank you guys for the geat info you've given as it has helped me to think further ahead


Dave Sullivan's picture
Last seen: 3 years 3 months ago
Joined: 05/20/2011 - 2:42pm

Getting good video is not a problem - your basic iPhone will provide higher quality video than the stuff we shot on SVHS for our cable channel 15 years ago. The problem is AUDIO - and this is a real problem. The beauty of pro equipment is that it has multiple, flexible audio inputs. Back in the day we carried around multiple sound system connect boxes (like the $21 SA-DI1 - Passive Direct Box with Ground Lift and Attenuator Switch) so we could pull sound directly from the sound system and not worry about placing mics except for our own talent & crowd reaction.

For my personal video kit I have a wireless mic (which I ALWAYS use for interviews) plus shotgun mounted on the camera (which has XLR connections ,of course) and 50' of audio cable, mics, and adapters.

For audio, I add my support to getting a used pro camera. You might take a hit in the video quality, but you'll more than make up for it in audio quality.


dellwovideo's picture
Last seen: 3 months 3 weeks ago
Joined: 05/20/2011 - 6:35pm

I agree, can you clarify whether $1,000 to $1,500 is your TOTAL budget, or just the budget for the camera itself?

Assuming that's your total budget, consider this:

$650 - Canon Vixia HF S200, single chip,AVCHD camera withmany menu-based manual controls.This is the current lowest price searching google.

$75 - Ultimate Accessory kit for the S200 from Amazon (Throw the included tripod away or giveit awayas a gag gift.)

$75 - 2 16gb Transcend class 10 SDHC cards from Amazon

$75 - Fluid head tripod such as a Velbon Videomate 607 (has a bubble for leveling) from B&H

$50 - Hard case made from a large toolbox and foam if you're handy.

$100 - Cowboy studios 4-way continuouslighting system (Amazon)

$25 - 43" 5 wayfolding reflector (Amazon)

$200 - Beachtek XLR adaptor (Google for best price)

$175 - Rode mic/boom combo B&H

$25 - XLR cable

$100 - Adobe Premiere Elements 9 (I assume you already have a dual core computer with reasonable specs.)

If you can find any of these items used or you already have something similar, you might squeek in under $1,500. Remember to google, google, google to find the best price on these items.

Check out vimeo and youtube for samples of what this, admitedly consumer, camera can do. If your choice is between a set-up like this or not being able to shoot, I'd take this set-up any day.


composite1's picture
Last seen: 5 months 2 days ago
Joined: 12/11/2008 - 7:54pm
Plus Member Moderator

Dave and Joseph also hit it on the head about audio and support gear. Now with my PnS cam (Canon Powershot SD1400) when I want clean natural sound, I use a Zoom H1 digital audio recorder to do sync sound. Either with a clapper or more often a 'finger snap' I set the sync mark on camera and in the recorder. Having the recorder is good because with a pair of earbud headphones I can monitor the audio in the recorder (which will be my primary audio).

Even with the recorder, there is an option to use an external mic(s) built in mic input. And like Joseph laid out, there are many ways to kit out what you need to get the job done which should be your primary focus. As a writer-director your main focus should be a strong story and getting the film made. You're going to incur a number of other costs while trying to get your film made outside of camera, audio and post-production gear. You could easily blow $1500 on just the camera body w/o a lens!

I'm afraid you're going to have to add a 'producer' hat to that list you're already wearing. Any good producer knows you get the work done for little as possible. You apparently already only have 'little', so now with that you must do what is 'possible' with it.

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


vid-e-o-man's picture
Last seen: 5 months 2 weeks ago
Joined: 02/06/2010 - 4:20am
Plus Member

CTMalone, all the posters have given excellent advice to you about the camcorder and accesories that will be useful to you. It would be great to start with the best cutting edge stuff but most of us have made due with something else and in the process have developed as a videographer because neccesity is the mother of invention. Just think how you will feel if you are the first in your graduating class to produce some work that is commercially successful with equipment that is not as advanced as what they have. If you search through these forums you will find decriptions and recommendations for different equipment that the posters have used that is utilitarian but not the most advanced or expensive. Search ebay, craigslist, etc for the right stuff at the right price. I have purchased a great used Manfrotto tripod with fluid head for $68.00 on ebay. It took a few weeks of searching but saving money as you build your equipment base is important. As you become more succesful you can upgrade. If you have questions about specific equipment, these forums are a great place to ask. Good Luck and keep shooting.


john in covina's picture
Last seen: 1 year 9 months ago
Joined: 04/15/2010 - 2:31am

A friend of mine has a nice but old consumer level camcorder and makes some superb video because he has an awesome editing room utilizing a high end Mac system with one of the Mac high end editing programs. In his case, he is a fine camera man with a good natural eye for composition and the ability to utilize all of the camcorders abilities. The magic comes in when he does the editing.

The camera is important but the most important thing is being able to use the camera to the full extent of both your abilities and the cameras abilities. Be sure that you get a video camera you can work with effectively if you're going to be the cameraman.

Best wishes!


artsmith's picture
Last seen: 6 days 11 hours ago
Joined: 03/02/2011 - 9:06pm

One piece of short advice. Don't even comtemplate a camcorder without an external mic. socket. Better yet, have some wild-sound source handy as a back-up. Mine is a Sennheiser mic, coupled to a 'Microtrack II' audio recorder. Best of both worlds.