Beginner looking to buy a camera

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    • #40202

      I’m looking to buy a camera for fairly light production use (music videos, comedy sketches, etc.). Initially, these will strictly be hobby projects. I have $1,500 to spend and would like some advice on brands and models to consider. I’m a film school grad, but I’ve been out of the industry for about ten years now and I want to slowly work my way back and get my skills up. I’ve looked around on Craigslist and a few other sites, but I think I should get some advice before I part with my cash. Any suggestions? What factors should I consider as I do my research? What are the baseline specs I should look for? Is it okay to buy used, or do I need to up my budget for a new camera?

      Thanks for any help you can give!

    • #172827


      Don’t feel alone. I’ve been running a production co’ for almost nine years and recently made the jump to HD. For two years, I watched the trends and evaluated cameras and held onto the purse strings with a ‘death grip’ until I found something we could work with.

      So, with that in mind ask yourself these questions;

      What do I want to do with the footage? (meaning, what will be the ultimate distribution method.) You mentioned some potential projects, but not how anyone is going to see the final product. Fortunately, there are viable options for an ‘insurgent filmmaker’ like yourself (too underfunded to be ‘independent’ but better educated and skilled to be considered ‘guerilla’.) Your distribution points these days are the web, DVD and mobile content. Just as an aside, broadcast TV is a potential point, but very difficult to break into.

      What video format do I want to use? (i.e. standard definition DV or high-definition HDV) Again, go back to the first question to help you decide. At the moment there are some good single-chip cameras that get some dang fine imagery for around the money you’re looking to spend. Problem is; they’re going to be consumer-grade rigs and you will have to be very familiar with the camera’s limitations and idiosyncracies in order to make your work look professional and not like some nimrod on YouTube. Added to that is what recording format would you prefer? With a small consumer ‘crashcam’ I absolutely prefer tape. If anything goes south, at least I’ve got the footage. I hate that consumer rigs are now mostly harddrive based. If the harddrive goes before you can download your shoot… (insert loud fart-like noise to simulate footage disappearing into nothingness.) Many consumer cams also have the option of solid-state recording via flashcards which by the way is awesome because it cuts your ‘capture time’ down to how long it takes to download it. Drawback with that is, flashcards at the moment are expensive and many cameras are proprietary (meaning they want you to only use their company’s cards SONY!!!!!! PANASONIC!!!) which also gets expensive. If you can find one still, get a hybrid (tape/flashcard) unit which is great because tape is mad cheap and you can pick-up more flashcards as you can afford them.

      Last and most important, what type of computer and editing software do I plan on using with my camera? Very, very important detail to consider. Unless you plan on just being a shooter and just ‘handing off’ your footage to an editor (good luck with that,) you’re going to have to purchase those things. Good news is, if you’re shooting straight DV (meaning standard def DV) as long as you have a firewire output on your camera and one on your computer just about any software capable of non-linear editing will work with it (do your research first!) On the otherhand, HDV has gained excellent ground and most well-known NLE software can handle it (Premiere, Avid, Final Cut, Vegas, blah, blah, blah ad nauseum.) Be advised; you’ll have to deal with deciding on what Operating System Platform (Windows, Macintosh, Linux, etc.) you want to work with and how much all that is going to cost you. To get a better idea of that, read the other discussions on the virtues/disparities concerning PC’s and Mac’s.

      Though I said that the above was the last, technically it is so this is an ‘oh by the way’; Support gear is very important (i.e. batteries, tripods, camera bags, etc.) You want to pick a camera that is compatible with as much support equipment possible to help you put together a professional kit. Just because you have a consumer grade camera doesn’t mean you want to show up to a shoot looking like a tourist. Les Stroud of the ‘Survivor Man’ series until recently used nothing but consumer grade cameras to produce his show, but he still had a professional kit. I’ve done many a shoot using a ‘crashcam’ and always enjoyed watching client’s faces change from incredulous to ‘okay he knows what he’s doing’ when I whipped out a decent tripod, lens adapters, specialty filters and so on. Of course, you’re not going to have all of that up front and neither did I. You’ll build up your kit and when you’re ready, you’ll find yourself ‘champing at the bit’ to move onto a more professional rig. Then you can start the whole process all over again! Joy!

    • #172828

      Thanks so much for the info. That’s a lot of good stuff to digest. Here’s how I’m currently situated:

      • Mac G4 PowerPC (dual processor)
      • 1 GB RAM
      • 250 GB Hard Drive
      • Final Cut Pro (4)
      • Adobe CS3
      • DVD burner

      Initially I plan to distribute on-line and on DVD. Given these specs, and my limited knowledge, I think I’m looking at going with a standard definition DV camera. Your considerations regarding firewire connectivity and tape back-up was insightful. I am currently talking to a guy who is upgrading to HD, and he wants to sell the following for $2,750:

      • XL2 (with extra battery, case, lens, mic, viewfinder, charger, and remote)
      • Smith & Victor tripod
      • Smith & Victor 3-light kit (with case and stands)

      I think this sound reasonable, but I wonder if this is really a good buy. Talk me down!

    • #172829

      I have to chime in here and say that if you know the source and are comfortable dealing with him, under $3K for XL2, assys, sticks and light kit sounds like a nice deal. If I knew the camera and its owners histories, and was reasonably sure of how well-kept this stuff had been I’d make a deal in a heartbeat.

      There are certainly many other options and opportunities out there, but this one smells nice.

    • #172830

      I agree with EarlC (no rhyme intended.) The XL2 is an excellent camera (though I hate they modyfied it so it was incompatible with the MA-200 audio adapter) and you can shoot w/progressive scan video(no interlacing frames)so your footage will go well with both On-line & DVD distribution. Sounds like a plan with your NLE setup, though I recommend you get at least another Gig stick of RAM at minimum (more RAM = faster render times = less aggravation for editor!)

      Concerning the kit you’re looking to buy, it sounds like a reasonable deal. Earl’s right about checking out the cam’s history and doing an inspection of it yourselfis imperative before you buy. Look for scratches on the lens (on the outer portion and on the inner lens.) If it has scratches that’s a pretty good indicator the owner either hasn’t taken good care of the rig or had an accident with it. Have him power it up with both battery and then AC (camera comes with an AC adapter) to test the controls. Make sureduring the inspection you run atape in both record & playback to make sure the tape heads are still in good condition. You would be surprised how fast a camera can be turned into an expensive paperweight because some knucklehead didn’t do regular head cleanings!Check and see if he still has the manuals because you’ll want those too. Test the tripod by making sure the legs move smoothly and the leg locks hold snug and secure with no sliding w/or w/out weight. Nothin’ worse than trying to shoot on sticks with a ‘slow slide’ building up. Make sure the tripod plate stayssecure when it’s connected to the stickswith and w/out camera attached (you do not want your rig to ‘gravity check’ because the mount plate won’t stay on!) I’m not familiar with the light kit, but have him power it up without the camera (if possible) and with it connected to the rig. He should have a camera bag and if not, you best look to get one.

      The really good thing about canon XL series cameras is that there is a host of accessories to augment your rig. Be advised to make sure any accessories you consider are compatible with your version as the accessories span the 3 incarnations of the XL camera. If the inspection goes well (try not to let your excitement cloud your judgement), you’ll have a pretty good start on your foray into the biz (so many have started with sooooooo much less!)

      Good luck!

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