deciding between xf100, AC90 and Mark III for first low budget feature

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    • #71153
      First post but been reading threads for a while and really appreciate the wealth of information a lot of you guys freely share with newcomers such as myself. I am going to shoot a low budget horror feature next year. I have complete control over the locations so I can light as I like and there are no exterior night shots. Anyways I was looking at different camera options and wanted to get tap the wealth of experience and expertise here. 
      Right now I have a Canon T4 which I use for in a real estate company I own with my wife. I shoot real estate videos (virtual tours), client testimonials, about us type corporate videos and will be shooting 2 commercials for digital distribution one this month one next. I like the image out of the T4, LOVE its ease of use and the workflow into Final Cut Pro X makes my life easy but I wonder if it will be good enough to shoot a feature with a distribution plan that include VOD, festivals and at least one theater screening (even if we have to rent the theater ourselves)? If I have to have the footage color graded or corrected (which I would most like outsource) will I be shooting myself in the foot with this type of footage. Our film is self funded with a budget of 50k, the locations are all free for me to use, and all the equipment will be bought via the other company I own so nothing will roll down to the film balance sheet, the film budget will be mainly comprised of cast, effects (main are backend loaded), wardrobe, small crew (PAs hair, makeup), travel, food , formatting, marketing and misc.  So my thoughts were:
      Canon XF 100 – this seems like a great camera in the right price range for me, wondering about the workflow, ease of use and the image quality for distribution, and how will it cut with the T4 assuming I use the T4 for some shots?
      Canon Mark III – seems like a good upgrade from the T4 with a familiar form factor, but is that upgrade enough to justify the price and passing on a dedicated video camera with an easier sound capture system? Images from the Mark III can look amazing but I know it takes a lot of work to make them look so, and I would rather focus efforts on making the story good then getting a camera to perform.
      Panasonic AC90 – really this one came up through reading forums, seems like a lot of people really like this camera, was wondering though how would it cut with the T4 and regardless of price is the XF 100 a better camera for my goal? 
      Ideally this camera would serve two purposes: used on this film and then used in commercial shoots (digital distribution). My main concerns are image quality, ease of use, and the workflow into FCPX. Are there other concerns I should have? Are there other camera's I should be considering?
      My “want” list in order of importance would be:
      Ease of use (this is my first real shoot and I want it to be as easy from a technical standpoint as possible so I can focus on the million other things, I also want to handle the shooting myself, part of that childhood dream thing)
      Workflow to FCPX 
      Image Quality – obviously I want it to look good and not like a home made movie
      Final Image issues – I want the final product to be good for VOD as well as a theater screen (as I mentioned we would just rent a theater to show it if necessary for the hell of it)
      Budget – want to stay under 5k for the camera setup 
      Why not Black Magic – from what I read the workflow is very demanding 
      Any thoughts or suggestions are greatly appreciated
    • #209114

      I can't comment on your camera choice as I've never used any of them.

      What I would like to adrdress is something that I feel you overlooked and that is the importance of good sound.

      Viewers are willing to overlook inferior video from time to time (most of what's on TV these days will support me on this) but bad sound is a definite no no.

      If you can, consider hiring a professional sound person as they're worth their weight in gold. Not only do the good ones have a great kit with lots of mic choices, they know how to use it to get great sound.



    • #209115


      Great point. I am going to have to do some research to see what a good sound person would cost and see if I can get it in the budget. My first thought was to record sound seperately despite the convenience of recording sound on camera I fear that could create to many possible problems. 

      Poor sound recording would be a horrible way to ruin a first attempt at making a film! 

    • #209121

      Recording sound separately has always been the recommended method. A scratch track can be sent to your camera(s) for helping to sync things in post. I don't think any of the cameras you're considering support time code input so you'll have to use an old fashioned clapper slte. Sound can be synced in post using a tool such as Plural Eyes which seems to be the tool of choice these days for doing this.

      I don't want to scare you but you could be looking at around $500/day for a pro sound person. Can you get him/her cheaper? Absolutely. Craig's List and Mandy are full of people looking for a pro sound person who is willing to work for around $100/day. The problem is that you get what you pay for and this is  often is someone who thinks they know what they're doing. The sad reality is that they don't and your sound track will suffer for it. A pro sound mixer has anywhere from $50K to $100K invested in their gear and, more importantly, knows what tools to use and when and how to use them to get the best sound possible. Gear rental is around $250/day and the sound op is another $250/day (typically for a 10 hr. day). If you live near a major city, see if you have a pro sound shop such as Trew Audio or Pro Sound as they will be able to help you find a good person for the job. The other site to check out is JW Soundgroup at  This is a forum for pro sound mixers and they have a sub forum called "Work Available – Available for Work".  Don't go here unless you're serious as these are pro sound people who can be somewhat sarcastic if you're not willing to pay a decent rate. As I said, most of them have a lot of money invested and don't take kindly to people not willing to pay them what they're worth.

      Good luck with your project.

    • #209192

      So Dan, you 've decided to take the Red Pill… πŸ™‚


      I used to work in television news and had done so for many years, so I knew my way around a camera, editing, audio and other basic production skills pretty well. I was (and still am) a rabid movie buff and actor. I was the guy who actually watched all those behind the scenes making of extra features.


      So, my wife and I developed a script for a featur length film, started a production company and ran headlong into producing it. In the end we lost tens of thousands and never did finish that film due to situations beyond our control. (One of which was a main actor joining the military three quarters of the way through the project.)


      I don't tell you this to scare you away from your project, but you should really take an honest look at whether you're ready to leap down that rabbit hole head first…


      If you aren't already making commercials, music videos or short films I would encourage you stop and seriously assess whether or not you're prepared to jump into one of the most complex time and money consuming projects I can think of.


      With all due respect, if you are on Videomaker's forum asking us which camera you should use, you may not be ready to shoot a feature film.


      Now, I know you're going to do this anyway. πŸ™‚ So, here's my advice to help you succeed…


      Make friends with other professional and amateur video producers in your community. Work on a couple of their projects… and they'll work on yours. Pick people that KNOW their positions. Blow one thing and the whole movie can be ruined.


      Find yourself a GOOD, somewhat experienced director of photography and/or director before you drop a dime on a camera. (They may even have the gear already.) Decide what exactly you want to put on screen and what it will look like – then pick out your camera.


      Make sure you have someone who can properly light your shots. It's not as easy as a little three point lighting.


      Use really solid actors who are made for the part. Bad acting will ruin your movie as easy as anything else. Releases for actors, locations, etc. Make sure you keep it all legal – otherwise you've got a very expensive home video sitting on your shelf that you can't do anything with.


      Speaking of legal, study up on copyright law. This is especially important for music. Music plays such a major role in mood and tone, don't neglect it. And don't violate copyright laws.


      I double what everyone said about audio. Here's the catch – recording audio seperately adds time and complicaiton in post production. It WILL give you better audio, though. Minimum, get a solid wireless lav for one channel and a good boom mic/boom for the other channel. (Your editor will make sense of the two channels in post.) Make it one person's job to due nothing but give you the sweetest audio possible. Check out a Zoom recorder – it may do the job with XLR inputs and get good room sound. Make sure you slate properly, keep good records and practice good data management – especially with seperate audio.


      Editor – this is a tough and under-appreciated gig. Editors craft your film every bit as much as directors, DPs and actors. Make sure you get one with experience and shares your vision for crafting the story.


      Craft services – volunteers volunteer a whole lot better when their stomachs are full, their bladders are empty and they're neither too hot nor too cold.


      I could go on and on, seriously. There's so much to think about when it comes to making a feature that it boggles the mind. Consider making yourself a producer and finding skilled people to do the production heavy lifting. Believe me, you can keep your hands plenty full just being a producer. Producers are, after all, the owners of the finished product responsible for making it happen.


      Good luck – I don't want to scare you too badly but making a feature is a LOT of work. Just make sure you're ready for it.

    • #209194
      AvatarLaguna Hiker

      I'd echo dellwovideo's comments, and add a couple more. First, an old joke in film school is, "I've got a script, let's shoot a movie!" It's not that simple. A script needs to be broken down into sets, props, actor calls, and so on. And the shoot needs to be budgeted, along with the post, and production.


      If you are serious about doing a film, look into film classes first. Here in Southern California, we have a half-dozen outstanding film schools, and one of them is at a local community college. Now, obviously, that's probably not going to be the case everywhere, but check out your local college, and see if they have a film program–not a 'film appreciation' program, but a program to teach people how to make films. You'd be surprised how good some of these local programs can be.


      Second, if you are serious about making a film, make a short film first–something ten minutes or so in length. It will give you an idea of the amount of work involved. And don't plan on doing everything yourself. As dellwovideo said, find a good shooter to act as your Director of Cinematography. Cinema shots make up a language of their own, and the language has to be learned.


      And that goes double for editing; a good editor can make an average film look great, and a bad one can make a great film look crappy. I saw a documentary last night that was well-written and had great source footage. Unfortunately, bad editing made it long, tedious, and boring. Editing cuts are as much a language and cinema shots, and it's another language that must be learned.


      All of this is not to say you shouldn't pursue your dream. Go for it, but do so with your eyes open. The story that dellwovideo tells a pretty common story about investing tens of thousands of dollars in a movie project that fails. It can, and does, happen to the best of us pretty regularly.


      Robert Rodriguez wrote a great little book called 'Rebel Without a Crew', and I's recommend it. Rodriguez is one of those rare characters who can do it all–write, direct, shoot, and cut. But before you decide to go out and make a movie, watch one on TV, and ask yourself: Can I really shoot like that? Can I really edit like that? Rodriguez may not need a crew, but I know that I do. 

    • #209199
      AvatarLaguna Hiker

      This turns out to be really easy. Head over to Saddleback College and introduce yourself to Charlie Meyers. He chairs the Film Department. His department can teach you how to shoot, how to edit, and how to direct. A year from now, taking part-time classes, you will be making a film (a short one) several qualitative leaps beyond what you can do now, or what you might even think you could do. They are that good. Plus, as a community college, it is ridiculously affordable. 


      And that's not to sell Chapman or SC short. Chapman is a great school, and SC may have the best program in the country. I've taken classes at Saddleback, and I've learned quite a bit.

    • #209582

      Hi Dan,

      As I see, this thread has gone far from the choice of a camera, and I cannot agree more when it comes to hiring a good sound engineer.  However, I would like to address your original post.  I work for a production company, and we thought it was a good idea to order some of the Canon xf105 cameras, as on paper they look great, and have a lot of manual features.  However, in anything other than natural light, we may have to throw up to 20k worth of lights on the set to get the footage to actually come out artifact free.  In fact, my $1000 Canon XA10 shoots way better low light video than the xf105.  It is certainly not what you are looking for when it comes to shooting a feature film.  It has horrible depth of field, and terrible low-light shooting capabilities.  The camera does come with a disk, which includes a plug-in for FCX to recognize the .mxf footage, making a seamless workflow.  However, I don't know if I would even recommend it for commercial production, unless all your clients are car dealers or plant nurseries.  The xf 100/105 does have a plus to it though; it has one of the best audio preamps I have ever heard in a camcorder.  But for a feature film, you shouldn't be using the camera for anything other than a scratch track anyway, so it is somewhat irrelevant.  If it were me, I would go with either the BMCC, or the BMPCC if you want to skip the SSDs.  Both shoot excellent RAW footage, and there are really nice Da Vinci Resolve plug-ins that give you a beautiful graded picture without spending hours grading.  Do a search for "Captain Hook LUT", and you will see exactly what I am talking about. If it were up to me, we would return the xf105s, but it's too late.

    • #209584


      Yeah the xf105 almost got me with how good it looked on paper! Originally I was shying away from the BMCC because of what I read about workflow problems, but with an unusable image work flow ease is no benefit. My other concern with BMCC was how new the company is, but hell since I am new to filmmaking I might was well use the camera from the company that's new as well. Probably going to opt for the BMCC especially with the last price drop. Do you use the BMPCC yourself? For my "regular" job me and my wife own a real estate company and I shoot home videos with a T4 right now, thought I might pick up the BMPCC for those shoots to get use to the workflow and design and maybe use as a b camera when we shoot the feature. 

    • #209587
      AvatarLaguna Hiker

      One thing to remember about the BMCC is that it assumes you will do pretty thorough color grading (and other post-production work) on the footage. It produces beautiful stuff, but to really get it to shine, one needs a pretty good knowlege of intermediate to advanced post-production techniques.

    • #209588


      Good point. Does Resolve Plugins make that part of the process easier or do you need to go above and beyond them typically? My leaning is to get my hands on the camera and Resolve and get a feel for it, take some classes as we discussed earlier to fill in the gaps and hopefully be able to get the results I want otherwise outsource the post.


    • #209594

      I’ve talked to some guys about the BMCC and they love it. However, I hear it’s got serious power management issues. You should color-correct no matter what you shoot on so I think post production issues are a wash.

      All in all, if you’re comfortable with the T4i’s form factor and you’re used to shoting HDSLR video, go MkIII. Full frame will allow you whatever depth of field you want, and a wider angle of view without the 1.6 crop factor.

      The moire filter should get rid of those tell-tale signs of video that pop up occasionally.

      And the resoution out of L series or dedicated cinema lenses should stand up to a showing on a theater screen.

      Just use a high quality monitor and make sure you check and double check your focus. I would say the three things that kill me when watching something are bad audio, bad focus, and inconsistent color.

      Good luck! I hope it works out and you get a great movie made.

    • #209601


      Yeah a lot of what I have read says that external power packs are essentially required so I have been planning for that. The raw codec, resolution and 4:2:2 sampling are hard to beat and from everything I seen the image quality is amazing.  I agree with you on color correcting being a must, which leads me to want to learn resolve and since its thrown in with the BMCC hard to pass up. 

      Do you have any specific Canon lens recomendations? 

    • #209125

      Hi dswiftoc – if you want your audience to have the familiar experience of watching movies with with film-like shallow depth of field you probably want to avoid small sensor camcorders such as the $2499 XF100 or the $1725 AC90.


      Even though there has been some very nice work done with the XF100, for example, you'll notice that it has the deep focus "camcorder" look – even when it might have been nice to focus on the actress' face in closeup:







      And for film-like dynamic range and the ability to color your picture in post, you probably want to avoid 8 bit 4:2:0 color space cameras such as the $2999 5D Mark III or even the $5499 Canon C100 "Cinema" EOS camera.


      Instead, in your price range, coming from the T4i, I would get the $1995 Blackmagic Cinema Camera with the EF mount (for compatibility with your existing Canon lenses).


      The BMCC is the only camera in this price range that shoots at 2.5K lines of resolution instead of the 1.9K resolution of 1080p HD (2K is the resolution of digital cinema as seen in movie theaters).


      The BMCC is also the only EF mount camera you can buy right now below $3000 that comes out of the box shooting uncompressed RAW – which is how they shoot digital in Hollywood (e.g., Les Miserables (Arri Alexa shooting Arri RAW) and The Social Network (RED MX shooting RED RAW)).


      The camera comes bundled (for free) with a full $945 version of DaVinci Resolve, which is the standard color grading software used on many Hollywood features.


      Here is a narrative example of what this camera can do (please note the use of selective focus – otherwise known as "shallow depth of field"):







      Why does Hollywood use RAW for digital storytelling instead of the compressed codecs in consumer DSLRs and even pro video camcorders?  If you're trying to tell a story, you will probably want to set the mood with lighting and color – or you may want to use chromakey for special effects – which means color correction or keying in post.


      Twelve bit 4:2:2 uncompressed RAW holds up extremely well to manipulation in post.  You can "grade" it (correct its color) without banding, blocking or other artifacts. If you screw up your white balance on the set, you can fix it.  If you need to shoot green screen, you won't get the artifacting around the edges of your actors that can ruin keys shot with compressed codecs.


      The 8 bit 4:2:0 Quicktime .MOV from stock Canon DSLRs, on the other hand, can "break down" when you try to grade or key in post. Same thing for the 8 bit 4:2:0 AVCHD .MTS from the AC90 or even the compressed 4:2:2 MPEG-2 from the XF100.


      If you want the highest video image quality for the money, the 2.5K BMCC will give it to you.  I shoot with its little brother, the $995 Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with lossless CinemaDNG RAW, and in 40 years of shooting Super 8, 16mm, tape and digital, it produces the most Hollywood-like images I have seen from a camera that is accessible to independent shooters.


      Here is what this little 1.9K camera can do, shooting RAW:






      One more thought –  in addition to hiring a pro for sound, you may want to use the money you're saving on the camera to hire a professional colorist to grade your picture.  It will be worth the money when you see the results on the screen.


      And I would read the 99 cent Amazon Kindle book – "11 Simple Steps to turn a Screenplay into a Marketable Movie: or, How I got a $10K movie to gross $1 Mission through Warner Bros".


      If you look past some of the language he uses (there's a little too much swearing for my taste), this is a nuts and bolts look at what it takes to make and distribute an inexpensive indie movie that actually makes money.


      Hope this is helpful and good luck with your project!



      Hybrid Camera Revolution





    • #209130


      First THANK YOU for such a thorough reply! I have not seen a better reason why to get the Black Magic Cinema Camera instead of a typical small sensor prosumer type like what I as looking at. My first thought was to use the camcorder for wide focus shots and cut in with the T4 for shallow depth of field, but after reading your complete reply and watching the videos you included that clearly is nonsense on my part.


      Really there is no comparison in the image quality in fact I would take your Pocket Cinema camera image over the ones I mentioned originally. My original reason for not considering the BMCC was what I read about the workflow, but reading you explanation of RAW and grading it seems the high workflow demand is necessary to get the proper final product so I will just have to build a better workstation to handle it, which in the end I imagine will be a lot cheaper than sending inferior codec footage to be graded which I intended to do from the start.


      Again thanks for all the help, ordering the eBook.




    • #209132

      Thanks for the info. $500 a day is on the high end of what I was guessing, but considering the budget and with a lot of the other normal costs at zero costs in this case might be manageable if the number is days is low enough. Depending which location we pick the shoot will either be an hour from LA or an hour from Portland, so we should be able to find someone. My inclination all along was to record sound seperately with a scratch track on camera for sync, but if I can manage to get someone who really knows what they are doing (since I would be mainly guessing) I think the cost should be worth it since I will then get to focus on guessing on the rest of the production πŸ™‚ 

    • #209133
      AvatarLaguna Hiker

      I'll second that comment. People overlook all sorts glitches in video–look up any movie on IMDB and count the number of continuity errors that most people miss completely. But, if your sound isn't really good, they pick up on that in a heartbeat. So, good mics and a good production mixer will work wonders.

    • #209134

      Good point, especially considering the low budget is going to require a good amount of dialogue bad sound anywhere along the 90 minute journey can really ruin the whole journey and most likely a professional sound person would be light years better than my best efforts.Time to sharpen the pencil and review the budget again.

    • #209195

      Hey dell

      Yep it’s that damn irresistible Red Pill….. Great advice and thanks for sharing your struggles while trying to shoot your feature. Your advice is probably exactly what I would say to someone who was 22 just out of college and about to spend more of their parents’ money.  For me the situation is a bit different I am a couple decades past 22, am fully prepared to accept no ROI, and really I am doing this mostly because I know as time ticks down its either do it now or never do it, so if I spend 50k of my own money and have nothing to show for it but footage nobody ever sees and the experience of having tried I’d consider that a win.

      I do have some experience with commercials, have a well experienced AD helping out (old friend), a friend in distribution helping out as I craft the project, and a couple other people with significant experience lending a hand throughout production (really the only person whose the wrong side of the clueless line is well me) Our 3 main actors are all professional working actors which should make things go smoother (in theory). I am lucky to have a good team around me.

      Part of “the dream” for me is to actually shoot it and edit it myself, thus my camera question. I was hoping there was a way to get the right look without driving up to Red and dropping 30k and taking those savings to bring on other crew (like you mentioned lighting, and as a couple people also mentioned sound).  Don’t ask why but for some reason holding the camera has always been part of the dream.  I’ve talked to my AD friend about it but he works on really big budget movies, so the names he throws out are budget breakers for me.  As far as editing goes my thought was to edit it myself as much as I can and then have someone clean it up and put the polishing touches on for me.

      I am with you on craft service! Actually that and legal were the first two parts I lined up (just because it was easy since I already use both in another business venture).

      Thanks for the advice, I appreciate it and admire the hell out of you for trying to shoot your first feature because at least you tried!  I figure at the end of the day if I have nothing to show for my 50k but the experience of trying then hell, that will not be the dumbest way I ever spent 50 grand. But then again you did know I was going to proceed down the rabbit whole anyways. πŸ™‚ 

    • #209223

      Sorry for the lengthy delay in not replying to this thread much sooner but I've been buried in work and have just now come up for some air πŸ™‚


      I'd like to add my comments on the above suggestions.


      Here's the catch – recording audio seperately adds time and complicaiton in post production. It WILL give you better audio, though.


      In the absence of timecode (which I doubt you will be using), tools like PluralEyes makes this process a lot easier than it used to be.


      Check out a Zoom recorder – it may do the job with XLR inputs and get good room sound.


      No professional sound person will ever recommend a Zoom recorder. They're OK for very low budget/student work but not at the higher levels. A pro will have a multi-channel mixer recorder and be able to give you a mixed version of each scene along with the individual tracks. You may never need them but it's nice to know that they are available to you.


      Minimum, get a solid wireless lav for one channel and a good boom mic/boom for the other channel.


      A pro will have several different mics to choose from, depending on the location and requirements and, more importantly, know how to use them to get the best sound possible under the circumstances. For example, there may be times that only a wireless lav will work while other times a boom mic will do the job.


      Make sure you slate properly, keep good records and practice good data management – especially with seperate audio.


      EXCELLENT advice that everyone should be following!!!



      If at all possible, try to get your sound person involved right from the start, especially if you're doing a location scout. Getting out on location only to discover that, from a sound standpoint, it's a nightmare will cost you money and time that you don't want to spend so listen to him/her as they know what they're doing. They will be able to offer you advice for issues that you have never even considered because they do this a lot and have the experience to help you.

      Good luck with the project.

    • #209196


      Not underestimating the complexity of the process at all, know it is a massive effort with a lot of moving parts to actually make something happen. I was looking into some classes recently through USC and Chapman, I have no real need for a full on degree but some hands on training would be well worth it in my eyes. Just really a matter of schedule since I own another completely unrelated business which affords me the luxury of saying I have a script let’s film a movie πŸ™‚ (just kidding with you on that one)

      Appreciate your advice on the crew and I am looking at bringing in some more experienced help, but there are parts I just want to do myself, right or wrong (and objectively I know I’m wrong). You’re the second person this month to recommend that book to me, adding to my amazon order now. 

    • #209200

      Hey thanks for the heads up, will definitely check out Saddleback, less freeway miles and lower costs always a good combination…

    • #209224


      Great advice. Running the numbers I think it makes more sense for me to bring in a sound person, since the equipment I would have to buy would exceed the cost of the sound person, of course then I would be stuck having to figure out how to get the equipment to actually work properly. WIll look to getting someone involved during the pre-production stage while we are making location selections and can still easily make script changes. 



    • #209259

      The black magic is a good camera, but if you don't know about color grading you have a high learning curve

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