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Whether getting your first or next camera is always a tough choice. Familiarity with a camera line is a plus, but if it’s not giving you the tools you need to get the job done it’s time to look at others. Your main deciding factors are; what is your budget? Remember, you need not only the camera but batteries, recording media, tripod, camera bag at the minimum. What is your intended output? How you plan on distributing the footage/productions you shoot are a big factor as to what type and level of camera you pick. Last, that thing seriously needs to pay for itself by allowing you to work on gigs outside of the one’s you produce until your’s start bringing in money.
1. If you’re trying to do this stuff for a living, try to get as pro a rig as you can afford. I worked for a big well-funded production house and used the best gear in the biz. When I went out on my own, all I could initially afford was a 1CCD Hi-8 Handycam. After I stopped whining about how ‘the mighty hath fallen’, I began ‘tricking’ out the camera with wide and telephoto lens adaptors, an external stereo mic, an on camera light, tripod equipped with a LANC remote controller, creative lens filters and so on. Combined with my knowledge of how to shoot and my ‘enhanced’ consumer cam few people felt I didn’t know what I was doing when I showed up and whipped that thing out. If you can get something more professional starting out it wouldn’t hurt. Just make sure you can get a reasonable amount of supporting gear. Nothing worse than having a snazzy cam and can’t do jack sprat with it because you don’t have batteries and other important stuff….
2. Get the camera you can afford with the stuff mentioned above in mind. Picking an HD cam is a tough choice because they come in so many format flavors. Tape? Solid State? Harddrive? 720p, 1080i or 1080p? Handheld or shoulder mount? Also, if you plan on editing your footage what non-linear software and OS platform is most compatible with your choice of cam? Far as ‘saving for HD’ goes, it’s here. SD is still useful but the trend is for people shooting raw footage in HD then down-converting (despite SD still being quite good.)
3. Renting is not practical without a firm budget with actual money set aside for the rental. You have to have a credit card, established credit with a rental house and confirmed insurance to cover potential loss or damage to rented equipment is required by reputable rental houses. Renting for a gig will take up a significant portion of any profits from the job when you’re starting out. You’re much better off having or in a pinch borrowing gear when starting out. Shooting film or video is a combination of composition, creative exposure and focus and proper sound management to tell a story. You can do that with a cheap or ‘fancy rig.’
4. I shot ENG video for 3 years but fortunately, was in a house that emphasized the ‘cinematic’ style of composition vice standard ‘newsy’ stuff. With the trend for ‘iReporters’ who give their footage for free, the days of news stringers is over. The trend now is for Vlogs and online video content and yeah, you can use a cheap camera but if you’ve had professional training use the best tools you can to separate you from the ‘YouTube’ hordes.
5. That’s not true. Most people who will be willing to pay you don’t know the difference between well shot SD and HD footage and don’t care. Most only care about how much it’s all going to cost them. SD will be around in strength for at least another 5 years merely because it’s still so expensive to make the transition to digital media, let alone HD. Besides, it’s currently more economical to put SD video online than HD.
6. Horse$%^#@!@#! The one advantage of solid-state recording is that your footage cuts out the digitizing process. Digitizing does take longer, but the logger has the opportunity to actually look at the footage during the process. You learn quickly whether shots are ‘good’ or ‘garbage’ and you only digitize the good ones. With solid-state you still have to look at the footage and take time to get rid of garbage clips to free up space on the harddrive. Also, with tape after you digitize the footage you have a pristine and stable archival format you can put on a shelf that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.
7. Amen. Once you have digitized, downloaded footage back it up.
8. The camera you get starting out is going to have to perform as a ‘Swiss Army Knife’. So a smaller prosumer/pro rig will be your best bet.
Is the camera you have already paid for? If so, keep it. Do some memorable work with it and get something else when you can. If not, keep it since you’ve been paying on it and you need something to use to bring in gigs while you’re prepping for your ‘epic doc.’ There are buttloads of cameras to choose from. Trawl through these posts because dozens of people have asked the same questions you have and there are plenty of good answers for you.
Go forth and shoot.