Videomaker – Learn video production and editing, camera reviews › Forums › Cameras and Camcorders › Professional Camcorders › Autofocus Frustrations Recording RC Airplanes in Flight
- February 21, 2019 at 12:34 PM #72008553
My passion is recording RC Airplanes in flight. I’m having issues with autofocus in flight.
My current camera is a Sony FDR-AX53. It had rave reviews when I bought it. Unfortunately, it has been a total disappointment to me. It’s a good camera, but not for me. It likes scenery and large, slow moving objects. RC airplanes are not its friends. My camera hunts for focus so often that I have to discard most of my video. I am SO frustrated with that!
Another issue I have is the tiny viewfinder. The screen is a paltry .24-inches and the eyecup is smaller than my glasses. The image I see is like looking through a toilet paper tube, or even the wrong end of a binocular. That’s not acceptable to me. Therefore, I’m going to buy a new video camera. I believe that I want professional quality. I could really use your help…
My new video camera must have the following three features:
1. Extremely fast and accurate autofocus.
2. It must have a large viewfinder (preferably over half an inch).
3. Finally, it must shoot in 4K at 60fps.
Beyond that, I have few requirements. Professional video cameras do WAY more than I need, but if they provide my three requirements, then i’m onboard. My budget is comfortably at $3,000 USD. Maybe up to $5,000 for the right camera.
For example, I have been interested in the Panasonic AG-UX180. It is currently on sale at BHPhotoVideo.com for $2,695 and I’m very tempted. A channel on YouTube called “Essential RC” (Essential RC) specializes in 4K video of RC flight. Dominic Mitchell, the owner, uses the UX180 and is very happy with it. His results look excellent to me. However, when I asked him about the autofocus, he was realistic in his answer:
“Auto-focus is never going to work well for filming RC. On cloudy days, especially, the auto-focus can lose the subject necessitating clipping when editing back at home. The UX180 does have an amazing focus assist feature that makes manual focus much easier. It highlights the in-focus areas of the subject in red while viewing through the viewfinder. Makes it easy to correct while you are panning the cam.”
Argh! I want a run-and-gun video camera with perfect autofocus. I know, that’s probably the unobtainable holy grail, but a nice cloned chalis would be nice.
My ears are open to your advice and specific suggestions.
You can find Sony A7RIII; I think you could be satisfied with it.
You are 100% correct – your camera takes great pictures of stationary or slow moving things but it’s a camera designed for people who want auto operation, and it’s manual facilities in the focus and exposure department are pretty terrible. Aircraft against a light sky means very precise focus and exposure are needed, and frankly – nobody would attempt autofocus for ground to air shots. Autofocus is a reactive process. The camera needs to be out of focus to correct it and produce sharp edges. A fast moving object means the camera first has to detect it in the frame, then decides if it’s soft – if it is, it guesses if it’s close or far away, and inevitably 50% of the time it gets it wrong – making the image softer before it refocusses and then your object is in a different position in the frame and the process got off again and again!
This morning had ground to air shots from the BBC, and not an autofocus lens in sight – that’s the cameraman’s responsibility. The other thing is that for autofocus to even work the image has to be stable and cheap bend leg twisting tripods and average fluid heads are simply not up to smooth movement with the lens on a long focal length. With a proper decent zoom lens, focus is not an issue – and the focus point will be a gnats whisker from the infinity position, and with practice pretty easy to manage. Your autofocus goes from the minimum focus point to infinity. 95% of this is NOT going to be in use at all, so searching for sharpness there is pointless.
Forgive me, but DSLRs are also a poor choice for aviation shooting UNLESS you pair them with a parfocal lens. Zooming out as the plane comes towards you to keep it full frame needs to stay sharp, as does zooming in as they go away from you. Stills lenses are terrible for this. You need a proper video lens and a proper video support system. Handicam style cameras have so poorly managed manual features they’re just rubbish for some kinds of shooting. Grey sky, dark aircraft going fast, and with models, making crazy turns makes some perfectly good cameras simply look terrible, when they’re not – they’re just the wrong tool for the job.
- February 22, 2019 at 7:46 AM #72008573
wsmith198729 – Thank you for the suggestion. I will check it out!
Paulears – Thank you for the great information. I am ready and willing to learn manual focus. I tried it on my camera, but it is extremely difficult for 2 reasons. One is that the focus ring is actually a “multi-purpose” ring and it is not great at focus. It tends to be either too fast or too slow. It is very inconsistent and very frustrating. The second reason is the tiny .24-in viewfinder. When I try to use that to adjust my autofocus, the small size works against me.
I am ready to buy a great quality video camera with a dedicated manual focus ring and a larger viewfinder! That should give me the tools I need to learn proper manual focus. Do you have any specific suggestions. I’d love a video camera with a parfocal lense, but I have not found one in the $3,000 to $5,000 USD price range. Do you know of any?
Just FYI – I had looked at several mirrorless cameras that had great reviews for their video quality. Unfortunately, the tiny viewfinder on those cameras just does not work for me.
First question then. Why 4K? There are some very nice HD cameras in your price range, or of course a second hand used professional camera would work really well for you. Frankly, 4K in a cheap camera is really rather pointless – the lenses rarely have the definition required for real 4K – having 4K pixels, tells you little of the quality you will get.
What you need is a lens with mechanical focus, not a rotating servo coupled type – they’re all pretty hopeless really, and some of the pro cameras have small eyepiece VFs, and a side hinge out one. You can also buy used pro tripods and heads – these last forever and are sooooooo much better than the usual Manfrotto types people think are good. Vinten, Stachler, Miller – that kind of thing. Something with a B4 lens would be my preference – and if you keep an eye on Ebay there are some gems from time to time. I’ve been a JVC user for years and have a look at something like GY-HM750, 790, 850, 890 cameras – really nice to use, excellent picture, proper exposure, proper focus – usually with Fuji or Canon lenses (I like the Canons), and a suitable tripod and legs would come between 500-1000 or so – you could get one of these with low hours (not that that really matters) for your budget – or at least you can in the UK. I suspect the US would be even better, being a bigger market.
Given the choice of a 4K handicam or an HD real camera, I’d never go for the handicam. They win on size and convenience, and simplicity – they are a compromise for everything else.
You sure have a lot of knowledge about photography! I appreciate you sharing with me. It is, however, a lot more than I will ever use. I do this strictly for my own pleasure and do not have to worry about making the video perfect for a certain client. I only ever upload to Youtube, so, when their video compression does a number on the uploaded video, it would not have been worth it to me to obtain a camera with absolutely perfect optics. I will just be happy to learn manual focus so that I can capture airplanes in the sky without the camera unsuccessfully hunting for focus.
Even so, I did go look at some of the used shoulder mount cameras. I love that their EVF is off to the side and seemingly larger than then ones on lower level cameras. However, I was surprised to find that they only record up to 60p in 1080 HD. I’d be more interested if they could do 120p. That’s because I quite regularly capture crashes of RC airplanes. Those can be pretty fascinating when slowed way down. The airplanes are also the reason that I like to record in 4K. They are hard to always keep perfectly in the frame or close enough to see well. By recording in 4K, I can crop for center or crop for zoom, then render in 1080p.
Your shared knowledge will not go completely unused. I like the idea of buying good quality used support gear like monopods, tripods and fluid heads. I was recently looking at a Sirui monopod that I thought was pretty good. I’ll see what the used market has to offer in better quality equipment.