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A Quick Camera Comparison

A Quick Camera Comparison

Articles - Cinematography

Canon XL1S Camera

The Canon XL1S was the camera of choice for director-cinematographer Steven Soderbergh’s Full Frontal.

Almost as important as choosing the right actor, cinematographer or editor is choosing the right camera for your production. Like picking crewmembers, camera choice is as much about “personality” as it is about cost or any other variable. It’s a decision that will impact every aspect of your production, so it’s important to enlist the help of your director of photography, who has likely been down this road before and can provide valuable advice on what will work best for your story.

With digital films making all the big headlines over the past several years, it’s no surprise that so many aspiring moviemakers have their sights set on digital cameras even before their scripts are written. It’s hard to ignore the hype surrounding the digital revolution, and there’s no denying the many advantages that video can offer an indie helmer. But before you go out and rent or buy the first DV camcorder you can afford, there are some important considerations to keep in mind:

Cost: While price shouldn’t be your main concern, it’s hard to forget that every film lives and dies by its budget. Cost is of course something that needs to be factored into the decision-making process, but the actual price tag on the camera–whether you’re buying or renting–is only a small part of how camera choice affects budget. What about stock? There’s an enormous difference between the cost of film stock and videotape, and even the price of tape varies significantly. Also, what about a transfer? If you shoot on video, will you eventually have to go to film? If yes, start talking to a transfer house now to determine a ballpark figure of what this process will add to the budget. You might discover that shooting on film in the first place is an acceptable option.

Portability: Are you shooting this picture in true guerilla style? If you’re going to be on the run–jumping from one location to the next, shooting in small spaces and trying to gain access to places where cameras aren’t typically allowed–think about how you’re going to transport the equipment (and team of people needed to work it) from location to location–and what that’s going to cost you!

Intimacy: You may have heard the common DV moviemakers’ claim that shooting digital allows them to get up close and personal with their actors. For years, documentarians said the same about 16mm. Directors have always tried to keep their cameras as small and unobtrusive as possible, as even the most gifted professional actors prefer fewer distractions when trying to get to the heart of an emotionally-charged scene.

Look: While advancements in the digital realm are being made every day and directors like George Lucas and Robert Rodriguez are paving the way to an HD future, right now you may still not think that outfitting your little digital camera with the most advanced bells and whistles is a budgetary option. But finding the right look to suit your story is imperative to telling your tale truthfully and successfully. So how can you tell which camera is right for you? Like so many other pieces of the moviemaking puzzle, research is the key. Watch films within the genre, style and approximate budget range you’ll be working in and do a little digging to find out how they did it–and how you can do it better!

Of course, the first step in any research project is to learn the facts by gathering some of the basic information. Below are highlights of a few of the most popular digital cameras on the market–as well as some information on more traditional film choices.

A Quick Camera Comparison

Canon GL2
Retail price: $2,999

Recording format: Mini DV

Recording speed: LP, SP

LCD display: Yes

LCD panel size: 2.5"

Color viewfinder: Yes
Weight: 2.5 lbs

Depth x height x width: 12" x 5.4" x 4.6"

Service: One-year warranty

Additional select features: Fluorite lens; USB terminal; advanced accessory shoe; low power consumption; digital effects; digital faders; remote control; flash compatibility; photo search.

"The new GL2 represents Canon’s desire to incorporate the most advanced features and functions into a DV camcorder offering the highest picture quality and creative flexibility."
-Yukiaki Hashimoto

VP, Photographic Products Group, Canon

Canon XL1S
Retail price: $4,700
Average rental cost per day: $155

Recording format: Mini DV

Recording speed: LP, SP

LCD display: No

Color viewfinder: Yes

Weight: 3.75 lbs

Depth x height x width: 16.2" x 8.3" x 8.7"

Service: One-year warranty

Additional select features: Interchangeable lens system; programmed auto exposure; multi-angle viewfinder; low power consumption; digital effects; remote control; photo search.

"To use any other camera to shoot Full Frontal would have been an unthinkable compromise. The Canon XL1S continually expanded my ideas of how to stage and shoot scenes. Equally important is the fact that we experienced no technical downtime whatsoever. All in all, I couldn’t have been more pleased."
– Steven Soderbergh

Director-DP, Full Frontal

JVC GY-DV300 Streamcorder
Retail price: $3,495
Recording format: Mini DV

Recording speed: LP, SP

LCD display: Yes

LCD panel size: 2.5"

Color viewfinder: Yes

Weight: 3.1 lbs

Depth x height x width: 14" x 6.3" x 5.1"

Additional select features: Built-in Web server for setup and control; XLR microphone inputs; output MPEG-4 Web steaming; professional color matrix with adjustable gamma; excellent low light performance.

"To optimize users’ return on investment, a great deal of end-user research was invested during Streamcorder’s development. Streamcorder really sets a new standard, with all the best features of a professional camera, with the added benefit to stream to the Internet."
– Robert Mueller

Executive VP, JVC

JVC GY-DV500U
Retail price: $4,995
Recording format: Mini DV

LCD display: Yes

LCD panel size: 1.5"

Color viewfinder: Yes

Weight: 12.0 lbs

Depth x height x width: 4.8" x 9.8" x 14.4"

Additional select features: Detail correction; skin detail detection; white clip select; automatic level control (ALC); variable slow shutter; blank search; edit search; adaptable to Sony-style tripod base.

"The DR-DV5000 modules deliver real time productivity enhancements and cost-saving results that eliminate the barriers between video production and multimedia content delivery."
– Juan Martinez

Product marketing manager, JVC

JVC JY-HD10U
Retail price: $3,995
Recording format: Mini DV

LCD display: Yes

LCD panel size: 3.5"

Color viewfinder: Yes

Weight: 2.8 lbs

Depth x height x width: 10.7" x 3.9" x 4.5"

Additional select features: High Definition recording capability; new developed lens for HD video image; optical image stabilizer system with on/off switch; real time video streaming possible via USB interface to PC; audio level indicator on LCD monitor.

"With the release of the JY-HD10U camcorder, we have taken a solid step forward with our ‘HD for the Masses’ initiative. It affirms our HD strategy and our belief that high definition capabilities are not limited to the major broadcasters and large production houses. Affordable, high-quality HD products such as the JY-HD10U will be a major thrust in rapidly expanding the market for HD programming."
– Robert Mueller

Executive VP, JVC

Kyra Sedgwick

Cinematographer Ellen Kuras used a Sony PD-150 to shoot Rebecca Miller’s Personal Velocity, with Kyra Sedgwick.

Panasonic AG-DVX100
Retail price: $3,795
Average rental cost per day: $180

Recording format: Mini DV

Focus: Automatic, manual

LCD display: Yes

LCD panel size: 3.5"

Color viewfinder: Yes

Weight: 4.0 lbs

Depth x height x width: 14.4" x 6.3" x 5.5"

Additional select features: Exclusive CineSwitch technology; precision wide-angle lens (with stops and barrel markings); large, centrally located pivoting electronic viewfinder usable for left or right eye; six scene files and two user sets; unique pre-cleaning heads and auto head cleaning to maximize reliability.

Panasonic AJ-HDC27 VariCam
Retail price: $63,000
Average rental cost per day: $1,200

Recording format: High Definition

Weight: 9.5 lbs

Depth x height x width: 12.3" x 8" x 5.3"

Additional select features: Utilizes a
12-pole color matrix that allows very specific colors to be set; extern switch allows for easy access to any of three user-designed set-ups; a selection of four separate camera set-ups, plus one user standard-reference file; two programmable automatic white balance conditions (as set by the user) and one preset.

"The Panasonic VariCam is easy. If you can use a Betacam, you can shoot with this camera. This is the most film-looking HD format out there, and most DPs agree. Not just the 24p, but the way it does color is what makes it look more like film."
– Steve Weiss

President, Zacuto Films

Panasonic AJ-SDX900
Retail price: $25,000
Recording format: DVC Pro

Weight: 8.6 lbs

Depth x height x width: 8.1" x 12.5" x 5.1"

Additional select features: Captures film-like 24-frame images using CineGamma; switchable 16:9/4:3 aspect ratios; wireless microphone receiver pocket built-in; four-channel digital audio recording; SD memory card for scene file swapping; remote control; pre-recording board option offers 15 second caching or single frame intervelometer.

"We’re interested in any equipment that aids or expands the storytelling capability of the filmmaker. In my opinion, the SDX900 does just that. And it does it better than any low-cost camera developed since the Aaton A-Minima. In fact, it does it better than any standard definition digital camera we’ve ever tested."
– Pete Abel

President, Abel Cine Tech

Sony DCR-VX2000
Retail price: $1,700
Recording format: Mini DV

LCD display: Yes

LCD panel size: 2.5"

Color viewfinder: Yes

Weight: 3.1 lbs

Depth x height x width: 13.5" x 5.8" x 4.6"

Additional select features: 58mm aspherical lens and Optical Super SteadyShot; 200k precision SwivelScreen; still capture
capability; manual mic level control; color bar generator; intelligent accessory shoe.

Osvaldo Silvera

Sony’s HDW-F900 camera "held up incredibly well," says cinematographer Osvaldo Silvera, on the set of Rummel Mor’s Sparkling Sea.

Sony DSR-250
Retail price: $5,330
Recording format: DV Cam

LCD display: Yes

LCD panel size: 2.5"

Color viewfinder: No

Weight: 10.0 lbs

Additional select features: Lightweight, shoulder-mount design; 1.5" black & white viewfinder; familiar control placement; Super SteadyShot motion compensation function; 12-times zoom lens; supports both standard and mini-size cassettes, as well as both DVCAM and DV recording and playback.

Sony DSR-PD150
Retail price: $3,940 – $4,750
Average rental cost per day: $175

Recording format: Mini DV

LCD display: Yes

LCD panel size: 2.5"

Color viewfinder: Yes

Weight: 3.3 lbs

Depth x height x width: 13.5" x 7.5" x 5"

Additional select features: Mini DVCAM and Mini DV; aspherical ground glass lens; PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) stereo audio records two channels of audio; dual XLR audio inputs; time code can be preset using any number in hour, minute, second or frame; digital program editing.

"As a consumer camera, [the PD150] has functioned well for my particular inclination of keeping the image full of texture and shallow depth of field. It’s also very versatile, as it’s small and lightweight."
– Ellen Kuras

DP, Personal Velocity

Sony HDW-F900 HDCAM CineAlta
Retail price: $102,500

Average rental cost per day: $1,200

Recording format: High Definition

Weight: 17.0 lbs

Additional select features: Capable of record/playback of 1080 line 24/25/30 frame progressive or 50/60 interlace images; compact, lightweight and robust body design with cinematography accessories attached; continuous recording time of up to 50 minutes (24P mode); various indications for operational reliability; dual filter wheels for neutral density and color temperature control; soft focus adjustment.

"One thing I like about the HDW-F900 is that you can basically color correct and light on the set. If something is not red enough and you don’t have a filter to enhance the reds, you can go into the menu and change them to your specifications."
– Osvaldo Silvera

DP, Sparkling Sea

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