Three camera test…

…between my mainstay Panasonic AG-HMC150, Swann HD Freestyle (think Go Pro), and Kodak Playtouch (your basic Flip style camera). Initially the latter two look pretty good, especially with the water splash. However, if you take the time to check, the details in dark areas and highlights on the fruit are noticeably better on the Panasonic.

Shot in bright sunlight…all cameras on automatic.

Shutter speed, aperture, depth of field

One of the many skills lurking within the brain of a videojournalist. Seeing depth of field. Something a good PJ/VJ knows intuitively. If ya use a high shutter speed and a wide-open (low) aperture, you get great depth of field (meaning shallow). Go the other way and get everything in focus…

Oh…and see what happens when you shoot a water fountain at different shutter speeds. Interesting…but if you want to slo-mo video, use the higher shutter speed.

Love at first sight…

My “last” camera arrived a week ago and I’ve been doing something I’ve never done before. Sat down, figured out a testing schedule, read the manual (now THAT was a first) and have been methodically going through the controls. Every other camera I’ve bought I just hit the ground running with.

But this little girl (gonna hafta think up a nice nickname for her) is special. My first non-tape camera in decades (of course that last one was 16mm). Panasonic HCM150.

When I pulled her out of her box and unwrapped her, I shivered. Sleek lines, sturdily built. All of the requisite controls on the OUTSIDE, not in some damn menu.

So here’s the agenda for checkout…something you might consider with your next camera. Keep in mind I’ve built up a good supply of accessories and need to check them out to make sure all is compatible.

First day – Pull from box, scan the manual. Shoot and play back some tape video, just to see how it looks. Review the manual again re the basics of setup and shooting.

Several days later…sat down with camera and manual and went through everything page by page to get a basic handle on what I need to know to shoot. Dumped a few files into my (five year old) MacBook, iMovie 9 just to see if I could. Imported fine, rough playback. Note to self: next time use a firewire external drive, not the USB drive. But it is nice to know I can get by for a little while longer with my current computer…will get the new one when a paying client appears.

A week later…met up with cohort Larry Nance and we reviewed and did a comparison to cameras we’ve used in the past. This one rocks. Not quite up to broadcast standards (smaller, lighter, 1/3″ chips, different media), but masterfully planned. Made arrangements to meet in a week and do side-by-side shoots with older cameras.

Today…ran audio tests. First, the on-camera mike. Next a wired stick mike (Electovoice 635) and then wired shotgun (Sennheiser ME66) and then each mike run on the wireless (Lectrosonics) system. All worked wonderfully…the shotgun definitely peaks higher than the stick mike and was able to run off phantom power when on the wireless transmitter. That and I walked to the back of my property and the audio was crystal clear at 200 feet on the wireless. Rock on!!!

Next week Larry and I will shoot and post side-by-side comparisons with our older JVC GY-DV300s and my Canon HV20.

Now I want a new carbon fiber tripod!

A word to why the above process is important for teacher/students/newbies: Unless you research thoroughly and even then, problems will develop with equipment. I knew in my heart that all of my older gear would hook up to the new camera. But the worst time to test new systems is when you are under the gun. Plug in everything you’ve got. Take notes. Check out every variation with every item. Be prepared to order adapters or make adaptions. Know your gear.

Oh…and Larry…I finally found the composite outs/RCAs. Hidden over the XLR outs in a well-concealed compartment. (Sneaky, that.)

Quandary or quagmire?

Which is it?

I’m torn between two worlds right now, with a deadline approaching.

Which camera to purchase? At first it was a simple problem. The Panasonic AG-HMC150 or the JVC GY-HM700? The deciding factor was the price and my budget. The 150 fit the budget, but the 700 has the little bit of extra “oomph” … a better/longer lens and the ability to change the lens out. All that for about three grand more. Ouch.

Then I decided to include the alien world of DSLRs. First just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything…then, as I dove deeper and deeper into research, I found myself actually seriously putting them on my list. Ouch. For an old die-hard videot like myself, this was sacrilege. I should be burned at the alter of analog…done in by digital demi-gods. Shudder.

So for now I’m looking at the Canon 5D MarkII and possibly the Canon 7D as well.

The latter fits the budget and the former has the goodies. Similar to my problems with the video cameras. One I can afford and one I want…but I also know that no matter what I can afford or want, there will always be another camera just out of my range. Time to get realistic.

Both of the video cameras are familiar territory. I know how they shoot…where the controls are…how far and hard I can push them. The DSLRs are an unknown…but I’ve been wowed by their quality. I do see that they have minimal audio input and controls…a biggie for me. Audio is right up there with video quality – the two are inseparable.

So now I sit on a pretty damn uncomfortable fence…researching, thinking, asking question. With about three weeks to go until I make the final final.

(for those of you who are confused by two seemingly similar “Q” words: a quandary is a state of uncertainty or perplexity and a quagmire is NOT a character on Family Guy, but a situation from which extrication is very difficult. Meaning I may be stuck in a state of indecisiveness for a long long time.)

Addendum 2/24/2011
Well that was faster than I thought it would be. Thanks to reader comments, facebook input, and Chuck Fadley over at the Yahoo newspaper video board, I’ve moved on and am only considering video cameras again. The DSLRs are wonderful – don’t get me wrong. But they are not for me. Despite the amazing quality of the video, the limitations on shooting (12 minutes) and lack of embedded audio (mini-jack input only or go with what essentially amounts to a double sound system) put me off. Plus the alien (to me) design. I’ve used DSLRs and love them for still shooting – but slinging one for video just wouldn’t be the same…so added on to other factors, I’m back in familiar territory. Video cameras are meant for run and gun or slow and careful…and there IS a choice.
Cameras still on the horizon include the Pano HMC150 and Sony Z5u, with others still on the fringe. I pulled back and did a reality check on my budget…everytime I scanned the possibilities, I kept seeing better and more expensive gear. That is NOT what this is about…it’s about getting the idea camera in a set price range. The Sony is actually OUT of that range…but that long lens keeps pulling at me. Sigh.

My dream kit…

…is on a B&H Photo wish list. Not that I’m expecting it for the upcoming holiday season – no way. But it is definitely in the future as part of a retirement gift to myself.

Camera
Panasonic AG-HMC150. I’ve been eyeballing this little girl for a while. She’s compact, sturdy and shoots to memory cards. At the high end of my affordability scale, but with nearly everything I want. The lens isn’t as long as i want (I hear your pain, Lenslinger), but with a tele converter, maybe, just maybe I can ease that pain a bit. Having used the 200A (at about $700 more), I like the heft…and the controls are pretty much in the same positions of the many pro cameras I’ve used. This is where it gets personal. There are other styles of cameras out there – shoulder mounted, bigger, heavier and pretty much in the same price range. So my final defense in getting this one is – I like it.

Accessories
The usual. At least two/preferably three extended life batteries. Two 8GB and one 16GB cards. Not cheap – but they amaze me. I can get up to an hour twenty of hi-def on the 16GB card. Wow. That and the ability to choose which scenes to download? I’m in the choir!

(Rant warming)

Allow me to digress for a moment. I will ALWAYS go with removable media. I was never a fan of the the current crop of hard drive cameras. Why? If the recording media goes down, what cha gonna do? That is reason #1. Reason #2 is convenience. I can shoot on one card and hand off a full card to someone else for editing. I can store different stories on different cards. If a card goes bad, I can replace it.

Card reader. Yeah…ties in with the rant above. If I hand off a card to download, there must be a way to get it into the computer. Plus, less hours on the camera.
LED dimmable light. May as well update the on-camera light while I’m shopping. Longer run time, brighter light than what I’m using now.

Still checking prices, but most likely Kangeroo or other foul weather gear and maybe (further down the line) tele and wide angle adapters. Whoowhee!

Tripod
The old Bogan-Manfrotto is getting heavy as I get older, so in the market for something lighter with a half or full-ball head.

Computer
A Mac of course…what model/processor, etc depends on what’s on the market when I get my stuff together.

The final tally won’t be cheap…which is one of the reasons I’m back in school, doing the long term sub gig. Life’s little pleasures must be earned. And during the next six months, who knows? The next bright shiny object of my desires may change…