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February 25, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Equipment: Your Camera part I

By Dayton from SLN More Blogs by This Author

Regardless of what live action production you are making or you plan to make, you will need the ever important video camera. Different productions require different camera types, and then within the different camera types there are different brands and specific models within those brands that carry different features.

Unfortunately, the main reason (usually) that you will purchase a certain camera over a different one is from the sheer cost. The harsh reality of it all is that you can pretty much spend as much money as you could possibly want on a camera. The harsher reality is that when it comes to cameras and lenses, you really get what you pay for.

Here are 2 types of cameras that are used on different types of productions, if you are getting into video production I hope this is helpful!

The Camcorder

Heck yes, the camcorder. This thing exists for 1 purpose only, to freaking record some VIDEO. Camcorders have been the go-to device for all independent filmmakers for a very, very long time, and for good reason.

The typical professional camcorder is equipped with 1 or 2 xlr jacks for on-board balanced audio which is a huge advantage if you are recording on-site audio. Camcorders also have features that are used for "run and gun" videography like focus assisting peaking, zebra stripes, and different preset gamma curves. These cameras also usually have a very snappy autofocus with deep depths of field which let the user maintain focus of subjects very easily. Professional camcorders also have very easy to use physical controls like white balance and iris, this can save you time when you're setting up your (probably very newsworthy) shot. Filming in super bright environments is easily done with a camcorders eye-contouring viewfinder and built in neutral density filters, another great feature for field work. 

One of the greatest things about camcorders, consumer or professional, are their great usability. Even though that they are complex machines they don't require as much know how to operate as some of your alternatives. Also, because of their construct, a camcorder is always going to be the most handheld friendly video camera. Typically a camcorder has a place specifically designed for your hand to go and some are designed for being mounted on your shoulder. This, and its great autofocus and zoom capabilities, gives camcorders better handheld video without any type of rigging, and if you drop everything somehow, these are usually pretty durable.

The downsides of camcorders are plenty though. In amongst these great features that I just listed off, you also need to realize that there are drawbacks, like only having 1 lens. Regardless of what shot you need you will have to make due with whatever variable lens that is installed on our camera. Granted these are usually very good lenses, especially if you get into broadcast quality cameras, but you will lack the versatility of being able to change lenses to establish different shots. Another unfortunate circumstance that the camcorder falls prey to is their small sensor size. The smaller the sensor, the worse off you are going to be in low light situations. Along with that, you will most likely have a "flatter" image than it's larger sensor competitors, thus having less artistic flexibility. What you won't get with a camcorder is the much sought after creamy bokeh and shallow depth of field that indie filmmakers have attached themselves to.

Some good examples of what I am talking about: Canon XF300, Sony HVR-Z5U, and Panasonic AG-HMC40.


Not that many years ago nobody knew what a DSLR was. Nobody could have predicted it's massive hold that it would take on media. DSLR cameras have a primary purpose of shooting still photos, which it does with astounding clarity, but now DSLRs are used for their video prowess just as much as their pictures. When you stack up a DSLR against a pro camcorder, it really doesn't come as a surprise that they gained so much popularity so quickly. The secret is their function at their price point.

A Canon 5D mkIII will run you up about $3,000, with a 6D about $2,000, and a t4i around $1000. When you pit the 5D mkIII against the XF300 (about $4,000) you see the difference in a filmmaker's eyes. $1,000 still gets you a pretty decent lens, so if you are running an EF mount L series lens, or even a mid-range Canon lens you will have a more "cinematic" look to your footage.

The DSLR advantages may be few, but they are huge. The two biggest things that you will achieve is insane amounts of bokeh and crazy low light sensitivity. The massive sensor on the 5D will let you not crank the ISO so much, especially when you have a large aperture lens. Doing so gives you both a creamy background and a cleaner low light shot. Another great thing that is highly sought after and the 5D delivers is the field of view with a full frame sensor.

Take for example this picture:

If both of these were shot using a 50mm prime lens then the framing should be exactly the same right? Wrong. The 5D on the left looks like it took the picture with a wider angle lens, the reason for that is the crop factor in the 7D. When using a cropped sensor, like the 7D has, you are basically turning your 50mm lens into an 85mm lens thus giving the 5D a much larger field of view. Also notice that the color depth on the 5D is a bit fuller and a bit less smeary. You can really appreciate the dynamic range of the 5D when you look at how blacker the sky looks with the 5D too.

Which Works Best For You?

A DSLR can be had for under $1,000, and as far as artistic composition is concerned kicks the $1,000 camcorders right in the face! You do need to take into consideration what you are doing with your camera though. If you want to shoot mostly handheld footage with snappy autofocus and you want to post videos of your kids on Facebook, I would say go for a camcorder. But if you want to be involved in a more cinematic landscape and the ability to take stellar stills I would go for the DSLR. Remember too, that as a video camera, a DSLR is about the worst thing in the world for handheld footage (unless you have some sort of apparatus designed for that) because they are horribly awkward to hold steady and suffer easily from rolling shutter. 

Part II to come soon!

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