Saturday, October 13, 2012

Our next movie - what camera to use? - Part 1

We (IAFilm collective) have been on our current wave of making digital shorts since 2002 and with persistence has come improvement and some film festival screenings this year (2012). Next step is to take on the challenge of a no-budget feature. Possible shape is a drama with elements of fantasy taking on themes of "the gap between rich and poor" and "climate change". All shot human actors + greenscreen with digital-artwork backgrounds. Tech experiment of using readily available equipment to explore and push the democratisation of film-making. Use of smartphones as double-system audio recorders means that for cameras, we only need to worry about "bang for the buck" video capability. Interesting thought exercise as to what camera to use.

IMO useful internet sources from my searching:

"Making the Movie" - blog led by indie film-maker John Ott. Article on cameras at:

DXOMark. Independent lab testing of camera sensors. "Landscape" dynamic range test is the one of most interest to me:

Leading to my current list: from most expensive possibilities .. to reality of what we can borrow now ... Very approx values in USD

Blackmagic Cinema Camera, USD 3000
Custom sensor and body writes uncompressed or low-compression video to a built-in SSD drive. Takes Canon EOS lenses. Looks like very high quality for serious indies at a reasonable price. Reviewed in detail by indie film-maker Marco Solorio. Impressive results in his dynamic range test and green screen test.

Panasonic X900, USD 1200
Top of line consumer video camera with "3-MOS" sensor. Excellent resolution results in this test:

Canon HF G10, USD 1500
Top of line consumer video camera. Interesting recent development from Canon as they change their video sensors from 10 Megapixels to 3 Megapixels in order to concentrate on doing video well without trying to do double-duty as still cameras.

Canon "entry level" HD video cameras: eg HF R20, HF R30, HF R300, HF M40, USD 300 - 600
Also making the move to video-oriented sensors like the top-line models.  We borrowed an R20 for our 2012 "V 48 hours" movie -  worked well - includes green screen shots - view here:
Impression of our results so far is "almost good enough" but in the "V 48 Hours" competition we used lower-quality settings to achieve faster post-production. More testing todo including the options for 24fps, 24Mbps and "cine mode".

Panasonic Lumix FZ200, USD 700
This is a stills camera which can also do video. In theory at a disadvantage because of 12 Megapixels as small pixels on a chip about the size of a little fingertip. But the small chip leads to some lens design advantages as a trade-off.  Attractive on the democratisation principle as a popular hybrid camera that promises to do lots of jobs well. Gets good reviews. Can record 1080p60 at 28Mbps (which is good). DXOMark testing of its predecessor, FZ150, reveals that it can almost match the big-chip DSLRs for dynamic range at 100 ISO but it falls behind as the ISO goes up. Translation - needs good lighting. Owner "popi" writing in a "" forum reports owning both and observing FZ200 sensor improvement. Wins points from John Ott ("Making the Movie" link above) reporting success in shooting a quickie feature movie with one of the earlier Panasonic Lumix LX3 cameras. 
Example FZ200 review with sample video direct off the camera:

Canon EOS EF DSLR entry-level-plus series eg EOS 550D, EOS 600D, EOS 650D, T3i "Rebel", USD 800
Current darling of many indie film-makers for some extended creative control possibilities. The big sensors give good dynamic range and good low-light capability. But gets test results where they deliver less line resolution than cameras focussing on video like the Canon HF G10 and Panasonic X900. " ... 650 ... a pretty good score for a video-capable DSLR, though it certainly doesn’t come close to what we’ve seen from higher-end video-oriented cameras ..." . That may be important for a green screen production. On my todo list is to rent one of these for a weekend and run my own green screen tests.

Olympus V310 pocket stills camera with video, USD 180
Like almost any stills camera, has an HD Movie setting. Moderate HD setting of 720p30 but interesting in its use of the simple MJPEG codec which means it records a complete image for each frame. This gives it an advantage for shots with motion. The only other camera on this list that can do that is the Blackmagic at USD 3000. V310 also delivers a high bandwidth of 33Mbps which is great for indies. Early testing comparing with the V310 indicates good sharpness, but possible issues with low light capability, dynamic range and high colour saturation. TODO more testing trying different menu options. Looks at the least like a useful special purpose and experiments camera. Review of the similar VR320 at:
In the comments, "hammerogod" says this "...MUCH better Video than I expected...MUCH better.It should be advertised as a Video cam that takes Stills ..." so I am not the only one who has noticed.

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