Everyone wants to know what THE best video camera is on the market. Friends (who don’t work in video production) will ask me this question before making a purchase, “What video camera would you recommend?” I’m flattered that they respect my opinion, but the answer is a little more complex than it used to be. Today there are an incredible amount of cameras out there – each with their own capabilities. I’m hesitant to say that one camera is BETTER than another camera, because I’m not quite sure that’s the case. Every camera is DIFFERENT. Each brings to the table something that makes it unique. Think of these different cameras simply as tools in a toolbox. Each one performs a specific function and each one is suited for a particular job. I feel the same way about cameras. They are simply tools that help you to tell a visual story. You should select a camera based on the type of story you want to tell and the style/look you want to achieve. For example:
If a client wants the project to look a little raw and feel low-budget and home-made, I will select a camera and shooting format based on those parameters.
If it suits the project, I might shoot standard-definition video in a MiniDV format.
If I know that I will be going into a shooting situation with very low light levels, I will choose a camera that performs especially well in low light.
If I know that I need to achieve a rich, cinematic look with shallow depth-of-field, I might select a large-sensor camera with the flexibility to change lenses.
You get the idea.
Editing systems are now fully capable of importing video footage from different cameras (with differing frame rates, formats, and frame sizes) into the same project. So now, producers can mix and match their source footage into one video if need be.
The goal has always been to tell the best story. All you need is the right tool for the job.
Camera technology is constantly changing in the video production industry. It can be difficult to keep up with new image sensors, codecs, image sizes, frame rates, etc. and you can easily break the bank trying to acquire all of this new gear. Small to medium-sized production companies, as well as independent producers, need to pick their battles when it comes to the purchasing of new gear. However, it IS exciting to witness the continued evolution of this industry and how the tools of motion picture storytelling continue to improve.
One bit of technology that’s impressive is new LED production lighting. Everyone is familiar with LED (Light Emitting Diode) in one way or another. For years it was used for small indicator lights on all kinds of electronics and appliances. Only within the last 5-8 years, however, has LED become a serious alternative to traditional incandescent and tungsten lighting. LED fixtures are now being used in architectural spaces (offices, commercial, etc.), residences, and theatrical applications. And now LED is being used in video and film production lighting.
There are several advantages to LED that should cause any production company to take a serious look at using it for their next project.
Fewer Watts Used – Video and film production crews are accustomed to using fixtures that use high wattages in order to get the proper picture exposure. 650w, 300w, 1000w are common for interior locations. For exteriors one might see 1200w, 2000w, and even 5000w. However, LED production fixtures use much less wattage, but will emit an equal amount of light. So, instead of using 650w, an LED equivalent might use 80w.
Fewer Circuits Needed – One of the considerations that must be made while shooting on location is knowing how to patch in all of your lights to avoid overloading one circuit. This can be especially dicey when working in older buildings. LED production lighting features DMX control, which allows the gaffer to daisy chain several fixtures together, then load all of those fixtures into one outlet.
Daylight and Indoor Color Temperatures – If the video production crew is set up for an exterior location with a light kit consisting mainly of indoor-balanced lamps, the gaffer must compensate for this difference in color temperature by placing gel over all of the indoor-balanced lights. This is quick and easy to do, but you also lose light output in the process. For exterior shoots, this loss of light could be unacceptable for the Director of Photography. You could use a fluorescent light bank with interchangeable daylight and indoor bulbs, but this might not give you the punch you need for exterior applications. LED production lights can come with interchangeable arrays, so you can quickly change from interior to exterior color temperatures without sacrificing light output.
No Heat – Every production light we have ever worked with, even a small 300w fresnel, produces an enormous amount of heat. That’s due to the infrared wave lengths that are emitted when the light is working. Up to ninety percent of a 2000w fresnel output may be heat. Once a shoot wraps, grips must either wear gloves when handling the lights, or wait until they cool down. This is why television studios are kept at a very cool temperature. LEDs, by contrast, produce almost no heat, because they operate with far less wattage than traditional tungsten sources. Think of the energy savings for production and TV studios. Less wattage means a reduction in energy consumption. Less heat from the light fixtures means that a studio doesn’t have to cool the studio as much, resulting in a significant reduction in utility costs.
Retrofit options are also available for studios who have a large inventory of fixtures.
There are several good reasons for using LED in video production. In the coming months and years this technology will continue to have an impact on the lighting industry.
Time lapse videos are visually engaging because they compress hours (or even days) into only a few seconds or a few minutes of video. There’s something fascinating about watching things evolve and change in super fast motion, like this time lapse of a space shuttle being prepped for launch. I’ve used time lapse shots in my own video projects for various clients and they really punch up the production value. Recently, I came across this question about time lapse videography:
I have a camera right now, but it’s difficult to make time lapse videos with it. I may know the answer but i’m not quite sure, it’s something about you have to be able to have automatically shooting every xy second. At least that’s what one person told me. I just know what to look for when purchasing a camera, if that’s what I need, because I want a camera with this function so it is easier. There is a way you can do it with my camera, but it’s confusing.
If you are interested in creating time lapse shots that span several hours, even days, then your camera needs to be equipped with an intervalometer. Prosumer and professional video cameras have this function built in. Essentially, the intervalometer allows you to specify how long the camera needs to record and how often it needs to record. For example, you might want to shoot 2 seconds of video every 5 minutes, or 1 second of video every 10 minutes, etc. If you don’t have an intervalometer, you can easily set up your camera, hit record, and leave it alone. However, your time lapse shots will only be able to span a few hours with this method and you will end up with quite a bit of footage that you won’t really need.
When I purchased the Canon T2i over the summer, I immediately went out, shot some test footage, and posted the results (along with my initial impressions) here on the blog. Now that I have had an opportunity to work with the camera on client projects, I wanted to come back and post a follow-up article on what it’s like working with a DSLR when shooting video.
One of the first things I noticed is that if you want to shoot hand-held, it’s a good idea to invest in a lens with image stabilization. Or, you can invest in a DSLR rig that offers camera support. I did some hand-held work with a standard 50mm prime and it was almost impossible to eliminate camera shake. If you have a lens that does not feature image stabilization, then I recommend using a tripod as much as possible.
If you need to shoot hand-held and don’t have image stabilization on your lens, I advise moving closer to your subject. Any time you zoom in on your subject from a distance, you increase the level of visible camera shake in your image. However, by physically moving closer to the subject you can keep your lens set at its widest angle and get some very steady hand-held shots.
A major drawback to the T2i is that there is no “time remaining” indicator as you are shooting. It’s very possible to run out of space on your memory card without any kind of warning. This is bad for anyone shooting events or documentaries.
There is no way to monitor audio while recording. There are no VU meters and there is no headphone jack. If all you need is some great looking b-roll, then you’ll be fine. However, if audio is crucial, then you will need to record to an external audio device where you can properly monitor the levels.
DSLR’s allow cinematographers to capture incredible HD images and the affordability of the cameras mean that these tools are here to stay. However, like any tool, they do have their limitations. So, adaptation is the name of the game. However, accessories like camera support systems, external monitors, and lens packages provide some excellent work-arounds.
I’m excited to say that we’ve added another camera to our video arsenal. We recently acquired the Canon T2i, a great DSLR that shoots full frame 1920x1080p HD video in variable frame rates. Last weekend I spent some time shooting test footage, so I could get to know the camera a little better. Then I brought the raw footage into my editing system to see if I could establish a good workflow. Below are three clips I shot over the weekend. Here are some of my first impressions with the camera:
The shallow depth of field that you can get with these cameras is pretty remarkable.
Boosting the ISO will always add more grain to your shot. If you are shooting indoors and you don’t want a lot of grain in your image, keep the ISO as low as you can and add more light to your scene.
It’s a good idea to invest in some neutral density filters for exterior shooting. Using ND filters will allow you to keep your shutter speed at a slower setting. Increasing the shutter speed will cause your video to strobe more, creating a very staccato feel. Of course, this might be just the effect you are looking for.
Unless you are using Premiere Pro CS5, you will probably need to use some intermediate codec to convert the native MOV files into a format that your NLE can work with.
The T2i provides manual control over exposure and focus, and offers three different HD movie modes – 1080p/30fps, 1080p/24fps, and 720p/60fps. There doesn’t seem to be any manual control over white balance, but if you know of a way to change it, let me know.
Establishing rock-solid focus marks for your scene will be difficult without adding some kind of follow-focus system on to your camera. It’s not impossible, but it will take some rehearsing.
Make sure you purchase SDHC cards with fast transfer speeds. That will ensure better recording and better playback.
I love the LCD screen. Very large, very clear.
The ergonomics of hand-holding the camera isn’t as awkward as some people make it out to be. Is it different? Yes, but you can easily adapt.
The image stabilization in both the kit 18-55mm lens and the 50-250mm lens seem to respond very well. I didn’t use a tripod on any of my test shoots and was pleased with how the IS in each lens reduced hand shake.
Again, these are simply my initial impressions and observations. I’m sure I will post more as I start using the camera on client projects.