Making the Movie

3Mar/05103

HD Camera Comparison

Table of Contents:
High End Cameras
Mid-Range and Prosumer Cameras
DSLR Still Cameras That Also Shoot HD Video
Learner Cameras (Consumer Camcorders Capable of Upgrades)
A Word on 3D
HD Camera Shooting Hints


I've noticed many people coming to this site looking for camera comparisons. Even if you are only showing your film on the web, I do not recommend shooting in SD (Standard Definition, 640 x 480 pixels of resolution). You should 'acquire' in HD video or on film (super 16mm or better). Film is increasingly more expensive and less common, so most independent films now shoot with HD cameras. There are too many possible cameras to list them all, so I've narrowed them down to the ones I believe are best suited for making a low-budget film.

Here are my criteria:

  • At least 1920x1080 resolution, 23.98p frames per second (1080p) - I now consider this the minimum for a feature film that will be taken seriously by festivals, distributors and the majority of movie audiences. 720p is too soft on big screens and 1080i (interlaced) not as cinematic. Everything has now standardized around 1080p, which means that, if you can afford it, you should consider future-proofing at an even higher resolution: 4k or above.
  • Interchangeble lenses - I no longer am recommending getting a cheap camera and an expensive lens adapter. It seems pretty clear that filmmakers want the ability to change lenses built into the camera already. For more background, check out Making the Movie's Guide to Lenses for DSLR Filmmakers which explains the different types of lens mounts and choices made for independent feature films.
  • Tested workflows - This criteria is a bit more subjective, but it encompasses whether I consider the camera experimental when it comes to shooting feature films or not, whether the footage is recorded with enough latitude that it can be manipulated with a color-timing program to achieve more cinematic looks, etc.

For general information about buying a camera, read my column on the Mastering Film website: Which Camera Should I Buy for My Movie? I also recommend reading Ryan E. Walter's Guide to Putting Together a Digital Camera Package (2012) for a look at the thought process of a d.p. assembling a camera package.

 


High End

This category is for cameras which are currently used to shoot major commercial films. I have tried to organize them roughly in terms of current popularity.

Arri Alexa / Alexa M / Alexa Plus / Studio
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $60,000-$120,000
Rental Quote: $1500/day, $4500/wk

For d.p.'s accustomed to working with Arri film cameras, the Alexa workflow comes easily, and many popular film camera accessories require no adaptation. As of 2011, it has become a standard among Hollywood productions of all sizes. Martin Scorsese and Bob Richardson chose it for their first foray into HD with Hugo and Lars von Trier used it to shoot Melancholia. The four versions (Alexa, Alexa M, Alexa Plus, Alexa Studio) represent different configurations of the modular system (and different prices). For example, the M separates the camera head from the recording body and the Studio model features a mechanical shutter and optical viewfinder. A firmware update now allows for shooting up to 120fps.

Arri also had success with the D20 and D21 models in its high-end digital camera range, but these look like they are being phased out with the new Alexa line. [Last updated 1/2/13]

MORE:
Arri Website


RED Epic
MSRP: $58,000

RED's follow-up to the RED One has even more resolution (up to 5k) and high-speed capabilities (300fps at 2k). The next gen "dragon" will allow for even faster frame rates at even higher resolution, and a reported 15+ stops of latitude.  Recent Hollywood films shot on the RED Epic include The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Flight; and Jack the Giant Killer.

For most indies, the additional resolution and ability to shoot a high frame rates is probably overkill, but for those who have experience with the RED One, the transition is supposedly quite easy. [Last updated 1/2/13]

SEE ALSO:
Comparison footage of RED Epic vs. Sony F23


RED One
MSRP: $17,500 for camera body only (accessory prices and analysis)

RED One comes from RED, a company founded by Jim Jannard, the guy who brought us Oakley sunglasses. Jim is a camera nut and wanted to make a super-flexible camera that is capable of high-end images. There are some technical tradeoffs that RED makes to achieve their quality/price ratio and some filmmakers, like Rian Johnson, prefer other high-end cinema cameras like the Genesis or F23. Many major motion pictures have now been shot entirely with RED, including the Stephen Soderbergh-directed Contagion and the David Fincher-directed The Social Network, plus it has become the camera of choice for quality independent films like The Myth of the American Sleepover.

For those accustomed to shooting with film cameras, the RED has a large learning curve.  It is more a camera embedded inside a computer than a simple mechanical device.  There are various firmware "builds," each with their particular quirks. Having a dedicated tech in addition to the d.p. is recommended. Shoots up to 4k resolution, and uses a PL mount or can be adapted to use B4, Canon EF or Nikon 35mm lenses. Rates for rental are very reasonable since there are many indie filmmakers who have bought these kits and pay them off by renting to other indies. [Last updated 1/2/12]

MORE:
REDUser.net


Sony F23, F35, F65 CineAlta
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: F23 - $150,000 full package?; F35 - ?, F65 - $65,000 (w/ viewfinder)
Rental Quote: $3200/day (full package)

The F23 was the first modular camera in Sony's CineAlta system, a line developed explicitly for movie use. It features wide gamut, 444 color, slow-motion and speed-ramping.

The F35 ups the sensor size to an equivalent of 35mm film, has a PL mount and works with the portable SRW-1 recorder.

In September 2011, Sony announced the F65. Just as the Sony's F23 was an answer to the Red One, the F65 appears to be an answer to the Red Epic. It goes "up to 8k resolution" but has advantages at lower resolutions through a "supersampling" technology that allows for greater contrast in the details. It also has frame rates up to 120 fps, rolling shutter reduction, RAW output, wide latitude and color gamut. [Last updated 11/8/11]

MORE:
Sony Website

 

Mid-Range and Prosumer

Here's where we start to get into cameras that would be in purchase-rather-than-rental range for some lower-budget films, although it can still make financial sense to rent these. And don't forget to check Craigslist or other sites for people selling off their old kits.

RED Scarlet-X
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $10,000 body-only, ~$20,000 shoot-ready

Officially announced November 2011, the Scarlet-X is less like RED's imagined Scarlet (see below) and more like a junior version of the Epic. It is capable of a dizzying array of resolutions and frame rates. It currently provides up to 4k capture, and may be capable of more when RED does their next sensor update. [Last updated 1/2/13]

MORE:
Some Thoughts on Scarlet-X and Canon C300


blackmagic-cinema-camera-profileBlackmagic Cinema Camera
MSRP: $2,995

Blackmagic made a huge splash in 2012 by announcing a camera body at a truly affordable price that is capable of RAW recording, beating out RED's Scarlet, which was supposed to cost $3k but didn't. It is available with EF or passive MFT (Micro Four Thirds) mounts and the sensor records 13 stops of latitude at 2.5k resolution. Purchase of a camera includes Da Vinci Resolve software to color grade the RAW files, which record directly to the built-in SSD. Or record in ProRes422 or Avid DNxHD codecs for super-easy post workflows.

Despite some difficulty in attaching common cinema accessories and in mounting, handling the camera, this has quickly become a favorite of indie filmmakers. At this price, more budget is freed up for other toys. [Last updated 1/2/13]

MORE:
Blackmagicdesign.com


Canon-C500Canon EOS C100, C300, C500
MSRP: $6,500 - $26,000

Canon's C line of camera bodies are a direct answer to RED's camera line, providing a modular system for recording cinematic video at various price points. All have the same wide-latitude super-35 CMOS sensor and Digic DV III processor. All of them take Canon EF lenses, and the C300 and C500 have a PL-mount version as well. I've personally shot with the C300 and Canon's CP.2 lenses and was very impressed with how cinematic the results were.

The C100 is the entry level, capable of recording AVCHD only, although it does have HDMI out with TC.

The C300 can record 1920 x 1080 4:2:2 in XF MPEG-2 on board or can capture uncompressed with an external recorder. It still does not do 4k, so you'll have to shell out the big bucks for the C500 if that's what you want.

The C500 does 4k RAW recording at 10bit for up to 60p or 2k RAW at 12bit for up to 60p. Frame rates can even go up to 120p at 2k resolution. You will need to buy/rent an external recording device for this, though, since the built-in recorder can't handle that much data. [Last updated 1/2/13]

MORE:
Gizmag


kinefinity-kineraw-s35Kineraw S35
MSRP: <$10,000 ?

This Chinese-made 2K camera became available for pre-order as of December 2012. Already there is some nice test footage available that shows the capabilities of the camera, which has a whole set of controls that can be manipulated via an iPad app. The camera can be ordered with an Canon EF mount. [Last updated 1/2/13]

MORE:
No Film School update
Kineraw.com


The PMW-F3, Sony's 'indie' budgeted HD CameraSony PMW-F3

MSRP: $16,000 body only; $23,000 kit

Announced in November 2010, the PMW-F3 has a Super 35mm-sized sensor, accepts PL-mount lenses and can record at 1080/23.98p, as well as slow motion up to 720/60p. If you don't want to record XDCam -- and many filmmakers won't because of the compression and color space (4:2:0) -- you can go out 4:4:4 10bit via dual HD-SDI to an external recorder (if I read this right). I also like the ability to put sound in directly via XLR, which will streamline sound workflows for many indie projects. [Last updated 11/22/11]

MORE: Sony Website

Sony XDCAM EX PMW-EX3

MSRP: $9,900

The PMW-EX3 was released just months after the EX1 (see below) and has many similarities. It has interchangeable lenses and shoots 1080p to SxS cards. As of October 2010, it looks as if Sony is developing a lens that might be used with this camera to capture 3D. Or they may be planning to release a whole new version of this camera. This is probably a wait-and-see proposition.

Also, beware, there are apparently quality issues with how the bottom of this attaches to tripods. [Last updated 10/16/10]


Sony XDCAM EX PMW-EX1 and EX1R

MSRP: $7790 and $6500

The PMW-EX1R supersedes the EX1 with an improved hand grip and some other features, that indie filmmakers might not need -- do your research. They both have the same 3 x 1/2" CMOS chips as the EX3, shoot progressive up to 1920 by 1080 and offer variable frame rates (1-60fps at 720p). They record to SxS memory cards or there's an SDI with timecode out. Originally when released this only went out 1080i not 1080p. I cannot determine if firmware updates have fixed this. Overall, this is a more compact, 'run and gun' version of the EX3 (see above). [Last updated 11/8/11]

MORE: Adam Wilt's PVC review


Sony NEX-FS100

MSRP: $4,699 from B&H

With dual-XLR inputs, and uncompressed video out via HDMI, this is one great bang for the buck for an indie who knows how to do a little configuring.

 


Panasonic AG-AF100

MSRP: $4800 ($3500 at Amazon, No longer available at B&H)

This has a micro-four-thirds sensor -- smaller than the sensor in the popular Canon DSLRs (see below) but it is designed expressly for video, which gives it some advantages over them. The workflow seems to be pretty straightforward and I'm guessing it will be easy for filmmakers who already grew up with Panasonic's popular DVX100 and HVX200 cameras to make the transition. It was used to shoot the indie film Know How in conjunction with a nanoFlash recorder and some old Nikkor lenses. [Last updated 21 May 2013]

MORE:
Philip Bloom test and review

 

DSLRs

SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex, which is the basic type of pro stills camera, the one where you look through the viewfinder, and thanks to a mirror contraption (the 'single lens reflex'), you can see what the lens is seeing -- right until you pull the shutter and the mirror lifts. When these went digital -- the D in DSLR -- it became a no-brainer to add video capability. Recently, the video quality and manual features on some of these DSLR's has gotten to the point that indie filmmakers have begun using them to great effect.

The advantages are: cheaper lenses and great depth-of-field and everything else that comes from nice photo lenses, bigger sensors than many HD video cameras meaning more light and color info. People who are already familiar with shooting stills find it easy to make the transition. The disadvantages -- rolling shutters that create a "jello cam" effect when there are fast pans or handheld motion, heavy compression of image, lack or poor implementation of some video-centric features, such as sync sound.

Canon 5DmkIII / 5DmkII

Buy mkIII: $3,499 (body only) from Amazon $3,499 from B&H
Buy mkII: $2,199 (body only) from Amazon $2,199 from B&H

The 5D has a larger sensor size than the 7D and T3i. There are small but nice improvements for video shooters in the mark 3 from the mark 2, especially in the ability to set levels on audio recording, improved handling of moire, aliasing and low-light ISO noise. Filmmakers will have to weigh the cost differential, which may be even wider if you are considering buying used.

The HDMI out has burn-in on it; hopefully this will be fixed with a firmware update. Issues with rolling shutter and sharpness remain. Pro D.P.s recommend doing sharpening in post, in any case, rather than using the camera's sharpening algos.

For the 5D cameras Zeiss's CP.2 line is available in the EF mount, as are new Canon CN-E zooms, so excellent cinema-friendly lenses are available if you have dough to buy or rent. LAST UPDATED 17 April 2013

MORE:
5dmkii vs. Red vs. GH1 test shoot
Cinematographer Shane Hurlbut, ASC, his tips for menu settings and equipment


Canon EOS 7D
MSRP: $1,599 (body only) from Amazon and from B&H

The 7D was the first Canon DSLR to shoot 23.98 progressive -- the same speed as standard film projection. Other flavors can certainly be used, especially if you're going straight to the web and not into a feature film-type workflow. This camera has the same chip as the cheaper T2i, but has an option for HDMI out (useful for attaching an external LCD monitor) and is much more rugged. If you are going to be shooting in adverse conditions, I recommend ponying up the extra cash, as my T2i felt fragile, for example, when I used it in the desert heat and dust.

For the 7D camera, Zeiss's CP.2 line is available in the EF mount, as are new Canon CN-E zooms, so good cinema-friendly lenses are available. [Last updated 3/27/12]

MORE:
I talked about the 7D's drawbacks when it first came out


canon-eos-1d-cCanon EOS-1D C
MSRP: $15,000

Canon has designed their C100-500 line more expressly for cinematic shooting, but this pricey DSLR version is capable of 4k for cheaper than the C500. 4k video records in Motion JPEG, regular HD video in H.264. There is a clean HDMI out for grabbing a less-compressed 1080p HD feed (still 8bit 4:2:2). Vincent Laforet used this to shoot the Movi demo. [Last Updated 4/6/13]

MORE:

Canon Rebel T4i / T3i / T2i (550D)
MSRP: $799

I own a T2i at the moment -- so you get sense of my budget. I got it when it came out because the initial tests showed that the images created by the 7D were identical to those created by the T2i. The 7D does allow some better ISO customization and has HDMI out, but neither of those were dealbreakers. T3i is not much of a change from the T2i, just adding a swiveling display.

So far, this camera is working great, and I feel like a got a steal with the much lower price -- but I do recommend with any DSLR package: budget for the accessories that will turn it into a cinema rig. [Last updated 12/31/12]

MORE:
T2i vs. 7d shootout

 

Learner Cameras (Consumer Cameras Capable of Upgrades)

If you want your film to have the best possible chances, I am recommending 24p cameras with at least 1920 x 1080 resolution. But you can learn filmmaking on cameras of nearly any quality. Below are some cameras that do not meet my criteria, but might meet the budget you have, and have been used to make feature films before with great success in the days before 1080p was de minimus.

Panasonic GH1/GH2
MSRP: $1,199

I had to move this out of the DSLR section since a commenter reminds me it is technically an EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) camera. Still, it operates much like a DSLR. While it lacks some of the features and lenses of the Canons, there's a good chance you could find a used one with a whole digital-shooters kit already put together for a song cheaper.

UPDATE 10/6/10: A GH2 has been announced and pre-orders are available at Amazon: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 16.05 MP Live MOS Interchangeable Lens Camera with 3-inch Free-Angle Touch Screen LCD and 14-42mm Hybrid Lens (Black)

MORE:
This blog's original coverage of the GH1
The GH1 formula
Mounting the GH1


Canon XH-G1
MSRP: $6,999

The compact-body version of the XL-H1, much has been made of the Genlock, TC and HD-SDI jacks on this camera. Jammable timecode is something that people who shoot sync-sound will appreciate. [Last updated 11/8/11]

SEE: Studio Daily reviews the XH-G1 and XH-A1


Canon HV20 and HV30
MSRP: $1000

The specs for the Canon Vixia HV30 are nearly identical to the HV20. The main upgrade is the ability to shoot 30p or 30 progressive frames per second which should help with certain kinds of for-web work. (Like the HV20, it can also shoot 24p or 60i.) Other upgrades include making the zoom button bigger, making the LCD screen resistant to solarizing and making it possible to attach a particular battery pack called the BP-2L24H.

The Canon HV20 excited a lot of budget-conscious filmmakers because, with accessories like a Kona card for direct capture of the HDMI out and a lens adapter, it can produce amazingly high-end images. If you're willing to do some hacking, this might be the camera for you. [Last updated 10/9/10]

MORE:
CamcorderInfo HV30 review
This post at HD for Indies sums up a lot of the HV20 customization and workflow techniques.


Panasonic DMC-LX3, LX5
MSRP: $400

I shot and edited a film in two weeks using the LX3, which was so stealthy that we were never spotted the whole time we shot in public. True, it only goes up to 720p and to attach lenses I had to do some modifications, but I was only ever planning to distribute the film on the web.

The LX5 has similar specs (only does 720p) but now compresses in AVCHD Lite codec, which should mean a better image (theoretically). [Last updated 11/8/11]

MORE:
The Gear used to make #2wkfilm Natural Victims

 

A Word on 3D

Shooting in 3D increases the complexity of the shoot enormously, and is not for the faint of heart. As of November 2011, 3D camera rigs for indies are still very experimental. Still, it is worth considering because it will help future-proof your film.

I'm bullish on 3D. Along with 4k+ TVs & playback, it is the inevitable next development for consumers who have finished upgrading to HD. The biggest Hollywood movies are now almost uniformly coming out in 3D and I expect that to filter down -- just as color and sound did when they were introduced to movies.

For more, read the extensive post with my thoughts on 3D For Indies.

Hints

A hint on shooting good footage in any format: Hire a d.p. who knows the camera you are using or budget time for the d.p. to do extensive tests if he or she is unfamiliar with the camera!

A hint on avoiding headaches in post: Know your post-production workflow before you shoot, so that you can organize the footage appropriately while you shoot. Having files or tapes in HDV vs. DVCProHD vs. HDCam vs. HDCam-SR vs. AVCHD vs. XDCAM vs. .dpx makes a huge difference!

A hint on making the decision between two similar cameras: Flip a coin. It doesn't matter that much. Other considerations like lighting, acting, production design etc. will affect your film much more. Mark Stolaroff of No Budget Film School is very eloquent on this topic.

If you have experiences with these HD cameras, share them in the comments below. Please send any corrections or additions to makingthemovie AT-SIGN gmail DOT com.



About J. Ott

John Ott is a writer, filmmaker and technology geek. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
Comments (103) Trackbacks (2)
  1. great info dude. thanks alot

  2. My film teacher’s been waiting for that Red Scarlett for so long… sorry to hear it’d delayed again.

  3. Please provide me more information about making of movies in HDV camera. Will it be more exppensive while considering value of stock.

  4. Hi Wilson,

    I’m no longer recommending shooting in HDV. While the stock and cameras are cheap, there are lots of headaches in post due to the heavy compression of the video. For small, fun videos — absolutely. You should shoot with whatever you can get your hands on. But if you want to compete in the commercial market, I no longer think HDV is worth the headaches it takes to get high-quality images.

  5. if you want to compete in the commercial market, I no longer think HDV is worth the headaches it takes to get high-quality images.

    So what do you use other than film for the television commercial works ?

  6. Arun,

    Look at the ENG cameras offered by Panasonic and Sony. This site is not concerned with television, however. That’s why I’m trying to refocus the discussion towards cameras that will provide a cinematic image.

  7. The info on your site was very helpful. I would like to inquire, if I may, as to what would be the best camcorder to buy if your budget is currently maxed at $800? My friend and I are writers by trade but feel that we should go ahead and try to shoot one of our short stories, so a lot of this is new to us.

  8. Hi John,

    For a budget that low and for a first attempt at making a film, any video camera which you already have or can borrow is best. Beyond that, the FlipHD is fine and that will still leave you with plenty of money to put into costumes, props, sound and lighting.

    Personally, I recommend saving your money while you learn the skills and make connections with crewmembers and actors. If you only want to make one film in your career, start thinking of yourself as an executive producer and hire people who already have the skills and the contacts it will take to make the film.

    Best,
    J.

  9. Another Excellent camera i would recommend for a low budget movie production is Sony’s HVR-Z1p, which I have owned for 5 years now.

    If you use its Cineframe 25 mode it gives you a very filmic, cinematic look and the quality is excellent. You have to see it to experience and comment on it before getting pre-occupied with negative comments from those people who just don’t know how to use this camera.

    If the 25cf video is captured using Cineform codec, you get pure progressive workflow in the post. I have no complaints about the quality of Z1p; it is beautiful and very cinematic.

    You can also use a Nanoflash to capture 50mbps or 100mbps 4:2:2 HD video out from Z1p. We are making an action movie in Pakistan and are using a Z1p as the main camera.

  10. Hi John,
    I am a graduate film student and am currently looking at getting my first personal HD camera. I want it to experiment and further my understanding of cinematography and develop my reel. My school allows access to cameras based on classes that we are in and since I am concentrating on directing I am somewhat inhibited by what I have access to. I have shot on a Bolex, K-3 and recently worked on a short where we used a Red. I didn’t get to work with it a lot cause I was not the DP, but I fell in love, however it is out of my price range.

    I’ve been looking at the 5d and the 7d. There is a lot of information out there concerning the differences between the two cameras, but I am still overwhelmed. I keep reading that the 5d allows you to get really wide shots and is slightly better in low light situations, but the 7d offers more shooting speeds and just over all more features. There is also an issue with quick moving shots and a “jello effect” that is created. Does one perform better then the other in these regards?

    I understand that lenses and my personal abilities will hold a lot of weight about what I can get out of the camera. I am also not necessarily stuck on having to get a 5d or 7d.

    Getting this camera is an investment in my future and is supposed to be a tool that I can experiment with. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  11. Hi Nate,

    You’ve basically nailed the major differences between the 5DmkII and the 7D – the 5D, with a larger sensor, will perform better in low light, but was made earlier, before Canon was supporting the 23.98 frame rate standard fully. So the 7D is made with filmmaking more in mind and has some minor improvements. I’d also say consider the T2i aka 550D, which is about half the price of the 7D but has an identical sensor. The 7D is more rugged and has the HDMI-out feature.

    I personally don’t mind the “jello” effect. I more mind the compression of the video, which doesn’t leave much latitude for color correction. It’s very nice to be able to shoot 720p at 60fps and then convert in Cinema Tools to 23.98fps and get beautiful true slow motion.

    As something to learn with, any of these are great and recommended much above any other options out there right now (late 2010). I’d go for something on the lower end of your budget range and invest in “glass” or lenses, which will not lose their value as quickly as a camera body. In fact, you may want to consider renting the body and lenses, even for a kit as cheap as a Canon DSLR + 18-200mm zoom, and shooting some shorts. These things update quickly.

    Good luck and please report back!
    –JO

  12. Hi John,
    Iam a beginner in film making. I would like to start my career by making short-movies. so iam planning to buy a Handycam. Can u suggest me the best one that I can go for which meets all the specifications that you look for a Camera for film-making. Can i go with Sony-HDR-CX550V-Camcorder ?

  13. Hi Sai,

    I can’t make a decision for you about cameras. If you are really just starting, whatever is cheap and available is a great way to start and to learn. Most of what you can learn in terms of cameras you can learn on a relatively cheap model: how to light, frame, move, focus and expose a shot. There are really two questions that you should ask about any piece of equipment: will this help me tell my story? Will this provide a level of quality that is expected from a film with my distribution plan? Filmmakers are proving all the time that audiences care more about story and less about visual quality.

  14. I am interested in quality-photo/audio. What initial format is best to use if a 35mm blowup is needed down the road? I do not want to lose any picture or audio quality in the transfer.

  15. The best capture format to use is 35mm itself. Then probably a 4K camera such as RED, then maybe 16mm with a slow, meaning low grain, film stock. The audio you should be capturing separately – what is called dual-system. DAT tape was a standard for a long time, but now I believe most high-end films are using complex digital recording systems. You’ll want both boom and lav (lavaliere) microphones.

    Any time there is an analogue transfer, there will be “quality” lost. That’s the nature of analog. You try to copy things as few times as possible. Digital duplicates are identical in theory, but digital doesn’t degrade gracefully. If there’s a problem with digital data, that can mean big gaps are lost entirely. Analog just tends to have static or scratches that the viewer can easily ‘see through’. Think of watching an old VHS tape vs. a scratched DVD. Chances are you can get the gist of the movie on the VHS tape just fine, even if the quality is low. The DVD, on the other hand, is perfect until it hits the scratch, and then unwatchable.

  16. THANK YOU SO MUCH (!) for what you’ve set down here. …All very brief and helpful! Hypothetical question: If you were attempting to ‘simulate’ the look of 80’s fantasy-adventure films (e.g. “Labyrinth”, “The Neverending Story”, “Legend”, “The Goonies”, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, “The Goonies”, and so forth…), in HD, as a DP, what would you use – in terms of camera & accessories – and focus on most with your cinematography? Any suggestions, however general or subjective would be most gratefully received. THANKS AGAIN! Cheers!

  17. The SI-2k is not on your list. Thought it’d be right next to red.

  18. C.R.,

    See if you can get some of the old anamorphic lenses that were used on those films and shoot with those. You’ll probably want an HD camera that responds like a film camera such as RED or the Arri. You can try to replicate the look in post, but if you want to be authentic it helps to use the actual lenses with all their quirks. Look at what Soderbergh did with Ché.

  19. Thanks! That’s helpful.

  20. your words are very helpful thank you,

    can I make a high quality movie with canon 5d mark 2?
    will it direct import into FCP or do I have to capture through a DV recorder?

  21. Krinchen,

    Yes, you can shoot high-quality with the Canon 5DmkII. An episode of the T.V. show “House”, for example, was photographed with the camera. Of course, which camera you shoot with is the least of your worries if you are concerned with high quality. You have to know what to do with that camera, the lighting, actors etc.

    As for the workflow, yes, the files are .movs which import directly into Final Cut Pro. There are some software solutions which help organize and speed up the import process. Good luck!

    -john

  22. Canon 7D with stock lens and wide lens,focus follow kit with french flaps mattebox,lilliput 7″ HD monitor w/shade,zoom h4n portable recorder,AT879 shotgun,shure uhf lavalliere mic kit-hows that for a kit

  23. I’ve been shooting on a standard definition Panasonic DVX100A for a few years and now feel that HD is the next next logical step. I’ve been toying with the Canon T2i/T3i idea, but have been warned that those, or any DSLRs, are not a good choice for a serious filmmaker (due to built in compression when shooting to SD cards) and that I should start saving to buy a $6000+ camera. (I’m also unnerved by the notion of only 11 – 12 minutes of continuous shooting at a pop on DSLRs). $6000 will take me an eternity to raise. Something less might be achievable in my lifetime. What do you suggest?

  24. Hi Dale,

    If you’re already good with the DVX100, I would move to Panasonic’s HVX line. Since $6K is out of reach, you should look at renting. Hopefully you live near a rental house that will let you come in and train with the camera without paying to rent. If you’re in a remote location, you’ll have to have the package shipped to you, so you’ll be paying for training time. The learning curve shouldn’t be as steep, though, as if you switched over to DSLR workflow.

    P2 also has time limits, depending on the size of the card. Unless you are shooting documentaries, ~12 min limit on a take shouldn’t be much of a problem. Remember that reels of film last about this long, so nearly every movie ever made has been shot this way. If your style involves lots of long takes, you can always be creative with blending takes like Hitchcock did in Rope.

  25. Hello J,
    I am trying to buy a good Camcorder to start my production ( Independent film ), but I can’t decide.
    Can you please tell me , what I need to look in a camera like 1080 P, HD . I want to buy a camera that if I need to transfer to 35 or 16 it is ok.

  26. @JT,

    You’ve found the correct page. All of the above cameras fit your criteria.

  27. Any tips in setting using Sony HVR-V1U. Just wanted to get the maximum quality from this camera as much as possible. Appreciate any input.

  28. We shot an HD feature last year with TWO HV20’s and recently SOLD it to Maxim Media. It’s not the Camera, It’s the operator. http://www.backtothebeyond.com

  29. Hi john, thank you so much for this great site. I just stumbled upon it moments ago and devoured this page line by line.

    I am now in pre-pro for a low budget film and am looking to make a purchase in the 1,000-3,000 range (new, I don’t want used). I ‘HAD BEEN’ settled on the HV30 (or other Vixia) but then began to lean toward HDSLR. Then someone pointed me to the Sony NEX-VG10 and I found great footage online which, you guessed it, has me torn between these three choices. I know DSLR does a fine job but I like the idea of having a real video cam (and later on add a DLSR to my collection). But I could still go DSLR. I’m just confused. The VG10 does a great job but doesn’t shoot in 24p like the HV30. Would you just forget 24p and move forward with the Sony? I know I must decide myself, and you can only inform. I was wondering if there could be a 4th camera option I haven’t included here?

    Thanks again for your contribution to the craft.

  30. Thanks, Lance. Yeah, I can’t really make that call for you. It’s totally dependent on what suits the film and how you intend to master it / screen it. A 24p camera is probably a good investment if you plan to move on and grow to the point where you will use cinema workflows. On the other hand, the t.v.-look of 1080i can be just fine, especially for documentaries/sports. Good luck!

  31. @fob,

    Check out the forums for that specific camera (HVR-V1U) and see what people who use it recommend. Here’s a link to get you started: http://www.dvxuser.com/V6/archive/index.php/t-83294.html

  32. Please help me… Can I use a CANON HV30 or HV20 for making a short film effectively??
    please respond

  33. @Jayadev – Short answer: yes. People have made great shorts with these cameras, and also much worse cameras. Good luck!

  34. Awesome stuff, J. May I ask a question? You state in your criteria that shooting is best with 1080p. However, the RED One doesn’t fit your criteria. Do the other attributes make up for the lack of 1080p? I’m just having a little trouble understanding the contradiction (for lack of a better term). Could you explain that a bit more? Thanks!

  35. @Denny,

    For the RED One you have the option of capturing better than 1920 x 1080 resolution – namely 2k and 4k. A feature film at 4k is one big data file. A lot of people downconvert to 1080 to fit on a tape like an HDCam-SR when creating the final master for t.v. broadcast and DVD/Blu-Ray authoring. If you shot 4k and hope to project theatrically, you should still make a 4k master of some kind, even if it is just several terabytes of dpx files. Hope that answers your question.

  36. I just wanted to say thanks for the info. I am an audio pro out of Berklee and I wanted to dabble in some indie/doc film production. My wife is a photog with a couple of DSLRs, both with HD. Your article was insightful and helpful. I think I still need to make a decision about a production app, Media Composer or Final Cut. Many of my colleagues have to use both. I use Pro Tools for all audio work, though I own other audio apps, too. Any immediate concerns or recommendations you can make regarding accessories, production software, or technique for the first go around? Maybe suggestion for further reading? Thanks again, I became a fan on FB of your site. Best of luck with your projects.

  37. @Jae,

    I am not recommending Final Cut Pro X at this time – it does not yet have the audio functionality that fimmakers need. If you can get ahold of a copy of the old Final Cut Studio or any of the last couple versions of Media Composer, you should be fine – you can send OMFs/AAFs that work great in ProTools. The next version of Avid will supposedly be even more integrated with ProTools, since Avid bought DigiDesign, the company that made the software, a few years back.

    As far as other recommendations, click around the site. Or, if you prefer to have everything organized, there are plenty of good books on film production. Check out the book reviews here on the site or on Amazon. Best of luck, John

  38. Hi John,

    I’m big fan of you… am planning to open a movie company in Ethiopia. I have good sponsor willing to cover my camera cost, planning to by red one or red epic. What is the best component to have a good quality sound, since am all the way in Ethiopia it’s easy to maintain if some thing wrong with the camera. Pls advice me what else I should by for my company.

    Tess.

  39. Hey J. I’m just entering the world of filmmaking and for a brief time was sold on either a HV30 or 40. But shortly after I started having second thoughts about the whole miniDV tapes. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about it being a “dying technology”, and that places to buy these tapes will become more and more scarce as time goes on. That kinda sounds scary. Should I get a camera with a hard drive or not worry about the tapes? This will be my first camera and I will probably spend numerous hours just shooting anything to practice, and don’t want to spend a ton of money on tapes because of learning footage. Thank you so much!
    -WooDy

  40. @Tess,

    I am planning to write a post on sound soon. Without knowing the specifics of what you need, I can only make general recommendations. First thing you’ll want to get is a boom mic and some way to record it. The cinema standard mic is the Sennheiser ME66 with K6 module. For recording I like the Sound Devices 744T. Next, you’ll want to get some wireless lav mics like Tram TR50s – cheap and good – plus Lectrosonics receivers. If you can’t afford all that, consider getting a lesser camera than the RED and spending on good sound equipment. The sound stuff doesn’t change as fast and is, in many ways, more important.

    Good luck – John.

    UPDATE: Here’s the article on sound equipment… http://makingthemovie.info/2011/11/indie-movie-sound-kit-recommendations.html

  41. @WooDy,

    Yes, it seems to be the consensus that miniDV is on the way out. There are plenty of good options of hard-drive recording prosumer cameras. That said, you might be able to get a used kit of the HV30 or HV40 and get a lot of mileage out of it. Tapes do have advantages as cheap and long-lasting storage. I have not researched the lower-end cameras in a while — sorry I can’t be of more help.

    -John

  42. Hi this is Aswath from India.

    I have started a small ad-making company here.. I want to buy a video camera for my company… it must be very low price with good quality… HD quality… better it have p2 cards or lens changing option? Can you please tell me which one is better.

  43. Hi John,

    I am a complete begginer when it comes to technical camera know-how. I saw that “The Camera Assistant’s Manual” was one of the suggested readings on this site. I believe there is a 5th edition out now. Would this be the book for someone like me who has no idea about what all the different features on a camera do for your film? Everything from the different lenses and how to work them to color and lighting, especially on a DSLR. I have played around with point-and-shoot cameras, but wanted to step up to DSLR and learn how to use all the features. Could you please suggest some readings, if you feel “The Camera Assistant’s Manual” will not provide this for me? Thank you very much.

  44. @V. Datt,

    I believe Focal Press just put out a book on DSLR Cinematography. I haven’t read it, but it sounds like more what you’re looking for.

  45. @Aswath,

    The ability to change lenses, IMHO. Unless you already have a bunch of P2 cards and P2-associated equipment already, and can save some money with the HVX200 or other P2 camera.

  46. Thank you for your time, Mr. Ott! I really appreciate all your knowledge.

    What about Sony NEX-FS 100U 35 Sensor Camcorder (body only on B&H $4999, with lens 18-200mm Zoom $5599)? Do you recommend to buy a lens with it?

    And any equivalent cameras in Panasonic — I heard Panasonic is durable.

    Or if I can spend less to achieve the same result, for which I can save money for something else?

    I graduated from a film school in LA a couple of years ago, thinking of doing a short cinematic style film and will schedule to shoot by the end of this year.

    Seeking your professional opinion. Great thanks! -jen

  47. @Jen,

    Check out this interview with Mark Stolaroff: http://makingthemovie.info/2011/08/no-budget-filmmaking-camera-tips.html

    Hopefully that will help answer your questions. Ultimately, I would say spend no more than 10% of your budget on the camera and lenses. I don’t have any facts to back that number up — I’m guesstimating. But a big part of what makes something cinematic is lighting and camera movement. A good d.p. will help with that, and help you get the most out of whatever camera you can afford.

  48. hello

    i have come to a point were i need a better cam.. i have a mono røde mic and a good quality tripod..

    things i would like:
    low light ability without grains..
    ability to control focus abit
    still a resolution to get 720p on youtube..

    i make mostly car videos street racing and stuff..

    i have been looking on the HV20 canon:
    cool things:
    mic minijack
    headphone jack (sweet then i can hear if its any good)
    24p cinema.. would like that sweet look..
    ability to change lences..

    uncool:
    tape..
    firewire transfer
    is it a 720 cam?

    is there a replacement for this.. newer model with some of the same cool things?

  49. Thanks for the comprehensive list.
    Might want to update it a bit and add the Arri Alexa, Sony F35 and now the Sony F65.

    Also spotted a little mistake the GH1 was released a full calendar year later than the Canon 5D Mkii. And all tho it looks like a DSLR it technically uses an Electronic View Finder (EVF). These EVF cameras are also known as “Mirrorless” meaning the lens sits right next to the sensor. So the image you see on the EVF come right out of the sensor. DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex) use a collection of mirrors inside the body to project the image onto the view finder.

    The main advantage of this Mirrorless system is that it allows the manufacturer to build a much much smaller and lighter camera body. Another side benefit is that this is the most adaptable camera system in the world. You can put anything from cinema lenses, down to pretty much any brand of camera lens out there. But you have to deal with the Crop Factor of the sensor.

    Speaking of crop factors…..
    The single most differentiating feature between the 5d, 7d and the Panasonic GH series is the sensor crop factor. 5d mkii as a full frame camera and thus has no crop factor. So a 50mm f1.4 lens behaves as such. The 7D has a 1.6x crop factor. So that same lens would in turn behave like a 80mm; and while it retains the f1.4 sensitivity/f stop the DOF is also multiplied by 1.6 so your DOF would behave like an f2.0. On the GH series the sensor is a even smaller and the multiplier is 2x. SO again the same math. The advantages of one over the other are based on personal preferences and needs. Plus you can now hack all these cameras and get more out of them.

    Basic sensor notions: The bigger the sensor the better performance you’ll have at Higher ISO’s, the bigger and heavier the system will be (body and lens), and the more rolling shutter you’ll have.

    Hope this help!

  50. @MannyB,

    Thanks for the info!


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