Choosing the right camera for a project can take time – sometimes even several days. And the vast range of cameras offered by manufacturers and huge number of equipment reviews don’t exactly make things any easier when you’re trying to decide. Also, there are no limits set in terms of price and fittings available.
That’s why we want to help you along by providing some helpful tips for choosing a camera.
Don’t buy – rent
Equipment can be very expensive, but buying a lot of it isn’t actually necessary, at least not when you’re starting out. Equipment can be borrowed, and props and other equipment such as reflectors can be built with simple means. It’s best to set up your project according to what you had in mind, not according to the equipment available.
How much technical equipment does your film really need? It depends on what kind of movie you’re making. If you’re filming in a chamber theatre, for instance, you don’t need much. But it’s a different story if you’re filming a live music performance.
Camera comparison: Cinema camera, camcorder, DSLR
There are a wide range of camera models and therefore differences when it comes to price, functions and operation. A real cinema camera costs considerably more than a reflex camera. Remember though, as mentioned above, that you can just rent one.
The digital cinema camera uses image sensors and digital media for image recording. The camcorder is characterized by the fact that it has an integrated video recorder: hence its name. The SLR camera has a fold-down mirror between lens and image plane.
Be aware that additional equipment (monitor, rig, focus etc.) will drive costs up further.
When using the functions, you should try reducing the depth of field as much as possible. If you want to obtain a truly cinematic image, not all areas of the image should be equally sharp. Size and weight play a role when you’re working on the film, especially when you want to be spontaneous, flexible and mobile.
AVCHD, HDV, DV?
A simple DV camera will often fit the bill. The resolution offered by a DV camera is sufficient for DVD quality. Even if HDV material is used, the DVD won’t be in a higher resolution.
For HD, you can choose a HDV or a AVCHD camera. The advantages of HD are obvious, with the higher resolution resulting in sharper images. Most households these days have plasma or LCD TVs for playing material in HD. However, there are some disadvantages: Due to technical reasons, a HDV camera usually produce more artifacts than a good DV camera. HD material also requires more computing power and disk space.
Artifacts are image artifacts created for technical reasons,e.g. color fields that can occur when an uncompressed source material is too highly compressed. The difference between AVCHD and HDV is the codec used. AVCHD uses H.264/MPEG-4, while HDV records in MPEG-2. AVCHD records in Full HD. This means that AVCHD resolution is 1920×1080 pixels.
HDV, on the other hand, records in 1440×1080 pixels, but can stretch the horizontal pixels to create an undistorted image in a 1920×1080 ratio. As a consequence, artifacts are less visible in AVCHD.
While AVCHD always saves to a memory card or an internal hard drive, HDV can also be recorded to a cassette.
Format is not the only decisive factor when selecting the right camera for you – the setting options for the camera are just as important. We advise going to the camera shop and trying out different devices. See what the camera feels like in your hand and how accessible individual functions are.
One of the most important differences between amateur and semi-professional cameras is that the latter have more buttons for direct adjustment and you don’t have to search around in menus for a long time.
Zoom is another key feature, so don’t forget to compare the zoom functionality of the cameras you’re choosing between. Lens can even be swapped on some cameras. This is an option – if you’re willing to invest in additional lenses.
Some other options that shouldn’t be ignored:
Adjustment dials for shutter speed, white balance, gain, XLR inputs, manual tone control, freely assignable quick-access buttons and the option to save different presets.
Additional equipment: Tripod
Once you’ve chosen a camera, a good tripod is a very useful piece of gear to purchase next. The purpose of a tripod is to stabilize the camera, prevent shaking or secure a particular camera angle. A tripod is simply indispensable – it is the most important aid for the camera!
As well as general image stabilization, a tripod can be used to help capture panoramic pans, by fixing the horizontal position of the camera and then rotating the camera around the vertical axis of the tripod.
The most common type of tripod has three legs and is made of aluminum to keep it light and portable. Depending on the model, these kinds of tripods normally have extendable legs and a rotating head (the point where the camera is attached).
Another type is the table tripod, which is smaller and normally placed on an elevated surface such as a table. These can be useful in situations where a normal tripod would be too complicated, or unsteady.
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