Blog, business, post production for film and video

Where will camera technology go next?

It has been several years since I purchased the cameras that we use at HCS to film video. They are not HD, they are not new, and yet they get the job done, and usually the footage looks really good to the client. But at some point in time, we will have to upgrade to HD. The camera prices have come down, and the compression codecs are getting better and better, and easier for the computers to handle too.

So why wait? Well, I’m confused about where HD is going to go.

On the one side, we have these cool new DSLR cameras (like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II shown here, or the equally cool Nikon D300) that shoot stills and video. Why is this cool? Because DSLRs have large lenses and large imaging sensors, meaning you can go for shallow depth-of-field looks and lower light, and get absolutely stunning results. (Check out this incredible action footage shot by Robert Bösch to promote the D300.) It also means you can shoot stills and video with the same equipment. But the downsides, for me, all have to do with integration of professional features like timecode and audio capabilities. I would rather not have to send all my audio through a tiny 1/8″ stereo microphone jack (although that’s what I do on the Canon GL2), and there isn’t any timecode available. Many of these DSLR/video cameras also limit the framerate (often 30fps) and resolution (sometimes only 720p and not 1080p) that can be captured. But the price-to-performance ratio is hard to resist if you can find suitable workarounds for these setbacks.

On the other side, the lower-end professional film camera market is so close to breaking wide open, that I am compelled to wait before spending any money. Red Camera‘s Scarlet, when it comes out, is going to run circles around current camera options. And right now, there are several sub-$1000 cameras that could shoot entire feature films. We’re looking at the Sony PMW-EX3 for shooting our next film. (See this great video review, and click over to his camera tests as well.) And we still have Panasonic’s AG-HVX200A, which was one of the first HD cameras that could shoot at multiple frame rates (and related to my current DVX100A — which is a bonus in terms of learning curve on a new camera). And JVC’s GY-HM700 is another strong contender, which shoots directly into a native Final Cut Pro format (woohoo! no more wasted time logging and capturing!)(see this review) that will street for around $7000. (Here’s another interesting comparison about the merits of both the EX3 and the GY-HM700.)

So, when and what to buy? Not yet, because I have no projects that require the new equipment just yet. And, when that next project comes around, we’ll take a look at what the requirements are, and how each of these solutions might fill those requirements.