The cost-effective HD feature film Part 2: Production Camera Options
In my last article, we talked about how to approach the pre-production and production considerations of an indie feature, including how to achieve a cinematic image with HD camcorders.
In this article, we’ll concentrate on the actual HD cameras themselves, and what each of them can do for you. For the purpose of this article, we are only going to talk about formats and cameras that fit within the price point of an indie feature film budget.
There are many options available to the budget-conscious filmmaker today. There was a time when all low-budget filmmaking meant shooting on DV. Some features in the States have been shot on PD150s and XL2s with varying results.
But weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve since entered the age of acquiring on HD, so in this article we will focus on low- to mid-priced HD camcorders. What weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re aiming for is maximum quality at reasonable costs.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to group the camcorders according to recording medium, and then by codec (compressor/decompressor) if need be, since these determine how much of what youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve shot is retained when put into post.
More post detail will be discussed in the next article. What you will realise eventually – once you get to the last article of this series – is that the entire workflow of a feature film sometimes matters more than the individual hardware components. Post impacts production (camera, lighting approach, etc.), which in turn impacts pre-production planning.
There are only two major formats we are not going to cover today Ã¢â‚¬” HDCAM and HDCAM SR. The reason is simple – rental and purchase rates for camcorders of these two formats are higher, and probably out of reach of the average indie filmmaker. However, if there is demand from readers, we can certainly talk about these two formats in the future.
We are also not going to cover XDCAM HD, since its penetration level in Singapore is relatively low, and its use in feature film production is not as rampant (as of now). Of course, ours is a rapidly-evolving industry.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m going to briefly detail the benefits and drawbacks of working with each system and camcorder. This is not designed as a review – there isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t enough time for that. Nor is it designed as a shoot-out. No camera is better than the other; all cameras have their pros and cons.
The information in this article relates to what is true at time of writing. Circumstances are bound to change as time passes.
For the most part, I will keep to the facts, only injecting some thoughts from my own experiences once in a while. My goal is to provide you information that can help your decision-making when choosing a camcorder for your indie feature film. Please keep in mind that the opinions expressed in this piece are exactly that – my opinions. They should not be taken as gospel, and you should always do your own follow-up research.
With that, let us begin!
DVCPro HD is an established HD format, and is strongly supported across most of the non-linear editing platforms.
It was probably the first HD tape format to allow Firewire transfer of HD footage, allowing users to edit DVCPRO HD natively in the timeline. The codec is small enough to store easily, coming in at 100 Mb/s, or about 12.5 MB/s (for just the video). And because it uses intra-frame compression (each frame is individually compressed) it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t overly tax the processor, so editing DVCPRO HD on a modern laptop is fairly easy.
DVCPRO HD is also probably the first HD format to allow over-cranking and under-cranking to achieve slow-motion and fast-motion effects, but only in 720p mode.
The format has 8-bit colour depth, with 4:2:2 chroma subsampling. Recorded resolutions vary as follows:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 720/50p – 960 x 720, 50 fps
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 720/60p – 960 x 720, 60 fps
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 1080/50i – 1440 x 1080, 25 fps
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 1080/60i – 1280 x 1080, 29.97 fps
If you need more information on colour bit depth, see Chen JunbinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s article here.
The HDX900 is a fully-professional camcorder capable of producing 720p, 1080i and 1080p images. However, it has three 1-megapixel CCDs, which is perfect for 720p, but needs to be internally up-rezzed to achieve 1080.
The HDX900 is not capable of over-cranking and under-cranking within the menus, but thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a workaround for this. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve achieved this many times in my post-production house for projects that couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t afford the VariCam, so go ask your post-production house if they know how to do it for you. The HDX900 is switchable between 50 Hz and 60 Hz modes, making it useful for shooting anywhere in the world.
It also has a great time-lapse function that even the tape-based VariCam didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have. It stores single frames in an internal buffer, then writes them to tape once itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s accumulated enough of them. The VariCam method was a lot more complicated, and not as clean – usually resulting in at least 1 duplicate frame per burst.
The gamma settings are comparable to the VariCam, but still not as good, in my opinion. Having said that, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s very possible to make a feature on the HDX900, since itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capable of capturing a lot of detail, with very decent latitude. The menus are professional, and can afford you a lot of control over the image.
Panasonic HDX900 daily rental rate in Singapore – from S$800.
Varicam AJ-HDC27FE and AJ-HDC27HE
I hesitated when it came to putting the VariCam on the list, because it begins to go into the price range that most middle-income indie filmmakers canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t afford. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a professional-grade 720p camcorder built for cinematic use, and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capable of over-cranking and under-cranking, hence its name. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also the camcorder most used on HD features in Singapore.
The Singapore HD feature landscape in Singapore is interesting – almost all the films (like 881, Gone Shopping, Be With Me, I Not Stupid 2, The Carrot Cake Conversations, etc.) have been shot on the VariCam. Which means almost all Singaporean HD features to date have been 720p films. The only 1080 exception I can think of is the upcoming Kallang Roar: The Movie, which is shot on the Canon XL H1S in Frame mode, combined with Phantom HD footage for slow motion sequences.
The VariCamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got a lot of features that were revolutionary when it was first released. It can achieve frame rates between 4 fps to 60 fps and shoots only in Progressive mode. It allows DPs to work in shutter angles (degrees) instead of shutter speeds (fractions) and its famous Film Rec gamma allows it to achieve a maximum of 9 stops of latitude – assuming you know how to tweak the Knee and Black Stretch.
There are two versions of the original tape-based VariCam. The HDC27FE was the first, and the HDC27HE was the revised edition, with improved latitude, and better signal-to-noise ratio (less noisy, especially in the blacks).
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an old favourite and it performs well, and the HDC27Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s P2 successors – the HPX2700 VariCam and HPX3700 VariCam will be released later this year. If your budget can stretch to accommodate it, the HDC27 VariCam is certainly a camcorder to consider.
Panasonic VariCam daily rental rate in Singapore – from S$1,200.
Panasonic was the first manufacturer to introduce a solid-state recording media for the professional market. P2 is built on the PCMCIA interface (which is available on most older laptops), and is capable of recording anything from SD to HD.
The great thing about the P2 recording media is that it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t cater to any specific codec. The most commonly-used codec for P2 right now is DVCPRO HD, but it also records DV, DVCPRO, DVCPRO50, and the new AVC-Intra.
AVC-Intra comes in two flavours – AVC-Intra 100 and AVC-Intra 50. The Ã¢â‚¬Å“100Ã¢â‚¬Â refers to 100 Mb/s, the same data rate as DVCPRO HD 1080i recordings. The Ã¢â‚¬Å“50Ã¢â‚¬Â refers to 50 Mb/s, the same data rate as DVCPRO50. AVC-Intra 50 has reduced vertical resolution and uses 4:2:0 chroma sampling, so itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more for news coverage.
AVC-Intra 100 is the only codec from Panasonic that allows full raster, 10-bit recording. In other words, it can record:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 1920 x 1080, 10-bit, 4:2:2
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 1280 x 720, 10-bit, 4:2:2
This may not seem like such a big deal at first, but you have to make comparisons to understand the implications:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ DVCPRO HD, PanasonicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s workhorse, is a 4:2:2, 8-bit codec. Its highest resolution is 1440 x 1080.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ HDCAM (which is what Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Spy Kids 2 was shot on) is 8-bit, 3:1:1. And HDCAMÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s resolution is also only 1440 x 1080.
So AVC-Intra 100 truly is a leap forward in terms of quality. And it does it by employing H.264 intra-frame compression, hence its name.
The only downside is that AVC-Intra cannot currently be used natively in NLEs. In other words, it has to transcoded into other codecs, like ProRes in the case of Final Cut Pro. But Panasonic has just released a new P2 Contents Management Software that will allow post houses to convert AVC-Intra into DPX files – extremely useful for feature film colour-grading and delivery. The Sinema article on P2 CMS is located here.
For more info about the new AVC-Intra codec, refer to Chen JunbinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s article here. We will talk more about AVC-Intra in the coming months as it becomes more popular as a codec.
P2 information can be transferred over Firewire or USB using the camcorders themselves, or with P2 card readers, or via PCMCIA slots. Just like with the XDCAM EX format, care must be taken when storing the data for editing later on. Daily archiving is a necessity, so prepare hard disks for on-set backups, and co-ordinate with your post house to archive the data.
P2 allowed the creation of a new DVCPRO HD codec – 720pN. The pN stands for Progressive Native. Unlike the original DVCPRO HD codecs, which recorded 50p or 60p regardless of the frame rate you chose (because they were tape-based), the pN codec is able to record only the frames that are needed.
WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the benefit? A normal 720/50p DVCPRO HD signal would be 100 Mb/s. By recording 720/25pN at 25 fps, you would effectively half that data rate to 50 Mb/s – with no loss in quality whatsoever. That means that your 16 GB card, which would normally only record 16 minutes of footage, can now store 32 min of footage. That means you can shoot for longer before backing up. Unfortunately thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no pN mode for 1080 shooting, only for 720p.
There is only one P2 camcorder that we will not cover in this article – the HPX2100. It is basically the P2 version of the HDX900 (see above). It is not currently available for rent, and its specifications and features (with the exception of the AVC-Intra daughter board and the accessibility of the time-lapse function) are similar to the HDX900. The HPX2100 has five P2 slots.
The original HVX202 (known as HVX200 in the states) was the first P2 HD camcorder to be released. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s slightly larger than a DVX100, and records to both P2 (two slots) and DV tape.
The DV tape compartment does not record HDV, only DV footage. The P2 slots record DV, DVCPRO, DVCPRO 50, as well as DVCPRO HD in 1080i, 1080p and 720p flavours.
Just like the VariCam, the camcorder allows for over-cranking and under-cranking, but only in larger steps. And unlike the VariCam and HDX900, which are built to operate anywhere in the world, the HVX202 is a 50 Hz camcorder, so it can only reach a maximum of 50 fps. The HVX200 (US model) can reach 60 fps, but doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t shoot 25p.
The HVX202 has Cine-like gamma settings, but they still arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t as strong as the HDX900 or the VariCamÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. But it comes in at a great price point, which makes it attractive both for purchase and for rental by indie filmmakers.
The new HVX202 (AEN version) has greater low-light sensitivity, and is less noisy in the blacks, which was a slight problem with the original HVX202 (EN version).
Panasonic HVX202 daily rental rate in Singapore – from S$250, depending on configuration and accessories.
The HPX502E is the bigger brother of the HVX202EN, and sports larger CCDs, as well as four card slots instead of two. It has all the same functions of the HVX202EN, including over-cranking and under-cranking, but it is a full-sized, and shoulder-mounted with a professional 2/3Ã¢â‚¬Â bayonet lens mount. It has no tape compartment and is much cheaper to purchase than the HDX900.
So if the HDX900 canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t do variable frame rates innately, and the HPX502E can (and at a lower price point to boot), why wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t I buy/rent the HPX502E instead? The answer lies in the CCDs, and the menu system.
The HDX900 uses 1,000,000-pixel (or 1-megapixel) CCDs, which is the correct resolution for shooting 720p images. While the HPX502E uses about 620,000 pixels per CCD, which is similar to the pixel count on the HVX202EN. Pixel-shifting technology is used to achieve the 1080 and 720 resolutions the HPX502E and HVX202EN need to deliver.
The HDX900 also uses PanasonicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s professional menu, for extensive control over knee, black gamma, etc., while the HPX502E uses the HXV202EN menu, which is fairly simplistic, and doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t allow you to tweak the image as effectively.
Is this a cop-out? No, it just means that you pay for what you get. The good news? Despite all the handicaps, the HPX502E delivers a very decent image, and is also multi-system – switchable between 50 Hz and 60 Hz, so you can shoot anywhere in the world. It also shoots 24p, for people who are particular about that. The 2/3Ã¢â‚¬Â bayonet lens mount means you have the option of using better lenses, like the Zeiss Digiprimes.
All in all, if you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mind the fact that the amount of detail is going to be less than the HDX900 or VariCam, you can definitely consider the HPX502E for a low-budget feature film.
Panasonic HPX502E daily rental rate in Singapore – from S$550.
The HPX3000G is the latest, most advanced P2 camcorder from Panasonic (at time of writing). With the exception of the new P2 VariCams, it is probably one of the most exciting Panasonic camcorders to date.
Why? Because the HPX3000G is the only Panasonic camcorder available today that can shoot 2.2-megapixel images. In other words, it is a true 1080p camcorder, something to rival SonyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s F900R CineAlta. It uses the same Film Rec gamma that the VariCam employs, and menus are professional-grade, allowing tight control over the visuals.
It records AVC-Intra, as well as DVCPRO HD, and is probably the first Panasonic camcorder to maximise the AVC-Intra codec, because it fulfils the specifications of a full raster image – 1920 x 1080. It also has amazing low-light capability with very little noise, which probably helped Eric KhooÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s My Magic greatly in its night scenes in Little India. The film, which played at Cannes earlier this year, is the first feature in Singapore to shoot on the HPX3000G.
Because it is designed as a 1080p camcorder, it does not have any 720p capability, and no variable frame rate functions either. If variable frame rates are what youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re looking for, go for the new P2 VariCams.
The HPX3000G has also just been awarded Discovery ChannelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s HD Gold classification – this means that the HPX3000G can be used in shoots that need to meet DiscoveryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s HD Gold standard of production.
Unfortunately, to date no rental house has purchased the HPX3000G, so there is currently no rental rate available. Hopefully this will change in time, as the HPX3000G is a powerful contender in feature film production, if you can afford it, or can get hold of it.
XDCAM EX is a relatively new format based on solid-state technology, using SxS PRO memory cards, also known as ExpressCards. This slot is present in most modern laptops and is SonyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s answer to PanasonicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s P2 format, but with some huge differences.
For one, XDCAM EX, like its bigger brother XDCAM HD (which is disc-based), uses the long-GOP MPEG-2 compression, which is also what HDV employs.
So whatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the implication of this? Whenever someone says Ã¢â‚¬Å“long-GOPÃ¢â‚¬Â, they are talking about a Ã¢â‚¬Å“long group of picturesÃ¢â‚¬Â, or inter-frame compression. SonyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 1080i HDV uses a 15-frame long-GOP, which means there is only 1 real frame every 15 frames in this case. Every other frame in between is a derived from the real frame, or I-frame. There are two implications in this:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ Because your editing software has to constantly rebuild frames on the fly, it taxes the processor severely. For short-form programmes, this is fine, but if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re cutting anything above half an hour, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re going to start seeing some performance slow-downs. Effects will also begin to request rendering as you start to lose real-time capability.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ If any sort of corruption happens to the I-frame, the whole GOP for that section collapses, so youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll lose 15 frames worth of information. This rarely happens, but its good to keep in mind anyway.
For more info on the differences between inter-frame and intra-frame compression, please refer to Chen JunbinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s article here.
The XDCAM EX camcorders have 2 main recording bit-rates:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ SP mode, at 25 Mb/s (megabits per sec). The SP mode is compatible with HDV, since they both record at 1440 x 1080 resolution.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ HQ mode, at 35 Mb/s. The HQ mode is actually full raster, with a resolution of 1920 x 1080. This mode also allows you to over-crank and under-crank (in other words, slow-motion and fast-motion).
Both modes are 8-bit and use 4:2:0 chroma subsampling.
WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the main upside of XDCAM EXÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s inter-frame codec? Long recording times. You can get up to 70 minutes of HD footage on a single 16-GB ExpressCard. In comparison, the most I can get out a 16-GB P2 card is 32 minutes of normal-speed 720pN footage.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the same phenomenon that consumer users of AVCHD love. Being able to record more than one hour of highly-compressed HD footage on a single memory card makes for a great marketing campaign, but most consumer users I know donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t edit their videos.
The EX1 has attracted a lot of attention, and for good reason. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got three 1/2-inch CCDs when most camcorders in its class are using only 1/3-inch. The CCDs are capable of capturing 1920 x 1080 images without any internal up-rezzing – another impressive feat.
Just like the PanasonicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s HVX202, it is capable of shooting at 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. The 720p mode allows the use of over-cranking for slow-motion shots and under-cranking for fast-motion shots from 1 to 60 fps.
The EX3 is very similar to the EX1 in terms of specifications, but it mimics the Canon XL H1S in the sense that it has an interchangeable lens system.
Bear in mind though, that 1/2-inch lenses are few and far in between, so youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll probably need a 2/3-inch adapter or a depth-of-field adapter for 35mm PL-mount lenses.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not aware of any rental houses that currently have the XDCAM EX camcorders, but that may change soon, depending on demand. There are however, several production houses that own XDCAM EX camcorders.
HDV was designed as a way to bring HD to the masses in a cost-effective manner. As explained above, the way the manufacturers did this was via long-GOP MPEG-2 compression. This allowed them to squeeze a 125 MB/s (megabytes per second, not megabits Ã¢â‚¬” note the capital B) 1080i HD video signal down to 3.125 MB/s, allowing it to fit into a miniDV tape for shooting, and in post, transfer via a Firewire cable.
There are, of course, trade-offs. You wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t notice them in production, because youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll happily record 1 hour of HDV footage per tape. But once you get into post, rebuilding those frames in real-time can be a pain, as explained above.
To circumvent this, you can choose to transcode the footage, or transfer it to another tape format (like DVCPRO HD or HDCAM). Another way to maximise HDV is to tap the HDMI output instead, using an Intensity card from Blackmagic Design, or an equivalent input board. Regardless of your workaround, you would have already lost some visual information in the initial HDV compression.
That is why this consumer/prosumer format cannot completely hold up to the demands of big-scale, long-form productions. It was never designed to.
What about Kallang Roar: The Movie then? That was shot on the Canon XL H1S, a HDV camcorder. But the filmmakers didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t record to the HDV format. The Canon XL H1S, like the JVC HD251E and the EX1, has a HD-SDI output that carries uncompressed, full-raster 1920 x 1080, 4:2:2, 10-bit information that was recorded to an external Wafian hard disk recorder, which uses the Cineform 10-bit codec – a relatively lossless codec. The filmmakers therefore bypassed the HDV codec entirely.
This method may be the most ideal way to extract the best results from HDV camcorders, but keep in mind that youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll need to tether the camcorder to an external recorder, which youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll then need to factor in rental fees for.
All HDV formats are 8-bit, 4:2:0, but there are two variants:
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 720p — JVCÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s HDV is full-raster 1280 x 720 resolution. It has a video data rate of 19.7 Mb/s, or 2.46 MB/s.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 1080i — Sony and CanonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s versions of HDV use slightly different codecs, but have similar specifications – 1440 x 1080 resolution (not full raster). They have data rates of 25 Mb/s, or 3.125 MB/s.
Canon XL H1S
The latest in the XL H1 series of Canon camcorders, this model continues the legacy of providing an interchangeable lens mount. But because the XL H1S uses 1/3-inch CCDs, you can only use CanonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s own XL series of HD lenses (of which there are very few), or mount an EF adapter so you can use CanonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s EF still lenses. However, if you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mind renting a P+S Technik MINI35 adapter (or an equivalent depth-of-field adapter from Redrock Micro, etc.), you can also use 35mm PL-mount lenses, or other brands of still photography lenses.
In terms of resolution, the CCDs deliver a full 1440 x 1080 – sufficient for HDV, but not true, full raster 1080p. But didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t I just mention that Kallang Roar: The Movie extracted full-raster 1920 x 1080 images via a HD-SDI pipe? Well, just like in your NLE, the XL H1S will pull the 1440 x 1080 horizontally to deliver 1920 x 1080. It just means there was less vertical resolution to begin with.
Note that only the XL H1 and XL H1S have HD-SDI output, Timecode In and Out, as well as Genlock. The XL H1A does not.
The default configuration allows 1080/50i or 25f. It is possible to ask your Canon service centre to modify the camcorder so that it can also record 24f, 30f or 60i.
Notice that I put down 25f, not 25p. The XL H1S does not record Ã¢â‚¬Å“trueÃ¢â‚¬Â progressive images, because it uses interlaced CCDs. Instead, it uses a Frame mode, which first appeared in the standard-definition XL-1 years ago. The idea is that the Frame mode basically makes the interlaced CCDs work faster, and the two fields are then processed to produce results similar to progressive CCDs.
At time of writing, I know there is at least one production house offering the XL H1S, along with the Wafian hard disk recorder, but I unfortunately do not have the price. Anyone who does, feel free to put it down in a comment below.
The Z7P builds on what Sony started with the Z1P and the V1P in providing 1080 HDV imagery, and captures on 1/3-inch CMOS sensors. It offers true progressive recording, which the Z1P did not. It is also the first Sony HDV camcorder to incorporate an interchangeable lens system. But the same questions about lens availability above still apply. The stock lens is designed by Zeiss.
The Z7P does not have HD-SDI outputs, so if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re looking to get the best quality output from the camcorder, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll have to tap the HDMI output. But there are few – if any – professional recorders with HDMI inputs, so for production purposes the HDMI might only be used for monitoring, for now.
There are rumours that at least one rental house in Singapore might be purchasing this camcorder, so if anyone has updated information regarding this camcorderÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s presence in Singapore, do let me know.
JVC is the only company to produce 720p HDV camcorders, and the HD251E is their flagship model.
As with the Canon XL H1S, the HD251E has HD-SDI out, Timecode In & Out, as well as Genlock. It is switchable between 24p, 25p, 30p, 50p and 60p. It can output 1080i (via an internal converter) through the HD-SDI as well, but does not record 1080i to tape.
In 50p or 60p mode, the long-GOP is 12 frames long, versus SonyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 15-frame long-GOP. This lowers the risk of lost information, but the potential risks of HDV still stand.
The CCDs are 1280 x 720 progressive, while the 1/3-inch lens mount also offers interchangeable lenses. But because JVC doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t manufacture lenses, the stock lens comes from Fujinon. The choices of 1/3-inch lenses from Canon and Fujinon are limited, so once again you can purchase lens adapters for 1/2-inch, 2/3Ã¢â‚¬Â and 16mm PL-mount lenses or rent the P+S Technik MINI35, or an equivalent DOF (depth-of-field) adapter.
The camcorder has two gamma settings that will be of interest to filmmakers – Cinema gamma and Film Out gamma. Cinema gamma makes HD footage look film-like – a feature that is quite standard with most of the camcorders in this article. Film Out gamma is more interesting – it is designed for productions that will eventually be printed out to 35mm for theatrical release.
The HD251E also has the ability to output VariCam flags via HD-SDI, a function I havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t had the chance to test yet. This could potentially mean that you can do slow-motion shots on the HD251E if you choose to record via the HD-SDI feed.
Aside from the HDV codec, the HD251E is a very decent camcorder – assuming you can find it. Again, thus far no rental house I know has it, and I have no rental rate for it. I know of a school that owns it, and there are probably some private owners or production houses out there who have it. If someone knows of a rental house that has it, do let me know.
There is only one camera available for this codec now – the controversial RED One, by the RED Digital Cinema Camera Company. Two others by RED – Scarlet and Epic – will only start becoming available next year.
The RED One isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t really a HD camcorder – it actually far exceeds the HD specification. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a 4K, 3K and 2K camera.
As a point of reference, 2K is the usual resolution for scanning 35mm motion picture film for colour-grading Hollywood productions. 4K is the ideal resolution for scanning, but has only been used on a handful of high-budget films, e.g. Spider-man 3.
In terms of pure numbers, 4K 16:9 is more than four times the resolution of 1080p. Even the RED OneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lowest resolution still exceeds the 1080p specification in terms of pixel count. The camera can shoot in 2 aspect ratios – 16:9, and 2:1.
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 4K 16:9 – 4096 x 2304
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 4K 2:1 – 4096 x 2048
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 3K 16:9 – 3072 x 1728
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 3K 2:1 – 3072 x 1536
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 2K 16:9 – 2048 x 1152
Ã¢â‚¬Â¢ 2K 2:1 – 2048 x 1024
The RED One has a PL-mount, so you can use all your standard 35mm motion picture lenses. It gives the same depth-of-field as 35mm cameras, because of its Super35-sized, 12-megapixel CMOS sensor.
RED One records in 12-bit RAW, with no signal processing. What does that mean? The RED One records RAW information, which has no sharpening, no white balancing, no colour-matrixing, etc. applied. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a capability thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s more often seen in digital SLRs. The idea is to capture as much information as possible, and with as much range as possible, without tweaking it.
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s also akin to shooting film negative – you do your visual adjustments during the Ã¢â‚¬Å“telecineÃ¢â‚¬Â stage, when you bring it into post. In REDÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s case, you bring it into RED ALERT! or REDCINE to give it a one-light adjustment for editing. You only perform the final colour-grading when the the edit is locked.
Some current HD cameras that have a similar workflow (albeit in varying degrees) are the Thomson Viper, the Arri D21, the Panavision Genesis, the Silicon Imaging SI-2K, the Sony F23 and F35. Most of them (with the exception of the F23) are unfortunately not available for rent in Singapore. And even if you could rent them, the price tag might be a deterrent. All the cameras IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve just listed are, at most, 1080p or 2K.
Some might contend and say that the DALSA Origin and Evolution, which also shoot 4K, are RED OneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s closest competitors. But then you have to remember that the DALSA cameras need to be tethered to large external hard disk recorders to record their footage. And if you think the rental rates for the F23 were high…
The RED One records to extremely high-speed Compact Flash cards, or to portable external SATA RAID-0 hard disk arrays called RED-Drive specially built by RED. The 12-bit REDCODE RAW compression has two flavours – 28 MB/s or 36 MB/s, so a 8-GB Compact Flash card will yield slightly under 4 minutes of 36MB/s footage – comparable to a 400-foot 35mm film magazine. The 320-GB RED-Drive will record more than 2 hours of footage.
The camera also has variable frame rate capabilities. At 2K, it can shoot up to 120 frames per second. At 3K, up to 60 fps. At 4K, up to 30 fps.
Because the RED One shoots RAW images, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll need a DP whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s comfortable with working in a traditional film style, i.e. with light meters, judging by contrast ratio, etc. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a return to the old, but with very new technology.
All the above makes the RED One very enticing. But remember what I said at the beginning though – post affects decisions in production. In order to use the RED One, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll need very strong post support. My company has been approached by many parties about shooting on the RED One, and we are fully prepared to support these productions, but we know that we have to be very clear about our workflow, and manage the entire pipeline diligently. The sheer amount of data and throughput that needs to be wrangled is no joke.
We will talk more about RED post in the next article, which focuses on post-production.
RED One daily rental rate in Singapore – from US$500, without lenses.
WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve finally reached the end of this part. I know there was a lot of information to be absorbed, and it was only the tip of the iceberg. For more information about the performance of each camera, do talk to product experts, technology experts and/or rental houses. The more you know, the more informed decision you can make.
In the next part, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll talk about post-production options, and possibilities for cutting cost.
Ian Wee is a Director of international programmes, including work for the National Geographic Channel, and the Discovery Channel. He also trains professionals in HD & broadcast technologies, including advanced camera handling. Ian is also a Post-Production Supervisor in Widescreen Revolutions LLP, which specialises in HD offline, online & colour-grading services for the broadcast and feature film markets.
More in this series:
Part 1: Pre-production & production