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Bruce Greene

documentary camera

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I've been asked to shoot a doc where they are looking for a lot of handheld, probably with a zoom lens.  They also want "cinematic" quality, ha!

I've been working the Alexa for many years, and it's clearly not the tool for this job.  So, I'm welcoming your suggestions for something light enough to keep on my shoulder for long periods, and a viewfinder good enough for me to focus myself.  Something like a Canon C300 with it's funky rear mounted viewfinder doesn't seem to fit the bill here 🙂

Thanks!

-bruce

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The Canon C series cameras are not good for doc, hand holding all the time just doesn't work. I really prefer the ENG style cameras. My first choice would be Arri Amira of course. It's a great package that you're already very familiar with. I've used for ENG stuff and even though it is heavy, I don't find it any heavier than what I've used in previous lives. I have used the Sony F5/F55 for doc stuff and it's a very decent competitor. I haven't touched the new Panasonic offerings, but nothing they make is exciting, they're sticking with the Canon C series and Sony FS7 size cameras, which are kinda meh in terms of size/balance. It's far better for the camera to be perfectly balanced on your shoulder, rather than front heavy (canon c series, Panasonic EVA-1), which is also where the Sony excels.

My go-to lens for the F5/F55 is a Nikon 19-90. It's not very heavy and it does your wide end with no vignetting very well, plus at F2.9, it's not horrible on stop. Of course focal length is your only issue, but unless your shooting nature/animals, you probably won't need much longer. 

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Sounds like a chance to try the Pocket4k? Maybe Sony F3 because they're dirt cheap now? I'm not sure of your minimal standards as far as compression goes.

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Posted (edited)

I usually agree with Tyler, but idk about agreeing with him on saying canon c series isn't good for docs. All of the Oscar nominated docs for 2019 was shot on c series cameras. I think they're more than capable of shooting docs.

https://www.cinema5d.com/oscars-2019-all-nominated-documentaries-shot-on-canon-cameras/

Edited by Reggie A Brown

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I often dont agree with Tyler 🙂 .. but I do here.. C series is just not the right shape for a handheld camera...(any camera).. and the possible worst placement  for a EVF and audio inputs.... nice picture and all that.. but a dog of a design ...  as a result they are very cheap though .. as they were ditched on mass for the Fs7..

Amira is a great camera and if you are familiar with Arri,s would be an obvious choice.. but Im not sure they are good for alot of handheld .. very heavy and really power hungry compared to all the other "doc" cameras..  you will have to cart around twice the number of batteries .. IMHO, for size, robust build,PL mount, side LCD, tech backup ,known workflow.. rental availability ,power draw.. etc f55/5 is probably best bet.. 

Biggest problem you might find is lenses.. I went with CN7..  17-120.. max range of any servo style s35mm zoom .. but its a killer long handheld shoots.. got an easy rig.. works for the weight.. but you cant walk and shoot with it..from last year I started using the Sigma Cine zooms .. T2 18-35. 50-100.. cheap,light weight and well built.and T2 at that price ! . but the 50-100 breaths like a coal miner.. not so bad 100mm end.. so not perfect but pretty good ..just finished a 2 week shoot in Thailand and Singapore..alot of HH shooting .. back is totally fine.. CN7 gathering dust for a year now..  the Cabrio,s all nice but 19-90.. for me .. not wide and not long enough .and also about 3kg. a 15 -80 would have been ideal..!! 

All depends how much control you will have over what your shooting..

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How much accessory gack do you expect to be adding to the camera? (wireless video, sync box etc.)

The Amira is probably the simplest and easiest to work with overall, with 2, 4 and 7 stop internal NDs.

The FS7 MkII is very light and very capable. But you really want to add a proper EVF to it, and (like with the Arri Mini) most of the rigs people put onto it, end up making the whole thing WAY heavier than it needs to be. It's also got the general Sony complexity of menus and ergonomics, that slow you down a bit when you need to change settings on the run.

I haven't had a chance to bring one out on a shoot yet, but I think the Sony Venice (if you kept it in it's most stripped down form - with XAVC internal recording) might actually be one of the most appealing docu options at the moment. 

With the Venice, the weight is on par with the Amira (3.9kg for the body), you get a 5-second boot time (a big deal when you're running around) 1-8 stops of internal ND (so no need to fuss around with external NDs), you can very quickly adjust your ISO, WB, framerate and shutter angle, and it's got possibly the nicest EVF on the market. 

Also, because it has an E-mount (as well as PL), you have the option of opting for the featherweight Fuji MK zooms (18-55mm and 50-135mm T/2.9. Which would keep the overall weight down to a really nice level.

If it'd fit within the show's budget, I reckon it's worth a serious look.
 

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Only 2 things in life are guaranteed:

1. Gravity
2. The question of "What camera should I use?" will be answered with 10 more questions.

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Far from an expert on all the various camera options I was confronted with a slightly different challenge. Shoot doc style footage of performing arts and also narrative to create a series of TV spots. I had my heart and wallet set on an older Amira and even Alexa only to have a senior level client side person demand 4K. I came to discover one of the client’s had a “friend” slated for the job who guaranteed 4K and convinced client  it was needed. I fought hard on the bid and won the business but needed to match the 4K bid. Broke my ARRI heart. After a great deal of research I went with the Panasonic Varicam LT. Image quality is just great, workflow is really well conceived, camera is well balanced on the shoulder and the Panasonic VF is fantastic. Stripped down to basics is fairly easy to hand-hold when needed or desired and the low-light capability makes it extremely versatile. Built in ND is a bonus. Camera has solid internal audio and enough external connection to make build out easy and highly functional without a lot of added crap.

Varicam focus assist is almost always spot on... or maybe it’s my old eyes.  I mostly work with primes so I am no help with zoom lens choice.

I live in an owner-operator market... too far from rental houses to make renting a viable option for the duration and budget. I’m very happy with this camera and so far it has delivered flawlessly in every situation. 

In my self-confessed non-expert opinion it is hard to buy a bad camera today. In my search I nearly decided on everyone of them...perhaps I just exhausted myself but I’m happy where I landed.

One mans hard fought opinion... I hope this is helpful.

-G

 

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7 hours ago, Reggie A Brown said:

I usually agree with Tyler, but idk about agreeing with him on saying canon c series isn't good for docs. All of the Oscar nominated docs for 2019 was shot on c series cameras. I think they're more than capable of shooting docs.

https://www.cinema5d.com/oscars-2019-all-nominated-documentaries-shot-on-canon-cameras/

MOST people who shoot documentaries, use whatever camera their DP or they have. Very few people in the doc world actually care about the camera, as I've noticed over the two decades I've been shooting and editing in that world. Not a single product, not one, has had the same camera or even series of camera. Most of the time it's mixed cameras, depending on the DP's who are hired for the for the gig. 

The Canon C series cameras are very widely used because of how small they are for how good of an image they reproduce. They are not at all built for doc work, not in the slightest. 

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5 hours ago, Robin R Probyn said:

I often dont agree with Tyler 🙂 .. but I do here.. C series is just not the right shape for a handheld camera...(any camera).. and the possible worst placement  for a EVF and audio inputs.... nice picture and all that.. but a dog of a design ...  as a result they are very cheap though .. as they were ditched on mass for the Fs7..

Pretty sure they all came back when they realised you can't get a usable image with a Sony.

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11 hours ago, Samuel Berger said:

Pretty sure they all came back when they realised you can't get a usable image with a Sony.

For Doc stuff? It doesn't matter how usable the image is really. The Sony looks like television, which is what most doc's look like. I just think the Sony's are just too expensive and specific for most doc DP's, who also shoot narrative, which is where the C series cameras shine. 

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18 hours ago, Samuel Berger said:

Pretty sure they all came back when they realised you can't get a usable image with a Sony.

Look at sales for Fs7 V,s C300II... one is a mountain the other a small slope.. for good or bad Sony are doing very well with their cameras these days ..the Fs7 has taken over a huge amount of the  market ..I dint think even you could argue this fact.  🙂  .. its their best selling camera ever.. Canon have fallen hard from the C300 dominance .. Mid/ high end docks are all shot slog so the Sony look isn't in the equation ..  

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Coincidentally, I ran into a pair of documentary filmmakers at Seattle City Center yesterday, they were using of all things a Canon 80D. 

 

So yeah, I guess a lot of doc makers really don't care what it looks like.

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4 hours ago, Samuel Berger said:

Coincidentally, I ran into a pair of documentary filmmakers at Seattle City Center yesterday, they were using of all things a Canon 80D. 

 

So yeah, I guess a lot of doc makers really don't care what it looks like.

I think most of the small budget doc makers will be perfectly happy with whatever camera they have possibility to use as long as they can get decent sound quality on interviews.

Having bad sound quality sucks in any type of production no matter how small budget and makes a great difference. 

The image quality in most docs is like, as long as you can see SOMETHING it can be tolerated if you need the camera budget for other more important things like transportation or food. Or audio gear :P

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"The image quality in most docs is like, as long as you can see SOMETHING it can be tolerated if you need the camera budget for other more important things like transportation or food. Or audio gear :P"

Well that would be at the very very low end of the market.. I can assure the viewing public most docs the image is very important .. what are you guys working on ??? 

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2 hours ago, Robin R Probyn said:

"The image quality in most docs is like, as long as you can see SOMETHING it can be tolerated if you need the camera budget for other more important things like transportation or food. Or audio gear :P"

Well that would be at the very very low end of the market.. I can assure the viewing public most docs the image is very important .. what are you guys working on ??? 

I was referring to the general quality the stuff seems to be on for example iTunes doc trailers and what is generally needed in a story driven talking head style documentary. There is higher end stuff as well but also surprisingly large amount of technically low-end and very indie looking stuff... generally image quality is NOT that important in documentaries which tell stories about human life. the story itself is important and is normally told via audio track so one needs to decide where to invest those limited resources to get the best overall result. Most likely it is not the absolute image quality which gets updated first because people can get away shooting with a potato if the story is otherwise well told and the audio quality is not annoyingly bad...

personally I mostly do post related work on docs where image quality is very important (they are done mainly for cinema release so the viewer can really see the difference) and audio is done afterwards so it is pretty much the other end of the spectrum where pixel peeping is extremely important but the camera may not even have a microphone attached if it complicates shooting. for example nature related material with wide landscape drone shots in low light and similar stuff.

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11 hours ago, aapo lettinen said:

I think most of the small budget doc makers will be perfectly happy with whatever camera they have possibility to use as long as they can get decent sound quality on interviews.

Having bad sound quality sucks in any type of production no matter how small budget and makes a great difference. 

The image quality in most docs is like, as long as you can see SOMETHING it can be tolerated if you need the camera budget for other more important things like transportation or food. Or audio gear 😛

With true, on-the-fly doc work, if you come back with 60% to 70% of what you are after it can be a success. (And even less % in some cases.)  Just look at the Zapruder film for the lowest of the low IQ...yet some of the highest documentary value film every shot.  No time for lighting and film tests with this type of work.

I've never tried the 4K M43 Pocket Cam, but I'd like to someday. I prefer small cam for doc work....candid doc work that is...not interviews.

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When people think doc, many think lots of multicam interviews, lots of B-roll and archival footage. Most doc's I've worked on, have had different people shoot the interviews and the b-roll. So right there, you have a mix of cameras and let me say for the record, in recent years, I've edited shows that have been upwards of 8 different cameras because they've taken so many years to produce, technology has changed. 

I do think a camera like the Blackmagic Pocket 4k would be great for micro-doc work. I've done many micro-doc's with the original camera and it worked great. Was it perfect? No. However, for a $1000 investment, it was adequate.

 

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Posted (edited)
19 minutes ago, Tyler Purcell said:

I do think a camera like the Blackmagic Pocket 4k would be great for micro-doc work.

...

Unfortunately no one can buy one at the moment or i would have.

By the way, I meant to edit the Vimeo clip out of this quotem but I can't find a way to remove it. It would be nice to have the plain text option back

Edited by Samuel Berger

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