Regarding the semi-pro cameras

You know. I am talking about these semi-pro cameras that cost between $2500 to $8500. Usually manufactured by Panasonic, Canon and Sony. These 24p cameras produce a very high quality HD image and are pretty adjustable/customizable to even make their footage look cinematic. And yet, cheap TV series still don’t use them. Only TV news and Indies are using them mostly.

We were watching “The Shield” with JBQ the other night and we were put off on how pedestrian the look was. The lighting was minimal (they had to overexpose in many scenes in order to make it look not too dark) and there was no color grading whatsoever apart from the basic white balance. Obviously, a “cheap” TV series. And yet, when we read its tech specs on IMDb, they used an Arri camera. You know, these ones that usually cost between $60,000 to $120,000. And then they have to develop and scan the film too.

My question is: WHY? The look of that TV series could easily be captured with a semi-pro camera without even sweating on it. Why spend all that money when you can do the same job with cheaper tools?

4 Comments »

Ivan wrote on September 26th, 2007 at 5:47 AM PST:

The answer: contract stipulation and syndicate powers.


Kevin wrote on September 26th, 2007 at 2:52 PM PST:

Short version: In the professional world, HDV = Evil

medium-short version:
There are a lot of reasons why low end cameras aren’t used as much in the professional production world. Mainly, because they really aren’t that good. From a technical standpoint, HDV is an awful format and most pros who are used to film, or real hi-def equipment, want to stay as far way from it as possible. Also, the cameras themselves just aren’t as good. The optics aren’t that great, they usually have only have 1/3 or 1/2 inch CCDs, they aren’t very good in low light, etc.

Also, a lot of equipment won’t work with little cameras. Many jib arms, matte boxes, require a full size camera. Keep in mind that production companies already own their equipment.

Why was The Shield shot on an Arri? I’m gussing, because that is what the studio or production company had. All they had to buy is film, which is expensive but not as expensive as buying a new camera, camera equipment, new vtrs, training the camera crew, etc. I’ll agree the The Shield could be shot on a much cheaper rig and they could get the same result (crap)… but why would they?

Yes, a really skilled film maker can make awesome stuff with a low end camera. But to most professionals it isn’t worth it. They have a job to do, and they need to get it done on time. Yes, a Canon XH-G1 is a lot cheaper than a Viper Filmstream or a CineAlta, but it’s not usually worth the money saved.

Unless you are buying your own equipment (indie filmakers), need to buy really cheap new equipment (small production companies, schools, churchs) or need mobility and quick turnaround (news), there is no reason to buy hdv.

There is a lot more to it then that… but that’s the medium short version.


This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on September 26th, 2007 at 5:21 PM PST:

“Pink” was shot with a semi-pro camera and it looks better than “The Shield”. And they did use jib arms etc. Sure, it might require change a few peripheral hardware, but overall, I think it’s a cheaper solution and as good too. The semi-pro cameras don’t generate bad image quality, especially the ones with 35mm adapters.

>From a technical standpoint, HDV is an awful format and most pros who are used to film

HDV is not an awful format. It does the job, and it does it faster and cheaper than developing film. I think it just has to do with these people not wanting to leave film behind. They are just used to it. That’s all there is to it.


Bob K wrote on September 29th, 2007 at 5:03 AM PST:

Lots of factors come into play, but one important one is simply professional snobbery and excluding lower cost competitors.

I’ve seen this is all of the media production fields; photography, video, audio. I still remember when I brought my Nikon Coolpix 950 into a press room the first time. Everybody was interested and curious. A year or two later, when the pros all had digital SLR’s, I was scum, a pretender, a hobbyist.

In audio, they love to be preamp snobs. “You can’t get a decent mic preamp for under $700.” But mic preamp technology has been trivial for the last 30 years or so, and it’s entirely possible to make a low-noise, uncolored preamp for $10. It’s also impossible to argue with an established tech who claims to hear deficiencies that nobody else does. Who is the artist going to listen to… the experienced pro, or the inexpensive newcomer?

In video, it’s similar. Format snobbery is very effective at preventing aspiring budget videographers from taking work away from “the establishment”.

Also, when technical people are serving artistic types, the artistic types, who don’t know tech from beans, tend to take the safe route and choose the most established/experienced tech help. Finally, consider the artist’s vanity (whether it be a singer, director, or model)… they don’t want to trust their performance to technology that might turn out second-rate. Strange but true… if you put an expensive mic in front of a singer, they’ll tend to sing better. The fact that somebody is using expensive equipment to record their work inspires confidence.

With all that said, professional equipment does tend to work more consistently for professionals, and it includes the workflow and handling features they need most. There’s a huge difference in attitude between hobbyists like us and people who have done it daily for a few years…. they just want to get the day’s work done, and time is money. Saving money on equipment is worthless if it costs you time. A $20K camera is only $1K a month over 2 years, during which a camera operator might be paid $100K-$200K…. not to mention the value of the talent’s time.


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