HD and Video Art

November 8th, 2006 · 2 Comments · Tools and Tech

Sony VX2100

Panasonic DVX100B

We’re looking at video cameras this week and doing a lot of calculation as to what’s important and what’s not. With video equipment it’s really easy to get less or more than you need.

For current video artists, HD is not the way to go. HD is excessively expensive, HD files are difficult to handle, the technology to record a HD disc is not even out yet and most galleries and museums use overwhelmingly non-widescreen and non-HD tvs, vcrs and projectors. I don’t expect them to adopt HD for 5+ years (around 2011).

This is a great time to buy a SD (non-widescreen, non-HD) video camera. These are thousands of dollars less through sales and rebates to compete against the newer HD cameras. The older SD cameras actually have a better picture (on a SD screen) and better controls than similarly priced (but relatively low-end) HD cameras.

Two SD Cameras We Recommend for Video Art (2006)
1) Best camera for video artists on a budget: a used Sony VX2100 ($1200-$1600 used, $2200 new). Built like a tank (making it a good candidate for buying used). Wowzo low light sensitivity. Good manual controls, but famous for its automatic mode. Many refer to this as the ultimate “run and gun” camera: ideal for news gathering and documentaries when you don’t have time to set up the shot. We used this camera to shoot Sea Shovel and our upcoming Bruc Fugue. The VX2100’s only shortcoming is below-average sound.

2) Best camera for video artists who don’t mind an extra grand in debt: the legendary Panasonic DVX100B ($3100 new). Best-in-class manual control. Extreme wide-angle lens (which means you can get away with a smaller studio). Audio that is the technical equivalent to a DAT. And it can shoot in Progressive mode–which means every frame is crystal clear with no video lines. It has excellent low light ability, however the VX2100 is better in this area by a small margin. Also note Progressive mode has a steep learning curve (you really have to stay on top of all the settings in your editor–not hard, but requires going slow in the beginning). This is the camera we used for Mountainside.

We also respect the Sony PD170 or PD150 ($2700 new), an upgraded VX2100 with XLR audio, a wide angle lens adaptor and records on DVCAM (more reliable recording, but same quality). It is widely rumored to have the same problematic audio issues, so we prefer the Panasonic DVX100B, however, If you prefer automatic controls and less techno-babble than the PD170 is your ride.

Two SD Cameras to Avoid
The Canon GL2 and the Canon XL2. Both cameras are sexy looking but have fatal flaws. The cute GL2 ($2000 new) has smaller chips than the Sony VX2100 and is nearly the same money (Canon hopes you buy a beautiful-looking camera instead of a camera that records beautiful images). The impressive looking XL2 ($3500 new) is also a tourist trap with the misleading ability to change lenses–which seems smart until you realize it’s another $1000 for a lens (or $500 for the adaptor to use your Canon SLR lenses). In addition, the image chips in a XL2 are designed for widescreen, so if you want a standard-size image you’ll actually get less quality (remember most galleries and museums don’t have widescreen monitors or projectors). To be fair, the XL2 creates a beautiful image (we had a XL2 as the backup camera on Mountainside)–it’s just not the best bang for the buck.

Category: Tools and Tech

2 Comments so far ↓

  • Murray

    By the way, we decided to go with the Panasonic DVX100B. An extra grand in debt (and a little more for the yellow panasonic hard case with custom foam inserts–which makes me smile every time I reach for the camera) but worth it for the cinematic look and feel of 24p.

  • Murray

    Another aside: If you get the DVX100b you’re also committing yourself to Final Cut Pro (or another pro-level editor) if you want to use the progressive mode with all of it’s quality. I don’t know if Final Cut express works but Imovie definitely can’t keep up with importing progressive footage (it could possibly work but interlace the footage, ripping out the quality).

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