Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Why I went back to using my video camera

My venerable Panasonic HMC-151 video camera was gathering dust for years but I recently brought it out of storage and gave it another chance at life. The reason? It's a proper video camera. I had been using my Canon DSLR on a shoulder rig while performing my duties as a B cameraman, filming corporate stuff. The main camera guy would do interviews and such like and he had all the necessary audio bits to record sound and stuff. However, as my role became more prominent, I found myself on shoots where I was the only cameraman and this of course meant that I was now responsible for filming interviews. Without adequate audio input for my DSLR, I found myself recording interview audio separately, using an external recorder. Camera work then became a balancing act where I had to simultaneously monitor and adjust audio levels while keeping my eye on the camera. 

And so, that was when I decided to dust off the Panasonic video camera and here's why:

Audio Input:
For me, film/video production requires equal attention to both audio and visuals. Many times I have found myself watching content that has good quality visuals but the audio is lacking, perhaps because the creator neglected to give this any attention and might have relied on their camera's internal mic. With my Panasonic video camera being semi-professional (prosumer?) I have the option of two XLR inputs for audio and man, the clarity and control you have is beautiful. You get a levels monitor on the LCD display and a physical dial on the camera body. Furthermore, you can actually hook up headphones for listening which is something my DSLR lacks. Granted, the DSLR does have a standard jack for mic input but I always struggle with getting decent audio without noise.

Auto Focus:
The DSLR's ability to achieve shallow depth of field is also its weakness. Sure, manual focus is something that should be practiced as a skill but the auto focus that you take for granted on video cameras is a lifesaver when you need to quickly get a shot without spending a second racking the focus wheel. With my Panasonic video camera, shallow depth of field is not something that can be achieved easily but the ability to switch between manual and auto focus is still present on the camera. Having said that, if I want to throw the background out of focus I can easily do so by zooming in on the subject from a distance while ensuring the background is a fair distance away. By doing this, it becomes possible to achieve a shallow depth of field without a large sensor DSLR, which leads me onto my next point.

The DSLR is brilliant for its ability to changes lenses which is something that makes them really attractive for film makers. However, it can sometimes get frustrating when you want to switch lenses or have to move around more if you're using prime lenses. With the Panasonic video camera, you can go from wide to very tight telephoto with either servo or even faster with the manual zoom ring. You forget how useful this is when you become so used to swapping DSLR lenses. Plus, all those DSLR lenses can get rather expensive when you realise you need so many different ones. Plus, think of weight and space when you need to bring them along on a shoot.

Yep, the large sensor on the DSLR produces a really decent image with all that shallow depth of field goodness but rolling shutter CMOS can produce some rather nasty artifacts. Jelly footage during fast panning and awful looking shaky handheld shots (in the absence of adequate stabilisation) can really ruin the look of an otherwise decent looking shot. Plus, sometimes the footage can look like it was shot on a mobile phone camera which begs the question, why not just shoot on your phone? With the Panasonic and its CCD sensors, these problems are not present and believe me, it really gives you peace of mind not having to worry about all those additional implications. Plus, the weight of the camera makes handheld shots appear fairly stabilised without the need to use a shoulder rig.

The Professional image:
I'm not talking about the quality of footage here, I mean the way others perceive you. Turn up to a shoot with a DSLR and people assume you're there to take photos. This is common when I'm out on a shoot and suddenly your subject stops whatever they're doing to pose for what they think is a photograph. I then find myself having to "politely" inform them that I'm shooting video and not taking photos...Also, there's just something about having a big black video camera that screams pro which is something you don't get with a consumer DSLR and cheap 1.8 lens. Every time I'm out on a shoot and someone sees me with my Panasonic video camera, I get comments like "Wow, that's an impressive camera" and so on. You really establish your reputation as a serious and professional cameraman when you have a professional video camera. 

I still use my DSLR though, don't get me wrong, the footage you can get is fantastic looking but it's better off being treated as a B Camera and not your main one. These days, on a shoot, I take both. You setup the video camera with all of its peripherals so people can see that you're a pro camera guy. You then go around getting a few shots with the DSLR before switching over to the video camera when you need to do interviews with decent audio. I've even reached the point, in my mind, where I want to shoot movies with my Panasonic video camera. I know, with proper attention to lighting and composition, I can achieve results that are on par with the DSLR footage while benefiting from all the advantages that a dedicated video camera provides.