Friday, February 10, 2006

Which HD Camera?

We're seriously considering the purchase of a new in-house high-definition camera system. There are three cameras new to market that we can choose from.

Canon XL-H1
Panasonic HVX-200

All three cameras have strengths and weaknesses. As it stands right now we're leaning toward the Canon XL-H1. We like that the form factor is nearly identical to it's sister camera, the XL2 (which we shot DAY:11 with).

[Note: Now I will go on record to say that we absolutely did not like our experiences with the XL1 (which we shot FETWICK with). Not only did we have serious problems with track errors on two of our master tapes, but we were not impressed with picture quality and dynamic range. However, my concerns with Canon were quickly eliminated by the wonderful performance of the XL2. Everything we hated about the XL1 was fixed with the XL2. In fact, we will go as far as to say that it made us a Canon convert.]

I believe it was a brilliant stroke for Canon to not change the form factor of the H1 and stick with the basic XL2 body. This means there's literally hundreds of accessories in the market that will bolt right onto the H1 like matte boxes, follow focus units, viewfinders, batteries, hard disc recorders, etc. Additionally, there are several lens options from Canon. Most notably the professional manual 14x and 16x lenses. We're also a fan of the wide angle 3x lens.

Speaking of lenses, there's been some debate about whether or not Canon's SD (standard definition) lenses are good enough for HD acquisition. Thankfully, there have been a handful of tests conducted by XL2/H1 owners using the SD lenses on the H1 and the reports are both surprising and pleasing. Apparently the SD lenses are resolving enough resolution for the H1. Great news. This does make us question Canon's aggressive marketing for the new 20x HD lens that comes standard with the H1.

There is a very large base of devout DVX100 user's who adore Panasonic's offerings. And we have to admit that we're a very big fan of Panasonic's compression codecs (DVCPro, DVCPro50 and DVCPro100/HD).

[Note: I recently finished post-production of the SHADOW FALLS trailers using the customized DVCPro100 codec from Blackmagic Design. Simply amazing how well it handled a 1080P post-production workflow.]

The new Panasonic HVX-200 is unique among the three cameras because it is not an HDV camera, but a DVCPro camera. This is the single biggest attraction for me. Additionally, Panasonic has taken the multi-frame rate features from the Varicam and shoehorned them into the HVX. So what's the problem? The fixed lens. I'm sorry, but I'm a firm believer in having the best possible glass in front of the camera. With the HVX I'm stuck. And when you add the costs of the camera and the P2 cards you're approaching H1 territory.

In a recent camera shoot-out everyone was surprised at how well the new JVC GY-HD100 performed in its "film look". There were a lot of concerns about JVC's initial build quality. Plus there were some problems with the CCDs. But it appears JVC has rectified some of these problems and there are many happy owners/operators out there. My biggest concern is that it's only a 720P camera. We'd prefer 1080.

We're heading to Birns & Sawyer next week to talk packages and pricing.


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