$5000 to blow on HD recording
October 15, 2010 11:19 AM   Subscribe

A nice, easy-to-use HD recording setup (mics and cameras). $5000 budget. GO!

My friend has just been given $5000 to get a HD recording setup for her non-profit.

I am a total (still) camera nerd and have dabbled in HD video recording, but this is a system that will be used for many years by non-technical people.

The dominant subject will be in-door shots of active children, so low-light capability and AF speed are key.

They want higher-quality sound recording than the built-in mic will provide and possibly a wireless mic or two, but they also want it to be simple enough for a minimally competent person to use. I'm especially worried about complications of wireless mics.

Would be great to get recommendations on the following systems:

1) one camera, two mics (one wireless)

2) two cameras, four mics (two wireless)

PS flash-based storage with expandable SD would be preferable.

posted by lattiboy to Technology (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Response by poster: Thanks rotifer. I think that the 5dMkII is indeed spectacular, but that is going to be WAY too much for them to handle. A fixed-lens, high zoom camera is what they're going to want, not an incredibly sophisticated dSLR.

I don't work there and don't want to become an unpaid consultant.

I was thinking one of the higher-end Panasonic HD camcorders might work, but I'm looking for people with a working knowledge of such things.
posted by lattiboy at 12:04 PM on October 15, 2010

The 5d MkII does not do autofocus while filming that well (if at all actually). You might want to look into the mirrorless or pellicle mirror cameras.

The mirrorless ones are more like traditional video cameras and can use a fast contrast detect AF like the Sony NEX VG10 (oddly lacks some features though like 24p) Panasonic GH1, GH2 or brand new and more traditional AF100; you can hack a GH1 to get some really high bitrate 1080p - quite impressive. An advantage of the mirrorless cameras is an incredible short flange to sensor distance so you can pretty get an adapter to mount any lens ever made, that really opens up some nice possibilities.

The pellicle mirror cameras split the light and use phase-detect AF like the Sony A33 and A55 (and updated review here).

None of those will be as good at low light as the 5DmkII, but they will do AF while doing video and are much simpler cameras. Also keep in mind the Sony A55 and A33 are not as video centric as the otherse. I'd also consider AF is not quite as important for video, most of the time it is done manually to give more control, hunting around for focus is not really good when seen on video.

Phillip Bloom has a good roundup of the video DSLRs, although on preview that seems overkill. The Sony NEX VG10, the Panasonic GH1, GH2 or AF100 might be more in line with what you want. Those seemed to be aimed at your market segment and you can pretty much treat all of those as fixed lens and later get more sophisticated with them if you want.
posted by cftarnas at 12:16 PM on October 15, 2010

I would think you want something like the Canon XH-A1S. We had one at my old lab and it is a very reliable prosumer camcorder with a bunch of features. Add two high quality mics, or another cheaper camcorder and some lower end mics and that is your budget.
posted by sophist at 1:04 PM on October 15, 2010

I would err on the side of usability for amateurs. Small cameras can be difficult to hand hold and you would be amazed at how much better things are when you put things on a tripod. The audio issues that you will face using multiple off board mics and radio lavs need professional solutions and cameras designed for this are not usually very user friendly.

Do they have a plan of what to do with the footage? In the olden days of tape you could just shoot and then throw your tape in a box. Today many cameras have abandoned tape and instead you have to deal with a pile of files and data that must be managed. It may be worthwhile thinking about this issue before committing to a camera.
posted by jade east at 1:08 PM on October 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks cftarnas. I think the GH2 is indeed a good candidate.

I was trying to avoid "hybrid" cameras because of the inherent complexity of manual controls. I was thinking something from Panasonic consumer video line like the TM700 might be easier for most people and still well equipped.

The sticking point for me on hybrids is the interchangeable lenses. Yes, I know they make super-zooms, but by the time you get that on the camera it's become pretty massive and not terribly ergonomic for video shooting. Also, most people aren't used to physically zooming a lens, a push-button zoom is much more familiar.

Again, if this were me I'd get a Sony NEX or A55, Canon 5dMkII, or a Panasonic GH2 in a heartbeat, but for the kind of bland, general activity recording they're looking to do I think it's a bit complex.

So, to refine this questions:

1) What CONSUMER video-only camcorder would be recommended

2) Any advice on mics (especially wireless)? That's really where I'm clueless.
posted by lattiboy at 1:11 PM on October 15, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks sophist and Jade East.

1) The XH did pop up on my radar, but I'm wondering if that isn't a bit overkill. Is the difference in price (3-4x the highest end consumers) really worth it? I know the camera/lens is vastly superior, but it seems pretty daunting to a volunteer to pickup. Also, kids break shit. Often.

2) I know what you mean about editing the files, but I think they'll be sending out the footage to another company to be edited and used for promotional stuff and "keepsakes" for kids parents.
posted by lattiboy at 1:16 PM on October 15, 2010

I, too, would like to strongly disagree with rotifer on the 5D MKII recommendation because of the lack of autofocus. I write this as someone who has the 7D and regularly films with the 5D MKII as well. these cameras produce beautiful footage especially in low-light conditions but are just not feasible when you want to record active children, who will jump around and change their distance to the camera, which you cannot easily deal with (there are rigs to pull focus but it's way out of reach here).

the main problem with most consumer-grade video cameras aren't the chips, it's the glass in front of it. the XH-A1S obviously doesn't have that issue. I would highly recommend playing with the camera you'll end up considering for a bit to see if you personally like it.

you didn't mention how you are going to deal with footage. have you already considered the cost required for software like final cut pro in your budget or is this going into something like imovie?
posted by krautland at 2:29 PM on October 15, 2010

That Sony camera is incredible. I want one.
posted by rotifer at 7:10 PM on October 15, 2010

Definitely do not get a DSLR for anything like this. Any details of how this is being set up? Tripods, handheld, etc. Wireless mics are very expensive for anything good, and not often set up for easy use (multiple channels, not easy to troubleshoot). Depending on what your plan is, a good boom mic will get very good sound without getting in the way, but requires another person to operate/position.

I'll post some more recommendations when I finish transferring the 92 GB of video we shot today.
posted by shinynewnick at 7:30 PM on October 15, 2010

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