Pimping up a camera.
January 24, 2011 4:03 AM   Subscribe

In this question I asked you to help me become an Inspector Gadget filmmaker. You succeeded. Well, now I want you to help me pimp my camera. (budget around $15,000)

Filming street performers. This means we'll have very little control over the light levels, and have to shoot in proper run-and-gun style. Shooting for web and hopefully TV.

We've got two cameras:
HPX 170
This is the primary camera, looks amazing, and costs a bunch. I'm bringing:
64GB of p2 cards (2 x 16 and 1 x 32)
Three batteries
Is there anything else I need to pimp this camera?

Canon Rebel t2i (already own)
Our secondary camera, used for closeups and low light, and also for when we have to be discreet about filming. We're going to use this stabiliser for the DSLR. More importantly, though, which lenses do I need?

We're planning on getting this 50mm f1.8 one, as it's cheap and versatile. ($120). As we're taking mostly video, is it worth (as suggested in this post) to fork out for the more expensive 35mm f/2 ($360) or Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 ($370)?
And then what? We want a telephoto lens, something that's really good in low light, and a wide angle lens. We want to bring as few lenses as possible — 3 max. Say, 1 prime (50mm), 1 zoom and 1 wide angle.

I fell in love with the canon ef 24mm f/1.4 usm lens after seeing this video. But can't seem to find version one online (only version 2, and that's upwards of $1,600). It's amazing and I want one :)

So, after some research (e.g., this post from 2007). Was wondering whether there were any updates since then. So, here's a list:
EF 24-70mm f/2.8 ($1,325)
Canon EF 24 - 105 mm f/4 ($1,070)
Canon efs 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 ($775)
Canon ef 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 ($520)
Canon EF-S 17-85 f/4-5.6 ($529)
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L wide angle lens
Canon EF 16-35 mm?

We'll get a couple of memory cards and batteries for it, and then...

What a huge and impossible to fathom task it has been to try to learn about mics online. Too much choice and varying opinions. Is it wrong of me to want really simple answers to really complicated questions (yes).

I don't want to spend much more than $1,000 on audio. I know it's important I get good stuff, so if I'm really convinced I need it, I will spend more.

So, a lavelier wireless system. Which?
A shotgun mic, attached to the HPX 170.
Then what? Is it a good idea to avoid carrying a boom mic?

But then what do I need to get the audio from the mics recorded on the video (without having to sync it up later). And I've heard of phantom energy - which mics are compatible with the HPX170?

And finally...

A light, inexpensive tripod and monopod
A light reflector disc?
What filters should I bring for my cameras?

MY TOTAL BUDGET FOR THIS PAGE IS ABOUT $15,000! There is a little lee-way. But where should I spend, and where should I save?

Any and all help appreciated. Thanks!
posted by omnigut to Technology (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Not to pimp my own shizzle, but you might be better served posting this question at a dedicated video forum, say, DVinfo.net. A few searches there for your specific tools would probably reveal a lot.
posted by jeffkramer at 7:51 AM on January 24, 2011

This is a long and very detailed question. It might be easier for you to explain what you're doing to someone at a place like B&H (not Adorama, they upsell like crazy) and claim that you have a budget of $10,000. They can walk you through what you'll actually need.

Generally, you should skimp on those lenses and splurge on audio. It's understandable that you wouldn't want your audio on a separate device, but there's a reason recording sound off-camera is so common. Who's your sound person? Talk to them about what they want. I sure as hell would not want to record audio directly into a T2i.

You should not use the 50mm 1.8 for video you're shooting. The 50mm 1.8 is a fine lens for the price, but it doesn't have a true manual focus ring, and there's no sense being penny wise pound foolish about that. It's also not really going to work in tight spaces - remember, on a 1.6x crop body, a 50mm is a short tele. As far as primes go, go for the 50mm 1.4 if you want to use that short tele, or go for the 35 if you want a more normal-ish lens.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:58 AM on January 24, 2011

I've never shot video and am unfamiliar with the t2i other than knowing its reasonably new from Canon and can shoot video. However, I do know that if you're going to be shooting a lot of low light (with no external light source), typically, I'd say, get lenses with the widest apertures you can afford.

The pricing you have there looks a little off on some of them, unless some prices have gone up. You could probably find a used 1.8 for under $100 that is totally fine. I prefer the 1.4, myself, but if you are on a serious budget it is tough to beat the 1.8 for low light.

Also, is it important whether you have zoom or not, more or less so than having the low-light ability? You might want to consider that as well. I see you don't have the
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM
on there, which is my go-to lens for a lot of stuff. Zooms are rarely as sharp as primes, but the image stabilization in there is sort of like getting an extra stop since you can use a slower shutter speed than you ordinarily would be able to without the IS.

The pricey L lenses are usually pricier because they tend to be better all around.

Personally, with a budget like that, I would think you would be spending the bulk of the $ on having the best made-for-video rig you could get, but wth do I know being still only a still photog : )

If you need to be discreet about filming, I suspect there's got to be something even more discreet than any SLR-sized camera these days, especially if you have a budget like that. I haven't looked into it, but you would be really surprised what some point-and-shoot sized top-end cameras nowadays can do, and they fit in your pocket! (didn't some guy online somewheres just shoot an entire movie on his iphone?)
posted by bitterkitten at 7:59 AM on January 24, 2011

Is your budget for gear $15,000 or is your budget for the entire project $15,000?
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:11 AM on January 24, 2011

You don't want the 50mm 1.8 for video. You just don't, and if you buy it, you will regret it.

If you are shooting during the day with plenty of light, you want the 17-55 IS from canon. The IS will save handheld footage on the T2i that would otherwise be ruined by shakyness and jello.

For lenses on that camera, if your budget just has to include lenses and audio, and nothing else (such as tripods, support, rails, monitors, etc.), I would go with the canon 17-55IS, the tokina 11-16, the canon 70-200 2.8 IS (You want IS for as many of your lenses as possible, these zooms will cover all of your bases, look good, and all are at 2.8 which will work for daytime and some low light shots), as well as prime lenses at around 25 and 50mm. This will run you around 6 grand or so, but almost all of your bases will be covered.

Your audio needs to be a higher priority. Bad audio will make even the best shot image seem amateur, but good audio will help carry a mediocre image. $1000 for a full audio rig is not enough. Many people make cheap audio equipment work, but that requires a ton of practice and controlled environments. Street performers are not going to give you an hour to sound check and fix problems with your audio. I would consider a wireless or two plus a boom to be kind of a minimum, and that won't cover all situations.

Will you have a crew, or is it just two people with cameras? If you want this to later make it to TV, and you are serious about it, you will want to consider a dedicated audio person. If this isn't an option, than you want as many backups for your audio as possible, which will mean multiple mics.

Please keep in mind, you are asking for advise for pro quality results, and that is what my suggestions are based off of. If you took your HPX170 out with a shotgun mic attached to it, and made sure your shots were all good, your footage will probably be good enough to air on a news program, and will be very nice. But, if you want something that is closer to the level you would want for something other than a news show, the level of equipment that you need jumps way up. I've seen crews of 5 people doing what you say you want to do, which included 2 camera operators, a boom operator, a sound recorder, and a director. All of them were constantly working, no one was just sitting around waiting for something to do. If you don't have a crew, than you need to make sure that the equipment is not going to cause you to lose a once in a lifetime shot, and the weak point on your end will likely be the audio.
posted by markblasco at 8:39 AM on January 24, 2011

Have you come up with the funds to staff the position you need to fill? If not, this may be a situation where you could save some money that you need to be applying towards those ends by taking less (and less expensive) kit.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 9:18 AM on January 24, 2011

Also, DVXuser.com is a good place to go for questions, there are a lot of working professionals there (as well as a lot of opinionated people who have never taken their camera out of the box, so use some discretion there).

I think you would get a little bit more help if you gave more specifics about exactly what it is you are going to be filming, what the conditions will be, how long, etc.
posted by markblasco at 9:29 AM on January 24, 2011

Making a $14 Steadicam might help you get some sweet tracking shots.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:39 AM on January 24, 2011

In order,

JeffKramer, I've been pretty busy on Creative Cow. The more I learn, the less I feel I know, and I think I've become a little crazy after all that research. So, I'm giving metafilter a go. I'll join DVInfo too! (thanks for the link)

Sticherbeast, I went to B&H in NYC and they treated me like a nuisance (September). Now I'm in London. Does anyone have any experience of the best camera shops in London? I heard good things about Calumet. I don't really care where it's located, I just want the best advice. London Camera Exchange?

Our sound person is completely inexperienced. Yup, completely. In fact, I'm the most experienced sound person, and that's because I've used a Zoom H2. Sound like a recipe for failure? Hopefully not... Anyway, if I splurge on audio, for market/plaza/street scenes with music and interviews, what would my basic needs be? How much do you think I'd need to spend?

I'm sold on the 50mm 1.4. Looks good. Love the idea of always manual focus.

BitterKitten. Love your moniker. the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM looks like a great lens. If I were to get that, and the 50mm 1.4, what would you suggest next? Also, we've already got the SLR bought (it's a year old). I don't think it'll stand out too much!

Sticherbeast, The total budget is around $60,000, with $15,000 spent on equipment. The rest is food, visas, vaccinations, a hundred train tickets, accommodation, the website, literature and five plane tickets — for three people for ten months!

If I go with those choices, here's what we've got to spend (Amazon's prices):
HPX-170: $3,750. Comes with 16GB memory.
3 extra batteries: $100
16GB + 32GB p2 = $400 + $550 = $950
Shoulder Support?

Canon t2i: Already bought
Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM Standard & Medium Telephoto Lens: $360
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM: $1,090
Kingston Flash Memory Reader: $14
4 x 32GB Class 10 SDHC card: $200
3 x Batteries: $40
Opteka X Grip: $35

The total cost of all the above is $6,539

This doesn't include a zoom lens for the DSLR, support for the HPX 170, any kind of bag, lighting, a tripod or a monopod.

And it doesn't include audio.

There will be three of us, with one looking after audio, but we're going to be learning about that on the go. She's going to do as much research as possible before we go, but I don't know how much you can learn in a month...

markblasco, we'll be shooting outdoors, wherever street performers are. Some of it will be songs, some circus stuff...basically anything you see street performers doing. Markets (like the famous one with snake charmers in Marrakech), plazas, busy streets, parks, and subways, mostly. However, I do plan to follow street performers home, do interviews with them and generally explore their lives.

Thanks everyone!
posted by omnigut at 12:06 PM on January 24, 2011

OK, if you have a sound person, I would say the minimum you want is a Sound Devices MixPre, a decent recorder (you could use the H4N if you had to, but since you have a budget, I'd go for something more so you don't have to worry about it later), a sennheiser G3 wireless system, a decent shotgun mic (something better than the Rode NTG-2), a nice boom pole that is light, a bag for the sound person to wear to hold that, and whatever accessories are needed (batteries, cables, etc.). That will get you equipment capable of giving you professional results without costing 20 grand, and the limiting factor will then be the sound person.

If you skimp on the sound, you will regret it later. The T2i with the kit 18-55 combined with good sound will be infinitely better than a $50,000 camera with bad sound.

Since it is a cropped camera, I would suggest at a minimum the 17-55 IS for your all purpose lens, and then something in the 20-30mm prime and the 50mm prime. The 50mm prime is just to much of a telephoto on a cropped camera to be your only prime if you are filming at night. A 24mm and a 50mm will give you workable options.

As for learning audio in a month, the main thing I would suggest is lots of strength and endurance training for the arms and core, because holding a boom for a long time is a workout, but will give you the best quality sound outdoors.
posted by markblasco at 12:43 PM on January 24, 2011

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