Good video camera for recording theater?
March 15, 2013 11:33 AM   Subscribe

My local theater company needs a new video camera for recording performances. It obviously will need to handle a wide variety of lighting situations, and I'm not sure if that means we're looking for a particular brand, model, or feature. It will usually be tripod mounted, so size and weight aren't necessarily an issue. It's a small black box theater, so the need to zoom would be pretty rare. Are there any we should definitely consider, or will pretty much any good quality unit do the trick these days?
posted by schoolgirl report to Technology (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've videotaped a lot of theater performances and similar situations, and in my experience the most important feature is manual exposure. The autoexposure features on video cameras, even the high-end ones, just don't cope well with brightly-lit people against dark backgrounds. If you have a well-lit set behind them, it's less of an issue, though even then I think it's useful. The other thing, if you really want the best results, is manual white balance. Because, again, auto white balance doesn't tend to do a great job with theater lighting. Though if it's just for your own internal use, this might not be as big of a deal.
posted by primethyme at 12:04 PM on March 15, 2013

Good stuff, thanks. These videos would be for both internal and promotional use - YouTube and all that. We very often don't have a full set behind the actors, just black curtains, so it sounds like some manual control is important.
posted by schoolgirl report at 12:14 PM on March 15, 2013

I can't give details, but some kind of remote miking will improve the recorded sound.
posted by JimN2TAW at 5:26 PM on March 15, 2013

I don't think you can go wrong with most mid-grade consumer cameras. There are a lot of great cameras out there starting at $300. My faves are Canon and Sony in that order.

JimN2TAW, is absolutely right about mics. I generally hate the audio that comes from mid-grade cameras. Prosumer cameras are much better but are too expensive for just compensating for audio. I ended up purchasing a cheap Tascam DR-05 digital audio recorder so that I could get a really great audio recording and just edit it in while editing the video. One cool feature of the recorder is that it can be tripod mounted too.

Yep, two tools for one job, but you'll end up with great audio and video without spending what it takes to purchase one of these prosumer models.

posted by snsranch at 6:09 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm gonna third trying to at least look in to a prosumer camera, you get so much more flexibility with not just audio, but with whatever conditions you decide to shoot. Bright lights, soft lights, low lights, whatever.

In my experience, you can compensate for a ton of that with a good camera. Best part of it is that while you call it a stage, video guys will call it a studio. At least part of a studio. %75 of the time lighting is the big hurdle, but if you have some stage lights, you're ahead of the game.

What I would do is visit a local video equipment rental facility, check out a couple of cameras, do a couple of test shoots and find out what you like. Shooting a performance well* is going to involve more than just putting a camera on a tripod and hitting the red button.

If you're thinking about putting this out promotionally, I would seriously recommend getting a video guy to come and shoot you during an empty rehearsal or something along those lines.

Yeah, I know local theater usually means no money, but your appearance isn't something I'd want to skimp on. In the long run, I'd consider just hiring a small crew to come in and let them do the heavy lifting rather than try and reinvent the wheel.

Whichever decision you and yor theater decide to make, good luck. Good video production isn't easy.

*By well, I mean something you would be able to feel good about showing to other people.
posted by Sphinx at 7:20 PM on March 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seems like we have some commentors with experience in this, so I'm a bit surprised that no one's mentioned one important tip: if you want to make something that people will actually watch, it's absolutely crucial that you have two cameras - one for the static wide on a tripod, and a second for medium and c/u shots, manned by an operator. The footage should then be edited together.

As such, equally important to note is that dress rehearsals, not actual performances, are best to tape. It's even better if the camera operator comes and watches the last rehearsal before dress rehearsal, and is even given a script, so s/he can anticipate where the action happens (on preview, as Sphinx mentions).

And thirding the audio advice. On many stages there is already a mic setup, so it's best to tap into that feed. Otherwise, yeah, a separate audio recorder with a good cardioid mic would be ideal.
posted by war wrath of wraith at 10:20 PM on March 16, 2013

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