What camera should I get for video editing and production?
December 9, 2003 3:41 AM   Subscribe

I was thinking of getting into video editing and production. I want to do it on the PC because I can get the equipment cheaper, and I want to do it at minimal cost but professional quality. I am looking at Adobe Premiere for video editing. My biggest question, though, is what camera should I get? I was looking at the Canon XL1S, but I also saw an ad in Wired for a JVC GR-HD1... which is better and why? Or is there another alternative camera I should get?
posted by banished to Technology (11 answers total)
I'm in the same position as you, actually: thinking about it, not sure about the equipment, don't have buckets of cash with which to do it. (Though I'm almost certain I'd use Final Cut on a Mac.) Looking forward to seeing what this thread will turn up.

A rather right-wing blogger who also happens to do this sort of thing for a living has been working, off and on, on a guide to this very thing, including cameras, software and other equipment. I wish he'd finish the damn thing. It's at least one person's opinion.
posted by mcwetboy at 4:38 AM on December 9, 2003

Not sure I can offer too much info, but I do know this.

I've used the trial version of Premiere 6.0 and I've not seen such a buggy piece of software since windows 3.0.

There was not a machine I tried it on where it wouldn't constantly crash. Worse was when it would decide to give up rendering videos half way through. If it didn't crash the moment it loaded, it'd crash 15 minutes through working with it.

Stay far away from that trash. Or at least try it for yourself and see what I'm talking about. (I was loading HuffYUV compressed video into it).

While more difficult to use, I've found Pinnacle Studio (whatever version came with my laptop... don't have it loaded right now, sorry) doesn't crash constantly. Which is nice.

For simply cutting the video and converting it, I can heartily reccomend virtualdub. VERY nice software.

No, I am not even NEAR being a professional in this stuff. I've just dabbled with my Matrox Rainbow Runner since 1997. :-)
posted by shepd at 5:48 AM on December 9, 2003

I personally like the Canon ... there has been lots of industry positivity about that machine lately. I'm not too knowledgable in the camera arena, but that's what I've been hearing lately.

Now off topic a bit ... cost is one thing, but quality is something completely different when it comes to an editing station. Professional quality editing equiptment is never cheap, and as shepd elluded to "you get what you pay for." In my opinion, Final Cut on the Mac is the only way to go for digital non-linear editing. Sure it's expensive, but well worth it when it comes down to the trouble you'll save yourself.

Another thing you'll want to consider is geting a pretty decent sized array of disc drives to work off of. There's nothing worse than running out of scratch space when editing a big project on a single-drive machine. (I personally work with an array of 5 daisychained 200 Gig firewire drives in addition to the 80 gig local drive on my editing station, which I don't store any source files on at all.)
posted by ScottUltra at 7:19 AM on December 9, 2003

Is Video Toaster still around?
posted by Hackworth at 9:17 AM on December 9, 2003

add another vote for FCP on Mac. An amazing piece of software. It can outperform some standalone NLE systems, and there's a lot of third-party support.

How much shooting are you going to do? And how much experience do you have with cameras? If the answer is "not much", consider renting gear or hiring a shooter.

When we have a modest project, we just rent a camera for the day/week. When it's more elaborate, we hire a shooter who brings his own camera and lighting gear. That way we don't have several thousands of dollars worth of gear sitting around for weeks unused, and we get the benefit of the most modern gear and the most professional shooters.

The bulk of the time in video is spent in the editing suite, not in the field shooting (although that's pretty time consuming as well). If you have limited funds, it might be better to rent/borrow gear until you can justify the expense. The quality of the shot is crucial, and lighting is the key. You can correct for many problems in the edit suite, but that all depends on the quality of the original footage.

So where do you go? Look up film co-ops or media schools in your area. Film or electronic journalism students often have access to the school equipment, and they're looking for experience. Nova Scotia (where I'm from) has its own Film Development Corporation, a government agency that publishes a guide with all the local industry contacts (from make-up to video transfer); check to see if there's something similar in your area. Check the yellow pages for film production equipment companies.

Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 9:29 AM on December 9, 2003

Yes, the Video Toaster is still around, but not nearly as revolutionary as it used to be.

I don't have much experience with video editing at home, but I do it for a living -- I edit news video for a major cable network. I use Pinnacle's liquid.Blue at work, but that's far more oomph than you probably need. (And it's configured for our servers, et cetera.)

I've never used Adobe Premiere, but I've heard similarly negative things about it that shepd has. I know a bunch of folks (including one of my bosses, who has gear at home) like Final Cut Pro, but I've never used it myself.

You're interested in a PC solution, though. I've heard good things about Pinnacle's Studio software, but their slightly higher-end Edition software gets rave reviews from everyone I've talked to. I can vouch for the Pinnacle interface -- I like editing on liquid.Blue much better than I ever liked Media 100, Avid Media Composer, or Avid NewsCutter. And Edition has the same interface -- it's a very powerful program. (Even our onsite rep, who is a contractor for Pinnacle, uses Edition for his own projects and won't shut up about how great it is.) I know lots of satisfied folks who use Edition...I think it runs US$649 retail, and you can get it for I think $299 if you can wangle an educational discount.

Cameras I don't know as much about (unless you're talking the $30K ones), but the Canon XL1S has made lots of people very happy. I know a bunch of folks that shoot with the Sony PD150s, though, and are more than pleased -- we've aired PD150 video lots of times, and you'd hardly know the difference unless you're a vidigeek. (We have 'em as secondary cameras for the producers to pick up extra shots, or when a big camera would be intrusive.)

Good luck!
posted by Vidiot at 10:25 AM on December 9, 2003

(oh, and feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you want to know more about what it's like to cut on a Pinnacle product.)
posted by Vidiot at 10:27 AM on December 9, 2003

i have tried Pinnacle, and it's better than Premiere, but i warmly recommend Vegas 4.0 (or maybe there's a higher version now). i've found it to be very fast and intuitive, and it can do just about anything.

as for cameras, i'm partial to Sony, probably because i have one... i would recommend focusing on the quality of the optics (the lens) and forget about "digital zoom," which is pretty much irrelevant. also, forget about in-camera effects. you'll want to do everything at the editing stage anyway, and most of the effects are cheesy and unnecessary.

before choosing my sony i was also considering a JVC and i thought it looked like a good choice, though i don't know anything about the model you mention. around a year ago i noticed JVC models had pretty good optical zoom, which is cool. not sure if they still have an edge there.
posted by edlundart at 11:00 AM on December 9, 2003

oh yeah -- kinda off topic, but... when you do get a camera, submit shorts to weeklydv.com and get feedback and see what others are doing. i've submitted a couple of times and it's a fun excercise. i think getting into something like that is great for learning about editing and shooting.
posted by edlundart at 11:05 AM on December 9, 2003

I have a little experience in video editing; the Matrox RT.X100 is a fantastic capture / real time edit card and makes those Render progress bars a thing of the past (as long as you don't overload the effects). Being able to chop and change about without having to worry about how much of the timeline will re-render is really liberating.

Premiere is a good tool and I have had few problems with crashes though the key to video editing is to keep the system as clean as possible in terms of third party software. If you can then set aside a machine just for editing. It'll pay dividends in the long run and your hair line.

Video editing is probably the most stressful activity you could inflict on a computer, not only is the processor grinding over frame after frame, but those frames need to go through memory to disk and back. It exercises every aspect of a computer (rather than games that sling everything into memory and then it's the standard processor / graphics card bottleneck).

The XL1S was my dream camera for quite a while and now I've got access to one I'm not disappointed - the one thing I would say however is be sure of the size of camera you want. The XLS1 is a big-ish camera and sits a little uncomfortably between a handheld and shoulder mounted.

If you get a Shoulder Pad / Microphone Adapter then it really becomes a big camera and there's no chance of filming inconspicuous shots outside amongst the public.

For our uses the XL1S is a huge step up from the old Hi8 handicam we've used before, the level and depth of control over every aspect is astounding. Just be sure you'll make the most of it rather than spending the money on a different area, like the edit pc.
posted by gi_wrighty at 2:36 PM on December 9, 2003

One of the biggest questions in terms of picking out a camera is what you are planning to photograph. A small, unobtrusive camera might be best for trying to be...um...unobtrusive. You'll want great lenses if you're looking for the best overall picture. You'll want reliable electronics if you're planning to connect this camera to your computer for editing (editing tends to really wear out the tape transport). Also, your output matters in camera selection. If most of what you're shooting is going to end up on a small television, that's a really different situation than if you were aiming for broadcast television or a transfer to film.

My two cents with regard to Premiere is that it's a nightmare waiting to happen. I used to spend hours at my friend's place reconfiguring his editing station (Premiere on PC) and he'd still try to tell me his setup was better than mine (FCP on Mac, which has always just worked.) You may want to spend some more money up front to get a reliable system, rather than spending that money on your repair time when you've got a project and a deadline.

On preview, gi_wrighty is absolutely dead-on about setting aside a machine for editing, or at least keeping your machine as clean as possible.
posted by faustessa at 2:46 PM on December 9, 2003

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