i’ve always been a big proponent of renting a camera vs buying one. there are many benefits to renting. you can rent a camera for a fraction of the price of buying one. with that extra money, you can pay a DP to operate the camera. ideally you could find a DP that owns his own camera and pay a cheaper rate for both. with the rest of the money, you can hire other crew, rent other equipment, feed your cast and crew, etc.
also, the general consensus is that the director shouldn’t operate the camera. the director should focus on the actor’s performance and trust the DP and the rest of the camera department to operate the camera. the director would discuss the look he wanted beforehand, and hopefully provide floorplans and storyboards to comunicate his vision to the DP.
but there are directors that do operate the camera while they direct. robert rodriguez. steven soderberg (under pseudonym Peter Andrews). david lynch (inland empire). doug liman (swingers, go). and mike figgis (timecode), who wrote a great book, Digital Filmmaking.
mike figgis’s point of view is that a director should own his camera. his analogy is that the first thing a soldier is taught is how to dismantle his gun and put it back together. that’s his tool. it’ll save his life. he says the director’s relationship to the camera should be the same way. you need to treat the camera with respect because it is an extension of you. he also says you needs to shoot a lot with the camera to train your eye and also to develop an instinct for what you want to achieve.
he also talks about how operating the camera makes his relationship to the actors more intimate. robert rodriguez says the same thing in this interview.
when i shot my last short, at times i felt too distant from the actors because i was watching the monitor in another room, or i’d be standing next to the camera and then not notice some technical things like framing or focus until later when i had a chance to review the footage. i really wanted to be behind the camera so i could see the performances better as well as see the technical issues.
on a future short, i want to operate the camera. i would still want to work with a DP, but have him focus more on lighting to establish the mood. technically, isn’t that the DP’s real job? on a hollwood film shoot, the DP wouldn’t operate the camera. that would be left to the camera operator and 1st and 2nd AC.
i currently have a panasonic dvx100a that i bought used. it’s a wonderful camera that shoots in 24p (24 progressive frames to match the motion signature of film), has manual controls for just about everything, a lot of options to tweak the image settings, XLR inputs, etc. the only thing is that it shoots in SD and not HD, so i did some research into what’s out there.
a big step up from the dvx100 would be the panasonic hvx200, which is the camera i’ve shot my last 2 shorts on. it has all the functionality of the dvx100 but it shoots in dvc pro hd which is a better compressor than hdv, it uses p2 cards instead of tape (some people don’t like that but i love it), and can shoot variable frame rates. but it costs about $5000 which puts it out of my budget, plus p2 cards are also very expensive. if i was trying to be a DP, i would buy it though.
there’s the sony v1u which has 24p and has an optional hard drive recorder. it looks promising but this camera is also pricey at just under $3800. also, i don’t see much talk on message boards about this camera, and haven’t seen as much footage as the other cameras.
canon has their hdv camera, the xh-a1, which looks like an HD upgrade of their classic gl2. it has a nice 20x zoom. shoots 24f (close enough to 24p) it’s priced at about $3500.
canon also has a smaller consumer HD camera, the hv20, which people have been very excited about. it’s under $1000, shoots in hdv, and has 24p. nothing comes close to that feature set at that price point. what a lot of filmmakers have been doing is buying this inexpensive camera and hooking it up to 35mm adapters.
canon also recently announced they’re going to be releasing the hg10. it shoots in avchd instead of hdv like the hv20 does, and instead of recording to tape, it records directly to it’s 40gb hard drive which is supposed to give 5.5 hours of recording at it’s highest quality setting. it also shoots 24p like the hv20, it’s supposed to retail for $1300 and should be released in october.
when i saw all the footage from the canon hv20 with 35mm adapters, i realized i needed to get one. i just worked with 35mm lenses for the first time on the short film i just shot, and i really liked the depth of field you can get with the adapter. it really makes the image more like film and less like video.
i did some research on adapters made by these companies, redrock, letus, brevis, sgpro. they cost between $700 – $2500. you need to get other accessories before you can use the package, like rails, maybe a follow focus, and of course lenses. right now i’m leaning to the sgpro because it seems the best value for the money and it comes with rails as part of its package. the only negative is that there is a back log of them because it’s so popular. as of now (aug 6), their next batch will be ready to ship in november.
so my plan is to buy the 35mm adapter and first use it with the dvx100 i already have. if the canon hg10 gets good reviews when it’s released, i would use the adapter rig with that camera. as with other equipment like a good mic or tripod, the adapter rig and lenses will last a long time, whereas the camera could be outdated in a couple years.
i don’t know how i’m going to wait till november to start shooting with the rig!