Low light HD camcorder for under $1,000?

Discussion in 'Digital Video' started by howardnow, Oct 5, 2010.

  1. howardnow macrumors member

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2004
    #1
    What HD camcorder works well in low light?

    I want to buy something (under $1,000 if possible) for short sketch comedy videos that would be versatile.

    I would like to dream that it could be broadcast quality if the stories came out great enough for a cable series.

    The camera would also need to have a separate mic input.

    Is there a good website for side by side comparisons (with images)?
    If $1,000 will not cut it, how mush would I need to spend?

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. thejoshhoward macrumors member

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    Aug 2, 2010
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    #2
    Dslr

    You should totally go with a DSLR from Canon or Nikon. I prefer the Nikon for two reason; I already have some Nikon glass and the Nikon offers auto focus in video mode (Canon does not yet).

    I've been acting in a little indie film the last two weeks and they're shooting DSLR. The images are gorgeous! The only problem with the two cameras I linked you to are that they don't have an external mic input (I don't think). You may have to bump up to the next level for that.

    Hope that gives you something to consider.
     
  3. Pressure macrumors 68040

    Pressure

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    #3
    It's all about the size of the image sensor, good ISO performance and having a fast lens, when it comes to low light performance.

    In that regard dSLRs are king, especially under $1,000.

    Digital Photography Review have, more or less, looked at every dSLR camera you can think of.

    I only post this overview of different sensor sizes for fun.

    [​IMG]

    But that should give you a generally idea of the light sensitivity of various cameras.

    Most video cameras use a 1/2.5" image sensor, whereas most current dSLRs are using an APS-C sized sensor.

    With regards to Auto-Focus with video on a dSLR, they simply aren't there yet. As the poster above points out some Nikon cameras tout auto-focus in video mode but the facts remains it is simply not fast or good enough. The only cameras sporting fast auto-focus systems are, cough, those used for sports. Otherwise you do not see an auto-focus camera on a movie set.

    When it comes to video I would really not consider Nikon dSLRs, as they are lackluster when it comes to codec used and movie functions.

    If you can grab a Panasonic GH1 that is hackable, then you are in for a treat as it can produce 720p at up to 80Mbit/sec.

    I'm using the Canon EOS 5D Mark II (full frame) myself and the low-light performance is really great, not to mention the video it produces.
     
  4. KeithPratt macrumors 6502a

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    #4
    I know it's wearisome to hear, but it's really down to the people operating the equipment knowing what they're doing before it's ever about the equipment itself. Thought I might as well be the one to say it!
     
  5. FroColin macrumors regular

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    Jun 4, 2008
    #5
    Actually I am amazed to hear (Or rather read) my self say this but I don't think you should go for an DSLR.
    A: They are heavy,and cumbersome for video
    B: There audio sucks and yes most do have a mic input but the audio is so compressed that it's not very usable for high quality productions.
    C: These are comedy sketches, not cinematic dramas or something, you don't NEED really shallow depth of field, really low light sensitivity, or the mass of lenes
    D: You need someone who knows what they are doing to operate a camera like that, if you get a canon vixia or something you can just set it on a tripod and press record. Comedy is about content and the acting, you just need a means to capture that in the best way possible, ESPECIALLY AUDIO. There have been studies done on this, two groups of people each watched a different movie, one had HORRIBLE filming (Really grainy images, shaky camera, poorly whitebalenced, etc) the other had bad audio. Most of the people in the group who watched the movie with the bad audio walked out. The people with it shot horrible when they were asked about the movie thought it was stylized or didn't notice it or didn't care.
    E: Despite there cheap costs (You can get a T2i for around 750) there is a ton of other equipment you should get because your getting a camera all for it's gorgeous images so you should spend a bunch to be able to take advantage of that. On my DSLR setup I have spent over 4000 dollars on everything not counting the camera, for lens, shoulder mount, mic and external field recorder, tripod, Z-Finder, etc. And that's not even that much.

    IMHO you should spend your money on mics and then get a camera that has pretty good images this would be good http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/671660-REG/Canon_3569B001_VIXIA_HF_S100_Flash.html right now you can get it for something like 750 which is a steal, I have an older version of this camera and I use it when I just want to shoot something funny with my friends cause the DSLR takes forever to setup. And it takes great sharp shoots, sure it doesn't look beautiful like the DSLR does.
    If you get bogged down with the shooting you are probably not going to get as good performance if this is your 44th take cause you keep getting rolling shutter in your shots when you move it around or it turns out that no one can follow focus on you 85mm 1.2 lens (Not that you would actually have that lens haha, it's something like 1,500 dollars) but my point is every shot will take a lot of setup, and someone who really knows how to operate the camera
     
  6. howardnow thread starter macrumors member

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    Mar 29, 2004
    #6
    Thanks! I really appreciate all the great information so far.

    I'm still undecided and I hope to see more comments.

    The image sensor chart is interesting. Are there any side by side image comparisons of the same image (preferably in low light) available for comparison?

    FroColin makes some very good points. I have read good and bad things about DSLRs before. I work in TV Editing (never on stage) and have seen some pour results when nicely outfitted DSLRs are used for extra cameras (not as main unit cameras). They do have a cool look for action scenes, music videos, etc. They also look good when the crew spends the proper time to set them up as they would with the main unit high end cameras. The sound is basically not usable for broadcast and must be replaced (for a Network show at least). Unexplained is why a few images can sometimes be jumpy and must be fixed in a very expensive Flame or Smoke video session.

    Yet DLSRs movie options keep improving, so who knows. I realize they are good in low light and that keeps me interested.

    DP Review is a great site for DSLRs. Does anybody know of a similar site for camcorder reviews and information???

    Also, has anybody had experience with trying to make a broadcast acceptable short with a camcorder that uses the common ACVD recording format? Or do I need quicktime h264 or similar?

    Thanks again!
     
  7. FroColin macrumors regular

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    Jun 4, 2008
    #7
    It's not quite that simple, the sensors make a big difference in low light but so do the lenses. If you compare a Canon 5D (35mm sensor and, for the purposes of the discussion, as big as it gets) with the Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens, open all the way and as wide as you can go, this probably is going to have worse low light sensitivity then say a 7D or T2i (which has canons APS-C sensor) with canons EF 24mm f/1.4 lens open all the way, besides that. The image on the 5D will actually be wider then the one on the T2i (or 7D, they are basically the same for video) even with the same focal length cause the size of the senor has an effect on how wide it will be. So if you had a comparison chart they would have to be set to the same aperture. And so you would have to factor in that when your looking at cameras. So if in this comparison chart had all the lenses set to say f/4 you would have to factor in that some of these lenses may be able to open further. And also often you will have a lens that something like f/4-5.6 which means that when it's wide it will be able to open to 4 but only be open to 5.6 when zoomed in.

    If this is all way over your head that's fine, you don't need to know all that to buy a camera, however you will need to know that if you get a DSLR and are buying lenses.
    Oh and one more thing, AVCHD and H264 are both highly compressed but in your price range they are still better then HDV, you probably can't afford XDCAM or whatever Panasonic has (I can't remember right now).
    Also the images on a DSLR that are "jumpy" are probably as a result of the "Rolling shutter" look it up. It's something that can be VERY annoying on DSLRs, but you have to remember on all these things, there are work arounds. You can make just about anything work. It's just what your willing to work on.
    Note that when I say Canon 5D I mean Canon 5D mark ii
     
  8. mwilloam macrumors newbie

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    Apr 3, 2010
    #8
    The sensor size in regards to video on DSLR's is not the same as with still photos. Most models skip pixels on the sensor to form a 1920x1080 image from a sensor that has more than 4000x3000 pixels. To my knowledge no models crop a portion of sensor to create the video image (T2i has a special crop mode for zoom, different). The Panasonic GH's supposedly pixel averaging on the sensor which in essence is a form of down-rezing by averaging ~3 pixels into 1 pixel on capture. I imagine it is able to do this since it has less overall pixels than the nikons, canons and sonys so less processing power is required. Plus, the size of a sensor related to its light sensitivity also has to do with how many pixels are packed on it. A full frame sensor with 1920x1080 pixels would be more light sensitive than a full frame sensor with 5940x3240 pixels, albeit with less resolution. The HDSLR craze in my opinion is mainly based on shallow depth of field (which sensor size does directly relate to) and low light but i would wager that he low light has nothing to do with the sensor and only has to do lens speed and iso performance. If someone has proof that sensor size does in fact have an impact on these camera's low light video capabilities ... please share.
     
  9. KeithPratt macrumors 6502a

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    Mar 6, 2007
    #9
    ISO and "low light capabilities" are one and the same. What people are usually interested in is how cleanly the signal generated from the photons of light hitting the sensor can be amplified. A larger surface area will collect more photons, which is an obvious advantage. The more-pixels-equals-lower-sensitivity thing is down to the little non-photosite areas around each photosite, where any photon hits are lost. This is an issue of current practicality, not a law of physics.


    Howardnow, I don't know of any equivalent camcorder sites, but for some stills camera ISO comparison, have at look at the sports column on DXO Mark.
     
  10. LethalWolfe macrumors G3

    LethalWolfe

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    Los Angeles
    #10
    Low Light: Do HDSLRs Really Rule?

    Lethal
     
  11. Mark Holmes macrumors member

    Mark Holmes

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    Location:
    San Diego CA
    #11
    Not so lethal, considering he wants a cam under $1,000 and a RED is a $20,000+ cam. IMHO he should consider a DSLR, but be aware of the caveats going in. He should take a look at the new Panasonic GH2. I use a 7D and love it but there are many occasions where my Canon HV30 and HV40 work better, such as taping live theater, where the cameras have to run non-stop for an hour or more.
     
  12. mwilloam macrumors newbie

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    Apr 3, 2010
    #12
    Where did I say it wasn't? Well, ISO is one component along with lens, sensor technology etc ... What I said was that sensor size alone doesn't dictate lowlight capability or even ISO performance. A full frame sensor from 10 years ago won't perform as well as a current sensor at the same ISO because the newer chips are just more advanced.

    More do with the technology of the chip and not the size. Would the sensor from an original full frame Canon 1D perform as well as the 7D at the same ISO, probably not.

    My vote: Just get one of the handheld HD camcorders with a built mic input and turn the lights on in the room. Too many caveats with DSLR video especially for those not specifically going for "cinema look".
     
  13. howardnow thread starter macrumors member

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2004
    #13
    Thanks again for all the information. It is a lot to to take in.

    DSLRs sound great in many ways, but might be a little too complicated for what I am after.

    Again I wish I could have it all, cinema look, etc. but I am looking to do sketch comedy, which will include guerilla style filmmaking where I will have no control of the lighting. Some shots will be night outdoors with available street lighting and some will be interiors with available lighting. I will edit on FCP or Avid.

    I would like to hear more about low light camcorders with mic inputs. Under $1,000 would be great, but I can go up a little. The suggestion to buy a good microphone is a good idea.

    Thanks again!
     
  14. LethalWolfe macrumors G3

    LethalWolfe

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    #14
    I think you are confused. I'm not saying the OP should buy a Red One. Mwilloam asked for a link talking about how censor size, particularly w/DSLRs, can relate to low light capabilities and that's what I was responding too.

    Bigger chips allow for bigger photo sites which allow more light to be 'ingested' in a given amount of time which means better low light performance (all other things being equal, of course). 1/3" prosumer HD cameras, for instance, generally don't have the low light abilities that their 1/3" prosumer SD cousins do because so many more photo sites got crammed into the same physical space. The HVX200, for example, is about a stop slower than the DVX100. The EX1, with a 1/2" imager, was the first prosumer HD camera to really be able to rival the low light abilities of the PD170 (which is considered to be the low light champ of prosumer SD cameras).


    Lethal
     
  15. martinX macrumors 6502a

    martinX

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    #15
    1. These are the people you should be having a conversation with.
    2. Consumer level equipment gives consumer level results.
    3. Equipment doesn't confer expertise.

    It's great that you want to get out there and do it, but equipment has limitations (so do budgets). The only way to find out if you can do this, from shooting to cable broadcast, is to try it with various set ups (beg, borrow or rent) and deliver it to the TV channel to see what they think of quality.

    This isn't to discourage you, but to set expectations of results. If nothing else, you'll shoot some great stuff, make a great show, and maybe someone will buy you a bunch of stuff on the basis of that. Then you can come back and say "I have a $50 000 budget ... what should I buy?"
     
  16. KeithPratt macrumors 6502a

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    Mar 6, 2007
    #16
    Where did I say you did?

    What you did say was:

    ... which suggests sensor size and ISO performance are not intrinsically linked. In the real world, they are.

    You won't find ISO 102,400 on any current 1/3" camcorder because you wouldn't be able to make an image out from the noise. It is an option on the Nikon D3s, however, because Nikon deem the image good enough to be useful.

    A 20MP 35mm sensor will collect more light than a 2MP 1/3", and more light info means cleaner amplification, and cleaner amplification means better low light performance.
     
  17. mwilloam macrumors newbie

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    Apr 3, 2010
    #17
    True, but that's part of the issue with what something like the 5dmkii. It's a 21MP 35mm sensor thats only capturing 2MP in video mode. Same with the 7d. My whole point from the beginning was that these "Full Frame" sensor DSLRs only use 1/3 of their photo sites. They are not capturing video using their full sensor. 2/3 of the photo sites are in essence inactive which is part of the reason that the moire and aliasing is worse on DSLR's compared to 2mp camcorders when shooting deep DOF.
     
  18. chrono1081 macrumors 604

    chrono1081

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    #18
    This was probably mentioned but if you are going for production quality stuff a lot of the "low light" scenes on TV are lit with lights. The careful placement of shadows are what fool you into thinking the scene is darker then it really is.

    You could take a normal camera and come up with some nice dramatic lighting that will probably get you the effect you are after.
     
  19. handsome pete macrumors 68000

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    #19
    I'm thinking he wants something that performs well in low light because he doesn't have the budget for lighting.
     
  20. martinX macrumors 6502a

    martinX

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    #20
    And herein lies a problem. Howardnow (and others, let's face it) ask for advice but we don't really know all the story. This is the limitation of a forum conversation. Without knowing all the story, it is difficult to give solid advice that will deliver the desired results.

    This is why I suggested Howard now talk to people he seems to know who actually work in the TV industry. That way he can bounce questions off them all afternoon and be reasonably assured they know what they're talking about or know someone who does.
     
  21. KeithPratt macrumors 6502a

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    #21
    Don't know if you're questioning this or just making a general point about aliasing, but low-light performance is the same for video as it is for stills because the size of each photosite does not alter; so whether one or all are in use, each pixel is still collecting the same amount of light.
     
  22. Raytrace macrumors member

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    Apr 2, 2010
    #22
    Ah ha. So the opposite statement of this would be that professional equipment gives professional results.

    Really? Inherently? You don't need experience to get pro results, just good gear? And using consumer gear will yield sub-par results regardless of you ability to use it?

    Statements like this are extremely misleading and ill-advised. Do nice pens allow people to write great novels, while simple ball points create only rejected material?

    Handing me a Red One doesn't make me Speilberg, and a great filmmaker can use anything to get great results, albeit perhaps not technically superior every time.

    I had some family portraits done at a large well known studio a couple years back and I had to see what kind of camera the photog was using.

    Any guesses? A Canon REBEL!

    Yeah that's right the cheapest priced, cheapest built, most plasticky consumer grade DSLR money can buy. But the results were fully professional. They knew how to light, how to process, and how to print.

    Sometimes it's the tools, but it's always the usage of them that matters.
     
  23. martinX macrumors 6502a

    martinX

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    #23
    You can write a great novel with a crayon if you like. If you were publishing and distributing handwritten novels, then a good pen would be appreciated and a blotchy pen would probably see your work rejected by many potential readers regardless of its merit. Splotchy handwritten pamphlets have a certain look about them and you'd have no luck finding a distributor. However, you may find a publisher who will take your story, edit it and print it professionally. See the difference?

    Yes. His initial question was about using a camera in low light. A small single chip camera with few manual controls will not yield the same results as a large 3 chip camera with full manual control. While a pro may be able to get the best out of a camera, a single chip 1/4" camera on a cheap tripod recording 25mbps AVCHD won't look as good as a more expensive 3 chip 1/2" system recording, well, just about anything else with the same person at the helm.

    You don't seem to hold the Canon Rebel in high regard. Not knowing anything worthwhile about it, I looked it up. In 2003, DP Review said "the EOS 300D is a formidable camera". Hardly a box brownie then. And your photographer was trained, had a lighting kit they knew how to use and it was a controlled environment.

    I'm suggesting he ask the advice of people he might know in the industry (since he works in TV editing) for a longer and more in-depth conversation than a forum can offer. I'll go further: consider hiring some decent equipment instead of buying cheaper equipment. Learn how to use it.

    Agreed.

    I hope none of this puts him off because at the end of the day, it's the story that counts. While I don't think "broadcast quality" (that term again) is achievable with what he has, I think that the project will be fun and instructive and can easily lead on to bigger and better things and IMO that is the most important thing.
     
  24. howardnow thread starter macrumors member

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    Mar 29, 2004
    #24
    Thanks again for all the advice!

    I should have mentioned that I need to use available light due to the guerilla style filmmaking aspect of my comedy sketch project. Setting up lights would draw too much attention for available light night street or interior shots where I will not have any control over the location.

    In TV editorial, I have very little access to the set (often they are out of town). These camera people are great with $100,000 cameras and an 80 person crew, but the ones I have talked to know very little about consumer cameras.

    I will look into all your suggestions. I may start another thread on used 3 chip camcorders, but I still wish I could see some low light shots on an under $1,000 camcorder for comparison.

    Again, thank you for all the posts!
     
  25. martinX macrumors 6502a

    martinX

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    #25
    While they might not know much about specific cameras (and let's face it, a "new" model comes out every month) they may know what to look for: iris and shutter speed control etc.

    Even so, experiment with what you can get from the camera you end up with. The auto settings on some consumer cameras can be surprisingly good. Even if you have no control over where something is shot, it would be useful to have a few minutes there before you need to shoot so you can try and get the best position and setting for the best possible shot.

    Once again, consider hiring an older 3-chip (more) professional camera. Even standard def may suit, though there's plenty of HDV cameras around. What you might lose in definition you make up for in a clearer picture. Plus you get better audio acquisition and control.
     

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