Choosing cameras to use for IMAG at VLOBLIVE gigs

In the kind of budget range most VLOBLIVE gigs are operating, your camera choice is going to be limited to pretty much whatever you can get your hands on. However if you do have some choices, or if you are
looking to invest in purchasing some cameras, here are some pointers to help you choose.

The first thing to bear in mind is that your average VLOBLIVE gig is a very hostile environment for cameras for the following reasons:

  • You probably can’t afford enough lighting to make it look good
  • You are probably working with volunteer or inexperienced camops
  • You probably DON’T have the luxury of CCUs and an engineer tweaking camera settings during a gig.
  • You don’t have the money to buy the RIGHT thing so you are going to have to compromise.
  • You may well be using underpowered projectors which limit the contrast ratio you can achieve.

That said, let’s look at each option in turn:

  1. Current pro studio cameras

Good examples: Sony D35, JVC KY29, etc.You have probably found that buying or even hiring current model pro studio cameras with all the accessories is pretty much out of the question, but hey, if you can get one or more of these, then GREAT – go for it!
They will give the best results by far, and with the right lens selection are the ideal choice for IMAG.
However remember that you don’t just need the camera, you also need the PSU, the lens (different options available) and a decent tripod. You may also want the EFP (Electronic Field Production) kit which includes a larger monitor for the viewfinder, and servo zoom and focus controls.

This can all add up.
Things to check for:

  • Is it the right aspect ratio – 4:3 vs 16:9?
  • What kind of lens are you getting with it? – wide angle? telephoto? does it have a 2x extender?
  • If you are NOT going to use a CCU etc. does the camera adapter have normal video out on BNC connector.

Older Pro Studio cameras

Good examples:
Sony DXC range – M3, 325, 537, M7, BVP range
JVC KY27, KY19, KY17
Ones to avoid:

Sony DXC3000,
Panasonic F10, F15

A lot of studios are upgrading their cameras to digital SDI systems so the secondhand market is full
of venerable old studio cameras that look just the biz for IMAG at live events at apparently knock-down prices. These cams have all the controls to make your life easy and are REALLY solid and reliable, as they are built for day-in day-out use. In the right conditions they can produce exceptional results.

BUT…be VERY VERY careful if you are considering buying an older pro studio camera, and you don’t really know
what you are doing.

What may work well in a TV studio isn’t necessarily going to do what you need on a VLOBLIVE setup.
Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Minimum illumination – older cameras will ONLY give good results in lots of light (i.e. in a studio). In fact most current prosumer DV cams will do a better job in low light than some of these old stagers. Watch out for a min illumination figure of 5 lux or 1 lux or 0.1 lux or similar.
  • Lenses are REALLY expensive and are not always included.
  • A lot of these systems are modular and require both a camera front and a camera adapter back to make them usable
  • Most do NOT come with a PSU – you will have to buy that separately
  • Pro lenses may have lived an interesting life and may need servicing – an old cheap lens may be knackered! Both of the pro studio cams that we bought required lens servicing at several hundred GBP a go.
  • These cams are BIG and heavy and need a pro tripod to make them usable
  • ALL of these cams will have manual focus lenses so your camops will have to be comfortable with focusing while operating
  • Very few of these cameras have an ‘auto-everything’ mode (the JVC KY27 is a notable exception) so you better be happy setting up black level, white balance, etc.
  • Try to get a lens with a 2x extender built in to give you better zoom range BUT remember the 2x extender will add to the cost and will loose light so it is only usable in decent levels of lighting.

As a final warning let me say that I have bought five of this category of camera, and had to get rid of three of them and lost money in the process!

Caveat emptor.

ProDV or DVCPro Camcorders

This is a similar category to the above, and the same principles apply. Newer or current models will do great. Older ones will struggle in low light, and will be big and heavy.

Prosumer 3-CCD miniDV or HDV camcorder

Good examples:

Sony: HVR-Z1, HVR-FX1, HCR-HC1, PD170,
PD150, PD100, VX2100, VX2000, TRV950,

Canon: XL2, XL1s, XL1, GL2,

Panasonic: GS400, GS250

This is probably the most realistic category to aim for. This class of miniDV or HDV camcorder is a good
compromise of image quality versus cost and size. The 3-chip CCDs mean good resolution and colour quality, and most of these cameras allow manual control over focus, exposure, gain etc, all of which are important. If you are considering buying a DV camera for IMAG I STRONGLY recommend getting a camera in this category, rather than a consumer model.

The main advantages of this type of camera are:

  • affordable to buy new or secondhand
  • you may know people who have one and can lend you it!
  • they are small and unobtrusive
  • it is easy to get a good tripod for this size of camera
  • in good light image quality can be excellent – as good as older pro cameras
  • most have very usable auto-focus which can help less experienced camops.

The main disadvantages are;

  • limited lens options – only the Canon XL range have interchangable lenses. In general none of these cameras is going to work from a front of house position for serious IMAG. (I’m going to assume you
    know that DIGITAL zoom is totally useless and a waste of time)
  • poor performance in low light
  • small size can make people think they can use them handheld on stage – a BAD idea!
  • manual focus controls can be fiddly to use live
  • menu-based controls can be fiddly to use live

Consumer 1-CCD miniDV or DVD or Digital8 camcorders

Good examples: Any ‘handycam’ or other consumer DV cam

This is another likely category for ‘loaner’ cameras, but it is a bit of a minefield. The image quality of this category of camera is not really good enough for general IMAG use in low light, so it’s use can only really be recommended for specific limited applications e.g. static POV cameras, remote pan-tilt cameras etc.

Consumer 1-CCD Hi8 or VHS-C or VHS (yikes!)

Eh…just say ‘no thanks’.

CCTV cameras

The image resultion, colour quality etc. of these cameras is not suitable for IMAG use, except in very specialised applications e.g. POV cameras or ‘gimmick’ shots.

Videoconferencing cameras

Many people are attractedto these cameras due the the built-on remote pan/tilt/zoom controls. However the
quality of the CCD modules used in these cameras is NOT suitable for IMAG use, and I don’t recommend them.

OK, that it then – lots of options to suit different pockets, but some serious danger of disappointment if
you are not careful.

As a general rule when buying a camera, try to arrange to borrow or hire an equivalent model and use it at a gig before you commit your cash.

Hope this helps.


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