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How far have we come with Video Cameras?
  • I was thinking about the state of video cameras when I first got into making videos in 2003 when my son was born. It was a pretty sad state back then.

    Everything was interlaced 480i or at most Telecined 480p in a 480i container. MiniDV was all the rage and HD was a figment of our imagination.

    I started with a Canon mini-DV camcorder in late 2003 that shot 480i(720x480). It looked great on my 480i Tube TV. However, it was absolute garbage once you deinterlaced it for computer use with Progressive displays. I sold it almost immediately swearing that I would never buy another interlaced camera again.

    So I waited and waited. Everything new was 480i. Even when HD TVs came about the HD consumer cameras were still interlaced 1080i. Then finally the Canon S1-IS came out in 2004. It was a little known jewel. It shot wonderful 480p @ 30 FPS for up to 1 Gigabyte. The nice thing was that it supported the MicroDrive compact flash cards that at the time went up to 4 GB for about $200.

    http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/canons1is/

    That camera revolutionized video for me. At the time everyone asked why I was getting a still camera for video. They all said “Why don’t you get a proper camcorder for the job”? I said “The camcorders are all interlaced and this is progressive”. They looked at me like I was speaking Japanese.

    I loved that S1-IS and used it for several years as my main camera. Sure it was only 480p but it was good solid 480p @ 30 FPS and it used a decent bit rate(For that time period). The S1-IS also had a really bright F2.8-F3.1 lens on it. With a 10x optical zoom it did everything I wanted it to do until I saw what the 1080p of the 5D MKII looked like in September of 2008.

    http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/canoneos5dmarkii

    Reverie, blew my mind. I couldn’t believe that you could get such cinematic shallow depth of field and dynamic range in digital video. In addition the resolution seemed astounding. At the time I couldn’t imagine ever needing more resolution than that.

    http://www.learn.usa.canon.com/galleries/galleries/sample_videos/reverie.shtml

    I came as close as you could get to buying into the 5D MKII with a complete set of lenses. I saved and saved until I was finally ready to pull the trigger by the fall of 2009. Then something caught my attention.

    A little known camera maker (At the time) called Panasonic had developed a 720p camera that was actually really small. It was called the GF1 and looked too good to be true. It could use any lens ever made with adapters. It wasn’t super expensive and all the manual focus lenses for video were super cheap on ebay.

    They also had the mighty GH1 but it was hard to find without the super small aperture 14-140mm lens. By that time I had come to realize what I loved so much about the Canon S1-IS was that its lens was relatively bright. Just like I had with interlaced video I swore off super slow mega zooms.

    However, I simply couldn’t resist the GF1 with the 20mm F1.7 lens. I bought the GF1 on day one and never looked back. I bought every large aperture MF lens I could get my hands on and loved them all. However, those lenses were heavy when it was all said and done. I realized why full frame wasn’t really considered to be portable back then. 5 or 6 lenses added up to a lot of weight in a backpack even though the camera body was so light.

    By that time 720p had become old hat and M4/3s had more than just a few native lenses. They had some fast primes like the new 14mm F2.5, 25mm F1.4, and the 45mm F1.8. Auto Focus was improving in their newer cameras and I found myself wishing for more.

    I finally broke down when the GH2 was announced in September of 2010. It was finally the camera that seemed like it could do it all. 1080p video, ETC mode for endless reach, and it was hackable. Those were the good old days. We ALL spent countless hours eeking out every last ounce of bit rate and reliability that we could.

    http://www.dpreview.com/products/panasonic/slrs/panasonic_dmcgh2/review

    I even gave up on the MF lenses. I had all of the fast primes at that time and MF wasn’t as cool as I once thought it was. I was much more content to just let the camera do the focusing for me. After the firmware update for the GH2 added 1080p at 30 FPS and much improved AF I sold all of my MF lenses for a nice telescope.

    Honestly, the GH2 was probably the camera that I could have stopped at and lived with for quite a while. It did everything I needed it to do and did it quite well. However, the hacking had sparked something in me that made me always look for that little bit extra. I went on to buy the GH3, GH4, LX100, and the 35-100mm F2.8 all on the day that they came out. Each one offered a little something extra that I thought made it justify the extra cost. I finally have 4K @ 30 FPS and 1080p @ 96 FPS and the 4K photo from video mode. I couldn’t have ever possibly imagined those things when I first bought the S1-IS.

    Well actually I did predict the photo from video mode way back in 2009. It wasn’t an acceptable thing back then to predict that video could one day replace stills. In fact I still don’t think it is acceptable today either.

    http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/31728454

    So we have come a long way in video cameras. I wonder what is next. How much farther can we go? Will it be as big a leap forward as it has in the past? Will I still want to spend my money on upgrades in the future or will I finally be satisfied with what I have now? Who knows? Only time will tell.

    Please post your stories with how you got started into video and where you are with it today.

  • 19 Replies sorted by
  • Fun article! I enjoyed your reflections (and comparing them to my own) over the years. Thanks for sharing a perfect Friday lunchtime read!

  • @JuMO

    Please post your stories with how you got started into video and where you are with it today.

    This is that topic about.

  • I had the Canon Elura 50 back in 2003. It lasted me 5 yrs. Of course I had to send it for warranty fixes several times for known issues. Video looked decent on tube TV. I had a firewire cable to import mpegs. The vids look rather poor on today's TVs but the content is priceless.

    In 2008, I splurged on a Canon Vixia HF10, HD video looked spectacular. It had a cinema 24fps mode but I didn't care for it. 60i was the workhorse. It could be deinterlaced to 30p with decent results except for panning shots which were jumpy. Quality is still good even by today's standards. Picture is crisp and bright. Typical camcorder stuff.

    In 2012, I got the Sony Rx100 for stills, but video mode was awesome. Downside is that files still needed to be deinterlaced. Later in 2013, I swapped it for the Mark II with 24fps progressive.

    Then I went crazy and got the GH3 with Voigtlanders and was hooked. 2014 brought me to the GH4. So far so good! Should last me awhile.

  • A friend turned me on to digital video in 1999 showing how firewire worked and explained all the flexibility one has using a NLE for editing. I started out experimenting with a Sony handycam back in 2000 and taught myself Final Cut Pro on a borrowed power mac. I went everywhere with that camera and probably got as much as I could out of it (experiments, interviews, concert documents, music videos). I've still got boxes of tapes stored away. Although I was never quite satisfied with the image quality I still learned a lot.

    Then HDV came along and changed the game entirely. The first tests came along and the new resolution was pretty unbelievable. In early 2006 I was lucky to be able to acquire a Sony HRV-A1U, a semi-pro camera in a relatively small form factor. I also did a lot with that camera and also have boxes of tapes from years of use. Of course there were still quality issues like the interlaced format mentioned by mpgxsvcd but I lived with it.

    Then when the 5D MKII came out, again everything changed, but the leap would have been too great (and expensive) for me at the time so I held out. To satisfy my curiosity about MP4 and tapeless files I picked up a little Samsung video camera I think in 2009. The portability and ease of use was great but there was almost no manual control with that camera so it felt more like a toy.

    Then when the reputation spread about the GH1 I had my eye on it, but eventually ended up getting a GH2 in 2011. It was great to finally feel satisfied with the flexibility, control and image quality of such a small camera. It felt like video had finally grown up and matured. Along with the GH2 came the interest in vintage manual lenses which is such a great option. Oddly enough this rekindled my old interest in film photography which I hadn't done for over 15 years. So I have some old cameras to go along with the glass.

    So far I'm still satisfied with my GH2. I'll wait to see what Panasonic and Sony rolls out next year before going 4K.

  • @Mistas

    That is it. That is the camcorder I had. The Canon Elura 50. I couldn't remember the name because I hated it so much. There were all kinds of issues with it. Mine didn't seem to have those issues but I just couldn't cope with the interlaced footage. It had a really cool design though.

  • It sounds like at least a few of us had very similar paths to get to where we are today. Anyone have some old footage they wouldn't mind sharing? I go back and watch my old footage every once in a while.

    I usually watch the clips of the kids as toddlers with them. It is amazing how it sparks there memory if you do it every few months. My daughter has very vivid memories of our Trip to India when she was 4. She even remembers stuff that isn't in the video that I show her every so often.

    What good would these memories be if we didn't watch them again and again?

  • Ive been going through 7 years of 100's hours of footage of my daughter (who was born premature & has learning /physical disabilities) as she grew up...its nowhere near finished but you can literally see the quality of video improve as time went on. Its pretty much a similar story for me.

    I started with A sharp viewcam then onto a Sony hi8 cam,some fuji camera that had video mode...after that I became obsessed with "the filmic look" & lowlight ability..then came along a Xacti 1000 then the GF1! Then went on from there to GH1,GH2,G3,Nex 5n,G6,d5200,VG20,cx760,NEX 6,A6000,GH3...and now at Sony RX10 (missus) & A7s (me). Surprised my wife put up with so much changing of cameras! We look back at our footage with both sad & happy memories. Whenever I finish the video I will post it here :-)

  • I had Panasonic VHS-c in the nineties then Sony MiniDV, I still have that one to be able to transfer all those tapes once (never gonna happen), after that I started doing freelance work more seriously and got two Pany HMC150, still use one sometimes. Other sold. Than I got GF1 with 20mm for photography, but that was the entry point as with most of you guys, manual lenses, hacking. GH2 was next logical step. I still use it on almost everything I do, I rent when I need something else. I'd like to get Ursa though.

  • I sold my Aaton S16mm camera and bought a Sony VX 2000. in 2002. I shot a short film on it and got into Sundance. From that point on it's just a blur of cameras; Panasonic DVX 100(24p!), shot my second feature with the SDX 900 in 2005 and upconverted the footage to 1080p master, HVX 200, 2008, 3rd feature with Canon HV20 with Letus Adapter and Cineform NeoHD, Canon 5dmk2, Panasonic GH2 (shot my doc. in 2012), and now it sits with my Nikon D5300 and Red One MX BT.

    I don't think people really appreciate how much bang for the buck they get these days. My students get to use my DSLR's on their projects. Funny though, I still have the same Bogen tripod I bought in 1998.

  • I got sucked into video entirely by mistake. My mom and dad were fairly serious photographers and in various ways they turned me off of image making, but after I cut my slack key CD I was persuaded that I should use YouTube as one of the tools for promoting my music. So I borrowed my wife's Canon DV tape cam and shot some gigs, using Premiere Elements to trim clips and sync audio.

    My first clip:

    I was immediately struck by how poor my video looked compared to many others so I found myself trying to learn about video/photography. Naturally I hoped that I could buy a magic device that would make everything better. I tried a webcam:

    Much happier workflow, but not so happy for the image quality. Then the breakthroughs in low cost cameras started, I got my Flip Mino!!

    And that was actually where the learning started. I learned about codecs and formats, but more importantly I learned that lighting and staging were critical to getting watchable results. Of course by then I had a bit of a camera fetish so I took advantage of my wife's good nature and brought home a Panasonic ZS3, my first bit of Lumix tech. Then I added a Sanyo Xacti HD2000, the first cam I got with manual white balance and exposure control. I had a lot of fun with those three cameras at my Aloha Friday outdoor show in 2009:

    I often hoped to find a camera with decent audio just to simplify my setup. The Sanyo HD2000 had a mic input and level control, but the circuitry sucked with terrible self-noise and the Kodak Zi8 was only slightly better. The Zoom Q3HD was the first camera I got that captured usable audio:

    The real jump in image quality came with the Lumix GH2. This clip uses the audio and one cutaway from the Zoom Q3HD with the main video from the GH2:

    I've since enjoyed a GH3, a GX7, and a GM1:

    But those are all gone now, replaced by a pair of GH4s. This last one is a single GH4 shot in 4k and edited on a 720 timeline. The GH4 also has audio circuitry that lets me skip the external recorder, the Rode NT4 stereo mic is an excellent match for the GH4 audio subsystem:

    Fran

  • Started with a Canon XM1 in 2004 (I think) which was the little sibling to the much more popular XL1. That kept me going until I bought a Panasonic GH1 in 2010 and now have a GH3 since earlier this year. The quality jump is quite something although the XM1 had a lot of nice camera op touches that made filming with it a breeze.

  • After playing around with various camcorders, I splashed out on the first JVC mini-DV camcorder in 1996 and took it to the U.S. It was an impulse purchase in the airport and cost £1499! I remember it got an amazing reaction in the US as no-one had seen anything like it. It just had a viewfinder - no flip-out LCD. I could barely afford it then and certainly couldn't do anything like that again. Amazing pictures for that time, though, compared to the usual hi8 and svhs models. That was the start of my adventures into digital video. I don't miss analogue video at all! I transferred all the mini-DV tapes from my US trip to a hard drive recently - great memories.

    Later I got the Sony TRV950 and my first commercial project was a set of videos for Morley Harps for YouTube and DVD, at http://www.morleyharps.co.uk/harp-resources/harp-videos/ - the DVD had alternative versions with/without voice overs (so I squeezed a huge amount onto the DVD, which had a very sophisticated menu structure which effectively chose alternative soundtracks or different in-points on other videos). Sound was with a mixing desk and HHB CD recorder, and then the second and subsequent takes were shot to audio playback and then audio edited and matched to video at home. That was the time I learned that you should start with a close-up shot as your first (with audio) pass as its most vital that this one is in sync. The subsequent shots to playback were all wider so sync issues would be less noticeable. It hugely helps that I know my way around music (key, structure, etc). I also cut my teeth on a harp video of Carolan's Dream on YouTube (then the site had been going for 6 months) and that video is now around 800k views. It's that one that got me the Morley Harps job, specifically because I understand music, and this and my other YouTube videos have also got me gigs abroad and that first one is also now part of a Routledge graduate course and (separately) the audio from it is part of an Italian children's publication.

    I also did a DVD sharing good practice with music for under-fives across a whole county, and this DVD eventually had 41 tracks, again with a sophisticated menu structure. This was amazing in that we took the DVD into various places while it was in progress, and people learned from what they saw. In at least two cases, they created something inspired by what was already on the DVD, and in one case, the original venue then did something further with the response. I love that use of video as development and collaboration.

    Then I acquired 2 x xha1 cameras, and did a load of livestream work - a live harp festival using 3 cameras via FireWire, switched live using vidblaster, and using a quad set of walkie-talkies with earpieces to direct the cameras, plus "inserts" prerecorded in the month leading up to the event, using either submitted video or online oovoo interviews, with the interviewer and interviewee being in two locations and me switching them from a third location. Lots of fun and very, very hard work. The livestream channel was used by a friend to broadcast an event from Sweden too - I give over the login details and we acquired more content that way. Channel at http://www.livestream.com/harp - and on-screen motion graphics done using Swishmax (a Flash creator but exported as video). I did overdo it on that occasion as I was recovering from an ear operation and spent an unpleasant week in bed with the room spinning round. On the upside I lost a lot of weight as I couldn't sit up to eat. It also taught me that just because you can do most of the jobs involved in making video, it doesn't mean you should.

    Along the way acquired a Dedolight kit, 24-channel soundcard, loads of mics, multi core cable etc, and used most of that stuff for a recent CD and video of music using 4500-year-old gold and silver instruments (see the Cake topic for the video), and the CD will be launched shortly.

    Loving my GH2 and still doing lots of stuff. But my main focus is music and telling stories around music performance and other music-related work that people do. I even occasionally do teaching clips on my iPhone - biting my lip because the technical quality is "adequate" for a brief on-the-fly teaching video and it's just very quick to do. Even so, I will sometimes match it with separate audio from my Zoom. It's been a lot of fun discovering what you can do with video! While I do love beautiful images, I get pretty bored with videos which are essentially just a series of pretty shots, a style that you particularly saw when DSLRs came in and stills photographers started using them for video. I most like it when video is not just an end in itself, but when it has a purpose and is used as a tool to enable something else to happen.

  • @mpgxsvcd Hey, just thought that this is a good opportunity to say thanks. I bought a GF1 after watching your lens test video back in 2010 when I wanted to find a video camera after my first child was born. Reading about the different settings for the old Ptools and testing them out was an awesome experience and now I'm doing professional video work as a supplemental source of income. I hope you and your family are well.

  • @doodsaq

    Thanks. That made my day. Best wishes to you and your family.

  • I'm actually not impressed with how far we've come. In video or computers for that matter. There's too much technology that's not effectively applied, the quality is not built to last, there's always something that breaks. There seems to always be some incredibly bad and obvious design decision that taints an entire product. There's poor craftsmanship everywhere and low reliability.

    I think we are way too accommodating to this kind of thing, bleating "there's no such thing as a perfect camera" or whatever. We deserve better than what we're getting in technology. Weren't we supposed to have flying cars by now?

  • @chauncy

    Weren't we supposed to have flying cars by now?

    I don’t want a flying car. A flying car requires WAY too much fuel and it isn’t really necessary for me to fly when I only drive about 30 miles a day total.

    Instead I want a car that drives itself. An automated vehicle could drive at speeds exceeding 120 MPH safely if everything is done right. However, the American public is not ready to give up their steering wheel just yet.

    Instead 35,000+ people will die in the U.S. every year in car accidents and none of us will even blink an eye. Those deaths are just something we accept so that we can still steer our cars down the road.

    That logic just seems irrational to me and I love my car. However, I would give it up in a heartbeat if I could end almost all traffic accidents.

  • Technology almost always get used in the wrong way. Just because you can do a think doesn't mean you should.

  • Started with the phone camera in year 2004-2005, it was Sony Ericsson T630 and it did have only 0.1 mpx still camera, then i had and still have Samsung X700, it has some kind of vide cam. Then in 2008 i bought Panasonic LZ8 wich been with me and worked without a hitch for six years, till it hasn't been in washing machine. During all this i also had several dvd and flash cameras, but all those did have a too bad quality image. And now i have all those cameras on the image, and GF2, and also another broken GH1. image

    Z07j_aS92o4.jpg
    1204 x 800 - 180K
  • @humpman

    Your red and gold GH1s are probably collectors items. I had never seen the gold one before.