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Best camera for a documentary project?
  • Hello everyone.

    I will potentially be shooting a 'documentary-style' like shoot for a client that wants his house to be documented over the period of one year. As of now it is still a building site and the house's outer structure is almost done. The client wants the show to be stylised in the style of 'Grand Designs'.

    I currently have a Lumix GH4 with 14-35 F2.8 lens.

    I also still have a Sony HDR-FX1E from past projects.

    ( )

    The client does not care about 4K option and would want the final product be in 1080 anyway.

    Might be a silly question but what camera should I use from those two? I don't want to shoot 1080 on the GH4 and the 4K transcoding and editing in 1080 would be painful especially for a project this long (and the size of the footage and backups would be exponentially bigger)

    There is also a budget for a possibility to buy a new camera just for this project - any recommendations?


  • 12 Replies sorted by
  • Why don't you want to shoot 1080 on the GH4?

  • I'd get something other than dslr type. Something you can grab and point, no rigs, double system audio, etc. I like the dslr for other things though.

  • Depends on the speed of the shots. It's about a house so maybe you have all the time in the world to set shots up. A lightly tricked dslr type of rig can work, but you have to build it for efficiency such as universal mounting from shoulder to tripod and quick ND filters with Xume adapters. Also using a dslr type of camera can cut down on costs when buying gimbals and sliders. If it's in the budget, a used C100 seems logical and a GH4 as backup and slowmo.

  • I was thinking along the same line. He's not doing run n gun work and any audio can be external.

  • Shoot 4k Gh4. Open Adobe premiere. Drop it in a 1080p timeline. No transcoding.

  • One nice thing about shooting in 4k to deliver in 1080 is that you can change your framing after the fact by cropping in without any real impact to quality.

  • On the GH4 shooting comparable quality levels in 4k vs 1080 definitely does not result in "exponentially" larger file sizes.

  • I recently used for a shoot a panasonic P2 camera. the hpx171 ( 170 in the U.S.) After 4 years with the gh2, which became my arm and leg, I could say I finally could breathe again. Parafocal lens (leica), smooth zoom, Auto Focus, 3 ccds, 422 at 10 bits, amazing latitude for color correction, all intra frames, great for 1080 output, more than enough for web content. The P2 mxf workflow is a work horse tested in many rounds across the globe.

    they are on the market for very cheap as everyone is going 4k where you already are, but for all of the above and it's current price point it's a steal. And ccd ain't just global shutter and skew, it's beautifull movement. colors, no green and purple casts on skin shades and tones, no h264 trying to guess from a single sensor the rgb of a certain pixel.

    Sound is great, internal mic, 2 xlrs, independent volume, physical dials,

    all at the palm of your hand, zebras white balance.

    two p2 slots for continuous recording.

    Documentary wise it's a great camera competing only for that segment with ex1 and ex3 from sony but those still sell for 2 or 3 times more, are cmos 1 chip, and the great advantage would be low light capability, sony is good at that.

    for all I can say it seems to me it's some kind of a gem as a camera that is hidden due to internet craze with specs and sometimes little experience, due to most reviewed products being sometimes the cheapest for obvious reasons. More people who know little about something have their hands on what is available at a low price point for a peaking technology, and now(10 years) they can talk about it.

    after having used it, I'm going to buy it from the person who loaned it to me.

    gh2 will pair well with it.

    If your a video person You know what it's like to work with a video camera.


  • It depends.

    If you're fine with a 1/3" sensor (1/4 the size of M4/3) and everything that comes with that, then yes, video cameras are fantastic choices. You lose the ability to change lenses, but if you're shooting documentary style, that probably isn't a bad thing. It just works. There's no rigging necessary (although, I probably still would to make shooting with one handheld a little easier).

    The whole point of DSLR video is to be able to shoot video on large sensor cameras with interchangeable lenses. DSLR's have a lot of drawbacks for video. We put up with those drawbacks to be able to shoot with large sensor cameras with any lens we please. I'm currently rigging up a documentary style rig for my GH2 so that I can use it like the ENG camera I use at work. It's a bit of a pain, and it's expensive, but I think it's worth it for the final image.

    For this project, I would probably shoot with the Sony. I would shoot any interviews with the GH4, so I could get a little separation from the background. All other times, I would set the GH4 up for a timelapse and leave it running while I shoot with the Sony. I've never seen Grand Designs (video won't load for me on their website), but timelapses are great for construction. You have both tools available, why not use both?

    If you're going to buy a new camera, that depends entirely on your budget. Someone else can advise you on that if that's the route you decide to take.

  • Go with the Sony PXW-X70, or if you want to go even cheaper.... the Sony CX900

    However, there is no reason why you couldn't just use your existing two cameras for it.

  • Hello everyone..

    @peternap I have done some test footage and the same footage shot 4K brought to a 1080 timeline looks so much better than footage shot straight as 1080...

    @tinyrobot The shoot will be something in between. It's not going to be run and gun but it's not going to be in the comfort zone of having time to set up most of the time. For example I will be needing to film the building team (architects) going through the empty house talking about design and whatnot and capturing any interesting dialogues and 'disputes and drama' in between them so in that case yes run and gun and going with what happens... for everything else that can be staged/scripted/prepared...

    @x_worpig_x thanks im a FCP 7 guy so just started to experiment with Preimere the other day...

    @eyefi / RyLo great point i will have a look at those cameras!! ps RyLo - are you saying that the panasonic P2 camera has 1/3 of a size of a chip of MFT sensor?? And how does it compare in low light compared to the gh4 - which is not great in low light without any light available...

    Thanks all!

  • 1/3" is one fourth as tall and one fourth as wide as 4/3". That's one sixteenth the area. All things being equal and for the same f-number, it would mean one sixteenth the light collected. But the reality isn't quite that bad, because that camcorder has 3 sensors and a color splitting prism, so light is collected more efficiently than in a Bayer-type sensor: up to 2x in green, and up to 4x in red and blue. Also, smaller format lenses tend to be faster.

    So for the same aperture diameter (same depth of field for a given focus distance), the HPX170 actually has better low-light performance. But 4/3" gives you the option of using a much larger aperture (shallower depth of field) to improve low-light performance significantly.