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Our Switch to HD

For many of us small videographers the switch to HD was like a death sentence. I drug my feet for as long as possible. Why; because the economy had just tanked and we all had to pinch to stay afloat. I noticed a huge drop in the competition in Columbus, Ohio. People couldn’t financially make the leap; I probably would have been among them, but for one of us attaining full-time employment. Think about it, people had just settled from the switch from analog (VHS and Beta) to digital equipment. If you have three cameras that equals three cameras that you have to replace. That was my problem, I had realized that two cameras were good, three better, and four awesome. I wasn’t working with the most high end equipment, so I decided to stay in a similar range for my first HD camera. I loved the 3 chip cameras and I thought that was the way to go for the future. It was not. It was my first and last JVC because it was ridiculously complicated. To capture the footage in HD you had to use proprietary software that could then compress it to be usable in an editor. If you used Premiere (or any NLE of choice) the footage was not HD. This was fine when I was using it with other standard definition footage, but when I wanted the clarity of HD it just didn’t deliver. Not long into the life of the camera it stopped taking a charge and is now a paper weight.

The other caveat with the switch to HD was a shift from tape to hard drive and card formats. At first there were a few cameras with HDDV tapes, but that didn’t seem to last in anything but the professional market. The librarian/archivist in me cried a little with the loss of a permanent storage medium. Tape was nice and linear and recorded on the spot. Sure, there were instances in which you could lose a whole tape; please don’t play with magnets around tapes, but things were recorded as they happened. This is not the case with HD formats – files are written in chunks or blocks of data; one bad chunk could ruin the whole set of data. In fact we had an early nightmarish lesson in how the HD cameras handle data. We had decided to take afore mentioned JVC as a backup camera on a documentary shoot, with a borrowed Panasonic AG-HMC150 as the main shooter. The HMC150 had a beautiful image and seemed great until I had to turn off the camera and change the battery. I turned the camera back on and the card was unreadable – hours of footage, gone. We’re down to one card and not sure why. Hours later, we’re shooting the most important part of the documentary and the battery is running low. Stop. Plug in. Restart. No card. The problem was that the camera needed to write a lead out before it turned off, but it didn’t have a fail-safe if the battery died. If the camera was stopped while writing that lead out then it rendered the card useless and you lost everything on it. This meant that we had a documentary with no footage from the main camera, no cards to record more on, nothing. It was an interesting learning experience, one that I test for when I’ve purchased a new camera. I’d rather replace an empty card that errored than to not have the footage I set out to shoot.

I finally decided to take a more serious leap into HD video, despite my experience with the HMC150. All the cool kids were hoping the DSLR train – beautiful image, interchangeable lenses, more control than a camcorder; what more could you want? The downfall is a time limit – depending on the camera it can range from 10-30 minutes. And lenses, oh the cost of lenses, yet like Pokemon you need them all. I had Nikon lenses and Nikon had just released the d5100 with the flip out screen and the impressive (at the time) 20 minute time limit. The time limit made events all but impossible and after about a year I was able to pick up a second. Still, staggering the stop/start times seemed daunting from across the room. I missed having a wide shot capturing the whole event. I recently added the Panasonic G5 to our arsenal. The G5 has no limit on the duration of a shot (when using AVCHD) and, with adaptors, will use my Nikon lenses if I really need it to. My only concern was mixing brands, which was previously a no-no, because they used to be hard to match color and contrast. DSLRs seem to match better than old camcorders did and as long as my white balance is set to match the difference is unnoticeable.

I am certainly happy to be able to offer a three camera HD camera set-up – and just in time for 3D or 4k to take us all on a new ridiculous path.

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