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Help choosing best camera in budget for VFX work?


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Hi all,

I have been reading the eoshd.com forum for a long time and respect the opinions of many contributors here, so I’m hoping to get some advice on which camera (~$3,000 or less) is best for me.

I enjoy doing VFX and would like to emulate scenes that are combinations of slow motion, green screen, match moving, etc.

I have a Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera, the BMPCC Metabones Speed Booster, and Sigma 18-35 lens that I got because I read it would be easier to key footage using RAW or 4:2:2 color space. I find it so difficult to nail focus with it, though, (even using focus peaking) that I can rarely motivate myself to invest time in shooting something with it because the end result is often somewhat blurry to me, even after applying unsharpen in post. I bought a loupe for it as well hoping that would resolve the issue, but I still can’t seem to get consistently sharp results. I’m sure it’s just me because others rave about this camera.

Anyhow, I talked my wife into agreeing that I can buy a new camera, and it’s going to be the only one I’ll be able to get for at least 3 years given how difficult that conversation was, so I want to make sure I make the best choice possible, even if that means waiting for something coming out later this year.

These are the features I’m looking for:

  1. Great stabilization so I can do interesting camera moves without the expense or hassle of a steady cam or gimbal.
  2. Great auto focus so that “talent” stays in focus while I do above mentioned camera moves
  3. 4K so I can emulate camera moves/zooms in post for 1080p delivery
  4. Great low light so I can get good footage with less than ideal lighting.
  5. Great color information to aid me in chroma keying footage
  6. Low rolling shutter to reduce/eliminate blurring of tracking markers so that software can assist with match moving camera moves in 3D virtual environment
  7. Great slow motion to allow for emulating scenes from Spartacus: Blood and Sand and the like.

I was waiting for the GH5 to arrive because I’d hoped it would tick all these boxes, but I’ve read in a few places now that its video auto focus is not as good as Sony’s or Canon’s, it doesn’t have great low light, etc. Of course, Sony and Canon seem to be missing things that the GH5 offers. I'm trying to find the camera that comes closest to having it all.

Is there a non-hybrid/camcorder type camera I should be looking at? I’m surprised hybrid cameras seem to be advancing at the pace they are but I haven’t heard about any similarly priced dedicated video solutions that offer everything they do and more. Is there anything rumored to be coming out at NAB that would be a better fit for the above applications than what’s available now?

Thanks so much for your help/advice!

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What you're looking for doesn't exist for your price point, sorry. The fs700 is the closest probably but it's still more expensive with a raw recorder and doesn't do autofocus very well. Also no stabilization. So yeah, what you describe would be pretty amazing for less than $3000 but I wouldn't expect all those boxes to be ticked any time soon

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I can't think of a camera under 7000 bucks new or used that does all of what the OP wants.  It ain't happening. And points # 1 and #2 doesn't even exist in $40,000.00 cameras.

Nobody uses Auto Focus or in camera stabilization at high end price points video cameras. That is what focus pullers and Glidecam operators are hired to do.

Hell a Sony A6500 is probably the closest I can think about, and other than eye focus, which they do pretty well, still not a ideal choice.

Oliver talks about it here.

 

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Thank you for your replies. I realize that with my budget I'm going to have to settle for the "poor man's" version of what a real production would use to achieve these things. Still, I'm trying to make the best choice I can given that constraint. So you would suggest the Sony A6500 over the GH5 for these applications?

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Well I would wait for a few more weeks to see what the Real reviewers say about the GH5. I don't see how the GH5 can be beat for the money. And I guess a person could wait until your butt falls off for what Sony will come up with to compete with the GH5, and they will have to do it. Sony won't sit still.

But maybe they have some goodies coming out at NAB. Which is about a month away. Might be worth the wait.

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Yeah that's literally a list of everything that pro cameras don't have available because it's excessive or unnecessary (the Alexa, for instance, has no in-body or OIS stabilization available, no autofocus, and no true 4k, and is poor in low light relative to consumer cameras) and then things that only the highest end cameras have (a lack of rolling shutter, great slow motion, great color). The F55 I think is the closest thing to what you're asking for. (And perhaps appropriately I'm currently doing a lot of vfx work with the F55–it holds up! But I'm doing it on lower end stuff with very basic vfx, nothing like what you're doing which is more advanced.)

You will not get smooth footage without camera support. Maybe you don't need a gimbal. But a doorway dolly or skateboard dolly or slider could be nice? Slow motion can mitigate this to some extent but if the move is handheld it will look handheld. A balanced rig or good OIS will smooth the motion so it doesn't look as rough, but if you want it to look like a dolly use a dolly. If you want it to look like a steadicam, use a steadicam. 

As for focus, I would hire an AC and be very careful about hitting your marks or just have a friend volunteer to AC for you. Measure, place marks, have your AC hit your marks as your talent and operator do, never focus through the loupe or monitor and never with autofocus. Out of focus footage is the camera department's fault, not the camera's. Rolling shutter is the camera's fault and can be a big issue with match moving and yet that's something consumer cameras struggle with tremendously. So that's another reason to keep your moves slow as to mitigate it, also easier to nail focus that way. 

I'd wait until NAB but I think the F55 is the closest thing to what you're looking for and it's ten times the price. The Sony A7S fwiw has dreadful rolling shutter and some color issues. I would not use that for match moving despite the slow motion and low light abilities.

It might be worth getting an inexpensive b camera specifically for slow motion. The GH5 also might offer a lot of what you want, but nothing at the price will offer everything you want and autofocus is garbage for cinematic content anyway, better for docs and ENG.

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All these things you can get for free with your existing setup, just practice. I have zero problems with focus and I pull manually myself with rig on shoulder sometimes when doing "run and gun". Just close down your aperture if you have focus problems. Buying new gear is not always the answer. On every single point you ask for theirs a simple solution but it requires practice. Like with every skill in life.

 

EDIT. Oh and I shoot mainly with Blackmagic cameras and own zero stabilized lenses. Hard work, but it pays off.

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I agree with Turboguard, and you already have a great camera for now with the BMPCC. 

Sounds like your biggest issue right now is focus, and with the poor screen on the back of the BMPCC that is not too surprising (although I've often done little shoots with just the stripped down BMPCC and nothing else!). 

So I recommend that first of all, before buying any new camera, get yourself a nice external monitor, such as this:
https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1251089-REG/aputure_vs_5_on_camera_monitor.html

Or this:
https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1224295-REG/smallhd_mon_701_lite_701_lite_7_hdmi.html


Or this:

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1153980-REG/smallhd_mon_501_501_hdmi_full_hd.html

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When I read topics like this it always makes me wonder what the OT's skill set is like as is, do you have anything to share? The reason I ask is because I feel like a lot of people today, especially the younger generation (say under 40) believes everything can be done with the latest tech. But I feel like it's more like an obsession to just have the latest or the most expensive. Nothing is about skill or talent anymore. Sorry for excessive rant... Just curious what you (OT) has done before and I'm interested in seeing your skill with a camera as is.

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  • 2 months later...
On 4/1/2017 at 10:56 PM, IronFilm said:

I agree with Turboguard, and you already have a great camera for now with the BMPCC. 

Sounds like your biggest issue right now is focus, and with the poor screen on the back of the BMPCC that is not too surprising (although I've often done little shoots with just the stripped down BMPCC and nothing else!). 

So I recommend that first of all, before buying any new camera, get yourself a nice external monitor, such as this:
https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1251089-REG/aputure_vs_5_on_camera_monitor.html

Or this:
https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1224295-REG/smallhd_mon_701_lite_701_lite_7_hdmi.html


Or this:

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1153980-REG/smallhd_mon_501_501_hdmi_full_hd.html

Thanks, IronFilm. Do these contain focus peaking mechanisms of their own, or do they simply magnify and display more sharply the image coming out of the camera and its focus peaking?

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On 4/2/2017 at 1:12 PM, Turboguard said:

When I read topics like this it always makes me wonder what the OT's skill set is like as is, do you have anything to share? The reason I ask is because I feel like a lot of people today, especially the younger generation (say under 40) believes everything can be done with the latest tech. But I feel like it's more like an obsession to just have the latest or the most expensive. Nothing is about skill or talent anymore. Sorry for excessive rant... Just curious what you (OT) has done before and I'm interested in seeing your skill with a camera as is.

I wasn't trying to put on airs by choosing the username I did, I'm a rank amateur as far as cinematography is concerned. That said, I would still expect turning a manual focus ring until things are in sharp focus to be within my grasp, yet I find it often eludes me when I review the footage I shot with my BMPCC. I can bring a projector into focus via a manual focus ring easily enough, so I don't think it's my eye, wrist, or coordination between the two that's the problem. Have you shot with the BMPCC before and achieved good focus consistently using its LCD alone?

Regarding your suggestion that I am obsessed with having the latest and most expensive, I've had my camera for exactly 3 years, 8 months, and 8 days, which I don't think is an unreasonable amount of time to wait for an upgrade. Regarding your implication that I am skill-less and talentless, I enjoy the creative process and seeing family, friends, and neighbors enjoy the things I create. A little green screen, motion tracking, and 3D compositing goes a long way toward entertaining people. I'm simply looking for something to help make it easier to do within my constraints.

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If you're happy with the image quality of the BMPCC (sounds like RAW is certainly what you need for what you're doing) and that Sigma is an EF Mount have you considered part-exing the Metabones for the newer versions which support AF and IS?

Doesn't tick all of your boxes still but will get you the focus issue out of the way and for probably only about £400 difference. 

If youre looking for something relatively hassle free to tick some of those other boxes then you could do a lot worse than something like the Sony RX100 Mark V or the Panasonic FZ2000/2500. Neither are stellar low light performers but are a good combination of easy decent results but with offering more tweakable options like LOG when you want to delve a bit deeper. Nothing wrong with good all auto stuff if it keeps you motivated to keep shooting as its so easy to get deflated as you've found with the BMPCC.

A total spend of probably £1300 then will give your BMPCC a new lease of life (and it IS worth hanging in there with) for the RAW stuff you want to do and an additional camera with a bunch of tricks for other stuff and hidden depths that you can grow into if you like.

 

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2 hours ago, BTM_Pix said:

If you're happy with the image quality of the BMPCC (sounds like RAW is certainly what you need for what you're doing) and that Sigma is an EF Mount have you considered part-exing the Metabones for the newer versions which support AF and IS?

Doesn't tick all of your boxes still but will get you the focus issue out of the way and for probably only about £400 difference. 

If youre looking for something relatively hassle free to tick some of those other boxes then you could do a lot worse than something like the Sony RX100 Mark V or the Panasonic FZ2000/2500. Neither are stellar low light performers but are a good combination of easy decent results but with offering more tweakable options like LOG when you want to delve a bit deeper. Nothing wrong with good all auto stuff if it keeps you motivated to keep shooting as its so easy to get deflated as you've found with the BMPCC.

A total spend of probably £1300 then will give your BMPCC a new lease of life (and it IS worth hanging in there with) for the RAW stuff you want to do and an additional camera with a bunch of tricks for other stuff and hidden depths that you can grow into if you like.

 

Why would he need raw capture? Just curious. I keep reading people online write about how they need raw, but every Alexa-derived project I work on is shot in ProRes and the footage is always easier to work with in post than raw-derived red, f55, or black magic footage is.

Anyhow I agree with what others have written, either try to plug the holes you have (a monitor with peaking if you can't afford to hire an AC or your focus marks are too inaccurate and maybe a speed booster) or sell your current system and spend real money to get a C200 or something that will do the job right.

There seem to be some innovations going on with the 5D Mark III and compressed raw from magic lantern, which introduces slow motion. Still no autofocus or peaking, though, so this would be a poor choice I think. 

Honestly I would hire an AC if possible. This is my approach, even if it's just a friend who's good at video games and can learn to pull focus.

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Just mentioning it in case you missed it. A fast double push on the OK button will magnify the view 200%.

Unless your delivery format is something like 720 or 810 I don't think the bmpcc would be my first choice for vfx. The more headroom you have the better.

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25 minutes ago, bunk said:

Just mentioning it in case you missed it. A fast double push on the OK button will magnify the view 200%.

Unless your delivery format is something like 720 or 810 I don't think the bmpcc would be my first choice for vfx. The more headroom you have the better.

Again, I disagree. Vfx work is far easier and cheaper at lower resolutions. Most houses charge out the nose for 4k, because the required power is so much greater for higher resolutions. 

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1 hour ago, HockeyFan12 said:

Why would he need raw capture? Just curious. I keep reading people online write about how they need raw, but every Alexa-derived project I work on is shot in ProRes and the footage is always easier to work with in post than raw-derived red, f55, or black magic footage is.

 

I didn't say he did, to be fair. 

It was the OP himself who said he needed it and thats why he bought the BMPCC. Was just saying there was a way for him to preserve that and help him with his focus with the setup he already had that he was struggling with rather than having to throw the baby out with the bath water as it were.

 

** EDIT ***

Hang on, it looks like thats exactly what I said wasn't it!

Haha

I meant to say 'It sounds like RAW is what you want' rather than 'what you need'.

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No worries. The myth that raw is a substantively better for video is just a pet peeve of mine because it sets people in the wrong direction or at least emphasize the wrong priorities (the myth that vfx houses want higher resolutions is another; no, they want 1080p/2k or to charge a heck of a lot more for anything else). Of course, there are of course cases where raw is preferable or 4k is great for punching in or doing very careful work. It's really on a camera-by-camera basis how big a difference raw makes (and on a project-by-project basis whether 4k is desirable). 

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1 hour ago, HockeyFan12 said:

No worries. The myth that raw is a substantively better for video is just a pet peeve of mine because it sets people in the wrong direction or at least emphasize the wrong priorities (the myth that vfx houses want higher resolutions is another; no, they want 1080p/2k or to charge a heck of a lot more for anything else). Of course, there are of course cases where raw is preferable or 4k is great for punching in or doing very careful work. It's really on a camera-by-camera basis how big a difference raw makes (and on a project-by-project basis whether 4k is desirable). 

Thanks for your replies, everyone. I only have a minute now so I wanted to ask, is it not the case that raw enables an easier, cleaner key? That's the only reason I was bothering with it. Regarding 4K, I want the option because the punch ins and faux camera moves it facilitates will give me many more options as a one man band, plus I heard keying in 4k and delivering in 1080p makes an even better key. I haven't had a chance to put it to the test since I don't have a 4K camera, but I got the idea from this video, 

.

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It depends on the camera. I don't think raw is ever worse than raster, but in the case of the Alexa it is not better in a meaningful way. And it's often much, much slower to work with. It's worth trying every camera you're considering with every codec available and choosing what works best for you. There are other factors that are WAY more important for green screening, mostly lighting. I'd take a well lit key in AVCHD over a poor one in raw. However, if your content is really really short form and you are doing everything on one computer locally rather than using a server, raw and 4k might present insignificant setbacks. For me, they slow things down way way too much to be worth it.

It sounds like you know your needs, though. So if you need 4k and raw, more power to you. I just think everyone should look at their own needs and priorities. 

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