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Derek Weston

What sort of camera should a storm chaser choose?

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For the last few years I've been shooting with a canon t3i and a few lenses. Does OK but the compression is pretty mediocre and I feel I could do better video wise. Own a Nikon d800 now, but want to use that mainly for stills and as a secondary cam.(when not taking stills) Going to sell the canon stuff for a better setup. (working with d800 raw ruined me)

 

I'd really like something that can really produce some high-quality landscape video.. something that doesn't destroy highlights easily.  (and I'd love to shoot raw totally, but it's not feasible yet with storage)

 

But it needs to be portable and easy enough to use for documentary on the go. I'll be jumping in and out of cars all day. Focusing on people in the car, and zooming outside to shoot the storm. Sometimes I'll get enough time to setup a tripod and let it roll on the storm, but plenty of times not. I need a good field of view. Around 24mm (full frame) to 135mm ish zoom wise. Needs to be decent in cloudy skies low-light wise. Storage wise, probably not going to break 4hrs in a day.

 

Is worth noting that I'll have one DSLR/tripod to go along with this setup when I need it. (mostly for times when we have time to stop, get out of the car, and setup on a storm)

Here are the options I'm mulling over: (and I go back and forth between A and B mostly)

 

A) Blackmagic Cinema camera. (pocket or non) I'm floored by the footage provided by this beast. Their  prores looks amazing and on top of that you can go RAW. Works with my Nikon lenses. The drawbacks are file size, even when not raw, and cost of assessories and storage. I have a so/so shoulder/handheld mount I could use hopefully. A DSLR loupe that might work. Plus good Nikon lenses.

Another plus is the RAW ability would allow me to dabble in landscape videography. (nature/landscapes is my passion with photography)

Am I crazy for trying to make this work in a fast paced shooting shooting situation though? Would it be any worse than working with a DSLR?

 

B)  Sony rx10. Feature set is silly. Lens is great. (although disappointed it's slightly cropped to 26mm in vid mode - wonder if a wide angle adapter exists?)  Would be lovely to have a power zoom.  60p is a definite plus. Good with aliasing/moire/rolling shutter. Actually decent autofocus for when you need it. ND filter would be awesome too.

My one question is the danged codec quality and dynamic range. I've only seen a few videos where people handled highlights intelligently. Most of the video is overly contrasty mediocre DSLR looking. But if it doesn't have to be that way, I'm really interested.

Honestly, I sort of want this option to work, as it would make my life so much easier than BM or even most DSLR rigs. For my really wide shots I could just throw a DSLR on a tripod and let it go. This seems amazing for documentary work. I just don't want to be disappointed by video quality. Also a bit worried about cloudy evenings with poor light and that sensor.

C) Nikon d5300. I like the quality of my d800 video quite a bit better than my old canon t3i where compression is concerned. I've read that the d5300/5200 are supposed to be pretty dang close if not as good as the d800 in video. Plus, from what I've read, you can implement a more flat picture style if you wish. Makes sense with my nikon gear...

D) Other options? Hit me.  Any ideas or suggestions on other setups < 2000?


Thanks.

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Looks like you have done some research, any reason why the gh3 is not on the list? While I personally prefer primes, the gh3 with their higher end pana zooms, I believe you have a weather-sealed solution. Since those lenses have OSS, might be good in your line of filming as well. You can run 50mbps or 72mbps, which would give very few artifacts in most situations (though I can't say for stormchasing - guessing pretty crazy amount of stuff moving around in the frame..). The gh3+ one of their lenses should put you pretty close to your budget at this point.

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Thanks for the thoughts. I haven't read extensively about the gh3, but would consider it. Know it's probably the top DSLR offering, if I understand right. Didn't know how big of a seperation between something like it and the d5300.

I need to be able to get a 24-150ish field of view, though, and didn't know if I'd be able to pull that off with my nikon lenses. Looks like there is an adapter that will take me to 1.5x from metabones. So I suppose I could that could work with nikon lenses potentially.

Didn't want to have to invest in 4:3 lenses.

Most of the motion I have to worry about is driving along fast in a car while sometimes having to get a tight shot. In certain situations (tight shot on a tornado) the motion can be pretty insane if it's strong and kicking stuff up.   Doesn't have to be perfect, but does need to get me the shot.

Thought rolling shutter on blackmagic was pretty well controlled? (at least as compared to most offerings in its price range)

 

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I recently got the D5300 and love it so far... but for your needs of getting the shot on the move with quickly changing situations and foul weather, etc. I think I'd look seriously at the Sony RX10 you mentioned

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So, looking at the footage from the gh3 on vimeo. Some really sharp stuff, like it a lot. This may be my most painless option. Looks to be way ahead of anything from the rx10. (think you're going to have to use hdmi out to get anywhere near high quality there)

The 14-140 is a pretty good range, actually, and is cheap. If it's good enough, that could work. Is this one halfway sharp and OK in distortion?

Maybe that and a fast/wide prime. (my fast nikon lenses wouldn't be that wide)


 

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Do you need a whether resistant body but not the lenses? i have recorded video under intensive rain at the Amazon with the GH3 and the OM-D using the Lumix 12-35mm and the 35-100mm, without problems. Before that, my kit was with the Olympus 14-54mm and 50-200mm using the MMF-3 adapter so i can keep my equipment weather resistant also cheaper; i'm not a AF user so, the Olympus lenses works for me, but now with the Lumix a get a smaller package.

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Guest Ebrahim Saadawi

Don't have enough knowledge to recommend something (thouh the RX10 & GH3+14-140 seem pretty adequate) but have the knowledge to recommend against something, which is the Blackmagic. I've had the chance to work with one on a shoot in Egypt last week, and first of, it's produces the loveliest images I've ever seen during my 15 years of cinematography. The organic feel, dynamic range you get in raw is truly eye-opening. But, while the image is the loveliest I've ever seen, the practicality is the worst I've ever came across! Ergonomics are atrocious, battery life is a complete joke, storage requires a fortune (both memory cards & back up). It could never be used in your kind of circumstances, you need something practical, fast, durable. Don't even consider it please!

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The 14-140 is supposed to have pretty good stabilization, which I think is a must with the gh3 anyway (for your purpose). While you can get sharper images with other lenses (any 10x zoom has some compromises), this should be far less of an issue for video than for stills.  Since it is panasonic as well, I expect the gh3 would be able to fix some of the distortion in camera (panasonic tends to do this with pana lenses really well, olympus does it really well with their own lenses etc). It is also pretty silent in operation, which is important for video.

 

The two cons I see is; lack of weather-sealing. I know some people advocate that it is most important the camera has it, but personally, I would be more comfortable with both being weather-sealed. That said, I'm the one that brought up weather-sealing. If you will almost exclusively shoot from within a car, not really a can that it lacks that.

 

The second con is that it is a rather "slow" lens, especially zoomed in (f4 wide, f5.8 at some point in the zoom range, don't know when). This means the ISO will go up depending on the lighting, could introduce grain.

 

All in all though, I think this could work well. Just make sure you try out the lens quickly to see it fits your needs (low light), so worst case, you can return it.

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Probably a good idea to have one weather resistant zoom. Image the whole system is compromised if one piece isn't weather resistant. 

Anybody used video autofocus at all with any of the zooms? I wouldn't use it for critical things, but it'd be nice for the in-the-car junk and other odd-ball shots. Is it usable?  Also. . . does the camera do a good job adjusting exposure while zooming variable lenses? (I'd be surprised if it did, but)

Think my plan of action would be to get one good all around zoom and then a metabones adapter. That way my 14 2.8 and 35 1.4 would turn into (approx) 20mm f2 and 50mm f1. Not too shabby for low light work.

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Don't have enough knowledge to recommend something (thouh the RX10 & GH3+14-140 seem pretty adequate) but have the knowledge to recommend against something, which is the Blackmagic. I've had the chance to work with one on a shoot in Egypt last week, and first of, it's produces the loveliest images I've ever seen during my 15 years of cinematography. The organic feel, dynamic range you get in raw is truly eye-opening. But, while the image is the loveliest I've ever seen, the practicality is the worst I've ever came across! Ergonomics are atrocious, battery life is a complete joke, storage requires a fortune (both memory cards & back up). It could never be used in your kind of circumstances, you need something practical, fast, durable. Don't even consider it please!

 

Ergonomics require that you buy some tools that allow it to be a handheld. Honestly, I don't see how it's not much different than a dslr -- especially the pocket version -- if you just pimp it out a bit. (cage, handles, etc)

The killer part, though, is the storage. Especially with the pocket, which actually has decent hand-held functionality. I mean, if the blackmagic pocket had the ability to hold lots of recorded data, and the data wasn't so large, that'd be one thing. But not the case.  (there are some good battery options since it'll take external power)

 

Hell, I'd probably be up for a blackmagic option if only it included 50mbps encoding similar to what the gh3 offers in addition to the other modes.

As it is... I'm pretty much resigned to eliminating the pocket option due to its inability offer  more robust storage without going to an external.   (and then it just becomes too much.... external power, external storage, special cage, lens adapter... the add ons total up about 1500, on the cheap end)

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So this is interesting. 

 

Blackmagic hyperdeck shuttle 2 offers different qualities of prores. 220mbs,145,101, and 44mbps approximately. At low end you're getting file sizes near what you would with gh3 and quality, I'd think, that should be comparable. 

Plus you have all the other options for higher quality plus raw. (on an awesome sensor)

 

The hyperdeck shuttle is pretty affordable too, at only 350 or so. This puts the pocket camera back in play. (I've already found a 6hr battery source)

 

The question then becomes... how economic is it to make the setup ergonomically suitable with an external recorder and battery source?

 

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Here's the problem with shooting outside -- there is a ton of dynamic range in play between bright sun and shadows in the mountains.

 

Most video cameras give themselves away because the highlights are blown out. The only camera with the kind of dynamic range in your budget is the BMPCC. (Keep in mind that you may want to add a variable ND to whatever package you get.)

 

Because you are running around in a car, you can easily power and dump data from the camera. I don't think I'd worry about stabilization -- you need to have this mounted and locked down on your tripod and because you'll likely be shooting wide. (If you need a narrative camera to show people IN the car, get a cheap GoPro and handhold it -- or mount it on your car's pillars.)

 

Recommendations: BMPCC or GH3, get a Sigma 18-30 f/1.8 and get an appropriate Speedbooster. This will allow you the maximum dynamic range, wide angle and great low-light capabilities. Get a external recorder, like the Atmos Ninja -- to plug into the HDMI so you don't need to catch cards during an epic tornado. 

 

Good luck and post updates as you progress, I'd love to see what you come up with!

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Here's the problem with shooting outside -- there is a ton of dynamic range in play between bright sun and shadows in the mountains.

 

Most video cameras give themselves away because the highlights are blown out. The only camera with the kind of dynamic range in your budget is the BMPCC. (Keep in mind that you may want to add a variable ND to whatever package you get.)

 

Because you are running around in a car, you can easily power and dump data from the camera. I don't think I'd worry about stabilization -- you need to have this mounted and locked down on your tripod and because you'll likely be shooting wide. (If you need a narrative camera to show people IN the car, get a cheap GoPro and handhold it -- or mount it on your car's pillars.)

 

Recommendations: BMPCC or GH3, get a Sigma 18-30 f/1.8 and get an appropriate Speedbooster. This will allow you the maximum dynamic range, wide angle and great low-light capabilities. Get a external recorder, like the Atmos Ninja -- to plug into the HDMI so you don't need to catch cards during an epic tornado. 

 

Good luck and post updates as you progress, I'd love to see what you come up with!

No doubt. Landscape photography is my passion and I've been shooting raw for a number of years now. I remember when I first shot video of a DSLR, naively thinking that I'd be getting all of the sensors dynamic range.

Imagine this: 

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Guest Ebrahim Saadawi

Ergonomics require that you buy some tools that allow it to be a handheld. Honestly, I don't see how it's not much different than a dslr -- especially the pocket version -- if you just pimp it out a bit. (cage, handles, etc)

The killer part, though, is the storage. Especially with the pocket, which actually has decent hand-held functionality. I mean, if the blackmagic pocket had the ability to hold lots of recorded data, and the data wasn't so large, that'd be one thing. But not the case.  (there are some good battery options since it'll take external power)

 

Hell, I'd probably be up for a blackmagic option if only it included 50mbps encoding similar to what the gh3 offers in addition to the other modes.

As it is... I'm pretty much resigned to eliminating the pocket option due to its inability offer  more robust storage without going to an external.   (and then it just becomes too much.... external power, external storage, special cage, lens adapter... the add ons total up about 1500, on the cheap end)

Now that you bring up external recorders, the BM makes sense again. If you're willing to carry around an external recorder, and rig it up, it's an option to consider.
All I could think about whilst shooting on it, is that I wanted a more compressed codec! ProRes HQ is an incredible format but for most of my work (and I assume yours) it's overkill, I don't need it, not to mention raw. It would be great if Blackmagic implemented LT, 422 or even AVCHD in their cameras. Some would argue that if we wanted compressed codecs we should go for a DSLR, but a DSLR wouldn't let me shoot HQ or raw when I need it to, a Blackmagic will. It would be great to have both. One for efficient storage, editing, and one for optimal image quality, and an external recorder will do just that. 

It's still not a perfect camera for practicality, when I say ergonomics I don't just mean the physical design (forgive my English), I mean the whole experience of using it, things like the inability to delete clips or format memory cards, even the placement of the memory card slot is cumbersome when swapping cards using a rig or a tripod, also having to go into buried menus to change ISO and White Blanace, the fact that it doesn't do Auto White Balance, and that's impractical for my documentary/run&gun style shooting. 

If you can live with these, and willing to use an external recorder, rigs/cages then yes maybe it's a great option. 
But if you want practicality, ease of use, fast and easy workflow still with good IQ, a GH3 or Rx10 will do you wonders)
 

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Now that you bring up external recorders, the BM makes sense again. If you're willing to carry around an external recorder, and rig it up, it's an option to consider.
All I could think about whilst shooting on it, is that I wanted a more compressed codec! ProRes HQ is an incredible format but for most of my work (and I assume yours) it's overkill, I don't need it, not to mention raw. It would be great if Blackmagic implemented LT, 422 or even AVCHD in their cameras. Some would argue that if we wanted compressed codecs we should go for a DSLR, but a DSLR wouldn't let me shoot HQ or raw when I need it to, a Blackmagic will. It would be great to have both. One for efficient storage, editing, and one for optimal image quality, and an external recorder will do just that. 

It's still not a perfect camera for practicality, when I say ergonomics I don't just mean the physical design (forgive my English), I mean the whole experience of using it, things like the inability to delete clips or format memory cards, even the placement of the memory card slot is cumbersome when swapping cards using a rig or a tripod, also having to go into buried menus to change ISO and White Blanace, the fact that it doesn't do Auto White Balance, and that's impractical for my documentary/run&gun style shooting. 

If you can live with these, and willing to use an external recorder, rigs/cages then yes maybe it's a great option. 
But if you want practicality, ease of use, fast and easy workflow still with good IQ, a GH3 or Rx10 will do you wonders)
 

 

Everything you say is true. Plus, if I got dramatic footage I'd like to be able to send it off to a network halfway quickly. Converting giant files isn't ideal. 

 

Anyway, reading more, apparently the cheaper blackmagic external recorder I was speaking of doesn't do the smaller codecs. So the cheapest option out there (that takes me down to 100mbps) is the atoms ninja II... but that's 600+

 

Basically eliminates the pocket. The regular bmcc would be more interesting if they had a firmware update that offered lossless compression of raw (down to around 3mb instead of 5mb) and other prores codecs. If that comes out soon, I may re-evaluate, but right now a definite lean towards the GH3. 

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Other options?

 

If I were you doing what you're doing, I'd go for a 4K camera.  I mean, if you're really serious about what you're after.  If it's legit scientific research you're trying to accomplish, then 4K is a worthwhile investment.  It's also going to give you options in post that you're not going to have otherwise.  Smoothing the tracking bumps from inside a moving car, for instance.  Digitally zooming into specific areas, etc.  Also, a cam that shoots 4k @120fps would be pretty incredible for extreme weather shots and post analysis.

 

Ultimately though, I'd take 4K resolution over RAW from something like a 5D @1080.  

 

If you're just chasing some thrills and want to get there on a budget why not a hacked gh2 with the fastest flash cards you can get?  If you want to get footage to a "network" then sending them the captured file (compressed) is the quickest way to do so over the intertubes.

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If I were you doing what you're doing, I'd go for a 4K camera.  I mean, if you're really serious about what you're after.  If it's legit scientific research you're trying to accomplish, then 4K is a worthwhile investment.  It's also going to give you options in post that you're not going to have otherwise.  Smoothing the tracking bumps from inside a moving car, for instance.  Digitally zooming into specific areas, etc.  Also, a cam that shoots 4k @120fps would be pretty incredible for extreme weather shots and post analysis.

 

Ultimately though, I'd take 4K resolution over RAW from something like a 5D @1080.  

 

If you're just chasing some thrills and want to get there on a budget why not a hacked gh2 with the fastest flash cards you can get?  If you want to get footage to a "network" then sending them the captured file (compressed) is the quickest way to do so over the intertubes.

 

Not scientific. May or may not make money on footage. Footage may be used for a doc or stock.  (plus, I love storm chasing, period)

I could afford an expensive setup, but I don't feel I can justify it. I know the gh3 (or gh2 for that matter) would be good enough.   Just trying to feel out my options. 

I'd love to do 4k, but at this point don't think I can at a reasonable price with a reasonable workflow. Maybe something will come out in the next few months before storm chase season that uses the h265 codec, which ought to enable 4K as a legit endeavor for folks like me.  (we're all going to end up there in the next few years,4k, definitely wouldn't invest a lot in a new system at this point... probably buying used whatever I do anyway)

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A suggestion from left field, is the Digital Bolex camera.

 

None of the current CMOS sensor based cameras aside from the upcoming Blackmagic Production Camera 4K can capture lightning properly due to the rolling shutter.

 

The Digital Bolex has a CCD and global shutter readout.

 

The Blackmagic Production Camera has a CMOS and global shutter so is also an option but 4K at such high bitrates in ProRes likely isn't what you want to have rolling for hours on end, due to the file sizes.

 

I'd seriously consider either one of those over any of the current popular choices!

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