Capturing the action

tim

This week I took delivery of a new video camera. My old one didn’t quite come back in one piece from a trip earlier in the year, and I’ve been trying to decide whether to buy a replacement standard def DV model (the equivalent replacement being around $300), or to get on the HD bandwagon. I figured that if I got a lower-end camera I’d still end up buying something HD before long, so it was more a matter of which one when.

I’ve been looking at the Canon HV20 for some time. It one some awards when it came out in 2007, and has reviewed very well. It’s also been the starting point (albeit with some pretty funky add-ons) for some indie filmmakers. It’s reasonably compact, and it’s HDV – using the same miniDV tapes that my old camera used. I’ve never taken to the idea of a HDD-based camera, especially since full is full, and when you’re in the middle of nowhere you can’t do much about it. Also the compression of AVCHD cameras makes the footage a pain to edit. So, the HV20 ticked all the boxes for me.

The HV20 was replaced by the HV30 not long ago. It’s effectively the same camera, painted black. The only new feature is a 24fps “cine mode”, which further caters to the indie film guys. In the US where normal frame rates are 30fps (well, technically 60, but that doesn’t matter), it’s a great feature. In Australia, where standard frame rates are 25fps, the feature is almost useless… which is why the Australian HV30 doesn’t even have the cine mode feature.

So… there are stockists in Australia with HV20s imported when the dollar was, you know, worth around a dollar, who also have the newer but virtually identical HV30, which they no doubt imported at a considerably poorer exchange rate. The difference in price? between $200 and $500, depending on where you look.

I’ve taken a few shots with it, and the quality is incredible. I’ve been looking at 35mm DOF adapters (more on that in a moment) but to be honest the depth of field and manual focus on the camera itself is very good, to the point where I’d have a hard time justifying the expense of an add-on lens.

35mm Depth of Field adapters are a great idea. The theory is that video will never have the cinematic properties of film, as long as the capture surface is smaller than the 35mm stock of motion picture film; so to get around this, a variety of manufacturers have developed a “light-box” with a piece of ground glass inside acting as a two-way screen, that sits between a a conventional 35mm SLR lens and a consumer or prosumer DV camera. The 35mm lens projects onto the ground glass an image with all the qualities of 35mm footage, while all the Dv camera has to do is hold focus on the other side of the ground glass. Some of the results are incredible. If you don’t believe me, Google it and take a look.

Most of these adapters start around the $US1000 mark, and go up from there. 35mm lenses project an upside down image, so you wind up recording the image that way, or running your camera upside down. Either way, the image in the viewfinder remains upside down, regardless of which way up your camera is. So some developers have added an image-correcting feature to their 35mm adapters… for a price.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover http://www.handy35.com, a small company in Turkey which is producing (by all reports) a very good 35mm adapter for around half the price of most others. The design is smart, and aimed squarely at smaller cameras. It spins the ground glass (where others sometimes vibrate it) so that the grain of the glass can never be captured by the camera, only the image projected on it. It doesn’t rotate the image, but that’s not a show stopper, particularly at the price.

So now I’ve found the adapter I would buy if I were to buy one, and have a camera that makes me wonder if I would really ever need it.

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