The All Seeing Eye

panta rei dans lullaby

Video - Panta Rei Danseteater 'Lullaby'

Norwegian dance company Panta Rei Danseteater, late last year, conducted a little experiment whereby three dance makers created two pieces with the same name based on the same idea, featuring three male dancers and two musicians, to see what the outcome was.

June 2nd, 2016

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by Martin French

Having just launched the Film Room we thought it would be a good idea, since we're looking for video/film material from our readers, to point you in the direction of some of the best video cameras you can buy/rent to do your filming with. All video cameras are not created equal and with that in mind it's all the better to be armed with some useful information about the best and the brightest bits of kit.

What this article is not going to be is a 'which is best' piece since most conclusions of that kind are conjecture because each camera, in this particular round up, have their strong points and their weak points.

With unlimited money you could lay your hands on the best of the bunch, the SonyF900R HDCAM, for a little under £50,000, to say nothing of the £10,000 for a lens, £7,000 for a viewfinder and £40,000 for all the equipment you need to do post production (and about £3,000 for a tripod to put it on). You'll get stunning high definition images but I'm betting that not a lot of dance folks can afford such largesse so we'll focus on equipment you can get for under £5,000 if you're buying or you can always rent for a whole lot less.

High Definition (HD) vs Standard Definition (SD)

HD means just what it sounds like. You get a larger, more detailed final image than you do with an SD camera. There is however one small problem. As yet the proliferation of high definition TV sets to watch the video on is very small. Worse still, there is no standardised method for sending your footage to someone so they can watch your HD masterpiece. HD DVD and the rival Blue Ray format are still dwarfed by the number of standard DVD players out in the world and this will remain the case for many years to come.

However, there are still several ways to watch and distribute HD content although they are not as convenient as sending out a DVD disc. Computers can play HD content easily from digital video files that you can distribute on the internet. Apple has numerous examples of HD film trailers on their website so you can have a look and judge the quality for yourself (link at the end of this article).

You can also hook almost any HDTV to any computer and play your HD video that way, the same goes for HD video projectors. Of course, your camera can also be hooked up to a high definition screen for viewing.

With that in mind we are going to recommend two HD cameras and two SD cameras. The HD cameras can also shoot SD footage but the obvious caveat is the price of the camera itself.

Progressive vs Interlaced

Essentially, progressive shooting creates a single image for each 1/25th of a second that you are filming footage at 25 frames per second. This method creates footage with a distinctive 'film look' that is hard to describe with words alone. Interlaced footage, used for a wide range of television programming, has a much brighter, sharper look with much more saturated colours. Most people prefer the 'progressive' look and all but one of the cameras below can shoot in a native 'progressive' mode. The one down side is a 'tearing' effect in your image on rapid left or right pans when shooting in progressive modes.


A lot of HD cameras in lower price ranges use a format called HDV. This format is very heavily compressed when compared to higher quality formats such as Panasonic's DVCProHD. Although the quality is still higher than SD it can present some problems when editing your footage in non linear editing software such as Final Cut Pro or an Avid system.
Sony HVR-Z1E
Looks sonyhzv.png
Features The camera is essentially a HD version of the popular PD170. It looks almost exactly the same and is almost the same size as its SD little brother. The forward mounted LCD screen and the black colour are pretty much the only things that give the game away. The camera can shoot in multiple formats for both PAL (most of the world) and NTSC (USA and Japan) video systems so it's good to go anywhere in the world. There are two XLR inputs for professional microphones. The camera can shoot true progressive video (see above) for giving you a nice film look on your finished footage. Firewire socket makes connecting it to a computer a breeze.
The Good Image quality is top notch and the low light performance has always been good on Sony cameras so it's ideal for shooting theatrical performance. Progressive shooting is a nice bonus and it's a very compact unit.
The Bad Build quality leaves a lot to be desired.
Summary The compact size and the image quality make this a great camera for a variety of tasks. The auto focus system is also excellent so you can leave the camera on its own to shoot if you really have to and you can feel reassured that the focus probably won't flip out on you. The poor build quality of the case is an issue though especially in situations where the camera may be used by many different people, some with unforgiving hands.
Price £3,400 (approx)

Panasonic HVX-200
Looks panny.jpg
Features Unlike all the other entry level cameras in the HD market this one doesn't use HDV. Panasonic have opted to equip this camera to record video using their DVCPRO HD video system used in much more expensive video cameras. They've gotten around the problem of the tape format by using P2 memory cards to record the footage on. In much the same way as digital stills cameras use memory cards for recording images this camera does the same thing with video material. The camera will record a multitude of HD formats as well as SD (using the built in MiniDV tape transport). XLR inputs for professional microphones, built in stereo microphone, progressive frame shooting and a compact size all add to the package.
The Good DVCPRO HD shooting format is a major bonus that you would have to pay a large sums of money to be able to use in any other camera. The P2 cards are robust, near indestructible recording medium. The camera itself is built like a truck and will resist even the most clumsy of operators efforts to break it.
The Bad P2 cards are expensive and the camera will only record 8 minutes of footage to a single card on the best HD setting. DVCProHD requires much more storage space that HDV. (comes supplied with two P2 cards)
Summary Because of the short length of time for HD recording to the P2 memory cards (you can't record HD to the built in Mini DV tape system) this camera is better suited to dance-film making, where shorter takes are the norm, if you want to shoot HD. Solid state memory prices will fall however and the capacities will increase and when they do this camera will be an absolute bargain for the quality of video material you will get out of it for the ridiculously low price of the unit.
Price £3,520 (approx)

Sony DSR-PD170P
Looks pd170.jpg
Features For many years this was the camera of choice for independent video production specialists and broadcast news people. The compact size and high quality images the camera produces are all wrapped in a robust case which make this camera a versatile performer in hundreds of scenarios. Comes with a fold-out, colour LCD screen, dual XLR inputs, wide angle adaptor for the lens and the camera will also use DVCAM tapes (the slightly more robust and expensive version of Mini-DV).
The Good As with the HVR-Z1E this camera has excellent low light capability. The camera is robust and will last for years in even the most hostile of environments.
The Bad SD only and the camera is getting a little long in the tooth. No progressive frame mode or genuine widescreen mode.
Summary PD170's can be had for very low prices these days and if you don't need HD capability then this camera will serve you well in a variety of situations.
Price £2,300 (approx)

Canon XL2
Looks xl2.jpg
Features Article19's current weapon of choice. One of the few cameras in this price range that comes with an interchangeable lens system. True 16:9 CCD's, progressive frame shooting, XLR inputs and on board 4 channel sound mixing all come as standard. No fold-out LCD screen but the high resolution LCD viewfinder can be used for easy monitoring. Various adapters make the camera customisable beyond all recognition dramatically increasing its versatility in a range of filming situations.
The Good Along with Fujinon, Canon make some of the best camera lenses in the world and the image quality from the the XL2 is almost unrivaled in the SD world and for the current price you would be hard pressed to find better image quality. Built like a tank in camera form, very hard to break it.
The Bad Front heavy design makes hand held shooting a pain (literally) and although low light performance is good the gain controls used to boost available light do make the image a little on the grainy side.
Summary For a none HD camera the images captured by this camera, thanks in a large part to the excellent lens, are stunning and the interchangeable lens system make the camera very versatile in a wide range of situations. In 24 months though the camera will be seriously out of date and the lack of HD capability will start to show.
Price £2,895 (approx)

All prices are approximate and will vary dependent on supplier. Don't buy imported electronics equipment because you won't have a valid warranty for your country and if you want it fixed you'll have to send it back to the country it came from, if they will take it at all.

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