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Article 1 - The Three Main Types of HD Video Cameras Your Videographer Will Use.
(Check back for other articles coming soon.)

With my daughter at a secret Oahu waterfall
(Edited 12/3/14) During the past decade technological advancements have made high definition become the dominant video format, even in cameras that cost well under $3000. The movement towards HD accelerated greatly about 7 years ago when HD video was added to the pro photo cameras known as DSLRs, and again about 5 years ago with the advent of "mirrorless" cameras. With DSLRs and mirrorless it is now possible to shoot video with a $2000 camera that looks as good as video shot by cameras costing ten times as much. In this article I compare these two new types of video cameras with the traditional camcorders.

The biggest advantage that camcorders have is that they are designed exclusively for shooting video. The ergonomics are better for video, so it's easier to keep the camera steady during a long hand-held shot. They also have lenses with long-range motorized zooms that allow you to either very quickly shift from a wide angle view to a long telephoto one between shots, or slowly and smoothly zoom during shots. The other types of cameras can do neither. When things are happening quickly, the traditional camcorder is the least likely to miss something. And with camcorders it's easy to record audio together with the video, while with the other types you usually have to record audio separately and sync it with the audio later, when editing.

However, the light-gathering sensors are much smaller than with the other two types. This means you need big, glaring lights in many situations where the other types don't, and in general the colors don't look as vibrant. Also, the small sensor makes for a much flatter, less three-dimensional looking image. And finally, not having interchangeable lenses is a limitation. (More on these last two points later.)

When HD video came to DSLRs it was revolutionary for low-budget videographers, mostly because the sensors in these cameras are much larger than the ones found in even the most expensive camcorders. This is good for the color and low-light situations as I mentioned earlier, but more importantly, these sensors allow you to have very shallow depth of field. This means you can easily blur out the background behind your main subject, or switch your sharp focus from one thing to another during a shot. It looks much more three-dimensional, and more like a Hollywood movie. Add in the interchangeable lenses, and it's no wonder that a lot of event videographers switched to DSLRs very quickly.

But the fact that DSLRs are designed primarily to take pictures creates a lot of problems for videographers. In addition to the zoom, lens-range, ergonomics, and sound problems I discussed, there is the problem of the mirror that these cameras use for their optical viewfinders. It pops up when you take a picture, but has to stay up for video, so you have to use the screen on the back to see what you're filming. Hard to see in bright light or focus with, so you have to attach a magnifying hood. And the autofocus system used is great for pictures, but doesn't work so well when it has to be continuous. Also the shallow depth of field can be TOO shallow, making it hard to keep everyone in focus. Because of all of these issues and others such as "rolling shutter," DSLR works best when several cameras are used.

Mirrorless cameras are like smaller DSLRs with the mirror removed. Thus you can look through the electronic viewfinder as you film, making focusing easier. There are the same "rolling shutter" and zoom problems as with a DSLR, but in the case of the ergonomics issues, the cameras are lighter, so long hand-held shots are easier. And some of the mirrorless cameras, such as the Panasonic GH3 camera I use, are designed with video in mind almost as much as still photos, so they have features like better control over audio, much better continuous autofocus, and the ability to shoot continuously for over an hour. Also, the sensor is the perfect size in my opinion, large enough to get the DSLR benefits, but small enough that I can have everything in focus when I want to. If I need super-shallow depth of field, I can put on an F/ 0.95 lens, the fastest made! (The faster the lens, the shallower the depth of field.) The image is also the sharpest of the three types. Mirrorless cameras are not quite as good in low light as the best DSLRs, and not quite as easy to use as a camcorder, but overall I think these are easily the best of the three for event video. And especially the Panasonic cameras, which I researched extensively before buying. Best small video cameras in the world!

Edit February 17, 2014: Video technology is changing so fast these days that I need to talk about a fourth type of small, affordable camera that a few event and wedding videographers are starting to use. This is the type that shoots what is called RAW footage. There are two categories of these relatively affordable cameras: the two Blackmagic cameras, or certain Canon DSLRs that have had a special "hack" applied to them. Both of these have the huge plus of much more dynamic range than the other types. It's hard to explain briefly what this means, but essentially, until now all but the most expensive video cameras have always had a tough time with very contrasty scenes where some things are in bright sunlight and others in the shade, and videographers have had to choose between "blowing out" the highlights (the sky looks almost pure white with no clouds), or having the shadow areas be inky black, or, blasting the shadow areas with powerful lights. These new cameras are far better at keeping everything well exposed. This really is a big deal, and the difference is something that the average person can easily notice. The video from both categories can also be manipulated a lot more in editing without the image starting to "fall apart" as with the other types of cameras. And the Canon cameras that shoot RAW also are just awesome in low light. However, these RAW shooting cameras have the very major disadvantage of being much harder to use than any of the other three types of cameras. For this reason I still think that over all, the Panasonic mirrorless cameras are the best small video cameras in the world for event video, where things are happening fast. But for narrative movies or other types of video where you have time to set up and you can easily do retakes, these RAW cameras are the new kings of low-budget video.

However, a Panasonic mirrorless camera is about to come out on top again! This is because the Panasonic GH4 coming out in the spring of 2014 will shoot 4K video. What is 4K? Check back for two new articles, on 4K as well as the RAW shooting cameras.

Edit August 12, 2014: A new camera has come out that definitely challenges the GH4 in my mind as the best all-around camera for event videographers. Itʻs the Sony A7s, a full-frame camera like the DSLRs Iʻve discussed, but mirrorless like the Panasonics, which makes it smaller and lighter. The standout feature of this camera is amazing low-light capability, much better than any other camera. You can take video or pictures by moonlight and make them look like they were shot in the day! Another article coming about this camera.

The articles I will be writing in the future will not just be about camera equipment. I will also discuss topics such as Hawaii wedding venues, how to choose a wedding videographer, and the best locations for shooting portraits and formals. Hopefully I will be having more time to write after the Christmas season, so youʻll be seeing more activity on the website, as well as on the blog and my Facebook page.