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Author Topic: A Quandry: "Real" Camcorder or DSLR for Bird Photography?  (Read 9353 times)
shootergirl
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« on: March 14, 2011, 09:21:21 AM »
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I'm stuck. In the winter I love to take photos of our local Bald Eagles. I'm a Canon user and have a couple DSLRs and my favorite lenses to use are the 100-400L and the 70-200 f2.8L. I really want to be able to get some video of these birds in flight but they're skittish and stay back from people. Therefore, I need a long lens, like my 100-400. I've looked at the Panasonic AG-HMC40 camcorder, which is in my price range, and it has a lens that's about the 35mm equivalent of my 100-400. However, it would be nice to shoot the video with a DSLR rather than packing and grabbing a different camera for when I want video.

I know I could get a small camcorder with a large zoom, but I know from my flip camcorder that it is very hard for me to hold something like that still while holding it away from my face. No matter how I try, I always get jittery video, even with IS turned on. With the Panasonic camcorder I would have a real viewfinder to look through, rather than an LCD panel, and could hold it up to my face, locking my arms at my side.

For folks who use DSLRs to shoot video, do you have a hard time holding it steady or is a tripod a must? If I use a tripod, I think I'd have a hard time tracking the bird. How would I shoot video of a bird in flight? I've read that you need to prefocus, then record. This wouldn't work on something that is flying around.

As you can see, I really am stuck! I'd appreciate any and all help you could give me, even if you steer me in a different direction. I've actually looked at (online) the 7D and the (I think) D7000 in a camera store. I'm so confused that I've even looked at a Nikon because I'd read it can continuously autofocus while taking video!

Thanks in advance,

Donna
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michael
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« Reply #1 on: March 14, 2011, 10:17:24 AM »
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DSLRs make for very poor video cameras. Their only advantage is that they offer shallow depth of field, which is attractive for narrative productions, to provide a "film-like" look.

For your application it would seem to me that a dedicated camcorder with continuous autofocus, stabilization, EVF and all the other bells and whistles would be a better choice.

But, as you point out this means purchasing and carrying along another device.

Michael
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shootergirl
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« Reply #2 on: March 14, 2011, 10:32:46 AM »
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Thank you, Michael. I think if anyone would know about these things, you would. Cheesy My heart has been telling me to go with a dedicated camcorder so I'll just have to resign myself to carrying extra equipment. Maybe a pack mule would help? No, wait, I've got a husband for that!  Grin

Donna
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #3 on: March 14, 2011, 10:54:18 AM »
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... I need a long lens, like my 100-400....

...For folks who use DSLRs to shoot video, do you have a hard time holding it steady or is a tripod a must?
Thanks in advance...

Donna

Donna, if you're shooting video with a lens with an equivalent focal length of 100 - 400 mm, not only do you need a proper viewfinder and a steady tripod, you're going to need the best pan head you can afford.  Look for names like Cartoni, Sachtler and O'connor.  I'd estimate that you need to spend at least a thousand dollars on a tripod/head combination, otherwise you're going to frustrated and disappointed with the results.  The head is absolutely crucial.  If it's inadequate, no amount of skill on your part will overcome this.

To evaluate a pan head, set up a static shot with a long lens and do slow diagonal pans a few seconds long on a static subject, while making accurate, repeatable stops and starts at both ends of the pan/tilt. With a poor head, this will be impossible, with a good one, effortless.
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shootergirl
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« Reply #4 on: March 14, 2011, 12:33:19 PM »
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Donna, if you're shooting video with a lens with an equivalent focal length of 100 - 400 mm, not only do you need a proper viewfinder and a steady tripod, you're going to need the best pan head you can afford. 

Yikes. I work in a video unit, so I could borrow one for a weekend... I'm really just looking to catch the birds in flight for myself, not really National Geographic caliber stuff. I'll have to think on this...

Thanks, Peter.

Donna
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fredjeang
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« Reply #5 on: March 14, 2011, 12:49:06 PM »
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I will repeat Peter's words to stress them: The head is absolutely crucial.

Don't mess with the head choice or you will loose footage and the stabilizers and anti-shake in PP will do nothing.

http://www.adorama.com/GZ2380.html

Good Luck.
« Last Edit: March 14, 2011, 12:55:15 PM by fredjeang » Logged
wolfnowl
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« Reply #6 on: March 14, 2011, 04:13:18 PM »
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A dedicated video head would be the best option, but depending on how much still vs. video work you do and what lenses you own/plan to own, a gimbal head would give you some of that same control.  http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/accessories/wimberley.shtml / http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/accessories/wimberely_sidekick.shtml

Mike.
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #7 on: March 14, 2011, 04:26:04 PM »
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Yikes. I work in a video unit, so I could borrow one for a weekend...

Do that.  Once you try the real thing, you'll be amazed at uselessness of anything other than a dedicated pan head.

Even if you're not looking for "National Geographic" quality, if your footage continually disappoints you, what's the point?
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shootergirl
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« Reply #8 on: March 15, 2011, 06:09:57 AM »
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I will repeat Peter's words to stress them: The head is absolutely crucial.

Don't mess with the head choice or you will loose footage and the stabilizers and anti-shake in PP will do nothing.

http://www.adorama.com/GZ2380.html

Good Luck.

That looks nice and at a price that I could afford. Thanks!

Donna
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shootergirl
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« Reply #9 on: March 15, 2011, 06:12:11 AM »
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A dedicated video head would be the best option, but depending on how much still vs. video work you do and what lenses you own/plan to own, a gimbal head would give you some of that same control.  http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/accessories/wimberley.shtml / http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/accessories/wimberely_sidekick.shtml

Mike.

I'm really glad you brought this up, Mike. I've been curious about that type of head ever since I first read about it here on LL. I've often thought it would be good for long-lens still photography. Would it serve the same purpose as the video head or would the (I hope I get this right) "dampening" or "smoothing" of a dedicated video head really be better?

Thanks,

Donna
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shootergirl
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« Reply #10 on: March 15, 2011, 06:16:52 AM »
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Do that.  Once you try the real thing, you'll be amazed at uselessness of anything other than a dedicated pan head.

Even if you're not looking for "National Geographic" quality, if your footage continually disappoints you, what's the point?

You're right, there. I've only played around with the camera/tripod combos here when we've been setting up for an "interview" type shoot but I know that the producers would certainly be willing to show me the ins & outs of how they work. I consider myself lucky to have that.

I want to thank everyone for your replies. I've been agonizing over this whole thing since probably last September! Trying to decide if a "real" camcorder would be better, or a DSLR. In one single post Michael enabled me to make the decision to go with the camcorder and from the rest of you, I know know that I need to get a good tripod/head combination too. Very very much appreciated.

This is one of the reasons why I come back here all the time (mostly lurking). I get straight knowledgeable answers and no sniping and arguing like other sites. Thank you, Michael, for what you provide.

I guess maybe it's time to transfer some of my tax return dollars into checking and place an order.  Shocked

Donna
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Peter McLennan
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« Reply #11 on: March 15, 2011, 11:28:33 AM »
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I agree, Donna.  This is one of the best sites on the Internet for photography information.  We're very fortunate.   Thanks again, Michael!

As well as testing the pro head you can get from work, before you convert savings to checks, try several video heads at your local camera store.  Spend some time with each and definitely shoot video with each, if you can, for later comparison.  Don't judge your work by the tiny viewfinders on the cameras.  Everything looks good on those small screens.  You need to get it home and see it on your computer screen, if not on your TV.

Camera Operators (those who use these pan heads we're discussing) are among the most highly skilled members of a production crew.  Next time you're watching baseball on TV and you see a waist-up shot of the batter with the umpire and the catcher in the background, try to imagine where that camera is actually located - how far it is from the scene - and imagine how much THOSE pan heads cost.  : )



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Craig Murphy
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« Reply #12 on: March 16, 2011, 11:00:27 AM »
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Heck. Throw caution to the wind an get the Panasonic AF-100. Smiley  I attended Vincent Laforet's Creative Live three day workshop two weekends ago and he mentioned that he was going to be shooting with the AF-100 last week.  Hope to hear his thoughts on the camera sometime soon.
« Last Edit: March 16, 2011, 12:58:41 PM by Craig Murphy » Logged

CMurph
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« Reply #13 on: March 16, 2011, 04:21:20 PM »
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Actually, while the AF100 is a very fine camera, I would think that of most current choices, the AF100 would be amongst the last on the list for the OP's use.

The AF100 is a DSLR-for-video killer but its best use is more as a studio or full-up production camera and not fast-paced single operator documentary style shooting.

For me a Panny HMC 40 would be a better choice. Small, pro features, CCD not CMOS, great value.
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Christopher Sanderson
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shootergirl
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« Reply #14 on: March 17, 2011, 06:59:53 AM »
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Heck. Throw caution to the wind an get the Panasonic AF-100. Smiley  I attended Vincent Laforet's Creative Live three day workshop two weekends ago and he mentioned that he was going to be shooting with the AF-100 last week.  Hope to hear his thoughts on the camera sometime soon.

Sounds good, Craig. When you're ordering yours, be sure to get one for me, too.  Cheesy

Donna
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shootergirl
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« Reply #15 on: March 17, 2011, 07:01:23 AM »
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Actually, while the AF100 is a very fine camera, I would think that of most current choices, the AF100 would be amongst the last on the list for the OP's use.

The AF100 is a DSLR-for-video killer but its best use is more as a studio or full-up production camera and not fast-paced single operator documentary style shooting.

For me a Panny HMC 40 would be a better choice. Small, pro features, CCD not CMOS, great value.

Thanks, Chris. I was hoping you'd chime in. I'm going to go ahead and order one probably tomorrow. It's time to get off the fence and get going.

Donna
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Chris Sanderson
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« Reply #16 on: March 17, 2011, 02:23:39 PM »
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If you get the opportunity, it's a good idea to check out the various options at a good store. Also worth checking camcorderinfo.com
Chris
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Christopher Sanderson
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« Reply #17 on: March 18, 2011, 11:43:13 AM »
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Hello Donna,

You might wish to investigate the Panasonic TM700 or TM900. These camcorders are one pound, 1080/60p powerhouses. For birds, their i.Zoom feature provides 30 to 540mm zoom. These cameras also take much better photos than the HMC40.
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shootergirl
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« Reply #18 on: March 30, 2011, 09:03:36 AM »
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Hello Donna,

You might wish to investigate the Panasonic TM700 or TM900. These camcorders are one pound, 1080/60p powerhouses. For birds, their i.Zoom feature provides 30 to 540mm zoom. These cameras also take much better photos than the HMC40.

I have been looking at those cameras, and I think that is what I'm going to go with. The TM900 is quite small and will be easier to lug around with my camera gear. I had been waiting because the NAB show is coming up, but I doubt they'll introduce any consumer level cameras there.

Thanks, Dan!

Donna
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