This is a little bit of video production history as well as video camera archive, I started filming with Super 8mm cine cameras all the way up to a Chinon 255XL Super 8mm with sound during 1975 it had a Chinon Reflex Zoom f: 1.7 \ f9-22.5 mm and a zoom ratio of 2.5x
The JVC KY1900 as seen below was a cracking camera for its day. I fell in love with its orange body, I had never seen a brightly coloured camera before, almost 30 years later I bought one on EBAY and to my astonishment it still produced a picture…this says a lot for JVC !
Hands up if you ever used one of these ? When I started in this business many moons ago I joined a video production company called Flashback Video and they were using two JVC KY 1900 cameras almost identical to the KY 2000 camera (USA version), this was the Dawn of Corporate video production as we know it today.
My first recollection was at Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow and Chris (my ex-boss) and Ron Seeth were filming a band, I was there in my Radio Clyde capacity photographing the up and coming bands for John MacCalman (Radio Clyde producer & Jammy Records).
Chris and Ron were filming the Kelvingrove Music Festival and the thing that stood out was the orange JVC video cameras, I thought they looked the business. They were feeding long BNC cables into the back of the stage into two low band U-matic mains machines the size and weight of a small horse.
These days were the start of all our sore backs, I don’t know one cameraman who does not suffer from a sore back through years of holding and lifting various pieces of heavy video kit.
Soon after that music festival I went for an interview with Flashback and was offered a job as a sound-man, as I had worked for Radio Clyde I must know something about sound, that’s the impression I gave as I was desperate to get into video production.
Registration…in the early days of tube cameras we had to register the camera every time you transported it using a registration card. Tube cameras were very susceptible to go out of alignment, so you had to carry a small screw driver and a convergence chart. The camera had 4 small “pots” recessed near the front and you would look into the viewfinder and tweak the 2 colours till the lines converged i.e. These were not RGB what you were doing was aligning the tubes Blue-Vertical, Blue-Horizontal, Red-Vertical, Red-Horizontal… in other words all your black horizontal and vertical lines were totally black not fuzzy.
The Sony M3 Three tube camera
During my 4 years at Flashback we eventually moved over to the Sony M3 camera this had the 21 pin connector into a High band U-matic Sony portable recorder. The lead acid batteries were a pain and the 1st thing you had to do when finishing a shoot was to leave the two ton tessie batteries on charge.
Chris “Sony’s M3 camera offered the first really decent quality for industrial use. Actually a lot of these cameras were used for budget broadcasts around the world, although we were under no illusions that it was a broadcast quality camera. This was the first tube camera to give you auto registration, no more jewelers screwdrivers just point the camera at a registration chart, one press of a button and you were ready to go.
The other thing the M3 had was a really good remote control unit (which as far as I know is still used for later cameras – we certainly used it for our later M7 one of the first industrial cameras to use a 3 CCD chip set). This facilitated multi-camera studio shooting with proper genlock, colour matching and remote exposure control. There was even a fairly sophisticated scene memory facility, only a little less capable than today’s Picture Profile settings on the EX camera range.
I ordered Flashback’s Betacamcorder without having seen it ! STV were using the previous model BVW-200 and Sony announced an improved BVW-300, which I knew was going to outperform that model (one of the rare occasions when Sony sold a ‘2’ model number!). We waited six weeks for our brand new model to arrive – yet it became obsolete in a couple of months! (though it still works today as far as I know.)
In 1995 the Imix Turbo Cube cost £55k, but it generated so much heat that we had to install a £5k air-conditioning unit, so the investment was £60k. If I remember correctly, the base unit stored one hour of video and two hours of audio. I cannot tell you the Mb capacity, sorry. We added additional RAID storage modules to triple the capacity and backed up critical material to DLT high-capacity tape cartridges, which frequently failed for no apparent reason! Although now defunct, due to significant advances in digital image processing, the Turbo Cube remains the most productive NLE system I have ever worked with, as well as the easiest to master. It enabled us to achieve remarkable productivity, such as the complete post production of ten short broadcast slots or a half-hour documentary in a day.”
We had some good times working for Flashback in fact sometimes it was hard to call it work ! There can’t be many people who can experience the birth of their trade, yet Flashback Video was one of the pioneers of professional video production in Scotland and I was a big part of it. Possibly our wackiest job ever was to produce an advert for Tunnock’s Tea Cakes.
We had a small studio which had to be turned into a lunar surface, this is very hazy but I remember a lot of pyrotechnics going off at the wrong times, take after take after take and I can’t to this day remember what the end result looked like but a lot of paper mashie and matt paint should give you a better picture of our 1st break into the land of TV commercials.
1986 Clyde Cable Vision…
I decided during 1985 to apply for a job with Clyde Cable Vision a brand new cable television station, producing local content for the Glasgow Channel.
It had been decided that the cable laying was to start with Drumchapel in the west of Glasgow. These were exiting times, the latest video equipment, three machine computer controlled editing using a Convergence system.We had a small studio with 2 Hitachi Z31 cameras both with Autocue. The 3rd Z31 was used for filming news stories out in the field. The Z31 was a 3 tube camera but performed very well indeed. As you can see from the picture below it was built like a tank.
We had a busy schedule to fill, two news stories had to be edited for the 1pm live news slot and a further story in the afternoon for News Plus our 6pm live news magazine program.
I vividly remember a breaking story that happened during 1986, I was sitting in the edit suite putting the final touches to a feature when I got handed a high band U-Matic tape from Ian, “look at this”. I nearly fell of my chair, it was a four in a block house that had disintegrated in a gas explosion just round the corner where I had lived only 6 months previous. 5 people were killed in the blast. We had a tie-in with Radio Clyde at the time who offered their news reporters if they were at the same news story. Brenda Paterson did a piece to camera for us and strangely in 1986 we let a lot of VT happen with no voice over so the viewer was left with the noise from the gun mic.
We were competing with STV and BBC Scotland at that time and I will always remember the amount of crew they sent out, Cameraman, Soundman, reporter, we all had these but the broadcasters also had lighting man, and director sometimes a runner. We were all multi-skilled in fact we invented the meaning of the word in the broadcast industry.
We were also scorned upon from other crews, nothing less than social snobbery, they were better than us at least thats what they thought. We were again pioneers, I was a VT editor, soundman and in the studio a cameraman, sadly today it’s gone too far the wrong way, you have reporters making a hash of filming themselves with nothing short of glorified domestic camcorders, this might cut down on crew but it brings broadcasters down to the lowest common denominator and further reduces what was once quality television.
Bean counters or accountants to you and me are to blame for the demise of quality television news in Scotland and it’s nothing short of a disgrace, especially health and safety which is now so compromised it’s an accident waiting to happen. Sorry I will get off my soapbox.
26 years later I met Ian, Clyde Cables cameraman at a large sensor day at BBC Scotland.
Clyde Cable Vision took me to 1988 then I left abruptly to start out on my own. My first camera was a Panasonic F10 which was one of the first CCD cameras to filter down from the Pro range. The camera had a 14pin connector which connected via a 2 meter cable to an portable S-VHS AG-7450 recorder.
The Panasonic F10 was upgraded to the F15 which came in corporate grey colour. Grey is the colour that Panasonic decided was their professional look.
Surprisingly the F15 had a 2/3″ CCD sensor a horizontal resolution of 460 lines at centre and came standard with a 15x zoom lens, no auto focus in these days. For the film look boys the F15 had an optional 35mm SLR adaptor and C-Mount lenses.
Our next big leap into pro cameras was the Panasonic WV-F350 camcorder with 1/2″ FIT CCD for smearless image reproduction and a horizontal resolution of 700 lines. This camera docked with the AG-7450 S-VHS VCR but the downside was its combined weight on your shoulder. Me sporting a fine set of legs filming on Arran with my Panasonic WVF-350.
We left Panasonic for a JVC GY-X1TC SVHS-C camcorder this was far smaller and lighter than the Panasonic and produced a cracking picture right out of the box.
The JVC was our main camera for over 2 years moving over to Sony who had created a storm with a new technology called mini DV. The only camera available at this time was the Sony VX-1000 which had a 3 CCD chipset in a very small body.
This was the first watershed in video technology Sony had produced a technology that would set the word digital on the map forever.
I was absolutely stunned by the pictures this camera could produce but my professional pride was taking a bashing as this camcorder looked and was for it’s time …domestic. No more big cameras with manual lenses sitting proud on one’s shoulder, this was a major break from tradition but even then I had decided this DV format was the future, and until HD… this turned out to be true. Fortunately Sony had also decided DV was the way to go and produced the DSR-PD150 with a hidden surprise.
No one knew but the 150 had a very bad tendency to err on the magenta, this came to light when we started to notice people with ruddy complexions looked alarmingly exaggerated, so much so that I began avoiding filming close ups of guests who were too much on the red side. Fortunately for my productions and people with reddish complexions, Sony became aware of this and soon updated the camera to the DSR-170 which was far closer to a neutral white balance and had the benefit of being better in low light. The other important feature of the 150/170 was the phantom powered XLR inputs and the fact that it recorded in DVCAM mode.
The next camcorder was probably my favorite to date the JVC GY-5000 Pro DV camcorder, it looked good, produced stonkingly good pictures but it’s achilles heal was a 4:3 picture. This was a good all rounder and was superb in low light. It was also one of the first pro camcorders to have a flip out colour LCD viewfinder. It was a joy to use and used not only mini DV tapes but standard DV tape up to 180 minutes. This was also the first camera I had owned that came with “V” lock batteries.
Because of the 4:3 issue more people were looking for 16:9 footage we went for the Canon XL-2…major mistake !
The XL 2 had three 1/3-inch CCDs that delivered a true 16:9 image without the use of artificial letterbox or vertical stretch tricks. It’s one major letdown was the crap viewfinder. You could not find focus with this and after giving up my trusty JVC with Hi Rez black and white viewfinder I was in a land of true dispair.
I don’t remember why I ever plumbed for the Canon…was it because it was white as most video cameras are boring black or regimental grey. The one thing about the early days of videography was that JVC had distinctive orange cameras and I loved this, cameras with attitude.
I stuck it for 6 months before getting a JVC GY-HD100 this was indeed a good move as 100% of my footage was shot on DV so I had no need for the newest additional feature HDV. This was one of JVCs water shed camcorders…anyone who bought it for HDVwork felt cheated with the 720 25P only later models included 50P.
I on the other hand bought it solely for DV work and it produced some superb pictures. JVC so far have never let me down the pictures from this camera were clean and punchy. JVC had really thought about this camera even to the extent of supplying not only an on board head phone but surprisingly a spare headphone jack socket, so simple but how many times in a news situation would it have been useful to have 2 H/P sockets for the soundman to plug into as well as yourself. It also had a Fujinon 16x manual focus lens.
It was the start of pro cameras that looked the part without weighing a ton.
Sadly I must admit to having owned a Panasonic AG-HVX200, these camcorders are a designers joke. It’s like holding a Nori brick, (Nori bricks were made in Accrington and weigh a ton).
There was nothing aesthetically pleasing about this camcorder and it was definitely not made to sit in your hand unless your name happened to be Popeye. So why did I own a camcorder I despised, same old story, budget, I needed a camcorder that would give me 4:2:2 for green screen work and this was the only camera that fitted the bill and my pocket. I never understand how some camera manufacturers get it right and others insist on making clones of one bad looking camera after another. This camera in my opinion was made like this because Panasonic can’t afford to compromise their top end P2 camcorders. Don’t get me wrong this camcorder actually produced very good pictures but I am still of the opinion that a camera must look and feel right and the HVX200 did not do it for me. Fortunately I still had the JVC HD100.
2008 the Dawn of Pro Solid State
2008 was the second watershed in video technology HD was to prove an almighty leap in quality but had its drawbacks. In the summer of 2008 I bought my Sony EX-1 and two 16Gb SxS cards, my main worry was archiving, I had bought into a camcorder that you needed to re-use the media. I like so many others had no option but to store the XDCAM files onto 2 hard drives, I later bought an external Lacie Blu-ray burner and stored the master files onto expensive Blu-ray discs. I also bought the Sony PDW-U1 as this seemed to be the holy grail for archiving EX material. Four months later and still no drivers to allow the U1 to store EX footage so I sent it back to H Preston who refunded me.
I sold my wonderful EX-1 to my previous boss Chris who is to this day making various documentaries in and around the Isle of Arran. At the turn of the year I bought the EX-3 what a joy to use and those pictures… stunning or what, I love the aesthetic improvements.
The PMW-EX3 is equipped with a newly developed, large, easy-to-view, colour LCD screen with a high resolution of 1920 x 480 pixels. The LCD screen is located in an easy viewing position on top of the camera and can also be utilised as a high-definition viewfinder with the easily attached monocular viewfinder assembly.
Late 2009 to 2010
The uptake of the DSLR has been a strange phase in my life as a professional video cameraman, I did own a Canon 5DMk11 which records 1080 25p and I must put my hand up and say they have a place within the video world but their place is a limited one. Limited by the fact that the LCD is not good enough to see critical focus and although Canon did add the ability to manually control the sound with metering it is once again a lash up as you do not have any way to monitor your sound going into the camera which is just stupid.
There are major aliasing problems with this technology not to mention restrictive time limits on the length of filming you can do before the camera stops.
Both Sony and Panasonic during NAB 2010 have both shown prototypes of Super 35mm and micro4/3″ camcorders with interchangeable lenses these will in my opinion address the balance and I will predict the demise of the HDSLR during the second half of 2011 and in my opinion not before time. Cameras should be fit for purpose and the photographic HDSLR is not fit for professional filming, it is fit to play with and in my case produce really nice macro shots of camcorders I review, nice opening sequences and seemingly one episode of House…all tinkering…99% of major TV drama use RED, P2 varicam, Sony F35, Arri or 35mm adaptors with prime lenses.
The DSLR has spawned a new breed of mainly younger filmmakers and that’s a good thing, it has allowed students to get a feel for shallow depth of field, we can only hope the new generation of film like camcorders from Sony and Panasonic appear sooner rather than later.
The Sony PMW-350K was a fantastic camcorder and looked the part. This was my first 2/3″ chip camcorder and the bonus was the fact that it recorded SxS. I have gone full circle starting with shoulder mount and now back with a full size , shoulder mount camcorder.
If you thought the Sony EX-3 pictures were good the PMW-350 is as good as noiseless, my only caveat with the 350 at that time was a tendency to loose the picture profile which defaults it over to Sony’s factory profile which is far too sharp.
I produced a review about the Sony MC50 a £1500 camcorder with the 350 and it wasn’t till I got back to base that I noticed the PMW-350 had slightly green blacks this was noted after I had decided to shoot a similar scene with the 350 and MC50 side by side, the £1500 camcorders white balance (WB) and general picture was better…a shock I was not expecting, once again down to the camera re-setting itself.
I never investigated wether the WB problem was something I was doing wrong or a bug in the camcorder itself.
Don’t get me wrong the 350 produced some of my best footage to date but the complicated picture profile menu in the camera coloured my view of this camcorder and latterly it’s weight. Once the camera is in a large KATA bag with cables etc it became a strain on my shoulder.
The advent of the large sensor video camcorders brought another watershed to video producers but also brings its own problems…how many camcorders do you need to purchase to satisfy everyone you work for ?
At the end of 2010 we saw the first shots from the Panasonic AF101, at the turn of the year I had my hands on the AF101 and was so impressed I produced a hands on DVD called “Getting the best from your Panasonic AF101″.
The AF101 was indeed a game changer now we could produce cinematic, shallow depth of field footage rarely seen in the corporate sector, interviews have become less cluttered.
I had the 101 for about five months when I bought my latest camcorders.
Like the true cutting edge archiver that I am the Sony NX70 and the FS100 both film 1080 50p out of the box and are well matched as a camera duo. The NX70 to date has a poor rocker switch which was fixed with a FW update (After I had sold the camera), I use a Manfrotto 521i remote zoom control meantime. The FS100 produces a very sexy picture from it’s Super 35mm sensor and allows me the shallow depth of field I need for the type of corporate work that I produce.
After the Sony FS100 I dug very deep to buy the most expensive camcorder to date…the Canon C300 and it was worth every penny…the pictures this camera produces are truly stunning. When your goal is to produce footage with out of focus backgrounds you have to be careful to keep your f stops around the f4 mark but it leaves little room for error, if you are interviewing a statue then f2.8 or wider would give you a more pleasing result but no room for error.
I still get a kick from watching the footage back, no noise, cinematic, pictures that are stunningly natural and straight out of the camera, I am not into producing more work for myself using Canon LOG then re-jigging the pictures in post. There are those who promote RAW for everything, its fine for footage that needs to be graded but it adds a further step in the post production process one that can be avoided if you get it right in the first place.
As you discover in photography… RAW can’t get you out of everything.
The same can’t be said for the Canon XF305, I found this camcorder very disappointing, especially as the 305 was produced with broadcast as it’s main target. I struggled with blown highlights that I never resolved it has been the only camcorder to date to produce less than satisfactory pictures and not the cheapest either. One other feature of this camera is noise, even at 6dBs this camera is noisy, another reason I soon got rid of it.
Keeping up to date early 2013 I bought a Sony NX30.
The Sony NX30 was bought for a major production on “Type One Diabetes” as it has the ability to look like steady cam due to its fantastic steady shot feature and the fact that it records 1080 50p.
Later on that year we also bought a JVC GY-HM650 camcorder, having a Canon C300 is great for the majority of video work but I need a camcorder for run and gun, filming round factory’s, news story’s etc. The JVC 650 fits the bill with some cracking pictures out of the box and using the cheaper SDHC cards certainly helps with archive.
The surprise came late 2013 when I was asked to cover IBC for Holdan’s, I was asked to produce various interviews from manufacturers who use Holdan’s as their distributers. My dilemma was what camera to take, the Sony NX30 is fine but I really like the “look” of the C300 so that excluded the JVC 650 as well. I was all set with the Canon C300 when I stumbled upon the advert Philip Bloom shot with a pre production Lumix GH3, the pictures were very impressive. IBC has various halls about the size of football pitches and I was not looking forward to wandering round the show with a C300, Miller tripod and the kit that goes with it…keeping weight to a minimum with that cinematic look there were only two DSLRs to consider, the Sony a99 or the Lumix GH3, lenses and cost put me off the Sony so I plumbed for the Panasonic.
Along with a Tascam DR60 the GH3 is a stunning piece of kit with a stunning set of 1080 50p pictures to go with it. I now film 80% of my work with the GH3 using the 12-35mm f2.8 “X” lens and the 35-100mm f2.8 “X” lens. Having the DR60 makes this kit very user-friendly and I await my new GH4 camera with excitement.
During April I reviewed the Panasonic AJ-PX270 handheld full broadcast spec AVC ULTRA camcorder, the only 10bit 422 camcorder to film onto SDHC cards. This is a cracking camcorder with many flavours of codecs, I personally find AVC LongG the quietest of all the codecs.
I was so impressed with this camcorder I bought one for all my run and gun needs and green screen work.
2015…Panasonic GH4 plus YAGH
After selling my Canon C300 I had enough money to buy 2 Panasonic GH4’s and the Panasonic PX270, the GH4 is a fantastic video tool giving me quality and frame rates I could only dream of 1080 50p 200Mbps and 4K internal recording. At 422, 8bit this camera produces some of the finest video material I have seen from a large sensor camera. DSLR’s have come of age and the GH4 is the first in a line of many mirror-less cameras.
The addition of the YAGH (SDI/XLR adapter) brings the GH4 in line with many Hi end large sensor cameras, shallow depth of field, 96fps slow motion, XLR sound with 48v phantoming, syncro scan the GH4 is packed with professional video features.
I mainly use it for interviews, green screen and product shots having a second non YAGH GH4 gives me a more run and gun setup or a second camera on an interview.
During July 2014 I needed a camera that could film in dark restaurants as the GH4 only goes up to 6400 ISO and becomes very noisy. The camera that was doing the rounds was the Sony A7s and claims that it could see in the dark. I watched Den Lennie’s appraisal of the A7s with interest and decided to sell one of my GH4’s.
In reality the A7s does indeed out perform the GH4 but only as far as noise, ISO readings of 10,000 are common settings in certain work I have done recently with my A7s and the full frame sensor is a major bonus.
I always need a run and gun camcorder to hand so when I got rid of my Panasonic PX270 I bought a Sony PXW-X70 and what a shock I got. This wee bundle of joy out performs most 1/3″ camcorders twice its price. Unlike a 1/3″ sensor the X70 has a 1″ sensor which does not suffer from the inherent grey mist effect, a noise reduction phenomena seen on all 1/3″ sensor cameras.
The XAVC 50MB/s pictures out of the X70 are truly stunning and having 10bit 422 allows you to use this camera alongside DSLR’s like the GH4/A7s as the quality is that good…not something I was expecting.
To get the best out of the X70 you need to use Class 10 speed 3 SDXC cards but at £25 a pop it’s a no brainer.
My new Sony PXW-FS7 is my pride and joy, once again I pushed the boat out to get one but Full HD pictures to die for, this will be my defacto work camera. 4K 50p, 1080 50p, 10bit 422 it does not get any better and looks the business. I film most of my corporate interviews in 4K allowing me to cut in on the shot when the person stumbles, the GH4 was fine for 4K cut-in work but having the luxury of 4K 50p on the FS7 is very satisfying. TheFS7 just looks the business and no longer looks like a “photographic shoot”, don’t get me wrong I still use my DSLRs for video work, especially my Sony A7s for extra low light shooting and fast cutaways. The downsides of the FS7 are few but there is no doubt the £415 per 128G XQD cards are stupidly over priced compared to a Lexar SDXC U3 C10 at £70.
Just for the record…
I was at the Institute of Videography show about 10 years ago and had a major discussion with this Sony engineer, Tony Bidgood about the usefulness of colour viewfinders, I was told in no uncertain terms that “You would never see colour viewfinders on professional camcorders as they are not good enough.” I think Tony owes me an apology …you only have to look at the Sony PMW-350, EX-3, Panasonic 301 and the JVC HM700 to decide who was right 10 years ago. I have a philosophy that you should never say never, if humans can think it one day it will become a reality and yes one day you will be able to “Beam me up Scotty”.
Well That’s it, 30 years of virtually the birth of video itself, certainly the beginning of professional corporate video as we know it, back in the eighties although I was not aware, we were pioneers, we invented the meaning of multiskilling within the video industry.
In those days, take STV a local broadcaster who my ex boss Chris worked for as a senior cameraman, they were intrenched with unions and all the rules that came with it, you could be hauled over the coals if you dare touch even a camera cable lying on the floor if that was not your dedicated job, ie. cable basher.
I am glad to say we have come a long way since those draconian days but has it got any better…only time will tell. I also want to start a campaign for less black and grey camcorders get back to the eighties give the camcorder a distinctive look…even the RED ONE is black !
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