Saturday, January 18, 2014


There are guys who are car guys. Car guys may make their living off or with their cars or they are just guys who love cars. These kinds of guys will go through cars in their life, sometimes lots of cars. Sometimes they may have multiple cars at the same time. Other times, they may have cars that no longer run but they can't bear to be parted from them.

These kinds of guys may write posts about their cars, old and new

Well, I once posted about my new car but I am not a car guy. I am, however, a camera guy, a video camera guy. I used them to make a living and I use em just for fun. And over the years I have owned several of them

This past week I began to own a new one

The first camera I owned was a Hitachi VHS camcorder. You remember VHS don't you, video tapes that produced an image that was oversaturated, fuzzy and carried the audio mixed in with the video .. wait, you don't even know what "tape" is  .. Um, move on. That cam was a huge clunky thing that recorded to tapes the size of a dictionary but at least it used CCDs (chips) instead of tubes, as did the cameras that learned to shoot with.

I went a lot of places with that big old camera, including Collette and mine's first vacation together, to Quebec City

Quebec City 1992 from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.
VHS was a consumer format, both to watch and to record on. Pros in those days where using 1" tape for broadcast and cams that shot on 3/4" tapes for field recording. The first "prosumer" format was probably S-VHS. This was a format used by wedding guys, corporate producers, even cable stations and some smaller TV stations. My second cam was a Panasonic SVHS-C cam. It was considerably smaller than the Hitachi, not quite a palmcorder but very manageable. It had a great lens on it and three CCDs to the Hitachi's one. It also had a superior mic

I liked that Panasonic but the problem was with the format. SVHS-C was a smaller tape which led to that smaller cam. A full size SVHS tape was capable of recording two hours .. the SVHS-C tapes were around 30 minutes. And the image, although better than VHS could produce a decent image in well lighted exterior conditions but pretty much sucked everywhere else. Still, the smaller size of thing opened up a lot of possibilities. I took that cam on our trip to Belize.

Mayan Cities of Belize from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

That camera eventually went the way of the dinosaurs as did its format. Mini-DV would my next flavour in video formats. These were little tapes that could hold up to an hour of footage and although still compressed, were definitely superior to S VHS

I bought a little consumer mini DV Sanyo from a local guy off of eBay. This was a true palmcorder, much smaller than the Panasonic, and I could literally carry it in my pocket. I began to take that cam everywhere with me, including out with the dogs. This was never a camera with professional ambitions but it had a wicked long optical zoom, a flip out LCD monitor and was surprisingly rugged. It was this cam that got me into the habit of chronicling everything .. er .. blame that guy from eBay

The Nautical Festival from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

That little cam was fun but it was far from being professional. Mini DV was a decent tape format but the little Sanyo could not use it to its full potential. Enter my next eBay purchase: The Canon XL1. This was another large camera, almost the size of that hold VHS. But it was a true professional camera: A great lens (that was interchangeable), a solid shotgun mic, the ability to input audio on two channels, XLR audio jacks and a full range of manual options. I loved that cam, I still have it, this format has passed us by but I hung on to the cam because it was a truly pro camera .. maybe not broadcast (though it was certainly used for that) but pro.

I shot a lot of video with that camera, there are a lot to choose from so I pretty much picked this one at random

Nuit Blanche Toronto from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

When Collette and I were planning our trip to Iceland I was thinking of taking the XL1 with me. But the thing is damn big and I knew lugging it around lava fields and glacial run offs may not be practical. The Sanyo handycam showed me the advantage of something small that you can take anywhere, but I was spoiled by the Canon's image quality and its pro features.

Collette knew she wanted to buy some camera gear for the trip so I accompanied her to Henry's and I met the Sony HDR, a palm sized cam that boasted two important features that I had never before used: HD video and an internal hard drive. In fact, the HDR has a massive hard drive, 120 gigs, you can fit around 15 hrs of full quality footage on it, and I've never come close to filling it up.

When I bought the cam I envisioned taking it as a backup to the XL1. Luckily I bought the cam advance enough of the trip that I had a lot of time to shoot with it. I was blown away. The Zeiss lens, the CMoss image sensor and the HD format produced images much better than I expected. It did not have the features of the Canon; I can't plug a mic into it, the manual controls are very limited but the image quality is superior the mini DV format in most ways

Needless to say, that little Sony was the one only camcorder I took to Iceland

ICELAND EDITED: DAY THREE from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

That cam has come with us on many trips and many adventures. As I said, over the last two years the HDR has shot most of the the videos on this blog, including those I've entered into film festivals. I love the image quality but it is a consumer cam. I've been planning projects where this cam may not be enough. I miss the pro features of my Canon.

DSLRs have come into the video way in a big way. It's not surprising. Their high quality lenses and huge image sensors and full range of manual and automatic controls allows these "still" cams to shoot very high quality HD video images. The lenses and the image sensors allow DSLRs to give you more control over your depth of field, creating sharp foreground images and soft background images, even inside in tight confines, giving a normally flat video image a sense of depth

Collette bought a Nikon D7000 for its improved photographic capabilities but it also shoots video. I do like the quality of the video but for me, it's not a video camera. For one thing, we don't have what Nikon terms VR lenses, or vibration reduction lenses, handholding the thing is a nightmare. I've noticed guys shooting with VR lenses though and they have to use steadicams or huge elaborate rigs just to get a clean shot. That does not suit my cam-in-pocket run n gun style of shooting. And although you can plug a decent mic into the Nikon, the audio capabilities fail in comparison to my Canon.

DSLRs are used by people making TV commercials, even series and small movies, situations where you have lots of time and lots of control over your shots. DSLRS can shoot at 24 frames per second (opposed to the TV standard of 30) and it gives the video a rich, dynamic range that people thinks approximates film. This footage is heavily processed in post. Some day I may make a little movie but I don't stay up at night worrying about it. The Nikon is Collette's cam, she has no problem with letting me use it but I have not been inspired to buy one for myself

St Lawrence Market Neighbourhood from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

So what's a boy to do? I wanted more pro features, I wanted the ability to shoot in other formats but I need something small and steady and easy to use on the move .. well a boy finds a deal on a new cam and he goes and snares it.

Last week I bought myself another Sony palmcorder. The HVR-NX30U is a small HD cam with a hard drive but unlike the HVR it is not a consumer cam.

As you can see from the pic above, the NX is not your average consumer palmcorder. Much like my old Canon it has an audio deck that allows you to record on each channel and set the recording level on each channel. It also used XLR jacks which allows you to use very high end mics and other audio gear. The whole deck, along with the shotgun mic can be removed if weight and space is a concern. Under that deck is another mic, the built in zoom mic, which is pretty good and you can plug in a mic that uses a mini plug, like the nice Rode shotgun I bought for the Nikon

This cam can record a variety of HD video formats, including at 24 fps. One of the things I'm most interested in is the stability you can get with this cam. Besides electronic image stabilization, the Sony features a floating lens; it should give you the ability to shoot very steady shots even when hand held

It has a lot of manual settings. Like the HDR most of its options are electronic and accessed through the touch screen, the problem I found with that cam was going through the long and somewhat clunky menus. The NX allows you to assign three functions (for instance exposure, iris and shutter) to three buttons that live right on the LCD screen, making them easy to access. Even better you can assign another function, like focus, to a physical knob on the body of the cam; I'm an old video guy and I love the feel or an actual dial you can actually turn to bring things in and out of focus .. or whatever you need

It has all the other pro functions that I was trained on: Color bars, audio levels, zebra stripes (to indicate "hot" spots in the shot), time code and much more. Very much like the XLR but in a tiny package and with the advantage of HD and digital recording

I can definitely do pro work with this cam, promo vids to web for instance and more film festival work. It's also small and light and steady and great for taking on trips with Collette .. or rambles in the park with Terra

So here is the first of many adventures to come

G Ross Lord Park: Sony HXR-NX30U First Shoot from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

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