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Best camcorder for indoor use?

Discussion in 'Camcorders, Action Cams & Video Editing Forum' started by PeterL, Aug 31, 2004.

  1. PeterL

    PeterL
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    I have owned a Sony (Digital 8) TRV120E for about 4 years.

    On the whole it does a pretty good job, but one thing it is disappointing at is with indoor conditions under tungsten of flourescent lighting. I am no expert with these things, but I imagine the loss of quality is down to the fact that it handles low light conditions like this by amplifying the signal, producing a lot of digital noise and overall loss of colour. Outside or in good light the colours are bright, digital noise is minimal and the results are generally very acceptable.

    I am now being increasingly asked to use my camcorder for videoing live events indoors. Using addtional lighting is not an option, so I was wondering what sort of camcorder specification should I be looking at to work better in these sort of conditions without any trade off in other areas?

    Four years on I know that specs have increased and prices have dropped, but is this sort of camcorder available for a budget of under £1000?

    Any help or suggestions of models to take a look at would be much appreciated. :smashin:
     
  2. Roy Mallard

    Roy Mallard
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    Problem with all digital 8 cameras is lack of manual white balance, problem with all sonys is no warning when the gain kicks in.

    The only cams that give you such basic & essential information at this end of the market are panasonics, a grand should get you a gs400 (a step above the gs200, it has optical stabiliser, manual audio record level, higher res ccds blah blah blah).

    The 120 is probaly a better cam than the current generation of d8's (theyve dropped focus ring, use lower res and smaller ccds) one method to reduce the gain is to set manual exposure, go to the farthest plus setting that you can, then roll back 7 clicks on the control wheel. This is the point where the iris is wide open without any gain applied, if you go towards the - you will stop the lens down, if you go towards plus you start getting the picture degradation you want to avoid.

    Its something thats worth saying again and again, cameras need light to work. The average domestic cam ccd at 0db gain equates to about 100asa, not particularly fast, so you either need a fast lens (JVC's f1.2 camcoders would give you around a stop more, i.e twice as bright pictures, at 0db gain) or accept the limitations of low light recording.

    Another thing to consider is that in terms of fidelity it is sometimes more useful to present a picture as it looks, rather than trying to artificially brighten it, or let the cameras meter get fooled by a particularly dark or particulary bright subject.

    Other tips for any cameras:

    If you cannot avoid recording indoors under tungsten light then:

    Fit 100w bulbs instead of 60's.

    Keep the lens at it widest angle as much as possible*

    Place your subject for the best light and manually expose for the important part of the subject (in auto the camera will boost the overall picture, whilst the subject might actually be correctly exposed, black is black, even in low light a camcorder will try to make black look charcoal, accept that it is supposed to be black and concetrate on making the lit area look ok.

    Accept that a camcorder sees differently from the human eye (the human eye has a contrast ratio -i.e it can resolve detail within a brightness ratio of 1000:1, even the best camcorders offer only around 40:1)


    *zoom lenses (especailly the cheaper ones found on domestic camcorders) loose light as the focal length increases, usually by around 2 stops (i.e dropping from f1.4 to f2.8) so there is a quarter of the light reaching the ccd at 10x zoom than at 1x zoom.

    (for some reason the panasonic dx100/ez30/35 never suffered from f-drop, meaning a massive entrance pupil, sustained through the zoom, anyway it was unusual for a camcorder at this level not to suffer f-drop).

    I flighting is out of the question what about a silver faced reflector?.
     
  3. Roy Mallard

    Roy Mallard
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    Problem with all digital 8 cameras is lack of manual white balance, problem with all sonys is no warning when the gain kicks in.

    The only cams that give you such basic & essential information at this end of the market are panasonics, a grand should get you a gs400 (a step above the gs200, it has optical stabiliser, manual audio record level, higher res ccds blah blah blah).

    The 120 is probaly a better cam than the current generation of d8's (theyve dropped focus ring, use lower res and smaller ccds) one method to reduce the gain is to set manual exposure, go to the farthest plus setting that you can, then roll back 7 clicks on the control wheel. This is the point where the iris is wide open without any gain applied, if you go towards the - you will stop the lens down, if you go towards plus you start getting the picture degradation you want to avoid.

    Its something thats worth saying again and again, cameras need light to work. The average domestic cam ccd at 0db gain equates to about 100asa, not particularly fast, so you either need a fast lens (JVC's f1.2 camcoders would give you around a stop more, i.e twice as bright pictures, at 0db gain) or accept the limitations of low light recording.

    Another thing to consider is that in terms of fidelity it is sometimes more useful to present a picture as it looks, rather than trying to artificially brighten it, or let the cameras meter get fooled by a particularly dark or particulary bright subject.

    Other tips for any cameras:

    If you cannot avoid recording indoors under tungsten light then:

    Fit 100w bulbs instead of 60's.

    Keep the lens at it widest angle as much as possible*

    Place your subject for the best light and manually expose for the important part of the subject (in auto the camera will boost the overall picture, whilst the subject might actually be correctly exposed, black is black, even in low light a camcorder will try to make black look charcoal, accept that it is supposed to be black and concetrate on making the lit area look ok.

    Accept that a camcorder sees differently from the human eye (the human eye has a contrast ratio -i.e it can resolve detail within a brightness ratio of 1000:1, even the best camcorders offer only around 40:1)


    *zoom lenses (especailly the cheaper ones found on domestic camcorders) loose light as the focal length increases, usually by around 2 stops (i.e dropping from f1.4 to f2.8) so there is a quarter of the light reaching the ccd at 10x zoom than at 1x zoom.

    (for some reason the panasonic dx100/ez30/35 never suffered from f-drop, meaning a massive entrance pupil, sustained through the zoom, anyway it was unusual for a camcorder at this level not to suffer f-drop).

    I flighting is out of the question what about a silver faced reflector?.
     
  4. PeterL

    PeterL
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    Roy,

    Thank you very much for your comprehensive and very helpful explanation of how all of this works. I will give the suggestion you gave a whirl with my Sony D8 TRV120.

    The cheapest price I could find on the Panasonic GS400 is a little above £1000, so it's very much at the top end of the budget.

    However, at least I know a little more about what's what now, so I can take more of a look around.

    Thanks again. I really appreciate it. :thumbsup:

    P.S. Your list of camcorders and other equipment is very full. What is it you do with all of these?
     
  5. Roy Mallard

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    I've got a few engagements : eng, freelancer, corporate, community project media tuition, stills photographer & I also occasionally work as a buyer for an electronics chain.

    The kit that gets used depends on the client and how much they are paying, I also hire out the broadcast cams (the DSR-570, AJ700 & AJ400's) and the sqn to other freelancers.

    I've also had the pleasure or owning, running or using just about every prosumer and professional camera you could name from the last 15 years.

    You may be surprised to hear that used properly even low end consumer cameras can give near broadcast quality results.
     
  6. PeterL

    PeterL
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    Very interesting stuff Roy. I'm surprised you have the time to do all of those different jobs.

    I bought a copy of Camcorder User magazine to get a feel of what's available. This month they have a review of the Sony DCR-HC1000 which they rate very highly. It is available online for around £950. I would imagine this would meet the sort of requirements I outlined. Do you have a view?

    Although its lens has the same maximum aperature (f1.6) as my D8, it has a lot of manual features including shutter speed. Am I right in thinking that this therefore gives more scope to capture the necessary light when the aperture is at its maximum, therefore reducing the introduction of the camera amplifying the signal?

    On my D8 there is no manual shutter speed control, so I don't know what the default shutter speed is and how the camcorder marries the relationship between that and the aperture.

    Sorry for more questions but any explanation on this or a link somewhere would help me to get my head around it.
     
  7. Roy Mallard

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    Shutter can be locked off manually.

    Go into menu>cam>auto shutter, select off.

    This sets the shutter to the default of 1/50th sec, which is probably the best setting for most applications.

    If you set a slower shutter (say 1/25th or 1/12th) although you catch more light the fluidity of motion is severely affected.

    If you want to try this the trv120 has a slow shutter mode under 'digital effects' and can be applied to varying degrees.

    If you set above 1/50th you lose light and after a point the picture may appear to strobe. Faster shutters are only really used where the aperture cannot be closed any farther, or where there is a fast moving subject.

    I havent handled the HC1000 yet, it's predecessor, the TRV950 did not have an independant gain control (picture amplification). It was tied to the aperture, and even then the camera didn'nt give the user any information on either.

    In auto mode the camera will follow what is called the reciprocal law.

    The camera will establish what it thinks is an appropriate exposure value and will juggle the aperture and shutter so as to achieve this exposure value.

    Any increase in shutter speed (lets in less light) would require a corresponding decrease in the f-number (lets in more light) so as not to affect the exposure.

    These decreases and increases are comonly referred to as stops, just to confuse you further, an INCREASE in shutter speed (say from 1/50th to 1/100th) would be called STOPPING DOWN, a DECREASE in the F-NUMBER (from say f.2.8 to f2) would be called STOPPING UP.

    In manual mode you have control over both so can set the exposure value at whatever you want, this is often preferable as many cameras cannot automatically distinguish between what is actually a dark subject and under-exposure, or what is a very bright subject and over-exposure.

    If the camera has to STOP UP and the apeture is already wide open, then it is often preferable to start applying gain rather than decreasing the shutter speed (& affecting motion).

    Gain can be applied in steps, remember I mentioned the 7 clicks from maximum exposure on the trv120, well each click back towards '+' is an increase of 3db gain (it goes 0db, 3db, 6db, 9db, 12db, 15db and 18db), 3 or 6db usually looks okay on a big screen, 9db & 12db is getting a bit 'noisy' or grainy, 15db and 18db are horrendous.

    Yep sometimes there arent enough hours in the day, other times I have to make do with trisha. The joys of self-employment.
     
  8. whatdoiknow

    whatdoiknow
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  9. Roy Mallard

    Roy Mallard
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    do you mean the DV enabler or the Sony servicing control unit?.
     
  10. whatdoiknow

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    Roy,

    The DV in enabler, I have the aforementioned 120 D8 and mine is DV in enabled, had it for nearly 3 years now. Mainly use it as a portable DV recorder. The manual white balance settings, indoor/outdoor and one other I think are accessable by the menu but I very rarely use it, it is always set to outdoor.

    Regards,

    Martin
     
  11. PeterL

    PeterL
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    Roy,

    Thanks again for your really excellent explanation. I think if ever there was a mine of information on camcorders you must be it. :)

    I had seen the auto shutter setting on my TRV120, but having looked for an explanation in the Sony manual it left me no clearer.

    The default setting is on and it says the following about on and off.
    • ON: To automatically activate the electronic shutter when shooting in bright conditions
    • OFF: To not automatically activate the electronic shutter even when shooting in bright conditions
    And that is all you get. Not another mention as far as I can see.

    With regard to this reciprocal law when in automatic mode, I would have thought that if the camera is already at full aperture and there isn't enough light, it would continue to reduce the shutter speed until you get to the correct exposure or until motion starts to blur (whichever is first). However, what you have said seems to imply otherwise.

    I have tried the Digital shutter effects before and on mode 1 (which according to the manual is 1/25th) the colour of the image is much better. However, the subject (if a person) only has to move an arm quickly and you see blurring. The other slower settings seem unusable unless you have a near still subject.

    However, I guess with a fixed shutter setting of 1/50th (with the auto shutter set off) it might just be OK. And presumably with that setting, the only choice you have if the subject indoors is still too dark is to gradually introduce gain?

    On the flip side, if in good light (such as outdoors) you have to have the auto shutter switched on or is the aperture still controlled automatically to give you what the camera thinks is the correct exposure?

    By the way, I DVin-enabled my TRV120 and I notice that when I use the exposure gain button it actually shows me the db gain values in the viewer, but thanks for your guide on that anyway.

    Finally, going back to the Sony manual, it does seem pretty sparse on information. I find the entry on Audio Mode to also be confusing. It is listed as follows:
    • 12BIT: To record or play back in the 12-bit mode (two stereo sounds)
    • 16BIT: To record or play back in the 12-bit mode (the one stereo sound with high quality)
    12-bit is the default mode, but the inclination is to set the camera to 16-bit. After all, it would seem logical that 16 bits are better than 12. However, reading and re-reading this, I think that 12-bit seems to be the better option. I assume from what limited information they give is that 16-bit is recorded in stereo but is downmixed to one channel. Is that right? Is 12-bit better?

    Another thing on 16:9 mode. The manual implies it is true widescreen (at least that's what seems to be the in-vogue term) or anamorphic and certainly if I try a test shoot in 16:9 the output is squashed on a 4:3 TV, but is it using all of the pixels and therefore getting full quality or is it just introducing black bars top and bottom and giving the impression of 16:9? Reading quite a bit on this for other camcorders it seems unlikely that my 4 year old TRV120 does have the genuine article as it seems that only newer cameras have it included, but I'm not sure.

    I find the manual very lightweight (or maybe I'm the lightweight one :rolleyes: ) but I'm not aware that they have published anything better. Which is why I am so grateful to you Roy for your in-depth knowledge.

    One last thing, I found another site last night that has quite a few camcorder reviews. It is called www.camcorderinfo.com. Some reviews seem quite sketchy, but some helpfully include shots of test cards taken at various lux levels so you can see how well certain models perform in low light conditions. (One Canon model which I cannot remember now seemed to perform particularly well even down to about 15 lux).

    Thanks again for your brilliant help Roy.
     
  12. Roy Mallard

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    If you lock off the shutter (AUTO OFF) but keep the exposure on auto then the exposure is controlled using aperture and gain.

    The only problem here is in bright conditions when the iris may not have enough to stop down to (it should be F16 on your camera, sometimes not dark enough in ectreme light) semi-pro cameras have Nuetral Density filters built in, referred to ND for short. These further restrict the amount of light reaching the sensor and so can be used as alternative to a small aperture (big f number) or increased shutter speed.

    You can buy screw in ND filters for about a tenner a throw, altough a polariser will have a similar effect on exposure as well as some optional creative effects, for about £20 (if you use auto focus buy circular, if you use manual focus buy the cheaper linear).

    The shutter will never fire at less than 1/50th of a second in auto, unless you select the effect we spoke about.

    Use 16 bit sound, it's a higher sampling rate (above that of compact discs, so it is higher fidelity) 12 bit uses a slower sampling rate (akin to the nicam video system) and whilst I dont think you'd be able to tell the difference it's best practise to record at the highest quality you can.

    12 bit would be useful for adding a voice over or music as a second audio track on the camera, but you should really be doing all that kind of stuff when you edit for greater control.

    16:9 mode is not full resolution on the D8 cameras, however it gives you results above Hi8 or SVHS, and probably nearer to the quality of your DVD player.

    If you have a widescreen telly and you are only ever going to play it back on that I would use the 16:9 mode, if you are doing stuff for other folk I would shoot 4:3, allow about a 1/6th of the top and bottom of the picture as cut-off and then add a 16:9 mask at the edit stage.

    This gives you a full screen 16:9 at Hi8/SVHS quality, or 4:3 letterbox at the capacity of the camera, most widescreen tellys will auto detect the bars and adjust the picture to suit.

    I didn't know about the on screen exposure settings on dv-enabled sonys, or about the white balance control (usually confined to DV as opposed to D8, even on contemporaneus DV-in D8 models) so thats interesting.

    On playback of your footage if you press 'data code' twice, the LCD will show you all your technical settings (shutter, white balance, aperture, gain) so it lets you compare the defaults and how auto responds.

    Its really useful if you are starting out and want to know more about what the different technical settings do e.g record at different focal lengths with different apertures and see how it affects how much of your shot is in focus, use your findings for creative effect..
     
  13. PeterL

    PeterL
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    Roy, many thanks for your feedback again. Apologies for the delay in responding - it has been a busy few days.

    I think your suggestion to lock off the shutter but keep the exposure on auto is a good one. I tried it over the weekend and in low light it does seem to give a bit more control.

    I have also experimented with the exposure control wheel. With the aperture and gain settings displayed on mine it is really helpful. When rolling back from 0db each click takes you through the following settings: f1.6, 2, 2.4, 2.8, 3.4, 4, 4.8, 5.6, 6.8, 8, 9.6, 11, 14, 16, 19, 22, 28. From my knowledge of cameras this looks like each click is a half stop (although 14 should be 13.5 maybe?). Quite a degree of control anyway. After 28 it says "Close" (I presume it means the iris is closed) which I cannot think of a use for - odd!

    I'll keep an eye out for neutral density filters, although, I guess in conditions too bright for even f28, it might be easier just to switch the shutter control back on.

    Re: the audio bit settings, it's puzzling to me that Sony choose to make 12-bit the default setting when 16-bit is as you say better. I don't understand their logic in doing that.

    On the 16:9 and 4:3 modes I would prefer to shoot 16:9 as it gives what I think are more interesting options for composing the picture. Plus, we now have a 16:9 TV, so it is better for that too. The problem is I have around 15 tapes full shot in 4:3 mode and as they haven't been shot with a 16:9 frame in mind I would think that quite a lot of the footage would be unusable. Better maybe if mixing 4:3 and 16:9 footage to edit in 16:9 and put black bars down the sides of the 4:3 shots. What do you think? The only thing is I don't think my Studio 9 software will let me use footage from both ratios in the same edit.

    I have had more of a scour through the menu's on my TRV120 now and in addition to being DV-in enabled, having a degree of white balance control (Auto, Outdoor, Indoor and Hold) and displaying the exposure and gain values, the software I used to enable DV-in introduced some other features hidden away in the camera. I also have:

    Frame Recording: (Off/On)
    Interval Recording: (Off/On/Set...)
    Interval: (30sec, 1min, 5min, 10min)
    Record Time: (0.5sec, 1sec, 1.5sec, 2sec)​
    Zebra (which I understand is for showing over-exposure in bright conditions)
    Colour Bar

    I guess these must be features Sony included on their full range of D8 cameras at the time, but used the same chip in all and locked out features not available in the lower models (like mine).

    As you say, despite the sparse information in Sony's manual, the best way to get to grips with the different features is to experiment. The option to see the technical settings using the data code option is very useful. Having said that though, your help has been invaluable, so thank you again very much.

    By and large I am pretty happy with my TRV120 and it is only the issue regarding low light recording that concerns me about the camera. With the tips you have given then maybe it's still got some years of use yet before I upgrade, even if compared to some of the latest cameras it's not that "sexy".

    Still, I think I'm past all that now! :clown:
     
  14. Roy Mallard

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    Zebra is kind of an exposure indicator, but it isn't as simple as all that, zebra shows when the brightest part of a signal exceeds a certain level, it's more for broadcast cameras where a signal above 0.7v could damage transmission equipment.

    Two things to bear in mind with zebra:

    a) it will kick in at around 90% of peak so there is a bit of headroom.

    b) the system doesn't know when something is supposed to be bright, i.e if you were recording a room in candle light, the zebra would show up over the flame, but stopping down to remove the zebra pattern would darken everything else, so fdon't always take it as gospel.

    It's usally ok to have zebra just appearing over the highlights of a shot, its fine as a guide, and in manual the camera wont do anything about it, some folk love it (I'm in that camp) others hate it.

    On pro cameras you can set the level at where zebra kicks in (usually from 70% of peak upwards) and you can use a video attenuator called a knee circuit on the areas approaching peak white.

    One great thing with your cam is the b&w viewfinder, if you are exposing manually and focusing manually you will probably find this gives you a greater idea of contrast and sharpness than the colour LCD. Colour EVFs are one of these things that consumers insist on but rrarely use, it's extremely rare to find a colour EVF on a professional camera.
     
  15. PeterL

    PeterL
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    I've never really used the Zebra option, but perhaps I will more with the auto shutter set to off. I will bear in mind what you say about headroom and the like.

    I definitely agree with you about having a B&W viewfinder. Apart from for reviewing footage and occasional shots where it is impossible to the viewfinder, I rarely also use the colour LCD screen. I find it is much easier to hold the camera still and concentrate on what I am shooting, yet it seems looking at other users that I am often in the minority.

    Thanks again for all the help you have given me Roy. It is very much appreciated.
     

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