My Cameras: From Least Liked to Favorite

Who doesn't like a bit of nostalgia? I was looking through my older work (which I will be posting some of soon) and I started to think about the cameras and tools I used to capture that work, and the relationship between the two. I've owned six cameras in the fifteen years I've been making films. Some have been extremely limited in their capability, while others have had everything one could ask for (at the time of course). Let's take a look back as I rank these cameras in order of least liked to favorite.

1. Sony Video 8 Handycam CCD-TRV29 - The Worst of the Worst

How's that for a ridiculous name. This was my first camera, a Hi-8 piece of crap, worthy of the nickname, Piece of Crap. If memory serves correct I got it in 1997 and began shooting and editing in camera, because at the time, there really was no other choice. It's possible I had some of the hi-8 tapes transferred to 3/4' Umatic to edit deck to deck at school. I know I shot some truly awful Reservoir Dogs rip-off movies with this thing. It did however, provide the means for my first paying gig... an in-store concert at Sam Goody's (or some store like Sam Goody's) for a college band called Daughter Judy. This thing paved the way for the future, but the image and sound are horrendous.

2. Canon 7D - Why Isn't This Higher on the List?

So you're probably wondering how the Canon 7D, a pretty sweet camera, could be so low on this list. I mean, if you couldn't afford the magical Canon 5D Mark II, than this was the camera you bought. And I did. I bought it with a stock lens and also snatched me a $100 EF 50mm f1.2 and I started shooting like a mofo. Short narrative pieces first, then commercials, then Black Hat, the film I made for $2000 and sold for $100,000 to Amazon Studios. It eventually became the camera I used to shoot the beginning of my documentary, In The Shadows of the Backstretch. Alas, the poor 7D had some issues, namely it wasn't made with audio in mind. After I tired of recording audio to a Zoom H4n and syncing in post, I bought a Canon 5D Mark III. The 7D still finds use as my day to day stills camera, but of all my cameras, it probably saw the least amount of use.

3. Canon XL-1 - The Game Changer

This changed the game. You may be too young to remember, but this camera was the first "affordable" prosumer 3-CCD camcorder. It had a 16x optical zoom lens. Interchangeable lens. 16:9 movie mode and it took stills. It had an EVF and a mounted mic, and for even more money than I could afford there was an optional shoulder pad with XLR inputs. I bought 6-pack after 6-pack of Mini-DV tapes and shot my ass off. I made crap with this camera. Complete crap. Like this:

4. Panasonic Lumix GH4 - The Unknown Quantity

I've owned the GH4 since the last week of December '14 and to this point I'm fairly happy with it. It shoots 4K, has amazing battery life, shoots up to 96fps which it conforms in camera, and I do enjoy shooting mirror-less. It's also cheaper than all the other cameras I've owned with the exception of the Piece of Crap. On the other hand, it's low light capabilities do not match my Canon 5D and I've exhausted myself trying to find a picture profile I like (I hope that I didn't sound too much like the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey just now). 

5. Panasonic AG-DVX100B - The All-In-One

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Perhaps the biggest reason I decided my current camera was going to be a Panasonic GH4 and not a Sony A7S was my experience with my previous Panasonic camera. This beefed up version of the DVX100A was everything you could ask for at the time, namely, the option to shoot 24p. Finally, getting closer to that filmic look. It had an EVF and flip out screen, plus two XLR inputs. I shot my first feature film, Here's to Revenge, with this camera, and my second feature film, Smoking with Abe Lincoln. I put this camera through it's paces and spent a small fortune on Mini-DV tapes. If DLSR's hadn't rolled around, I'd still be happy shooting with this bad boy.

Some of my Mini-DV tapes

Some of my Mini-DV tapes

6. CANON 5D Mark III

The camera you just had to have. Everything the 5D Mark II had plus more. Finally, you could shoot stuff that looked cinematic with a full frame sensor and superior low light. I had a love/hate relationship with this camera. I hated rigging it up each time I used it, but I knew it so well. This camera allowed me to get the shot I wanted, no matter the situation, no matter the lighting. I paired it with an EF 24-70mm f2.8 and an EF 70-200mm f2.8 and shot an enormous amount of content. To date, I've used this camera to capture more hours of footage than all the other cameras combined. More than 70 commercials, several short films, over 90 small business videos, and two documentaries including 45+ hours of In The Shadows of the Backstretch. This camera still comes with me on every shoot as my back up to the GH4 or B cam.

Conclusion

So what's your least liked or most favorite camera? Tell me your story, and thanks for listening to mine.