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Making the switch to a pocket sized point & shoot camera.

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For a bit over a year now I’ve been shooting videos on pocket sized cameras. Well, a lot longer than that actually if you take into account the timelapse videos I shot on a few of my older Ricoh cameras. For video only though I started with Canon’s SX200 around September 2009. It was alright, but I found it to be a bit bulky to carry around in my pocket. Getting macro shots was difficult on that camera too. Where it did excel though, was with its 12x zoom. That said, a tripod was required for tele shots.

A bit over a year ago I sold that camera and bought a smaller Canon Ixy 510, also known as the SD960 in the US and the Ixus 110 here in Australia. Mine is the Japanese version I bought cheap online. It was shipped to me directly from Maylasia. I believe many people refer to this as being the ‘grey market’. I’m not fussed though, as the stores are still here in Australia and still offer a one year warranty.

Shooting music videos on these point and shoot pocket sized digital cameras

During my time with the Ixy 510, I shot quite a few videos with it, including 4 music videos. The first was just a test to see if it was possible to shoot a music video with that camera and make it look good. That first video was shot with the camera on full auto exposure. At the time I had yet to figure out how to lock the exposure on the camera, and had forgotten to set the colours to flat. The camera shoots at 30p, so before shooting I would time compress the music 0.8333x so that I could then slow it down later to 25fps. That actually worked out quite nicely, as that speed reduction had the added benefit of smoothing out any fast movement in the video.

Of course most of my other videos were all shot using my Canon HV20 and SG Pro 35mm adapter. It gave me that full frame shallow depth of field. I was a big fan of that look. Being able to separate people from the background, the nice looking bokeh. I could even shoot slow motion by having the camera shoot at 50i. But then I would sometimes compare videos shot on the HV20 and SG Pro combination with those I’d shot on the Ixy 510.

Even without the shallow depth of field full frame look, the Ixy 510 videos still had a certain look that really appealled to me. Maybe it was extra crispness, or the colour perhaps? One thing was for sure, I never had to worry about nailing the focus when shooting with that camera. Plus, small cameras are so much easier to shoot with as far as holding them steady. I was watching a Steadicam Merlin video yesterday that someone had shot using a Panasonic GH2, and I can honestly say it didn’t look as smooth as a lot of hand held footage I’ve shot on these pocket sized point and shoot cameras.

The next step up in quality, the Canon S95

Moving on, late last year I bought myself a Canon S95. I looked it at it as being the next step up from my Ixy 510. It had a faster f2.0 lens, a larger sensor, simpler adjustment of exposure locking, and could shoot at 24p. Still not ideal in a 25p PAL country, but I prefer my work to appear online for the most part, so that’s not an issue. And also, the specs of the camera when taking photos  at 28mm wide are pretty much identical to my old Ricoh GR Digital, which sadly died on Christmas Eve 2007. The GRD did have better macro capability though, 1cm vs 5cm on the S95. Of course I could always mount a lens adapter on my S95 and use almacro filters on that. But just having a camera again with GRD like specs that can shoot video at 24p has made this S95 so much more worthwhile to be using.

Getting back to the comparison with my old HV20 and SG Pro. Of course the Canon S95 can’t compete with that if you’re after shallow depth of field. Even with a slightly larger sensor, to my eyes it’s still very similar to the Ixy 510. But to be honest, I’m starting to question whether or not I even need that shallow deth of field as much anymore? Even more so now that nearly everyone has some kind of DSLR that shoots video. Just look on YouTube or Vimeo and you’ll see thousands of videos with shallow depth of field by people who have no idea what they’re doing! A large percentage of them with rolling shutter artifacts too. Consumers or hobbyists for the most part.

Following a different path

Back in 2006, I remember going for a drive to Canberra with my wife. On the way there we stopped at a photography store and I bought a memory card there. On the way out I picked up this free photograhy magazine. In that magazine there was an article about a professional photographer who was using a Ricoh GR Digital. Previously she had used the older film version of the GR. She used those cameras exclusively, and had won awards for her landscape photography. This was the first time I’d heard of these cameras by Ricoh. With a fixed high quality 28mm lens, the GR Digital was clearly a photographers camera, but small enough to fit in a pocket. Of course I bought one, as you would have read above.

At the time it wasn’t cheap, especially for a compact camera. I paid $800 for mine. Of course I could have bought a DSLR for slightly more. So the GRD was a very much a niche camera. To be honest, what really inspired me to buy it, was seeing the photos people were taking with the camera on Flickr. Think about it, a fixed 28mm wide angle lens, no zoom, and no shallow depth (unless shooting macro). But I took a lot of great photos with it (the best of which are probably the most recent towards the bottom of the page), and feel that I really got the most. I even shot over 4 minutes worth of timelapse footage in New York back in 2006 using that camera.

Since buying the Canon S95 last year, I’ve had that same feeling I’ve not felt since the time I had with my Ricoh GRD before it died (the lens locked up and was too expensive to fix). I rarely leave home without it in my pocket. A lot of the time I will leave my phone at home and just take the S95! I used to do this with my GRD too. It would always be in my pocket wherever I went, but the phone, yeah, that would get left at home.

As my sole video video camera that I use exclusively?

That’s the question I’m asking myself right now. Yes, I’ve already decided to solely use this camera for my experimental feature length film. More of an experiment really. But for everything else including music videos too? Of course I was already shooting music videos on the Ixy 510, although at the same time I was still shooting a few more on the HV20 & SG Pro. But since completing NJE’s ‘Fall Back‘ video last week, I’ve been impressed with how nice it turned out. His previous video ‘Black Out‘ I shot on the HV20 & SG Pro. I was happy with that too, especially all the shallow depth of field shots. But to be honest I much prefer the new one I shot on the S95!

As a result, I think I’ve proven to myself I can get great results from these small point and shoot cameras, and that I don’t need shallow depth of field. When I first started using the SG Pro on my older Sony HC1 and later the HV20, I was confident about getting a look that not too many other people had at the time, unless they were also using a 35mm adapter and knew how to get the best results from it (which most didn’t), or they were shooting real 35mm film. Everyone else was either using a small camcorder on its own, or more professional cameras.

But now with everyone using DSLR’s for video as I mentioned earlier, I really feel the need to stand out from the crowd once again! And I honestly believe the S95 is a camera that will allow me to do that. Here’s what I like the most about the S95 and even my previous Ixy 510 (which now belongs to my wife), and SX200. They use CCD sensors. For me personally, I see 4 big advantages. Firstly of course is that there’s no rolling shutter skew, ever! I was even watching some Panasonic GH2 footage yesterday, a camera a lot of peole are excited about, and saw quite a few shots with rolling shutter skew issues. Secondly, I plan on match moving a number of 3d shots later this year, a task that will be a lot easier without any skew. Thirdly, camera flashes that only fill a fraction of a frame when shooting video are annoying! And lastly, I prefer the look too. There’s just something about the look you get from CCD sensors used for video that appeals to me.

The Canon S95 is only 720p

To be honest, this is no longer something that concerns me. I’m not that fussed by the extra detail. If I want to output at 1080p, I have a Boris BCC7 plugin in Sony Vegas that will let me upres my footage to 1080p and smooth out the pixels. I’ve tried it, and it works nicely. Rather than worrying too much about resolution, people should concentrate more on thier shooting skills, and getting professional looking end results from whatever they shoot. The true resolution of Canon DSLR’s is probably below 720p anyway. I should also add, Canon have a new range of pocket sized point and shoot cameras that do shoot 1080p. Unfortunately as excpected, they use CMOS sensors, and as a result suffer from that dreaded rolling shutter.

So that’s the plan

From now on I will be concentrating on shooting everything on the S95. Photos included. Some of the shots I took yesterday for a video I’m now working on came out better than expected. This really is a great camera. If I do feel the need for some shallow depth of field in my videos, I’ll just grab a few macro shots as I’ve been doing. Will I buy another pocket sized point a shoot camera? Right now, the only one I would buy is a second back up  S95 🙂 A DSLR? If Nikon release a D800 that I can use my Nikon lenses on, that would be nice. Although a camera like that won’t fit in my pocket, so at the end of the day, the S95 will most likely still get the most use.

Got any comments, or anything to add? Then let me know.

9 Responses to Making the switch to a pocket sized point & shoot camera.

  • >Of course the Canon S95 can’t compete with that if you’re after shallow depth of field.

    As long as you’re not shooting in confided spaces, always zoom all the way in, and then record. This is how I got a very nice look for my two music videos with the SX200 IS and SD780 IS. With the S95 it will look really good as long as you’re close at 1/50th, so the aperture forces open.

    >The true resolution of Canon DSLR’s is probably below 720p anyway.

    It’s actually close to 1600×900, or so. It was measured by some people on dvinfo.net.

    BTW, when you’re shooting with the S95 outdoors, use 1-2 ND filters in different strengths (0.9 and 0.6 I’d recommend). Go to P mode, and add the right filter strength to achieve 1/50th shutter speed (half-press the shutter to get an indication of your shutter speed in the scene). Then switch to video, and record. It will make your film look “proper” in terms of shutter, and it will force your aperture to open wide, so you get some nice background blur.

    A filter tube for the S95 costs about $20 and the ND filters about $15 each I believe.

    • Yes, zooming in can work. Although I prefer to set the camera to macro, which will work for faces and most close ups. I can usually get decent results that way. Zooming in usually also means having to use a tripod, which I rarely have the patience for.

      There’s another comparison here. There are a number of pages in that article, but you can clearly see how superior the GH2’s resolution is compared to the 60D.

      Yes, I’ve seen seen you mention using the ND filters before. I just haven’t got around to buying that filter holder yet. Although I’m not specifically trying to emulate the film look. High shutter speeds can work well. Just look at any of Charlie McCarthy’s videos! 🙂

      • >use a tripod, which I rarely have the patience for.

        I will be honest with you. I won’t be watching a full featured film that was shot handheld. Not with a digicam that doesn’t have true IS (in video mode, Canons use Dynamic IS only).

        >High shutter speeds can work well.

        Only for action scenes. Everything else will look choppy because of the high shutter speed.

        >Just look at any of Charlie McCarthy’s videos! 🙂

        These are different kinds of videos, often slow-mo’ed to 24p. This won’t work as well for a movie with dialog. IMHO, an ND filter and estimation of shutter speed for every scene is warranted for a movie.

      • Yes, I know it’s not a proper IS and there might be some resolution loss, but I’ve always used it and have never had a problem. At least I’ve never noticed any detail loss. Nothing my eye can spot anyway. If I crop a shot in Vegas a very tiny notch, I can see the loss, but not with these cameras. As far as doing the job it was designed for, it’s definitely a far better IS than most of the older DV cameras, even some of those with OIS. And any loss whatsoever is also much preferable to the rainbow moire people shoot on their DSLR cameras. I saw some pulsating moire in a VW car commercial on a website the other day, and it seriously took the focus away from the actor! And by the way, the IS was turned off on the S95 for NJE’s video.

        With tripods I can’t always get the shot I’m after. If I need to tilt the camera sideways, it’s not possible with my tripod (an old Velbon). That’s why I usually just give up and shoot handheld instead. No fast moves normally, so nothing to upset the camera.

        My movie won’t have any dialog. It will be very abstract 🙂 And so far most of the shots I have were taken on a tripod with my Bescor motorised pan tilt, and IS off.

      • >it’s not possible with my tripod

        That’s why I’m using a shoulder bracket usually. More steady than handheld, easier on my arms too, and just $50.

      • When not using a tripod, I’m using this one btw. It costs $60 now, but when I bought it 2 years ago, it cost $45. Funny that its price went up.

      • I’m not sure you would need that with these little digicams. They’re very steady just on their own, and at 28mm wide, you can get some really smooth moves that just wouldn’t be as simple to pull off on any other camera, or even a steadicam. I’ll make a video sometime explaining it.

  • Great article! What batteries do you use? I have the Canon SX200 for video interviews and such. I wanted to buy extra batteries.

    In your experience, is it worth buying the generic batteries or the Canon brand??

    • Hi Jaime, good question! So far I’m still making do with the standard battery that comes with it. It’s died a few times, but usually my 8gb SD card is full by the time that happens. I’ve seen a few batteries on eBay really cheap, but I don’t know if they’re safe to use. Roughly $5 for the generic brand vs $50 or more for the Canon. So my guess is probably as good as yours. I’ll need to look into that.

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About Avene
Sydney based artist specialising in creating music videos, cinematography, music production & beat making, digital art, sound design & photography.