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High-End "Consumer" DV Cameras
Get a Pro Job Done in India & Bangladesh

by Jon Leland
Originally published in Videography Magazine, May 1997
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Leland interviews The Hunger Project's
Viji Srinivasan, organizer of women's groups
who are ending their own hunger
through sharecropping and fish farming.


CBS's headline-grabbing NAB announcement of their commitment to the Panasonic DVCPro format for news underscores the viability of DV tape in general as the emerging "acquisition formation of the future." At the same time, it seems undeniable that the array of new DV products from co-called high-end consumer cameras to FireWire and serial digital-compatible post production systems are redefining the digital video production landscape.

My first hand experience with DV has now extended to a second on-the-road assignment for The Hunger Project (for my first report, please see "On the Road in Africa with Pro DV", Videography, September, 1996) as I travelled to India and Bangladesh for two weeks in late March and early April. This time I carried two DV cameras, the Sharp VL-D5000U, known as the Digital Viewcam and the Sony DCR-VX-1000, known as the Digital Handycam.

../../html/promedia/viewfinder/SonyAs I attempted to track the developments with this new low-cost, high-quality format by checking on the latest variety of DV camcorders, the pre-production irony was that the lines between professional and consumer equipment has become blurred, especially because of Sony's attempts to label of its DV cameras as "consumer." Sony now calls the VX-1000 a "personal video" (or consumer) camera as oppossed to its line of "professional video" DVCam cameras which start with the one-chip DSC-PD1 camcorder at about $2500 list and which are marketed and sold through different channels.

What's Pro Gear?
In a way, the equipment manufacturers have become "innovation challenged." Not only has the DV format been accepted as an alternative, if not a downright competitor to BetacamSP equipment costing ten times as much, but it's small format convenience and the higher-end features of the larger Panasonic DVCPro and Sony DVCam lines are redefining the camera marketplace with at least two new catagories of professional cameras (if you don't count the additional formats such as 4:2:2 formatted DV offerred by DVCPro-50).

../../html/promedia/viewfinder/The%20Hunger%20ProjectFor me, for the kind of overseas, on-location videography that I needed to produce almost single-handedly for The Hunger Project, first in West Africa and now, in India and Bangladesh, DV has been a God-send. Granted, if the budget had been available for a Director of Photography and a dedicated sound person, not to mention a talented gaffer, and more equipment, I would have been delighted. Also, if the client had not wanted an unintrusive camera that could appear to be consumer-like, I could have saved post-production hassles by using DVCPro or DVCam equipment. But, under the circumstances, I was thrilled to have equipment that could get the job done so well. More importantly, for the sake of getting some perspective on the ways that this new format is shaking up the industry, manufacturers are attempting to categorize these DV camcorders as something less than professional.

Who can blame them? They're used to selling cameras for $40,000.

It reminds me of the early days of desktop video when I was doing a presentation at one of the trade shows and attempting to categorize the levels of desktop video equipment from consumer through pro-sumer to professional. One producer, who I believe was a wedding videographer, stood up and questioned the "pro-sumer" category. His point was that equipment is either professional or it's not. He said the pro-sumer, in-between category, was a misnomer. He said if you earn your living with this equipment, it's professional. I think he's right. It's really that simple. So I was taken aback when I began researching my options for cameras for the India / Bangladesh shoot and discovered that at least some of the manufacturers categorize cameras like the Sony VX-1000 that I used on my professional assignment as "consumer" equipment.

John Coonrod,
Director of Communications for The Hunger Project,
doubles as sound assistant, using the
Bogen G555 microphone pole.


Putting aside for the moment the confusion that's created by trying to lump together cameras that costs more than $4,000 in the same category with the low budget (less than $1,000) truly consumer stuff, I think the fact is that DV (even the one-chip cameras) actually represent is a new category of professional equipment. There are far too many professionals using 3-chip DV cameras like the Sharp D-5000U, the Sony VX-1000 and the Panasonic AG-1 to earn at least part of their livelihood for anyone to pretend that these are not professional cameras (albeit with the limitations mentioned below). Let's face facts, there are certainly professional applications that benefit enormously from the convenience of this small-sized equipment.

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Jon welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at [email protected]



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