Tech Know Special - Cameras

What’s hot on the camera market
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Clash asked acclaimed director Orlando Cubitt to document Roots Manuva’s iPad experience with a video shot at Air Studios. The twist was that rather than allow Orlando the professional cameras he deploys for directing videos of artists such as Armand Van Helden or Funeral For A Friend, Clash gave him a stills camera. In fairness, the Olympus PEN E-P3 (£799, Olympus.co.uk) is a hot camera that can capture some smoking footage, but the aim was to quickly concoct a decent video with the kind of consumer camera rapidly killing off the camcorder as the weapon of choice for moving images.

Blessed with the stunning backdrop of Air Studio’s Lyndhurst Hall, the vast centrepiece of this former church, his challenge was to grab footage of Roots at work and remain unobtrusive. When handed the Olympus upon his arrival, Orlando seemed pleased. “It’s a great little camera,” he beamed. “The case is solid. The lens mount is compatible with other cameras too, so I could use the zoom lens it came with or throw my old lenses on with a simple adaptor. As these are primarily stills-cameras, they are more portable, so you can shoot discreetly,” adds Orlando.

No problem in a location bathed in natural light, such as Lyndhurst Hall, but what about once Roots moved into the mixing room where the lighting was far more sepulchral? “The Olympus stood up pretty well,” says our auteur. “Some of the footage is a little noisy but overall I’d say it is good considering that the lighting was so subdued and a mixture of natural and artificial sources.” Coping with iffy light is another benefit of shooting with an SLR or even a halfway-house model, such as the Olympus Pen. The sensor is larger than a camcorder, which enables them to drink in the available light. “For me, it’s all about the lenses and having a good eye,” says Orlando. “I noticed, for instance, in the mixing room that the iPad was casting a nice light on Roots’ face and so made use of that.”

It wasn’t all sweetness and light, though, as Brother Cubitt testifies. “Yes the Olympus Pen (and most SLRs) are lighter and smaller than a proper video-camera but they are not shaped for handholding while shooting and so the results can be shakier. To get a really good result you are endlessly putting various aftermarket handheld-kits onto them.” Few Clash readers will want to invest in a camera-stabilisation rig but a cheap tripod can help combat camera-shake. Less easily tackled is the issue of sound quality. “Audio seems to have been forgotten on most cameras, as so few have a socket to connect a proper microphone.”

In the end, though, he is pleased “that more people are using cameras to shoot video, if only to learn how to tell stories with pictures and not words.” And you don’t need fancy kit to get going. “You can easily wing it with a phone,” he laughs. Orlando uses cheap iPhone apps such as 8mm to shoot nostalgic clips of a good weekend, Splice to edit these, and WhatsApp to share them or, better still, Vimeo as it looks more professional. Any final tips? “Yes, keep telling stories, people, and forget all those cute kittens or out-of-focus flowers.”

Watch Orlando's film of Roots Manuva HERE.

The Pick of the Bunch

Olympus PEN E-PM1 - £399 Olympus.co.uk

The Olympus Pens squeeze a huge sensor and switchable lenses into slinky camera bodies more akin to compacts. Clash used the top-end PEN for this feature but the entry-level E-PM1 model offers much of its performance if you can live without niceties such as a built-in flash.

Sony Alpha SLT-A65 - £879 Sony.co.uk

Sony has created an entirely new type of cameras that look like an conventional SLR but don’t have a mirror that flips out of the way as you release the shutter. This enables them to focus faster than a roadie can chop lines, which is excellent news when shooting videos. The SLT-A65 is a top-class example of this tech and a superb stills-camera. Hotter than Hades.

Panasonic HDC-SD900 - £635 Panasonic.co.uk

If you want a standalone camcorder, this Panasonic is a virtuoso performer for middle-of-the-road money. It strikes the ideal balance between manual controls that film buffs expect and giving novices an easy ride. It’s a slightly chunky money albeit that makes it easier to hold.

Canon EOS 5D MKII - £1500 Canon.co.uk

This awesome SLR has redefined people’s expectations of the calibre of video that can be shot with a camera and is used by many video professionals. The main snags are that it is tricky to keep steady without attaching to a proper rig - and an updated model is due soon.

Nikon CoolPix S6150 - £160 Nikon.co.uk

Nikon makes many great cameras but this sexy compact is seriously good value. It can take strong pictures or shoot HD video-clips in most everyday circumstances, rocks a 7x optical zoom, and yet it is 27mm thick and weighs in at a mere 172g. The ideal pocket rocket.

Canon EOS 1100D - £375 Canon.co.uk

Competition is fierce among entry-level SLRs, especially given all the new types of camera that are emerging. Even so, this Canon is a smart choice. The 1100D delivers great results without fuss - plus access to a vast range of Canon lenses - at an extremely tempting price.

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