There’s a tendency to assume one camera fits all, especially in schools, colleges and universities with tight budgets. But if you’re looking to update your cameras – or have finally freed up some budget for extras – it’s worth bearing in mind that film, media and journalism courses require you to produce wildly different content and need to learn equally different workflows in order to address the concerns and techniques they’ll encounter in the industry.
As Sony are one of the industry leaders across all these sectors, getting to grips with their cameras and workflow can be a real boost to students’ eventual employability, but the sheer number of cameras and peripherals to choose from can definitely seem a bit daunting. Here are a few things we recommend you bear in mind so that your students get as close to a professional experience as possible…
What kind of projects are students creating?
If you’re preparing students for work in the creative industries, it’s obviously important to get as close to real-world workflows as possible, and to create practical projects that use the techniques that are common to each industry.
Film students, for example, will want a large sensor camera so that they’re able to master shooting with a ‘filmic’ shallow depth of field, whereas if your course is geared more towards broadcast journalism or general media production, you’ll want a smaller sensor camera that allows for longer focus, so that students can practise reactive shooting as events unfold.
Distinctions like this will also impact your choice of lens – variable if your students’ goal is to create something attractive, fixed if you’re trying to shoot a news segment – and the kind of rigs, tripods and lights you need.
Studio v location shooting
If you’re teaching a film studies or production course, you’ll want students to be able to get out on location and take their kit with them. You’ll also need more cameras, as students are far more likely to be working in small groups or individually to complete projects. If you’re focusing on media and television production, on the other hand, you’re far more likely to need a dedicated room or studio where a large group of students can record, carry out chromakeying and man the gallery for a single group production.
In that case, you’ll need cameras that can be linked together in a traditional studio setup. And if you’re using something like NewTek TriCaster to mix or stream footage, that will in turn affect the kinds of inputs and outputs you need on your cameras.
The good news is that most cameras can be modified to fit into a setup like this, but it’s important to make sure you have compatible cameras so that there’s not a noticeable difference between footage from A and B cameras, and that you don’t have to waste valuable time juggling file types and media formats.
Are you keeping your kit to yourself?
The opportunities that media production creates for collaborative learning can be particularly useful for establishments who want to reach out to new communities, partner schools or feeder schools.
Examples we’ve seen work in the past include colleges and secondary schools using their studio spaces to live stream lessons to feeder schools; packing a compact streaming solution like NewTek TriCaster into a flight case and sending identical setups to partner schools, so they can set up a two-way live stream and carry out lessons simultaneously, and even schools with better broadcasting resources loaning space to those with less in order to make sure the kit is always in use.
In all of these situations, having a dedicated space for media work and basing your choice of camera around your streaming setup and infrastructure is a far better move than getting yourself cameras that look great but are difficult to network and integrate with the rest of your infrastructure. And of course if you’re going to be shuttling everything back and forth, you’ll want to go for as sturdy a camera as possible – no-one likes an unexpected repair bill.
What will you be doing with the footage after it’s shot (and how much storage do you have)?
When it comes to choosing a camera, it’s important to bear in mind that your choice can tie you into a specific workflow. Just because the camera you choose is budget conscious, doesn’t mean the files it records are. If you get a cheap camera that supports a very specific codec and workflow, you may well need to overhaul your storage and change key pieces of software, meaning the final cost will be greater than if you’d opted for a more expensive camera with a more flexible workflow and made use of your existing resources. It’s much better to find an affordable workflow that’s as close to industry standards as possible.
Another factor to consider is the sheer size of some files. If you want students to have the opportunity to shoot RAW footage, you need to be aware that they could be filling up a 64GB card every five minutes, so you’ll need a vast amount of (in some cases proprietary and expensive) media at your disposal. If post-production techniques like colour grading aren’t the focus of your teaching, it’s unlikely you really need to be working with such files at all, and we generally recommend sticking to something that’s kinder to your storage setup unless you’re looking to teach one specific hi-res workflow.
With all that in mind, here are a few cameras we’d recommend for film, media and journalistic work – if you’d like to find out more about any of them, you can always get in touch with our team at broadcast@Jigsaw24.com.
For teaching film…
If you’re looking for a budget camera that still delivers on image quality (and can make itself useful in other areas of the curriculum, opt for a DSLR like Sony’s A7S. Affordable, equipped with a full frame sensor for shallow depth of field and able to record 4K to an external recorder if that’s what you really need, it’s a great option if you need to get students composing shots without extensive training, or if they’ll be shooting in less than ideal conditions.
The PXW-FS7 is another strong option. Rammed with pro features and designed to be Sony’s most ergonomic camera to date, it’s ideal for sending students out into the wild for more long form projects.
For media production…
As we said earlier, most cameras can be modified to fit into a studio setup, and with the latest additions to the TriCaster range you can stream from pretty much any camera with a pro SDI output, so do talk to us if you think you can’t afford studio cameras. That said, this is an area where your end goal can affect your camera choice and, by extension, the infrastructure you base your studio on – putting a low quality camera at the front of a high-end workflow will stop you getting the most out of your investment, and conversely buying expensive cameras without the backend to support them will stop you getting the best possible image quality.
The key thing here is to make sure you’re talking to your supplier about the workflow as a whole, so that you’re getting something that’s particular to the needs of your syllabus, and has all the features you need to give your students the level of professional knowledge required. If you’d like a couple of extreme examples to start you off, the PXW-X70 is increasingly popular with professionals and allows you to adopt a real broadcast-quality workflow on a manageable budget, while the HXC-D70 was designed specifically to bring high-end technology to smaller studio setups, making it the perfect lead-in for universities and colleges who want to prepare students for work in the real world – however, you’ll be able to find cameras at virtually every price and feature point between the two, so do ask us for options!
For electronic news gathering/broadcast journalism…
The PXW-X70 is also a safe bet for the kind of run-and-gun shooting needed for electronic news gathering, while the HXR-MC2500 is an updated version of the MC200o (most of our education customers seem to have at least one of these) that gives you a 14 hour recording time to inexpensive media. While the image quality isn’t at the same level as some of the other cameras here, we’ve found it works incredibly well in secondary schools, where the emphasis is more on getting students to understand the basics of camera operation and get used to handling larger cameras. (It also pars well with a TriCaster mini, if you have your eye on one of those.)
If you’re looking to mirror what’s going on in the industry, we’d recommend looking at the the EBU-approved PXW-X160 and PXW-X180. As well as letting you record broadcast quality footage, these cameras shoot XAVC, a Sony codec that’s widely used in professional circles, so any students using this would gain valuable practical experience before they started looking for work in the broadcast industry.
To frantically reiterate, we’ve just outlined a few options here, and many cameras can be adapted to the needs of individual courses, projects or institutions, including the state of your existing infrastructure. To find out more about your options, get in touch with the team on the details below.
Want some advice about updating your setup? Give our consultants a call on 03332 409 306 or email learning@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Edu on Twitter or ‘Like’ us on Facebook.