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Suggestions for Best Camera + Lens for ~$1K
  • Hello,

    I've spent weeks researching, and I've decided to turn to some aficionados.

    First up, Camera: I've found that the GH2 is the best price/performance camera. Is this still true today, or are there better ones, such as the Olympus E-M5? Or, would it be best to wait -- do you think there will be anything extraordinary worth waiting for in the first few months of 2013?

    Lastly, Lens: I've seen some people use old TV SD 2/3" Lenses, like B4 and C-Mount, etc. Are these worth it? I've heard that (for the most part), the IQ isn't very good, and there's a large amount of work (modifications) to get them to work.

    Should I instead be looking at native lenses, like the Leica 25mm? Lots of people talk about anamorphic lenses, and the Voigtlander f/0.95. It seems like almost everyone raves about the Voigtlander, and while it seems expensive, is it truly worth it (price/performance) over say the Panny 20mm or even the Leica 25mm?

    Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope this topic helps others as well! -Josh

  • 30 Replies sorted by
  • The question here is, what are you shooting, what do you want to do, and what aesthetic are you going for?

    There isn't an end all be all here.

  • You haven't said anything about what you plan to shoot.

    Old TV zoom lenses are hit and miss. Some are excellent for specific kinds of shooting, but you'll spend a lot of time and money trying to figure out which ones are. None of them completely cover the GH2's sensor, so you'll need to use ETC mode, or crop in post and take the resulting loss in resolution. Their real advantage is the smooth zooming you can get as a result of their constant f-number and focus (they are parfocal). They also have larger zoom ratios than full-frame photographic zoom lenses. If you don't care about zooming during video shooting, you'll be just as well off with a Micro Four Thirds zoom or full-frame zoom lens.

  • You're both completely right, and I should've mentioned that I mainly shoot short films, so I'm going for a very cinematic aesthetic. The thing I really liked about the TV Lenses were that they have a constant aperture, which would be great for low-light. But, it seems as though they're not worth the trouble. Zooming isn't crucial, it would just be nice.

    The most important things I'm looking for is a fast aperture, and a very cinematic look.

  • @jsteg094, I recommend the GH2 and the panny 20mm. You could also squeeze in a Nikon 50mm and Nikon adapter, all for around $1,000.

  • Thanks @Peter123456, I've definitely been considering the Panny 20mm, and at this point, I think I'm trying to decide between that, and the Leica 25mm. Would a Nikon 50mm be too tight on the GH2's cropped sensor?

  • @jsteg094 A nikon 50mm becomes a 100mm on M43 which I find nice for headshots and closeups.

    Nikon series E 50mm f1.8 can be had for around $50, for the price I think everybody needs one :)

    a 50mm on M43 is long enough that you might not want to shoot hand held but I wouldn't want to go without my 50mm.

  • For cinematic looks; if you do decide to go for the gh2 (yes, it´s propably the best bang for buck you can find / will be able to find for at least a year) - then avoid native m43 mount lenses other than perhaps for getting really wide angles (if you absolutely need it). The 14mm pancake or 14-42 zoom can be found for close to a pittance. (Zoom is cheaper). Do some research into different vintage systems, like m42 (pentacon / flektogon / meyer optik a.s.o.) which IMO has some very nice lenses for very little money.. Avoid c-mount / b4 if you have no idea about how it will work / what you want because there are many, many pitfalls and you´ll end up spending more money on lenses that doesn´t work for you than spending little money on lenses that you will actually use.

    Choose a lens setup by look primarily. This is all about opinion so you´ll need to go through f.i. flickr, vimeo a.s.o. for samples of footage / images taken. If you find stuff you like, find out what lens they used and how it was made. By spending time in investigating different options you can avoid a lot of mistakes beforehand. If you go by desired look instead of by specs you think you want / need you´ll save money. Keep in mind that you will need a good tripod, possibly a rig and other gear (like maybe follow focus) to move the camera around in a cinematic way. Also keep in mind that it´s better to learn lighting (or have someone around who wants to learn lighting) and invest a little in that than spending big bucks for the fastest lenses out there: unless you absolutely KNOW you will shoot a lot in lowlight conditions where you KNOW you cannot light the scene.

    In my experience, when it comes to making short narrative you will sooner or later need to light properly, and find that low-light wide open extravaganza shooting, is kind of limiting. Personally I´ve found there are a few specific situations when a large aperture lens is either really necessary or really helpful. But there are also relatively inexpensive, light sensitive cameras which you might be able to borrow / rent to get past such hurdles. (sony fs100/700 f.i.)

    The matter of large aperture lenses is of course different if you want to shoot documentaries or just "observations" in available light.

    And then I haven´t even talked about sound..

    Sorry for the long post. I guess you opened a can of worms.. ;)

  • GH2 pricing is $499 until 12/31 @ B&H....better decide fast! For lenses, I modified a 1/2" Rainbow 8-48mm F1.0 lens, and using in ETC mode it really does great for the price. I'm starting to modify more for sale at $200, PM me if interested! I also use a Canon FD 50mm F1.4 with adapter. Another great investment is using gears and a follow focus.

  • Wow, thank you all so much!

    @jpbturbo, mentioned that a Nikon 50mm becomes a 100mm on the GH2 b/c of the crop. Are native m4/3 lenses also affected by that? Like, would a Panasonic 20mm become a 40mm on the GH2?

    @fosterchen, I'll PM you for more info.

    @RRRR, Seriously, thank you. All of that information is extremely helpful. I like what you said about choosing a lens setup by look instead of specs. Although the C-Mount and B4 lenses have great specs, I admit the footage I've seen hasn't been very good, and probably not worth the trouble -- with the 3-CCD prism effect, mods/compatibility, etc.

    You mentioned some light-sensitive cameras. While the GH2 has great IQ, is it not very good in low-light? Would the Canon 5D Mark II be better for that (I've seen some deals recently around $1.5K).

    Also, lighting. What do you recommend for shots that require portability and are shot outside?

    Sound: I'm thinking about the Rode VideoMic Pro. Would you recommend something else?

  • A 20-mm lens on the GH2 has the same angle of view on the GH2 as a 40-mm lens on a full-frame camera. A 50-mm lens on the GH2 has the same angle of view on the GH2 as a 100-mm lens on a full-frame camera.

  • A lens's focal length is a property of the lens, independent of what camera it's attached to.

    Please try to not go into this topic outside dedicated flame topics. It is so old.

  • Lenses in the 20-30mm range (recalculated from S35 to GH2 crop) puts the viewer more in the moment and the 50-85mm range feels more like observing from a distance. As mentioned above: choose a lens on its looks. My budget combo tip: Canon FD 28mm 2.0 and 50mm 1.4 :)

  • That's a great point, @oscillian. I definitely want to put the viewer in the moment.

    With everyone recommending vintage Canon and Nikon lenses, is that because they're better than native lenses, less costly, or both?

  • Native lenses activate the GH2s in camera sharpening (even with sharpness set to -2. That's what the Panny rep told me, anyway) which can make the footage look more "Video". With vintage manual lenses you don't get that + plus they have "character" i.e. less contrast, softer rendering and in some cases: flares! And they come cheap too :)

  • @jsteg094 5d mk II is much worse in low light.. Don´t worry too much about it at this point as the gh2 is quite good enough to get you going (in the right direction). You can´t shoot on the gh2 "without light" though, unless you are fine with shooting B/W at 12800 iso. If you eventually find that you´d like to do a project which uses just about only available light (depending on where you live) you´ll be able to rent a light sensitive camera for a couple of days. F.i. in Berlin you can rent an Epic for 99 euro / day.

    I recommend making a small lighting kit by going to a hardware store and a fabrics store. Get a set of construction lights (find out what you can get that is a LOT of light for little money / current) and perhaps a LED construction light that runs on a battery (rechargable). Look for blanket sheets in the fabrics store, both that you can use for flagging and for bouncing / diffusing. Depending on if you have people around you that you can bring into the projects you´ll have to decide if you need stands, frames e.t.c.

    Like this, you´ll have a set of lights, diffusers, flags e.t.c. that you can do a LOT with for 100-150 USD.

    You´ll notice shortcomings eventually (light color not being consistent or sometimes difficult to mix with other light sources f.i.) but when you do, you already have a good understanding of what you might actually need and over time you might be able to build a set of "proper" video lighting, or find that you can rent lights that are expensive to buy.

    If you are at a location without any access to current you bring a generator (rent from construction equipment rental shops).. Lighting is sometimes the most creative part of making a film so you will have to read on how people solve problems, use your imagination and try stuff out.

    (mind it´s quite easy to do a simple lighting of a subject where you are close, lighting a whole scene can be very, very difficult)

    Above all I think it´s important you try to hunt down people around you who are either in the same position as you (wanting to make films) or friends that can be persuaded to help out. Work hard to work together with friends who actually find it fun to do because it´s near impossible or really difficult to do everything yourself, unless you are OK with doing observations and editing those together into a narrative.

    Re: sound I´ve personally found a good external recorder to be a very useful tool. Rent or borrow "speciality" mics. I´ve only used the Rode videmic once but I can say immediately it´s not anywhere near specialized hyper / supercardioids in sound quality. Yes, there is some good functionality for video shooting and that´s a big part of the cost. Sennheiser ME66/67 are a pretty good deal IMO for directional mics. It all depends on the projects you want to do though, so don´t take my word for it – find a sound guy near you and talk to him about your next project.

  • To add on what Oscillian said re: vintage lenses, the main thing is that you get character whereas many modern lenses look clinical. Character = optical faults (but they can also be incredibly sharp..) it goes in different ways. Clinical can sometimes be beneficial, like for some paid work.. or if you plan to do heavy post work.

    A good bonus with vintage lenses is that many are not very costly. Actually, a lot of vintage lenses are very cheap in relation to what you get for the money. Handling is not always easy so it´s a good idea to investigate that, when you´ve found a look you like.

  • @RRRR True that. I've definitely realized that having a good team is crucial to a successful project.

    Thank you for changing my mind about lighting. I've been trying to avoid it altogether (because of the amount of learning, cost, time and effort to setup, etc), but I think I have to acknowledge that it's an instrumental part of filmmaking, and far better than to invest in that, than all-in-camera.

    I currently have a T3i with Magic Lantern, along with a 35mm f/2 Nikkor lens. I could sell the Canon for $500 and the Nikon for $100. With the GH2 being $500 currently, is it worth going for the GH2? I love Magic Lantern (with the focus peaking, crop-marks, zebra stripes, etc).

  • And yes, I'd much rather go for vintage character over clinical.

  • @jsteg094

    Well, you won´t get focus peaking, zebras e.t.c. with the gh2 but the camera is very, very good for the money. The improvement in relation to a t3i will be noticed mainly in master shots; you can do a wide shot with confidence (that the detail is there, no annoying artifacts). Eventually you might find yourself investing in a monitor that gives you some of those options back but personally, I only use a monitor for focusing. (when pulling focus) For exposure I find the histogram to be an invaluable aid and when not pulling focus it´s very easy to set the focus spot on with the zoom function.

    Personally, I´d wait to get a used gh2 in good condition with a nice setup of accessories (extra batteries, maybe 64gb / 95mb/s sdxc card a.s.o).. But then again your t3i might be worth less by then. It could be a good option to keep the t3i, save up and invest in stuff which you have use for in the long run. m42 mount, contax/yashica lenses will work both for your t3i as well as for a future gh2 or other cameras, for instance. Future proof investments, in other words, as long as you like the look.

    if you check this list: For mounts with long FFD´s it will give you a good idea about what´s available both for EF mount and others..

  • You already own Nikkor 35/2 which is amazing lens. In this moment best buy among old MF glass are Minolta Rokkor lenses. As good as Canon and Nikon for just a fraction of the price, Nikkors and Canon FD got more popular and more expensive since m4/3 and NEX have been released. You can get excellent Rokkors 50/1.7, 28/2.8 and 135/2.8 for $100 all together, just check forums to choose right design. Rokkor 24/2.8 is bit more expensive but superb. Beyond 20mm go for modern lens, Panasonic 20/1.7 is great.

  • I personally prefer m42 glass "in zeiss heritage" over Rokkors. Some have very good close focusing abilities, some have excessive amounts of aperture blades and produce absolutely gorgeous bokeh.. others are very sharp corner to corner.. Most lenses are sub 100 usd. The different series and brand names can be confusing but they are also easily researchable as most have been used quite a bit on digital systems already (and used to be available for next to nothing) and also is the go-to "value for money" lenses for many analog shooters on other systems who where looking for something special.

  • Thanks guys, I'll definitely take a look at those.

    @RRRR, Throughout this thread you've mentioned: Pentacon, Flektogon, Meyer Optik, Contax, Yashica, and Zeiss. Which one(s) would you recommend the most?

    @tetakpatak, I'll probably keep the Nikkor and see how it is on the GH2. I haven't been overly impressed by it, but maybe that's because the T3i's video doesn't do it justice. Why do you recommend going for modern lenses beyond 20mm?

  • Well, if you want Zeiss, Contax (Contax/Yashica mount) are the most recent ones of those out of production and have a very good consistency in color rendering. Eastern block Zeiss lenses (don't forget the Russian copies with lots of aperture blades) will come from very different times and places, have different (sometimes poor) coatings and need more color grading to match, but they are cheap.

    Minolta Rokkors are very attractive in their optical performance vs. price and Minolta took great pride in matching color over the whole range (they had their own glass works). Stay away from the newer ones with 49mm front thread, some of them are third-party. The good ones have a 55mm front thread, just like Contax C/Y.

    BTW, a mix with Nikon can be a PITA, since they focus the other way round…

    Older lenses under 24mm are not very fast and the good ones are very expensive (like Distagon 21mm). Obviously it's easier to design a good wide for the smaller sensor, not needing to care for the large image circle of 35mm photography.

  • Why do you recommend going for modern lenses beyond 20mm?

    To keep CA under control, old wide angle lenses for FF coverage simply don't perform as good on the μ4/3 sensors. Especially if you need sharp wide angle, there is almost no other choice but to go for native μ4/3 glass.

  • @jsteg094 all of those are from the same heritage, basically. That is (east) german optics. Not all will match, but you can mix betweeen different brands and models if you go by look rather than name. To get a matching set you need to do research (image samples). I would suggest to stick to the m42´s if you are cash-strapped, don´t mind doing a bit of research and like the look. The benefit over f.i. Contax / Yashica (different mount) is in pricing.. and in some speciality features (some have very, very good close focus, and you get spherical bokeh even when stopped down from a few tele lenses because of the number of aperture blades). Like @nomad says, Contax have a very good consistency in their lens range, very good optics. Similarly to the m42´s the Minoltas are a good suggestion if you like that particular look. (they will require less browsing through sample images to get a matching set)