Saturday, January 09, 2010

Reader Question: HVR-Z5U or Canon 5D Mark II?

We get letters! Okay, an email once and a while, but the latest one asked an interesting question: should the writer ditch his HVR-Z5U and get a Canon 5D Mark II? Has he not read my recent posts?! Well, I thought it was an interesting enough question to take a whack at:

What's your thoughts on me selling my Sony HVR Z5U to get a Cannon 5D Mark II? I'm a Television Production student drop out who's getting interested in still photography. I would also like to eventually shoot short films and documentary videos.

My Z5U sits in it's camera bag with it's compact flash recorder and has been used approx. 5 times. I use a Kodak Zi6 on almost a daily basis because of it's size. The Cannon Mark II appeals to me because of it's size and ability to shoot HD video and stills.

Any thoughts?

That’s a difficult question because I think the Z5U (despite the arrival of NXCAM) and the 5D Mark II are both awesome cameras, but they are very different cameras. Which one is right for you really depends on what you are shooting and how you like to shoot. [Note that for the sake of making this discussion simple, I’m excluding questions of picture quality, low-light capabilites and post-production, and just going to focus on what it’s like to use these cameras to shoot with.]

The 5D Mark II is awesome, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of shooting, you’re probably going to need to get some kind of matte box, rack focusing and a viewfinder cover to make the shooting easier. Add to that a few lenses, and the price - and size - quickly adds up; the 5D II is unlikely to be cheaper than the Z5U, and may end up costing you more.

And even with these additions, for run and gun work, I still think a “real” video camera is a lot easier to operate and will produce more consistent results. The 5D Mark II will give you spectacular results, but I think you have to work a little harder (primarily with focusing).

Another way to put it is that the 5D Mark II (and other DSLRs) are more of a “creative” tool, while the Z5U is more utilitarian.

Some argue that another advantage of the DSLR is that it can be used in places where a camera like the Z5U may attract unwanted attention, and that the people you are shooting may be more comfortable in front of an SLR than a big video camera. Those are good points, and I’d add that a camera you have with you is a lot more useful than one that’s at home in the bag.

And as much as I might prefer a Z5U for most of my shooting (primarily documentary), looking at your current situation I can’t help thinking that you already have your answer; if you’re never using the Z5U, then maybe the 5D II is the camera for you – or at least you might use the thing more!

What are you shooting with the Zi6? The 5D II is a bit smaller than the Z5U (unless you’re dragging around several extra lenses etc., with it) but it’s not as small and disposable as a Zi6, and I’d be surprised if you take it with you everywhere. You’ll probably still be using that Zi6. Perhaps you just need a better pocket video camera?

For another point of view, you might want to read the article on Honorarium, about a short film shot with an EX1 and 7D. This is a somewhat similar comparison to the one you are making. I'll save you some time; he likes them both.

One final thought; the Z5U is unlikely to appreciate, and probably will only continue to go down in value, so if you’re going to sell it, now is probably a good time.


Dan the MAN said...

When you're ready to sell your HVR-Z5U, shoot me an email!

NelsonStJames said...

Good answer. The point is if you're always trying to stay up to date with the latest gear, you'll always be behind, and you'll never create anything. Look at the stuff on youtube shot with the Canon 5D, it's immediately evident which are taken by people with a knowledge of filmmaking and those that aren't. Oft-times it isn't the equipment, it's the user. Now if photography is your primary gig, then by all means you should get a DSLR, but if you want to make films, then you've got an excellent camera already, you just have to shoot something everyday. My rule is I only upgrade to the next level when I've exhausted the limits of my present gear and I know "everything" it can do like the back of my hand. I can hazard a guess that with only 5 outing with the Z5U, you haven't scratched the surface of what that camera is capable of.