Originally Posted by bubbrubb
I'm looking for a camcorder that records in a certain quality. To cut the story short, I want to make short films and I want the quality and feel of the images to resemble those of a 1990's film.
Now I know both movies must have been recorded with expensive, professional cameras. But as I'm a broke student, I'm looking for a cheap alternative that will record in a similar style/atmosphere/quality.
It's near impossible to get those looks without much money. Hate to say it, but it's true. High quality film stocks have a good 12-15 stops of dynamic range, depending on which one used. A cheap camcorder probably has around 5, some of the newer ones may have a couple more or so. Dynamic range is the lighting ratio it can handle from light to dark before clipping highlights and/or crushing shadows to black. Camcorders in a decent price range have gotten much better, but are still far away from film like dynamic range or color quality. They generally record in 8-bit 4:2:0 color space, which is very limited color range causing less smooth color gradations, which means when trying to push the image in grading banding will happen a lot easier.
There are multiple reasons why they have the look they do and it's not just the camera. First off, they started with film (or a Digital cinema camera with film like dynamic range) which already has way higher dynamic range, which gives it better tones, much less harsh contrast, more range to work with, but also the fact that high quality lenses are being used in conjunction with professional lighting from a Director of Photography (ie; Cinematographer). A cinematographer's job is to paint with light to get a desired look. Also, the shallow depth of field (the scene where the background is blurred out) is much easier to achieve on large sensors such as DLSRs than with small sensor camcorders and you'd want to use a low F-stop to achieve really shallow depth of field for creative focusing purposes.
I'm also a huge noob on camcorders, so is it just down to the camcorder or is it the lenses that produce the quality, etc?
The camera is a part of it, but lenses play a key role as well. Some lenses are slow (ie; meaning they don't open up as wide and thus allow in less light, such as say an F3.5 lens) and some are fast (allowing in more light such as an F1.8 lense). The lower the F-Stop number the shallower you can make your depth of field also. The most movie like look you will get on a really cheap budget is to use a Canon T2i or T3i with Magic Lantern, Panasonic GH2 or a Sony Nex-5n. The Sony is great for low light. First off, research lighting, especially three point lighting, because lighting is essential for any filmmaker to learn. Lighting helps tremendously and can help you adjust your lighting ratios to improve your dynamic range artificially. I would start saving. lol. Good starter lighting packages are getting cheaper and cheaper and will make a massive difference vs using none at all. You can buy some clamp lights and some daylight CFLs pretty cheap, but I'd recommend something like these to start:
Thing about camcorders is you're stuck with the lens built on. DSLRs give you options to change lenses just like real cinema cameras. I'd also learn about color grading techniques as well as picture styles. With my T2i i frequently use CineStyle or Flat 10. You can use the Standard mode as well, but I'd put it as -4 contrast and make sure to light, because it can crush dark detail at times.