Filming weddings & stage shows

I have just seen your video comparing the low light performance of the Panasonic x920 and Canon HF-G25 and have a query about them. I shoot amateur operatic performances and have done so for the past 12 years. I also video the occasional wedding and, through recommendation, am doing a lot more of these now.

When filming operatic shows I tend to be right at the back of the audience looking down, using a tripod and all stabilisation turned off. There are very bright scenes and very dark scenes as well as dark ones with spot lighting.

So which camera is likely to be best for filming the operatic shows and weddings? The Canon would probably look more professional but would the Panasonic give better results?

Answer:
In weddings and stage shows, you’ve picked the two most technically challenging situations that a video camera can ever face. With extreme contrasts of dark and light – not to mention often wildly varying colour balance for the stage shows – these are very tricky situations.

First of all, let’s look at image stabilisation. I presume that filming weddings you have to take the camera off the sticks and move around (not during the ceremony itself necessarily but capturing the rest of the day). Therefore you will be handheld for much of the time and requiring good image stabilisation to compensate for inevitably less-than-rock-solid shots.

In that respect, the x920 has the Canon well and truly beaten; there is no contest. The x920’s stabilisation is superb and can be turned on an off with a simple physical button press on the side of the camera. In fact, it even outclasses the much more expensive Canon HF-G30 (although only just).

For that reason alone, you may find the x920 is your better bet for weddings, despite being a “consumer” camcorder and therefore not giving you the professional look that you might prefer.

As you have explained, stabilisation is not relevant for the stage shows due to using a tripod so let’s turn to the issue of exposure and dynamic range.

Both camcorders offer a histogram and zebra bars to assist with exposure – this is critical if you don’t want to “blow out” all the detail in the wedding dress whilst still retaining as much contrast in the image as possible.

Whilst the Canon permits you to set the zebras to either 70% or 100%, the x920’s are fixed at 100% ie as a clipping indication.

This is not the advantage it might seem for the Canon however, because its histogram is irritatingly hidden away behind several on-screen button pushes and disappears as soon as you’ve set the exposure or press record. In contrast, the x920’s stays on screen whilst recording and, even better, has the option of a spot exposure meter in the centre of the screen so you can easily check specific elements of a scene for exposure.

Whilst Tubeshooter would never normally advocate autofocus (and this is where the Canon has the advantage, having separate focus and exposure wheels thereby retaining manual control of both), the Panasonic is pretty good so by switching Autofocus ON and having the lens ring controlling exposure, you can easily get good-looking shots quickly.

Or, if you’re feeling bold, you can use the x920’s lens toggle to switch between manual exposure and focus but you’ll need to be dextrous and swift, since a wedding scenario presents you with little time for adjustments.

One other great plug for the Panasonic in the hand-held arena is its on-screen level gauge and auto adjustment of slightly offset shots so everything should look level with the horizon!

For the stage shows, we haven’t directly tested either camcorder in that scenario but suspect the Panasonic will do better as its low light capabilities are greater than the HF-G25. The aforementioned exposure tools will also help dramatically in ensuring the brightest aspects of the image do not get blown out more than is necessary (and, alas, some overexposure on parts of the stage will be almost inevitable if the rest of the stage is to be brought out from the darkness)

Therefore we would recommend the x920 over the Canon. Of course, if things really take off for you, we’d recommend stepping up to a “pro” level camcorder such as Sony’s PMW-150 or PMW-200, the latter of which has replaced their legendary EX1R which was widely renowned for its low-light and dynamic range capabilities.

If that’s a bit rich for your blood, then Panasonic’s AC-AG90 would be an excellent and (relatively) inexpensive but pro-looking camcorder which boasts all the good features of the x920 but additionally has separate control rings for focus and exposure, which is incredibly helpful in live filming situations such as the ones you describe.

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2 Responses

  1. Jules says:

    Hi there!

    Your reviews are so thoughtful and helpful… thank you! After a lot of research, I’m stuck trying to decide between the Panasonic x920 and Canon Vixia G30. I’m wondering which you recommend for filming kids, both inside and outdoors, covering everything from sports to recitals to everyday indoor activities. Also good to note that our camera will probably often be used while set to AUTO.

    Also wondering:

    – Which of these two cameras focuses more quickly when zooming and walking at the same time
    – If the zoom on the x920 is as frustrating as some reviewers have reported.
    – If both of these cameras work nicely with Macs and Final Cut/iMovie
    – If all of the LCD controls on the x920 are cumbersome to learn…. and can you take the icons off the screen while filming?
    – Is the lack of an ND filter on the x920 a big deal? And is using a filter deliver as good of an image as having it built in?

    Looking forward to your thoughts…

    • admin says:

      Hi,
      Thanks for your query. I think, in auto, either camera will be fine but the Panasonic, I reckon, has a slightly better image stabiliser so if you’re going to be filming the kids hand-held (not on a tripod) then it might be the better bet.

      Also the Canon has a problem with camera flashes (not just the usual “cmos scan” problem that most such cameras suffer, but an *additional* image “vibration” as well) so if the kids will be photographed whilst you film, the Panasonic will be better.

      As to your specific queries, I confess I’ve never tried measuring their respective focusing speeds whilst walking and zooming; I don’t think I’d try such a shot anyway, it would almost certainly be quite unpleasant to watch!
      – I am unsure of the zoom issue on the x920 to which you refer.
      – Both cameras can shoot AVCHD which older versions of iMovie can have a problem with; for Final Cut it also depends which version you have. The G30 also shoots to an mp4 wrapper which might import more easily; if your software doesn’t like AVCHD then it would need to be transcoded. This is one of the more frustrating limitations of Apple’s love only for anything it developed itself.
      – The LCD controls are not cumbersome to learn but can be fiddly to operate but since you’re going to be in Auto, it won’t be an issue.
      – The lack of ND filter will only be an issue on very bright days outside in which case you can buy a screw-on filter to go on the front, just as you can with the Canon. I don’t understand the second part of your question, sorry.

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