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Thread: Best Camera for filming from a distance i.e. School Plays

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2011

    Default Best Camera for filming from a distance i.e. School Plays

    Hello Everyone,

    I'm new to the forum so i'll start with a bit of background on what i'm trying to achieve.

    My wife is a dance teacher and they do a annual show every year. Last we used the local video guy and he was absolutely rubbish and the end product looked like one of my home movies from the 80's!

    I've been editing our old movies on iMovie and thought we did a much better job from the editing perspective so we are thinking about trying to film the show ourselves. Plus, because its my wife's dance school there will be a bit more time & effort spent.

    The previous video guy made his money by selling the dvd to the parents and we will look to do the same which will help fund the purchase of the camera.

    We have just moved on from iMovie and have been using the new Final Cut Pro X. I know its not everyones cup of tea at the minute but I'm sure its perfect for our needs.

    I'm looking for a camera that will work with the following set of criteria

    1. work with final cut pro x

    2. work well in low light situations ( the lights tend to be dimmed and just rely on the stage lights) His DVD footage looked quite grainy/Blurry and I think the lighting didn't help. It wasn't very clear when he focused on the dancers.

    3. Shows tend to me in School halls so think we will be filming from about 50-100 feet. (this is where last years guy stood) I'm only guessing.

    4. Will the camera's built in mic do a good job of picking up the music being played from school music system or will and external plug in mic be better?

    5. will need a tripod for the camera as well.

    I think I've asked the right questions? and apologies if my terminology isn't 100%.

    Primarily i'd like to do this as a hobby but being able to help my wife will be place me in the good books.

    Thanks in advance


  2. #2


    Just a couple of questions.

    1. Have you done this sort of thing before?

    2. If "Yes" what camera did you use? If "no" what makes you think you can do it?

    Think of it like this. I go to a gig. The pianist is crap. I think "I could play better than that". I go out, buy a piano and, with no experience, get on stage and prepare to play...

    See where I'm going here? Dance videos are a specialized field (I know coz my missus does 'em) and it's not surprising that the local videographer didn't do a good job if it's his first go. Doesn't mean that you can buy a piano (or camcorder) and do any better.

    I would suggest joining your local video society, going along for a few evenings and chatting to the members, seeing what gear they use and learning about videomaking before buying the gear.

  3. #3


    You may not want to hear this but I would recommend getting a video guy to do it. Look at examples of their work before you choose one. The cost of a camera, lens, mics, steep learning curve needed to be able use the equipment and the hard work doing the job.

    At the end of the day a qualified "Video Guy" would be cheaper and you should get a better product.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2011


    Thanks for the reply guys.

    No I haven't done this before, up until last night at least.

    The dance school opened up the Rugby Game i.e just a little pre show thing whilst people getting their seats etc. It wasn't how I planned it would be, I did ok with the from a distance shots and I should of left it at that but because I was looking through the small flip out view finder it gave me the impression that the shot wasn't very clear. I then started to zoom in and i was panning to fast left to right so those shots were rubbish.

    The camera I used was my friends which is about 500 I believe and is a panasonic HDC-SD9 camera 1080P.

    I'm by no means expecting to pick up a camera and be brilliant, far from it, But I would really like to have a go at learning as hobby with the hopes of being able to the annual dance show. Its only small like 10 kids performing at a time.

    You might think I was being harsh on the guy from last year, but he was rubbish. He films all the local school nativities so we thought he would be good but it turns out he's know for crackling audio and shaky camera work. With the pressure of putting all the show together we didn't do enough homework on this.

    Midnight Blue - your right, I didn't want to hear that! only kidding. I understand where you are coming from but Its something i'd like to try my hand at. If i'm not good enough by the time of show we will get another video guy.

    I'm not planning on spending Thousands on equipment. I just want to get a camera which would be suitable for the Job and see if I can do a better job than him. Worse case scenario we would get someone else to do the show and we would get a video camera out of it.

  5. #5


    The thing is.... for 500 and upwards you can get a camcorder which will do all that you want, and more. But it's a bit like asking "What car should I buy?" It really is about personal preference. I'm a Canon fan when it comes to camcorders. I like the way they feel and I like working with them. Others here are Sony or Panasonic fans. It really is a question of taste since they all do a very similar job and a similar quality.

    Hence my suggestion about joining a camcorder club. Whatever you do DON'T go into Dixons/Currys/Jessops and ask the twerp behind the counter, they are clueless!

  6. #6


    I'm not planning on spending Thousands on equipment
    That's one of the reasons I recommended getting in someone who already has it. To do a proper job you would need the right equipment. A tripod, mics, lightings and a camera does not come cheap unless you don't mind it looking worse than the other guys effort. If you've never really used a camera or recorded sound before you will find it's a lot harder than just pointing a camera in the right direction. Just the understanding of how to record the sound is an art in it's self.

    At the end of the day it's up to you what you spend your money on but if you want a reasonable DVD out of it, use someone who has done this sort of thing before. Check out their work on their website first. Enjoy doing it as a hobby until you feel more proficient. That's what I did.

  7. #7


    OK, I'll come at this from a different angle.
    Rob and Midnight are, as usual, absolutely right if you want to produce a dance DVD.

    However, you mention selling to parents and I'm assuming therefore we are talking about kids. You don't need to produce a fantastic DVD (although obviously you should strive to), you just need to produce somehing which is noticably better tha the other parents there with their hand-helds. If my supposition is correct, you're not producing a dance DVD you're producing a memento.

    The parents will buy it anyway because (a) their little tike is in it and (b) the profits are going back into the dance school (it might well be beneficial for the dance school to own the camera and equipment - this brings in the possibility of donations from local organisations and grants from the local council etc). Point (b) alone gives you a sales advantage over local video guy.

    Next, don't pretend to the parents to be a professional otherwise expectations might be too high, just the "wife of the instructor, who is an amateur movie maker".

    Next make sure you include all the dancers in at least one close up. Not necessarily dancing.

    Next, as you've already discovered, trying to zoom in and follow is a real problem for at least three reasons. 1. It's very difficult to follow (why do you think live misic gigs are filmed with cameramen virtually up the performer's backsides? Because it's far easier to follow the action) 2. You've got no cutaway shots for where you've lost the subject/focus. 3. You've potentially missed a bit of more important action on the other side of the stage.

    It is also essential in this scenario that you capture the whole routine (you're making a record, not cutting together a promo)

    For these reasons you need to have one camera locked off in wide angle capturing the whole stage/performance area.
    As you've surmised, you will also want to use a separate audio source. If your wife uses CDs that's a doddle - just dub the CD into your edit. If it's a live pianist, (or ensemble) you're into all the audio asociated with recording live music. You may just get away wth something like a Zoom H2 (possibly with extermnal mics) for something like this but it will not be pro sound. If it's CD, mix a little of the ambient sound recorded from the camera (or another digital source) for atmosphere.

    Now we have an acceptable starting point, which is likely to be better than little Emily's dad sitting in the second row, but we've hardly got an enthralling product. We can edit in close ups of the performers before and after (perhaps little interviews or rehearsal shots) but the actual performance shot from one position will be dull, to the point of being unwatchable.

    So you need at least one other camera. This is the one you walk about with and grab as many group and solo shots as possible.You really need to be as well choreographed as the dancers to work out how best to utilise this.If you can get two additional cameras then so much the better. Have one towards the sid/front of the performance area looking across the dancers.

    Even with all this you'll still only get an amateur production, but it will be a passable amateur production which the parents will cherish.

    Rob's suggestion of your local video club is a good one. You'd probably get one or two guys who'd be willing to give up an hour or two to film and turn their footage over to you in exchange for a donation to the club funds - especially if they think they might get a new member out of it. Once they've got the gig, they'll be handing out advice and suggestions like nobody's business. The donation to club funds (or pay them directly) is important. Most clubs are wary of people who come along to one or two meetings, pick people's brains for free and then bugger off. Make sure you realise it's a two way street.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2011


    Hi Guys,

    Thanks again for the replies and the advice on filming.

    I think maybe I was coming across wrong in my post like I was expecting to be professional from day 1 or that I didn't understand how technical it could be. I'm fully aware that its a difficult job to do and in by no means expecting to waltz in and pick it up straight away. I've really enjoyed editing our home movies and thats what has sparked my interest to get a camera and maybe have a go and doing the dance shows

    Tim - You are correct in terms of what i'm looking to initially achieve. The parents aren't expecting a top notch professional production and it is more of a memento for them to look back on.

    I was thinking we could have behind the scenes footage of the kids in rehearsals or maybe leaving little messages to their families which we can include on the DVD etc.

    in terms of my definition of rubbish it means - not setting up in the best location i.e. their was podium in the way which he didn't bother to move. It was a Christmas show so he put in some audio at the beginning of the opening shots which were off the kids and xmas decorations and the audio was all cracking & popping. The opening menu for the DVD was of a blue screen with the video clip highlighted with a yellow bar around and you press enter the video starts. Blue screen is like what I have on my home movies from 80's.

    Paul - I might be way off on my distance calculation as it was 6 months ago. Here is the seating plan for one of venues Theatre Royal, St Helens | Seating Plan, view the seating chart for the Theatre Royal. Camera guy set's up behind row Q seat 14 & 13 in the Stalls section. Don't know if that gives you a better idea of distance? The show this year is in a much smaller venue though.

    So with the above in mind which camera model do you reckon would be best for me? I'd also be looking for one which can have a good recording time maybe 3 hrs plus if possible. As i'm new to this I don't really have a brand preference.

  9. #9


    Quote Originally Posted by entropy2 View Post
    I was thinking we could have behind the scenes footage of the kids in rehearsals or maybe leaving little messages to their families which we can include on the DVD etc.
    And I bet you these are the bits which will be watched over and over, with the actual performance skipped through after the first coupe of watches.
    The most important thing is to capture the atmosphere. Primarily a sense of fun, but it's also good to get nervousness and anticipation. All of these things come from the before and after shots.
    It sounds like you've got the right attitude. you also have an advantage over "local guy" in that you're personally involved.

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