Got it, Want it, Dream of it

As an add-on to the RealScreen Factual Price Guide, participants were asked three simple questions: What is the most important piece of gear you own? What would you buy if money were no object? And, what filmmaking tool do you wish existed? Responses varied from 'nothing' (arguing the fewer tools the better), to real-time delivery of video on the internet. Even a money press was proposed, financing being the first tool any filmmaker needs. Below is a glimpse of the objects that topped the lists.
March 1, 2001

If you could only own one thing (in no particular order):

SONY DSR500 camcorders

SONY DSR500 camcorders are prized by producers for their versatility and manageable price tag. The DSR500WSL model is listed at US$17,000 and features high quality digital signal processing, skin tone detail correction, and reproduces natural colors with a wide range of contrast. For those who prefer to create custom camera settings, a setup file can be stored on a DVCAM cassette tape, allowing the setting data to be transferred to another camcorder or referenced for repeat operations. The settings are automatically recorded throughout shooting and can be reviewed during picture playback. Weighing in at about 14lbs with all the fixin’s, those pesky extra baggage charges at airport check-in can be considered a concern of the past.

D-9 JVC camcorders

Quality need not be sacrificed for cost. The D-9 records at a 4:2:2 resolution and a 3.3 to 1 compression ratio. D-9 recordings can also be transferred to and from non-linear editing systems several times with no critical degradation. For US$9,000 the DY-700U model can record up to 124 minutes, has a built-in time code generator, and tracks color temperature automatically. Two 16-bit 48kHz digital audio channels are also provided. With the lens, view-finder, battery and tape, it weighs around 19lbs.

Arri 16mm Cameras

Munich’s Arri Group was singled out for its dependable 16mm cameras, with more than one producer reporting the SR2 Super 16 model as their main production tool. The Arriflex 16 SR3 Advanced model claims to provide an image that is 70% brighter than before, includes film-guides with sapphire rollers on both sides to reduce filmdust development and enhance image steadiness in telecine transfer. It also allows the operator to change the format from 16mm to Super 16. For the forgetful, indicators warning of asynchronous camera speed, film end and low batteries are integrated in the finder. The camera costs about US$56,000 and weighs approximately 15lbs with a loaded 400-foot magazine and on-board battery. Those not familiar with Arri should check out its impressive website (


Invented in the 1970s, the Steadicam places the camera system’s center of gravity within reach of the operator. By manipulating the camera at its center of gravity, the operator can shoot smooth 360-degree pans, booms and other moves while remaining unencumbered. Steadicams are ideal for motion shots in challenging spaces. Models are available for a range of cameras including 35mm, video and large format cameras. Prices vary, but average around US$40,000.

Technology on the go

Gadgets that allow producers to type, talk and take in a movie registered high on the must-have list. Palm Pilots, cell phones and laptops – which allow these activities to be done anywhere at any time – scored special mention. Considering this, Macintosh’s new laptop appears to be the answer to many a producer’s prayer. Measuring one inch thick and 5.3lbs, the PowerBook G4 boasts a slot load DVD-ROM drive (for those mid-transit screenings), a five-hour battery, a whopping 15.2 inch screen, and a slick titanium shell. A built-in Airport antenna allows wireless internet access through an Airport base station that can be up to 150 feet away. Expect to pay around US$3,500.

DigiBeta deck

SONY brags that its DVW250 digital betacam portable recorder/player extends component digital recording to the field. Although digital VTRs historically require more power than analog ones, the DVW250 only consumes about 26W in record mode and can operate for two hours on a lithium-ion battery. Frame accurate backspace editing allows sequential recording without picture breakup at transmission points, which makes the deck ideal for simple editing applications. A recognizable color image is produced in fast-forward, rewind and search modes. The DVW250 is listed at about US$35,000 and weighs around 17lbs.

Macintosh editing software

Editing software sporting the Apple logo received kudos for providing high-end tools on a budget. Final Cut Pro allows both offline and online files to be used for editing, and shows how the final product will appear as edits are made. The time-sucking task of rendering every frame before going to tape is eliminated by the ability to print directly to tape without a ‘make movie’ command, and if you prefer to work in a language other than English, localized versions of the software are available. Final Cut Pro also enables projects to be created for videotape, DVD, broadcast, cd-rom and the web as video can be exported to most QuickTime formats. Plan to spend US$1,000.

Avid Composer/Symphony

Avids were the most mentioned item in both the ‘can’t-live-without’ and ‘wish-I-had’ categories, eliciting a significant number of superlatives in the process. A producer looking for a means of editing his own work without time and cost restrictions singled out the Avid Media Composer. Features of the Media Composer 9000 XL include real-time, dual stream uncompressed video, real-time 2D and 3D effects and composition, 9-stream real-time multi-camera play, and the ability to export to web and interactive formats, which allows video to be repurposed for DVD and other formats.

The Avid Symphony was recommended for online editing. Symphony was designed to finish projects that were historically finished in a linear suite. It can perform non-linear scene-to-scene primary and secondary color correction and sports real-time finishing tools. The Avid Symphony Universal goes one step further than the Avid Symphony by adding editing and mastering for multi-format output of pal, ntsc, 16:9, and 4:3. Write a check for US$120,000 and never look back.

Things to make life easier:

Private Jet

With travel costs climbing towards ludicrous and airports becoming fertile ground for rage, daydreams of owning a private jet are on the rise. When even an upgrade won’t do, consider Bombardier’s Global Express corporate jet. The aircraft’s 335-square-foot cabin and spacious lavatories bring civility to air-travel, and the generous 325 cubic foot baggage compartment means just-in-case equipment can also make the trip. Able to whisk jet set producers between Washington D.C. and Tokyo in just under 14 hours, the Global Express promises to deliver its passengers feeling fresh and smelling clean. Considering the alternatives, its US$25 million price tag seems reasonable enough.

Motor Home

If phones and files can be taken everywhere, why leave behind the creature comforts of an office – such as chairs, lavatories and desks? For those who dream of setting up shop in the middle of anywhere, Airstream’s Land Yacht 390 XL has 154 cubic feet of exterior storage space, and an interior width of almost eight feet. It retails for about US$220,000 and is diesel powered.

Jimmy Jib

Sought after for creating high quality shots, Jim Stanton of Stanton Video Services in Phoenix, U.S., describes the Jimmy Jib as ‘a camera boom with a servo controlled remote head that allows a single operator to fly a camera in three dimensions while controlling pan, tilt, zoom and focus.’ Priced around US$8,000, the Jimmy Jib Triangle (made with triangular aluminum tubing for strength) is capable of reaching from six to 30 feet, but packs down into a three feet, 10 inch long package for travel. Fully extended, it can handle video and 35mm cameras up to 50lbs.

250mm lens

Capturing footage of lions, tigers and bears is much easier when photographers don’t have to smell the breath of their subjects to get the shot. Cooke’s 25-250 T3.7 zoom lens has a dust-sealed focus bearing and a non-scratch, external surface finish. Interchangeable focus rings are supplied in both footage and metric measurements, and the focus and T-scales are printed in large, bright yellow numerals so they can be read in the dim light of the jungle floor. The minimum object distance is 5.5 feet, and the price is US$31,000. Measuring 16 inches from the front of the lens to the image plane, it weighs 14lbs.


The ranks of those embracing HD as the technology of the future are growing. Naturally, originating footage on high definition cameras is also becoming popular, but for those who prefer to work in more traditional formats, there is the telecine. Philips’ Shadow Telecine is a fully digital system that delivers 625, 525 and hdtv pictures, as well as DPX files for film to data applications. Employing high-resolution optics and light path technology with diffuse illumination, it promises adequate film scratch suppression. HDTV, Data Output and rotation effects are optionally available. The base price of the Shadow Telecine is about US$500,000.

Fast Forward

If possible, filmmakers would invent the following tools:

A self directing camera to save director’s fees

An Avid with one-to-one compression to reduce or eliminate on-line costs

A light camera with a reliable hard disc so productions are digital from start to finish and can be downloaded directly onto a computer

A camera to computer device, so stories can be formatted on the road

A digital imax camera

A device no larger than a laptop for low cost, high speed transmission of broadcast quality video

An all-in-one editing/online/sound post suite to reduce the costs of delivering to various countries

Full camera sound – for flexibility when shooting

A small high definition camera

JVC on the future of high def and hard disc camera technology

Juan Martinez, product manager for JVC Professional Products, says that although high definition has stalled on the broadcast side of things, content creation in high definition is still important. However, filmmakers looking forward to high definition cams shrinking in size and price will have to wait.

According to Martinez, CCDS – the device that captures the image – are expensive, and the switching speeds required by hd are not only high, but consume a lot of heat and power. ‘These things have a tendency to make everything big and expensive and produce a lot of heat. It’s very power hungry,’ he explains. ‘In order to make a cost-effective product, it’s necessary to reduce all of these things. One way to do that is to reduce the bit rate and bring the switching speeds down to manageable frequencies.’ Martinez says JVC won’t be introducing a camera with these improvements in the coming year, but he is eager to receive insights and ideas from filmmakers for potential new features and improvements to existing technology.

In the meantime, JVC has developed a hard disc DV camcorder that uses DV compression at 23 and 50 megabits per second. It records onto a hard disc drive that can be removed and plugged into a computer for further processing. The camera is still in the test phase and is not yet available for sale. ‘We have the technology, but we’re trying to come up with two things,’ explains Martinez. ‘One is a better way of integrating the technology with existing customer needs, such as their editing systems. Also, the cost of the media is a major obstacle. Hard disc drives are expensive compared to tape. The advantages are they function in a non-linear manner, they access data quickly, and they’re reusable, whereas tapes are consumable. But, it’s a different way of thinking.’

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.