A recent discussion at the DV forum raised some interesting issues about which HD camera works best for “guerilla” filmmaking. This time “guerilla filmmaking” is loosely applied to video production in countries which do not exactly encourage foreign filmmakers/journalists.
Going through a border checkpoint in many countries is not a trivial matter, especially if you carry a BIG camera. Apart from the array of forms and declarations you’ll need to fill in, your footage might also require an examination and approval on your way out.
The perfect “guerilla” cam will need to meet some of the following requirements:
- inconspicuous, small, easy to carry around (and hide)
- steady when shooting hand-held
- tele lens (keeping a safe distance is priceless)
- long battery life
- low light, night mode
- versatile output (NTSC, PAL, DV out, etc,)
- expendable (if seized by authorities)
You need to prioritize these in terms of your particular shooting assignment. I believe the SONY FX1/Z1 is the 3CCD cam that meets most of these requirements. SONY is one of the world’s most popular brands and it usually passes customs and police examination with flying colors. Just remove the lens shade to make the camera look less professional and more tourist.
SONY FX1/Z1 has excellent image stabilization, good low-light capabilities, and very long battery life. The big SONY battery (2NPF970/B) will easily get you through the day and thanks to InfoLithium you’ll have an accurate indication of the battery life left. In addition, the Z1 supports both NTSC and PAL thus you can output your footage regardless of format limitations.
If you feel you need an even smaller camera that’s less conspicuous and even expendable, consider the new SONY HC1. It’s a CMOS (i.e. no 3CCDs) camera but with a price tag of $1,500 you could justify calling it expendable. One caveat about this camera is that if you get SONY’s big batteries you won’t be able to use the viewfinder that much. Considering it’s twice the pixels of the LCD, this is a serious disadvantage.
Another option for a “lipstick” cam is the Ikegami HDL-20. It’s a fist-size cam with some impressive sensors that’s designed for “trick” photography. The downside is the price tag (~$17,000) which means if you get caught, you lose the equavalent of 10 HC1′s.
If you’re need extreme tele lenses to capture your subjects, Canon XL H1 has an incredible advantage. Although it’s a bit too early to tell (camera launches in December), the camera should be able to support Canon’s lenses – some of them could be put to good use if you’re on a safari or a manhunt. Considering Canon XL H1′s price though, you don’t want to lose 10+ grand (tele lenses cost a pretty penny), if the camera is seized.
Other HD cameras to consider are the Panasonic AG HVX200 and the JVC GY-HD100U. The latter is very conspicuous because it’s a shoulder cam. The HVX200 has a limitation on the footage you can shoot because of the P2 memory it uses. You can transfer these to external hard drives but nothing beats tape for continuous shooting.
Back to customs: The standard trick that I’ve done in the past is to send the actual footage through a courier service. Remember to create copies BEFORE you send the package(s) away. Destroy them once you get a confirmation that the master tapes have arrived safely. While waiting, you’ll need to schedule a tourist shoot (sightseeing), so you could present the customs officials with some footage (if the issue is raised). Leave the tape in the camera – ready to be played upon request.