Don’t like the Camcorders on the Market? Make your Own!

by James

DIY Camcorder
When Dan Vance was making his 90 minute sci-fi feature “The Shivering Earth,” he couldn’t afford to use film or rent high def video cameras, he wasn’t satisfied with the quality of camcorders on the consumer market, and he couldn’t wait for the Red One to be made available for the masses.

So he did what any red blooded, enterprising film director would do … he designed and built his own video camera! Sure, it looks like a camera from the late 80s, but inside, it’s mechanics represent cutting edge video capture technology with tapeless recording via hard drive.

The 1/2″ 3-CCD Progressive-Scan Camcorder captures footage in PAL at 25 frames per second using an analog to firewire converter and a Laird hard drive. Audio is boosted from the shotgun microphone by a preamp through the converters line-level input. In fact, the only parts that can be considered unoriginal in design are the recycled viewfinder from a Sony DXF-501CE, and a Fujinon lens cannibalized from a retired Ikegami news camera. The shutter system was tricky, as it’s LC (Liquid Crystal) shutter caused synch trouble. The solution was going back to the basics with a mechanical shutter used on conventional movie film cameras. However, this brought it’s own timing and power issues which Vance eventually solved by allowing the camera’s shutter to “spin up” before hitting record.

Vance shot his first film, “Cold Day in Hell,” a prototype proof of concept by cobbling together a JVC SVHS Recorder with several other cannibalized camera parts from a Hitachi industrial PAL camcorder. The result was a 700 DPI resolution image. Pretty good to prove the, but Vance wanted a pure tapeless recording system to raise the resolution above 50i in progressive scan. The result are “film-look” images to give a big budget feel to an independent feature on a shoestring.

Vance’s next project? Perhaps a custom built 3D camera.

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