Saturday, February 16, 2013

Picking a Telecine Camera

One or the first pieces I looked to find for my telecine machine was the camera. I needed a camera that could disable auto focus, had some exposure control, and I could capture via USB.

My first option was a Canon A70 because we had one sitting around the house and it was natively supported in Canon's RemoteCapture application. Canon officially stopped supporting remote capture on their mid level cameras shortly after the A70 and decided it was a professional grade feature. It was a perfect opportunity to make use of some hardware that was sitting around gathering dust.

In practice, it worked pretty well. The A70 doesn't support manual focus but it does allow for locking focus at a particular level. The exposure, aperture, and color temperature controls are excellent so I was feeling pretty lucky. But then I hit the sticky wicket. The A70 would completely freeze up after taking exactly 3,252 pictures. I assumed that the problem was Canon's RemoteCapture App so I started looking around and found gPhoto which thankfully had a fairly active community. I installed gPhoto on my Ubuntu laptop so I could insure that it wasn't a hardware problem. Sadly, gPhoto also took 3,252 before the camera locked up.

I reached out to the gPhoto community and they replied that every point and shoot camera seems to have an arbitrary limit on number of shots taken before it locks up. The people in similar situations would either manually restart the camera or keep them on a timer to cut power to the camera when necessary. Neither of these options appealed to me because of the lack of a real manual focus meant I'd have to rig a system to try to help keep that focus consistent between restarts.

Sadly, the A70 was no longer my ideal camera.

I briefly flirted with the idea of using a DSLR instead of a point and shoot but realized that most DSLR cameras have a max shutter life in the hundreds of thousands of frames. I'd definitely kill the camera before I was done with the box of film reels I got from my Grandma.

If only there was a solid state camera that supported manual focus that allowed some kind of remote control. So I started digging into HD webcams to see what kind of support was offered on focus, exposure, etc. Specifically, I went looking to the stop motion animation communities to see if there was any kind of super camera that everybody was using. Unfortunatly, there wasn't, but the Logitech Pro HD Webcam 9xx series seemed to be popular option with people who have Windows machines. I dug deeper and found that there was even pretty good support for that series of cameras in Linux.

Now it was just a matter of deciding between the 900, 910, or 920 version of the Logitech Pro. Pricing on the cameras was pretty similar but the 920 is the most widely available as it is the newest. So what was the difference?  The 910 was better than the 900 because they upgraded the camera to support 1080p HD. The 910 model was replaced with the 920 that has an upgraded video processor, but a slightly lesser camera sensor.

So I went with the Logitech Pro HD Webcam 910.
So far so good.