Good Footage Comes in All Shapes and Sizes.

Canon HV20 handheld HDV camcorder
Canon HV20 handheld HDV camcorder

There is an interesting balance when it comes to gathering material for any project. The time you spend translates into expense. Even if it’s just your time, wear and tear on the gear, and the cost of media, there is a cost. At the same time, it’s important that you give yourself the best chance to be prepared to take advantage of any situation.

In this case, I’ll refer to video/film. Our team is working on developing a documentary about the history of the Los Angeles Fire Department. It is centered in the present, with flashbacks through history. We must cost every hour of production. So, we typically are careful about how and when we’re spending time or money.

At the same time, I always keep a camera with me. This past Friday, I was in Los Angeles, attending several meetings, including one at a fire station. In the car, I had my firefighter protective gear and a small Canon HV-20 HDV consumer camera. The last thing I was planning on was needing to use it. That alone should be a clue.

During my meeting at Fire Station 76 in the Cahuenga Pass, the Captain noted it was starting to look foggy outside, and it was a sunny day. We opened the front door, and across the Hollywood Fwy, the shoulder of the freeway was ablaze. The Captain picked up the mic on the PA and told his crew, “still alarm, guys. We’ve got a grass fire across the freeway!” I grabbed my gear and as I climbed into my seat on the fire engine, I was thinking, “why am I stuck with this little camera?

I started rolling tape before we rolled out of quarters, and as we made the turn down Cahuenga Blvd., you could see what looked to be a “nothing fire” across the way. 75 seconds later, as we spotted the rig to block the road and protect the firefighters, the wind was whipping the flames up and potentially threatening brush and homes nearby. This spot was less than a mile from the origin of the large and dangerous Hollywood/Barham fire from March of 2007.

Camera operator David Barrett gets a muddy face, and camera, while shooting on-scene at a small grass fire in Hollywood.
David Barrett gets a muddy face, and camera, while shooting on-scene at a small grass fire in Hollywood.

Because I had a small camera, I felt I was going to be limited in what I could capture. While the camera does shoot HD quality material, it uses a single 1/2-inch CMOS sensor, and the camera itself weighs less than two pounds. So, I decided to focus on POV material, getting tight on firefighters as they attacked this small fire that was trying to become a big fire. I even got directly into the spray from a 1.5 inch line and had to stop for a minute to clean the camera, which was completely covered with mud.

The overall results ended up pleasing me very much. I got some great shots of a firefighter using his line to work through thick smoke to get to the base of the fire. And, as the incident unfolded, I began to test the camera’s capabilities – and while movement is something to be careful with, I was consistently surprised by the image quality.

While still not my first choice for a primary camera, the reason our team has kept it was for this exact purpose – when not expecting something, be prepared to get the unexpected. So, at the end of the day, I got some big shots from a small camera. Watch the video clip below:

Even the Canon HV20 can be built-up into a full cinema rig. But Why?
Even the Canon HV20 can be built-up into a full cinema rig. But Why?

The footage above was imported into Final Cut Pro, and compressed in HD using Compressor. It was not color graded, so what you see is what the camera delivered.

Now, before signing off, note that the Canon HV20 is a highly regarded little camera. We acquired it for use in our production of a cross-country racing documentary in the fall of 2007. We used the camera as an in-vehicle mount, while our larger cameras captured the majority of the action.

As camera technology improves, people are beginning to use these little cameras more and more. In fact, if you want, you can totally lose your mind with these little cameras. The camera rig shown is using a Canon HV20, and includes railing, a matte box, follow focus and even a Marshall monitor for preview and monitoring. The rig costs three times what the camera does, and the 35mm lens conversion device close to double the cost. Imagine that.

One Comment

  1. Eric S Neitzel

    Great stuff! I do allot of wildland shooting on little pro-sumer cameras. I wish I had the time to package them like you.

Comments are closed.