As a professional editor I feel fairly well-placed to answer this for you.
1) The Software
There are basically two products on the market I will look at when it
comes to professional video - they are Apple Final Cut Pro and Avid
Let's outline the players ? Avid has a long history with non-linear
(desktop) editing, or at least about as long as can be expected for
what is a relatively new area. Avid has been the leader in NLE editing
for at least 10 year, and is still the most widely used system in
post-production overall, including big budget Hollywood films, to
wedding videos. Avid offers a range of products for different markets,
and has been pushing it DV-based Xpress products to lower-budget
markets in the last 3-5 years.
Apple is a something of a newcomer to the NLE market, but made a huge
splash with it's Final Cut Pro software a few years ago. It has be
very widely adopted by independent DV-film makers, but also packs
quite a punch for more demanding users when extended with additional
hardware and software. Apple has taken bigger steps in desktop video
in the past few years than any other company has in the same amount of
time, and now is considered a very real contender by many people.
As an editor I have experience with both Avid and FCP, I have cut a
DV-based feature film on Final Cut, and many hours of television
content on Avid systems. They are different beasts. For straight-out
editing, in speed and efficiency, I choose Avid. I can cut faster on
Avid than any other system, however recent improvement in FCP have
improved it's usability greatly so this could change.
However FCP has it over Avid Xpress Pro in one respect, it has
somewhat more flexibility in effects editing. Avid has some powerful
effects, especially the newer versions, however they can be a little
cumbersome at times, and some things are just not possible without
external plugins. FCP also can't do everything itself, and many
plugins are available, but it does have the edge on Avid a little in
effects. It has a slightly larger range, I think, and can be easier to
work with when it comes to complex effects.
Either of these applications are ideally suited to a lower end
professional videographer, or production company. Both are widely
used, well supported and of very high quality. One advantage of the
Avid is that learning to cut on a Avid will enable you to operate any
Avid (all the way up to the film editing systems) with little
retraining. Final Cut Pro, while popular is still less utilised in
many higher-end areas, and reskilling from FCP to Avid can be a little
daunting for some people.
Avid Xpress Pro:
Apple Final Cut Pro:
2) The Camera
I also have a reasonable background in camera work... The DV cameras
your price-range all use MiniDV cassettes, however some record DVCAM
on those cassettes.
However, you should know that there is no difference visually between
DVCAM (Sony's professional DV), DVCPRO (Panasonic's professional DV)
and MiniDV ? they all record video with exactly the same compression
and bit rate. Visually the lense and CCD quality will have the most
impact on the quality of your recording.
When it comes to audio, MiniDV is normally 12bit 32kHz recording, and
DVCAM and DVCPRO are normally 16bit 48kHz audio. However, most if not
all miniDV cameras are switchable to the higher quality.
MiniDV does not record timecode to every frame of video, it records it
less often, and calculates the frame numbers in between. This can
result in cueing problems when capturing, and possibly in inaccurate
timecodes in captured footage, but in reality that is very rarely a
problem. Certainly not one I have ever encountered.
DVCAM runs the tape faster and makes wider tracks on the tape. This
makes a DVCAM recording more resilient to faults that a MiniDV
recording. That and the timecode are the main advantages in DVCAM over
Now, the camera choices ? there are a few popular models in this sort of range:
Sony DSR-PD170 ? RRP US$3,940
Panasonic AG-DVX100A ? RRP US$3,995
Canon XL1S ? Around US $4,700 (excluding current $500 rebate offer)
Canon GL2 ? Around US $3,000 (excluding current $250 rebate offer)
These are all good cameras, and all outside your price-range, but they
are often available second-hand and are the best bang for their
respective bucks, really.
So, the PD170 to start ? it follows the PD150, a VERY popular DVCAM
handycam from Sony. It has a good lens and can be fully manual. It
features professional balanced audio inputs and records in DVCAM or
MiniDV formats on MiniDV cassettes. The 150 is widely available second
hand, and the 170 is starting to show up second hand too.
The DVX100 is very popular with the indie film set. This is mainly
because it can shoot 24P (24-frame progressive scan) and as a
Film-gamma setting. These two things together produce a 'film look'
that people seem to love. This camera also features balanced audio,
can operate fully manual and has a good quality lense. However, it
only records MiniDV.
The XL1S is the only camera of this type to feature a interchangable
lense. Also it is the only one with a side-mounted viewfinder, which
when combined with an optional mount makes it possible to rest it on
your right shoulder like a larger TV camera. However, it is the only
one in the bunch not to feature a fold-out LCD screen. Also, it does
not have balanced audio inputs ? although it can be easily adapted
with a fairly simple cable. This camera also only records in MiniDV
The GL2 resembles the PD170 and DVX100, and offers very similar
features. Like the XL1S it has no balanced inputs, nor does it have
easily adaptable RCA inputs. It has similar manual settings, to the
others. It can also only record MiniDV.
My personal pick is the PD170, for the fact it record DVCAM and has
professional audio. I also like the lense quality that comes with the
However seeing as these are out of your price range, what else is
where? It will be MiniDV for under $1500, however with a good camera,
MiniDV will be fine. For the best image quality, 3 CCDs is a big step.
It results it is a much better picture.
Sony DCR-TRV950 ? RRP $US1,995
This is Sony's only 3CCD consumer camera. It has a 3CCD sensor, a
fairly high-quality lense. However it lacks professional audio inputs
(it is a handycam) and it lacks the fine level of manual control of
the prosumer cameras above.
Panasonic PV-DV953 ? RRP $US1,495
Panasonic have four current 3CCD models, of which this is the top of
the line. It has a good quality lense. It has a reasonable level of
manual control. No professional audio.
For Panasonic's other 3CCD cameras, look here:
These are probably the best bet with your price range.
For the external Mic input, for those cameras not featuring
professional audio inputs, you can purchase interface hardware from
companies like Beachtek:
3) Editing Equipment
This will depend on what software you choose. If you went for Avid
Xpress Pro, your current computer would be capable of running it. It
would need a firewire card if it doesn't have one. And also need
Windows XP to run Xpress Pro. Also, unless it is from a specific
manufacturer it would not be 'certified' to run Avid, but that doesn't
mean it won't it just means you will have trouble getting technical
support from Avid if it doesn't.
For Final Cut Pro, you would need a Mac. Specifically a PowerMac G4 or
G5 running MacOS X. A higher-spec G4 is preferred.
For any professional editing system, a dual-head monitor setup is
almost vital. It's important to have matching monitors, so if you were
to upgrade your current PC, it would be worth getting rid of your
current monitor and buying two matched ones, or if you have quite a
new monitor, getting another of the same model. For the Mac, you
should stipulate dual monitors when purchasing, if you were to go that
Royalty-free music is a different issue. It can be purchased from
libraries such as:
Sound Dogs ? www.sounddogs.com
Megatrax ? www.megatrax.com
Videohelper ? www.videohelper.com
...and many others. There are various purchasing and usage
arrangements you can enter into, depending on usage.
If you are feeling a little musical, there are a few programs that
make creating music fairly simple:
Apple Soundtrack ? A pretty cool application purpose designed for scoring video.
Rebirth ? A tracker, designed for making loops and somewhat suited to
ACID ? Another tracker-type program, with a little more range than rebirth.
For DVD authoring, there are a number of options too. The leading
products are, probably:
Encore is quite powerful, and very well featured software. It allows
for very flexible DVD design in a fairly straight forward manner.
Scenarist is probably the most powerful DVD design software around,
and is more-or-less the standard for professional DVD creation. It can
be quite complicated to pickup, but offers a lot of power over the end
Apple DVD Studio Pro
DVD Studio is also very popular, and like Final Cut Pro has come from
no-where to be a fairly major player. It offers a powerful, and quite
simple interface to DVD creation.
This answer doesn't really provide the exact answers for you, but
hopefully narrows the field a little. For more information, reviews
and comments, check out the following sites:
Also, for a range of price comparisons and personal opinions, try:
I hope this helps, and please let me know if my answer needs clarification.