- Author: Michael L. Poe
How do you choose the right camcorder for your office? It depends on what you plan to do with it and your budget.
Some UCCE folks are looking for prosumer cameras in the $1500-$3000 range and others have fallen out of their chairs and didn't finish reading this sentence. In other words, some want something much less expensive. If you plan to compete with professionals, a prosumer camera and a lot of time to develop your skills in videography, audio, directing, and editing is all you need.
If you are hoping to put some clips on your county website, a consumer model less than $500 will do.
I start shopping here: http://reviews.cnet.com/camcorders/ where I can see the best reviewed and the most popular purchases. http://wize.com/best/digital-camcorders provides a top 5 list in ratings and popularity as well.
For clips you plan to put on the web, keep in mind these parameters:
- You don't need the ability to shoot widescreen (16:9) aspect ratio. 4:3 has been the TV standard since TV sets changed from round to rectangular.
- Video on the web is not full screen in the US so if you shoot full screen (720x480), your editing software will give you the option to output for the web. Usually that means it will be at 320 x 240 pixels. If you don't have the best quality camera, it will look better when the image size is reduced for the web. Your editing software will allow you to burn DVDs with full screen video from the same material as the web stuff you've produced. It is just a different output choice.
- HD means High Definition. That doesn't exist on the web. So if you use your camera to produce HD, it will be changed to SD (Standard Definition) for your web clip. Do your clientèle watch a lot of HD? Probably not yet.
So, for $300-$500 you can buy a camcorder that shoots 4:3 aspect ratio, Standard Definition, and records onto Mini-DV. You'll use the firewire port to connect to your computer to transfer the footage you plan to use for the edit. I recommend Adobe Premiere Elements for editing ($65) for Windows or iMovie (free) for the Mac. That's the easiest set up and will get you very good results. Add-ons would be a tripod ($80) and a wireless microphone ($150) from Azden.
There are other camcorder choices and features, that you may want to explore:
- HDD means Hard Disk Drive. Some camcorders use an HDD instead of Mini-DV tape. Their prices start at around $700. I've used one for a year now and I have yet to get any decent handheld video from it because it does not have an ocular viewfinder, only the flip out LCD screen. Without having the camera up against my eye socket I find it impossible to hold it steady in spite of my 35 years a a professional cameraman. I do get great shots with a tripod. I do like that when I hook up the camcorder to the computer, the camcorder's HDD is accessible just like any other hard disk and I just pick the files (clips) to transfer to the computer. I do have to rename the files (.MOD) to .MPG in order for my editing software to use them.
About the computer you plan to edit video with....
- Make sure your computer is up to the system requirements of the editing software you are planning to use. Here they are for Adobe Premiere Elements, v.4 http://www.adobe.com/products/premiereel/systemreqs/ I recommend doubling the minimum RAM requirement. That's where performance can be best improved.
- When it comes to working with video, it is best if your computer's hard drive, the one the digitized footage is stored on, runs at 7200 RPM. Most laptops and many desktops have drives running at 5400 RPM and may either be painfully slow, jerky, or just plain not work when playing video.
I do not recommend using a camcorder that records straight onto DVD. It complicates the editing process and you end up with a lot of one-use DVDs. I have two friends who thought they'd be "high-tech" without checking with me. Now they regret it.
Here's what my experience has taught me about various camera specs:
- Zoom--10x, 20x, 30x. Marketing often touts the power of the zoom lens as a good thing. Keep in mind that image quality is better when you are actually closer to your object with the lens zoomed out. Think about it. Hollywood motion picture cameras don't even have zoom lenses for that reason. A "long lens" (one that is zoomed in) shows vibrations more easily and it is impossible to get a steady shot. Also, never use a digital zoom feature. You can use the camera settings to turn it off. It will only degrade the image by enlarging pixels. If you've taken my digital photo class you know that big pixels are bad pixels.
- Auto iris, macro full range AF. More about the lens.
- Auto Iris means it will adjust to the lighting, automatically handling exposure. Standard.
- Macro refers to having some sort of close-up setting. They are never very good on consumer models and you'd have to carefully peruse user reviews to know if a particular model really gives you macro, not just some form of close-up.
- AF means auto focus, also standard.
- Viewfinder--If it has one, good. That's the eyepiece I wrote about earlier. It is the best way to tell if you are in focus.
- LCD--1.8", 2.0", 2.5". In digital still and video cameras, bigger is better. You'll be better able to see what you are doing or have recorded. Aim for 2.5" or larger. They are not great for seeing if you are in focus, but someday they'll be higher resolution.
- Stereo mic. Standard built-in on all camcorders. It may look like one microphone on the camera but it actually is two and records what is heard to the left and right of the camera's view and puts it on the left and right tracks.
- PCM digital recording, 16 bit. This is the audio quality specification and is standard for any decent camcorder.
- Still picture recording--JPEG. Most camcorders will also record still shots. Some camcorders have a separate media card (SD, XD, Memory Stick, etc.) and will store still images. Your camcorder will need to be in "still" mode to take a photo that will be saved as a JPEG file on the media card. But, the average camcorder resolution is around 2 megapixel, about a third of the average digital still camera. So if you want a still picture, use a still camera.
There's so much more I could tell you about camcorders, but for now, your head is probably full.
Until next time....