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Recently I’ve been asked by several people which video camera should they buy in order to shoot online videos. So, instead of answering only on Twitter I’ve decided to write this post series. This post will cover key considerations, and the next one will review some of the models sold today. I will focus on sub $1,000 gear considerations, which is around the amount of money new entrants are willing to spend on such an equipment.

But, before we start, let’s put one thing straight:

No camera can save a bad script, horrible talent, or plain bad experience some great things are done with cheap cameras (1938 Media for example), and some horrible pieces of moving pictures were done in huge budget (did anyone say “The day the earth stood stil[5.6/10 rating][5.6/10 rating]l”?)

Equipment can make your life easier, make some things feasible, but that’s it. Nothing can replace talent and knowledge. in other words – IT IS NOT WHAT HAPPENS WITHIN THE CAMERA THAT IS IMPORTANT, IT IS WHAT HAPPENS IN FRONT OF IT.

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s get started:

Number 1 Consideration – Audio

Yes, it sounds strange but the most important thing in video is actually Audio. If your image is not that good but your audio is excellent, people would watch, or at least listen. However, you can be Gordon Willis and have amazing images, but bad audio will make people just close the browser.

So, when you are considering buying a camera, check if it has an audio jack. It doesn’t have to be a professional XLR input (three pins socket), it can be a plain 3.5 mm one. But without it you will have to count only on the external mic of the camera – which is usually awful. This is one of the reason that I am not a huge fan of Flip Mino, Xacti, Kodak Zi6 and so on. They are great for mom and pop videos, and maybe for very hot news coverage, but personally I won’t recommend them for other uses (unless you figure out a way to connect an external mike to it). A way to bypass this issue is by recording audio with a separate mike, and then sync it. If you have the equipment, time and patience – that’s great. But then it might be worthwhile just to buy a different camera.

High Definition (HD) vs. Standard Definition (SD)

True – in many cases the web is not exactly the best HD experience. But with Vimeo, HQ YouTube, and podcasts, more and more people see online originated HD videos on their computers. So if you buy a camera now – go HD. Which brings us to the next consideration

My choice – I’ve bought an HD camera, didn’t think twice.

Tape vs. Tapeless, HDV and AVCHD

Now we get to the juicy part, that is not an issue only for amateurs and semi-professional creators but for the whole industry. There are no clear rules here, but let’s start with explaining the differences between these methods:

Tape – an established, cheap to use media. You can buy a MiniDV tape in almost every electronics store, and the best thing about it — it is a great archive solution. Now, MiniDV tapes were originally created for SD format, but, there is an HD format called HDV that records an hour of HD on a MiniDV tape (the same as in SD format). So, if you go tape, you usually go HDV. The main pitfall of tape is the capturing process. When you will need to deliver the footage to your editing system, you’ll need to play the material from the camera to the system, a process called capture. This process takes the same amount of time as your footage length. Another pitfall with Tape based cameras is that they can’t be too small as they have a limitation — the tape size.

Tapeless – tapeless cameras are using different media for storing its footage — hard disk, flash memory, or DVD. These cameras allow you to connect your camera to your computer and drag and drop the images to your editing system. It saves a lot of time, as you don’t need to wait for the capturing process. However, the main issues with tapeless are:

1. There is no good archiving solution — remember when you lost all of your old MP3 in the latest HD crash? The same can happen to your footage — your videos are just files on an HD. This is an industry wide issue, not just for us, prosumer guys.

2. The format is very resource intensive (meaning, not so much fun to edit) — most HD based cameras are using a format called AVCHD. In short, this format is heavier on the processor, and requires a stronger machine. Mac users also know that many of the editing applications automatically convert the files from the camera to an Apple Intermediate Codec, a time consuming process as well. So all in all, I am not certain that the reduced capturing time worth the editing hassle later on.

3. If you are in a long trip, or have no way to offload your camera, you might be stuck with a great tapeless camera with no room for new footage. With tape based solution you just put in a new one—.

My decision – I’ve bought a tape based, HDV camera. BUT if you are not editing a lot, have a strong enough computer, offload your camera a lot, and not concerned with archiving your material — tapeless might be the answer for you.

Tripod and Monopod

Tripod, like audio, is the kind of thing that goes a long way in improving your production value (a cool way to say looking better). Make sure that whatever you do you get a camera that can be connected to a tripod. You might not buy one now, but you need to have the possibility to do so.

In the next post in this series I will review some of the popular cameras out there, up to $1,000. You can see my equipment in this post.


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