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What Kind of Video Camera Should I Buy?

Capulet needs a video camera, because we occasionally shoot video for client projects. It’s never anything fancy–typically just interview footage and the destination is always YouTube or a similar video sharing service. Here’s an example–a little video we shot for Nitobi. We don’t, as far as I can figure, need to shoot in HD. If need something more sophisticated, we’ll just hire some videographer-types who come with their own equipment.

I’ve never bought a video camera, as it happens, and know very little about what makes a good one. I’ve been told that the trickiest part of shooting video is actually capturing consistent audio, so I suppose that’s a consideration. Most of the video we shoot will be under controlled circumstances–in an office or boardroom.

So what do you suggest? I gather from reading Consumer Reports that I can get a MiniDV camcorder that uses tapes, or one that uses flash memory. The latter seems like a wiser choice. Would, for example, a Flip Video device be adequate for our needs? Or maybe it’s one of these ordinary-looking camcorders?

UPDATE: Thanks to everybody for the awesome suggestions. We ended up buying a Canon FS200, which is a SD (meaning non-HD) camera that has an audio-in jack and Flash-based memory. It cost $350, and is ridiculously small–about the size of a can of Red Bull. We also bought a lapel mic, which should be sufficient for our work.

16 Responses to “What Kind of Video Camera Should I Buy?”

  1. Derek K. Miller

    The Flip might do just fine. However, keep in mind that for the kinds of video you’re doing, the audio is perhaps even more important than the audio, and you might want to either (a) get a camera that has a separate audio-in jack (a surprising number lack it) to which you can connect a better microphone (or microphones), or (b) record proper audio separately and mix it in during post-production, like movie people do.

    If you do end up with an HD camera, I’d recommend trying to find one that does NOT use the AVCHD codec to encode your video, which is most common. The reason is that, while that codec is good and lets you put it directly on Blu Ray discs to play it on Blu Ray players, in most editing software (including iMovie ’08 and ’09 and Final Cut), the program needs to transcode/import it in a different format before you can edit, which takes a long time and is a pain.

    So, as I said, the Flip or something similar might be great, because it will make your workflow simple and quick, but if you use one of those you’ll probably also want an audio flash recorder and maybe a couple of inexpensive tieclip mics or inexpensive condenser handheld mics to record into it.

  2. Tim Ayres

    I have a Flip and shoot all my videos on it. The microphone on that little guy is surprisingly good and more than adequate for interviews.

    They also make an HD one that a buddy of mine just bought and he loves it. It has the added bonus of having a built in Lithium ion battery for added convenience and better life. I use rechargeable Ni-MH batteries in my regular Flip and they seem to last long enough, however.

    The thing I love about them is that they’re so convenient. Fit them in your pocket or laptop case. They are also quite rugged.

    All my videos are at http://Viddler.com/SookeRealEstate if you want to see them.

    Whatever you choose, I’d go solid state flash or hard drive rather than DV tapes.

    Have fun!

  3. Dale

    I second almost everything Derek said. It’s quite easy to find something that shoots good quality video. Even your average digital still camera takes good video. It’s the audio that’s a challenge.

    The one thing I’d be wary of is independently recorded audio. Matching an independently recorded audio track to video is, at very least, extra work. Depending on your video editor, it can be a downright pain in the arse. I know the big guys do it, but they have better gear, better video editors, and ways of keeping independent devices in sync with each other. I’ve heard of slightly different recording speeds in lower end devices making syncing independent audio and video tracks problematic. I have no personal experience with this and maybe it’s only a problem with older technology.

    Also, independently recorded audio means you’d need to buy something of reasonable quality to record the audio on, presuming you don’t already own one or have justification for having one as well as the video camera. There’s some great gear in the $200 – $300 price range.

    I’m using one of those ordinary looking ~$250 Canon mini-dv camcorders to shoot the stuff at group42.blip.tv and http://www.thismobilerocks.com. I had to look long and hard to find something with a microphone jack, and found the low end Canon had one where it’s more expensive siblings didn’t. Sadly, the built-in mic is not great, I think because of motor noise. One nasty surprise, my camera audio has a noticeable hum when plugged into AC, so battery only for me.

    A couple of things not mentioned.

    Consider something that can be mounted on a tripod unless you’re looking for an excuse to use duct tape.

    Make sure the lens gives you the field of view you want. How near or far does the camera have to be from the subject to get the shot you want? My camera doesn’t have a great wide-angle setting, making things tricky in tight spaces.

    Finally, I thought this David Pogue endeavor was pretty cool: http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/slick-multicamera-video-on-the-cheap/

  4. Sameer Vasta

    Asked a similar question on my blog a few months ago, and had the chance to try out a few fancy camcorders from JVC, Panasonic, and Sony. In the end, I settled with a FLIP mino HD because of it’s portability and amazing video quality.

    Here’s an example of a video I took with the FLIP:
    http://vimeo.com/4293778

    I’m no videographer and I’ve got shaky hands a poor sense of framing, but the video still came out great. That’s how awesome the FLIP mino is.

  5. Joe Drumgoole

    I’ve been shooting video on various models of JVC Everio for over 4 years now and think they produce excellent content. They shoot straight to hard disk which is a must for me (tapes and DVDs are all hassle).

    However, their Mac support is weak and they produce a weird .MOD format that is a butchered version of MPEG4. It plays in Windows Media Player but nothing on the Mac will play it without conversion.

  6. Mark Hamilton

    I’ll second the notion of a combined Flip and audio recorder set-up. You might want to add an inexpensive lav mic for the recorder.

  7. Ryan Cousineau

    The Flip is almost certainly going to be inferior to what you’d get from a more conventional camcorder. The lens alone…

    MiniDV camcorders (especially the higher-end 3-chip models) produce great results, but note that moving the video to the computer happens in (argh) real-time, which is annoying.

    Flash and HDD-based recorders are probably the sweet spot for you, and I agree with the others that you need an outboard audio solution for interviews.

    A mic port on a camcorder is usually a pretty high-end feature, so it may be easier to take the sound completely outboard. You just need a sound/video sync point (clapboard or similar) and you’re good to go.

  8. Rick Vugteveen

    Another option would be a DSLR that records video, such as the upcoming Nikon D5000. It will do 720p video + mono audio. I’d venture to guess that the quality would be much better than a Flip Mino HD or most consumer HD video cameras due to the quality of the lenses. It would also be much more flexible. For $850 USD with a lens it looks like a good deal, considering that you get a 12.3 MP DSLR as well.

    Note that I haven’t done much research on this so buyer beware. I’d look into issues such as video quality, format and ease of use before purchasing.

  9. gilliebean

    I’d suggest the Sony HDRXR100 or something similar. Maybe even the Panasonic SDRS7 SD/SDHC Camcorder (but it’s not HD).

    At the very least, either Sony or Panasonic, with a hard drive or flash drive (avoid tape), and with a mic input just in case you don’t have the ability to record audio separately and sync it. Finally, HD is worth it and not too expensive.

    I’d suggest getting (or renting) a good directional mic or a lav for when you shoot interviews. I’d avoid the flip. Invest in a sturdy but lightweight tripod. And a DSLR that records video is a very interesting option. Worth researching.

  10. Derek K. Miller

    Just as an example, here’s a video I made last year with a Panasonic HDC-SD5 high-def camcorder (just the kind I didn’t recommend — no mic input, awkward AVCHD codec), with sound recorded separately with a Zoom H4 flash audio recorder and an Audio-Technica PRO 70 tieclip mic (which you can see on my shirt):

    http://www.insidehomerecording.com/?p=517

    http://www.vimeo.com/1164269

    I edited it and synced up the sound in iMovie. The syncing was no problem — iMovie adjusted the bit rates accordingly. So it works, and instead of a clapboard I just clapped my hands.

    Enjoy my shaved head in the video.

  11. Lincoln

    It may be too much camera for you, but if you want a consumer-level camera (and accompanying price) with a prosumer-level feature set, the Vixia Canon HV30 is an *amazing* HD camera. $600USD, and has so many useful features, including microphone and headphone jacks, zebras, advanced accessory shoe for mounting lights and such.

    I still prefer tape to tapeless, mostly because tapes are cheap, and it makes saving your original footage easier, but YMMV. I’d also avoid the flip, however; as convenient as the flip is, I’d pick a more fully-featured camera any day.

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    darren Reply:

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  14. Judy Johnston

    Is there ANY way to attach a microphone to the FLIP? I am interested in using it with folks talking together but need to further back than the FLIP mic seems to pick up. Help.

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