Camcorders

Question

Advice for a beginner

by Arielkedem / October 7, 2012 1:48 AM PDT

Hi,
I have been taking stills photographs for over 20 years and have never taken a photography course. I think I have reached a pretty professional level.
I am now looking to get into video shooting and was wondering if similarly, one could teach himself how to shoot good videos or is it more complicated and one must go through some kind of training to be able to produce good results.
I have a Sony Handycam DCR-SR68, which I have been using and am very unsatisfied with the quality of the films. I am looking into buying a professional or semi-professional High Definition video camera but again, am wondering if I could teach myself how to use it and produce good results or not.
Any advice on this issue as well as a good camera to start with (budget up to $2,000) would be extremely appreciated!
Thank you,
Ariel

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All Answers

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Answer
My opinion only...
by boya84 / October 7, 2012 12:44 PM PDT
In reply to: Advice for a beginner

I am "self-trained" in video capture and editing. I had the opportunity to watch others making short subjects. I was invited by some of them to capture the "behind the scenes" for their projects. Live music performances of local bands, short spots for for local non-profits, and small business - pretty much those who could benefit from video but could not afford "real skills, training and experience".

Things learned over the last 15-20 years:
1) Any camcorder can capture decent video if the camcorder is used within its "design parameters". Lower cost camcorders have small lenses & imaging chip. These don't do well under low-light conditions. Add light or use a camcorder with large lenses and 3-chip array.

2) Camcorders capture video - and audio. Any camcorder can capture decent audio if the audio level is normal, automatic audio gain control is used and the audio source is near the camcorder's built-in mics. When this is the case, usually, the framing of the video is poor. Use of external mics is prudent - so is using manual audio gain control for very loud or very soft audio. There is no "single best mic". A decent wireless lavalier or to, a shotgun mic and a good handheld mic or two are a start. XLR connectors are better than consumer grade 1/8" (3.5mm) connectors.

3) Humans were not built to be steady. Never shoot handheld. Use some sort of stabilizing gear. Tripod, helmet mount, floor, chair, table - anything, but not handheld.

4) When you get the camcorder, disable digital zoom.

5) Low compression is best. DV/HDV (usually to miniDV tape) is low compression. High compression AVCHD available in most flash memory and hard disc drive camcorders can have issues with fast action. It is not the storage media, but the format of the recorded video stored to the media. One can connect miniDV tape camcorders to external flash memory devices to record HDV format video over firewire connection. Panasonic DVCPro/DVCProHD and Sony DVCAM/HDCAM are also low compression formates that can be written to digital tape or flash memory.

6) Consider your editing environment. To be edited, video needs to be decompressed. 60 minutes of editable high definition video in your computer can consume up to 44 gig of computer hard drive space. How will the video be archived? Digital tape is an acceptable archive media. Flash memory is not. Single hard disc drive is not - but multi-drive RAID1 systems (like a network attached storage - NAS), are.

7) bhphotovideo.com, adorama.com, and a few other places are reputable. So is tapestockonline.com and Fry's Electronics (online or otherwise).

Cool The battery in the box with the camcorder is minimal. Get one or two high capacity rechargeable batteries from the camcorder manufacturer (or bhphotovideo's "Pearstone" private label).

9) The camcorder is one piece of a much larger system. To manage this along with the talent/story, use of a script, storyboards, shot list and lots of planning will help keep projects on track. Jump the track and expect problems. Short subjects and major productions are very carefully project managed to stay on budget.

10) If $2,000 is the budget, consider $1,000 for the camcorder and the rest for other stuff. If $2,000 is only for the camcorder, expect to spend at least that much on accessories. Add more for computer upgrades and editing/transcoding applications.

There's more - but I'll hold here until you say it is OK to proceed...

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Thanks a lot for your reply
by Arielkedem / October 8, 2012 3:21 AM PDT
In reply to: My opinion only...

Thanks a lot for all the advice and information! Please feel free to share any other information you think could be helpful.

You suggest spending an equal amount of money on accessories. Does that mean a microphone, tripod? anything else?

I think the total budget will not exceed $2,000 at this point, possibly a bit more. Any camera you'd recommend in this budget?

Thanks!

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you have options and decisions
by boya84 / October 11, 2012 11:56 AM PDT

depending on what your video capture plans are.

Music videos, documentaries, short subjects, 13/30/60 commercials, promotional spots for non-profits, and all the other "different" styles can use different equipment.

Example: Music video. There are basically two kinds (in my mind):
1) Live performance.
2) Pre-recorded.
Because music is binaural (and instruments are spread across a stage, use of a stereo mic during live performance is suggested. The separation of the music into the left/right channels is more robust than a single mono sound source. And getting room ambiance is easier. When prerecorded music is used, that would normally be stereo, anyway - so if one mixes live performance video with pre-recorded, just mute the live performance audio track(s). Have the band play/lip sync to the music playing while capturing video. Sync the music audio track captured with the video along with the pre-recorded music audio track. When in sync (there is no echo), mute the audio captured by the camcorder.

Example: Documentary - talking head.
If it is only one person speaking, then use a single mic - preferably a wireless lavaliere. Because it is only one person, no stereo separation is needed. A shotgun mic can work, too. So can a decent handheld dynamic mic.

If you don't know what you expect to capture and decide you need the widest window or capture opportunity, this means large lens diameter and large imaging chip array (typically 3CCD or more commonly these days, 3CMOS). Under $2,000, the Sony HDR-FX7 is good - but can be limiting. I would much prefer the Sony HDR-FX1000 or Canon XHA1.

If you decide to limit your low-light capture (by shooting under good conditions or adding light), then the Canon HV40 is worth a look as are any in the Canon HF S series AVCHD consumer camcorders.

A couple of mics, a decent tripod, optional high capacity rechargeable battery from the camcorder manufacturer, video light, maybe an XLR adapter depending and the camcorder, decent case... to start. Add other stuff as time passes and you find you need something.

I did not exactly "suggest spending an equal amount of money on accessories" but it does seem work out that way. Ultimately, you *could* easily spend more on extras than the camera itself. A basic Steadicam vest system with counter-balanced articulated arm for a consumer camcorder can price out around $2,700 (Steadycam Merlin system).

If you plan to capture LONG sequences (like a sporting event or anything over 20 minutes at a single push of the record button), then a dSLR capable of capturing video is not a good idea. They can overheat. If you plan to capture lots of short sequences and edit, then perhaps a dSLR (upper end of the Canon, Nikon or others) might be appropriate.

It really depends on the sort of video you want to get into... This is not much different from still image capture and getting different lenses for different shooting environments... flash or not, types of flash whether portrait, action, fashion, sports... bounce or not, shutter speed, aperture settings, etc...

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