General discussion

Best budget camcorder for mainly audio.

Hey, I'm looking for a camcorder to record myself playing music and possibly a few live shows.
Video is important as well though, just not as much. Standard def is fine for me.
I know this makes it difficult, but I am on a very tight budget and can only afford up to about $200.
I've looked at the Zi8, Zoom Q3, and the Canon FS200. Would any of these be good, or are there better ones?

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It depends on the audio level...

and where you place the mic(s).

All camcorders (and cameras that can capture/store video) have an automatic audio gain "feature". For "normal" audio levels, this works fine for most folks. Also, if there is a lot of space between the mic and the around source, keep in mind that all that "space" will contribute to what the mics can hear and ultimately what gets recorded to the camcorder/camera. Most low end cameras have no audio gain control.

If the audio is really loud, it is likely that the auto mic gain will be overwhelmed and the recorded audio will sound very muddy or perhaps even have a lot of static ("peaking"). This cannot be fixed after it is recorded.

In this case you should probably find a camcorder with some sort of manual audio control. There are two basic methods. First, there is a "limiting switch". Generally, this method has a menu selection for normal or high audio levels. For the few Sony camcorders that have this, look for "MicRefLevel"; for the few Canons, look for Mic Attenuation". I did not check the Zi8 or Q3, but the FS200 does not have the control (just check the camera's manual).

Even better would be more granular manual audio, but you won't find this in camcorder less than about $700, so that won't be covered here.

Another method is to get whatever camcorder you want, but also get a "field recorder" to record the audio. I like the Zoom H2 and H4, but there are lots of good ones out there from manufacturers like M-Audio, Tascam, Edirol, Sony... and a bunch of others. They all have manual audio control (on top of auto gain). The short version is that when you edit the video captured by the camcorder, import the audio from the field recorder, synch with the video, mute the audio captured by the camcorder... While this is an extra step to do the synch, an advantage to using this method allows the "spatial" properties of the audio to remain in one place (don't move it once the field recorder is placed, then it does not matter where the camcorder video is captured from - remember, if the camcorder moves, so do the built-in mics so the audio characteristics will change).

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Samson Zoom Q3 - A Mini Camcorder with Superb Audio
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Since the video is not important (as the original poster said) then the high-compression standard def video may be good enough. The manual
shows it has "Low" and "High" audio sensitivity settings - and "Auto"... not the granular control of their audio recorders... but again, may be good enough. Does not look light low-light use on the video will work to well...

Good find!

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