Cameras For Filmmaking
Choosing a Video Camera for Filmmaking
Are you looking for a video camera buying guide? Would you like me to tell you everything about all the latest models and then advise you on which camera to buy? Well, let me explain to you why this isn’t what you actually want, even though you might think it is. There’s this old saying about fishing.
Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.
Well my friends, today I’m going to teach you how to fish.
If I were to write camcorder reviews for every model out there, not only would I be duplicating the stuff that’s already on tons of other websites like epinions and camcorderinfo; keeping the list up to date would be a full-time job in itself, and my camcorder buying guide would become obsolete faster than a flat tire on a unicycle.
There isn’t a magical formula for “the best video camera ever,” because there isn’t one.
I’m sorry if that’s not what you want to hear, but I think you’ll benefit more from knowing the specifics about what to look for in a camera, rather than me just telling you which model you should like.
The camera you buy has to fit your needs and fall within your price range, right? So instead of me telling you that Camera Brand and Model X is priced at Y dollars and has Z features, I’m going to show you what features are important when it comes to getting a camera for filmmaking.
Then I’m going to tell you what those features mean, how they work, and what effect they could have on the way you use this piece of equipment after you buy it. After all, that’s the important part isn’t it?
Camcorder Buying Guide
Some pretty significant advances in technology have resulted in an almost continuous shift between formats in the consumer grade video camera sector. If you’re interested in what’s happened recently with camera technologies and formats, click to go over to the Video Camera Technology page. If you’d like to read on, let’s take a look at my list of features to keep in mind while shopping for your camera.
Choosing Your Camera
Knowing what I’ve explained above, you should also realize that as with any new technology, the prices of HD cameras are high but are coming down quickly. It may be wise to invest in an HD video camera if you can, but you can achieve fantastic results with a standard definition camera as well.
If you decide to go with HD, realize that your editing workstation and hardware package will need to be robust enough to keep up with a fairly intense processing load. Keep the following features and specifications in mind while you research the cameras available to you.
The image captured by a video camera is determined by two pieces of hardware on the camera itself: the lens, and the charge-coupled device(s), or CCD(s).
A CCD is basically a light sensor. Most consumer video cameras have a single CCD in them, but some higher-end models have up to three. When a camera has only one, this CCD handles all of the light and color information in the entire spectrum. A 3-CCD camera, however, uses one for Red, one for Blue, and one for Green, which results in sharper and more true-to-life color reproduction.
Lenses on consumer camcorders are fairly standard across the board; you’re not going to find a lot of them that come with wide-angle fisheye lenses or anything. Instead look for features such as zoom and focal length to determine the scope of what the camcorder has the ability to capture.
In many cases you can purchase add-on lenses that change the depth of field or the aspect ratio of your picture in some way. But unless you’re after a really stylized video, these shouldn’t be a major consideration on your list.
Aside from how your camcorder deals with color, the other part of the picture is the way it handles light. The human eye adjusts to different levels of light and darkness when the iris, which controls the muscles surrounding your pupils, expands and contracts those muscles.
When there is more light reflected into your eyes, the iris closes these protective shields around the pupils so that less light reaches them The iris opens up and lets more light in when it’s dark, which is why your eyes can adjust after you’ve been in a dark room for awhile.
The iris on a camera works in a similar way, adjusting to let different amounts of light through the aperture to hit the lens. An appropriately adjusted aperture keeps the camera’s picture clear and level so that it isn’t over- or under-exposed. It works in conjunction with the camera’s shutter speed, or how quickly the camera’s shutter opens and closes each time it records an image.
Another feature to look for is white balance. This is how the device adjusts its color temperature to compensate for different types of lighting. Fluorescent bulbs tend to cast a more blue-ish light while incandescent bulbs are more yellow. An image that has not been white balanced will appear off, as the whites will not be true white and instead have a more blue or yellow tint.
Virtually all consumer video cameras have auto-focus, which coincidentally operates the aperture and white balance functions automatically, as well as setting a standard shutter speed (normally 1/60). This is all fine for most applications, but if you are an advanced user and you prefer to have more control over some of these settings, look for the ability to set each function manually, including white balance.
Inputs and Outputs
Trends in the I/O schemes included on new cameras often follow the most commonly used hardware specs available at any given time. When it comes to outputs, it’s fairly simple: just make sure the camera has a port that matches your computer, and opt for firewire if you’re in standard definition and HDMI for high-def if you can afford it.
Other common outputs (or outputs you might find on your older cameras) include USB, AV/DV, and S-Video. These could all be options for you based on the computer you are using to capture video.
Inputs can be a topic you don’t think twice about, or something that you should look at closely, depending on your needs. The main input you would use would be for an external microphone. This can be an extremely useful feature, as it will allow you to connect a simple shotgun or lapel mic directly to your camera’s audio feed and will eliminate the need for a separate device just for audio recording.
If you choose to go that route, know that it’s pretty rare to find a camera with an external mic jack. For whatever reason, manufacturers have stopped making as many models with this feature as they used to.
Bang For Your Buck
Read reviews written by other consumers. Especially in the world of electronics, reading reviews will give you a better idea of how a camera performs than any promotional brochure ever could. People who have chosen to buy camcorders and have been using them for awhile will have useful information to share with you.
But be conscious of the fact that many negative reviews are written by people who, for one reason or another, ended up with a faulty product and got so angry they decided to fault an otherwise good brand or model.
I’ve also seen technical specs that people would use for camcorder buying listed incorrectly, even on their own manufacturers’ websites! The most important thing is to know what you’re looking for when you set out to buy a camcorder, which hopefully this article has helped you with.
One Final Tip
If you can’t afford to buy a camcorder that’s on the prosumer or high-end side, one way to achieve good quality that you may not have thought of, is to look into buying a digital SLR instead. An SLR is the kind of camera you’d see a professional photographer carrying around. These were mainly used for snapping still photos in the past, but now many digital versions of these cameras have the capability to record full-frame, high-definition video in exquisite quality that meets or exceeds that of many digital camcorders.
The benefit of having one of these at your disposal is that, as I mentioned above, these cameras generally allow you to manually control most of the visual and light settings that a photographer or high-end filmmaker would. In essence, the quality of these cameras is such that each frame looks like a high-resolution photo taken by a professional! You can affix any zoom lens you could buy for a photography camera and achieve great depth of field and color reproduction, too.
There are new models coming out all the time, but most digital SLR cameras on the consumer market today are perfect, relatively low-cost options for filmmaking.
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