TUTORIAL: Buying Your Camera

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by MaxDeVill, Sep 17, 2007.

  1. When making a video you definitely need a camera. But what type of camera should you choose? There are a million brands and a million features that you may know and some you may not know. This primer will help you cut through the muck and help you decide what type of camera is best for you and your budget.

    When choosing a camera, the first thing you must do is sit down and determine what features you want on your new camera. This camera will more than likely be with you for at least a year or more and buying the one that has the features you want will really help you from regretting your decision. If the camera you want you can’t afford RIGHT NOW then SAVE for it and buy what you want, not what you can get. And remember, just because a camera costs 3500 bucks doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you. I used a miniDV JVC for years and it served me wonderfully.

    Manual Controls

    Manual controls are vital if you plan on doing any real cinematography. Being able to adjust the focus and the white balance manually will give you more control over your finished product in leaps and bounds. You must be careful when purchasing a camera with these features, especially the manual focus for some cameras use a “joystick” style control which is not accurate at all. Also, with a HD camera you have to be very careful due to the nature of HD any minor discrepancy in focus will show itself.


    Manual focus is very important. Being able to focus your shot in any place you wish gives you the flexibility to give your video a great amount of style with a minimum amount of effort. It also will allow you to maintain focus at a fixed point and will keep your video looking professional.

    White Balance

    White Balance is the camera’s ability to display white. This sets the tone or “feel” of the video by determining how the colorization will be. If you take a White Balance card and shoot it center frame while adjusting the white balance, you will get the desired shot feel.

    Digital Zoom

    This is basically a pointless feature. It looks good on the box being able to say 100x Digital Zoom! But in all reality it will barely be used, if at all. You should be more concerned about your lens type and optical zoom rate. Especially with a magic video, you will be shooting “right in the action” so zoom rates are basically null anyways.

    Recording Format

    There are three basic recording formats used today. MiniDV, DVD and HDD. Each of these formats has its pluses and minus’. A DVD is typically a miniDVD and it holds a small amount of information, as a miniDV tape holds larger amounts of information, but the camera typically makes more noise and has the possibility of the tape becoming jammed. HDD is the newer way of doing things, but the shock protection on the hard drives is low and any little jar tends to typically cause errors in recording.

    To HD or not to HD

    High Def is the wave of the future. HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, etc… its all over everything and the cameras are becoming affordable. Is this the format you should choose or should you run with standard definition? HD takes much more hard drive space to work with in your editing software and much more system resources. It may look fantastic (as long as you don’t jack up the focus), but the question you have to ask yourself is where the consumer market is with HD. How many people do you know with HD-DVD players or Blu-Ray players? This hardware is expensive and with the battle between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD raging on, most people are waiting to see what wins before they purchase one.

    High Definition sounds great, looks great, and even looks fantastic on advertising, “Filmed in High Definition!”. But when you burn it to a DVD with a max of 800x600 resolution, filming in HD is pretty much a waste. If you have the money to purchase one, do so, for eventually HD will be here and the masses will have it. It will save you from the upgrade later.

    Microphone and Headphones

    You’re better off having a microphone and headphone jack built into your camera. The external microphone allows you to focus the audio on what you want and keeps you from getting the grinding of the gears or the “pop” of hand movement on the camera. Having the headphones allows you to monitor the sound as it is coming into the camera.

    The best option is to purchase a minidisc recorder or something similar to record audio separately and mix it up in post. This will allow you to set the audio levels easily and also to mix down the audio in post production to where it will sound better.

    LCD Screens

    LCD Screens burn up battery power, but you pretty much can’t get a camera today without one. It’s your option to use one, and I typically do, but you want it to be as large as possible. Especially when using a HD camera due to the focus issue.

    Low Light Performance

    Read reviews of the cameras you are considering. Look at what people have to say about inside shots and its low light performance. You’re not always going to be shooting outside at noon. Most cameras today have issues with low light performance and indoor shooting. Different lights have different looks on camera. Check up online about Film Lighting and you’ll see what I mean.

    Battery Life

    Most camera have a low battery life. Cameras today have a large draw of power required and most batteries can’t hold up for more than an hour of straight shooting. Make sure you purchase an extra battery or two and keep them charged. Nothing sucks worse than not having power to shoot and missing that fantastic effect and the audiences “freak out”.

    I hope this helps you in your choice of purchasing a camera for yourself… next time, Non-Linear Software Editing Packages.
  2. swt man. . .when's the software guide coming??
  3. been waiting for informed opinion like this.. thanks a lot..

    can u please name some models and makes please.. ?
  4. I'd like to add something important you have to keep in mind when choosing one of those formats:
    How do you get it on your PC.

    I don't know about those DVD Camcorders, but there are only 2 options:
    1.) The Camcorder saves the filmed stuff as a movie file on the DVD
    2.) The Camcorder spits out a finished DVD with menue etc.
    While #1 can easily get to your PC with drag and drop, #2 is more difficult and tricky.

    For miniDV you need a PC that supports IEEE 1394 interfaces (aka. Firewire). You can simply buy a Firewire-card, install the driver and plug your camcorder into your pc with the propper cable.

    Never worked with one of those, mostly because I'm afraid of loosing all my data at once. But I guess its simple drag and drop as well.

    Last thing I wanna add is the HD-Jazz.
    While its true that better resolution is always nicer, but you need a PC (and software) that can handle this high resolution movies (if you want to edit it a bit).
    Keep in mind, that even if you are producing for a DVD (normal Standart DVD) you won't see the higher resolution, because it'll be scaled down to fit the DVD standart (which even CAN (only "can") cause strange artefacts to appear).

    My sugesstion would be to shoot with a miniDV Camcorder.
    I for myself use a Panasonic GS 400 and I'm very much satisfied since I purchased about 2 years ago. You might find it way cheaper now on ebay.

    Another one I can recommend is the old (but still good) Canon XM2. A bit bigger then my GS400 which makes it look a bit more "professional".
    In the low/no budget moviemaker scene the Canon XM2 is still something like a holy grail... I guess...

    Both cameras are pretty good when it comes to lowlight conditions (the XM2 slightly better than the GS400), and both cameras are about the same price.
    You can't choose a wrong camera when choosing one of those two.

    Also I want to point out that camcorder are a bit like cards. Not the cards make the good performance, the performer does (Translation: Not the Cam can make a good movie, the guy who controlls it does).

    You might notice that I refer to old cameras a lot. The main reason is because I used them for quite a while. Also, because of the "camcorder war" between the companies a lot of good features got canceled in never versions of the consumer camcorder (which were avaible in the old ones).
    So bottom line, this is only my opinion and is not ment to replace your effort to search for information. Although I hope it helps a bit.
  5. A good thread, a topic that has come up recently.
  6. Second part of this very informative post. This has helped me outside of magic in other movies. Also I am wondering why people prefer to be Black and white. We have color y'll lets see that color, especially when it is a closeup shot of your cards. I know my rider backs don't come in black and gray pips, that would be confusing as heck.
  7. I have personally heard from many people I know that the Flip Mino HD is the best cheap one you can buy.

    So that is what I am saving for.
  8. Very helpful thread. I am buying a new camera next month and will look at the features that will appeal to me.

  9. #9 jasonffx, Sep 19, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 19, 2009
    i am wondering if i would like to shoot something with slow motion, the frame per second is important right? also if i would like to shoot something which include normal speed and slow motion, what software should i use?
  10. It just depends on what type of computer you have and how much money. On a Mac nothing beats Final Cut Pro, and on a PC I use Adobe Premiere... of course they're expensive as hell. You can get a watered down version of Adobe Premiere called Premiere Elements, but I've never used it personally. Mac has a moviemaker software that comes with iLife or it may be standard issue with Leopard I haven't used a mac in a couple of years, so I'm not that knowledgable. But Premiere Pro can do everything you want it to do.
  11. I ended up picking up a Kodak Zi8.

    I did a video review, but I can't post it anywhere, cause it is 11 minutes long and FULL HD, so... Yeah.

    But the bottom line is, it is AMAZING.

    I will check out Premiere Pro.

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