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What Camera Shall I buy?

Can You Offer Any Advice on Buying A Camcorder?

Always a a tricky one to answer this, but I get asked it a lot...

I'm afraid I'm not up-to-date on the latest technology or news on cameras, so its difficult to advise because the technology is changing all the time. But, there are some standard questions you need to ask yourself when planning on buying a new camera.

Some food for thought when buying a camera....

Note, this was written some time ago.

  1. High quality 3-chip (3CCD) Mini DV cameras (SD broadcast quality) are really cheap now thanks to HD dominating the market.
  2. HD requires LARGE resources, and your hard drive may be filled up in a month unless your storage is measured in Terabytes (1TB = 1000GB).  Also some older editing software still can't handle HD footage well.
  3. In my opinion, disk cameras are totally rubbish - avoid, and hard drive cameras are vulnerable to dying if they get a hard knock. They also often compress the footage and may require you to convert your footage into another format before your editor can work with it - which can be a total faff.
  4. The best advice I can give on cameras is; do lots of homework before you take the plunge!  I know it's REALLY tempting, but don't rush into this, or you could regret it down the line if you buy a camera that doesn't do what you need it to do. Make sure you know exactly what you want it to do. Don't just say to yourself  "I want it for filmmaking", try to figure out what the majority of your films are going to be like, and how you are going to film them.
  5. Are most of your films going to be indoors? - if so, you will need a camera that handles poor light well - trust me this is a big deal!  I learned the hard way!   If your camera is not very good in poor light (and many of them aren't), then all your films will be grainy, and often out of focus.  Having a manual focus option is also essential - to prevent the auto focus from "hunting" whenever you film anything moving, or in low light levels. Cameras with a ‘manual settings’ option for focus and iris control are essential to overcome these things (especially focus hunting).
  6. Is the talent going to be speaking more than 4 feet away from the lens? - then you will need to plug in an external mic or your audience will not hear them. In short, an external mic socket is very useful for a filmmaking camera - sound is everything in filmmaking!  Although, after saying that, you can still record the sound independently (many low-budget filmmakers use a digital recorder linked to an external mic), and match it up with your video later in editing - you will need to use a clapper-board for this).  Personally I use a Zoom H2 or H1 mic which has a built in digital recorder, and provides high quality sound with minimum fuss.
  7. Will there be a lot of hand-held shots? if so, it's essential to get a camera with a built in image stabiliser (O.I.S.) -  Note: that's an "OPTICAL" image stabilizer and NOT "DIGITAL" image stabilizer - which is just a sales gimmick - Digital image stabilizers are usually pretty bad.
  8. You might not think of these issues when you go to buy the camera, but I guarantee you, if you are going to make films, they will crop up very quickly, and you will kick yourself if your camera can not do what you need it to do.
  9. Take some time to look at the reviews on some of the cameras you are thinking of.  Panasonic is pretty much one of the best brands, along with Sony followed by JVC.  Big-named brands are usually always a safer choice. That all-singing, all-dancing camera from "Toshimaszaki" might look cool, but I would play it safe and avoid.

Best over-all advice I can give, is don't skimp on the camera or you'll regret it after the first week when you need to do certain things and realise the camera is not up to the job.  If you have to wait more months to go up on the budget to get a decent one, then it's better to wait than to buy a cheapie, only to have to buy another more expensive one later on that can do what you want it to do. - that's just my opinion.

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