You are currently browsing the daily archive for February 4, 2007.
Buying a camera is like buying a car. First, your personal preferences come into play. And once you’ve plonked down the big bucks, you aren’t about to admit you made a mistake – so you swear by what you have. Trust me on this.
I spent quite a bit of time initially asking camerafolk friends what camcorder they liked – and a lot of the time there was, as there is with cars, a brand preference. While it is true that certain brands have a reputation for quality, there are some good buys in the lesser known brands. I eventually came up with a list of “must have” and “nice to have” features. If you’ve read prior posts on cameras, you know this list includes manual aperature/iris contol, manual focus, manual white balance, a mike input, headset jack, and a decent optical zoom.
My first purchase was a Canon ZR10 – and I wore it out in two years. I’m brutal with cameras, constantly shooting. I also use the low-end cameras for playback/capture to computer. I’ve since learned my lesson – now I go on eBay and specifically look for broken cameras that will play back tape fine but might have viewfinder/LCD problems. All I want is a reliable tape carriage – not the optics or ability to record or even see what I’ve got.
So – what is in my camera bag? I actually have four camera bags.
1. Sony Hi-8 analog camcorder with charger. This belonged to my dad and I still use it just for fun or if I need to be out in weather and don’t want to risk my other gear. No LCD but a good zoom – great for shooting night sports.
2. ZR60 bag – camera has charger, long-life battery, telephoto and wide angle adapters, lav and stick mikes with mini-jack plugs, headset. This is my workhorse/everyday camera.
3. JVC GY-DV300u – my first “good” personal camcorder. I’d just left news and had a project and I wanted something nice – a three chipper. Plus this camera had XLR professional audio ports – dual channel. I could shoot ambiant/shotgun sound on one channel and have a mike plugged into the other. The zoom is only 10x – a disappointment still – but there is a focus ring in front, so no fiddling with a tiny dial and easy access to iris and audio controls. The camera can also be set up to operate in two modes (A & B). This bag has two long life batteries, Lectrosonic wireless mike, Electrovoice stick mike with 10′ cable and headset. Used for special/important projects.
4. Audio bag. My “terminator” bag. I had a wide variety of audio adapters, video adapters, cables, tape, tool kit, whatever might be needed in an emergency. Mike batteries. RCA cables. Usually this bag is stored and not used – but when I need something, I can find it quickly.
Re tripods – I have a collection. Some are garage sale cheapies and some I went to the trouble to buy. My mainstays are a Velbon 607 – little plastic tripod which I use a lot – and a Bogan/Manfratto with fluid head/cost around $350 five years ago.
I still don’t have a good light kit, but hope to have one soon. I’m getting by with a couple of inexpensive on-camera lights and some OSH/Orchard Supply Hardware shop lights. I did purchase a good reflector set, with gold, silver, and white sides.
Computers are a desktop – iMac with 21″ screen – and laptop – MacBook with 15″ screen. I use the MacBook daily and the iMac for special projects.
Couple of tips:
Freezer ziplock bags (the heavy duty ones) in quart size are ideal for storing little bits of gear – audio adapters, tapes, etc. I just label the bag with a Sharpie and plop into the appropriate camera bag.
Those elastic bands that little girls use to tie their hair up in ponytails – the ones with the hard plastic balls – are ideal for cord wraps. You just wrap and use the ball to hold the band secure.
Keep a couple of clean face towels in your bag in ziplock bags. Great for wiping down damp gear.
Painter’s tape (comes in blue and other colors) is a good substitute for gaffer’s tape. It doesn’t stick and destroy surfaces, although it doesn’t hold as well as gaffer’s tape either.
Time to look at cameras in the mid-range, which means $500-$1,200 (not including tax, shipping). My first urge was to keep the mid-range price below $1,000, but that left few choices. I like the low-end (under $500) camcorders for their size and ease of use, however, there seems to be a trend away from some professional necessities, such as mike input on both low and medium range cameras. And who knows what they might eliminate next – manual iris and focus. Let’s face it: most folks just want to point and shoot and they want the simplest and best deal they can get. (Frankly I don’t understand why the camera companies don’t get rid of the special effects first.)
If you need a review, go to “How to Choose a Camera” for more details/definitions about terms and features.
When you pay more for a camera, expect more. It should be sturdier, definitely have manual controls, better lens, more/higher count CCDs. In order to make my list below, the camera must have a mike input, headset out, zoom of at least 10x (I wanted 15x or better, but again that doesn’t appear to be possible), and manual iris, focus, and white balance. It also, obviously, has to fit in the price range of $500-$1,200 and take mini-DV tapes. I do not generally like cameras sold as part of a kit: unless you are familiar with exactly what is in the kit, you’re taking a chance that someone else knows what you want. Finally…I’m not looking at low light ability, interchangable lenses or other features you may want. This is just a quick look-see to find out what you can get in a certain price range.
The lowest priced camera to meet my requirements, the Panasonic PV-GS500, has three 1/4.7 chips rated at 1.07 megapixels each. There is a mike jack, but strangely enough – no headphone jack. I’d like to know how Panasonic expects you to monitor audio (and I’m willing to bet it’s through the yellow AV port – confirm this before purchasing). Cost today at B&H (1/4/07) is $900.
Next up the price range is the very professional looking Panasonic AG-DVC7. It only has a single 1/4″ 680k CCD – a step up from the 1/6 inch CCDs in the under $500 crowd, but not as good as the Panasonic PV-GS500. It has both microphone & headset jacks and a 15x zoom. If you want a mid-range camera that doesn’t look like a handycam, check this one out. Price is $1,000.
Now for the suprise: that’s it with mid-range camcorders with mike inputs/headset jacks and manual controls. Even at this price the manufacturers are not including the ability to record clean sound. It seems that the general public values quality in pictures…but is still clueless about the need for good audio.
If we push the price up we can look at the Panasonic AGDVC20, the JVC GR-HD1, and the Sony HDR-HC7 1080i – all for under $1,500. Still disappointing though…