Help me get started on digital video making by buying a decent camera.
March 6, 2010 1:21 PM   Subscribe

Help me get started on digital video making by buying a decent camera. I'm confused by all the available formats!

I've been interested in playing around with digital video for quite some time now and I want to buy a camera. And I only have three requirements.

1) It must shoot HD video
2) It must have a pretty good image quality and perhaps some sort of image stabilization
3) It should be a consumer or prosumer oriented model, costing less than $1000 (around $700 is ideal)

As for the supported medium (HDD, Flash memory or tape), this is a bit of a dilemma. I read "The Little Digital Video Book" by Michael Rubin and it is a great book. But the author is really biased towards tape, and I sort of see his point, which is that tape is relatively inexpensive and its physical storage is pretty simple to organize. Now if are shooting your video in flash memory or directly to a hard drive, disk space for storage is always a concern.

As I said, I see his point but not sure if it's a problem. What I don't want to happen is go out to shoot something and run out of media too soon. Or having to buy several external hard drives to keep my raw files because I may want to go back to them one day.

So, any amateur digital video makers out there willing to help a newbie? Thanks!
posted by falameufilho to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Tape is dead.

Digital storage costs a lot less these days, especially considering the fact that you can re-use it without degradation. The "disc space" argument makes no sense because you are going to have to capture all those tapes in order to edit them. You will need a large hard drive or drives to work with video in a serious way; luckily hard drives are also cheap these days.

The last time I used tape was with miniDV, which is a dead format anyway. There are some cameras that supposedly record HD on a miniDV tape, but I wouldn't have much faith in that. Almost any video camera you'd use for a professional or semi-professional project these days uses digital storage.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:33 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

On a broader note, I have always been *very* leery of those kind of books. The tech just moves too fast. (I don't know the vintage of that book, but it sounds at least five years old.)

If you want to make movies, I'd recommend a more general book on cinematography. The best way I know to find out about camera options and tech choices is the internet, or better yet just talk to someone who is doing the kind of stuff you want to do.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:36 PM on March 6, 2010

As far as saving every bit of footage you ever shoot, I see that as a kind of non-issue. I feel like once I have a finished cut of a project, and it's been a few months, it's done and I don't need all the hours of extraneous footage anymore. It could conceivably be nice to have, but then you are getting into professional archiving solutions, because tape degrades too, especially if it's just laying around the house. And then when you do want it back, you're probably dealing with an extinct format. I recently spent about a week trying to capture an old comedy show off a digital8 (!) tape- I did get it work, but just barely, and the ancient camera I had to use ate a different tape in the process.

If this was really a concern, I suppose you could print all your digital footage to something robust like an HDCAM tape, but that is not cheap, and is really overkill imo.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:41 PM on March 6, 2010

As well as looking at digital video cameras, you might want to consider DSLRs like the Canon T2i, which can shoot full HD.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 2:02 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's all about future proofing your work.

Short story: What happens if your HD dies? With tape, you can reccapture the data; Tapeless you can't - so you best make two copies.

Tape: Working with tape means pretty much for the next 10+ years being able to go back and recapture shots. Tape is going to mean DV or HDV.

The big thoughts here are that you can edit something that is expensive for a client today (multiple days of shooting, lots of editing) and then next year, make slight changes easily, because you can recapture your sequence or the whole project from the tapes. Projects are fairly small and easy to have multiple copies. Tape is pretty much 'safe' from hard drive crashing.

When you're finished, you're likely going to copy all of the project to a hard drive (or better yet two - for safety/redundancy) because storage is relatively cheap.
HD/Chip: Most likely this is going to only be HD (although there are some cameras that can shoot SD.) Most of these are shooting to AVCHD (some to HDV).

On location, you're going to have to copy the data off the camera onto something - likely a laptop. What if that laptop dies? So now, you're making two copies of the work on the set.

Capture can be faster than tape (tape is only realtime) - Tapeless can sometimes as fast as the storage mediums can work (1 gig a minute.)

Again, in the edit, what happens when a HD dies? In a tape system, you've been backing up your project, you'd just need to recapture from tape. In a tapeless system you're going to have to keep 2 HD of your footage; one that you're using, one for the shelf. It can be the same HD as above - the key concept to help you sleep at night professionally (or prosumerly) is a Raid 5 or 6. But they all say "Raids aren't the same as a backup.)

When you finish, you're going to put a copy of the finished project to two HD minimum - again, the same redundancy here.

This shouldn't sound like you need 6 hard drives, merely that you have to have redundancy as all Hard drives die; and you want not to have to deal with recovery services.
Oh, the author? He's used to dealing with people who at some point have borked their systems, gone into the 'biz' and been cheap; he's the one who has to break them the bad news. There's almost no bad news in tape (aside from capture times.)

Last, which would I pick? Yeah, tapeless. But I'm pretty fastidious in my data wrangling practices.
posted by filmgeek at 2:42 PM on March 6, 2010

Best answer: The book came out in '08, and according to Wikipedia a MiniDV tape stores 60 minutes of video, compared to 72 minutes for a 32gb CF card, which costs about $72. The price for MicroSDHC is a little higher. Then again a 10-pack of tapes on amazon is $23.

Short story: What happens if your HD dies? With tape, you can reccapture the data; Tapeless you can't - so you best make two copies.

Shouldn't be too big of a deal with Flash, and what's wrong with having two copies? You can get a 2TB drive now for $140 on newegg, or a 500gb for $44. (this site is great for finding hard drive prices) Raw SATA drive bays like this make it easy to back stuff up on lots of drive,
posted by delmoi at 3:55 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't buy a miniDV camera, you'll be kicking yourself a year from now. SDHC is the way to go; there's also a new standard coming out, SDXC which is higher capacity. Check out this site they have a lot of good reviews about upcoming cameras, personally I'm selling a Canon HV30 (so long miniDV tapes!) and holding out for some of the new models Panasonic is coming out with.

In terms of handling media, do yourself a favor and buy a RAID hard disk enclosure, you can get ones geared toward home users for a 2 or 3 hundred bucks. If you're serious about the video you're shooting you want backups AND backups of your backups. Don't spend a grand on a camera another grand or more on a computer and then get cheap on your hard drives, equipment is easily replaced; once in a life time shots whether they are of Juniors first Christmas or from your trip to China can't be.
posted by Scientifik at 4:06 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Whatever recording format you get make sure you get a 3CCD (Charge Couple Devse) camera. This has a recording devise for each of the primary colours (rather than 1 CCD for all colours) and provides a much better recorded image.
posted by Brpod at 3:36 AM on March 7, 2010

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