Documenting on a Budget When You're Also a Unique Snowflake
January 2, 2012 10:23 PM   Subscribe

What makes more sense for documenting my trip to South Korea and Vietnam, an HD video camera or a digital still camera?

So, I am leaving for South Korea in a few weeks (!!!). I'll be spending some time there, in Seoul as well as several smaller cities and villages, and also some time in Vietnam (definitely Hanoi and Halong Bay, and likely HCMC as well.

Obviously, I want to document all that I can, but I am uncertain about the best approach. So, first a few bits of relevant information about me as a traveler:

-I travel very light. I never carry more than one midsize bag. I need my camera to be portable.
-I don't want to spend much. Like, at all. I know that new cameras and HD recorders are a lot of bang for the buck, so I think that under $100 for something that I want to use, basically, for just this trip seems reasonable.
-I do not travel with a laptop, so I need something with a storage system that won't require me to constantly dump images off the camera.
-I do not get crazy with taking pictures. I don't spend much time with the camera in hand. I just want to have the option for decent pictures/video, as opposed to it being a central part of my travels.
-I don't need anything amazingly durable, but I don't want something that'll surely break.
-I imagine that I will mostly want to be documenting in daylight hours, so excellent night shooting is a bonus, but not a must.

Knowing myself, and looking at that list, I think there are a couple options:

1.) Buy a sub-$100 digital camera, basically a point and shoot. I've had a Nikon coolpix (lower end model) and liked it a lot. Same for a lower end Canon powershot. Are those still solid picks for that sort of thing?

2.) Buy a cheapish HD video camera, like a FlipCam. The 8gb model here looks like it has most of what I'm after. They say 8gb=2 hours. How right is that?

Additional things: I am sort of attracted to the idea of the FlipCam (or other video device) because I used to enjoy video editing many moons ago, and having a couple hours of HD video from the trip that I can edit when I get home might be a fun project (plus those gorgeous HD videos all over vimeo of people traveling with great music and gorgeous faces make me want that!). Am I insane to think that 2 hours is enough onboard time to record a few weeks worth of travel?

Also, if it will work, I'll simply bring my phone (Tmobile US Samsung Vibrant) to use a basic camera, and use the potential FlipCam for everything else. Pardon my tech illiteracy, but will my phone even be usable as a camera that far outside of the tmobile network?

So, there you have it. What should I do? Am I maybe missing a perfect solution?? Thanks for your help MeFi!
posted by broadway bill to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Avoid a Flip brand camera. It has only internal storage and you would have to dump the files off after the memory is full after 2 hours. You will want more. If you want a camera of that type, look at the Kodaks, which use SDHC cards, and have several.

This one is $60 free ship right now. It actually is new in a plain box, not refurbished. Kodak needs money. It has digital video stabilization which works pretty well, and it will take decent but not great stills.

Your phone will be usable as a camera out of network, but it might not be usable as a phone.

A P&S camera can't be ruled out. But Nikon or Canon under $100 will not take videos as good as this Kodak, particularly the Kodak sound is excellent. But the P&S will take far better stills and it will have flash.
posted by caclwmr4 at 10:48 PM on January 2, 2012

Oh, 8gb is about 2 hours with that Flip or that Kodak, in HD. You can shoot at 640x480 with either too, giving about 6 hours in 8gb. The battery for the Flip or the Kodak will go for about 1 hour 50 minutes before needing charging. The Kodak allows you to change its battery which is KLIC-7004 or NP-50 type, also easily found on ebay or a camera store. The Flip battery is sealed in like its memory.
posted by caclwmr4 at 11:05 PM on January 2, 2012

I would say a nice still camera and maybe a gopro if you need HD video
posted by neversummer at 11:21 PM on January 2, 2012

After 2 months t_mobile will unlock your phone for free so you can use it internationally. You will probably be able to get local sim cards at the destination airport.

I would go with a digital camera as its easier to casually share stills with friends.
posted by askmehow at 11:30 PM on January 2, 2012

A decent point-and-shoot sounds kinda perfect, really. A spare memory card is tiny and not expensive (I bought a generic brand, it works fine) and converters for a charger and you're all set.

I picked up my little Canon Powershot (SD1300 Elph) a few years ago on sale and am very happy with daytime pic quality, and consistently surprised with the awesomeness of urban no-flash nightime pics. I'm less zowie about the video quality, but that's not really my thing. Pick your brand/model accordingly.
posted by desuetude at 11:32 PM on January 2, 2012

Oh, and my SO really enjoys his Flip, but it does need more frequent charging, which can be a PITA on the go. And stills are more versatile.
posted by desuetude at 11:34 PM on January 2, 2012

If you want to shoot HD, and want to actually capture a lot of what is going on, you'll easily be able to spend that $100 just on storage cards alone. I'd suggest avoiding video as your primary capture device, unless you want to increase your budget significantly. Video will also require a lot of editing time to come up with anything other than hours of boring home video.

I'm not trying to keep you from shooting any video at all, but given the choice of being able to take thousands of photos or just a few hours of video, I would take the photos.
posted by markblasco at 11:34 PM on January 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Editing is really the elephant in the room here. How much time do you want to spend when you get home, editing all the raw images/footage into some sort of ... thing? And what sort of thing do you want to produce?

Producing a decent video takes a lot of editing time. Although you can obviously spend just as much time (as much as you want, really) on still photos, IMO you can produce something passable with a lot less time invested if you are just working with stills. A coffee-table book, for instance, might be a nice end goal.

I think you need to consider that, and then back out your equipment and storage accordingly. Also, you really need to have an idea of your end product when you're shooting. If you're shooting for a general-interest coffee table book / bragbook, that's going to change the shots that you'd want to take, versus something purely for your own memories.

Anyway, this may be a bit controversial given how cheap video recorders are getting, but my feeling is that unless you need video, take stills instead. A few halfway decent snapshots are worth a lot of mediocre video, and getting more than mediocre video requires a fair bit of work and planning.

tl;dr: Get a good P&S and a lot of high-quality cards, and shoot them like film (fill and store). Memory cards today are cheaper than film was 10 years ago anyway, even if you just use each one once. Almost all of them can also take video if there is something you really want video of, but use it sparingly and when the situation demands it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:59 PM on January 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Video is a PITA once you have it recorded. How often are you going to sit down and watch your footage of local color? On the other hand, pictures can become a decorative element, desktop background, etc., with a few clicks. Also, even a cheap camera will take cellphone-quality video, which will be enough for the memories.
posted by introp at 12:07 AM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd go with stills for the simple reason that I die inside every time someone asks me to watch their holiday videos, which are invariably dull, whereas I'm OK about looking at someone's snaps. I also think that if you spend your whole time videoing a country, you experience very little of it and you degrade every human interaction you have while doing so.

Soo...just buy a small camera, take some photos and enjoy and remember your time there.
posted by rhymer at 1:25 AM on January 3, 2012

I bought this camera - Canon PowerShot ELPH 300 HS 12.1 MP Digital Camera - last summer for a trip to San Francisco and loved it. It took more than decent photos and pretty good HD video.

It's a little more than you want to spend $140, but it was awesome because it easily met my need to take photos & videos with one device without breaking the bank.

I took several 8GB HD cards with me and was able to shoot all the video I wanted, I rarely took more than 30s at any given time.
posted by SoulOnIce at 6:24 AM on January 3, 2012

Agreed that Flip video cameras are the devil--you have to use their proprietary software to get the video files off, which is a major pet peeve of mine. Plus, the sound quality is pretty awful. With your budget, I don't think you'll be able to find anything that does good evening shooting. High f-stops = lots of money.

I agree with Kaden2048, and think SoulOnIce's suggestion of the Canon PowerShot is a good one; maybe you could find a used one and use the saved money to buy extra memory cards (because if you're not dumping the photos and footage, you're going to need a few memory cards).

Another caveat re: video: even if you do decide to go that route, at this budget, the image quality (color balance, lens quality, etc.) isn't going to be so hot. Spending a few weeks looking at less-than-awesome footage may get frustrating. If you're really interested in creating some sort of video presentation, you can create a slideshow movie from the stills.

To give you an idea of the time editing can take, it took me about 5.5 hours to edit 30 min of footage to create a decent-looking 3.5 minute music video for a class project, and that was going in knowing pretty much what I was going to do with the footage and having prior video editing experience.
posted by smirkette at 6:43 AM on January 3, 2012

Unless you are recording an event where it is important to capture motion, shoot with a still camera, not video. Since even modest P&S cameras can shoot video in a pinch, go with that.

You can shoot still photos at lower res (6 MP is more than enough) and/or bulk up on memory cards to make your storage go farther.
posted by adamrice at 7:50 AM on January 3, 2012

Re Flips:

First of all, they're going off the market, so for longterm, not a good choice.


Agreed that Flip video cameras are the devil--you have to use their proprietary software to get the video files off, which is a major pet peeve of mine. can actually work around this to just download the files at least to iMovie. My Mac would not accept their software for some reason.

Anyway, a Flip will not work without a computer to download it to when it's full, so it's obviously not a good choice for you. Still cameras are generally much less of a pain when traveling.
posted by emjaybee at 10:00 AM on January 5, 2012

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