Help me choose a web camcorder
February 6, 2013 4:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm making some videos for the internet on a very low budget and am having trouble finding a suitable camera. I need something a step up from a webcam or a Flip HD.

I originally wanted to use a DSLR capable of taking video, and got all set up with a Nikon D90, but I don't know a lot about cameras and no matter what I do, the lighting and focus turn out wrong. On the other hand, I've been using a little Flip HD which I got for free, and it's easy to use and the results are pretty good. The trouble is that it records in Mp4 which makes it a pain to edit.

I'm basically looking for something that is one step up from the Flip. Something that's easy and meant for video (the D90 can only take 5 minutes of video at a time!) but which has any sort of lens at all--something that will give the videos a better feel.

I'd go for a webcam, but they all look pretty crappy, even the "high-end" ones. I'm bigger on image quality than resolution. I prefer a good quality low-res video that captures great images to a HD cameraphone video that looks like, you know, a cameraphone took it.

Or maybe there's a trick to making the D90 work for me.
posted by brenton to Technology (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What is your budget and what editing software are you using? What is the difficulty with editing MP4? I use that format all the time with Sony Vegas and Cyberlink SD 10 with no problems at all.
posted by snsranch at 6:26 PM on February 6, 2013

according to a cursory search online, the D90 does have a 5 minute limit - for HD video. if you switch to standard video, you get a 20 minute limit. this might help your purposes, and since your previous standard was the Flip HD, the standard video may even be quite a step up from that.

i also searched for "optimum settings for D90 video", and there seemed to be a bevy of pages talking about different setups for different types of video. also, if the lighting seems to be wrong, instead of buying an entire other camera, perhaps you could buy a better lightsource, like an extra lamp? what is the situation that you're shooting in?
posted by koroshiya at 6:30 PM on February 6, 2013

At this stage I don't think there's any point recording in less-than-HD quality.

Some considerations:
- Audio - sound is as important (if not more important) than video. If your video is going to feature dialogue then you should seriously consider using some sort of external mic. The D90 does not have a mic input.

- Duration - obviously the 5-minute limit on the D90 is problematic. Most DSLRs have similar limits (12 minutes for the Canon 5D Mk2 for example).

- Ease of use - DSLRs can produce great video, but they aren't usually very easy to operate, especially if you're trying to shoot yourself. This is something you've discovered with the lighting and focus, both of which tend to be very fiddly on DSLR cameras.

- Manual control - the D90 is probably great here. You can precisely control focus, exposure, white balance etc, consumer video cameras tend to default to "auto everything"

With all that in mind, what's the best answer? If depends on budget and your specific demands. A common phrase is "the best camera is the one you have" which is to say you should use what you've got to get creating rather than worry what else could do a better job.

On the other hand it's incredibly frustrating having your creative intentions hampered by technology that won't cooperate or is poorly suited to the task.

I consulted a while ago with a company that was in the process of setting up a little in-house video production unit. We ended up buying consumer handycams after looking at the options - they were easier to operate and better suited to the work than DSLRs that some staff wanted to use. We added to that some decent microphones, tripods and a small lighting kit. The results were good and have got better as they've become more familiar with the gear.

So for cameras, I'd start looking at consumer handycams. They have good optics, they are designed very specifically for video and are easy to use. Look for cameras where you can override auto settings, especially focus and exposure. Either manually set them, or use auto to get them right, then lock them and only change manually.

Look at getting an external mic - either a lapel mic or a shotgun depending on your usage. And a decent video tripod (with a good panning fluid head).

As for editing - well most HD cameras will shoot some form of MPEG4 - either H264 MP4 files or AVCHD. These are good codecs, but if your software doesn't cope with them well then you may need to look at other software options. Final Cut Pro X on the Mac, and Premiere Pro CS6 both handle MPEG4-based video really well. There are a variety of other options too.

Some specifics? Canon's cameras have been really well received for this type of thing, the Canon HF M500 is about $350 with rebate from B&H and has a good range of features. In general look for a camera that features 1080p24 or 1080p30 formats - interlaced (1080i) isn't well suited for web usage.

Microphone wise, Audio Technica makes some great stuff. Their ATR6550 and Pro-24CM models are both about $60 from B&H and will seriously improve on the sound quality of your video. Or if a lapel (lavalier) microphone would be more suitable then a Pearstone OLM-10 looks decent. There's even an inexpensive digital wireless product from Sima that looks promising (SDW-150).

I have no specific experience with any of those products, but they seems broadly suitable for the things you're doing and are well-reviewed on B&H (where I usually look for such things).
posted by sycophant at 11:24 PM on February 6, 2013

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