What Video Camera Should I Get For Recording Family Interviews?
April 16, 2014 12:19 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a recommendation of a video camera (and anything else necessary like external microphone etc) that is inexpensive but good enough that I won't regret not spending more money. If I could spend $200 that would be great, but if you tell me I'll kick myself for not spending $300 then I can do that.

Before my parents and some aunts/uncles get too old, I'd like to sit them down and record some interviews for posterity. I'll probably sit them down in a nice bright room in a comfy chair - no action shots or noisy environments. I'm planning to use a tripod (so the camera should be able to be mounted on one).

I don't know anything about video cameras. Will this cheap Samsung do the job? How about this more expensive Sony? Or do I not want a "camcorder" at all?

Should I get this lighting kit for $40 that was recommended in a previous Ask question? (That question was a bit different and didn't have enough specific recommendations by price point to be helpful for me...)

Do I need a external microphone like this?

Please just tell me what to order on Amazon so that I can record some good quality video and sound of interviews!
posted by Mjolnir to Technology (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm probably biased, but I would push you towards the Sony. The worst thing when I was pricing video cameras a year ago was not seeing examples of the kind of footage the camera is capable of taking. So here are some videos (obviously the quality is a little lower because of converting for YouTube, but they give you a pretty good idea of what you'd be looking at) I've taken using my Sony HD XR 160.

Here's a video of a presentation I did recently, shot using the HD setting. The audio and video are completely unedited, and the room had no special lighting - in fact, it had florescent lights. Here's a video I did with my camera in my bedroom, which has one crappy lamp and no natural lighting - and my audio is taken from the camera too. My face is the one on top; the bottom face is screencaptured from a Google Hangout, so you can see the difference in quality. Here's a video I did while walking around the Farmers Market in Marin. Sorry it's a little nauseating when I'm walking around, but again, seeing what it can do outside with natural lighting is also helpful I think. And that video I had to lower the quality to get it to upload to YT.

Speaking of...the other factor to think about is what you're going to do with the video files. Using HD video takes up a TON of space - the files I import from my camera are between 2-5 GB per hour of video. Unless you have a huge hard drive anyway, you should consider the cost of an external hard drive to store video. Also, how are you editing the video? Those files are also pretty huge, and after a year of doing semi-professional video editing, I've filled nearly 2 TB of my source files and finished products. That's not including the project files, which I typically delete after the video is finished.

When I was pricing cameras, I decided to get the best quality equipment I could afford. That was the Sony - at the time, they were selling it new for $700. I got it used on Amazon for $300. Totally worth it. I think if you get a camera you love and start shooting video, you have a better sense of what other stuff you'll need to get the product you want.

Hope that helps.
posted by guster4lovers at 2:13 PM on April 16, 2014

Best answer: I would not get the Samsung. The only brands of sub-$300 camcorders I would buy are: Sony, Canon, Panasonic. These are true camera makers that will have better lenses, sensors, and firmware, even in their lower-end. The Sony you linked above looks good EXCEPT it does not have a headphones or microphone port. This means you can't hook up an external microphone and you can't monitor your sound while shooting. These are both very good ideas to insure a high-quality interview. I would suggest getting a Canon HF R300, a class 10 32 GB SD card, the microphone you linked, an extension cable for the microphone, a hot shoe to tripod adaptor and another cheap tripod for the microphone. Then when it's time to do the interview, put the microphone as close to your subject as possible while out of frame. Hook up some headphones to the camera and do a quick sound check before hitting record. If you get the Canon, I believe you can turn on audio meters on the screen. The light kit looks okay, but natural light would be better. Consider buying a reflector rather than the light kit, and then bounce some natural light from a window onto your subject.
posted by 2ghouls at 4:12 PM on April 16, 2014

Perform some searches on YouTube using the camera models you are interested in as the keywords and you should find videos that people have taken with those cameras. Look until you find quality that you would be happy with.

For the interviews do the same thing, search out amateur interviews and see what looks good (body position, lighting, etc). Experiment a bit once you get the camera and use the interweb to iron out the kinks until you're feeling confident.

If this is just going to be a 1-day shoot you might be able to rent or borrow some nice gear, or even hire an amateur with a nice portfolio to set up and shoot the vids for around the same price as buying the stuff.
posted by Th!nk at 6:45 PM on April 16, 2014

For interview, sound is almost more important than image. Your image might look great, but if the sound is unintelligible then what's the point? If you use a camera's on board mic, the quality will be very poor. You should invest in a lavalier, which is a small microphone you can clip on to a shirt. They are by far the most convenient mic for interviews. There are a lot in the sub $100 dollar range that are decent, and would work fine for you. Check reviews on Youtube with sample audio. Just make sure that any camera you buy has a 3.5mm mic input. Also a lot of cameras have what's called "automatic gain control" (AGC), which can absolutely ruin your sound, so make sure that's disabled if possible.

What a lot of people do nowadays is use a small audio recorder like the Zoom H1 and syncing the sound, either manually or with software like Pluraleyes. If you have a camera you already like you might want to go with that route; the sound quality will be better and you will have more control of the audio. The trade off of course is that that's more labor intensive, but like I said, you should be aiming for good sound.
posted by catwash at 7:42 PM on April 16, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone - that is very helpful so far.

Can anyone give more specific camera recommendations? So far, it sounds like the two I linked to in the post are a "no" and this Canon camera was suggested.
posted by Mjolnir at 10:43 PM on April 16, 2014

I've been in a similar spot for our HR department wanting to record interviews for later review.

As silly as it may sound, the Logitech C920 delivers really impressive video with basically no effort. I compared it to my hacked GH2 and was amazed at how good it was.

It does incredibly well in difficult lighting (as it is a webcam) and the 1080p video is just astonishing.

You could invest in that and a Yeti Blue and have an A/V setup that will knock your socks off. There are a lot of samples all over YouTube, but this one should give you an idea of the quality that can be had with almost no lighting effort.
posted by lattiboy at 11:19 PM on April 18, 2014

Response by poster: Ended up buying the Canon Vixia HF R300 and an Amazon Basics tripod. The camera microphone is good enough that an external mike doesn't seem to be needed.

Thanks everyone!
posted by Mjolnir at 12:37 PM on May 16, 2014

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