Dammit Jim, I'm a photographer, not a videographer!
October 27, 2015 4:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm in need of an upgrade on my video tools, but I don't even know if I should be looking at a camcorder or a cheap DSLR. Details below the fold.

The only videos I'm recording right now are talking head type videos of me talking about stuff. For that use, my Fuji X100s is sufficient, even though she's clearly a stills camera that happens to have a video mode. The built in mic is not great, and the 10 minute limit per video is a nuisance, but as I said it's sufficient, after all it's just me (and I'm looking at getting a proper microphone).

The need to upgrade comes from an interview series I've had on hold for a while because of the camera. My main issue is the 10 minute limit. Do all cameras have that? Due to the nature of the interviews, I would like to leave them as unedited as possible, and would prefer not to interrupt the flow by saying "would you stop for a few seconds? Ok, now... You were saying... " So I'd like a camera that doesn't forcefully stop every few minutes. The camera would be on a tripod.

But I'm tempted to start vlogging, including the occasional walk-around-with-the-camera-in-your-hand-pointing-at-yourself type of video, so image stabilization would come in handy.

Quality wise I don't need anything too fancy, since all of this is going on YouTube. I just want it to look decent on that medium.

I don't have video lighting equipment, that will have to wait a bit longer, but I know how to use natural light. Still, sometimes I may have no choice but to shoot in less than ideal conditions, so if the camera can perform better than a potato when lighting isn't great, it would be a nice plus.

I shoot my stills on film, and don't own any Canon or Nikon bodies. My X100s is the only exception to that, and because of how I shoot I'm satisfied with that. Because of this the capability of a camera to shoot stills or use other lenses I have is not a factor here.

I don't have a specific budget, since I will have to work and save towards this, so I will appreciate both specific advice in different budgets (maybe $200, $400, $800 and $1000 as the absolute highest) as well as more general advice on choosing a camera for video in case this gets postponed and the market changes by the time I buy it. That being said, I will have $400 available by the time my brother comes for the holidays from the US and I could have him buy it for me at a significantly lower price than here (and with more options), so that tier is particularly interesting, although I will have a similar opportunity in a few months anyway.

Can you recommend me some cameras based on this? Thanks!
posted by Promethea to Technology (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Not all cameras have the 10 minute limit, that's probably an issue with the file system used by Fuji. The 100S is a great camera but not really video focused, so that's not really a surprise.

Personally I would recommend either a cheap Canon or Nikon DSLR body, get one from a couple years back. I have a T3i but a T2i will do as well, and will produce beautiful 1080/24p video with just about any lens. Get a 50mm F/2 and you're golden for all kinds of shots. Total cost: under $500.

Another option would be Sony's RX100 series. The new ones have some improved features but the price has also gone up significantly. Take a look at the RX100 II, you can probably get one for around $500. Very compact - but I'm not sure it would be significantly better than the 100S for video. Just my 2 cents!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:23 PM on October 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

I believe most still cameras have a 30 minute limit on their videos. Certainly Canon's, Sony's and Nikon's do. Apparently this is to avoid being taxed as a camcorder in the EU. So if you want to record longer than that, you should get a proper camcorder.
posted by aubilenon at 4:23 PM on October 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, there may still be a 30 minute limit, as aubilenon mentions. If you're savvy, you can get around that with custom firmware like Magic Lantern, I think? Just a by the by thing to consider.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:27 PM on October 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I can see myself installing Magic Lantern.

Is there a big price difference between camcorders and dslrs of comparable quality?
posted by Promethea at 5:15 PM on October 27, 2015

> My main issue is the 10 minute limit. Do all cameras have that?

No - this is 100% dictated by the FAT32 file system on that camera. Most of the modern cameras can just free run - but your best bet is to pick a camera and then investigate users (via maybe reddit.com/r/filmmaking ) to see what specific user's frustrations are.

> But I'm tempted to start vlogging, including the occasional walk-around-with-the-camera-in-your-hand-pointing-at-yourself type of video, so image stabilization would come in handy.

Phones are great at this. Cameras less so. Although you might want to look at the Panasonic GX7 (or in that family) for it's flip out LCD pane.

> I don't have video lighting equipment, that will have to wait a bit longer, but I know how to use natural light. Still, sometimes I may have no choice but to shoot in less than ideal conditions, so if the camera can perform better than a potato when lighting isn't great, it would be a nice plus.

DSLRs are great at this - albeit, you're going to spend money on lenses...and you'll need to think about the possibility of dual record. The microphones in the cameras are notoriously terrible, and the workaround is a separate recording system.

It means more gear and more post work.
posted by filmgeek at 5:58 AM on October 28, 2015

You've asked a lot of questions with long, drawn out answers, which is why there are many websites dedicated to answering your questions. As always, it depends on what you personally like and what exactly your needs are. But I'll address some things here:

-Regarding a 10-minute limit, I have not used Fuji systems, but every still camera I've used has a 30-minute recording limit. I think in some cases this is technical (file system/software/hardware limitation) and in other cases it's a business decision (protect sales of camcorders, tax classification). That having been said, if your camera has an HDMI-out port or something similar, it can be hooked up to an external recorder to give you limitless recording time at a better (less compressed) format with possibly higher quality.

-If you're going to walk around with a camera pointed at yourself, wouldn't a GoPro or similar small camera/action camera system make the most sense? Or alternatively, something very small and yet high quality, yet with good video features, like Sony's RX100 or alpha mirrorless systems.

-The quality bar on Youtube is much, much higher than it was 10 years ago. You can put 4K video up and there's plenty of professional stuff on there. But I guess what you meant to say is that it doesn't need to meet professional Hollywood standards, or will be watched mostly on phones. That quality bar can be met by most contemporary consumer hardware, including a GoPro.

-If you want your image quality to be better in lower amounts of light, what you want is a larger and newer image sensor, and a lens that lets in more light. In terms of bang-for-buck, you want a newer DSLR or mirrorless camera for that. But you'll still be on the hook for a lens if you buy either of those, and you're still going to have that 30-minute recording time.

-Magic Lantern is Canon only. That will give you the software to essentially turn your EOS DSLR into a video platform, abolishing recording time limits and give you far more choices. I haven't used it, but people rave about it. Keep in mind that the form factor remains a still camera, so it'll have fewer conveniences and you'll still have to deal with things like audio that would be better on a dedicated camcorder.

-You will want a microphone - lavalier or shotgun - that can plug into a ⅛" stereo mini jack if you're getting a DSLR or still camera to record video with (maybe yours already has such a jack?). Otherwise, you'll have to buy an interface that can take the standard audio jacks (¼" or XLR) and run them into the camera. More expensive video cameras will have the professional microphone jacks.

-There IS a big price difference between camcorders and DSLRs of comparable quality. The reason for this is sensor size; Micro 4/3rds, APS-C and 35mm are three different sizes of sensor that are very common in still photography in prices going as low as $300 for new cameras, but cost much more in a camcorder form. As it stands, camcorders are not being sold at such high quantities, and are not released as frequently.

-In terms of bang-for-buck, your best bet is used or refurbished, of course. Perfectly functional gear, or last year's models well sell for considerably less but meet any quality metric you're likely to have.

Recommendations for price brackets? I'll give you options for JUST the camera for just the price you list. Keep in mind that some will need to have lenses purchased or other equipment Okay, this is pretty rough and off the top of my head, and I'm also basing these recommendations on "best possible deal you can get right now, which is different from MSRP" but here:

$200/$400: Various models of GoPro Hero will perform well but do not answer the problem of audio. Various models of Canon Vixia

$400: Sony A5000, A5100 (can be had with lens on a deal), Used Sony RX100 II, Nikon D3300 (usually with 18-55mm lens), Canon EOS SL1

$600: Sony A6000 (usually with 16-50mm lens), used/refurbished Sony RX 100 III, Panasonic LX100, Olympus OM-D E-M10, Panasonic HC-V770

$800: Panasonic GH3, Panasonic GX7 (With lens), Refurbished Nikon D7100, Canon EOS Rebel T5i, Canon EOS Rebel T6i

$1000: Sony RX 100 IV, Consider used Sony NEX-VG cameras (VG20, VG30), other brands of used camcorder, or buy something lower in the list and use remaining monies for accessories and recording hardware or lenses.

The majority of those recommendations were for still cameras since they have the best price/performance ratios.

Look, this rabbit hole goes really deep. I use primarily Nikon and Sony gear and have the most experience with that and lesser experience with canon hardware; canon and panasonic or olympus gear recommendations are based on what I've read (I don't care for Fuji so much; some people love it but I don't know a ton about it). I don't care for sensor sizes smaller than APS-C unless it's something like a GoPro, but Sony's RX100 seems to perform adequately. You have shooting experience, so what I would recommend is that you try and find a camera store with some of these models and actually test out the equipment. Or rent it for a while. How it handles and the user interface is something that matters. If you're comfortable with used stuff, you can realize significant savings from eBay and local sellers. The fact of the matter is that any sufficiently advanced digital still camera or camcorder released within the last 3 years will likely pass your quality bar; what you're paying more for is extra features that are useful or increased quality. If you want more detail, I can help you. You might also try reading The Wirecutter's articles on camera subjects. I don't agree with some of the things they say, but it's not a bad place to start.
posted by Strudel at 12:35 PM on October 28, 2015

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