Help me find indestructible video and still cameras
January 29, 2007 12:37 PM   Subscribe

I need to find some indestructible (or as near to it as possible) still and video cameras for use in a school environment.

I teach photography and video editing in a high school. I would like to give my students more opportunities to borrow equipment, but I am usually a bundle of nerves the entire time that the equipment is on loan (especially overnight/on weekends).

I am looking for some ruggedized digital still and mini-dv cameras. I have found some online but I am having trouble coming up with the exact combination of keywords to find more
of what I am looking for.

Some specific features I'd like:

No fold out screens or extending lenses to get broken/dropped on.
Some sort of shock protection (rubber casing, etc)
Minimal battery/memory card doors to get broken off.

Older models are fine, I don't mind buying used on ebay.
posted by davey_darling to Shopping (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It may be more cost effective to buy decent but inexpensive cameras and expect to replace them fairly often.

Having students provide a damage deposit may also be sensible, partly because it will encourage more caution than they might otherwise display.
posted by sindark at 12:41 PM on January 29, 2007

If you're set on mini-dv or need non-trivial length movies, this is going to be useless, but CVS sells $20 "disposable" camcorders which can be hacked into being not so disposable. Very short runtime and nowhere near mini-dv's quality, but they might be good to supplement 'real' cameras for especially risky shots/situations.
posted by Skorgu at 12:53 PM on January 29, 2007

Response by poster: Sindark: This was considered, but due to the vagaries of the budgeting process it would be much easier for me to spend more on something that will last as opposed to getting into a "disposable camera" type situation.
posted by davey_darling at 12:55 PM on January 29, 2007

Did you look at the Samsung SportsCamcorder? The thing is about the size of a deck of cards. I used one everyday for about a year. They are rugged as hell. I dropped mine while deboarding a 757 in Cabo. I was at the top of the stairs. The thing hit the pavement, bounced a time or two but turned right back on. It does have a swing out screen but you don't need to open it to shoot.
posted by bkeene12 at 12:56 PM on January 29, 2007

I wasn't suggesting disposable cameras, just suggesting that the long-run cost of moderately priced and moderately durable gear may actually be lower than that of buying heavily armoured stuff.

This is especially relevant given how quickly digital gear becomes obselete. Look how much the prices on dSLRs have dropped in the last five years.
posted by sindark at 12:58 PM on January 29, 2007

Maybe you should consider "weatherproof" cameras? They are generally sealed pretty well, and don't have as many dangling doodads as normal cameras (although some still have flip-out screens). There are a variety of these, from lots of manufacturers, and some are not terribly expensive.

I don't know of any "ruggedized" MiniDV cameras that are going to cost less than just buying a large number of less-expensive models, because with camcorders, the rugged ones are going to be designed for professional use and have a lot more features, and higher build quality, than what you want.

Maybe instead of going with MiniDV, you could go with some of the newer MPEG-4 solid-state recorders? They're a lot less expensive and have fewer parts. The conversion to DV footage, to edit in iMovie (or whatever other NLE suite you're using) might be a pain, but perhaps you could set up a workflow and convert all your students' footage in a batch, so they wouldn't have to touch it.

There was a question on Slashdot a while back about rugged camcorders, and the consensus seemed to be that really 'bulletproof' ones don't exist, or if they do, they're designed for the military and industrial customers and are outrageously expensive.

I think you would be much better in going with a large number of inexpensive cameras as loaners, rather than trying to find "indestructible" ones. Charge students some sort of damage/loss deposit, so they'll take some care with them, and don't cry too much when they do get broken. Maybe you could even look to having students purchase a single-use digital camera? (I did some pretty interesting photo projects when I was in highschool with 'box' cameras; disposables are sort of the modern-day Brownie equivalents.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:04 PM on January 29, 2007

Do people still teach film anymore? You could get a whole load of Holga cameras. When I was at college the photo club got a bunch of them for people to play with medium-format cameras. They're cheap (about $25 each, I think), but they're rugged enough that they should last for awhile. People like them for their "artistic" nature of distorting images and leaking light. That's what you get for a twenty-five dollar camera.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:22 PM on January 29, 2007

You could also make pinhole cameras in class. Then the students can use the cameras they built themselves, and if it breaks, they simply have to make another. You can learn a lot about composition and lighting with one of those things, and ignore all the mechanical fluff.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:24 PM on January 29, 2007

Things you will find no matter what - students will break connectors. Since connectors are standard on the cameras, you will have broken cameras.

I worked with kids doing video projects for 3 years and had several cameras/computers taken out of service because of broken interface connectors. Even careful kids could break composite, s-video, and firewire connectors on cameras and computers.

This is the main type of camera we used and given the damage the kids could deal out, they did pretty well. The overal lifespan for them was 5 years (they had been in use for two years before me), which is quite good, I think. It ended up being $100/yr per camera.

The flip out screen is pretty much mandatory on most cameras. If you don't want the students to use it, make it clear or use cable ties to hold it shut.
posted by plinth at 1:54 PM on January 29, 2007

From a Google search of 'rugged bluetooth camera' there's this Ricoh -- pricey and possibly not very available, but it combines a rugged case with wireless data transfer.
posted by krisjohn at 3:32 PM on January 29, 2007

No real equipment tip, but relevent info:

I regularly borrow $1,000 cameras from my high school, and know teachers (and the school library, for that matter) that lend out video cameras. Rather than getting cheap equipment, it is very much understood that if "you break it, you buy it." The school insurance covers some small, accidental breakage, but beyond that, the school will get their money from the student - and I'm not even sure that this has ever nedded to happen.

This works because
1) every student must 100% pass a safety/usage test after learning how to use the equipment in class, and
2) The teacher doesn't give you anything until you sign for the camera in the check-out book
3) The teachers still aren't stupid. Nothing gets checked out over spring break and other long breaks

So don't worry about things breaking - if students are trained and trusted, things should go well. But do have a system in place if (not necessarily when) something should break.
posted by niles at 10:09 PM on January 29, 2007

Response by poster: There is absolutely no way to enforce a "you break it, you buy it" system where I live, and I'm not sure that any school would have much luck doing so.
posted by davey_darling at 2:24 PM on January 30, 2007

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