What's the best Digital Video solution for filming Web tutorials?
January 31, 2007 1:38 AM   Subscribe

I'm in need of expert video equipment and editing software recommendations. I need to purchase a videocam primarily for recording tutorials. 50% of the shooting will be in an office setup focused mainly on the speaker sitting at a desk, 50% will be in a shop filming welding type machinery.

Ultimately the videos will be posted online to a YouTube or similar site, however I need to be able to also create DVD versions.

I'm considering the Sony HD Hard Drive camcorder from Best Buy, but would like to know if there is something else I should be considering instead.

I also need to know what sort of microphone to purchase as well as a recommended steady-cam sort of device.

Finally, is there a software package that would be good for a beginner, but also give the the flexibility to improve my skills rapidly and use more advanced features?

If I can keep the whole package under $2k that would be nice, but I'm more concerned about getting the most bang for the buck and ending up with some really nice footage.


posted by jpozadzides to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: OK (price is my main consideration here) - you don't need High Definition footage so I think you would get a better deal on a second hand miniDV (like a sony PD150) that is at the pro-sumer level. A 30Gig hard drive would only hold 30 minutes of footage (depending on the quality setting you use (maybe less), which is fairly limited in terms of shooting time.

You could get away with a monopod for stability (if you're moving around a lot) - nothing beats a sturdy tripod and fluid head for image stability, however.

Depending on what you're shooting - if it's just you, get wireless lapel mics (you may only need one) - directional mics need a stand or boom to swing the mic close enough for picking up people talking (you need to make sure the camera you buy has decent mic inputs, however - XLRs are what you're looking for - the PD150 as do other cameras in this class have them). They will also have an 'on board' mic for picking up general sounds.

NLE (non linear editing) software - I would think that iMovie has all of what you need - jumping into Final Cut Pro may be a bit of a leap - but it's probably the cheaper professional option you should be considering. I can't speak for PC applications, of which I'm sure there are many - others may be able to help you with these.
posted by strawberryviagra at 2:35 AM on January 31, 2007

I second the recommendation of a miniDV camera over the harddisk camera. You don't need HD, as you probably can't afford the various equipment and software needed to keep it looking HD all the way through to the print.

I like the Cannon GL series.

I disagree about iMovie above, though; it's rubbish. Get Final Cut; mad expensive, but totally worth it. On the PC side, you have Avid XPress DV which is roughly comparable to FCP, but has a slightly less intuitive paradigm for editing. You also have Premier, which blows, in my not-so-humble opinion.
posted by Netzapper at 8:13 AM on January 31, 2007

Do you already have a computer that could be used as an editing station? If so, what kind? That will eat up a sizeable portion of your budget.

Also, 2nd what strawberryviagra said. Though I will take it a slight step further: Shoot everything on a tripod. I wouldn't try to get fancy until you are comfortable getting nice, static shots. Too often, handheld shots from the inexperienced are extremely hard to watch, even though you may not notice the motion at the time.

Also, sound is of the most importance. People can forgive all sorts of visual issues, but clean sound can make or break your production.

That being said, I wouldn't be afraid of shooting HD - but with your budget you will be most likely better off getting a used camera of the type that has already been mentioned. Youtube, DVD's and the like are all standard def, so unless you have the budget, why not shoot in the medium that you are going to deliver on.

Good luck!
posted by jazzkat11 at 8:26 AM on January 31, 2007

Response by poster: First of all, thanks to everyone for the answers so far. I truly appreciate the guidance. To clear up a couple of questions:
  • I am a PC guy, and though I'm sure editing on a Mac is easier, for me it's impossible. Having said that, I'm willing and able to throw as much PC hardware at this problem as is necessary. My intention is to build a new PC to use as my editing station and I have a multi-TB file server for archiving.
  • I was struggling with the HD vs non-HD issue myself. Though I don't need it now I did reason that it would be somewhat more future-proof and give me a higher level of components for shooting better even in non-HD mode. I also thought that a compact HD unit would be quite portable if I wanted to vacation with it - though that is not as important.
  • One of the reasons that I was considing the hard drive model was because it seems like a pain to carry all those Mini-DVs around, and later store them. If I use it to shoot in non-HD mode I thought I could get a lot of recording time, and I further reasoned that I could later hack a much larger hard drive into the machine (I'm experienced at this sort of thing).
Sorry to ask what might be a simple question but what will a huge pro-sumer model like the PD150 give me that a compact unit won't?

And by the way, I recognize that my "logic" here is inconsequential compared with your "experience". :-)
posted by jpozadzides at 9:42 AM on January 31, 2007

One big thing the compact consumer units don't have is pro-audio. Yes, they come with mics that do an ok job of capturing sound of a birthday party or whatever, but they are not pro-level. (the main hassle being the auto-levels which adds hiss when the volume is low.) And as was noted above, audio is important for the overall perception of quality.

Of course with the pro-sumer PDF150 or the panasonic DVX100 you also get a quality lens, 3-CCD sensors and the possibility of a more film-like look (or at least more control over your image).

Also, think about the workflow of the high-def hard-disk (HD HD?) camera. You record 30 mins and then... hook up a laptop and download the 30GB? And then record some more? (i really don't know...) MiniDV tapes are an easier way of archiving your footage and they're cheap. < $5 each.br>
one last point: having a bigger camera makes you look more legit, which might help you getting access/respect/cooperation from the guys on the shop floor.

oh, mics: a shotgun is good if you are moving around a lot and have lots of different people on camera. Lavs are better for interviewing or having 1-2 people on camera, since you have to wire each person up before shooting.
posted by kamelhoecker at 1:59 PM on January 31, 2007

Response by poster: So, if I should really be looking at a prosumer model in order to get the better indoor lighting sensitivity as well as higher end audio, why shouldn't I be looking at the Canon XL2?

It seems like the gold standard in that field and there is a complete package for about $3,500 on eBay.

If I got one of those would I be able to use it in a fully automatic mode as I begin learning with it?

Or would it be a complete waste of money for me vs an older used model?
posted by jpozadzides at 1:39 AM on February 1, 2007

I only suggested a PD150 as an example - all the pro-sumer models should be considered of which the Canon is one of the better. You may want to consider a model with true 16x9 (which the XL2 is capable of - I believe. The PD150 isn't). The PD150 interpolates the image to give the impression of 16x9 and in doing so, degrades the image quality.

The other benefit of the XL2 is interchangeable lenses - which may or may not be a consideration for you. If you want to shoot wideangle (moreso than is available in the standard zoom) a proper lens will give you a better result - many DV cameras (the PD150 included) only allow you to fit a wide angle filter to the lens - they are poor quality, particularly if you catch any spectral light (eg: the sun).

Yes - you can put these cameras on fully automatic.

The only drawback with the XL2 is there is no flip out screen - there wasn't with the XL1, so verify this (and I can see one in the image on the ebay site) - which can be a bit annoying when shooting - that was one of the reasons I never bought one.

Go the XL2 if you can afford it - it's got a lot of advantages and it produces quite beautiful imagery.

Thanks for marking my other response as best answer - I appreciate it, and feel free to contact me (email in my profile) if you need any further advice.

Good luck.
posted by strawberryviagra at 2:31 AM on February 2, 2007

The fourth paragraph should read ... and I can't see one in the image on the ebay site
posted by strawberryviagra at 2:33 AM on February 2, 2007

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