Buying a Video Camera? What to Look For.


With the hundreds of different video cameras on the market, people can easily get overwhelmed when trying to make a choice about which one to buy.

People often ask me which video camera they SHOULD buy, but of course there is no one perfect camera. Which one you is right for you depends on how you are going to use it, what your expectations are, and what your budget is.

Here is a run down of what features are available for video camcorders so you can better decide what kind of camera is best for YOU. (Full disclosure. I am biased. I love them all!)

HOW ARE YOU GOING TO USE THIS CAMERA?

Are you wanting to make quick and easy videos?

Or, do you want to delve into high-end videography and produce visually superior videos?

Answering this question will help you figure out what basic type of camera you want.  A simple, automatic, point-and-shoot camera is best for many folks but would frustrate a budding indie film producer.

Don't worry about a simple camera being poor quality.  The two are not necessarily linked.  If you want a camera that is simple to use, there are plenty.  Look for high resolution and quality image sensors.

RECORDING FORMAT

One of your major decisions before buying a video camera is to decide what kind of record format you want.    In other words, does the video get recorded on tapes or an internal hard drive? If it is tape, what kind of tape?

Cameras today also record on memory sticks, memory cards or removable discs.  All of these record formats have their pros and cons.  Some slide easily into video editing programs and some don't.    If you want to edit the video you take you might want to stick with the sort of old-fashioned mini-dv tape format.

However if you do not want to edit your video, it is certainly more convenient to pop a disc out and play it in your DVD player than to get it converted or plug your camera into the side of your TV so you can watch a mini dv tape.

IMAGE SENSORS

The quality of the picture a video camera gets is largely determined by the quality of the image sensors.  They are what capture the light and turn it into a video image.

Video cameras come with either one image sensor chip or three.  Three is better.  With three, there is an individual chip for the three primary colors of light, red, green and blue.  With one-chip camera, all of that is squished onto one chip.

Chip size also matters.  A 1/3 inch chip would be considered large.  1/6 inch is a common size for less expensive cameras.

AUDIO INPUT

Inexpensive video cameras do not have any way for you to use a supplemental microphone.  You have the on-board microphone, but no way to plug in a hand held or lavalier mic for better sound quality.

High quality sound is probably more important for many videos than high quality video.  If people can not hear what you are saying, they will not bother to watch your video.  If people talking on camera will be important to your productions, (and that's most videos) look for a camera with an audio input.

Audio inputs will either be small stereo plugs for less expensive models or XLR inputs on higher- end models.  Make sure you buy a microphone with a plug that matches your camera's input.

MANUAL OR AUTOMATIC?

Higher-end cameras have full manual control.  Manual focus control, manual exposure control, manual white balance, manual audio level control and so forth.  These cameras can also be set to automatic control if you are in a run-and-gun situation, but manual control is preferred by serious videographers.

Manual control however, would drive some people bonkers.   Automatic control makes operating the camera much easier so if you are into easy, you can rest assured that part of what people are paying for with the more expensive cameras is the "luxury" of manual control.  If that is not something you want, why bother getting the fancier camera?

I hope this list of video camera features helps you when selecting a camera to buy.  B&H Photo is a great place to go camera shopping, they have everything!

Lorraine Grula
Internet Video Gal

 


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