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Video Cameras

Tutorial: Video Cameras


Sony HVR-Z1U HD Video Camera

This tutorial is an overview of video cameras as they pertain to the newspaper industry. As newsrooms become more converged, investment in multimedia equipment is becoming a major factor in purchasing decisions.

Since most print-based newsrooms have little experience in video technologies, this tutorial will help demystify some of the lingering questions regarding video camera equipment purchases.

When purchasing video equipment, one must first break down all of the elements that should be taken into consideration with video capture.

Here are some considerations to make:

What level of camera does my paper need?

A high-end professional camera can actually put an undue burden on an organization with limited resources and staff with technical ability. In some cases, higher-end cameras actually come with fewer automatic features and fewer accessories than their consumer counterparts. Some require the separate purchase of microphones and lenses that usually come standard with consumer-grade cameras. A news organization should be realistic about its needs and funding capabilities. On the other side, a high-end camera offers a huge amount of flexibility to people who are familiar with video or photo camera equipment. Most photojournalists would likely opt for professional-grade equipment.

What media type does the camera capture to?

This is often a difficult choice to make, because there is no best answer. The various media that each camera records to offers different advantages and disadvantages — and at different price points. Most of the time the decision revolves around convenience, durability, capacity and longevity. Hard drive cameras are popular because it makes video transfer a simple process; however, they are well known to be more fragile than tape and solid-state media. DVD cameras are convenient, but have limited storage and also suffer from some durability issues. Tape seems to be one of the best solutions, even for archiving, but isn’t very convenient as the logging process is done in real-time. Memory cards, or solid-state media, is quickly becoming a popular choice, but limits the amount of footage you can capture at any given time. We currently recommend purchasing a camera that uses either MiniDV tapes or a solid-state memory card, like SDHC.

Do I need a high-definition camera?

Anyone in the broadcast industry will tell you that HD has become the standard today. While primarily used in the broadcast industry, the Internet is also seeing a proliferation of HD content on sites like YouTube. A news organization could choose to be proactive and start capturing HD content now, or wait until it really gets traction in the industry. The down side to going HD is that it presents a host of challenges with storage and processing, and could end up being a major investment. Either way, no one doubts that HD will play a big part in the future of all media delivery.

What types of accessories will I need to purchase along with the camera?

This is often the most overlooked aspect of purchasing electronic equipment. Most vendors actually sell big priced equipment like cameras at cost and make their money off of the accessories. Often the accessories alone can add up to half the cost of the camera, if not more. Consider the following accessories which might cost more than you think: camera bag, extra batteries, microphones, filters, memory cards, tapes, chargers, tripod and earphones.

What software will I be using to edit this footage?

Software may not typically be part of the discussion in purchasing new equipment, but it should be. You must first make sure the camera footage is compatible with the software solution you plan to choose. Most video editing software can log tape footage, but not necessarily DVD or the newer AVCHD (memory card-based footage). Find a software solution that is right for your organization and is compatible with your computer systems. Consider the workflow before you purchase the camera.

How this tutorial is written:

In this tutorial, we have narrowed down current video cameras into three grades of complexity and price:

  • Professional
  • Prosumer
  • Consumer

Some could argue what this tutorial considers “professional” is less than such by high-end broadcast standards; so note that this was written to pertain to print news organizations attempting to purchase video equipment for the first time.

Professional Cameras

Prism spliting the light into its primary colors

Professional camera gear generally refers to video cameras that have more than one sensor to capture the image. These sensors are called charged coupled devices (CCD) or just “chips”. Professional cameras will use a glass prism to separate the light coming through the lens into its three primary colors. Then the light is captured by three different CCDs. This increases the quality of the image substantially. A newer grade of chip called CMOS is also used in some cameras. These chips are cheaper to produce and use less power.

Having a three-CCD or three-chip camera will also increase the price respectively. But for several years, a three-chip camera has been a staple of high-end camera gear.

There are several manufacturers that make high-end camera gear. The two we recommend and have personal experience with are Canon and Sony. While JVC and Panasonic also make reputable high-end cameras, their price points extend to broadcast-level industries and are not included in this guide.

Canon XH-A1 High Definition Camcorder ~ $3,000

Canon XH-A1 Video Camera

Canon is a leader in producing high-end still cameras, and much of that carries over into the video division. Some of the high points with Canon cameras are their quality and durability. Operations like focusing are also quick on these cameras.

The XH-A1 is one of Canon’s cheaper professional models that captures high-definition footage. It records to Mini-DV tapes, which have to be logged real time. The quality is exceptional and the camera is fully capable with lots of features for customization and controlling many aspects of your footage.

It comes with two XLR inputs for professional microphone additions, which are not included in the basic package.

Beginners have said this camera is overly confusing, and the camera is clearly suited for people who understand a lot about video capture/photography. It is rated exceptionally by most professionals and is used in many Web production environments.

B&H Photo link to Canon XH-A1

Canon XL-2 Standard Definition Camcorder ~ $3,200

Canon XL2 standard definition camera

Canon’s XL-2 was a very popular camera when it came out, and was one of the first cameras to usher in a new tier of  professional devices that was affordable to the masses.

One of its more impressive features include removable lenses, which is unheard of for cameras in this price range. However, extra lenses come at a premium. The camera records to Mini-DV tapes in the now antiquated standard definition format. The quality is good, and includes once premiere features like image stabilization — now a standard among most cameras.

The XL-2 is now an older camera which now competes with its high-definition cousins.

B&H Photo link to the Canon XL-2

Sony HVR-Z1u High Definition Camcorder ~ $4,600

Sony HVR-Z1U HD Camera

The top of the “U” line, the Sony Z1u includes the widest array of features in its class. It’s a three-CCD system that captures the newest high definition formats in both 50 and 60 frames per second interlaced. While these formats are not essential to most Web production videos, it allows the possibility for a more flexible level of footage for broadcast production. If your paper is converged with a studio, or has plans to do broadcast work, this is a likely choice.

The camera includes several features not seen in lower-end models, such as a much better minimum illumination rating of 2 lux, which means this camera can shoot in near complete darkness (which is 0 lux).

Compared to the cheaper model – the V1u (below) – the Z1u has a much wider flexibility with controlling the various aspects of the video footage and has a better granularity in shutter speed, gain and neutral density filter settings.

B&H Photo link to Sony HVR-Z1U

Sony HVR-V1u High Definition Camcorder ~ $3,000

Sony HVR-V1U camera

The V1u is a middle of the road Sony camera in the professional category. It includes a three-chip system, but uses a different type of sensor called CMOS. A CMOS sensor is much like a CCD, but they are cheaper to make and often seen on low-end cameras. They are becoming more available in high-end cameras as they improve the quality of these cheap sensors.

Video capture is only limited to 60 frames per second interlaced or 24 frames per second progressive. Both of these should be more than adequate for Web capture, but not quite as flexible as the Z1u. It also has a minimum illumination rating of 4 lux, which means this camera can capture low-light environments, but not to the extent of its more expensive counterpart, the Z1u.

Overall, this camera is a great solution for a mid-range professional camera. In an organization that shoots only video-to-Web, it would be difficult to justify the extra cost of the Z1u.

B&H Photo link to Sony HVR-V1U

Professional Kit

The most common mistake people make when purchasing audio/video equipment like cameras, is that they only see the big ticket items and they forget about all of the accessories required to supplement a kit. On this page we put together a few practical kits at different price levels. Obviously one could mix-and-match accessories, but the general idea is to get people thinking about the different elements that make up a camera kit and to consider the costs of accessories that go along with each big-ticket item.

Sony HVR-V1u camera

1. Sony HVR-V1u Professional Camcorder ~ $3,000

Azden SGM-2x Shotgun microphone

2. Azden SGM-2x Shotgun Microphone (because stock microphones are of terrible quality) ~ $219

Sony NP-F970 rechargeable batteries

3. Sony NP-F970 Rechargeable Batteries for Sony V1u (2 pack) ~ $270

Sony AC-VQ1050D Dual Battery Charger

4. Sony AC-VQ1050D Dual Battery Charger ~ $90

Sony MDR-7506 Studio Monitor Headphones

5. Sony MDR-7506 Studio Monitor Headphones ~ $95

Sennheiser EW100ENGG2 wireless microphone kit

6. Sennheiser EW100ENGG2 Wireless Lav Microphone Kit (2 transmitters) ~ $600

Sennheiser MD46 cardioid dynamic handheld microphone

7. Sennheiser MD46 Cardioid Dynamic Handheld Mic ~ $200

Pearstone Pro camera case

8. Pearstone Pro Camera Case ~ $179

Velbon DV-7000 Tripod

9. Velbon DV-7000 Tripod ~ $110

VidPro TC35 Tripod case

10. VidPro TC35 Tripod case ~ $20

Total: approximately $5,000

Who is this professional kit for?

The professional grade kit is good for photojournalists making the switch to video and looking for very high quality output. Also, the professional grade applies to mobile “backpack” journalists looking to create more in-depth documentary style projects or for journalists who are not afraid to learn the technical aspects of broadcast quality HD video capture.

What is the general use?

Tape media requires a bit of time logging footage. This package is not the best solution for breaking news and is recommended more for feature stories. However, it is possible to do a video story in a single day with several hours of work in post production.

What are the options?

Options are limited if you are looking for a quicker solution. Everything is in HD now and requires considerable amount of time logging. The Panasonic AG-HPX170 is the closest you can come to a quick solution for breaking news. It uses a P2 memory card. A 16 gigabyte card costs about $800, so it’s not cheap.

What is left out of this kit?

All post-production supplies, such as a powerful laptop or desktop system capable of video editing. Also, HD requires LOTS of storage. Several portable back up drives, or a hard drive array (RAID) of several drives which offers both speed and protection from hard drive failure.

Prosumer Cameras

The “Prosumer” market is still a relatively new concept in the electronics world. Around the turn of the millennium, many manufactures realized that average consumers wanted professional gear at a reasonable price. And since technology was advancing at a rapid pace, it was possible to form this mid-range market of electronics that weren’t incredibly expensive, but definitely more advanced than your everyday gadget.

These cameras have some high-end features, but still include lots of automation for basic users. We highly recommend the cameras in this tier for newsrooms that plan to incorporate multimedia to a larger population of their staff, and not just limited to a specialized tech staff or photographers.

Sony HVR-A1u High Definition Camcorder ~ $2,100

Sony HVR-A1u

The Sony A1u is the cheapest in the “U” line of Sony cameras (third from the Z1U and V1U). It is more than adequate for capturing high-quality HD footage at a relatively affordable price. This is not a three-sensor camera, which is why the price point is considerably lower. It shoots 60 frames per second interlaced, with an option for 30 frames standard (not progressive). This means, while it can capture HD footage, it is not quite as flexible as its more advanced cousins.

The minimum illumination is 7 lux, which means it can capture video in dim-lit situations, but nowhere near to the extent as the more expensive models in this line. While this camera might not have the range of features as its more expensive counterparts in this line, it’s a terrific option for the Web. We highly recommend this model.

B&H Photo link to Sony HVR-A1U

Sony DSR-PD170 Standard Definition Camcorder ~ $2,500

Sony DSR-PD170

The Sony PD-170 is a workhorse in the camera line-up. It’s a three-CCD camera that is built very solidly. We have used several of them at the UC Berkeley School of Journalism for several years. They were battered by heavy student use and survived very well.

It is antiquated only by the fact that it is standard definition. It contains two XLR mic inputs to allow recording two audio channels simultaneously, has several options to control features manually such as focus and white balance, and it comes standard with a wide-angle adapter. It records to MiniDV tapes, so real-time logging will be required.

B&H Photo link to Sony DSR-PD170

Canon GL-2 Standard Definition Camcorder ~ $2,600

Canon GL-2

The Canon GL-2 is a three-CCD camcorder that shoots in standard definition mode. It’s a step down from the XL2, so it doesn’t have removable lenses or many of the professional features as that higher-end model. However, on the flip side, Canon made the GL-2 very easy to use. It includes lots of automatic features to cater to a consumer base.

The one downside about this camera is that it only includes a mini-input for audio, which limits you to the types of microphones you can use. Most higher-end cameras use a special audio cable connector called XLR which opens up a wide range of microphones, including “shotgun” microphones which are very directional and great for video cameras.

B&H Photo link to Canon GL-2

Mid-Range Camera Kit

Sony A1u video camera

1. Sony HVR-A1u Video Camcorder ~ $2,000

Sony NP-QM91D extended life batteries

2. Sony NP-QM91D Extended Life Batteries (2-pack) ~ $280

Sony ACS-Q950D dual battery charger

3. Sony ACS-Q950D Dual Battery Charger ~ $95

Sony MDR-7506 Studio monitor headphones

4. Sony MDR-7506 Studio Monitor Headphones ~ $95

Sony ECM-44b Omni-directional lavalier microphone

5. Sony ECM-44b Omni-directional Lavalier Wired Microphone ~ $220

Sennheiser MD46 cardioid dynamic hand microphone

6. Sennheiser MD46 Cardioid Dynamic Handheld Mic ~ $200

XLR cables male to female

7. Audio-Technica Male to Female XLR Cables (x2) ~ $30

Petrol PMCCB1 camera case with rain cover

8. Petrol PMCCB1 Camera Case with Rain Cover ~ $160

Pearstone VT2500B tripod

9. Pearstone VT2500B Tripod (with Case) ~ $150

Total: approximately $3,200

Who is this mid-range kit for?

The mid-range kit is a great solution for newsrooms whose reporters are eager about producing quality video online. This is a great entry point for people interested in constructing creative high-quality videos at a reasonable cost.

What is the general use?

This mid-range kit also uses tape media, which requires a bit of time logging footage. This package is not the best solution for breaking news and works far better for feature stories. However, it is possible to do a video story in a single day with several hours of work in post production.

What are the options?

Canon’s GL-2 is another option, however lacks much of the audio flexibility as the Sony. The A1u includes two XLR inputs for audio, which allows use of a wireless set or two microphones at once. Canon also makes an XH-A1 which is reviewed very highly, but is also said to be “highly technical” and not very intuitive to use, especially for beginners. The cost also comes in at $1,000 above the A1u.

Also, we included wired options for this kit, unlike the professional kit which has a Sennheiser $600 wireless kit that comes with a lav microphone.

What is left out of this kit?

All post-production supplies, such as a powerful laptop or desktop system capable of video editing. Also, HD requires LOTS of storage. Several portable back up drives, or a hard drive array (RAID) of several drives which offers both speed and protection from hard drive failure.

Consumer Cameras

Consumer-level cameras can be somewhat daunting to research because the market is flooded with them. Consumers quickly become confused with so many choices and price points. Here is what we recommend with consumer-level cameras:

  • Only go with a camera that captures to MiniDV tape, memory cards, or flash drive (not a hard drive which is less durable)
  • We recommend considering an HD camera since the industry seems to be going that route. But HD presents its own challenges and takes much longer to process. If you don’t go HD, then consider a future equipment rotational purchase in a couple of years when HD has become the standard
  • We do not recommend DVD cameras or hard-drive cameras, as they are generally not considered durable (especially for field recording)

For consumer-level cameras, we do not recommend Sony, since Sony relies on a proprietary memory card format called memory stick and is the major producer of DVD cameras. Instead, we recommend Canon and Panasonic. Again, other brands may work well, but this is simply based on our experience.

Canon VIXIA HF-10 High Definition Camcorder ~ $650

Canon VIXIA HF-10

Canon currently makes two camcorder models that record HD footage to a memory card. This one, the HF-10, will record to both a Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) memory card, and 16 gigabytes of internal flash memory. Flash memory is different than a hard drive, which has physical parts that move, and thus becomes more fragile. Flash memory is also called “solid-state” memory because there are no moving parts.

There are 16 gigabybe SDHC cards on the market for under $100, which offer two hours of recording time. Along with the two hours of recording time built into the camera, that totals to four hours per shoot.

Overall, it’s a good camera that is ahead of its time. One thing to be aware of is the AVCHD format takes a long time to uncompress in most software packages like iMovie or Final Cut Pro. As computers advance, this is likely to get shorter, but currently logging footage is only slightly shorter than a tape media.

As a consumer-level camera, there also isn’t as much flexibility as in more professional models. Adjusting the focus is done in the menus, and you can only record one channel of audio from a mini-jack mic input. There is a noticeable audio delay when monitoring the audio, which is a characteristic of shooting in progressive mode with many lower-end cameras.

B&H Photo link to the Canon HF-10

Canon HF-100 High Definition Camcorder ~ $550

Canon HF-100

This is the second Canon camera that records to memory cards. The only difference between the HF-10 and the HF-100 is that the latter only records to external memory cards while the HF-10 has internal flash storage.

The SDHC memory cards come in different class speed ratings. You should only use class four and above with this camera as the camera needs sufficient time to buffer the footage onto the card. We recommend a class 6 SDHC memory card.

B&H Photo link to the Canon HF-100

Panasonic HDC-TM20 High Definition Camcorder ~$650

Panasonic HDC-TM20

Panasonic is due out with a trio of cameras that work much like the Canon HF series cameras. These cameras write footage onto SDHC memory cards in the special AVCHD video format. This model, the TM20, will include 16 gigabytes of internal flash memory when it comes out later this year.

Since this camera has yet to be released, we do not have a suggestion for it other than to keep an eye out for it when it does. So far, the specifications are appealing.

B&H Photo link to the Panasonic TM20

Panasonic HDC-SD20 High Definition Camcorder ~$600

Panasonic HDC-SD20

This is the second in the new HDC series camers by Panasonic. This one is identical to the one above except that it lacks internal flash storage, and relies solely on memory cards.

B&H Photo link to the Panasonic SD20

Canon FS-11 Standard Definition Camcorder ~ $400 (Recommended)

Canon FS11

The Canon FS11 is much like the Vixia HF-10 except that it’s not high definition. This may work better for newsrooms that want a camera that can capture footage fast and offer the ability to edit quickly. Without HD footage, computers can process the video quickly with little logging time. For Web-only production, this might be a good temporary solution until HD becomes more of a standard feature on the Web in a few years.

Like the HF-10, this camera includes 16 gigabytes of internal flash memory and a slot for an SDHC memory card. The internal memory alone allows for up to 10 hours of video capture, however.

B&H Photo link to the Canon FS-11

Canon FS-100 Standard Definition Camcorder ~ $285

Canon FS-100

The FS100 is just like the camera above, but it doesn’t include any internal flash memory. You must purchase an external SDHC memory card to store your video footage.

The standard definition of the footage means that the video will be good for Web production only.

B&H Photo link to the Canon FS-100

Low-End Camera Kit

Canon FS-100 Flash memory camcorder

1. Canon FS-100 Flash Memory Camcorder ~ $250

SanDisk 8gb class 6 SDHC memory card

2. SanDisk 8gb Class 6 SDHC Memory Card (Class 6 or higher required) ~ $50

Canon CG-800 charger

3. Canon CG-800 Charger ~ $70

Canon BP-819 extended battery

4. Canon BP-819 Extended Battery ~ $80

Canon gadget bag 10eg

5. Canon Gadget Bag 10EG ~ $65

Hosa Stereo XLR to mini cable

6. Hosa Stereo XLR Female to 3.5mm Mini Male ~ $10

Peavey PVM22 cardioid dynamic hand mic

7. Peavey PVM22 Cardioid Handheld Microphone ~ $115

Sony MDR-E828LP earbuds

8. Sony MDR-E828LP Earbuds ~ $10

Total: approximately $650

Who is this low-end kit for?

The low-end kit is a great option for reporters/print journalists wanting to take the dive into capturing video with their stories. Newsrooms wanting an option to cover breaking news stories with video will find this kit very accommodating. The Canon FS-100 records directly to a memory cards and makes it easy and fast to get video online with little editing.

What is the general use?

This low end kit will capture fairly good quality video footage directly to a memory card. There is no logging involved in bringing the footage over to a computer, and in some circumstances (breaking news, etc.) the RAW video can be posted directly to the Web with no editing. The setup is not as involved as the kits above and is probably not the best solution for polished documentary-style features.

The size of this camera also makes it a great option for overseas video capture or for mobile journalists who have to file from the field.

What are the options?

The memory card included in this kit will hold about two hours of footage, which can easily be doubled with a 16gb memory card for a little bit more money. Memory prices are dropping fast and this may be a good option. It is important to purchase an SDHC memory card rated at class 6 or higher.

This is a standard definition camera (SD). For the video on the Web, standard definition is almost always good enough, but as technology gets better and users start to demand more high-definition video (HDV), the Canon HF-10/100 becomes a viable alternative. Under current conditions, going HD becomes very problematic, especially with storage issues. Approximately one minute of HD footage equates to one gigabyte of storage needed for every video.

What is left out of this kit?

We chose not to include a tripod in this kit to keep the cost down, but a suitable tripod would be necessary for sit-down interviews or for shooting any fixed objects.  Shakiness could be a major problem with this camera, especially due to its small size. A tripod is recommended if longer video projects become a regular fixture for the news organization’s Web site.

About this Tutorial

This tutorial was written by Jeremy Rue, multimedia instructor for the Knight Digital Media Center.

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