Video camera types – Choosing a video camera, Part 1

Video camera types – Choosing a video cameraChoosing the right video camera is an important decision. Choosing the wrong one can be an expensive mistake which is not easy to rectify. This three part article looks at video camera types, the technical details and finally some suitable candidates for your selection.

Your choice will vary depending on what you want to use it for, what budget you have and how much experience you have. Other factors such as upgrade options and accessories may also influence your decision. The first question is why do you need a video camera? In fact do you actually need one at all? If you are intending to use it for the odd project or don’t really have a desperate need, consider borrowing one, hiring one or maybe using a video production company instead.

Intended use

If you are intending on filming events, interviews, demonstrations or a mixture of all of these, you will need to consider the pros and cons of each of the available camera types. The table below shows the strengths and weaknesses of the most popular video recording options.

Phone/Tablet camera Compact/Bridge camera Digital SLR with lens Consumer video camera Semi professional camera
Picture quality indoors Poor unless good lighting Poor unless good lighting Excellent with fast lens Medium to good depending on lens Excellent
Picture quality outdoors Fairly good Good Excellent Excellent Excellent
Low light capability Poor Better Excellent with fast lens Medium to good depending on lens Excellent
Sound quality for interviews Built in mic is poor Built in mic is poor Built in mic is poor/check if option for external mic Built in mic is poor/check if option for external mic External mic only
Ease of use Limited control/no zoom Limited control/with zoom Limited control/withmanual zoom Some dedicated controls/manual zoom Dedicated controls/manual zoom
Upgrade options Minimal software only None Lens None Software/Lens
Accessories Tripods, ext mics Tripods, ext mics Lots available Some available Lots available

As you can see mobile devices and compact cameras are best for outdoors and not good for sound unless you use an external microphone (assuming this is an option). They are convenient to carry around but produce shaky footage unless you buy a special tripod to fit. They are very easy to use yet lack dedicated controls and the persistent automatic mode can be frustrating and often will often ruin shots by making picture adjustments whilst recording.

Digital SLR’s offer great low light performance and an excellent overall picture quality. However they are complex to use and most suffer from a lack of dedicated video controls. Digital SLR’s are not known for good audio recording quality, after all it is primarily a stills camera, so using them for video is always going to be a compromise. There are many accessories available from the stills ranges and upgrade options for lenses.

The consumer and semi-professional camera options are usually the best suited for varied video work. They offer dedicated controls, versatile built in lenses and high quality audio circuitry designed to be used with external microphones. There are many accessories available designed specially for video work. Although the obvious choice for video projects, the larger size and operating complexity can make them less attractive for non technical people.

Costs

The camera options above vary in cost from the cheapest on the left to the most expensive on the right. Actually phones and tablets are quite expensive, but in this case it is assumed that these are already owned and therefore are available as video cameras at no extra cost. Each camera type will contain a wide range of options with varying costs and output quality. For example, just because a product advertises itself as a Digital SLR with a video mode, this is no guarantee that it will produce good results.

As with most equipment you get what you pay for. A cheap unrecognised brand may last less time, provide lower quality results and be less intuitive to operate. Names such as Sony, Panasonic, JVC and Canon all manufacturer professional broadcast equipment and have a knowledge advantage over their competitors. There is a worry that equipment will quickly become dated and therefore a smaller investment will allow regular replacements. This is rarely an issue, many professionals are happily using equipment that is three years old and producing fantastic results.

Experience

The final factor in choosing a video camera type is your experience and your desire to involve yourself in the technical side of operating a camera. Lets be frank, if you want a fully automatic video solution, you will need to be prepared for some quality compromise. Creating good video is an art that requires a balance of creativity and technical know-how. If you want something simple to operate then you will most likely be consider a phone/tablet option or possibly a consumer video camera. If you like buttons, lights and menus then you will lean towards the Digital SLR or Semi-professional camera options.

As expected the choice of camera types is not straightforward. The easy to use cameras have the worst sound and picture quality and the best cameras are complex and expensive. The next part to this guide will look at the technical features of videos cameras, explain what they mean and which ones are important.

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