A Buyer's Guide to Cameras and Camcorders for Online Video
New technologies are bringing more options for online video creation. Here are the questions to consider when shopping for a camera.
Picking the right camera is like picking the right car. There is no one car that's right for every driver and every situation. Likewise, there's no perfect camera that will serve the needs of an online video producer on every job. Each camera has certain features and capabilities that make it a better choice for certain shooting situations. So what aspects should you consider when determining the right camera for the types of video work you do?
Do you need a tiny camera to mount to a helmet or the outside of an airplane in flight? Or do you need a feature film-sized camera with easy access to multitudes of parameters to fluidly manage all of your production's needs?
Perhaps you need a mid-size prosumer camcorder with audio, monitor, and zoom lens integrated into a compact package. Or can you break the system apart and leverage the advantages of a large-sensor, interchangeable-lens camcorder, using prime lenses and separate audio recording?
No one camera is perfect for everything. But many cameras can handle multitudes of situations. Carefully consider your needs and what camera best serves those needs as opposed to what is the coolest gear on the market.
Large-sensor video cameras exploded on the scene when Canon's EOS 5D Mark II DSLR was enabled to shoot video. It wasn't the easiest way to shoot video, but the look and feel of the video it produced was completely different from video produced by any small-chip prosumer camcorder that cost about the same.
The GoPro Hero3 HD Black ($399), a Wi-Fi-enabled ultra-portable, versatile-mount HD cam with a vast range of applications.
The large sensor provides for a shallow depth of field that looks more like feature films and professional photography than traditional digital video. You can isolate a single person from the background quite easily. The large sensor also provides for better low-light capability compared to a tiny sensor.
The Sony NEX-FS100 ($4,200, body only), along with the Panasonic AG-AF100, was the first large-sensor camcorder to offer the full lens interchangeability and image control of a DSLR in a conventional camcorder chassis.
On the other hand, small-sensor camcorders can have a much longer zoom range in a smaller lens than a large sensor camcorder. You can carry around a 20x optical zoom with image stabilization in your hand with ease.
Why is this important? For live event video and certain types of documentary production, there is seldom time to constantly change lenses or physically move around to get the appropriate focal length. Having a long zoom built-in to the camcorder means you can get the framing you want (closer or farther) in a second. You can even adjust framing (zoom in or out) very smoothly during the shot.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III ($3,500, body only), recent successor to the EOS 5D Mark II that set the prosumer video production world on its ear.
Also consider the camera's ecosystem. With a small-sensor camcorder, almost everything is built into the camera except for wireless mics and lights. With a large-sensor camcorder, you need to consider various other important items that are more necessary than accessories.
The ability to swap out lenses and use very high-quality prime lenses can give you amazing images that pop. Unfortunately, buying a lot of high-quality glass can also cause a bank account to pop.
Alternatively, using a couple of high-quality zoom lenses gives you all the focal lengths, but usually not with as low an f-stop/depth of field. The intent and content of your work determines the type of lenses you need to get.
When the Canon 5D started to be used for video, producers had to go back to "film-style" dual-system sound recording, which requires a second device dedicated to recording audio. The video and audio devices are usually not connected together.