Monthly Archives: August 2012

How to Buy a Video Camera

This is a question I get frequently from new and seasoned camera owners.  Technology changes so quickly it is easy to assume the rules for buying a camera change too.  When buying any technology it is always a good idea to do a little research on the latest trends to see what is out there and their price ranges.  But before you invest too much time pouring over technical specifications of a potential purchase, spend a little time listing your specifications.  In other words, what do you want this new camera to do for you?

Your list should include everything and the kitchen sink.  It does not cost you anything to simply put it all on paper.  As you list your needs and price range you will begin to prioritize your specifications.  A good camera will last you at least 5 years or more so invest wisely and look at the features you may want tomorrow, not just what you know you need today.

Media Storage

The days of capturing video to tape is obsolete.  You will be hard pressed to find a tape based camera on the market and the only reason to buy one on the cheap is for the ability to backup archived footage to a hard drive. SD cards are the current future of video cameras.  So as you surf the offerings out there look at each camera’s storage type and capacity.

How much footage do you plan to capture before transferring it to an external drive?  The Sony Bloggie is a nice pocket size camera that takes good quality video and photos.  But with only 8GB of space you will need to offload it to a hard drive frequently in order to make room for your next production. If you are going on an extended trip or do not plan to transfer footage to external drives frequently, consider upgrading to a camera with a larger storage capacity.  For less than $300 you can get a small palm sized camera that can support a whopping 60GB or more of storage. With that kind of storage you can shoot everything in sight and edit the best later!

Battery Life

This actually goes hand in hand with video storage.  Some of the smaller blogging cameras have small batteries that need frequent recharging. If you are the occasional videographer or shoot more close to home where you can recharge regularly this may not be a major concern.  If you travel a lot or your occasional shoots last several hours then you want to look at a camera that is supplied with batteries that last more than 2 hours or invest in a few spare batteries.

SD, HD or Both?

Standard definition (4:3 aspect ratio) is still alive and kicking and a more efficient standard in terms of hard drive space and processing power when editing.  HiDef video(16:9 aspect ratio) produces stunning video and has the file size to match.  It also requires an extremely powerful computer to edit this footage efficiently. As technology evolves HD video will become as efficient to work with as SD and, eventually, replace SD video.

All that being said it would be worth your while to look at cameras that allow you switch between SD and HD recording if you are purchasing for your business or for a serious hobby. A camera that can straddle both standards will give you the most options to start.

Video and Audio Quality

Video has come a long way in a short period of time.  For very little money you can acquire a camera that takes phenomenal video footage for work or personal use.  There are some great cameras out there for under $300 that will take crisp, vibrant video images which, if you follow some of the basic principles for shooting video, you can edit later into a quality production.  While the inexpensive cameras offer some stunning video quality under most circumstances, you may find yourself wanting more control over different lighting situations, shot composition and sound.

Let There be Light, or Less of It

Exposure is how much light is allowed to enter the lens of the camera and it affects the brightness and darkness of a shot.  Too much light washes out a shot and makes the subjects too “hot”.  While you can darken a shot in editing you can never get back the detail lost from an over exposed shot.  On the flip side, too little light can darken a shot and make the video quality appear grainy.  You may be able to lighten such a video in editing, but with mixed results depending on how dark it started out.

All cameras come with automatic features that adjust for different lighting situations to some degree.  As you work your way up the price chain you will find cameras that offer more manual controls for adjusting exposure.  In additional to manual controls present on the camera there are lens filters at reasonable prices as well as external lamps that can attach directly to your camera.  These are great in situations when you are in close proximity to your subject and require just a bit more lighting than your surroundings provide.

I Can’t Hear You!

Most of the low end cameras on the market take phenomenal video footage in their own right but severely lack in their ability to capture adequate audio.  Almost all cameras come with their own built-in microphone.  These mics are fine for capturing ambient noise or for spontaneous narration by the camera operator but they will not produce the kind of rich, robust sound quality you will want for a professional video piece.  If you are going to be filming a lot of interviews and narration then you will want a camera that can accept external microphone attachments.  There are several varieties of external microphones built to handle different types of audio situations. (Another story for another blog). Owning a camera with a mic input gives you the option of attaching any one of these microphones to your camera.

Look for a camera that offers at least an eighth inch mic input.(Price range $900 +)  Even an inexpensive, external handheld mic will yield better audio results in an interview than the built in microphone.  For about $200 you can get and XLR audio adapter that will plug into the eighth inch mic input and give you 2 grounded XLR audio inputs.  This gives you the option of attaching 2 professional level microphones to your camera or a mixing board for even more microphone inputs. There are other camera models out there that allow external mic hookups without the need for adapters, but their price range typically starts at $2500.   Depending on your needs you may decide to allocate that $2500 to putting together a full compliment of field gear rather than just the camera piece of it.

Zoom. Zoom.  Zoom.

There are 2 different types of zoom advertised for cameras; optical and digital.  In the age of digital technology consumers mistakenly focus in on the digital zoom feature, which can often boast a 100 -200x zoom in of the subject.  Digital zoom simply magnifies the pixels that create the image of a subject.  The further in you zoom the more distorted the subject becomes.  Like in graphic design and video editing, digital magnification has its place when use sparingly (and as a last resort) but it should not carry any weight in the decision process of buying a camera.

Optical zoom is the number you want to pay attention to.  The technology of optical zoom allows you to zoom in closer to the subject while maintaining the crispness and overall fidelity of the image.  Some brand cameras have always offered impressive optical zoom technology.  A higher optical zoom helps you get high fidelity close up shots from further away without needing to purchase additional telephoto lenses.  It’s a nice feature to have. However, if you know you will mostly be filming subjects within close proximity it is not a necessity.  Other considerations to be weighed, maybe more heavily, are the chip size (bigger chips and more of them lead to richer images), the camera’s performance in low light situations and its manual options for controlling exposure and shutter speed.

If you are the casual videographer and have a few hundred dollars to support the hobby you really can’t go wrong with some of the great sub-$300 out there.  If you are a serious hobbyist or needing a camera for business purposes and plan to invest equally serious money in the equipment do your homework first, starting with understanding what you expect from your investment today and in the future. Your camera will be the main hub of your production gear so plan with expansion in mind.


Copyright © 2012 Digital Design Digest

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Filed under Getting the Right Gear

Adding Another Artist’s Work and Royalty Free Content to Your Project

It is common practice for producers to seek and incorporate other artists’ work into a new production concept. Why reinvent the wheel? When using other people’s work to support the creation of a new project it is ethically if not legally imperative to keep the following in mind.

1. Always ask permission before using another artist’s work in your production. The internet has served as a tremendous avenue for the dissemination and gathering of information and ideas. But the availability of this information for personal viewing and entertainment does not mean it is available to be freely incorporated in to a production without acknowledgment or payment to the original creator. Whether your production is personal or commercial in nature, always ask permission before incorporating another artist’s work into your production.

2. Get it in writing. Whether you are using a friend’s original recorded song or purchasing a stock photo from a royalty free site make sure you get the terms of use in writing. First and foremost clients and broadcast companies want to know they will not be sued for copyright infringement or invasion of privacy. Make sure the written contract gives you as the producer the most flexibility in using that production element. You may not intend to use the element in certain venues now but having the rights up front will save you time and money in getting new permissions for it in the future.

3. Royalty free does not mean payment free. There are countless websites that offer royalty free music, photos and video. Royalty free items generally come at a steep, one time only payment. What you get for the money is the right to use the element in your production and not have to pay the artist a percentage of your sales as a royalty. Most royalty free items are original works created specifically for purchase and use by production companies. Since these items are created specifically for production companies, the prices generally run lower than trying to buy the rights to use mainstream elements (like a billboard top 40 song) in a production.

4. Always read the fine print. When purchasing a production element, even royalty free elements, a contract of service is entered into. The terms of that service vary from company to company and item to item. Always read the end-user license agreement for purchasing a 3rd party production element. Some royalty free sites will charge one fee if the element is for personal or educational uses and will charge another fee if the element is to be used in a commercial product. Other sites cater more toward the broadcast business and have very stringent guidelines and stiffer fees for using their product.

Copyright © 2012 Digital Design Digest

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Creative Cuts for the Camera Shy

What do you do when your project has great content and talented people who can walk the audience through that content smoothly, but do not want to be seen on camera? You get creative!

The biggest draw to information rich productions is the information and not the person delivering the information. If your information is coming from content experts who cannot overcome their camera shyness to give their best performance there are other creative alternatives that can be put in place. Assuming the client has the budget to accommodate more editing time, what you end up with is a better product in the end for having taken the extra step.

1. Write a script around the concept of your main narrations occurring as a voice over. The script is written and recorded separately from other media elements in the project. Reading it in a controlled environment off camera takes away the pressure of feeling one has to “perform” for the camera. The voice over can be read by someone the client designates or by a professional voice over artist. Hopefully what you have in the end is a confident delivery of the content that keeps the audience focused on all the right things, which are the client and their message.

2. Use close-up shots. Close-up shots are great for capturing meaningful activity to support the narration without identifying a person on camera. Consider the video footage presented on news programs. There are close-up shots of money being counted, feet walking on sidewalks, hands stirring coffee and so on. Look at the script for the verbal section of your video and then write down all the possible close-up shots that could be acquired to provide visual interest to the message.

3. Find or hire someone who was born to be in front of the camera! The client is often the best person to develop the content but you may both conclude they are not the best to deliver the content. If budget is an issue the first step is to see if anyone else in the company is interested in going on camera. This person needs to be comfortable in front of the camera but also rehearsed enough in the subject matter to provide a confident delivery. If there is no such person available on-site, hire a professional if there is room in the budget.

4. Use slides and graphics for the more academic narratives. Even if you are working with someone who enjoys being in front of the camera it is a good idea to break up the video portion of the project with slides and graphics. It provides visual variety to keep the viewer engaged to the message. PowerPoint slides can easily be converted for use in video presentations. Use bullet points to provide a visual of concepts being discussed. Use photos where appropriate to further illustrate the message.

Copyright © 2012 Digital Design Digest

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Video Production for Businesses on A Budget

A picture speaks a thousand words but it does not have to cost thousands of dollars to create. It is possible to find a happy medium between hi-end, hi-budget works of art that cost more than they ever make in revenue generation and no budget videos which lack polish and necessary elements of quality control.

Consider these tips when planning your next video project.

1. Write a script. A script is like the road map to your finished product. It will help you refine your message to a digestible nugget of information, say between 2 and 5 minutes. It will also serve as your “to do list” of elements needed (video to record, photos to take, voice over and music to record and permissions to clear). This prior proper planning ahead of time will save you money in the long run when working with your designer or production team.

2. Keep it simple. Write a clear concise script that educates your audience about your product, services or idea. Plan for simple video that illustrates what is being discussed in your narrative and plan for simple graphics that enhance the message. A clear, concise message in a digestible, 2-5 minute timeframe will leave your audience feeling more connected to you and your product.

3. Everything you need may be right under your nose. You and your staff know your products best. It makes sense that members of your company be featured in your video. Newspaper clippings, graphics, photos and other video clips on hand may all be part of this new edited piece. Refer to your script to see if items already on hand make sense in your new project. This could save you production time and money.

4. Video quality matters. A well-lit, steady, crisp video image is important. A nice head and shoulder shot obeying the rule of 3rds will do for most interview and narrative situations. Avoid lighting pitfalls such as sitting in front of a window or using an uneven lighting source in the video. Use a tripod. No matter how still you think you can stand, the camera will move with every breath you take. This could be enough to ruin an otherwise acceptable video shot.

5. Audio quality matters most. People will be somewhat forgiving of less than stellar video quality. But, viewers will abandon the viewing experience if they cannot hear what you are saying. The way you sound in real life is how you should sound on video. A full body sound like this is achieved through using an appropriate microphone. There are many types of microphones on the market, each suited for a different use. If you are thinking of producing a video yourself, do your research before purchasing a microphone or camera.

Copyright © 2012 Digital Design Digest


Filed under Video Production