The right camera isn't always the most expensive or biggest one!
We're reading a lot these days about video producers who are actually making commercially viable productions using a minicam - that pocket cam or even their video-capable cell phone. While these tools, (some call them toys), are not always suitable for the every day shooting and production crunch, they certainly are worth a look for special situations you might encounter. In most cases they're also much easier on the pocketbook.
"Commercially viable" might not be where you want to go with a Flip MinoHD or a SANYO minicam. Or any of the dozens of others on the market today. Maybe you simply want a handy, light-weight, easy-to-carry unit that you can whip out and shoot with on a moment's notice. You might be considering a few of these bad boys, budget permitting, to place around at an event - strategically positioned video backups for special POV (point of view) shots you cannot achieve otherwise if you are a lone producer. And there's always the fun, experimental and challenge elements - using your camera-equipped cellphone, pocket camera or mini for simple entertainment or to capture a moment that could otherwise be lost forever.
The list of possibilities, uses and, least we not forget - limitations is, well, limitless, but check out those included in the buyer's guide, as well as others and you might find a temptation to buy one or more for yourself and start incorporating them into your production efforts.
Pocket Cam, Who Would Want One?
Everyone it seems wants one! Those inexpensive but convenient and intriguing high definition (HD) shooters are virtually point-and-shoot in their ease of operation. While the results might not be on a par with your standard-size unit and while most are severely, perhaps only mildly, lacking in the controls you're used to, they can still get the job done. They offer both of what I call the "F" factors - fun and frustration.
A Webbie (Sony) or Zi8 (Kodak) or even Memorex's MyVideo, all of these at or under $200, will bring something to your production table. Problems might run from overall graininess to no mic input, lack of controls to the extent they are only point-and-shoot recorders. But the beauty of it all is that the video producer or hobbyist who wants to incorporate extra angles into her production can now do so. And with today's editing programs matching color isn't the problem it once could be - great or poor auto white balance notwithstanding.
"Pocket cam" says it all because most of this category fits nicely in a shirt or pants pocket, fanny pack or handbag. You see something you want to capture, whip it out, turn it on and start shooting in an instant, knowing you're likely going to get something usable if not memorable.
I've mentioned the MinoHD but that's only one of many to pick from, each with it's own appealing features or deal-breaking faults. Maybe you want something from Kodak, SANYO or Sony - not to worry. Most of your favorite manufacturers are riding this product train. But it just might be that you want something a bit more substantial, yet still under $400 or so, and with a few extra features a pocket-sized camcorder doesn't offer.
Pocket Cam, Minicam - What's the Dif?
Not much really. In fact if you do a search on Google for either one you will usually and often wind up with the same information, models and references. But, just for the sake of argument, let's say the minicam selections, and there aren't that many under $400, usually have a bit more of the classic camcorder shape to them - something more than a small, square plastic case.
The range of image and audio quality falls lower than the pocket models while some can actually be better, maybe. Whatever the case you might be more comfortable with a palm-friendly shape that comes closer to what you are used to shooting with. You might want one or more for the same reasons others want a pocket model but prefer something that looks and feels more like what you are used to.
Among models such as the YoutTube-friendly Ordro HDV-V16 or the Cansonic FHD-10AF you get a fold-out LCD screen for starters. You might get a decent digital zoom but keep in mind that the small form factor of these cameras is not conducive to steady hand-held shots so beware when using them any differently than a point-and-shoot model, especially zooming on the fly. Forget it.
The DigiLife HDV-H20 looks and feels more like a conventional handicam or palmcorder unit. If you shop around you'll find that it rings the register for under $200. A steal? Maybe not. Each and every camera in these categories has some degree of usefulness. Be aware that there are differing opinions however and that some purists would say a few exist that belong in the trash bin.
Nonetheless you'll find that some of these offer white balancing or at least a range of filters for sun, overcast, Fluorescent and/or indoor lighting. Many provide decent-sized LCD monitors and a few offer a selection of audio/video outputs, if not audio input. Peruse the features and focus on what's missing that you might want, but keep in mind also that most, if not all, the sensors in these units are CMOS and some are quite tiny, so even with HD capabilities you might not get much of an image.
It is worth repeating that a careful consideration of the available and missing features, as well as image quality and costs, sensor size and your particular needs or designs for investing in one or more of the pocket or minicam units will help reduce the frustration levels when trying to apply them in your production routine.
Did You Just Ring?
While the more popular smart phones can run at or over $400, just about every popular cellphone today includes a camera of some sort, many of them capable of shooting video. Cellphone video is probably beyond the scope of this article but suffice it to say that they shouldn't be arbitrarily dismissed, especially if you think you might actually get some use out of the video capabilities. Keep this in mind when shopping for your next cellphone or upgrading and renewing your service provider contract.
OK, I Got My Shots, Now What?
Consider that your primary interest in acquiring a pocket or minicam might be getting quick and easy or down and dirty footage for direct feed to YouTube or any one of the other web video hosting or sharing options at your disposal.
USB connectivity is common but not guaranteed so check for that feature. Many of the models available have software built in that allows for virtually automatic, trouble-free, uploading to YouTube. Some, on the other hand, might simply not work with your particular Mac or PC or wireless environment.
You want to check for connectivity, compatibility, applicability and affordability - all ending in "TY" which could actually translate into their respective benefits "To You" so shop wisely and have fun.
Sidebar 2: Finding and Getting the One You Really Want
Manufacturers don't always seem to wait for a specific time of the year to introduce new models, makes and brands to the consumer market. New models can show up on the retail shelves of your favorite electronics or camera stores just about anytime. You will in fact find discontinued models on display right alongside the newest and best, so how do shoppers make certain they get what they want?
Your best bet is the hands-on approach. Don't begin and end your research with your favorite video camera store department. Take information from the accompanying buyer's guide and narrow your list of possibilities down to six or so - fewer or perhaps more. Make notes regarding must-have features and those that might or might not be deal breakers for you, based on your perceived or informed needs.
Then do like you should do after you make your purchase, have fun. Create a list of the available electronics stores, department stores and camera stores in your area and make a day of it. Visit each one with the purpose to not only compare prices but to also pick them up, hold and handle them and take your time checking each feature-for-feature.
Some shoppers are uncomfortable with this approach. Others don't want to appear clueless and many simply do not think it worth taking the time for a mere $200 purchase. I don't know about you but for me anything from $20 up still amounts to more than chump change, therefore I invest the time to get as close to sure as I can before making my purchase. And I don't want to come back and stand in the return line for hours - time also is money.
So, make a day of it. Take all the time you need and want. Don't submit to the pressures of an overly attentive sales or counter person and make a hasty purchase. Don't depend on the salesperson's claim for expertise as it isn't always based on what's best, affordable or practical for you. After a bit, when the sales person sees you are determined to handle, hold, operate and check out the entire counter display he'll move on to the next potential impulse buyer in line.
When you've satisfied yourself with the make and model, the store's guarantees and return policies and the price then go ahead and buy it. Take it out of the box on your way home and shoot some footage so that when you are comfortably seated behind your editing system or computer you'll be ready to affirm your choice.
Beyond a certain point keep your expectations on the low side and your application on the fun side and owning and using your new pocket or minicam will get an "F" for "Fun" and not one for "Frustration".
Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Pocket and Minicams Manufacturers Listing
Contributing Editor Earl Chessher is a veteran career journalist and professional video producer, working in California and marketing throughout the U.S.A.