You are here

Five Tips for Getting Big results from Little Cameras

shot of a man holding a consumer camcorder

There’s more to making great video than owning the latest and greatest equipment. Don’t let your lack of resources stop you. You can produce amazing video with a simple point and shoot camera. Don’t believe me? Here are five tips to help you shoot high quality video with a point-and-shoot camera.

1. The Brighter the Better

One of the biggest differences between your consumer point-and-shoot model and a professional camera is the way it handles low light. Since there is no way to manually adjust their aperture, little pocket cams produce the best looking images when they are used in bright, evenly-lit environments.

This often means shooting outdoors in the daytime, but these little guys also do a nice job on a subject that is lit with video lighting in a controlled setting. Since you cannot make adjustments in the camera, the secret is to take control of the setup to create a good looking shot in front of the camera. Lighting is the absolute biggest difference between professional and amateur video. Spend some time learning the principles of three point lighting, and put them to practice. A little attention to lighting can make up for an inexpensive camera. 

2. Stay Steady

The small physical size of point-and-shoot camcorders, combined with tiny lenses and enhanced digital zoom features, causes these cameras to shoot video that is far more shaky and jittery than larger, more weighty camcorders. The shaky, jittery-look immediately signals to viewers that they are watching bad home video. The secret here is to be aware of this tendency, and to take every measure you can to shoot steady shots. If you camera can be mounted to a tripod, use one. Mounting your tiny camera to a tripod alone is not enough. The trick to shooting stable tripod footage with your mini-cam is to set up your shot, lock down the tripod and then take your hands off the camera as you record. Even without a tripod, you can get better footage by not touching your camera as you shoot. A beanbag is a great option for creating a solid shooting platform. You’ll even find that a bag of rice or beans works well. Drop the bag on a tabletop, wall, or bench, then set your camera on the sack. 

3. Think Big

One of the biggest problems with small cameras is that they are small. Palm-sized cameras are typically held in one hand and are rotated with the twist of the wrist. The tight turns and tilts that are generated by wrist movements give away the fact that the camera is diminutive and make the footage feel amateurish. All it takes to eliminate this is awareness. Make a conscious choice to not move your camera by twisting your wrist. Instead, lock your wrist, wear a wrist brace if necessary, and move your camera by rotating your hips, not your hand. This creates larger moves that emulates the look of a camcorder that is large enough to rest on your shoulder.  

4. Sound Matters

Clean, clear audio is a major part of professional video. Unfortunately, most point-and-shoot camcorders do a poor job of recording usable audio through their built-in microphones, and do not have microphone jacks to allow you to plug in an external mic. The best solution here is to record any important audio through a separate audio recorder, then re-sync the sound in the edit bay. Devices like the Roland R-26 or the Tascam DR-100MKII Handheld Audio Recorder are excellent tools for this type of job, but any audio recorder that will accept a microphone input will work. 

5. Get Creative

While most people quickly think of the disadvantages of shooting with small consumer camcorders, there are also some advantages. Because these cameras are small, you can put them into creative positions to get shots that professional models could never get. Try putting your camera inside a mailbox, microwave or refrigerator for a unique perspective. Because they are cheap, they make excellent “stunt” cameras as well. You can place them in the middle of the road, or strap one to your remote control helicopter or the handlebars of your mountain bike. The GoPro line has cashed in on creating quality cameras that can be put in unique and precarious positions, but you can shoot similar shots with any inexpensive camcorder.

In the end, shooting great video is about more than what tools you use. In the hands of a creative camera operator, any camera, even a consumer point-and-shoot model, can be a powerful resource for capturing and creating compelling content.

Chuck Peters is a 3-time Emmy award winning writer, producer and host. He is currently an independent producer in Nashville, TN.

Chuck
Peters
September 20th, 2013

Comments

Chuck I could not agree with you more. I use a Flip Ultra HD 3rd gen and think it produces some of the best video within the constraints of what it can do. One thing you could also add is that these small little cameras are ripe to have additional optical lenses placed on them. I routinely use Macro and 2x Optical lenses on my Flip and could not be happier. A quick google search will turn up links to do mods to the Flip.

 

Yes the audio is always suspect but I think that can be said for most camcorders. Here are some examples of the Flip in action: https://vimeo.com/user2412093

 

Sidd

 

steven chessin's picture

Excellent article - you hit the weaknesses that need to be worked around.  I keep a small camera bag with half-a-dozen small cameras I set-up in different positions where movement and audio don't come into play - just as it says. One of the cameras is the size of my thumb and I can sneak it into crazy locations. Another does time-lapse -- another has excellent shooting duration of 2 hours  - one has a flash for great stills  - one will webcast live - one will accept an audio feed. Each has a unique function - and they all provide different flavor shots. So when you get a chance to buy a close-out of a $ 150 cam for $  50 --- go for it  --  buy a few  - just don't depend on any for low-light -  sound - or smooth motion - and they will do fine. Top rating for the article.

cobra193's picture

I think I knew this subconsciously and have adjusted some.  For example I've always tried to steady my 'base' by leaning on something if possible. Proping my elbow up against my body for stability etc...  But the biggest thing I do with my small camera is a suggestion I sent in a few years back (and used in the hardcopy magazine) was to use a tripod  as counterweight.  For quite some time now, I've used my tripod as a 'steady cam' of sorts and this same technique can make a small camera act as a large camera. I mount my camera (or tie it on to the head if there's no mount).  Keep the legs folded in but extended as long as possible (depending on the amount of horizontal room you have available), then holding the tripod horizontally and balance in your hand (I use 2 fingers to reduce friction) and let it balance itself out. As you move about with it, you get the feel of a larger camera AND a steady cam!!

Toly Antonov's picture

I felt good reading your article:) I'm glad that professionals don't disregard small cheap camcorders.   About 3 years ago I got SANYO Xacti VPC-CG102 bk as a present from my wife, it was really for taking  videos of my work, it's compact inexpensive HD camcorder, Picture quality is really bad in low light (was little disappointed) but it take really nice shots in the Sunlight.

Full HD 1080p 30 frames AVC/H.264 and can shoot 60 frames in 720p. 

            I was shooting macro with my Canon DSLR  but the video only 640x480 SVGA and I wanted HD so I can actually watch it on my 60” LED screen, I tried my Sanyo camcorder, in macro mode:)) I was blown away!, with the right lightning setup you can do amazing things even on a budget, here you can see video of a snail that I took with Sanyo camcorder. So far I haven’t seen anything like this, (video quality) that shot with DSLR or any other cheap camcorder.            My lens was about ½ “ away from snail, but I don’t have portable bright light so it’s kind of dark (not included in this video).

Thanks for tips, I’ll defiantly use them in my future projects.   

 

Video Link: