The size of camcorders has been shrinking since their inception. The first camcorders were typically shoulder-mounted and much heavier and larger than today’s units. People tend to hold heavy things with their arms to their sides, using both hands under the load as if carrying a sandbag. This method does not work with camcorders, because we need to push buttons, turn knobs and look through a viewfinder. So the manufacturers designed past camcorders so that the operator could “shoulder the load” and make adjustments while watching through a tiny eyepiece. The people who design camcorders practice ergonomics, the scientific discipline of designing for human needs.
The camcorders of 2009 are much smaller and lighter, but they are too small to touch the user’s shoulder. You hold many of today’s camcorders as you would a still photographic camera, using one or two hands to hold the camcorder in front of your face. The ergonomics of the still camera are very different than those of a camcorder, which captures moving images. In order to capture a good picture, a photographer must hold a still camera steady for a mere fraction of a second. Shooting video requires a very steady camera. Even slight movements result in unstable and amateurish-looking video. The camcorder manufacturers began working to solve this challenge many years ago with image stabilization (IS). This is a mature field of endeavor and has resulted in fantastic features found on most of today’s camcorders. However, camcorders are still shrinking, and these image stabilization features are sometimes inadequate.
The tiniest camcorders are as small as a deck of cards and can be extremely difficult to hold steady. You can always get a steadier image while shooting video if you lean against something solid, like a wall or a table. With a medium-size camcorder, this works well. However, the video from tiny camcorders can still look a little shaky, especially when using the zoom. You can get an even steadier image if the camcorder itself is actually touching the wall or table. When that is not practical, the next best thing is to use your hands and arms to press against a wall or table.
Many of our readers may feel that these tiny camcorders are substandard, but they are very handy – you can keep one with you all of the time. They are unintrusive, so they intimidate people less. People act more naturally while being shot with a tiny camcorder, and some of them even allow immediate uploading to video-sharing sites on the internet. These cams are inexpensive, enabling shooters to take risks that may damage their main video cameras. While tiny cams can’t make fantastic video, they can make great video, so one could be a great second or third camcorder.
Matthew York is Videomaker‘s Publisher/Editor.